It’s Valentine’s Day! My Valentine is pretty fabulous. When I met him, I couldn’t help but like him. He swept me up into his world—his realm—and that’s where I’ve been for sixteen years.
I call my husband, Realm. Actually, there’s a longer name, but Realm is easier to type out. I love him, quite simply, because he has qualities I don’t. I admire his easy-going personality, his straightforwardness, and his sincerity. He will tell me exactly what he thinks—sometimes without any tact at all. I admire his ‘water off a duck’s back’ mentality; he doesn’t hold grudges. He’s good at seeing the whole picture more than the details, which I often find myself drowning in.
The way he thinks intrigues me. He’s all about efficiency. He likes to have a system in place for everything. He even formulates plans for how to keep on my team. For example, he’ll call me before he comes home from work to determine whether he needs to come bearing chocolate, a sort of peace-offering for my tough day with the kids.
We don’t have the same sense of humor. Sometimes it bugs me that he doesn’t laugh at my weird, out-there ideas. He’ll look at me with a bemused expression instead. I’ve learned that look means he’s trying to figure me out. There are so many things he tries to get about me, and that’s how I know I’m important to him. I get to be the challenge he can’t fully find an algorithm for. I also get to be the haven he can’t do without.
He’s my Realm. He’s where I want to be.
To make up for making you read those sappy lines, I’m posting a chapter of a story I started writing just for laughs. You don’t need the rest of the story to enjoy it. It’s romantic in a goofy, comedic sort of way. It’s also a first draft. And I love critiques. Feel free to sic your internal editor on it.
I Didn’t Throw Up, So It Must Be Love
“Are you okay?” Cara asked me as we walked down the ramp from the swings.
I couldn’t answer. I was afraid my breakfast of a whole elephant ear and breaded sausage on a stick would follow my response. I stepped off the shuddering planks—obviously of the most durable design and construction that the Longs & Oakwood Amusement Park could offer—and concentrated on a prayer that I would not lose the contents of my stomach right there in public. It was a horrifying few seconds. You see, it doesn’t matter if you’re almost going to throw up. It’s if you do that decides things. If you can hold it down, you’re like a hero; but it’s that moment when you really have no control over whether ‘conqueror’ or ‘conquered’ will be your lasting legacy that you realize the insanity of having eaten anything for the past two years—much less fried, ‘mystery’ ingredients twenty minutes beforehand—before getting on a ride where the intention is to go against park rules by twisting and swaying high above the park grounds, solely trusting in four rather rusty chains and a cracked kiddie chair. It seemed cool at the time but not so much in retrospect.
“Does she need a drink? I’ve got a Sprite,” someone offered as I sat down on a bench.
“No, thanks,” I said between gritted teeth. It was all I could muster.
Just as the feeling began to subside, the persistent Sprite Samaritan, added, “I haven’t opened it. Are you sure?”
The moment had passed. I was victorious. I looked up at the kind stranger. I’m sure the feelings of elation from my narrow escape were printed on my face. “S’a’right, I—” I choked.
So you probably think I lost it right then, but I didn’t. I really was a conqueror, but I choked for the simple reason that I do not possess the faculty of conversing with strangers who looked like this guy. I mean, he was of the ‘kill-me-now, I’ve-just-set-eyes-on-the-most-incredibly-amazing-looking-man-on-earth’ sort. I say sort, but I don’t mean it because I’m sure there is only one of him.
I don’t know what fell out of my mouth, but Cara started giggling. I was not even aware I’d accepted the can of pop because I was only thinking of his fantastic smile when he handed it to me. I’m about 8,000% sure my fingertips touched his as I took it. That’s an estimated statistic because—like I said—I was not aware of what happened, what I did, or whether I remembered how to breathe. Then he took the drink back with a “here,” opened it, and put it back in my hand again. My only thought throughout the whole process was, “Don’t go away. Don’t ever go away. You are gorgeous.”
I didn’t actually speak that, I’m happy to say. Cara told me later that I was blubbering pathetically, mostly syllables like, “Yeah. Uh. Huh-huh.”
That wasn’t the end of my conversation with Gorgeous. Oh, no. Add ‘nice’ and ‘friendly’ to his list of traits because he sat down while I was taking a sip and said, “You’re okay now. Your color’s coming back.”
Again, I don’t know what I said, but Cara told him, “It’s a good thing you had the drink to give her.”
“Yeah, well, I thought I was going to need it earlier.”
“Did you get on the swings, too?” Cara asked as I kept the can to my mouth, my eyes glued to Gorgeous’ face. I think I knew subconsciously that my answers were nonsense and was instinctively trying to hide my social ineptitude.
“No, the pirate ship.”
“Oh, yeah. I’ve seen people puke on that while the ride is still going. Not pleasant.”
I distinctly remember thinking how much I envied Cara’s ability to speak normally—even if the conversation topic was vomit. I guess that’s when my sense started to return. I set the drink down.
“Feel better?” he asked. Conscientious of others? Check.
“No problem. Oh, and you owe me three bucks for the drink.” He laughed at my expression. “I’m kidding.”
“No, I’ll pay you back.”
“Seriously, it was a joke.”
