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Grand Gestures

                Her house invited ardor, as did the car in her driveway, bright blue and compact, and her front lawn, too, even frozen brown as it was. Not Gabriel’s ardor, of course, but Nando’s ardor, the rare and ferocious kind. Gabriel followed her front walk to the porch with cups of hot coffee in each hand and a folder tucked in his right armpit. The second he stepped beneath the cover of the porch, the sky began to spit rain. At the front door, it took him two attempts to ring her doorbell with his left elbow.

               When she answered the door, Misty wore white jeans and a black cardigan. Her glasses were large and stylish, and her thick, wavy hair was held back by some kind of fabric hair-holder; Gabriel didn’t know what it was called, but it looked good. She always looked good. Her fashion decisions never went awry. Once inside, Gabriel kicked his dress shoes off by the door and handed Misty her coffee. She took a sip and gave him an appreciative nod.

               “I got it right?” he asked, knowing he had but wanting confirmation beyond the nod.

               “You always do,” said Misty. “Every year.”

               “I never wrote it down,” said Gabriel, allowing himself a small brag.

               “I know,” said Misty. “It’s impressive. Let’s go over this in my office this time. The kitchen’s a bit of a mess.”

               Gabriel was disappointed by this break with ritual, but he tried not to let it show. “Sure,” he said. “Sounds good. Lead the way.”

               Misty’s office had many stylistically similar framed paintings hanging on the walls. “These are nice,” said Gabriel. “Who’s the artist?”

               “I am,” said Misty. She sat down in the chair at her desk and swiveled to face the faded couch beneath the window, droplets snaking down the exterior pane.

               “You painted these?” asked Gabriel. “Does Nando know about them?”

               “No,” said Misty. “Why would he?”

               “Well, I have to think he’d be interested,” said Gabriel. “He’d be fascinated.”

               “And why would he be fascinated?” asked Misty.

               Gabriel chuckled at Misty’s obvious joke, although she wasn’t laughing, wasn’t smiling, and there was not so much as a mischievous glimmer in her eye. “I suppose we should get down to business,” said Gabriel, and he lowered himself onto the couch and slid his coffee into the cup holder built into the arm rest. He opened the folder on his lap and glanced over the single sheet of paper within it. “So this year is going to be very exciting,” said Gabriel. “Multioak is going to be talking about it for months.”

               Misty said nothing. She sipped her coffee, then set it down on her desk.

               “All that we ask of you – all that Nando asks of you – is that you be at the Multioak fairgrounds at 7:00 p.m. on the evening of the 14th of this month, that being February. Valentine’s Day, as you’re well aware. Nando will begin the grand gesture at 7:15. You can park in the main lot, enter through the front gate, and then just walk through the East Pavilion. Once you’re out on the grounds, I’ll be there to escort you to your seat, which will be covered in case of rain or snow, and we’ll have one of those patio heaters set up since it’ll most likely be cold, although I’d still recommend you wear plenty of layers since Nando’s grand gesture is going to be a bit, ah, lengthy.”

               “Oh, great,” said Misty, pressing the inside of her wrist to her forehead and closing her eyes. Her other hand wasn’t doing anything, just sitting there in her lap.

               “Lengthy, but well worth it,” said Gabriel. “The gesture he has planned will fully justify the length, I promise, and I know you’ll agree once you see it.” Gabriel didn’t know any specifics about this year’s gesture, but he believed everything he was saying.

               “He’s not going to hurt himself again, is he?” asked Misty.

               “I’m not at liberty to tell you any more than I’ve already told you,” said Gabriel.

               “If it looks like he’s going to hurt himself, I’ll get up and leave,” said Misty. “I’m not sitting through anything like that again. It’s disgusting and it makes me feel sick.”

               “You’ll…you…” Gabriel stumbled over his words. “Don’t worry,” he finally said. “That’s all I can say.” He hoped that he was not giving Misty false assurance. He had reason to believe Nando wouldn’t hurt himself, though. His grand gestures had evolved beyond that stage.

               Misty gave Gabriel a penetrating look, and then surprised him with a smile. “All right,” she said. “If you say I shouldn’t worry, I won’t.”

