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Romance in Red


Romance. A feeling of mystery? The sense of excitement? The promise of love?

Survey a thousand people and ask what romance means to them and you'll hear a thousand different similes. Is romance a medieval tale based on legend? Chivalric love and adventure, ethereal or the supernatural? Perhaps a prose narrative treating imaginary characters involved in events remote in time or place and usually heroic, adventurous, or mysterious? Could romance merely be a love story especially in the form of a novel? Is it a class of literature? Does romance exaggerate or invent detail or incident? Can romance be a need to entertain romantic thoughts or ideas? Surely romance tries to influence or curry favor with another by lavishing personal attention, gifts or flattery?

What if in its simplistic form romance is to carry on a love affair with another? Romance is an attraction or appeal to our emotions, a love story. Hopeless romantics have spent their lives searching for the feeling that romance stirs in us all. Like everything else there are synonyms for romance. Amour, fling, love, love affair, affair. These words spur others. Intrigue, liaisons, dalliance, hanky panky, attachment, infatuation, entanglement, flirtation, passion, seduction, erotic thoughts. In the end, it's all about sex, isn't it? Or is it all about falling in love?

Let me define falling in love as well as I can, from my perspective, so we know what we're talking about. One person finds himself/herself excited and preoccupied with someone else and desirous of touching that person and being with that person as much as possible. That strong physical attraction usually includes sexual feelings. There's a frequent desire to share thoughts and experiences, even trivial experiences.

It's a headlong, pleasurable feeling that, everyone seems to agree, colors judgment so that the loved person is not seen clearly. Vague fantasies of a dramatic nature enter the lover's thoughts. The rest of life fades a little behind this dramatic daydream. It's as if there's a magnetic attraction to the other person that transcends rational thought. It's so powerful that, like other powerful feelings, such as grief, it seems to the affected person that it will last forever. This is the sort of thing people write songs about.

What does it take to fall in love? Very little, obviously. I think it's also obvious that falling in love has little to do with the person who is loved. It has to do with the person who is falling in love. Even then, it's a matter of timing and circumstances. Two people may meet each other--and pass by each other, only to meet again later and fall in love—but beyond that it can't be explained. For the lover's falling in love it doesn't need an explanation.

So, how long does it take to fall in love?

Each year on February 14th, St. Valentine's Day, romance takes centerstage. Since the High Middle Ages this day has been associated with a tradition of courtly love. We exchange cards, candy, gifts or flowers with our "Valentine." This day also inspires thoughts and images of erotic sensual love making. The word "Valentine" evolved because many Saints were named Valentinus and the day was set aside to honor Christian Saints. Imagine a holy day that conjures thoughts of torrid seduction, sinful lingerie, long stemmed roses and luxurious boxes of decadent chocolate confections that is so far removed from religious ideology that it could be considered a pagan holiday?

Our modern interpretation of St. Valentine's Day would surely be considered sacrilege by those Holy men who believed it would always be a day to honor. The desire to romance another is honorable, isn't it?

Long before the spirit of Christmas disappears from retail shelves, our homes and memories, everything crimson and heart shaped takes up residence all over the commercial world. Little tiny heart shaped sweets with sentiments of love appear for us to reminisce back to being five years old and deciding who you want to "Be Mine" or giggle when you see "I Love You" on a small candy heart that was gifted to you in complete anonymity. We grow up searching for, waiting for that love. Restless dreams keep us believing that romance is just a heartbeat away. In the end, perhaps it's in the obscure fleeting wink of an eye?

Happenstance found me in a very well-known bookstore selecting Valentine's Day cards for some very special people I adore, not in the romantic vain. It was just after noon and surprisingly, with the celebration of romance only a few days away this display of cards was still brimming, chock full with every choice imaginable. With our progressive means of interaction with others seemingly now solely dependent on electronic mode, cards have become an old-fashioned, almost obsolete tradition.

I'm a woman who dwells in an oddly old-fashioned mindset. Customs, tradition and ritual bring me a sense of belonging to the past when life was simpler and kinder.

"Excuse me, maybe you could help me?"

Looking up from my task at hand I saw a rather tall older gentleman with a look of sheer confusion on his face. Obviously perplexed and puzzled.

"I'm trying to find a card that's appropriate for my seven-year-old great granddaughter and I'm not sure exactly what that means anymore."

