She heard his voice talking. He was down in the basement playing pool. She liked the sound of his voice. She liked him. She darted down one set of steps, her heart just a beat ahead of her feet. One soft hand grabbed the corner of the wall so she could half spin, half turn to flow right into the next step.
She turned her head slightly. Her mother, sitting in her favorite chair, was holding a needle point ring. A knowing smile lit up the older woman’s face. A nod came with it. The girl blushed, a pale rose forming at the base of her neck. She nodded back. Her Mom knew. The girl’s fifteen year old heart stepped it up a beat. The last few steps flew by. She turned the corner to step into the room where two teenage boys were playing pool.
One was her brother. The other…well, she knew what he was to her…and no clue what she was to him. She went to the corner and sat on a stool. She wasn’t the kind to talk a lot. Sometimes not at all. She thought she was invisible. Being near was enough. But not nearly enough.
She heard his voice say to her brother:
“Well, now the real competition is here. Once you beat the crap out of me…I will turn her loose on you.”
Something inside of her grew stronger with those words. He had called her “the real competition.” He thought she was better than him. The thought that he considered her more than an equal, a challenger of merit, burst in her mind like a strawberry smoothie, all delight and sweetness.
Her brother racked the balls carefully. Each ball placed just so, fingers slid into the back of the wooden rack to tighten the break. She held her pool cue in front of her to chalk it. She knew he was behind her. A part of her so wanted to turn around and look into those eyes. Eyes that let humor out almost every moment. Eyes that could soften her soul, or lift her mood. She didn’t. She just took her time chalking her pool cue.
Then she felt his hands on both sides of her neck and shoulder. She didn’t stiffen, she melted. He started rubbing her shoulders in a gentle massage like prize fighters get from their Managers before they go out into the ring. She felt the puff of his breath as he leaned over her neck to “stage whisper” loud enough for her brother to hear, and her heart to echo:
“Okay, Champ. Don’t hold back. Run the whole table. The loser has to buy pizza!”
Her brother barked out a: “I hope you have some allowance left.”
They all laughed. But before she could reply- the hands (still plying her neck with waves of pleasure) stopped briefly. (She wished those hands would never stop) The voice puffed gently up against her again. Boosting her heart rate, her confidence, and her crush.
“I hope YOU saved your allowance. You are playing the Champ now…not me. And I would like Pepperoni by the way.”
They all laughed again. She picked up the Cue ball and stepped towards the Pool table. Those hands pulled her back just a little. She turned her head to see why he pulled her back. He leaned over and gave her a soft quick kiss on her lips. Her eyes widened as her lashes fluttered like her heart. She saw in his eyes as he pulled back a moment (or an eternity…she was never sure which) that he knew too.
“That’s for luck. I really want that Pizza.”
Her brother never stood a chance.
She was twenty one. Already engaged, once, it lasted two years. College for her, a job for him, and the distance between the two places was too far for the ring to hold true. She sent it back. No more men. She applied herself to her studies to bury a broken heart.
He was twenty eight. One girl for eight years. Another for two. Was the sum total of his Romantic Past. One relationship built him up…then ended with a whimper. The other tore him down and ended in a fiery Kamikaze blasting out the last of his innocence and trust. No more women. He hid from women by taking their time to play sports. It was enough.
She passed him in the grocery store, or would have. She had just put the cake mix in her cart, when she straightened back up to move on down the aisle, her eyes met his. He was coming the other way pushing his cart in that very male way, like they can see the shelves but are bewildered by the choices. He turned his head to scout out the shelves on her side of the aisle…and his scan got captured by her eyes.
She just stood transfixed. She could feel the snap, the electricity, the connection. Apparently so could he. His eyes, if they were the window to the soul, were thrown wide open. If hers were a window, then he was looking right through having shattered the glass to reveal all of her soul. It was overwhelming.
She shut the look down with a clamping sound as past hurts slammed it shut. She saw a shadow of pain in his eyes, as his own past worked to shutter his own look. With an effort of will she pushed her cart down the aisle. Each step her heart was screaming for her to turn back and see if he was still looking. She forced a step. Then another.
