Liv trudged into the dressing room of the kung fu school, bowing to the practice mats and photographs of the elders that hung on the wall. Acts of respect the school expect from its students. She had been learning the art of ancient martial art since being accosted by a homeless man outside her downtown studio apartment a month ago. The man chased for her a block before she hid away inside a shop as scared as a child who’d just evaded the drooling neighborhood dog. Then and there she realized she didn’t want to be afraid, didn’t want to become victim and being a five feet tall, one hundred-thirteen pound woman living alone, that chance was heightened already. Guns and knives were out of the question; dogs weren’t allowed in the apartment; so the only other option was to learn self-defense. And the last thing Liv wanted was to go to one of those places with the giant foam-covered man who stole women’s purse while they yelled, “I don’t know you!” and kicked him in the padded groin. No, she wanted the real thing, like Bruce Lee.
Months before, one a desolate day Liv had rented Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story and found a piece of her life that had been missing. She didn’t know why, but when Bruce and Linda Lee gave birth to their baby, Brandon, she burst out crying. Was it the baby? Was it the unity of love between husband and wife? Maybe it was the sappy music crescendoing in the background? Who knows? But something in that scene touched her and Liv’s thoughts echoed: this could be my life if I find my soul mate.
A soul mate was impossible to find though, heck even a boyfriend or a decent date was hard to find in this day in age. Gentlemen were non-existent. The boys, not men, at law school had been manipulative, fake and well – horny. As often as possible Liv would wonder, isn’t there a decent man out there? One who was athletic, but not a jock; handsome but not arrogant; funny but not a jerk; sensitive but not a wuss… and was it too much as to ask for someone who kept his head out of his pants for longer than a minute. Nope, her dream man was just that – a dream.
Her family had come to visit all of a week before and as she stepped behind the paneled wall into the dressing room, the loneliness hit her like a wave crashing against a rocky jettison. But after crying for two days, her heart aching to fill the void of companionship, no more tears fell. All hope was lost. Ignoring the pain and giving up the idea of finding anyone was all that ran through her mind now. She didn’t care anymore. She could do it. Sure, she could live alone. She’d finish school, get a better job, move into a little place where she could adopt a dog – ooh yes, a bulldog, like she always wanted. It would great! No rules, no being bothered and she could to do anything she wanted for the rest of her life. She shrugged. Sure, she could do it, she thought and her posture drooped.
The students came pouring into the back, tossing gym bags to the floor, tucking them under the benches, getting ready for class to begin. There were hellos, bows and gestures as they greeted each other. Liv remained quiet, tying her long brown hair in a ponytail and knotting her single striped, white sash around her waist. Soon she started to recognize the nameless people coming in. There was the little tornado kid, the blue-sashed suck up, the bald sweaty one, the tiger guy (name for the orangey stripes in his hair) and oh a new guy. She looked once, then twice at the tall, handsome Asian man who followed Tiger guy in. A tingle of attraction ignited a warmth in her belly as he did the same thing: a double take, smile and palm to fist greeting followed by a deep bow. Liv bit her lip and swallowed. He was cute.
Oh stop it! You don’t care, you don’t need a man, there’s no soul mate out there. But even as she thought it, her expressions betrayed her and she laughed as the new guy did the opposite of a strip-tease and danced as he pulled on his ballooning kung fu pants over his gym shorts. The class was called and they stood in order of rank from highest sash to lowest. With Tiger guy ahead of her and New guy behind, she did what she justified as being friendly and turned around. “You’re new here huh?”
“Uh yeah,” New guy said.
“Well, you can follow my lead if you need to. I’ve been here about a month. I’m Liv.”
“Raylan, nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too.”
The instructor called the class to begin and Liv smiled as they were lead into stretches. After an hour of exercise, the class was dismissed and Liv went for a bottle of water. Out on the school’s loading dock, it was a balmy California evening. The cool breeze lifted the perspire-soaked hair on the back of her neck giving her a refreshing shiver. A few students had trickled out the door from the rising temperature and funky smells of the sweaty gym clothes that overwhelmed the non-ventilated rooms.
“Hi, again,” Raylan said.
Liv turned; surprised that he had joined her. “Hi. Good class, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, pretty good,” he answered. He drank from his bottle, warm brown eyes scanning the surrounding parking lot. “So what do you do?”
“Oh me?” Liv wasn’t about to let nervousness creep in. It’s just conversation, it doesn’t mean anything. “I go to law school and work in a deli out of La Jolla Cove. You?”
He nodded to the adjacent Coco’s Café and Bakery. “I work over there. Have you ever been?”
“No, I haven’t. Is it good?”
“Yeah. Hey, you should come in sometime.”
It was a harmless statement. Lots of people say that, right?
Okay that was weird. Liv’s brows crinkled. “Uh, I don’t know Friday?”
“Sounds good. What time?”
What time? I don’t know, does he own the place or something, why does he want me to try the food so much? Might as well humor him, it’s not a date or anything, he’s asking me to his job? “Umm 6:30?”
“Great I’m on the schedule. I’ll see you then or well, wait, will you be here tomorrow?”
Liv nodded. “Okay, well, see you tomorrow. I have to get going,” she excused herself and returned home.
Instead of skipping every other day at kung fu like she usually did, Liv went the next night and the next merely because now she had friends to meet. At least that’s what she told herself. Raylan introduced her to Sean (Tiger guy) his roommate and the three of them stretched, practiced and chatted throughout the next two classes. The guys were easy to like, funny, attentive and yes handsome. Then, it was Friday.
Confusion more than anxiety set in as Liv readied herself for dinner at Coco’s, Raylan’s restaurant. She needed someone to talk to about the situation and who better than her best friend, Cora.
