In Love with LovebyAcktion©
I don't have any idea why I even started doing it, much less why I have continued. Maybe it has something to do with when I was a small child and we had Valentine's mailboxes and mine was always empty.
It's not that I am not "a man's man" in every other sense of the words, really. I played football and still spar MMA to stay in shape. I don't think I even own a pair of tweezers and I tend to rip my nails while working to below the cuticle more often than even the most fastidious would trim them.
Yet, I enjoy romance novels and what are usually referred to as "chick flicks". I am not ashamed to admit that I teared up watching "The Notebook" or "The Lakehouse". I am absolutely in love with love and romance. And above all, I adore Valentine's Day.
Three hundred and sixty-four days out of the year, it is all too easy to take those around us, even the ones we love, for granted. Or perhaps that is too harsh. Perhaps it is not so much that we take them for granted so much as it is too much effort to go beyond what we normally do on a daily basis to show them how we feel.
Yet, we have this one day set aside to splurge and try to squeeze out every bit of the love and adoration that we feel all year long. We, as men, can even do this without being teased and ridiculed by other men on that one day.
If I didn't actually have any one to give the bouquet of a dozen red roses and the box of chocolates to, and no one was going to be hanging on my arm wearing my tailored tuxedo, then that was no one's business save my own. I may be a man, but I enjoy flavored chocolates also. I may be rough and tough and coach keeps asking me why I don't enter the annual tough man competition, but that doesn't mean that I can't enjoy the smell and the beauty of a dozen roses in a bundle.
Even if I had learned the hard lesson at an early age that to admit these things was to court torment and, often, fights as a man.
Every year on Valentine's Day, I picked up my freshly tailored tuxedo, bought a box of chocolates, and bought a dozen red roses. Every year on Valentine's Day, I dressed in my tux, and, carrying my roses and my chocolates, walked to a nearby park to watch the sunset. After the sun was hidden for the night, I would just barely make my solitary reservation for dinner, where I would watch the others around me.
It truly never crossed my mind that any might be paying me more than passing attention. I never really considered what they must think of my situation. I was doing it because I wished to, not because I was being stood up by a date. But, I am getting ahead of myself.
The nights when some nervous Romeo would rise from his seat to, supposedly, pick up some dropped napkin and then offer his Juliet a ring from bended knee were the best. I always applauded longest and loudest when I was privileged to witness such an event. What could possibly be more romantic than combining the romance of Valentine's with the romance of dedicating yourself to sharing your life with that special someone?
I truly never imagined that anyone would notice as I surreptitiously wiped a tear on my napkin or give it a second thought if they did. But, again, I am getting ahead of myself.
So, why had I never done such a thing? One might ask.
Actually, I had. One Valentine's Day when I was twenty, I, too, had gone to one knee and asked the love of my life to be by my side for the rest of our existence on this mortal plane. And she said she would. We never made it to the altar.
At first, I was mourning her. Then, it did not seem fair to measure others against her memory. Then, I was just too old to be more than a second husband and step-father to children that weren't mine. And I did not think I wanted a constant reminder that I was a second chance any more than they would wish to be reminded that they were not my first choice.
No, love and romance is for the young unencumbered by the responsibilities that life heaps upon us. But, that did not mean that I could not enjoy it vicariously on this one night of the year.
Until the year that all changed.
"Excuse me. Is this seat taken?"
I glanced up to see an elegant lady standing beside my table. She was beautiful, with her auburn hair bound up in a sweeping style and her green eyes so warm and smiling. Her evening gown matched her eyes and seemed to whisper against every curve and line of her lush body. The fresh bloom of youth had just started to fade from her, making me estimate her age in her mid twenties.
Belatedly, I remembered my manners and rose from my seat.
"Ah, no." I said. "Please, won't you join me?"
The words were reflexive if the manners were not. I hadn't especially wanted company on this special night. Yet, saying "no" without being harsh had never been in my skill set.
"Thank you." She said.
She and the maître d' exchanged those murmured pleasantries that were common and he left us with a small bow. Left us standing, looking at each other.
Why wasn't she sitting? I wondered. Oh, right.
