Short Story: “Valentine’s Day Cads”
“VALENTINE’S DAY CADS”
A Rett Bonneville Story
By Anne M. Freeman©
I was three strikes and the evening had just begun. Strike one was agreeing to a dinner date tonight with Clint Rice. Nice enough guy, but I didn’t realize it was Valentine’s Day when I said agreed to the date. A Valentine’s Day date is usually a precursor to upping the status of a relationship. I just didn’t know Clint well enough for that, and I wasn’t ready to up anything with this man. I hated to lead him on, but, cancelling now would be stickier than just going through with it, so that’s was I did.
Earlier that day, I’d received a dozen red roses and a note from my “secret admirer,” who said to meet me at the Harvest Inn. It is one of the nicest places around. I was a little put off by the flowers and the note. He wasn’t exactly a secret admirer – I was going on a date with him – and the whole not thing seemed a bit childish to me. The roses were lovely, however, and I arranged them in a vase and placed them on the small table in the entranceway where he was sure to see them.
Strike two occurred when Clint arrived to pick me up. He held out a spray of spring of flowers and a box of chocolates when I opened the door. He wasn’t my secret admirer? I turned on my heel when he stepped inside and hurried to the kitchen to find another vase for Clint’s flowers. And, I needed a moment to gather my wits. Who sent the roses if Clint didn’t? Was there really a secret admirer? This was getting strange. I brought the arranged flowers to my dining room and placed them on the table. Clint watched me, a slight frown on his face.
“I see someone beat me to it,” he said, and nodded stiffly towards the red roses.
“Oh, those,” I said, casually. “My father sends my mother, his mother, and me roses every Valentine’s Day.” I’m surprisingly good at off-the cuff lying when the situation warrants it.
Clint took in my statement in and his shoulders began to relax.
“Well, I guess it’s OK for a woman’s father to outdo her suitor,” Clint said with the crooked smile that so appealed to me. “I hope he would agree to where we’re having dinner.”
“And where’s that?” I asked, ignoring the suitor word.
“The Harvest Inn,” he replied, and smiled again.
“Oh, great! I’ll be with you in just a moment, Clint. Have a seat,” and I rushed into my bedroom. Strike two! I took the Secret Admirer’s note out of my bureau drawer and it confirmed my fear: he had written to meet me at the Harvest Inn at 8:00 p.m. The Inn has both a dining room and a bar, definitely a place someone could be a singleton on Valentine’s Day without standing out. What if this guy was a nut? I’d run across plenty of those during my performing career. What if he decided to be problematic? Suddenly, I was glad to be going out tonight with Clint. If nothing else, this guy will think I’m already taken and might drop the whole silly thing.
I put the note back in my drawer and walked out of my bedroom, fiddling with my earrings as if I’d just put them on.
“Ready to go?” he asked, and opened the door for me.
On our way to the Inn, I ran several scenarios through my mind about how this night might end, none of them good. I needed to plan, and kept the conversation light so I could prepare for the eventualities. No matter what the outcome, knew none of us would end up happy by the evening’s end. Strike three.
We arrived at the Harvest Inn just about my admirer asked me to meet him. He wrote, “I don’t want my admiration for you to be secret any longer. Please meet me at 8:00 p.m. at the bar at the Harvest Inn. I’ll be wearing a red rose boutonnière.” He even spelled it correctly. At least the man cultured. I quickly scanned the bar area before we were seated in the dining room. The bar was crowded with people, and no one looked at me in particular that I could tell, nor did I see the flash of a red rose boutonnière.
Once seated, our young waiter, Justin, recited the evening’s specials. We ordered porterhouse steak and Merlot, and the conversation turned more personal.
“I’m surprised I was able to win this date with you tonight,” Clint began, awkwardly. “I suspect there was a long waiting line. I’m glad you chose me.”
I squirmed in my seat. Clint was obviously feeling insecure and hoped his statement would prompt some sort of protestation of love from me. Something along the lines of, “Oh, there is no one else I’d rather be with!” I was definitely not going to be led down that path.
“I typically don’t view dates as race between winners and losers,” I said. “That’s too much like Match or some other dating service. I like to view dating as a means by which to get to know someone, not a contest.”
Clint was clearly disappointed in my response. He wanted a confirmation from me, some declaration of emotion, but he wasn’t going to get it.
“Well, I’m still glad you chose me,” he replied. It suddenly occurred to me that maybe he didn’t buy that the roses from my father routine after all. It was time to change the direction of this conversation.
“So, is the term finished at the college? Have you planned anything for spring break?” I asked. Clint was a professor of English at the local community college.
“Yes,” he replied shortly. “In fact, on the last day of class, I overheard some of the students talking about your performance at Finn’s, and mentioned that you and Henri de Fontenay were spending a lot time in animated conversations together during your breaks.”
Ah, so that was the real trouble. Henri de Fontenay was a young professor on an exchange at the community college from a his college in France. He was, I admit, a dreamboat. But our animated exchanges were about French popular music, which we both agreed was pretty lame due to the laws in France that required radio stations there to play a certain percentage of French artists’ records, regardless of whether the songs were any good. Having spent considerable time touring in France, I knew all about the problem. It was too complicated to explain, and I wasn’t in the mood to explain myself to this man. In fact, I was rapidly growing tired of him and this date.