Yet another. Her heart pounding against past pain, regret, and loss. It yelled in her whole being:
“Turn you idiot. Turn. This isn’t your past..it is your future.”
She took another step before she gave in and turned.
He hadn’t moved. He was staring at her like someone in the desert watching the last few drops of water disappear into the sand from a hole in their canteen. Desperate hope drying and dying under the glare of the desert sun. It freed her heart. She let the look return to her eyes. The connection was immediate. Stronger. Furious to get closer.
He left his cart. Each step flinging the windows of his soul wide open. Each step bringing him closer to the door of her heart. Open already…welcoming.
They never went back for his cart. Hers was enough.
She was all of nine years old. So was he. It was Valentine’s Day. Just like in First Grade, Second Grade, and now…Third Grade the tradition held. All the kids would go out to play for recess. The Nuns would allow the kids in their class (one at a time) to go back in the classroom and put Valentine’s Cards on as many desks as they would like. As each kid passed them back into the building the Nuns would smile down and whisper a quick :
“Put your cards out in a hurry, and get back out here. Thirty more kids are waiting!”
An absented minded “Sure” would slip from the child’s lip (If male) and a more polite: “Yes, Sister, I shall hurry.” (If female)
A moment later and the child would return with glee smattered all over their face. Another child would dart in at a wave from the Nun. Then it was back into the classroom, recess was over.
The Nuns always dallied outside the door, looking through the glass to watch as the kids tore through the cards, notes, or even a few of those candied hearts with cute little sayings on them. The Nuns also carefully noted the kids who got few cards…or none. Spare cards were already held in reserve for the Nuns to place in the backpack, or book bag of the poor forlorn tyke that didn’t get a card.
Kathy ignored the pile of cards on her desk. Shuffling thru them all to see if HE had put one on her desk. She knew just about everybody liked her. She had cards from all the boys in her class (except the one she wanted)…and most of the girls gave her one too. For she was a friend to them and was there when they shared a secret that was too big for them to carry alone. Kathy never repeated anything she was told. Which helped explain both the number of cards, and the chocolates.
Her heart dropped. There wasn’t a card from HIM. She almost cried. Then she looked at his desk which was as blank as it was before recess. He didn’t get a single card. He never did. It broke her heart. She knew she should have put one on his desk. She knew it in First Grade. She knew it in second grad. She knew it again this year. She didn’t know why she didn’t put a card on his desk.
He was always her Valentine - and not just on Valentine’s Day. Why couldn’t he see that? Why was she too stubborn to tell him? He had to know. Didn’t he?
All the cards had been put away. Much giggling, significant eye looks, and a few disappointed faces were all cleaned up and ready for class to resume. It was a surprise to everyone- including Sister Mary Saint Clare- when quiet little Kevin…who didn’t get a single card, raised his hand.
You could have heard a pin drop in the quiet depth of curiosity that flooded the room.
“Sister, may I read a Valentine’s Poem out in front of the class?”
Stunned was not a strong enough word to describe the effect of those words on Sister Mary Saint Clare…and it was way too shallow of a word to describe the effect it had on the class itself.
Kevin had not spoken in front of the Class in three years…except for the occasional opening prayer. Heck, most of the Class weren’t sure if Kevin could speak.
“Of course you can, Kevin”
Kevin stood up and walked down the aisle to stand next to Sister Mary Saint Clare’s Desk. He turned towards the class…but he looked at only one person while he unfolded the paper tucked in his shirt pocket. That person was Kathy.
The Class and Sister Mary Saint Clare caught that look. Kathy didn’t notice…she was only looking at Kevin. He was only looking at her. In their world, in that moment, those were the only two that mattered.
“Does your poem have a title?”
Kevin broke off his look to Kathy long enough to turn to Sister Mary Saint Clare:
“Yes, Sister. It is titled: “The girl I am going to Marry.”
It was a testimony to True Love that a bunch of Third Graders didn’t break out in giggles and that Sister Mary Saint Clare didn’t laugh.
Twenty years later…it was Sister Mary Saint Clare who read that poem out loud at Kathy and Kevin’s wedding. Once again, there were no giggles. No one laughed. And once again, Kathy and Kevin did not realize anyone but the other one was in the room.