               Through this crack in the tension, Gabriel almost thought he could see a bit of daylight, so he rallied his nerve and asked, “Do you think you might take Nando back this year, Misty?”

               “I suppose that depends on how grand the gesture is,” said Misty.

               “You’re being sarcastic?” asked Gabriel.

               “Why would this year be any different?” asked Misty. “Have you ever asked yourself that question?”

               “It’d be different if you decided it would be different,” said Gabriel. “You could make it different.”

               Misty shrugged. “I won’t be taking him back, Gabriel. I’ve told him, I’ve told you, I’ve told everyone. I’m never taking him back.”

               “You’ve said that, yes,” said Gabriel. “Many times. But you could change your mind.”

               “A grand gesture won’t change my mind,” said Misty.

               “But you can’t know that until you’ve seen every possible gesture,” said Gabriel. “There’s always a chance that there’s a gesture out there that could sway you and you just haven’t seen it yet.”

               “And what are the odds that I will see it?” asked Misty.

               “Not high, maybe,” admitted Gabriel. “But Nando’s searching. He’s searching desperately.”

               “I don’t believe the gesture that could make me take him back exists,” said Misty. “How about that?”

               “Then why are you still single?” asked Gabriel. He had never before felt bold enough to confront Misty like this, but perhaps some of Nando’s desperation had rubbed off on him. Or perhaps this desperation was his own, home-grown, sprung from a native source.

               Misty scoffed. “Would you date me?”

               Gabriel sputtered and blushed. “I…I couldn’t do that to Nando. And even if I wanted to, I could never compete with his dedication to you, his willingness to sacrifice. I’m not…strong enough.”

               “But you’ve got a job,” said Misty. “Right? You’ve got a house? Your body isn’t covered in self-inflicted scars?”

               Gabriel was silent. Misty’s irreverence made him uncomfortable.

               “Anyway, that’s why men won’t date me,” said Misty. “Not for long, anyway. Eventually Nando and the gestures become too much of a problem and they move on. No matter how much I tell them I’ll never get back together with Nando, they don’t want to compete.”

               “But you keep showing up for them,” said Gabriel. “For the gestures.”

               “Maybe I won’t,” said Misty. “Maybe this year I’ll stay home.”

               “But you’ve been there for all the others,” said Gabriel. “They must mean something to you.”

               “Yeah,” said Misty, her voice grown insubstantial. “They must mean something to me.” She swiveled her chair so it faced her desk and she turned her gaze to a painting hanging on the wall above her dormant computer monitor. It was a landscape, gray and foreign, but the rocky ground projected rugged vitality.

               “I’ll tell Nando about your paintings,” said Gabriel. “He’s going to be fascinated.”

               “No,” said Misty. “He won’t.”

               “He will,” said Gabriel.

               “I would go on a date with you,” said Misty, swiveling her chair to follow Gabriel as he moved toward the door. “We could skip the gesture together. You could take me to dinner in Heavenburg instead. No one would recognize us. No one would wonder why we’re there instead of watching Nando’s grand gesture.” Her facial expression was blank but not empty. The blankness was a seal on her true feelings.

               Gabriel fled Misty’s house in such haste that he left his shoes by her front door and drove home in damp socks.


               When they were 20 years old, Misty broke up with Nando two weeks before Valentine’s Day. They had only been dating for five months, but Nando was crushed. But after a week of moping, as he told it, he decided he would not give up on Misty, would not allow the beautiful relationship that had barely begun between them to be cut down before it could bloom. He would win her back with a grand gesture, something that would force her to recognize the depth of his feeling for her, the intensity of his devotion. He took a hefty portion of his savings and spent it on an expensive necklace. On Valentine’s Day, Nando followed Misty and her friends to Gorgeous’s Fine Grill, approached them at their table, dropped to both knees with the necklace extended toward Misty like an offering to a goddess – an image he was deliberately attempting to evoke – and asked her to take him back. Everyone in the restaurant applauded, Misty’s friends clasped their hands in front of their touched smiles as tears filled their eyes, and Misty said that she would not take Nando back, that she did not want to date him anymore. Nando insisted that she keep the necklace anyway and strode out of the restaurant with his head held high. Men clapped him on the back as he passed, women touched his elbows with tenderness.