Smiling I could sense his bewilderment. These days nothing was unpretentious.

"Well let's see if we can simplify it for you."

"There's nothing simple any more. You used to be able to walk into a card shop, pick out a card that said what you felt and you were done. Now, there's so many hidden meanings that although I'm thinking it says you're my sunshine, what it really says is climate change is a hoax!"

We both chuckled. He had a happy laugh.

"My wife used to do all this, I lost her about a four ago, and I'm kind of lost here." "I'm sorry for your loss. I'm confident between the both of us we can find exactly what you're looking for. My name is Eliana MacMillan, Eli to my friends. Since we're about to embark on a very personal endeavor together we should consider ourselves friends not merely acquaintances."

He smiled. Nice smile I thought.

"Hello Eli, nice to have a friend in these trying moments. I'm John Shelton, John to my friends." He walked to me and offered his hand. Old fashioned thoughtful respect. The quietness in his voice suggested to me that he was breathing a sigh of relief that what may have appeared an insurmountable mission was swiftly becoming a pleasant undertaking.

"Alright John, you said she's seven?"

"Yes, loves cats and dogs."

"She's a girl after my own heart. You said she's your sunshine?"

"Yep, she's my ray of light in a sometimes-dismal world. Sorry, that sounds so ominous. It's been a tough few years and she, her name is Julia, she has a laugh that tickles me no matter what's going on in my life. I wanted to send her a Valentine to let her know how special she is and how much Gramps loves her."

"Julia is a very lucky little lady. Let's look and see if we can discover exactly the perfect card her Gramps can find!"

There were so many choices. Eventually we found a little card that had the most precious kitten sitting under a gleaming sun ... "Sunshine makes everything grow with love" ... it was the perfect valentine for a very adored seven-year-old.

"I can't thank you enough Eli. If you're not busy would you like to have a cup of coffee? Consider it my way of saying thank you?"

"I am not busy and would like that very much. How about we take care of our purchases and I'll meet you in the café?" Conveniently, the bookstore had a nice coffee shop that many people enjoyed. On any given day, you could find folks enjoying a cup of coffee, reading or just relaxing.

"Perfect! In about ten minutes then?"

"Sounds wonderful, thank you John."

We went our separate ways and when I was through I saw that John was already in the café. I took a moment to look at him sitting there. John was a tall man, salt and pepper hair that was thick, sought of wavy and fell across his brow in a boyish way. He looked up and smiled, stood up as I walked towards him. Old fashioned etiquette. How nice is that?

"I can't thank you enough for helping out. What can I get you?'

"I'll have a cup of tea, thank you, cream and sugar please."

"Sit down, I'll be right back."

There was no line at the counter so he was back in a flash.

"Tea for the lovely lady and I took the liberty of getting some Biscotti. I'm a dunker!"

"Couldn't have made a sweeter choice. Thank you, sir!"

"You rescued an old man from sheer apoplexy. I didn't have a clue there were so many cards. When it comes to the normal stuff, Christmas, birthdays I'm okay, but a Valentine for a seven-year-old threw me for a loop. As I said my wife, Corrine, took care of all that. We were married for almost forty-two years. You get spoiled I guess. So, are you married Eli?"

He was so matter of fact. Dipping his Biscotti in his coffee, leaning back in his chair, comfortable with himself. It was as if we'd been here a million times before and were old friends catching up over a cup of coffee ... and tea.

"No, I'm divorced. No children, except perhaps by assimilation."

"Assimilation?" There it was again, that broad smile.

"Nieces and nephews. The best of both worlds. I get to spoil them and send them home."

We both laughed, completely grasping the concept of spoiling and perhaps living vicariously through others children without the parental pitfalls. The secret is to never say no, and when it's necessary send them home, holding onto your status as perfect in their eyes.

"So, what do you do for a living Eliana? I'm a retired teacher, I taught Psychology for thirty-five years."

"Ohhh ... so you know why we do what we do then?"

"Now that's a question that has an open-ended answer. I'm sure that if ten people were asked why we do what we do we would get ten different conclusions. Essentially though, yes, I would be considered a man with answers. The same man who can't find a card without the assistance of a lovely lady."

