Not a Romantic Bone

by L.A. Tucker

My old friend and I were out walking through the neighborhood, a favorite Saturday afternoon pastime. The cool weather of January was chilling our cheeks, but it was a blissfully dry day and we were enjoying our walk. We hadn't been together lately because of the holidays, but the somewhat unseasonable weather and a need to catch up with each other's lives led us to agreeing to meet.

As usual, Amy was giving me a hard time. Sometimes I think she lives just to argue with me. I'd never admit it, but I've always liked it. She has a way of keeping me centered and on track. Sometimes I think she knows me better than I do.

Today, the subject was a familiar one, that of my faltering and inept attempts to get a mutual friend 'interested' in me.

Amy was already taking potshots at my battered ego.

"Valentine's Day is still a month away. You don't have an excuse not to come up with something to sweep her off her feet."

"Sweep her off her feet?" I protested, "It would take a parade of Clydesdales at full gallop stampeding right at her for that to happen. She's so ... aware of every overture I make."

"It's your own fault. Ever since she told you that there isn't a romantic bone in your body, you've been going overboard trying to impress her."

"Fat lot of good it's done me. She still thinks I'm just her buddy." I shook off the pervasive feeling of doom, and looked up at the gray overcast sky. I decided to try and relax and enjoy our walk, like I've always done.

I can't say I was pleased with our talk, though. As Amy mentioned, Valentine's Day was a month off, and already I was starting to stress about it. Sue, the woman I'd been haphazardly seeing for the last few months, had apparently had a conversation with her complaining about my lack of romantic finesse. They'd known each other for years. Actually, Amy is the one who introduced us. Some days it was a blessing that they knew each other so well, other days it was pure embarrassment hell for me. This was one of those days, because Amy was slipping into one of my least favorite personalities, that of 'Romance Advisor'. It wasn't as though she excelled at it or had any room to brag. After all, she'd been single for the last two years. Who was she to give me advice?

I bit my lip and refused to needle her for the lack of a love life. That could come later.

Amy kicked at a rock on the sidewalk and elbowed me. "So tell me, what have you done lately? I mean, to be sweet?"

I had to stop in my tracks a moment. I don't think anyone but my grandmother has ever accused me of being 'sweet', and Grammy hasn't always 'been all there'. Dumbfounded, I sputtered, "Define 'sweet'?"

Amy grinned knowingly. "Uh, listen Stud, 'sweet' is a flower, a card, a candlelit dinner. Opening a car door? Telling her she looks wonderful?"

At a loss, I grumbled my retort. "I went and met her family, that's what. I thought that was sweet of me. You know I hate meeting parents. Turns me into a babbling klutz. Jeez, our second 'date' was Thanksgiving at her folk's house! I think I deserve bonus points just for doing that. A year's worth of bonus points. Most miserable day of my life."

"So you said. I don't suppose choking on your turkey and coughing out that it was DRY! DRY! ... did you any good in her eyes." Amy needlessly clutched at her throat and made some dramatic gagging noises, and then snickered at the look on my face.

"Well," I lamely defended myself, something I did a lot of lately, especially when it came to my awkward behavior with Sue, "it was dry. It was like chewing on a box of Kleenex! And the stuffing, God, I'm pretty sure her mom took that directly out of a throw pillow and put it into the bird that morning before she tossed the whole mess into the oven. A turkey should not have given up his life for that 'feast', let me tell you." As an afterthought, I mumbled, "And the cider? How was I supposed to know it was hard cider? Just because I drank the whole thing down like it was water ..." I stupidly repeated myself, "Let me tell you ..."

"You've told me." Amy had the temerity to giggle, and for some reason, I knew her mirth was directed at me, and not at that awful dinner I'd forced myself to sit through some months back. She got back to her point. "So, are you two still unofficially dating?"

"I guess. Neither one of us can get up the nerve to call what we do 'a date'. Movies. Going out to dinner. Hanging out. Playing pinball. Shooting pool. And half the time we're at the bar, she's shooting more looks at others than I ever do. I mean, women come up and ask her to dance, and she turns them down. But she just says 'no thanks'. It's not like she admits or proudly says 'I'm with her' or anything. Maybe she doesn't think we're dating. Maybe we are just hanging out."

Amy slipped her arm through my mine, and laughed. "Trust me, she thinks you're dating. She told me all about your first kiss."

A groan escaped from me that probably could be heard blocks away. "Why do I bother telling you anything, she tells you first! It was our first and only kiss.!" Amy coughed at me in exasperation, so I blustered on with what I was sure would be an unsatisfactory explanation. "She dragged me under that mistletoe - I had no idea it was there until after it happened. I was so shocked she was kissing me, I never had the time to get my lips in position. It just turned out badly, that's all, my lips were chapped. Damn, it must have been like kissing the back end of an alligator. I'm not used to being on the receiving end of surprise attack. I'm the one who always makes the first move."

Amy kept a comfortable pressure on my arm, and even squeezed it a little in sympathy. We walked past rows of brownstones, and around a couple who were obviously moving in together, flushed and smiling as they trotted around inside a Mayflower moving van. Stepping along, we approached a school playground, where some teenagers were taking advantage of the dry weather and playing football in the faded colored leaves that still littered the half frozen ground. An errantly thrown pass came our way and I quickly moved Amy out of its path by pulling her into my arms Giving the boy who raced past us a stern look over her shoulder as I held her, he grinned an apology as he retrieved the ball out of the street. I shot him another dirty look on his return trip back to the field to continue his game.

''Thanks, never saw that coming," Amy said with somewhat of a surprised croak in her voice. Pulling away, she readjusted her grip on my arm, and we continued on, navigating the uneven sidewalk.