“Henri does so love music,” I said, deciding not to pick up on Clint’s veiled accusation. “I enjoy talking to him about it – he is well-versed in many genres.” I decided it was time to throw the hot potato back in his lap. “I hope your students enjoyed what they heard from me.”
“Oh, yes, they were all raving about your songs and your voice,” Clint said, acting very matter of fact now, with that matter-of-fact frown on his face. “We all love your voice, Rett.”
“Why, thank you, Clint.” I smiled, hoping to ease things a bit. Where, oh where was the wine, I wondered. My secret admirer was actually beginning to look like a better bet for the evening.
Our waiter appeared with a bottle of Champaign and two flutes. Behind him, another waiter carried a freestanding wine cooler filled with ice and placed it by our table. While the distraction was welcomed, my stomach dropped a little when I realized that Clint had gone out for Champaign tonight, too.
“I didn’t order this,” Clint said to Justin. Clint looked annoyed and embarrassed. I actually felt a little bad for the guy to have to say that he didn’t order Champaign for a Valentine’s Day dinner. Awkward.
“No sir, you didn’t,” Justin replied, and he began pouring the bubbly while the other waiter placed a slim vase with a red rose on our table.
Justin said, “A gentleman at the bar sent the Champaign over to your table, and asked to give the red rose to you, miss.” Oh, shit, I thought. Can this evening get worse? The admirer was here, after all, and he decided to cause trouble and leave. What a jerk! Clint’s face turned dark.
“Who sent this bottle over,” he demanded from Justin, trying to see the bar from his seat.“A man at the bar, that’s all I know, sir. The bartender called me over and gave me the order. I didn’t see him, and the bartender said he’d already left,” Justin explained.
Clint turned to me. “I knew there was someone else!” he accused, a bit too loud. Other diners paused, and Justin froze, holding the bottle in mid-air.
Now, here’s the thing. I really dislike being put on the spot, especially when I’ve done nothing wrong. I typically don’t choose to play along with these kinds of games, and tonight would be no different. I owed Clint no explanation about the other jerk’s actions, and I wasn’t about to give him one. I wanted to do was ask Clint how can there be “someone else” in my life when Clint was not “someone” in my life in the first place? But that would be foolish, just fuel on the fire, so I kept my mouth shut and I sat there, staring straight at him.
And the three of us waited, Clint for my explanation, Justin to be told what to do with the Champaign, and me for Clint to make his move.
“Fine,” he said, throwing his napkin on the table. He pushed back his chair, stood up and with a dramatic flair, spit out, “Enjoy your Champaign!” And then he walked out.
Justin withdrew the bottle.
“I’m so sorry, miss. I’m so sorry!” he exclaimed, with a panicked look on his face.
“Don’t be sorry, Justin, you didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I shouldn’t have brought over the Champaign!”
“Justin, don’t worry about it. None of this was your fault,” I tried to reassure that young man. The other diners went back to their meals, glad they weren’t me, I’m sure.
“Is there anything I can do?” he almost pleaded for a way to make it alright.
I thought about it for a minute, wondering how to not let either of those two losers wreck my evening.
“Justin, do you think our dinner orders are already underway?”
“Yes, I’m afraid they are.”
“Tell you what. Since I am going to be stuck with the bill, there is no sense in my wasting two perfectly good steaks. When you have the chance, go back to the bar. Ask the bartender if there is anyone at the bar who is a regular and who is alone tonight, and might enjoy a steak and Champaign. I don’t care if it’s a man or woman. Whoever it is, just send him or her over to my table. Would you do that for me, Justin? I’d love to have someone share this dinner with me tonight.”
“Sure, miss. I’d be glad to.” And he hurried away, relieved that there was some action he could take to fix the situation.
Shortly thereafter, Justin came back with a little old man in a navy sports jacket, a green and white window-check shirt, a navy tie with green whales and red hearts, and sharply pressed khaki trousers. His white hair was combed carefully over.
“Hi, my name is Rett Bonneville. Happy Valentine’s Day.” I held out my hand to shake his, which was calloused and dry. “Thank you for joining me for dinner tonight. Please sit down.” I motioned to the empty chair. Justin removed the place setting and put down a new one for the old man. “What is your name?” I asked when Justin finished.
“My name is Joseph Spedding,” he said with a creaky, old voice. “What’s this about, young lady? Are you sure a pretty lady like you wants to spend Valentine’s Day with an old coot like me?” He smiled, and his whole face lit up.
“I sure do, Joseph. I just lost my date, and I have it on authority that you’ll make a great stand in.” We both chuckled, and Joseph sat down.
“So, tell me all about yourself, Joseph. I’m ready for a good story. How did you earn those calloused hands? Are you a sailor?” And Joseph launched into the story of his life, as we sipped our Champaign and dug into our perfectly cooked steaks, which had just arrived.