John was laughing and it looked good on him. I was thinking how laid back he was. Jeans and a plaid shirt. Longish hair. Quiet brown eyes and a soft, almost mesmerizing tone in his voice. There had to be a litany of starry eyed co-eds through those thirty-five years who would admit to a crush on their professor on doubt.

"Enough about me. Tell me Eliana, what occupies your days and enthuses your mind? Such a lyrical name. You look like an Irish lass, Eliana is a Hebrew name?

"Is there no end to your vast knowledge Dr. Shelton? I am Irish. Eliana means "my God has answered" ... it's been told to me that I was wished for and long awaited, hence my name seemed appropriate."

"With that auburn hair, pale complexion and green eyes you would never be able to deny your heritage. I'm sure you're an answered prayer, you certainly answered mine. You seem to have a talent for taking me off my intended train of thought. So ... what does a lovely Irish girl with a Hebrew name do with her days.?

"I'm a former corporate CEO. I am now technically an Entrepreneur, left the corporate rat race, retired I guess you could say, four months ago, actually."

"Retired! How old are you Ellie?" It throws everyone for a loop when you look like you should be dashing through life in a hustle and instead you're moving at a snail's pace.

"Forgive me, that's not very noble of me. I believe it's customary to never ask a beautiful woman how old she is? Scratch that question."

A beautiful woman? He's charming and old fashioned?

"You can ask me anything. I'm a forty something, forty-six to be exact and that's supposed to be the new thirty, I know rather young to be retired. I had enough of the corporate world and the merry-go-round. Fortunately, I prepared well and now I'm living the dream as they say. It was a decision that wasn't made lightly, however, I'm certainly happy I made it."

"Wow, so young and the world at your feet! I may be the man with all the answers but I also have questions. You said you were divorced, no children. We'll get back to the entrepreneur part in a minute. I believe the proper terminology is "what's your relationship status?"

I chuckled. "Is that the burning question at hand?"

"Absolutely!" John was smiling and there was a distinct look of curiosity in his eyes.

"I am not currently "in a relationship" which suggests that I am free to explore all unexpected possibilities that may arise." Can't fault a girl for opening a door?

The curiosity quickly became contemplation. There was a definite question forming in his mind.

"As much as I would like nothing more than to spend my afternoon psycho analyzing you, a predisposition from my years in teaching I suppose. In any case, I must pick up a very precocious seven-year-old from school. Both parents work and today is the nanny's day off. I may be overstepping here but what the hell, here goes. Would you have dinner with me tonight?"

"I thought you would never ask!" Ahhhh ... instant gratification in his eyes. What was the point in being coy? I liked him.

"Wonderful! I want you to know that the card thing wasn't a ruse. I'm not a lecherous creep who preys on unsuspecting young women. You were very kind and I appreciated that, still do. That being said, do you know how much I'm enjoying your company?"

"Thank you, John. I'm confident that you're not a predator! Having said that, I'm enjoying you too."

"Okay then! Yes ... okay ... right ... this is going well. Do you know where Kramer's is?"

"Yes, it's a lovely spot."

"Wonderful food and nice atmosphere. How about we meet there at seven? I would love to pick you up but respect the fact that you know nothing about me and should be cautious."

Speaking like a gentleman, perhaps a bit of Gramps coming through I thought.

"That would be perfect. You can pick me up next time."

John caught the implied suggestion that there may very well be a next time and chose to simply smile and nod his head in complete agreement. I really liked him.

"Well, if you're ready I'll walk you to your car Eliana?"

We gathered our things and in a matter of minutes we were in the parking lot. When we reached my car, John took my hand in his and held it softly. His hands were warm and easy, felt safe I thought.

"I'm the Jeep right there. So, seven then, Kramer's?"

"Yes, seven it is. See you later John. And once again thank you for a lovely conversation and your charming company.

"Charming she thinks? Well ... good ... getting better all the time. See you tonight! That sounds so wonderful, I'll say it again. I'm looking forward to dinner with you Eli. See you tonight! Safe home."

"Me too. I mean I'm looking forward to dinner and you drive safely. Bye for now."

I got into my car and he watched me drive away. I'm sure as I drove away he just might have been trying to figure out how to pat himself on the back.

It was almost three and I had some things to do before heading home. Who could have predicted that a seven-year-old would be the impetus of a promising evening?