I stepped around the table to pull out and hold her chair. I tapped the back of her knees as she sat and grimaced. Romance is much easier without another party involved and after eighteen years, I was out of practice.
Once she was seated, however clumsily on my part, I stepped back around to regain my own seat. Her eyes the color of emeralds seemed to sparkle and glow from some inner light. What should I say? I wondered. Should I compliment her eyes? I didn't quite feel up to complimenting her dress and the implied compliment to what lay beneath it. She spoke as I dithered and took the question out of my hands.
"So why is it that such a handsome man would come alone to this place on Valentine's Day?"
I felt foolish having to set out my reasons in words. Particularly to a woman that I did not know. Yet, something about her told me to tell the truth and that she would somehow know if I lied.
"So, this isn't a memory to her," She asked with a raised eyebrow once I had told her the jumbled tale.
"Perhaps at first," I admitted. "That may be how it began, but not anymore."
"So, rather than a woman, your true love is love?" Her smile seemed to dim the room around us it was so very bright. "You are a very unusual man, Thomas."
It took me a moment to realize that she had said my name when I had not told her and she, so far as I knew, hadn't any reason to know it.
"You seem to have the advantage of me." I said. "I'm afraid I don't know your name."
"Call me Dahlia." She said.
Something about the name and the way she said it stirred a distant memory. I had the distinct feeling that there was more to the name, but I could not think of what it might be. Before I could chase down the errant thought, we were interrupted.
"There you are."
I glanced up to find a large man clad in black leather standing next to our table, looking down at my putative date.
"Hello, Martin." Dahlia said, a trifle coolly. "How's Narine?"
It may have been my imagination, but he seemed to stiffen as if he had been struck a physical blow.
"She is well." Martin said. "Come away now, Dahlia. Stop this nonsense."
He made the mistake of reaching for her. Or perhaps it would not have been a mistake if she had not so obviously pulled away.
I rose from my chair.
"Sit back down, son." Martin turned to glare at me. "You're still young yet to die for this trollop."
The dichotomy of a young man who appeared also in his mid twenties, even one so much larger, calling me "son" when I was nearing my fortieth birthday touched both my anger and my humor. Before I could decide how to respond, yet another interruption intervened.
The maître d', his attention caught by the activity, bustled over and asked Martin to leave. I thought it was a perfectly polite and reasonable request. However, Martin responded with a fury that stunned me.
He turned and shoved the small man with such force that he slammed into another table, overturning it. Before I could react, he turned back and slammed his fist into my chin.
Reflex and muscle memory took over at that point. I closed on him with a flurry of counterstrikes, grabbed the lapels of his leather jacket and used a hip throw to slam him to the ground.
His elbow slammed into the side of my head, narrowly missing my temple. I swept his arm in mine to pin it and knelt on his neck and then froze waiting for the submission tap.
It didn't come. Instead, he continued to fight against my hold.
I glanced up at a shadow falling over us to see the man who had been sitting at the table the maître d' had fallen into. He was holding a badge in his hand and his other was out of sight behind his back.
"I know he started it, but I think you had all better leave." The officer said.
I nodded and started untangling myself. Martin took that opportunity to try to reverse his fortune. As I tumbled back, I heard a distinctive click. Martin froze with his fist drawn back and glared at the officer who had drawn a revolver.
"Now, normally, I hate shooting an unarmed man." The officer said. "The paperwork is a nightmare. But considering you've spoiled my wife's Valentine, I figure two weeks off to make it up to her is just about right if that fist lands. Your choice, Martin."
Martin glared at the officer for another moment before dropping his fist and his gaze back to me.
"This isn't over, Tommy Boy." Martin said as he rose and turned his back on me.
My hand clenched at the long hated nickname. But, once again aware of just where we were, I held myself to a firm nod and a murmured, "I look forward to it."
"I think it might be best if you and your lady friend left as well, Thomas." The officer said. "I know he started it, but... Well, I just think it would be for the best."
I took my eyes from Martin's leather clad back making his exit to see the officer looking at me, not unkindly as he put his weapon away.
"I understand." I nodded.
