So then…I set up camp on a lounge chair on the glorious pool deck on the roof of my downtown hotel. We’re so high up, you can’t even hear the horns of the Chicago traffic below.
There’s only one other person lounging poolside – a sunbathing girl in her 20’s.
She gestures to the pool and skyline, and says, “Pretty great up here, huh?”
“Yeah,” I agree. “My business meeting ended early so I’m playing hooky to read at the pool for awhile.”
She asks what I’m reading, so I show her the cover of the suspense thriller. I nod in her direction, and she shows me the cover of her book.
“Harlequin Romance?” I ask excitedly. “Oh my God, I haven’t thought of those in years! My sister and I used to read those all the time!”
She sits up. “Really?”
Nostalgia floods me. “Oh, yeah, they’re awesome! There was this huge box of old Harlequins at this little tiny library near our house in Louisiana that would let you borrow six paperbacks at a time. So we’d ride our bikes over there every week and borrow six Harlequins, read ‘em, and get six more the next week!”
She sips her soda and says, “Wow, you musta really liked them.”
“Yeah, we loved them. They were mostly by British authors so everything was ‘colour’ with an ‘our’ — or ‘realise’ with an ‘s’ instead of a ‘z.’ And the plots were always the same every single time.”
“The same plots?” she asks.
“Well, like the same formula. You know – gorgeous sweet young virgin meets tall, dark, handsome man – usually 10 years older, very wealthy, and from a different country. They have to work together on some project in the English countryside – or she’s the governess or something.” I say, warming to my topic.
I continue, “They hate each other and fight the whole book – and his snobby fiancé named Fiona or Penelope keeps popping up in the way of true love. But then toward the end something happens like –”
I think a moment, then recall — “Oh! Like he sees her teaching orphans how to paint – or she sees him feeding blind puppies or something — so on the last page, they realize they love each other! He proposes, they kiss – and fade out to happily ever after! Fabulous!”
I smile with the rosy memory of those lazy summer afternoons lying around reading sappy romances.
“Oh,” she says, looking like a doctor with bad news about the operation.
“What? Have they changed?” I ask. “I haven’t read any Harlequins since I was a tween, so are they diff—“
“Well, first of all, the heroines aren’t virgins,” she says.
“Oh, no, they’re having sex by page 6.”
“Oh, yeah,” she says. “And Harlequins cover everything these days – divorce, abortion, rape, domestic abuse, bondage, incest – you name it.”
“Seriously?” I ask in a very small voice.
“Oh, yeah, they’re great. Very hot and sexy.” She grins.
I hate her.
I hate her and her stupid Harlequin Romance. I want to throw them both in the pool.
How dare she sully such a lovely childhood memory!
Believe me, I love some hot debauchery as much as the next gal – but my sweet little innocent Harlequin Romances evolving into Jerry Springer-type tales?
Such a shame!
I resist the urge to catapult her and the offending tome off the top of the roof deck into the Chicago traffic below.
I smile and make a big show of settling down into my lounge chair to telegraph that I’m ready to read my book.
I self-righteously return to my suspense thriller — then realize that I’m only 40 pages in, and there have already been 3 vicious murders.
Ah – Who am I to judge? It’s not like either of us is reading War and Peace here.
I smile feebly in her direction and she gives me a big grin.
— Darcy Perdu
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(Anybody else out there remember the sweet comforting formulaic Harlequin Romances of yesteryear? Anyone reading the hot & steamy romances of today? Is it all Fifty Shades of Debauchery these days? Do tell. No seriously, DO tell – go slowly, be descriptive, what EXACTLY are they like now? Ha!)