Valentine’s Day

The following post is a flash fiction piece written using the prompt, “Valentine’s Day” from the Bootcamp of Writing Prompts. Hope you enjoy – please feel free to leave critiques in the comments section following the post. Thank you.

I pulled the rental up alongside the parking space and backed into the parallel spot.

I still parallel park like a beast.

Well, I should know how to park a car. I’ve been driving for over thirty years, for crying out loud. Of course, I don’t get to experience city parking much since we moved to Hattiesburg. What’s it been now? Twenty years since we first got married and moved there? The city’s grown, but a skyline it does not possess.

Not like here in Chicago.

Thank God I didn’t have to pull into one of the surrounding parking garages. I just want to run in, grab my to-go order, take it back to the hotel and eat in peace.

Maybe I’ll grab a wine at the hotel bar on the way up to my room. Since it’s Valentine’s Day and all.

Gary hasn’t even bothered to call me today.

Well, he sent me a text, at least.

He’s working hard, getting all the company’s financials in order for the annual tax return filing.

“Susan? Susan Henderson?”

I’d been so caught up in my thoughts I didn’t see the man I almost ran into. When I heard my name – my maiden name – I snapped back to the present and took a good, long look at the man who stopped in front of me and was staring at my face, waiting for my response.

“David, is that you?” The words escaped my lips before I realized what I was asking. “Oh, wow. What are you doing here?”

He chuckled and said, “well, I live here. Been here since ’97, when my wife was diagnosed with cancer. Moved here from Springfield for the medical community and just never got around to moving back. What about you? You don’t live here, too, do you?”

“No, no. I’m here for work. Once a year my company holds leadership meetings here. Usually they’re in the summer, but this year the meetings were moved to this weekend because our CEO is expecting her first child around the second week of May and wants to take two months off when the baby is born.”

“Sounds like you work for a pretty progressive company,” he said. I get that a lot, and it’s true. Most days I work from my home office, video conferencing colleagues and supervisors about new marketing and advertising campaigns we want company reps to pitch to clients. Once a month I fly into Atlanta for a couple days to meet face-to-face with clients or reps, but mostly I just hang out in my sweats at home, analyzing data in an effort to help companies and individuals get the most bang for their buck.

I love it.

But, these long-distance corporate meetings take a lot out of me. Especially when I have so much going on at home. Two kids in high school and a husband whose office staff knows more about his whereabouts than his wife are starting to require more than a few yoga classes to keep the stress at bay.

I need a break.

“What are you doing for dinner?” I heard him ask. “Do you have plans for tonight yet?”

“No, actually,” I answered, “I was just trying to decide what to do for the evening. I thought I’d probably need to grab something from the deli, since I didn’t make reservations anyplace for tonight.”

I caught his eyes shift from my left hand to my face. I’d left my ring back at the hotel because the cold causes my fingers to swell up like sausages.

“No plans for Valentine’s? We need to fix that. Come on, I know a place close by that will let me grab a table for two, no problem. Did you park a car?”

“Yes,” I said as I pointed to the blue sedan behind me, “should I leave it there?”

“Absolutely. We’ll just walk to Rob’s place.” He held out his hand. I took it and quickened my pace to match his as we walked along Rush. After two blocks he steered me toward a small, nondescript door sandwiched between two large darkened windows.

“Should I be concerned about what type of place you’re taking me to, David?” I teased.

“Absolutely. Don’t you remember anything about me?” he said as he looked over at me and smiled.

I remembered everything about David Bradford.

We dated off and on for a couple years while in college. Then, after graduation, he went north to St. Louis and I went south to Atlanta. He called a few times, but the distance – and work – kept us from seeing each other. Except for that one time we met up in St. Louis when my boss sent me there for a conference.

The sex was great, but by then I had met Gary and he had met Stacy. We had both moved on.

“So, how many kids do you have?” he asked as I situated myself on the barstool at the hightop inside the dark, crowded restaurant.

“Two kids: a boy and a girl. The boy is a senior in high school, the girl a sophomore. You?”

“Stacy and I have a daughter. She’s a freshman in college back East.”

“Wow – you guys must really miss her. Do you get to see her much? And, speaking of, where is Stacy tonight – why are you here with me having Valentine’s dinner instead of your wife?”

David lowered his gaze to the table and studied the place setting in front of him. “Susan, Stacy died ten years ago.”

“Oh. I’m so sorry,” was all I could say.

“No, it’s okay. You couldn’t have known. We haven’t spoken in, what, twenty-some years? She couldn’t beat the cancer. I re-married once, briefly, about five years ago. It didn’t work. I married for all the wrong reasons.”

“Oh.” Again with the thoughtful response.

“Anyway, it’s so great to see you here, tonight,” he said as he lifted his wine glass in my direction, “a toast. To old friends.”

I raised my glass to his, looked him in the eye, and said, “yes. To old friends.”

Later that night, as I traced my finger down his arm while watching his naked chest rise and fall in the rhythm of deep sleep only found through a gratifying act of intimacy, I remembered how comforting it felt to lie next to a close friend. A confidant, someone who shares your interests and understands what motivates you.

It had been a long time since I knew that feeling of satisfaction and security.

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