               What surprised Nando, according to his account, was that in the aftermath of this second rejection, he did not descend again into despair. Though it should have been in all ways more humiliating than the initial break-up, Nando did not feel humiliated. He felt inspired to try again. But this time the gesture would be grander. He would wait until the next Valentine’s Day for four reasons: the further significance with which the holiday of romance would imbue his gesture, the way in which the passage of time would testify to the fact that his love was un-waning, the way in which performing the second grand gesture on the same day as the first would add the sacredness of ritual, and also because it would give him time to build up enough money for a more impressive gift.

               The following Valentine’s Day, Misty actually had a date, but it ended prematurely when Nando showed up in the movie theater parking lot with a new car for Misty. This time Nando fell prostrate when he asked Misty to take him back, his forehead pressed to the cold blacktop, the keys to the gift car raised in one cupped palm. Misty did not take Nando back, but many of the onlookers in the parking lot applauded Nando’s effort, and, even better, a reporter for The Multioak Interpreter-Tribune witnessed the episode and asked Nando if he could talk to him about what had just transpired. It was in the subsequent article that Nando declared he would be attempting to win Misty back with a grand gesture every Valentine’s Day for the rest of his life or until he succeeded. Misty was quoted in the same article saying that she would never take Nando back and that he should move on. She said that she did not like the gestures, that she found them embarrassing, and that she really hoped he would not inflict anymore such gestures upon her. When asked about accepting the gifts, Misty revealed that she had sold the necklace and given the money to a local charity. She said she intended to do the same with the car and any future gifts that Nando forced upon her. These quotes brought the era of Nando’s gift-based gestures to an abrupt end.

               The next year, Nando sent a limousine to Misty’s apartment on Valentine’s Day morning. The driver told Nando that Misty accepted the ride without much fuss. She was driven to Nando’s house, which he had inherited from his great-aunt Rita. There, an assembled crowd of invited guests and interested strangers applauded as Misty climbed out of the limo. Some carried signs that said things like “TAKE HIM BACK” and “HE IS WORTHY” and “WHAT WILL IT TAKE?” A small fleet of bulldozers and backhoes surrounded Nando’s house. Nando stood in a waist-deep hole at the front edge of his lawn. He carried a megaphone. When he saw Misty, he shouted, “Misty! For you!” Then he made a dramatic chopping gesture with his arm and the bulldozers and backhoes demolished his house. The crowd clapped and cheered. Misty announced that she would not be getting back together with Nando and was driven away to a chorus of booing, yes, but also a few shouts of approval and support.

               It was the following year that Gabriel became aware of Nando and his quest to win Misty back through grand gestures. Gabriel had moved back to Multioak after eight years and the collapse of the third of three relationships which had drawn him successively farther from home. He had been planted on the couch in his basement watching the 11 o’clock news on Channel 2 through half-lidded eyes when a segment on Nando’s upcoming fourth annual grand gesture to win Misty back grabbed his attention. The reporter recapped Nando’s three prior grand gestures and said that while Nando had not revealed anything specific about that year’s gesture, he had promised that it would be the grandest yet, and had added that while he wasn’t sure it would convince Misty to take him back, he hoped it would. The segment ended with an open invitation to members of the community to witness the gesture at 6:00 p.m. on Valentine’s Day at Officer David K. Wolst Memorial Park.

               The first of Nando’s gestures that Gabriel saw in person – that fourth gesture overall – was now widely regarded as one of the least compelling, but it would always hold a special place in Gabriel’s heart. There had been a small stage built in the middle of the park with a high throne-like seat built onto one end. The idea was that Nando would be up on the stage where the spectators would be able to see him, but that he would still be in a low position relative to Misty, who was supposed to climb up to the seat. But Misty could not be persuaded to climb up to the high seat on the stage, so the gesture got off to a rough start. Gabriel didn’t know it at the time, but Nando told him later that he had sent a personal invitation to Misty to attend the gesture, taking a gamble that she would choose to attend without being ambushed or escorted, pulled toward him by her subconscious desire to be swayed. And sure enough, she was there, and this time she’d driven herself.