"Yeah, well, that football almost hit your noggin. Wouldn't want your brains to shake any looser than they already are." I couldn't help but smile at the glare she gave me. I reached out and gently touched the ends of her blonde hair that were peeking out from beneath her brown knitted cap. "You get your hair cut? It looks shorter."

She self consciously felt the ends I'd just tugged on. "Shorter, yeah. So much so that I may wear this hat for the next few months or so until it grows out a little. My hairdresser practically scalped me. The Indian."

This time I pulled her closer with our linked arms. "Betcha it looks good, and you're just being vain. Like usual. Your hair always looks great to me."

She came to a dead stop and turned to look at me, almost making me fall into her. "Did you just give me a compliment?" Her cheeks colored even more than they were from the biting air.

"No! Well," I could see she was serious, which kind of flummoxed me. I wasn't used to either of us ever being serious. "Sure. You know you have great hair. All blonde and soft. I can't imagine you getting a bad haircut, it's always, you know, really OK."

"Really OK?" She was staring at me with those big green eyes of hers, and it made me uncomfortable. She began walking again, shaking her head, and pulling me along. "No wonder Sue thinks you don't have a romantic bone in your body, you can't even give a friend a compliment with any grace."

I stumbled over a crack in the sidewalk. "I am too graceful!"

We turned at the corner, and walked past the front of the elementary school. Its windows still displayed construction paper cutouts made by the children who attended the school. There were faded remnants of decorations from the recently celebrated holidays. Finger-painted and water-colored snowmen, Christmas trees, a few Halloween pumpkins, a cornucopia and assorted Pilgrims. The reminder of Thanksgiving made my stomach clench a little, and I must have sighed too loudly, because Amy was giving me that sympathetic smile again.

"What?" I said, embarrassed to be caught with a pathetic frown on my face.

"What? We gotta do something drastic with your love life, Romeo, but quick. Otherwise she's going to ride off into the sunset without you. On somebody's else's buckboard. On a happy hayride with the next woman who knows how to sweet talk a girl."

I was just about to poke her, to show my displeasure at her smart alecky remarks, but she artfully ducked away. I swear, if there was snow on the ground, she'd be at the losing end of a mighty big slushy snowball fight right now. But she stepped into a puddle, at least that gratified me.

This time I offered her my arm, which she took after peering up at me suspiciously. She said, rather offhandedly,"By the way, how did that thing with the long stemmed rose work?"

Grimacing, I huffed at her. "Oh, now that was great advice! Leave a rose on her windshield for her to find, you said. Well, I did. The only problem was she didn't go near her car until the next day. And overnight, we get this big freeze and the next morning she goes out to find a big black dead rose on her car. She probably thought Tony Soprano was sending her a message! I never admitted to it. She asked me about it and I just played dumb."

"Not a hard thing for you to do," Amy teased.

"Nice. Thanks so much." I feigned a hurt face, but she didn't fall for it.

"Am I picking on you again? Well, you know what they say -you only hurt the ones you love."

I grinned and laughed. "Well, you must love me a lot then, because you're always picking on me."

For just a moment, her head fell cozily on my shoulder, and she murmurred, "I suppose that's true."

My knees nearly buckled from the warm and intimate gesture. We walked on, still arm in arm, quietly enjoying the January day, block after block of comfortable silence. Every once in a while she'd squeeze my arm where she held on to it, and quite without thinking, I laid my hand from my free arm on top of her mittened hand and left it there. I swear I heard her sigh, but it might have been the wind.

We stopped to sit down on a park bench that had always served as our turning around point. I brushed a few stray leaves off it and made a sweeping, gallant gesture for her to sit in the clean spot. We sat down, hip to hip to ward off the chill wind, and settled back.

I couldn't resist teasing her. "What's that meddling mind of yours cooking up now? More ways for me to drive women away, screaming into the night?"

She nudged me, and smiled, staring off at the barren trees that lined the perimeter of the park. After a bit she said, "Well, I don't know. I suppose I could drag you on some jewelry shopping expedition and have you buy her some sort of Valentine's Day trinket... a heart on a chain... or a teddy bear. But I know you hate shopping. Maybe you should just give me the money and I'll do it. That way you'd look good, and I'd have the fun of actually shopping for Valentine's Day."

I sat a little closer, enjoying the warmth that was radiating from her body on such a frigid day. Glancing at her, and seeing her quietly smiling, I came to an unexpected decision. "Nah, forget it. I don't think Sue and I are meant to be. I mean, it seems like too much work, this trying to romance her. It just doesn't feel natural to me, all this trying to till the romantic field and not reaping the harvest from it."

I looked out at the same stark trees that Amy was gazing at, and waited for her to argue with me. To my surprise, she didn't.

Instead, she said nothing for a while, but instead pulled her mitten off, and flexed her fingers in the sharp cold air. "I hate wearing gloves. Mittens or gloves. Just doesn't feel right."

Being a glove hater myself, I agreed with her, and decided that I'd help her out. I took my hand out of my pocket, and very deliberately took hers in mine. She looked at our hands, then shyly at my face, and I found myself blushing, so I had to look away.

She must have seen the blush and wanted to reassure me, because the next thing I knew, her fingers were slowly but surely interlacing with mine.

We walked back to my house that way, hand in hand, me with one hand in my pocket, her with one mitten on.

By the time we had reached my doorstep, I knew deep in my heart that I was going to have a very different Valentine's Day this year.

I had some unused mistletoe of my own still tacked above my doorway, and I pointed to it as we stepped inside.

This time, I thought was prepared for it. This time, though, it was with Amy, so everything was different.

But no amount of preparation could have readied my previously unromantic bones for the explosion of love I felt in our first kiss.

Or our second one. Or the third. Or any of them thereafter.



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