Monday is Valentine’s Day so let’s have some fun with that.
The restaurant was in the swing of love’s season as staff hung hearts, decorated the booths with festive pieces, and added fresh bouquets of flowers to each of the vases that were scattered throughout the dining area. Reservations were off the charts which was nothing new but Fallon felt a sense of dread wash over her as she ran her finger over the names. He hadn’t been back here since they broke up but it didn’t mean she didn’t feel anxiety on holidays, knowing he was likely celebrating them with someone new.
“Hey Fal,” Mike called from behind the bar. “You tending this weekend?”
Much too quickly, she shook her head. “No, I took off. Why?”
“Big date plans, eh?” He waggled his eyebrows. For a middle aged man, he had the humor of a twenty something college student and unless you knew better, you’d say he owned the same three outfits because he was never seen without a navy polo and blue jeans.
Fallon rolled her eyes. “In my entire time here have you ever known me to go out on a date over Valentine’s Day? I’m going to hit up the range with some girlfriends.”
“You know this buddy of mine has a son,” he shrugs. “I could set you up so people around here wouldn’t think you’re a lesbian.”
She stuck out her tongue. “But maybe I am one.”
His expression softened. It’s not a side she often got to see but in the five years she’s worked here but it’s always been warming. “You can put that facade up and everyone here would believe that but not me, I can tell when one’s heart been broken. I’m not saying you have to go out, but maybe just see what the ocean has to offer before letting one shithead ruin your idea of love.”
Fallon was stunned. She’d never shared her past with anyone here but Mike was the only one that is still around from when she started. It would make sense if he’d remember the girl who would hide out back smoking beneath a curtain of dried tears. She shrugged it off. “If you want to send that buddy’s son out to the range I won’t say no.”
He eyed her curiously. “I think you’ll be surprised.”
It was unusually cool for February in North Carolina but the girls toughed it out at the range for a few hours. They were just clearing up their area when they were approached by a couple of men. “Hey, my buddy here was just making some derogatory comments about women shooters so I felt the need to bring him over here to apologize.”
Scowling, Fallon fastened the clips on her case and stood. Claire and Heidi each stopped what they were doing to watch the fiasco play out. “Well, your buddy here doesn’t look like he could hit the broadside of a barn. Even Claire-“she motioned to the girls behind her-“could manage to outshoot him I’m sure.”
The two young men began to laugh. “Hey, no, we aren’t here to cause trouble. I was told the best way to get your attention was to make some sarcastic comment so here I am, making a complete ass out of myself.”
Fallon raised an eyebrow, turning to exchange a look with her friends before crossing her arms. “Well that’s a terrible pick up line, even if you were told to insult me.”
He chuckled sheepishly, extending his arm behind him as though he had an itch. “It wasn’t an insult. I’ve been watching you shoot the last few times you’ve been here. You’re a great shot. I’d enjoy sharing a round or two with you.”
It dawned on Fallon that the vague familiarity plaguing her was that she had seen him around here too, assisting amateurs or scoping out to make sure safety was taken. “You work here.” She palmed her face. It wasn’t a question but he nodded anyway. Fallon extended her hand. “It’s Fallon. My sidekicks are Claire and Heidi. Baddest bitches in town.”
He nodded. “It takes a badass crew to come here and make the rest of us look like beginners. How long have you been shooting?”
Claire answered. “Little over four years now. Kind of a tradition for us now to come out here once a month at the very least.”
“Cool.” He clapped his buddy on the shoulder. “So I take it as a yes then? I’ll pick you up tomorrow.”
Fallon gaped. “Are you seriously expecting me to go out with you on Valentine’s Day? I don’t even know you.”
“Names Clay,” he replied, clapping his buddy on the shoulder. “This is Brad. And I’m not saying it’s a date. But, bring your friends and I’ll bring mine and we’ll have some fun at the concourse.”
Claire and Heidi each grabbed Fallon. “Oh seriously girl, let loose. Let’s go!”
Fallon narrowed her eyes, but her mystery date had her intrigued. “Alright. But we meet there at six.”
Clay took her hand and gave the top a small kiss. “Bet on it Fallon. You won’t regret it.”
The concourse was similar to a mall, except it was entirely outdoors and had a mini golf course, dance floor with DJ that played every weekend, and a stage where scheduled events took place. For Valentine’s Day, the stage was bare but because most people opted for more romantic settings, the place was only moderately busy. As promised, Clay showed up with two of his buddies, one being Brad from the day before that Claire had already claimed dibs on. Fallon loved sweet, naive Claire, but she was a hopeless romantic and always staked claim on men as though each were the one for her.
Heidi and Fallon were more similar in their hesitancy towards dating, each having been wronged a few too many times. But Clay wasn’t terrible to look at and this was only to satisfy her friends desperation for a group date opportunity. Or at least, that’s what Fallon kept telling herself.
The plan was to start with mini golf and if it went well, we’d all go out to grab dinner somewhere. Unfortunately for Fallon, she was enjoying herself more than she had bargained for.
Clay nudged her at hole eight while Claire and Brad flirted up a storm. “Dare I say it, but you’ve got a beautiful smile when it’s genuine.”
“Okay tough guy, you caught me. I do actually have a heart.”
“Must’ve been one hell of a break-up to put up the walls you have.”
Fallon scuffed. “Maybe I’ve always been like this.”
“Maybe, but I’d bet you were more like Claire at one time,” he countered, laughing at the two’s failed attempt to persuade the balls into the hole. “It’s a gift of mine, being able to read people.”
“Yeah, you into psychology or something?”
Clay shrugged. “Not really, just quite good at reading people. All sorts of folks come to the range. Most women start with looking to prove something or to be strong, tough as nails, powerful. I’m always in awe of them. When you started coming, it was no different. Except I could tell you felt broken.”
“I’m not broken,” she argued.
He laughed to break the tension. “No, Fallon, you’re far from broken. You’re beautiful, confident, and inspiring. But you also need to start living a little.”
She shoved him lightly. “You don’t know anything about me. I’ve known you existed for less than 24 hours. Don’t come here reading me and bringing all this sappy stuff on this date.”
And even though Clay didn’t bring it back up again and they all had a great time for the rest of the night, Fallon couldn’t stop the thoughts from invading her brain. She hadn’t laughed like she did tonight in ages. Is that what he meant by living? The answers to her desperate questions were like moisture in the air after a drought, teasingly there but out of reach.
Despite taking the weekend off to avoid Valentine’s Days dates and romance, she realized one key detail. She wasn’t reminded of the one who broke her heart.
And against her better judgment, she wanted to see Clay again.
Ah, I will have to revisit this story…I’m quite intrigued by Fallon’s story and may need to flesh this one out into a short story! What do you think?
Happy Weekend writing!
As always, with love,