               That gesture had turned out to be very similar to the third one. There was a vat of acid on the stage and Nando threw all of his remaining possessions into it, including all of his money. He had withdrawn every cent he had to his name from the bank, and although it didn’t look like much piled together on a little end table next to the acid vat, Nando had a banker come out and confirm that it was indeed, to the best of his knowledge, the entirety of Nando’s savings. Then Nando threw it in the acid. He also stepped behind a screen, removed his clothing, and tossed the clothing into the acid, emerging after a few minutes wrapped in a threadbare sheet which he said he found in a dumpster inside an apartment complex. Perhaps the gesture would have made more of an impact if most of his possessions hadn’t been inside his house when it was demolished, all collapsed upon and hauled to the dump with the wreckage. Nando had been living on friends’ couches during the intervening year, and although the gesture was a bold rejection of the very last of what he owned, it did not offer the dramatic spectacle of a house’s destruction. The gesture ended with Nando’s landlord coming onstage to announce that Nando had been evicted, and Nando’s boss coming onstage to accept his resignation from his job.

               At the time, Gabriel had been certain that these public sacrifices would convince Misty to take Nando back, that she would not fail to understand how meaningful they were. Gabriel was shocked when she said she would not take Nando back. As the crowd booed and cheered – maybe an even split this time – Gabriel watched in stunned silence as she walked alone across the park to her car. How could a woman so wonderful that a man would make annual gestures of the grandness of Nando’s to win her back not appreciate those gestures enough to take him back? It didn’t add up. If she was worthy of Nando’s gestures, why wasn’t she moved to accept him? If she wasn’t worthy of Nando’s gestures, why did he keep making them? Gabriel could not make sense of this contradiction. This confusion, he assumed, marked a flaw within himself.

               With no possessions left to forfeit, Nando embarked on a period of gestures centered on bodily harm. He lived as a homeless romantic in the streets of Multioak and made a yearly public performance out of lashing, burning, slicing himself, throwing himself down the library steps. And Misty would always be there, pale and anxious, asking him to stop. But if she wanted him to stop so badly, why didn’t she take him back? And Gabriel, along with a crowd that grew each year, was there for all of these gestures too. He didn’t know about everyone else, but he knew why he needed to see the gestures. He needed to see them in order to confront himself for his own weakness, his own lack of conviction. When had he ever shown even a fraction of the commitment around which Nando had structured his entire life? Never. If he had, maybe he would have been able to hold on to one of his girlfriends, maybe he would have been able to make just one of those relationships work. Not that any of those women had been worthy of Nando-level gestures – none of them was a Misty, that was for sure – but Gabriel could never deserve a Misty, he was certain of that. But with just a bit more courage, just a tiny bit more perseverance, he could have made himself worthy of a Josie, a Nina, or a Shayla. But he hadn’t, and now he couldn’t, but he could follow Nando’s grand gestures, witness them, absorb them, ponder them, analyze them, revere them.

And at some point, he reached out to Nando directly. What if Gabriel were to support Nando’s gestures in a more concrete way? What if he were to provide for Nando’s basic needs, his food, clothing, and shelter? Then Nando could focus all of his energy on planning and executing his gestures. And, hey, maybe Gabriel could help with the gestures, too. Not like a full collaborator, no, he knew he wasn’t capable of that, he would never be so presumptuous, but more of just like a facilitator. He could help with logistics, scout locations, coordinate with the press to set up interview schedules, make arrangements for accommodating spectators, even communicate with Misty if and when the need arose. Gabriel could also pay for everything.

Gabriel’s timing was perfect. Nando had recently decided to move onto gestures that didn’t require him to injure himself. Not because of how much lasting damage he had done to his body, although there was certainly plenty of that, but because he sensed the beginning of a decrease in interest toward the gestures, both in himself and in others. He wanted to change the perception of what a grand gesture to win Misty back could be. And also, the self-inflicted injury gestures hadn’t worked any better than the gifts or giving up his material possessions. Misty’s resolve to never again date Nando had not wavered no matter the type nor severity of his injuries. Nando insisted that he did not regret exploring that avenue; he felt it was a necessary step on his journey. But it was time for a change. And the direction Nando had in mind was going to require resources he did not have. He had considered asking the city of Multioak for funding since his grand gestures had become community events, but he loathed the thought of the government interfering with his process, dictating content. Gabriel assured Nando he would do neither of those things. But before Nando could accept Gabriel’s offer, he had to know why. What was Gabriel getting out of it?

