valentine cluster

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One of the sweeter people in my life is a bartender, Mandy. Half my age, she is as yet untrodden by life's cleats. For example, when we shared our scars over drinks, she led with her parents not letting her wear makeup in the eighth grade. She was so teased by the other girls! I pretended to empathize while I discreetly texted my mocking to Allie. "She is a Disney character without the fur."

When Mandy's boyfriend sent her flowers for her birthday, I groused that I'd spent $64 million on flowers in my lifetime and never received so much as a carnation back. On Valentine's Day, there was an arrangement waiting for me at my barstool. "I'll always be first, now," she smiled.

"Um, Elan sent you flowers, you ingrate" observed Allie. Shut up, Allie.

Friday night when Mandy's shift was over, she joined me for a drink. We talked about our respective love lives. We talked about how Mandy wants to have babies more than any other life goal. We discovered we like the same dive bar, so we headed over there.

Many, many drinks later, Mandy freaked out. "I JUST CAN'T DO THIS, JOHN!" She kept repeating that. And she kept repeating that she loves her boyfriend. She was very upset. She pleaded for my assurance that I was okay with just being friends. Oh. Seriously?

Uh, considering that's where I already was? "Not a problem."

As I laid in bed that night, I mentally replayed romantic entanglements in my life and marveled at how I nearly never know a woman sees me that way until she comes out and says so. (Or as I told Allie, I am always shocked when someone wants to sleep with me.) I flat-out didn't see Mandy coming, despite the flowers. Perhaps I am particularly dense. As the candy hearts say, all signs point to yes.