When I looked back, Martin was lost to my sight. Would he come back? Would he be waiting for me outside? I could understand why they would not want Dahlia and I here either since we were, in their minds, just as much a part of the trouble as he was.
I swept the all but forgotten candy and flowers from the table and in a reflex gallantry offered them to the officer.
"I know it doesn't make up for your spoiled evening, but please offer these to your wife with my apologies." I said. "And I will take care of your bill for dinner."
"That's not necessary." The officer blinked in surprise.
"I insist. It's the least I can do." I moved behind Dahlia's chair and held it. "Come, my lady. We should leave these good people to return to their dinners."
"Why should we leave just because Martin is an immature spoiled brat?" Dahlia asked.
The inner light gracing her eyes was different this time. Harder. I could see that she had the legendary temperament of the redhead stereotype in full.
I bent to place my mouth next to her ear.
"Because we have been asked to and it's the right thing to do." I said. "We can either leave together and continue to enjoy our evening while these good people go back to enjoying theirs. Or, I can walk away now and leave you to be thrown out by that good officer on your own further spoiling all of our romantic evening. Your choice."
Dahlia's eyes darted this way and that, taking in the diners who were still staring at us. I couldn't tell what conflict it was in her eyes or how to diffuse her any further and wasn't sure that I cared. My night of romance had already been spoiled. First by this mystery woman and then by, what I could only assume was, her paramour.
As I was thinking that, her eyes met mine and softened.
"Yes, I should like to spend more time with you to make up for spoiling your evening as well." She said.
"No evening could be completely spoiled with you in it," I shot back in spinal reflex, although I wasn't completely sure I believed it.
I nodded a polite apology to any who's eyes met mine on the way out. Dahlia swept ahead of me, her bearing as regal as if she were choosing to leave of her own accord and the stares were no more than her just due.
I paused at the door to slip the maître d', back in his place, two one hundred dollar bills and my card for the ruined meal of the officer and his wife and any damages incurred. I paused again just outside the door to scan for Martin.
"So, what else should we do for entertainment?" Dahlia asked, once again all smiles.
"Truthfully, that dinner was the last of my scheduled plans for the evening." I said, bringing my attention back to her. "What would the lady desire?"
"The museum has an exhibit dedicated to the goddesses of love." Dahlia said. Her entire face seemed to glow with her smile. "That would be suitably romantic, I think."
"Oh?" I asked. "Would that be the Roman goddess Venus or the Greek goddess Aphrodite?"
"All of them." She laughed gaily. "And more. There's even a special section about the origins of Valentine's Day."
Intrigued, I agreed that I would like to see that and we stepped off with her arm in mine.
That sixth sense that warns trained fighters of danger fixated on a darkened alley on our left. Without quite consciously thinking about it, I stepped around Dalia so that she was between myself and the street in order to put myself between her and that alley.
Martin's charge from the alley was not only not a surprise, but was almost anticlimactic.
"Hello, asshole." I said almost cheerfully as I swept his fist past my head, causing him to stumble and slam into a car parked on the curb.
Martin didn't miss a beat, but spun and charged at me again. This time, I let his charge carry both of us into the mouth of the alley before disengaging.
I backed further down the alleyway, away from any eyes that might be tempted to intervene this time. I might be out of practice in holding a chair for a lady or in how to compliment her, but this? This I was very much in practice for.
"Come ahead, coward." I said, holding my arms wide as if asking for a hug. "Or can you only attack from darkness and from behind with the cravenness of an assassin."
Martin was a big man. He topped my six feet by another half a foot at my best guess. And his broad leather clad chest and shoulders seemed half again as wide as my own.
"Tactics are not cowardice." Martin said as he stayed where he was and dropped into a crouch.
His words were almost textbook correct, but his tone told me that I had struck a nerve.
"Sure." I said. "But, when surprise is eliminated, what will you do? There is one here in this alley to stop me and save you this time."
"You dare!" Martin gasped and his guard lowered a fraction of an inch.
That fraction was all that I had been waiting for and I struck. And got a nasty surprise. Martin was not just bigger and possibly stronger, but he was also just as thoroughly trained.
In short order, I knew that my advantage in the restaurant was a fluke of chance and surprise and that I could be in very real danger. We broke apart after a brief grapple.