“I can’t be like you,” Gabriel had said. “I’m not strong enough, not bold enough, not dedicated enough. I could never make even one gesture anywhere near as grand as any of yours. But I can make this offer of assistance as a humble gesture in service of your grand gestures, and in that way, I hope, I can be close to them, I can feel their heat, I can reside in their shadows, and that’s more than I could ever hope to accomplish alone.”

So Gabriel built a combination home/workspace for Nando in his back yard, Nando moved in, and so began the most ambitious era of grand gestures to win back Misty. That had been almost five years ago. It had been four years since Gabriel first called Misty to ask if he could meet with her about Nando’s upcoming gesture, and she had grudgingly agreed. Gabriel had offered to bring coffee, she had told him her order, and he had committed it to memory without writing it down. And he still remembered it. Which wasn’t much, Gabriel knew it wasn’t much, but it was something. But it was not a gesture. It was just a…a nice thing. A nice thing to do. That’s all it was. That’s all he had intended it to be.

His shoes were still in Misty’s house, incriminating him. A sign of his unwitting, corrupting influence. She could not have sincerely asked him on a date, he must have misinterpreted. Or she had been testing him, testing his loyalty to Nando. Or testing his loyalty to the gestures themselves, maybe. He didn’t know. He was rattled.

By the time Gabriel got home his socks were dry. He parked his car in the garage, went inside, and changed all of his clothes. He had just finished stuffing his pants deep in his closet hamper when the intercom buzzed and Nando’s voice, dry and weary, requested Gabriel join him to report on the conference with Misty.

Gabriel wiped his sweaty hands on the seat of his clean jeans, pressed the button on the intercom mounted on the wall next to his bed, and said, “I’ll be right out.”

The light from Gabriel’s house and the light from Nando’s place at the far edge of Gabriel’s property overlapped in the middle of Gabriel’s back yard. As he passed from his light, to the shared light, to Nando’s light, Gabriel wrestled with himself. He knew he needed to lie for the good of everyone involved. But what if he couldn’t? What if his admiration for Nando prevented him? What if he was too weak to bear the burden of the lie and he blurted the truth?

The brittle grass crackled like tissue paper beneath Gabriel’s reluctant feet, shod now in sneakers that had never trod Misty’s sidewalk nor her porch nor her hallway nor her kitchen tile nor her office carpet. He stopped at Nando’s door, raised his hand to rap cold knuckles on cold wood, and was stricken with a new revelation of his own wrongness. Despite everything he knew of Nando, Gabriel was underestimating him again. It was pitiful. Had he not seen Nando persist in gestures of increasing grandiosity over and over, undeterred by Misty’s refusal to budge? Why should he doubt Nando’s ability to persist just because Misty had asked Gabriel to go on a Valentine’s Day date with her? Why should that be ruinous to Nando when so much else and so much worse had not? With disgust, Gabriel saw that he had been guessing at Nando’s reactions viewed through the lens of his own shortcomings. He had imagined himself in Nando’s place, hearing that the object and inspiration of his grand gestures had asked his lowly assistant on a date and then rolling over, giving up, throwing in the towel. But he was not in Nando’s place and never would be, never could be. The same fact that guaranteed he would immediately crumble in similar circumstances also guaranteed that he would never be in similar circumstances. He would never have to worry about abandoning something on the level of what Nando had built because he, Gabriel, could not build something to that level in the first place. Nando would not react like Gabriel would have. So there was nothing to worry about.

Gabriel knocked on Nando’s door.


After a short pause, a buzz not dissimilar to the buzz of the intercom sounded to indicate the unlocking of the door, and Gabriel pulled it open and stepped inside. Nando sat hunched at his desk holding a hot-water bottle to his forehead. His scars gleamed in the combined blaze of the lamps on either end of the desk. The door to his living area was closed and dark cloths were draped over all of the wheeled dry-erase boards scattered around the workspace. Nando motioned for Gabriel to sit on the padded stool next to his desk chair. “No scheduling conflicts?” asked Nando. “You gave her the directions?”

