I must have been nineteen when I discovered Valentine’s day for lovers.
Let me explain. Growing up in Italy where Catholicism was the only game in town, I had heard the tale of San Valentino da Terni, Christian martyr from around the year 496. But the story told to me by the man I happened to be dating that particular February, was a lot more interesting and—it promised gifts—what’s not to like?
At that age, dating to me wasn’t too serious and not destined to last. Keep in mind in my small town everyone knew each other. He was older than I was. A great catch according to the ladies looking to settle down. He lived in a bona fide villa and had live in help and get this—he owned two cars. Because of his business he traveled out of town a lot and would invite me to join him on weekends. I never did and in all honesty, the only thing I really liked about him was that he let me drive his most expensive car, didn’t yell at me when I nearly killed us and he always smelled wonderful. I assume it had to do with expensive soaps or shave creams, don’t know, but it made such an impression on me I think he’s the reason all my male characters have a particular sent, in my books I mean. But back to Valentine’s day.
He called from out of town to let me know how sorry he was not to be back by Valentine’s day, he would make it up to me. The minute I hung up the phone I started to ask around until I found someone who explained the romantic version of the day. Time to do something special for this man. In a town with dozens of short brunettes, I would make myself different. I would bleach my hair and surprise him. I spent most of the day at the salon, my hairdresser who was also my friend, bleached my hair twice and still couldn’t get it to look blond, after hours of frustration and with my itchy scalp on fire, we decided I should be a redhead. Believe me, red it was.
I was to meet my date late afternoon for a drink. He had just arrived and by the way, in Italy there wasn’t any rule about drinking age.
A river runs through the town. I had to cross the bridge to get to the bar where he waited. I felt like a diva (this was before rock stars) walking alone on that bridge, drivers slowing to look at me. Finally I was different from anyone else. Boy, was I ever. He took him five long minutes to find his voice. When I asked what he thought, he coughed, cleared his throat and picked his words carefully; “You—it’s hard to miss you, even from across the bridge.”
The present he had brought me was an antique hair barrette made of gold and garnet. Would have looked smashing against my dark hair…too bad he never got a chance to see that. I broke up soon after Valentine’s Day, but kept the gift.
Don’t judge me, you would have done the same…it was a very nice barrette.