"The Instrument of Our Preservation"
Heron enjoyed his freshman year of college,
diving into the coursework with all the enthusiasm
of a boy headed for a swimming pool on a hot day.
As Valentine's Day approached, however,
he felt the usual dissonance as everyone else
hastened to pair up, even if it was only temporary.
Heron himself felt no particular urge to do so.
Sex and romance were okay; he just hadn't ever
felt like pursuing them personally, and figured
that if it changed someday, then fine,
he'd cross that bridge when he came to it.
Too many people seemed to define adulthood
as staying up late and getting drunk, and
manhood as having as much sex as possible,
none of which sounded like maturity to Heron.
Sometimes he mulled over what manhood
meant to him personally, and how it might
differ from being a good person in general,
without devolving into an outdated muddle of
gender stereotypes that would make Halley
put thon's hands on thon's hips and glare at him.
Meanwhile he had a holiday coming up,
more pocket money than he strictly needed,
and nobody to share either with this year,
although on some previous occasions
he'd found friends with whom to celebrate.
So Heron decided to take himself
out for a nice dinner on Valentine's Day.
He made a reservation at The Silver Swan,
widely considered one of the best
restaurants in Urbanburg.
He dressed up in the dove-gray suit
that he kept for attending concerts,
and wrapped his aubergine tie
into an elegant Eldredge knot.
The table was set the same as everyone else's
with a crisp white cloth and a single candle
glimmering amidst the centerpiece.
The celebratory beverage bubbling merrily
in a crystal flute was not champagne,
because Heron wasn't a big fan of alcohol,
but rather an artisanal sparkling muscadine grape
from some microbrewery recommended
on the restaurant's alternative menu.
Since Heron didn't plan on kissing anyone,
he ordered the kale and almond salad with
pecorino cheese, and the lobster garlic alfredo,
luxuriating in the complex flavors.
On the side there was a dish of baby beets,
no larger than shooting marbles and
so sweet that they needed no adornment.
Heron reveled in his own company,
free for once from housemates asking
if they could turn on this or borrow that,
classmates wondering if he had taken notes
from the lecture they missed last Wednesday, and
teachers wanting to know how his paper was coming.
Recalling a recent assignment, he thought
that maybe Voltaire had a point. "This self-love
is the instrument of our preservation," he quoted softly.
"It resembles the provision for the perpetuity of mankind."
The waitress came by, a new one, a little nervous.
"Girlfriend stood you up on Valentine's Day,"
she said. "Wow, that really sucks."
"No," Heron said.
"... boyfriend?" the waitress said.
"No," Heron said.
"Um, well," she said, twiddling her pad.
Heron raised an eyebrow at her.
"Do you see a second place setting here?"
"... no?" she said hesitantly.
"That would be because I didn't invite
anyone else on this date," Heron said,
resisting the temptation to roll his eyes
at the inescapable assumption that
the only reason to go out to eat
had to be a romantic one.
Maybe this hadn't been a great idea after all.
As if conjured on the spot,
the maître d appeared and
shooed the waitress away with
a murmured, "Table nine, please."
Then he turned to Heron and said,
"Apologies, sir, she's new here
and we're busy tonight."
"It's all right," Heron said.
"Some things take time to learn."
"Indeed," the maître d said
with a quiet smile. "If you are
considering dessert, please allow me
to recommend the petite pyramid.
There are extra flavors of petit fours,
and crème fraîche in some of the truffles,
in honor of the holiday tonight."
Heron had been waffling between that
and the rustic pear tart with ginger ice cream.
"I'll take it," he said, having learned
to listen to expert advice.
The petite pyramid arrived with a flourish,
its swirl of sterling silver arms supporting
tiny individual desserts, all on a lazy-susan base
that spun slowly and refused to generate enough force
to make any of the bite-sized delights wobble.
"Halley and Edison would love this," Heron mused
as he tapped it again and used his smartphone
to take a video of it spinning with languid grace.
There must be some kind of ball bearings
in the base, or possibly a cushioning gel.
The top piece was a dark chocolate truffle
decorated with a swan in silver leaf.
Heron popped it into his mouth and
oh ... so that's what gourmet chocolate
was all about, no wonder people made
such a fuss over it. The flavor was
more complex than the medical grade.
Below that were petit fours designed
after all different kinds of cake,
white and lemon and strawberry,
even something that turned out to be
a surprisingly complete black forest.