By the time, I got home I had about forty-five minutes to shower and dress. I was a bit surprised with myself. I wasn't feeling nervous or anxious at all. John was a very tranquil man I thought and down to earth. I was impressed by his openness. His questions weren't the least bit restricted by the expected usual ceremony that often occurs when two people meet and enjoy each others company. I was sure that this would be a very enjoyable dinner. A very interesting evening.

Driving to Kramer's I couldn't stop smiling. I saw John's Jeep in the parking lot. I pulled in about three cars down and was about to open my door when it opened unexpectedly.

There he was, smiling.

"Right on time, punctuality signifies interest. Now if you were late it might tell me you were undecided. So, happy that you don't show any signs of indecision!" He was laughing and reached for my hand. "Let me help you out sweet Eliana."

"Well, then I might presume that being early denotes eagerness?" I was sure even in the dim light of the moon the man blushed.

"I resemble that thought! I've been looking forward to dinner and I admit it! Let's go inside, I'm starving!"

John took my hand and we walked slowly to the door, not saying a word. There are those moments when nothing needs to said. He opened the door for me and took my coat when we were inside, handing it to the hatcheck and pocketed the claim ticket. Ummm ... a rare and valuable collectable indeed.

We were shown to our table and our waiter quickly appeared ready to serve.

"Good evening. Welcome to Kramer's, my name is Jeremy. Can I get you something from the bar?"

"Eliana what would you like?" He was holding my hand.

"Good evening Jeremy. I'll have a glass of Chardonnay, thank you."

John ordered MacCallan, an aged scotch, on the rocks. Jeremy gave us menu's and left to get our cocktails.

"Now is the moment when I order a he-man steak and you order a dainty little salad?"

"Ohhh nooo, not on your life. I've spent a good part of my life diligently acquiring these curves and aim to do all I can to keep them exactly where they are. I even cook! And when I do I actually eat!" As I was speaking he surveyed the fruits of my labor.

"Lovely curves, and I agree wholeheartedly, keep them exactly where they are."

A flatterer? No ... the smile said not at all.

"Tell you what? Why don't you use your psycho-analytical years of experience and order for us?"

He was beaming.

"Ummm ... overtly trusting, I like that. My analysis tells me that you enjoy pretty much anything. White wine suggests you gravitate towards poultry and fish. Always fresh in season veggies. But ... I sense there's a little bit of adventure. Never reluctant to try something you've never had before? Which bodes well for me. And most definitely, dessert! Okay, I'm ready. Want a hint?"

"Nope, you seem to be on a roll." He was cute. Oh, I know, how do you describe a man as cute? Shouldn't I be thinking handsome, debonair, charming, suave, sensual, seductive? Yes, he was all that and more.

Jeremy reappeared with our drinks and ready to take our dinner order.

"Ahhhh Jeremy, my good man, we'll begin with the warm Brie and Apples. For dinner, we'll have the Rack of Lamb, medium rare please, roasted parsnips, and spinach gratin. I'd like to order dessert now, a chocolate soufflé will do very well, with all the decadent accompaniments. If you'd bring a bottle of Rioja, Vina Alberdi, that should do it. Thank you, sir! Eliana, would you like to add anything?"

"No, I think you have it covered, quite nicely." The bill of fare was perfect.

Jeremy thanked John and we were alone in a room of people and they were evaporating into thin air. Funny how that happens when your attentions are on the one you're with.

"I'd like to say that you look lovely. I'd also like to say that I'm so happy you agreed to have dinner with me. I admit I was a bit anxious but bit the proverbial bullet and went full steam ahead. I sincerely hope it wasn't the dreaded case of a beautiful young woman having pity on an old man who couldn't even find a card?"

"Thank you for the gracious compliment. No, I wasn't taking pity on an old man. You're a man ... I'm a woman ... the birds and the bees ... chemistry ... analytical thinking ... dinner."

"I like the way you think! So, to the questions? You didn't think I would forget the many, many questions I have swimming around in this diagnostic mind, did you? Of course, not, you're a very perceptive woman. So, question number one? How is a gorgeous, intelligent, sweet young woman like you alone? I get the divorce but now, how come?"

"First, you keep showering me with compliments and you'll swell my head. My divorce was amicable. We simply wanted a different future. Why am I alone now? I suppose the expected answer would be, I haven't found the right one. The unpredictable answer is, perhaps I was waiting for you."

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