To understand the story it's necessary to understand Janet. As a teenager, she had been one of the popular girls in school, boys had flocked to her. As a young woman she had been able to pick and choose the men that she wanted to be with, not that she had chosen wisely: she was a two time trophy wife, twice divorced. It had not all based on her good looks; she had a sparkling personality to go with them. Friendly and outgoing, even other women enjoyed her company without any jealousy or cattiness. But two failed marriages and a series of unfulfilling relationships had left her feeling like a failure. The self-confidence she once radiated was replaced with self-doubt.
At fifty, time had been extremely kind to her. But she didn't recognize this. When she looked in the mirror she saw the changes that age brought as a depressing loss of youth. Where she had once used make up to accentuate her looks, she now used it to enhance them. Even her hair style had bangs to hide any wrinkles in her forehead. She didn't understand that she was still beautiful. The slight amount of weight she had gained to her was just bloat: but well distributed, it actually gave her slim build a curvier figure, a more voluptuous look and her face a softer more pleasant appearance. Even menopause hadn't caused the drastic changes that plague many women. She didn't seem to know that she had merely gone from a hard bodied, sexually desirable, young beauty to a gracefully elegant, sexually desirable mature beauty. All she saw was a fading relic of her former self. That's why she was so thrilled when Jay recognized her.
Jay managed the book store at the mall where Janet worked. She often stopped in to look over the magazines on her breaks from the dress shop where she worked and they developed a passing friendship, knowing only each other's first names. They would exchange friendly smiles and a hello every time they passed each other in the mall but that was the extent of it. Then one day while she was eating her lunch in the food court, he passed her table. There were the usual greetings as he passed by, but then he stopped and looked back at her. Approaching the table he spoke.
"Janet, do you mind if I join you for a few minutes? I have to ask you something."
Smiling, she shrugged her shoulders and gestured to the empty chair. Watching as he set down his tray, she hoped this wasn't going to be anything to heavy. She'd had enough bad relationships and she was leery of starting another.
"I've thought there was something familiar about you for quite a while, but I haven't been able to place it. Then the other day something popped into my head, I may have figured it out. Let's start by saying I graduated from Metro High, more than a few years ago."
"I was class of '83."
"Me too," she repeated with a surprised look on her face.
"Janet Conway, by any chance?"
"Yeah, yes I am. Janet Wylie now, but it's me. And you're Jay, Jay who? Help me out here."
Janet covered her face with her hands briefly, then raised her head slowly until she was peering out over her fingertips.
"The name is familiar," she said sadly, "but I can't place you. I'm trying, honest."
"Don't worry, we traveled in different circles. There's no reason for you to remember me after all these years"
"But you remembered me, it's been the same number of years."
"I had one hell of a crush on you back then, that's why," he stated simply.
That was why he remembered her, but she was more impressed that he recognized her. Perhaps she hadn't deteriorated as much has she believed. It was a superficial thought, but an honest one.
After that, lunches together became a regular thing. As they spent more time talking about the old days Janet began to recall him. He had been right; they were parts of separate crowds, and in the manner of all high schools, seldom intermingled. He had been a laid back kid, not a part of the "in crowd", but not one of the outcasts either. Their conversations moved from nostalgia to comparing their lives after high school to life in general. They quickly became fast friends. So it was inevitable that he would ask her out. It was just as inevitable she would accept.
A local banquet hall had a standing, once a month dinner dance billed as "Valentine's Day Every Month". The ads spoke of a romantic dinner and dancing with a live band. Jay told her it would be like the prom date he would have liked to have with her all those years ago, but without the silly powder blue tuxedos.
It seemed like a good idea to Janet, she had always loved to dance. Even when Jay warned her that he wasn't much of a dancer and pretty much stayed with a basic box step, it didn't matter to Janet; if he was willing to try she was willing to work with him. She was surprised at how much she was looking forward to it.
On the big night, as she added the last minute touches to her make-up, she thought about Jay's statement about the prom date he always wanted. He had been right: she felt like a young girl again getting ready for an important date. That feeling alone made the whole night worthwhile to her. Finishing, she stood up and looked at herself in the mirror. The simple black dress she had chosen looked good, she looked good, she felt good. For the first time in a long while she wasn't looking for something wrong, she was looking at what was right and she was happy.
Finally the knock at the door, when she opened it Jay came in, handing her a bouquet of roses. He said it was in lieu of the corsage he would have given her if it had been their actual prom night. It was a mix of red, white, and pink. Janet knew the colors of roses were supposed to have special significance; love, purity, feminine grace, etc., he'd covered all the bases. She found it endearing.
Arriving at the hall, they were directed to the room where the dinner was being held. She was pleasantly surprised; she was half expected some tacky decorations, crepe paper hearts, cut out cupids and that type of thing. Instead she found subdued lighting and candle light. The band was actually a string quartet with a piano player and occasional vocalist that played a mix of romantic themed songs. The hostess seated them, lighting the candle at their table and leaving menus. The busboy arrived and filled their water glasses, then took a plate from his cart.
"For the lady," he said as he set it down. A single red rose lay on it with a small box of chocolates. They were getting their money's worth for the cover charge.
"In a couple of days your apartment's going to be knee deep in dead rose petals."
"That's OK," she smiled, holding the flower up to inhale it's fragrance. "I could get used to this."
It was an enjoyable evening but the comparisons to a prom date didn't do it justice: there was nothing juvenile about it. She dined on Stroganoff, washed down with a wine from the Rhone Valley that Jay had selected. She was impressed with his wine knowledge; he merely shrugged and said it just showed he drank too much. She was equally impressed with his modesty, it was a quality neither of her ex-husbands had.
The music was quite good; mood setting. They began dancing, he hadn't lied; he only knew a few basic steps. But she followed his lead and it was enjoyable. She had to admit he was fairly smooth for someone who claimed he didn't know what he was doing. She had always been interested in ballroom dancing and wondered if she could talk him into trying it with her. But, she decided that could wait for another day. For now all she wanted was a kiss, a simple kiss. At the end of each dance she waited, but it never came. Again she remembered a time when guys were always trying to steal one, but then she thought maybe it was just the type of guys she used to go out with. Finally the last dance was over and it was time to leave. Janet retrieved her rose, put the box of chocolates into her purse, and left at Jay's side. Despite not getting the kiss, it was the nicest evening she'd had in a long time.
When they arrived at her apartment house, he got out of the car to see her to the door. Still obsessed with the kiss, it was only natural for her to invite him in for a night cap; it was just as natural for him to accept. Leading him into the living room, she steered him over to the couch. She was in familiar territory now and knew how to operate. She disappeared into the kitchen, returning with two glasses of wine. It wasn't the fancy kind that Jay had ordered at dinner but a domestic port style that Janet liked: it was sweet and had a warming effect on her.
Sitting down next to him on the couch, Janet took a sip of her wine then leaned against him. She had a feeling of satisfaction when he put his arm around her; perhaps she hadn't lost the old magic after all.
"This is nice," she said truthfully. There was a slight pause, "Thanks for tonight, I really enjoyed myself."
"I'm glad, I was afraid it might have been a bit too much for a first date. I'm assuming it was a first date, not the only date."
Time to play it coy, she thought. Without saying a word she moved her free hand up to her shoulder, her fingers resting on the back of his hand. She sighed audibly, the sigh was authentic; she had an overwhelming feeling of contentment.
.... There is more of this story ...