He stood up. He was leaving! No! My eyes went to Cara, pleading with her to find some excuse to keep him from going. I don’t know if she caught my look or just wanted to make things even, but she told him, “Well, at least let us pay for a game for you. They’re, like, three bucks, right?”
Actually, they started at five bucks, but I was nodding my head.
He shrugged and put his hands in his pockets. “Okay. Where?”
Generally, I hate the park games—the booth workers are annoying, and I don’t like to encourage them—but this was an emergency situation.
“Depends on whether you plan to win a blow-up pencil or a stuffed panda bear,” Cara told him.
“With five bucks?” He laughed. He knew it was more than three, yet he had accepted.
“Well, how about the race cars over there. See? It says a prize for every player.”
He agreed, and we walked over. He sat down on one of the stools.
“You pretty girls aren’t gonna just stand back and watch him play? Come on! You know you want to,” the man at the booth persuaded over the loud speaker.
Inwardly, I rolled my eyes in irritation. This employee was invariably Longs and Oakwood’s top salesperson of the month. The mic had probably grown to his mouth.
Cara and I made our excuses. “She wants to pay for him,” Cara added as I handed over the five crinkled ones.
“And I’m paying for both of them,” Gorgeous told the carny, giving him a ten-dollar bill.
Cara and I both looked at each other. Generous? Check.
Cara sat down beside him, and I took the stool beside her. While Mr. Conductor of the Colossal Speedway of Finest Plastic rattled off his spiel about the rules, Cara whispered to me out of the corner of her mouth, “I wonder if he’s rich.”
“Nyah. He’d get his teeth fixed, and he wouldn’t be working at an amusement park,” I responded, though we both knew she’d been talking about Gorgeous.
“What’d you say?” Gorgeous asked.
“Nothing,” we both answered as Cara shook her head at my remark.
“On your mark! Get set…” The bells and whistles at the booth were pealing maniacally. I knew we had to look really stupid. I took a quick peek at Gorgeous as our emcee announced, “Go!”
I paid for the glance by coming in last. Gorgeous won, while Cara almost caught up with his car at the last minute. It was riveting. Heh.
The booth worker handed Cara and me stamp-sized tattoos and gave the winner…a whistle. No, I’m not kidding. It was a cheap, plastic whistle.
Gorgeous took it, told the worker, “Thanks,” and lifted his eyebrows at us, like, “See?”
It was funny. He was funny. Check.
And then he put the whistle in his pocket and said, “See ya.”
Cara and I are quite the actresses. We immediately exclaimed, “Aw,” in unison—which is so embarrassing to recount now, but that’s what happened.
“What?” he said. “I’m here with friends. I need to find them.”
“It was nice meeting you,” I quickly told him, grabbing Cara’s arm and turning the other way. He waved as he walked off.
“What are you doing?” she asked, trying to untangle her arm. I was gripping it pretty tightly because I knew she’d resist me.
“I’m walking away, and you’re walking with me.”
“Don’t, Cara. It’s embarrassing. Just keep walking.”
“Why? Let’s just go meet his friends.”
“He didn’t invite us.”
Cara tried to remove her arm again, but I wouldn’t let her. “So? I’m sure he would if we just—will you let go of my arm? You’re hurting me!”
“Sorry.” I let go. Reluctantly. “Please don’t. I feel like it will ruin everything.”
“Ruin what? What are you talking about?”
“I think I just met the guy of my dreams, and I don’t want to mess it up by following him like a puppy around the park.”
She stopped, and so did I. “You are so weird, ‘Kin. You think he’s the guy of your dreams, so you just walk off?”
“No. I want to think he’s the guy of my dreams, and I don’t want to ruin that by following him.”
“Nope, you’re still not making any sense. Look; do you see him now? He’s gone. You just lost the guy of your dreams. You don’t know his name—”
“His name is Gorgeous.”
“Yeah, and your name’s Completely Mental.”
“I know, I know. I can’t explain it, but I don’t want to know about him because right now I think he’s perfect; and I just want to keep on thinking that. One day I’ll look back on this moment and say, ‘Yeah, that’s when I met the perfect guy.’ I know that’s crazy…”
“That too, but just let me do this.”
“What about me?”
“What if I wanted to know about him?”
I paused, astonished that I had been so oblivious. “Oh. I’m sorry, Cara! I didn’t even think about that. He is gorgeous, isn’t he?”
“So-so? Are you crazy?”
Cara started to laugh, “No, you are; and if we see him again, I’m going to get his number for you.”
“Larkin, you’re too much of a romantic. You should be grateful for a sensible friend like me to help you.”
“I’m not being funny. You need to stop thinking you’re going to meet Mr. Darcy in the grocery store among the avocados and actually open your mouth and talk to a real guy.”
I shrugged and gave a small sigh. My eyes wandered to the place I’d seen him last and we began to walk again.
“Wanna go on the anti-gravity rocket or the spinning tops?” she asked, getting back to business.
“Spinning tops, then the rocket.”
Once we were buckled in, I admitted, “You’re right.” Cara nodded before I continued, “If I did meet Darcy in the grocery store, it would have to be in Produce.