This story was written for the February 2016 Monthly Short Story Writing Challenge held by our writing community at the EA Forums. If you write SimLit, we’d love to have you join us! We have a new challenge each month!
This story is dedicated to all the lovely people who spend Valentine’s Day outside of a traditional romantic partnership.
Another Valentine’s Day, another morning of waking alone in a bed built for two.
Kaylyn Beauchamp made the bed and stuffed her empty feelings. It had become a lonely tradition for her–perpetually single on the one day when the whole world blossomed for couples.
Why bother fixing breakfast when there was no one to prepare it for? She carried a bowl of potato chips into the dining room and sat alone at the long table.
Not once–not one single Valentine’s Day–had she had a lover, a boyfriend, a secret admirer, or even somebody she knew of who thought she was cute. And when she faced that day single, again, it felt like all the flirts that had drifted her way throughout the whole year amounted to a pile of thistle down to be carried off by the first gust of wind.
Kaylyn’s phone beeped, and she opened a text from Dr. Jasmine.
Do what you love today, then come to my place in the afternoon.
Who knows what we will discover!
Another Valentine’s Day, alone. Myra Salmon inhaled the scent of the dark roast as she ground the coffee beans. The flavonoids never failed to stir romantic feelings. They must stimulate oxytocin, she thought. She’d have to research that later.
As she steamed the milk for her latte, she daydreamed that she was steaming enough for two. “I’ll be right there, Byron,” she said in her fantasy. Byron? Darwin. Doctor Darwin! Long dark brown hair, muscular, but not over-built. Oh! Maybe he should be a violinist. “I’ll be right there, Flavius. Put down your Stradivarius!”
Someday, she would spend Valentine’s Day with her soulmate, waking him with breakfast in bed and kisses. But this year, it was café latte for one, once again.
She checked her texts. There was one from Dr. Jasmine!
Spend the day doing what I love? What do I love? she asked herself after reading Dr. Jasmine’s text, and she sat down with a romance novel while she sipped her latte.
Mariela Bean woke to bird songs winding through the open window.
“Is it spring already?” she asked the house finch, who was warbling as loudly as he could. Fluttering movement on the sidewalk caught her attention. Brown wings flapped, something jerked. She ran out to find the house finch’s mate, tangled in string still fastened to the trellis.
“Now don’t fuss,” she said, carefully holding the bird in her hand while she untangled the string. The tiny heart beat so fast against her palm, and the bird’s eyes flashed with concentrated terror.
“Shhh,” she said softly. “It’s all right. Help is here.”
She opened her palm and the finch flew to join her mate. They sang together in their undulating flight toward the woods behind her house.
“And I’m alone,” she said to herself, “during this season of love!”
She looked at her phone and found Dr. Jasmine’s text.
c u ltr 🙂 she texted back with a smile.
Kaylyn washed the bowl that had held her chips and thought: a whole day devoted to doing just what I love!
Had she ever done that? Not since childhood!
She began with a morning run. The air was thick with the perfume of hollyhocks, dianthus, iris, and roses, and the early spring sun felt warm as it embraced her shoulders.
She took a shower when she got back home, forgetting all about conserving water and lingering under the spray, warm as the touch of someone’s hands, while she felt loneliness wash away.
While the late morning sun streamed through the windows, she worked on a Brahms interlude. Sometimes, when she played Brahms, she felt that he was speaking to her. He was a solitary soul! “Free but happy,” she thought, remembering the motto from his third symphony, three notes: F–A-flat–F, Frei aber froh, a retort to his friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim, whose own motto was “Free but lonely.”
Is it possible that she could be free but happy, she wondered while she painted in the garden, surrounded with the heady perfume of flowers and the zipping buzz of hummingbirds in flight.
Myra closed the romance novel she was reading and strolled to the park behind her house, where she was sure to run into one of her friends.
“Darcy!” she called, when she spotted her friend in the picnic area.
“Oh, God,” groaned Darcy. “What a day!”
“What’s up, Darce?”
“It’s the Hallmark conspiracy. Can you believe it? One more day, like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Halloween, and Christmas, designed by the capitalist conglomeration to get us to buy their stupid cards, order their stupid floral displays, buy more candy so we can get fatter and stupider so we will buy more cards on the next official capitalist holiday. What a crock of pork rind, if you ask me.”