“No issues with the schedule,” said Gabriel as he sat on the edge of the stool so he could keep his feet flat on the treated cement floor. “I gave her the directions.”

               Nando nodded. He looked exhausted, but that was typical. The lingering effects of his grand gesture injuries made it difficult for him to sleep.

               “Misty also asked me on a date,” said Gabriel. He was surprised at how easily it came out, how much the thoughts he’d explored while standing at Nando’s door with his hand frozen in mid-knock had taken hold. “She wanted me to take her to dinner on Valentine’s Day.”

               Nando nodded. “Where are we at with seating for the spectators?”

               “Most will stand in the roped-off area to the right of Misty’s seat,” said Gabriel. “With two rows of benches provided on a first-come-first-serve basis.”

               Nando nodded again.

               “Why do you think she asked me that?” asked Gabriel.

               “Why did who ask you what?” asked Nando.

               “Why did Misty ask me to take her on a date?” asked Gabriel.

               “It doesn’t interest me much,” said Nando.

               “But do you think it could mean something?” asked Gabriel.

               “Everything means something,” said Nando. “We needn’t dignify most of it with examination.”

               “Do you want to know what I said to her?” asked Gabriel, surprising himself.

               “You already told me,” said Nando. “The schedule, the directions, etc.”

               “No,” said Gabriel. “Do you want to know what I said to her when she asked me to take her on a date?”

               “I’m sure you didn’t say anything,” said Nando. “You probably ran for the door as fast as you could, then spent the whole drive home agonizing over whether or not you should tell me. But you told me, of course, as was inevitable.”

               “Inevitable how?” asked Gabriel, ashamed of the indignation in his voice, and indignant that he should feel such shame.

               “You would not be you if you had kept it to yourself,” said Nando. “But, of course, if you were the kind of man to keep it to yourself, she wouldn’t have asked you in the first place.”

               “You do have a theory,” said Gabriel. “You think she only asked me because she thought I’d tell you about it. You think she only did it to make you jealous!”

               “Wrong,” said Nando.

               “She paints,” said Gabriel, rising from the stool. “Landscapes, but strange ones. She hangs the paintings in her office. Some of them, anyway.”

               “And…?” asked Nando.

               “You didn’t know that about her,” said Gabriel. “And now you do. Don’t you find that fascinating?”

               “That she paints?” asked Nando. “No. I don’t.”

               “She said you wouldn’t,” said Gabriel.

               “A perceptive woman,” said Nando. “One of the many reasons my heart beats only for her.”

               “I asked her if she’s going to take you back this year,” said Gabriel.

               “Now that annoys me,” said Nando. “That really irks me. That’s a significant overstep. You are meddling in aspects of the relationship between Misty and myself that are fundamental to the nature of the grand gestures.” He moved the hot-water bottle down so that it covered his eyes. “I’d like you to leave now.”

               Gabriel almost responded with something cutting, but thought better of it. And actually, nothing cutting had come to mind. But he thought better of trying to think of something cutting. But even if he hadn’t, the moment had passed. But even if the moment hadn’t passed, if the space in which to say something cutting had stretched longer than anticipated, well, now he was back outside, crossing the lawn to his house, now he was inside the house, now he was in his bedroom changing into his pajamas, it would be far too inconvenient to…

               He saw the intercom on the wall next to his bed. He walked over to it, pressed the button, leaned close, and said, “You’re selfish, Nando.” He stood waiting for the wave of guilt that he knew must follow, but after a few minutes, he realized it wasn’t coming.


               For his first grand gesture to win Misty back after moving into Gabriel’s back yard, Nando had written a long novel – which, though filled with symbolism, was not an allegory – memorized it, and recited it over the course of many hours while wandering around downtown Multioak trailed by a shifting crowd of onlookers. He had self-published hundreds of copies of the novel so people could follow along to confirm that there were no errors in his recitation. Misty had been there for the beginning, bits and pieces of the middle, and the ending, after which she declined to take Nando back.

