Valentine's Day

by Evelyn Floyd

I sat alone in my parents' house, listening to the wind blow outside the walls. It made a mournful sound as it pressed against the windows, as if testing their strength, and sneaking in through the cracks. It was like there was something out there, trying to get in.

The fire was dying down. I put another log on, and watched the sparks fly up the chimney. The bricks were warm, reflecting the heat back into the room, but I couldn't get comfortable. The fire had been burning all day and night, the pile of coals under the grate were thick. They glowed red and orange, and the color moved through them like a living thing. If I stared hard enough, I could see images of things. Those images brought back memories, and I found a spot on the wall to stare at instead. The burning logs shifted, settling under the weight of the new unburnt log, and more sparks flew up into the darkness.

The wind blew hard again, and I could hear it howl across the top of the chimney, out there in the darkness. Whatever it was that wanted in, I wondered, why didn't it come down the chimney? Surely if it could survive the below zero temperatures outside, then the heat flowing up the chimney would be nothing to it. Why didn't it come down the chimney?

I shifted in my chair, and I pulled the blanket a little tighter around my shoulders. I couldn't shake the chill. It went deep, all the way down into my bones. I moved closer to the fire, close enough that my face felt hot, as if it was burning, but still, I was cold.

I knew the cold wasn't real. I mean, it was cold outside because it was February. But the cold I felt, it wasn't real. It was a mood, a feeling; it had nothing to do with the weather. I was cold because of Bryan.

The wind blew the snow against the windows, and the ice crystals made a pattering sound, like the feet of tiny unseen creatures that weren't affected by the cold. Ice demons, or snow monsters. Those were what we called them when we were kids. They only came out at night, during blizzards and ice storms, and if they caught you outside…

I shivered again. I looked at the wood pile sitting at the edge of the hearth. There was enough to get me through the night. I really didn't need the fire; the house had a gas fired furnace, and it kept the rooms at a comfortable seventy five degrees. That was a summer time temperature. Seventy five degrees. Not the hot baking heat of August, when the air was so still that it seemed the trees were carved out of stone, but more like the temperature of June, when the flowers and the trees were all in full bloom and soft comforting breezes blew. Ah June, the best month of the year. And now, the worst month in all my memories. The last time I had seen Bryan was in June. It had been two years ago. We had been at a party his parents were having, and while we weren't old enough to drink alcohol, Bryan had snuck a couple of beers from the cooler when his Dad wasn't looking. We had hurried off, out amongst the trees that surrounded the garden to drink them. It was a cold bitter taste, the beers we shared. I didn't like it at first, but since Bryan drank his can with gusto, I followed suit. He had always been the leader, the adventurous one. I followed his lead, but I never struck out to explore as he did. I was content to follow him, to let him lead me to new places and new adventures.

That's why we got along so well. He was always so vibrant, always thinking, and always talking about the great things we would do when we were old enough to leave home for good. But it never came to be. Something happened, something terrible. Something that changed my life forever.

Suddenly I jumped as I heard something hit the roof of the house. It was a hard thump. I tried to laugh it off, for it was probably just a rotten limb from the old dead tree out front. In this weather, the old tree dropped a lot of limbs when the icy winds of winter blew. I held completely still, listening. The sound wasn't repeated. All was quiet, except for the mournful wail of the wind outside the windows and the staccato beat of ice crystals against the glass.

I wondered if Bryan was comfortable where he was. I hoped so, but I knew that he likely felt nothing. I envied him that. As I thought about him, I remembered the first time he introduced me to making love. First we just sort of messed around, just two teen boys discovering how things worked. As time went on, we grew bolder, more daring. I found his way of instigating our sexual escapades thrilling, and before long, I felt even more in love with him. He would smile when I said I loved him, and he would punch me in the arm, as if I was trying to get a rise out of him. I tried to tell him it was true, that I really did love him, but he never said it back. I think he loved me, though. I could see it in his eyes, but he was afraid of admitting to it. I wished he had said it, just once, because then it would be a memory I could hold onto now.

It was odd to think of Bryan being afraid. He seemed so bold, so daring. He seemed fearless, whether he was riding his motorcycle or jumping off the cliffs at the rock quarry to land in the water far below. Bryan was the bravest person I had ever known, and now he was gone. I sat there, wrapped in the blanket, staring at the fire and remembering the things we did together, and I felt as if I would never be warm again.

His funeral was a somber affair; Bryan would have hated it. Bryan was like a force of nature. He enjoyed laughter and being active. His smile was something that could light up an entire room, his laughter was a sound that had no equal. To see all those people sitting around crying and speaking in hushed tones would have annoyed him. Of course it was a closed casket. It had to be, considering the way he died.

And tonight; tonight was the eve of Valentine's Day. We had become a couple on Valentine's Day, two years ago. It had been fun, even though there was no candy or flowers. We celebrated in our own way, as two people in love with life, in love with each other, would do. It had left me breathless, but happy to hold him in my arms. I missed him, and I missed sharing Valentine's Day with Bryan. I felt like an old man, even though I was only in my second year of college. College was a distraction; I didn't even have a major picked out, I simply took classes that sounded interesting; classes that helped me to forget that Bryan was dead. I shivered, because it was probably cold where he was now.I tried not to think about that.

The wind blew hard again, and that mournful sound was louder. The wind came down the chimney, and it ruffled the flames of the fire. I wondered, whatever it was trying to get in, was it here now, with me? I held my breath, waiting to see if it would speak, or make some sort of noise to show me that I wasn't alone.

I finally let my breath out. There was nothing here, I was all alone, with my memories and nothing more. I looked at the clock on the mantle. It was 12:03 am. Valentine's Day.

I threw another log on the fire and pulled the blanket tighter around my shoulders. It was going to be a long night. I wished, for the hundredth time that Bryan was here to hold me in his arms, and to make me feel safe and happy.

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