His name was James. He was a teacher. He was happier and more polite than anyone should be. He was older, tan, brown hair, and always ordered a number 23 with jack cheese to go. And he would leave a great tip for a to go order. I got to know him, and we flirted a little over the cash register. Then he would start to order his meals toΒ stay.

He chose his table right by the register, perfect for our light banter as I ran around to deliver food, drinks, bus tables, or just walk by because I knew he would look.

Run!

He wore running shirts. Shirts about triathalons, marathons, 5 and 10ks. With a body that is built more for comfort than for speed, I had never had an interest in running. But I would ask him questions about this race or that. He was always so friendly and kind. You could tell he was nervous around me, and the other girls at the cafe and even the cooks and busboys would tease me about him coming in every day.

Valentine’s Day came, and I wondered and got nervous butterflies. I made sure my shirt was clean, I had on green eyeshadow, bangle bracelets on my arms, and a pretty brown skirt. He came into the restaurant. !

He was sweating a little on his upper lip as he waited in line. We made that eye contact you always do with a crush, where you both pretend you can’t feel each other staring, and you’re very nonchalant about each other’s presence anyway, but ohmygoshhe’slookingIhopeIlookcutewhatifthereisa booger/sweat/pitstains/badbreath/anything in my teeth?!

He got to the front of my line, and we smiled shyly at each other and then I saw his arm – wrapped in a cast.

“What happened?!” Instant conversation fodder, chance to touch him. Yes.

But he was clutching a white envelope on his hands, and he shrugged off my comments and thrust the card into my hands.

“I’m sorry about the writing.” and he left without ordering.

T2i - Red Heart

Inside, a Pink Panther Valentine, addressed to me, with a heart scrawled and signed “James” like a five year old might write.

I bought a pair of running shoes, joined a gym, and started training for a 5k that was happening in Santa Barbara, where we lived. I recruited a friend, bought cute workout clothes and a headband.

The morning of the race, sure that was the day we would run into each other “accidentally” and he would proclaim his love and we would begin to live happily ever after, I never saw him.

My hip also popped out when I tripped off a curb and I never officially finished the race. Should have been a sign.

We ran into each other a few times downtown after that, and he would buy me a drink. We both seemed too embarrassed to really talk, and he stopped coming into the cafe.

But I still run. And I found the card in the back of my car the other day. And I smile to remember James, who made me feel beautiful for a while.

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