Be very clear; this is a love story.
Usually, when love really wants us to sit up and listen, it does it with absolutely no subtlety, finesse, or regard for what we are doing with our lives. It just smacks us over the head, says 'pay attention, you', and that's it - toast.
This was the case for Genevieve Jones, as she walked to her local cafe for breakfast on a blustery, hot, particularly unpleasant morning in downtown Melbourne. It also happened to be Valentine's Day, but Genevieve was blissfully unaware of this fact until she saw all the 'Valentine's Day - celebrate your love with a luscious lunch - only $100 per couple' signs in the restaurants along the strip. Valentine's Day? What a joke. How could love possibly be measured in simplistic devotion to a fictional character, who was worshipped for - what was it - oh yes. GETTING THEIR HEAD CHOPPED OFF. What a complete muppet!
St Valentine? He and his fat little friend in a nappy, old stupid Cupid, could bite her bleeding ars- heart.
As you may have guessed, Genevieve was not much of a romantic. If there was a definition for 'anti-romantic' on Wikipedia, it was 'See: Genevieve Alexandra Jones', with a photo of her frowning. She was an embracer of the rational, the explicable, the science-based. She was a grump, to be quite frank about it, and scared a lot of people witless. It was a habit, rather than her natural ground state, but somewhere along the line her sense of humour had disappeared, leaving her a little too rational for most.
She wished desperately she could make her own name less - well, romantic. Genevieve Alexandra - it sounded like a bad novel.
Unfortunately, it was also her grandmother's name, and Genevieve Senior - there, the rational collapsed. For Genevieve Junior loved her grandmother fiercely, and would do nothing to hurt her. So the fluttery, fluffy name stayed.
But that didn't mean she had to play nice with old St Val.
At the same time as Genevieve was cursing the patron saint of lovers, across the planet a man was just climbing into bed, having finished a late shift at the hospital. As he did every night after a late shift, he automatically undressed in the dark, so as to make sure not to disturb anyone. And as he did every night, he caught his breath, and his chest broke open again, his heart like stone, as he remembered there was nobody there to disturb. Two years, and still he could see her outline in the bed, her hair lifting as she snored (I don't snore, she always said, but she did. He thought it was cute).
But a dead woman doesn't snore.
And they don't celebrate Valentine's Day, he thought, as he blearily turned the light on, picked up a book, and settled in for another night's insomnia.
Two years. Sod you, St Valentine. So much for helping lovers - if you helped them, you wouldn't take the ones we live and love for away.
Somewhere in the ether, St Valentine switched off Petflix, turned to Cupid, and frowned.
Cupid missed the frown, because he was getting the drinks in and chatting up the bar nymph, but he soon paid attention when St Valentine clipped him around the ear.
'Ow! What was that for? Here - take your G and T, you grumpy git. I swear, they should never have sewn your head back on. You would've been much nicer without it.'
'Be quiet', said Valentine sternly. 'We have problems. Big problems.'
'Well, I know the tonic's a bit flat, but the new lot wasn't cold, and - '
'Shut up Cupid. This has nothing to do with inferior tonic water, although this is definitely not up to scratch and I shall be informing the bar manager of my displeasure tomorrow. This is ' - and here St Valentine waggled his eyebrows mysteriously - 'V-Day Problems.'
'Can I at least finish my beer?'
As St Valentine towed a sulky Cupid away from the bar, he explained what he had seen. One person who was certain he and Cupid weren't even real, and a man who thought he was unhelpful! Him - the hero of love, Valentinius Sanctus, patron saint of lovers, BFF to those who wished to wed! He'd been martyred for these people, he complained, sounding er, martyred. He'd had his head chopped off for the ungrateful little apes! Whatever happened to respect, to omnia vincit amor, and all that? I mean, what did they want from him - blood?
'I wouldn't mind' mumbled Cupid. 'Still had half a Peroni left'.
'My point', glared St Valentine, 'is that this seems to be more and more common. I looked across the planet. People everywhere view my day as either a way to make up for neglecting their partner for the rest of the year, or as something trashy and commercial! Doesn't anyone understand the significance of true love? Doesn't anyone see what Valentine's Day means anymore; that it is a celebration of spirit, of souls meeting, of love conquering against pride, selfishness, religions and races?'
His face fell.
'Doesn't anyone love simply for love's sake anymore?'
Cupid looked at him, and patted him on the back. Carefully, because the stitching wasn't great on the neck thingy, and there'd been that incident back in 1873 which had scared the life out of Aphrodite.
'Val... I hate to break it to you, but the world has changed. People are cynical, and busy... it's just not the same as it used to be. This poor bloke you were looking at - I mean, you can't blame him, can you? If he loved his wife, and she died... I wouldn't think much of us either. As for the Genevieve chick - well, it's her prerogative. Free will, remember?'
'I thought you'd say that. Damn. OK. What do I have to do?'
Valentine told him, and Cupid's face gradually lightened, because if there was anything to make the God of Love happy, it was a great old-fashioned love story. Then he remembered he actually had to make it work, and the fact he had a beer (and a date) waiting for him, cursed Valentine roundly under his breath, and set off to make things... happen.