               For his next grand gesture to win Misty back, Nando constructed a heart-shaped cage on the courthouse lawn, locked himself inside, and had Gabriel publicly melt down the only key with an acetylene torch. Gabriel had been very proud of his role. Then, after three days, Nando escaped from the cage on Valentine’s Day, asked Misty to take him back, and she said no. No one knew how Nando had gotten out of the cage, but he was the one who’d built it, so there was probably some trick. Gabriel had hoped Nando might tell him how the trick was done, but Nando never confided in Gabriel about the gestures, neither before nor after they were completed.

               For the following grand gesture to win Misty back, Nando combined what some people after the fact said were too many elements, but it was the best-attended grand gesture yet, and even though it was confusing, most people stayed until the end. Gabriel considered it a masterpiece. It had started with Nando faking self-inflicted paralysis. Then he was wheeled out of the hospital on a gurney while wrapped up like a mummy. Then he rose from the gurney and tore away the wrappings to reveal a realistic fake heart attached to the outside of his chest. He then crushed the fake heart in his hands causing a key to fall out, and he scampered around trying the key on many of the cars in the hospital parking lot until he at last used it on a padlocked port-a-potty. He disappeared inside the port-a-potty and when he didn’t come out, people checked and saw there was no toilet inside, but rather a tunnel leading to the other side of the street. And it just went on and on like this until eventually it all ended at the table at Gorgeous’s Fine Grill where Nando had made his first grand gesture to win Misty back. This time, Misty also did not take him back.

               Gabriel did not know what Nando’s grand gesture would be this year. He didn’t know how Nando could top himself. Gabriel remembered how surprised he’d been the previous year when Misty hadn’t taken Nando back. How could she resist everything coming full circle like that? Nando had even invited all of Misty’s friends who had been with her at the restaurant to witness the first gesture. He’d used Gabriel’s money to pay for their plane tickets so they could fly home from far-flung corners of the country. They had worn outfits identical to those they’d worn that Valentine’s Day eleven years before, albeit tailored to their current sizes. It was a staggering accomplishment. A gesture of unparalleled grandeur. But here everyone was almost a year later – Nando, Misty, Gabriel, much of Multioak – preparing for yet another one.

               And it occurred to Gabriel, as he watched the Channel 2 11 o’clock news with half-lidded eyes, that there was a chance, maybe even a good chance, that Nando was about to disappoint him.


               On the evening of February 13th, Gabriel returned to Misty’s house for an unsanctioned visit. When she answered the door, Misty seemed surprised but not unhappy to see him. “Did you come back for your shoes?”

               “No,” said Gabriel. “Although, well, I’m here anyway, so I should probably take them.”

               “Come on in,” said Misty. She glanced down at Gabriel’s empty hands and said, “Um, do you want me to make us some coffee?”

               “I can’t come in,” said Gabriel. He could see that Misty was cold standing in the open doorway, but he promised himself he would not enter her house again. Not yet.

               “Did Nando send you?” asked Misty.

               “No,” said Gabriel. “He doesn’t know I’m here.”

               “Do you want me to get the shoes?” asked Misty.

                “Why did you ask me to take you on a date tomorrow?” asked Gabriel. “I thought that Nando would think it was because you thought I would tell him and it would make him jealous, but he said that was wrong.”

               “That is wrong,” said Misty. “I asked you to take me on a date tomorrow because I want you to take me on a date tomorrow.”

               Gabriel shook his head. He could feel late winter crouched in Misty’s front yard behind him. Misty wrapped her arms around herself and nodded her head in contradiction of Gabriel.

               “Tell me the real reason,” said Gabriel. “Please. I’m suffering.”

               “You think I’m not?” asked Misty. “Nando’s got both of us chained to him with these gestures. I hate them with a passion, but if you don’t take me on a date tomorrow, I know I’ll be freezing out there on the fairgrounds, sitting through some long, pretentious, self-aggrandizing trash until it’s time for me to deliver my catchphrase.”

               “But why me?” asked Gabriel.

               “We’re two birds,” said Misty. “We could both be put out of our misery with the same stone.”