“I have a dilemma, I think I have a date,” Liv began after they finished the niceties. She told Cora of Raylan’s odd invitation to the restaurant. “So what do you think?”
Cora hummed. “I don’t know. How about you go a few minutes late and if he seems excited to see you then you know he’s happy you came. At least you’d know that he likes you.”
Liv liked that idea. She ended her call and dressed in a butter-colored peasant shirt and khaki capris, cute but sensible. She arrived at the café and the moment Raylan saw her, his face lit up like a child’s on Christmas morning. “Hey, I didn’t think you’d come!”
“Oh sorry, I was on a phone call.” Yes, he’s happy!
Sitting her in his section, Raylan took her order. Throughout the dinner, Liv watched as Raylan served others as well as herself. He was funny, but not obnoxious; performed magic tricks for little kids and still stopped to talk to her without skipping a beat in his normal flow of dinner traffic.
When the meal was finished, he sat for his fifteen minute break. “So the other servers and I are going to T.G.I. Fridays for half price appetizers, would you like to wait and go with me?”
Liv nodded and Raylan beamed. “Good, because I don’t think it’s a secret that I like you.”
A flush burned her cheeks, but she stifled every instinct to yell out: HE LIKES ME!
But even as the sort-of date progress and Liv met Raylan’s co-workers, there was still the nerve-wrecking expectation of what would happen at the end. Would he be a kisser? Would he be handsy? Dear God, I hope he’s doesn’t ruin this.
They returned to Coco’s parking lot where Liv had left her car as Raylan drove to Fridays. Like a gentleman, because he said his grandfather would kill him if he wasn’t polite to a woman, he opened the door for her to exit. Liv stood and Raylan held his arms apart for a hug. She followed his lead and embraced him, saying she had a nice night.
“I did too. We should go out again?”
Leaning back, Liv lifted her eyes meeting his. Was he going to kiss me? But Raylan brushed a hand down her hair and set her cheek back to his chest for one last hug. Stepping away, he promised he’d call. “We’ll do a movie or something.”
“Ok,” Liv agreed, slightly taken aback by his lack of lustfulness that other guys had shown her in the past.
Driving home, she realized she liked the fact that he wasn’t pushy. She had a wonderful night with a respectful man who made her forget about being lonely. Don’t get attached, she reminded herself and tried her best not to think about Raylan as a romantic interest.
Hearing her phone ringing from outside her apartment, she rushed to unlock the door and caught the call before the person on the other line hung up.
“I hope you don’t mind me calling so soon, but I wanted you to know something.” It was Raylan.
“Well, you looked like you wanted me to kiss you before…”
She laughed, covering up the embarrassment of the truth. Had he read my mind?
“… So I wanted you to know that I’m not going to kiss, until I really know you. Is that okay?”
Is that okay? Is the Pope Catholic? “Yes, of course. I really like that too.”
“Good. I was so afraid you wouldn’t. It’s just, I’ve been with other girls who rushed into relationships and I’d like to be your friend first.”
Sigh. Is he for real? They talked for awhile and planned another date and eventually ended up seeing each other for a week. They met at class and practiced together on a daily basis. And when class wasn’t in session, they dated going to movies, parks, malls all the while talking about their families, learning about one another and enjoying the simple company of a new friend. They held hands, visited breath-taking scenery, took pictures and hugged good-night, never once feeling the anxiety over who was going to make move at the end of the night. For Liv, it was perfect and so precious that she found someone who didn’t play those stupid dating games. She could be herself without the worry of whether or not he was going to force his tongue into her mouth. She had dated the worst but somehow found the best in Raylan.
Years ago she’d written in her journal the qualities she wanted in a man and without dwelling upon these, Raylan would pop up with one of the distinctions she’d noted. From something as little as being an Asian man with an American accent to being adopted and not hail from a female-submissive background to growing up in a small town and taking a tour in the military. It was beginning to feel like Raylan was handpicked for her.
A week from the day they met, Raylan walked Liv up to her apartment to say good-night. She invited him inside as she put away the stained glass dolphin candle holder he’d bought at a little shop along the pier during their date. While she arranged her gift on a table, Raylan sat on the sofa. “So we’re kind of exclusive now, don’t you think?”
Liv joined him, their knees touched as she sank into the cushion. “Yeah, I’d say so.”
“Maybe even like boyfriend and girlfriend exclusive?” He was adorable sounding like a school boy asking her to go steady. He fidgeted in his seat waiting for her answer.
Liv couldn’t help but grin. “I’d like that.”
He moved closer. “So, would you mind if I kissed you good-night tonight?”
She shook her head and took a deep breath as he leaned, placing his lips on hers. Soft, warm lips she was sure sparked the moment they met hers. Startled by the fireworks lit inside her, she put herself, not just her lips into the kiss. Their closeness, their bond, their friendship was wrapped up inside the kiss and the kinetic energy between them surged. Never before had Liv ever felt anything like this. It was reminiscent of every story book she’d ever read, every romantic movie she’d ever seen, it was…
Liv burst out crying, not knowing why, but one overwhelming thought ran through her head. She panicked at her tears and Raylan reached behind pulling her head to his. Their foreheads met and Liv cried, “I don’t know why I’m crying.” But she did know. She knew it now, he was THE ONE. The last thing she wanted to do was ruin it and tell him, thinking that like a typical male he’d have commitment issues.
But not Raylan; he wasn’t afraid. “I think I know why,” he whispered. “I think we both know we found someone we were supposed to find.”
Yep, he knew. They kissed again through Liv’s happy tears. And dare it be said – they lived happily ever after.
*** This story is 100% true, only the names have been changed to disguise the innocent. ***