Why is it that whenever you're trying to rush, because you spent too much time giving yourself a pep talk in the mirror, that's when the thing you need most goes missing? He knows there is a box of matches somewhere in this apartment. He has used them for every birthday cake for the last ten years. It isn't that often he lights things on fire. They should be right in this drawer.
His roommate's lighter is sitting on the table. It refuses to spark. There has to be something, because he has to light these candles. It's not a fancy Valentine's dinner without fancy Valentine's candles. Which are really just those tall taper candles that you sit in the middle of the table when you want to dim the lights and hope your date doesn't notice that you were a bit too liberal with your shaver and that you really should have left your mustache be this morning.
Okay, maybe that was just him.
He looks to his gas stove, and crossing his fingers, he turns the knob. The flame works well enough to light the candle, and he places it in the center of the table. It's their coffee table in the living room, covered with the curtain from his roommate's room. They don't own a tablecloth. Sure, he could have gotten one from the dollar store, a thin plastic sheet of pink, but he is trying, and failing, to be classy.
He hadn't planned on having a Valentine. Heck, he'd been staring at the same girl through his window for the past four months with no real ambition to ask her out. She was perfect, and he, to put it bluntly, was quite the opposite.
Astrid is the kind of girl that draws a crowd. She would open her window and sing to the birds. He wishes that he were a bird, so that he could sing along, front row, and not creepily watch from the slat of his blinds.
He also wishes that he could sing. Can't carry a tune, much less play one. He fantasizes about how one day they'd be dueting together on tour, and on the last stop, when she would look into his eyes, she would know, and lowering the mic, take his face in her hand, kissing him gently.
He wishes that less gentle kisses would happen after that.
She's the kind of girl that goes out every night after work to the bar. He knows, because he works at the pizza parlor across the street, and he sees her go in. His shift usually ends before she leaves. Some nights when he is feeling curious, he sits in his window and waits to see how long until her bedroom light comes on.
Some nights it doesn't come on at all.
He doesn't sleep well those nights.
It's not entirely false to say that he is obsessed with her. He notices her favorite foods. There's the takeout boxes of sushi in her trash, and every time the ice cream truck passes in the summer, she flags him down for a Fudgsicle.
The things she does to that Fudgsicle should be censored. There are children in this apartment complex.
He signed up for private classes with a sushi instructor. He's learned the art of the roll, and he's made homemade ramen too. It was a twelve hour labor of love. Twelve hours that came after working a full shift at the pizza parlor until 5pm. He's glad that she agreed to meet so late tonight so that he could sleep this morning and get the place cleaned up.
He's surprised that she agreed to meet up at all. It is the most romantic night of the year, and she chose to be with him. Had she secretly been harboring a crush on him too? Did she have a thing for short guys with red hair and pet snakes?
She strikes him as more of a designer dog kind of girl. He's banking on being wrong.
He's also banking on the fact that his roommate was not lying about this whole ordeal, and that he had indeed scored him a date for tonight. Otherwise he is going to eat an entire tray of sushi on his own, because he eats when he is depressed, and it is all too easy to keep popping pieces of eel and tuna into his mouth to keep the sad words from falling out.
Optimism is a good look for him.
So is this tie that his father brought him over. It's a red bowtie, the one that he wore on his first Valentine's day with his mother. It's supposed to bring him good fortune and luck.
"Make sure she doesn't ruin it when she rips it off in a fit of passion now."
"Dad....," he had moaned, jerking away to glare at him. He was terrified to kiss Astrid, let alone do things that required removing his tie. Sweat was pooling at his forehead, and he took a cloth to it, only to remember it was soiled with soy sauce.
The doorbell rings. He checks his reflection once more. He had been sure to remove the soy sauce, but he is nervous, and that makes him sweat.
He opens the door to find that it isn't Astrid. Rather, it is her sister Gloria, in a pink dress and kitten heels.
"Hi," she says, or so he thinks. Her voice is more of a whisper, and it forces him to lean in closer. She blushes at his proximity.
"Gloria, hi." He's confused. Had his roommate misunderstood his yearning looks across the lot for interest in the wrong sister? They'd had friendly chats at the mailboxes, most often concerning the weather, and all the spam trying to get them to sign up for cable, but he hadn't ever shown any kind of romantic interest as far as he could tell.
He hadn't said a word to Astrid, so it did make more sense as he thought it over.
"I was honestly surprised when I heard you have a crush on me. People usually go for my sister. She's much prettier, and much more outspoken than I am." She hangs her head, and he takes his hand to lift her chin.
He thinks of telling her the truth. He could tell her that he is crushing on her sister, majorly, and that this has all been a big misunderstanding. He looks over her shoulder to see Astrid getting on the back of a motorcycle, arms circling the waist of her date.
He will never have a chance with her.
It'd be a shame to let all this sushi go to waste. And that dress, because she is really rocking it.
"Come on, before dinner gets warm."
"I made sushi, come on." He takes her hand, and they glide together so easily, that he has to wonder if it's all the sweat on his hand making him that slick. She isn't squirming away. In fact, she is tightening her grip. That's a good sign.
They approach the table, and right away she notices it.
"Did you use a curtain as the tablecloth?"
It's his turn to blush.
"How did you know?"
"There's a seam for where the rod goes." She giggles, leaning in closer to him. "That, and I noticed one of your windows was missing the curtains before I came over."
Up close, he notices that she has freckles.
He likes freckles.
The candle flickers, and she sits on the floor. "What, no smooth jazz?"
His speakers had actually been paused on that playlist, waiting for Astrid. Now he feels entirely silly, bringing out the tray of sushi from the kitchen.
"Actually...would you like to make any requests?"
He goes back for the ramen, and nearly drops the bowls when she names her choice.
It's his favorite band.
It's punk rock, and he isn't expecting it from this demure girl, who is dancing in her seat. Her fist comes dangerously close to the flame, and he blows it out. This obviously isn't going to be the extravagant, romantic dinner he envisioned, and he's okay with that. She sings along through mouthfuls of eel, and he joins in, drumming with his chopsticks.
"I'm going to have to take you to one of their concerts, front row. You have not lived until you've seen them live."
"Are you asking me on a second date before you even finish our first?"
He thinks for a moment. "Yes, yes I am."
A slow song comes on, and he takes her hand across the table. They get up, and he twirls her across the room, cradling her in his arms. This isn't the day that he imagined, yet there is nowhere he would rather be.
She buries her face into his neck.
"Are you going to answer my question?"
"Well," she says, pulling back to look him in the eyes, "I can't stay dead forever."
He grins. Neither can he. He can't stay in this pit of loneliness, and it seems as though he has a way out. Today, for the first day in many, he feels alive.
He'll feel alive tomorrow too.
He'll feel alive for every day until she dies, and he's sitting at that same coffee table, across from a picture of her in her wedding dress. He'll raise his chopsticks to the sky, tell the universe he loves her and turn the radio up.
It'll be their song.
And he will be happy.