Exactly a year later, Genevieve stared angrily around the Rue de la Bûcherie. She was in Paris, about to enter her favourite place in the world - Shakespeare & Co - and what did she see? Hearts. Hearts, cupids with arrows... dear Lord. It was Valentine's Day again already? She groaned aloud, startling the chic Parisian women passing by. Merde, these foreign women... like wild animals, some of them.
Genevieve sighed. She would have to tough out the fromage-level hearts and flowers blergh in front of her. It couldn't be helped. She couldn't pass up a chance to go into the bookstore. So she squared her shoulders, stared hard at a particularly virulent and vomit-worthy Hallmark card display, and in honour of the bookstore's name, stepped forward unto the breach.
Whereupon, unlike Henry the Fifth, she was given a hard shove in the back, and felt a sting (had she been hit by an arrow???) in her - hmmm, let's say derriere, as we are in Paris - and fell to the floor.
It was more a case of the floor and a man, who looked extremely startled to have a femme non-fatally fall on him, and was rubbing his ear as if he, too, had been stung by something.
Genevieve said something extremely rude, and tried to scramble to her feet.
'Please, Mademoiselle, allow me to assist you' said the carpet - I mean the man - she had fallen on.
'I'm fine' she snapped, ungraciously. 'If you hadn't swatted me, I wouldn't have fallen'.
'Swat?' he looked puzzled. 'I am sorry, I don't understand this word - what is "swat"? Do you mean I was studying you so hard you fell? I was swotting you, like an exam?'
'You hit me on my bum!'
'Non, non - I assure you, this is not the case - I felt something hit my ear, and then I felt something hit the rest of me - which, was, of course, yourself'.
He shrugged and smiled, and even in her snotty high-handed huff, Genevieve's cold, scientific little heart did something it had never done before.
It skipped a beat.
For his part, the man could not believe what he was seeing - or feeling, for that matter. This cross, grumpy, rude foreign woman, standing here yelling at him - my god, she was so mean - he just wanted to reach out and -
He just wanted to reach out.
For the first time in three years, his heart started beating again.
Genevieve shook her head, trying to clear the confusion. A man smiled at her, and she turned into some soppy movie wuss? Next she'd be taking his hand and skipping off singing La Vie en Rose and accepting his hand in marriage!
Instead, she found herself accepting his offer to check her head and hands for damage - 'I promise you, I really am a doctor, not just saying this as a line' he said, gravely - and agreeing to lunch, on the condition there were no hearts or Valentine's Day signs anywhere. At all. None.
He promised, and so they went to his local bistro, where the owner, Georges, almost fell over when he saw Monsieur Triste with a woman. A grumpy woman to be sure, but she was a grumpy beautiful woman, which practically made her French! He threw food and drink at them, praying secretly to Saint Valentine that his sad friend had found love.
For the sad friend's part, he could not believe how much charm this cross, funny, smart Australian held. Not once did he compare her to the woman he had held as a paragon. Not once did he think 'but she does not have Elodie's substance, her grace, her lightness'.
Instead, he laughed, and watched as Genevieve stopped being cross, and for the first time in about fifteen years, became Genevieve.
'This is a good French name you have - Genevieve' he said, pronouncing it as only the French can, and making her heart do that funny, lilting skip again.
'Oh, my Grandmother is French' she said. 'I am actually quite fluent, I just get shy about speaking. Silly really.'
He was delighted. From then onwards, the day moved between languages, and the words piled up around them as they shared their lives.
Finally, as it grew dark, and the Tour d'Eiffel lit the sky in its rosy pink for the day of l'amour, they realised poor Georges was attempting to go home and hopefully ravish Madame Georges.
And Genevieve realised something else.
'I have just worked out - I have fallen on you, eaten and drunk with you, laughed with you' - she almost added 'and desperately wanted to kiss you' - and felt the red rise in her cheeks -
'But I don't even know your name. My grandmother would be appalled at my rudeness'.
He looked sheepish, and said 'I will tell you freely, I held it back from you on purpose after hearing your views on this day - of all days'.
'Why?' she demanded.
He grinned, and took her arm.
And in order for her not to have the opportunity to say how ridiculous it was...
...he kissed her.
And Genevieve suddenly understood why Valentine's Day could be considered pretty damn romantic, if you thought of it as Valentin's Day instead.
St Valentine turned off the sound, but left the vision on. He sipped his drink thoughtfully, as he watched Cupid chasing St Bernadette around the pool table (hiding to nothing there, silly boy, he thought fondly).
He sped the future up on the Petflix, watching as Valentin and Genevieve married, brought their first child - and then a second - into the world, grew older, wiser, and resolutely celebrated their love 364 days a year in a thousand small gestures of friendship, kindness, understanding, passion and silliness.
And on Valentine's Day, every year, they went quietly to Paris, and to Bistro Georges, now a two Michelin starred restaurant, where they were treated like royalty -
- and where there was not a single Valentine's Day decoration, sign, or menu in sight.
And he smiled, and went back to his drink, blessing them both.
I told you at the start this was a love story.
But it was also a story about love, which is a little different.
Give yourself, and the person you want to live happily ever after with, the gift of both the story and the love.
Otherwise, who knows what St Valentine and Cupid may dream up for you?