"Not bad." Martin spat to one side. "If you were younger, you might actually give me a workout. A light one."
I favored my left ribs and studied his stance, trying to see where his next attack would come from. No, the restaurant hadn't been a total fluke. His rage and reaction to it had made him make a mistake. That was what I needed. To piss him off.
"Thanks, pissant." I said. "You aren't too bad yourself for a sheep fucker."
"You'll have to do better than that, Tommy Boy." Martin chuckled launching his own flurry of attacks.
I definitely took the worst of it that time and it was all I could do to disengage.
"Know when you are bested, young one." Martin shook his head.
"When it happens, I will." I gasped, favoring my left side even more.
My eye fell on Dahlia watching us from the mouth of the refuse strewn alley. She was the key somehow, I realized.
"It must really bother you that she would go hunting bigger and better dick." I said.
Even though it had been what I had been trying for, his roaring charge caught me off balance. It was all I could do to take the punishment of his longer reach to close to grappling distance. I knew that this was the only chance I would get and blocked out the pain as he slammed again and again into my ribs as I locked my arm around his neck and began to bear down.
The untrained believe that a choke hold, sometimes referred to as a sleeper hold, works by cutting off the air of the opponent. That can be done if it's sloppily executed. Training though teaches to cut off the blood flow to the brain instead.
Some combination of trained skill, luck, and his rage let me execute a near textbook perfect example of this maneuver. Then all I had to do was hang on as he twisted and slammed that hard elbow into my side over and over and over.
Too late, his tactics changed and his strong hands dug at my arm. Already, the lack of blood to his brain was sapping his strength. It still took longer than it should have for his struggles to fade and then cease.
Letting go was a nerve wracking experience. I was half afraid that my hold hadn't been as good as I thought since he should have gone down in five seconds and he might, even then, have been faking to get me to drop my guard. Still, I didn't want to kill him either which was extremely possible if my hold was as good as I thought.
I shoved his limp body away and recovered as best I could in case he should turn and attack. If he did, I knew I was beaten, but was determined to fight it out to the end.
Martin fell limp to the ground. He was truly out. No one can not try to catch themselves when falling face first.
Turning, I staggered a little to the mouth of the alley where Dahlia waited.
"That was amazing!" Dahlia said. "Only one other person has ever beaten my brother."
Her brother?! Oh, crap. I moaned to myself. I had to get myself out of this before it became a shitstorm.
"I don't think I'm up to anymore public appearances tonight, Dahlia." I said. "I think, perhaps, I would just like to retire for the evening."
"That sounds good to me." Dahlia said, capturing my arm with both of her hands. "Your place is closer."
I don't quite know why I didn't pull away from her. Perhaps I was a bit more addled by the pain washing over me as the adrenaline faded. Perhaps I fell victim to that same age old truism that fighting, and especially winning, can bring forth a biochemical response driving a man to mate.
Whatever, the reason, I did not object, nor try to pull away from her as we stepped out of the alley and turned towards my apartment.
My clothing was the last thing on my mind until we arrived in my small bachelors apartment. I took off my tuxedo jacket and saw a rip in the shoulder and moaned. Prompted, I glanced down myself and moaned anew at the spots of blood on my white shirt.
"I need to freshen up." I said. "May I get you anything?"
"No, I'm fine." Dahlia said.
"I'll be back in a moment." I nodded.
The bathroom in my small bachelor's apartment was through the bedroom and I carelessly tossed my ruined jacket on the bed and loosened my bow tie on my way past. As I entered the small room, with the glaring lights, I winced at my reflection.
Dried blood on my upper lip and lower chin told where the spots of blood had come from on my shirt. My ribs ached and pulled, making it uncomfortable to shrug out of my shirt. The skin over my side was starting to purple.
I made myself lift my left arm over my head, stretching out that side and began to run the fingers of my right over my ribs checking for breaks. I was lucky. I was bruised and battered, but none seemed to be broken.
There didn't seem to be a point in even trying to save the shirt, so I dropped it and kicked it off to one side. My muscles in my left side flinched and pulled as I leaned over the sink to wash the blood off of my face.