               “I’m not…” said Gabriel. At the last moment, he realized that if he let himself form the word “miserable” with his mouth, it would respond to its name and leap all over him like an excited dog.

               “And you remember my coffee order,” said Misty. “That’s more than Nando has ever done for me.”

               “More?” asked Gabriel. “More than Nando has ever done for you?”

               “Those gestures aren’t for me,” said Misty. “They aren’t even about me.”

               Gabriel felt an initial surge of panic, and then it was all gone, replaced by the peace of having one’s most troubling suspicions confirmed and then discovering that as confirmed facts, they are far less troubling than they ever were as suspicions. “I’ll see you at the gesture,” said Gabriel, reaching out to squeeze Misty’s shoulder. “Tomorrow night, 7:00, the fairgrounds.”

               “I remember,” said Misty. She sounded sad.

               She sounded sad, but she didn’t know the future.


               When Misty came out of the darkness of the East Pavilion at the fairgrounds, Gabriel was there to escort her. He offered his arm and she took it coldly. She had heeded Gabriel’s advice about layering; she wore a heavy coat, warm boots, and black ear muffs. Gabriel led her to her seat, a padded chair set beneath a sizable patio umbrella. He worried that she might balk at taking the seat considering how she’d reacted to the last special seat from which Nando had intended her to observe a grand gesture, but she sat down without complaining. It probably helped that she didn’t have to climb up to it. Once she was settled in the chair, Gabriel asked Misty if she would like him to adjust the level of the patio heater positioned nearby. She asked him to turn it down, and he did. To the right-hand side of Misty’s designated spot, the roped-off area for standing spectators was filled to capacity, as were the rows of benches in front of it. There were reporters present from The Multioak Interpreter-Tribune, Channel 2, and Channel 3.

               Fifty yards from the pavilion, in the open field of the fairground, a white sheet with a large red heart painted on it had been staked in the dirt and illuminated by powerful spotlights set at each of its four corners. The spectators murmured in anticipation, speculating as to what this set-up might indicate about the nature of the grand gesture. Misty said nothing, slumped low in her seat, eyes vacant. Gabriel stood back and to the left of her, hands clasped behind his back, doing everything in his power to conceal the riot raging inside of him.

               Minutes passed and nothing happened. 7:15 came and went. Knowing that Gabriel was Nando’s assistant, or whatever he was, people began calling out to him, asking him what was going on. Where was Nando? He’d never been late with a grand gesture before. The fact that the gestures always started on time was one of the subtly grand things about them. What was the hold-up? Gabriel didn’t answer them. He didn’t care about them.

               Misty turned in her chair to look over her shoulder at Gabriel. “Where is Nando?” she asked.

               “He isn’t coming,” said Gabriel.

               “What is this?” asked Misty. “Is the waiting part of the gesture?”

               “Not part of Nando’s gesture, no,” said Gabriel.

               “Not part of Nando’s gesture?” asked Misty. “What other gesture would there be?”

               She was perceptive, just as Nando had told Gabriel. “Misty,” he said. “Will you allow me to take you to dinner tonight? On a date, I mean.”

               “What happened to Nando?” asked Misty, rising from her special seat.

               “You’re free from Nando’s grand gestures,” said Gabriel. “Both of us are, just like you wanted. This is my gesture to you. I don’t know how grand it is, I’m not super creative or anything, but it is for you. It’s for you.”

               “What did you do?” Misty asked one more time, and then she ran from beneath the patio umbrella, back through the darkness of the East Pavilion to her car.

               It was a discouraging response, yes, but there was always next year.

Discussion Questions

  • What sort of grand gesture would you perform in order to show the world that you’re not afraid to contribute at least one dollar a month to my patreon at

  • What sort of grand gesture would you perform in order to prove your willingness to “try at least one bite of most foods unless they’re too spicy.”

  • What sort of grand gesture would you perform in order to convince the authorities that it was not you who concealed evidence that would have led to the arrest and conviction of your bandmate?

  • What sort of grand gesture would you perform in order to convince your boss to let you leave work early?

  • What sort of grand gesture would you perform in order to win back a girlfriend or boyfriend who dumped you?