The carrot cake had a miniature carrot
piped onto the top, barely bigger than
a fennel seed, and Heron wondered
how icing would even pipe that thin.
The strawberry truffle left real seeds
in his teeth, and the valencia one
had tiny bits of orange pulp inside.
Heron took his time savoring them all.
Just as he pushed the empty pyramid away,
the maître d reappeared to deliver the bill.
"I hope you enjoyed your meal, sir," he said.
"It was spectacular, thanks," Heron said.
"I will definitely recommend this place
to my friends, and post a review on YAWP."
Heron scribbled a note for the tip
and then signed the bill.
When he picked up the folder,
he found a business card underneath
with the black-gray-white-purple stripes
of ace awareness and scrolling letters that read:
The Soloists Club: For a Good Quiet Time.
Chuckling softly, Heron pulled out a card sporting
the nine-patch heart logo of the Campus QUILTBAG Club,
then tucked it inside of the black leather folder which
he handed over when the maître d returned.
As he walked toward the bus stop, Heron thought
that maybe part of maturity lay in finding a place
where you could watch over other people and
make sure that nothing went too far wrong,
that part of manhood was knowing not just
how to tie a tie but how to dress in a way which
gave genteel hints about your personality, and
that it was okay if bits of his gender expression
overlapped with those of other people who
might or might not consider themselves men.
Mostly, Heron decided, it came down to
knowing yourself and loving yourself
for whomever you happened to be.
"It is necessary, it is dear to us,
it gives us pleasure," he quoted.
Maybe when Heron got home,
he'd look up a friend from the SCA
who did calligraphy and illuminations,
and have that made into a scroll for his wall.
* * *
"This self-love is the instrument of our preservation; it resembles the provision for the perpetuity of mankind: it is necessary, it is dear to us, it gives us pleasure."
Heron hasn't really settled whether he is asexual or demisexual, but by this time he is completely confident that he is not the same flavor of sexual as most folks who are pairing up like mad at his age. He hasn't felt any sexual/romantic attraction yet, but he also hasn't had the kind of opportunity required to activate that for a demi person, so he's leaving it at indeterminate. That's okay, and it doesn't necessarily mean confused -- in this case, it's just not completely tested yet.
"Thon" is a gender-neutral pronoun and the one favored by Heron's younger sibling Halley. Read some pronoun etiquette.
Valentine's Day can make people feel lonely and left out, especially for asexual and/or aromantic folks. There are tips for enjoying Valentine's Day while single.
Manhood is a conflicted concept these days. Maturity varies in definition too. In the end, you just have to define your own identity, because other people's conceptualizations of gender or adulthood may not suit you. Explore what it means to be a man and to be mature.
The way a man wears his tie can tell you a lot about him. Heron chooses an aubergine silk tie wrapped in an Eldredge knot. It is elegant, sophisticated, and challenging. It's a little out of the ordinary without being obtrusive.
Terramagne-America offers a much wider selection of nonalcoholic celebratory beverages than local-America does. A nice restaurant typically has both an alcoholic and nonalcoholic list, and the NA options are truly memorable. Closest I could find to Heron's treat is this muscadine grape juice, sadly not a sparkling one in our world.
Seductive and luxurious foods are traditional for Valentine's Day. Enjoy the kale salad, lobster alfredo, and baby beets.
The maître d is the head waiter who manages the front of the restaurant and oversees the other waitstaff. A good one has a knack for spotting minor problems and solving them before they turn into major problems.
Crème fraîche is a cultured dairy product that is rich, creamy, fluffy, and a little tangy. It often appears in chocolate truffles and other desserts.
Petit fours are tiny cakes. Read some recipes and instructions for petite fours. Chocolate truffles are bite-sized candies, often with a filling that contrasts with the shell. Check out these truffle recipes.
Dessert pyramids come in multiple styles, which may have individual arms with tiny plates on the ends, or solid platter tiers. A lazy susan base means it can spin for easy access.
In T-America, YAWP is a review-anything service similar to the L-American site Yelp!
See the asexual flag. and the nine-patch heart. QUILTBAG is an umbrella acronym for many aspects of queer identity.
The Society for Creative Anachronism keeps alive the skills of the past, such as calligraphy and illumination. The Finn family has been into it for decades, so Heron grew up with historic recreation as a hobby.