A/N: Since there really isn't anything I can say about this one besides 'beware of what you find when digging through old files', I merely invite you to enjoy it. And let me know what you think.

A Thing Called Love

Shoulder rubs.

What, exactly, was so good about shoulder rubs? I never understood the attraction. I'm not saying they can't be handy, and I sure could use a nice shoulder rub upon occasion, but I just didn't see the bigger picture. You know, the sensual, erotic, why-don't-we-fuck-now sort of picture. As far as I was concerned, this particular, doubtlessly diverting pastime (the shoulder rub, not the fucking; that I understood just fine) had to be placed in the same category with, let's say, roses and boxes of chocolate. Oh, and why don't we lump violin concertos in there, too? Add a nice candlelit dinner or two, and there you have it. Romance. Or the stereotype of it, anyway.

Being a writer, however broadly I may define the word, I occasionally came across instances when I needed to touch upon romantic inclinations. And I always stalled. I paced around the house, washed the dishes, made coffee, asked everyone else if they wanted coffee, watered the flowers, and generally did all the things I never got around to, unless I was in the middle of writer's block. But what made it even more distasteful was the fact that it wasn't really writer's block, or at least not the clean-cut, conventional sort. Oh, how I cursed and wept and wished for a few measly plot holes to fill. That became a piece of cake compared to the task that awaited me: appeasing my editor.

The last column I had to write on Valentine's Day unfortunately came when I had already used up my quota of sarcastic articles for the past two months  (I had a grand ol' time with After-After New Year's parties that early February), and was strong-armed into making at least an effort at romance. You see, technically, there shouldn't be anything remotely resembling irony or, God forbid, snarkiness, in my column; when I signed on, I did so for a sombre, thoughtful piece that would make people reflect on their daily lives. Full stop, erase the bracketed comments that get you through the article. I know what you're thinking, really, no need to shout it in my ear. But I needed the work, and there was a shortage in demand for untrained, lazy louts on the job market that time of year. And so I did my best. For three whole weeks, I was sombre. I acted sombre, I talked sombre, I breathed sombre. Punctuated by a few bouts of solemn. By the end of the three weeks, and after three laboriously constructed and re-constructed offerings, I broke down. It was a sad sight indeed. After I had pulled myself together, I vowed never again to abandon my principles.

But I still needed the money, which brought me back to square one. And so I compromised. I made a deal with the Devil herself, better known as my editor. She would give me two consecutive columns to fill with subtly and not-so-subtly veiled digs, as long as the next two remained, well, sombre. It's been an interesting ride so far, let me tell you. That woman is merciless.

Imagine my horror, then, when I realised the 14th was coming up, and I had no recourse but to write something serious. I begged, I wailed, I sobbed like a baby. I think I even batted my eyelashes. But to no avail. And so I found myself, armed with a notebook and pen, and with an expression that would surely have frozen anyone unfortunate enough to come near me, doing research. 

I combed the shops, sniffed at the chocolates, fingered the greeting cards, winced at the heart-shaped candles, all along feeling like the greatest martyr since Joan was fried all those centuries ago. It was at the last place I visited, hoping for some inspiration that would ignite at least the imitation of the spark I needed to write the article, at a time when I was beyond hope and not far removed from suicide, that I met the light of my life. And he wasn't even wearing a candy red scarf. I guess Fate doesn't have that much of a sense of humour.

"You look lost," was the first I heard of that velvet-smooth, honey voice. It was filled with amusement, and I turned around to look into the eyes of the man who had come up behind me. He was taller than me, but not so much that I had to crane my neck. He was wearing a caramel trench coat and a friendly grin. It was the grin that did it.

Deflated, I rubbed a hand against my temples, wondering how to explain the horror that was my mission to a complete stranger. I did my best.

"Valentine's. Article. Editor. Sadist."

He laughed, and I felt a completely irrational flutter in the pit of my stomach. Green eyes sparkled with amusement, and I was ready to make a complete fool of myself to see them glint once more. Looking back, it may have been the intense preoccupation with sugary sweetness that influenced my brain that day. But considering the fact that I am still frequently faced with the same desire now… maybe not.

Perching on the edge of the counter, he cocked his head. "By that statement, I can theorise that it isn't a gift for your girlfriend that has you in such a frenzy."

Sometimes, you hold back and choose not to take chances. Other times, you take a deep breath and plunge in without so much as a life jacket. "I'm not likely to need a gift for a girlfriend," I said, with just enough inflection to make my meaning clear.

A brief, thoughtful silence settled on the near-deserted store. I resisted the urge to fidget. He regarded me with a steady gaze, mouth unsmiling. "But you do need to find out about romance?"

I nodded mutely.

"Then how about you let me take you out to dinner, show you how it's done?"

This is the point where I say that I won't bore you with too many clichés. There are far too many that strike me as perfect for the occasion. But the one that really fits, and the one I can't really escape, however much I may want to, is this: the rest was history. His name was Liam. He was a history professor, had three younger sisters, loved cats, and had recently been dumped by a cheating boyfriend. During that candle-lit dinner, in which I laughed more than I could remember doing for a long time, I fell in love. And the next column I wrote was so sappy, so sentimental, so heart-warming, that my editor tried to take me to a doctor. As it is, she still wears a smug look when she's in the same room as Liam, and has been provided with material for long years to come. And I don't care.

Reading back over the past paragraph or so, I can only come to the conclusion that I've been romanticised. It's completely and utterly nauseating, and if my old self could see me now, he'd probably stomp off in disgust. No matter; he couldn't enjoy a good candle-lit dinner anyway.

But I still don't see the point of shoulder rubs.

~

This was only slightly based on my father's anecdotes about the things he's gone through with his own editors.