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Challenge: Be My Valentine

It’s Been 10 Years Since He Looked at Me.

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It’s been 10 years since he looked at me.

I’m lying in a hotel bed (god bless the king size bed) overlooking Tampa’s Riverwalk while Rich snoozes on. I’m letting him sleep in hopes of catching the start of Bark in the Park. I don’t know what that is, really, but I’m imagining a cup of coffee on the balcony while I rate dogs passing by in a parade while participating in the local humane society’s fundraiser.

I’m in Tampa with my husband catching up on my fiftieth birthday gift, a trip to swim with the manatees. So, today, I don’t so much want another dog as I do a manatee but I haven’t worked out the logistics on fitting one in the bathtub back home, yet. I suspect I’ll need to get an actual heated pool but only after I learn how to grow seagrass. Or, a more likely scenario is to move to Crystal Rivers or Kings Bay or any of the places that the manatees winter.

This adventure was a huge win as I am traditionally a terrible snorkeler. It seems that the draw of the sea cow somehow calmed my face mask nerves. Plus, anytime I did feel the usual I’m probably going to die here panic creeping in, I quickly (and silently) reviewed all stories of humans being attacked by manatees and the number of those stories was always zero.

When we booked our long weekend, we paid little attention to the dates other than “that looks like an open block.” As it grew closer, we realized that we were abutting Valentine's Day Monday. Fine, throw a card or two in the suitcase, check! Once that gear clicked into place, my lady math went into high speed because I knew the arrival of February 14th would mean the additional arrival of February 13th and February 13th was the day that I accidentally fell into a trap set by the universe by walking into a bar. Or a “high end lounge” as we say when we want to impress people.

And this year?

This year marks TEN years since that February 13th when the universe cancelled all my feelings on stupid sayings like “love at first sight” and “I just knew” and “I found my soul mate.”

All because I walked into a bar on a night when I did not, in fact, want to walk into a bar.

The story is longer, of course.

It was a work dinner. I did not plan to attend due to a longstanding rule of avoiding romantic restaurants around any holidays involving hearts or flowers. A non-local team was visiting my area and a non-local colleague/friend convinced me to come by for a quick drink. “Just come say hello, Jylly Bean!,” he’d said.

I went. One drink. One hello. One (planned) retreat back to my single girl townhouse.

And then, there he was, a different non-local colleague but one whose voice I recognized from our weekly team calls. I’d never actually met him and, if I’m being honest, I mostly zoned out when he spoke during our meetings. Yet, the moment we shook hands, lightning went down my spine.

What in the actual eff?

Okay. Two drinks.

I will tell this story over and over because of its proof that, sometimes, taking a left where you are more comfortable taking your usual right can actually change your entire life. I have no idea how long this voice and I chatted for before two drinks turned into dinner and a seat right next to this brand new person that my heart seemed to have known forever.

It’s been ten years since he looked at me.

At 40, I wouldn’t say I was much of a chance taker. I was happy though, yes. I was settled into my life as a homeowner, community volunteer, super amateur tennis player, and friend to so many. It was all enough for me and would have remained enough for me. I was incredibly proud of the life I’d built all by and all for myself. Not everyone had to get married and have a family, after all.

Some of us were meant to be independent and carefree.

Yet, here, today, ten years later, I have a decades worth of memories and stories and cliches and moments of

“didn’t see that coming.” These have all filled my life with so much more than I ever would have imagined possible. I realize now that the life that I had built was amazing, yes, but it was only the cake. Delicious, rich, and wonderful cake.

What was added, on that night ten years ago, was icing.

And I love freaking love icing.

All because I took a left where I normally would have taken a right.

It’s been ten years since he looked at me, with a smile and a quiet, “hello.”

I smiled back. I said hello.

He told me he loved me. I said it back.

He asked me to marry him. I said yes.

He said he would be mine forever and I promised to be the same for him.

Take the left.

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