“No one to spend Valentine’s Day with?” Myra asked.
“Look,” Myra said, “Come have supper with me! I’m going over to a friend’s this afternoon, but I’ll be home by seven. We can eat veggie stir-fry and watch movies!”
“So you’re not getting dragged down with all this romantic hoopla?” Darcy asked.
“Maybe I was,” said Myra. “But I’m sure I won’t be alone forever! I know that somewhere out there, there’s a guy, waiting for me, my soulmate. And even though I haven’t met him yet, I know I will. And so, rather than wasting time now, being sad and forlorn and missing somebody I haven’t even met yet, I’m going to live full and happy and for me, so that when I do meet him, I will have already have learned how to be happy.”
“Oh my God,” said Darcy. “You’re serious! You really believe this crap!”
“I do,” laughed Myra. “I guess I believe in a big benevolent universe, and that our dreams will come true, and, if there really is someone for us, we’ll find that person, and until then, we owe it to ourselves, and to them, to become the best person that we can, so that when we meet them, we are awesome.”
“Oh, dear!” sighed Darcy. “You really are a romantic!”
Mariela had a hard time concentrating on The Natural History of Big Basin State Park. The mockingbird outside sang so loudly that her attention wandered.
She remembered a conversation she’d had with Dr. Jasmine.
“I’m just not sure I’m capable of love,” Mariela had said. “I don’t have all those mushy feelings.”
“Oh,” replied Dr. Jasmine, “love is so much more than mushy feelings! Love is what gives us the energy to do something for someone else! And I know you, Mariela. You are always doing things for others–even if those others are dragonflies and butterflies!”
Mariela hadn’t agreed. It was hard to agree–or disagree-with a statement you didn’t completely understand. Recalling Dr. Jasmine’s words led her to wonder if the butterflies were back yet. The last week had been warm–maybe they’d returned from Mexico and were hovering about the wildflowers in the park!
She didn’t see any monarchs or Pacific blues in the park, but she did find a little boy there with clenched fists and a worried expression.
“Is everything OK?” she asked him.
“It’s got to be someplace!” he said, and his brow crinkled as if he were about to cry. “My piano teacher’s house. I can’t find it.”
“Is it in this neighborhood?” she asked.
“Yes! It’s not a big house and it’s not a little house but it’s next to a big house and next to a little house and I thought it was on that street over there but it’s not and now I don’t know where it is and I’ll be late!”
“Don’t worry,” Mariela said. “We’ll find it. What’s your piano teacher’s name?”
“I can’t remember,” he said. “It’s like something that you drink, but it’s not coffee.”
“Tea?” asked Mariela. “Is your piano teacher Ms. Tea?”
“Yes!” said the boy. “Do you know where she lives?”
“Why, she lives right down this street,” said Mariela, and she walked the boy to his piano lesson.
At four o’clock, the three women gathered at the home of Dr. Jasmine. They sat on the porch and ate apple pie and drank Darjeeling tea.
“How was your day, my dears?” asked Dr. Jasmine. “Tell us all about it. What did you learn? What did you discover?”
“I finished a painting,” said Kaylyn.
“I hung out with a friend,” said Myra. “She’s coming over tonight to watch movies with me.”
“I didn’t do anything,” said Mariela.”What about you, Dr. J.? What did you do?”
“Oh, I baked an apple pie.” Dr. Jasmine smiled.
“Have you ever been in love, Dr. Jasmine?” Kaylyn asked.
“Most mornings, when I wake up,” replied Dr. Jasmine, “I see the sunlight dancing off the leaves of the live oak tree outside my window, and from my heart wells up, ‘Thank you.’ What else is this feeling, but the feeling of being in love?”
“Isn’t it just gratitude?” asked Mariela.
“No,” said Dr. Jasmine. “I feel giddy and happy and full of bliss! It’s the feeling of being in love, I am just sure.”
“And who are you in love with?” asked Myra.
“With the sunlight. With the universe. With life!” said Dr. Jasmine, dishing up seconds of apple pie for each of them. “What about you girls? What are you in love with? Did you discover it today?”
No one answered her question, but they all three sipped their tea, and ate their apple pie, and soon they fell into the relaxed conversation that happy friends share at the end of a long rich day when the sun begins to spin its last gold and the heart is full of the song of sweet life, free but happy.