Note: This is just a short story that started from a dream I had of a beautiful winter scene. It's not much, but I hope you enjoy it.
Thanks go to Reagan, my beta reader, for once again helping me put out something readable. I owe you, my friend.
Feedback welcome at Cephalgia@hotmail.com
The crunch of snow under my boots seems to be the only sound on my street. A few flurries are continuing from the heavier snowfall of earlier in the day. A slight puff of wind now and the delicate flakes are carried upward, almost as if seeking to return to that secret place of their origin.
The bright lights on the houses are casting a cascade of color onto the snow, doubling or trebling their beauty. I could have driven the short mile home from my shop, but being cooped up indoors all day made that decision impossible. I had just closed up the business at nine o'clock, last minute shoppers persuading me to stay open far later on Christmas Eve than I had planned. There's something about panic stricken pitiful faces pushing up against the front windows of Field's Antiques that will make me give in every time. It made my grandmother, the founder of the store, give in and stay open as well as my mother who followed in her shoes. Of course it helped that you could make a real killing on Christmas Eve, but for our family business that was never the first consideration.
By the tracks on the street I can tell not many of my neighbors have ventured out into the snow today. We had four or five inches during the day and that much and more is predicted for the evening and overnight hours. I'll need to shovel the walks in the morning, but for now I just want to enjoy the view of the snow blanketing everything in the neighborhood.
I can tell I'm slowing my steps as I near my home. There's no need to hurry. I know that once I step inside the house and out of the winter wonderland, the crushing loneliness will come over me again. It has been that way for two weeks and I have no expectation that it will be any different tonight. The tree is up and decorated with the fresh scent of pine drifting through the whole house. There are presents under that tree, brightly wrapped but likely to remain unopened now.
And that is my fault.
The walk is nearly indistinguishable now and I have to step carefully as I make my way to the top step leading into the house. It's under the porch roof and is the only one free of snow. The step is inviting and I've decided to sit here a while and knocked the snow off my boots by tapping them on the step below. It's just a time waster. My breath is coming out in white clouds now as the temperature seems to have dropped a little more on my trek home.
I can't help but think how changed things are now from a scant few weeks before. Just a handful of days really and my world has turned upside down. My world had turned upside down before and now it has done so again. Doesn't that mean it should be right side up again? It sure doesn't feel that way though.
I've tried to figure out how a wonderful dream has ended up so badly. The answer always comes back to me and my timing. My timing has notoriously sucked.
Two years ago I met Daley Hayward. I noticed her the moment she came into my shop, the shop I had recently purchased from my mother after her retirement. She and my dad were ready to start traveling and reward themselves for a lifetime of hard work and family raising. Usually people leave my shop carrying things but it's rare that they bring something in.
She glanced around and located me with those warm brown eyes I would come to know so well. Even from my place behind the counter, her gaze made me feel as if someone had wrapped a quilt around my shoulders. I was helpless to look anyplace else but at her as she made her way toward me.
She placed the box on the counter and reached a gloved hand across to me. "Ms. Field? I'm Daley Hayward. We talked on the phone?" she said, prompting me to remember a phone conversation from the previous month. A woman had called and inquired about placing some items in the shop on consignment. I had agreed to consider the idea, but I hadn't heard anything for a while so I thought whoever it was had changed their mind. Now I had a face to put with the voice on the phone.
"Sorry to have taken so long in coming in," she continued, "but I'm representing a group of people and they definitely had a hard time deciding what to place up for sale." She smiled at me and I found myself smiling back. I couldn't do otherwise.
"It's no problem, Ms. Hayward. Let's see what you've brought," I said in my most professional "Antiques Roadshow" voice. The contents of the box were modest but good quality objects. There were a few figurines and some pieces of silver. I'd have no problem placing them in my shop or selling them if I knew my customers. Daley and I talked for another half an hour about the items she brought in and then she needed to leave.
"If these work out, Ms. Field, maybe we can work together again in the future." I knew I'd like nothing better.
"Only of we can work on a first name basis. I'm Saxon." I held my hand out to her as she had done to me earlier. She took it and I felt the warmth there that her gloves had disguised before. "Unusual name. Suits you though. I'm Daley."
"It's going to be a pleasure to work with you, Daley." I didn't know how right I was.
Of course I knew Daley was gay. The rainbow pin on her coat was a dead giveaway. I'd finally accepted my own gayness, if you will, but I was a slow learner and even slower to act on any attraction I might feel. Make no mistake, I was powerfully attracted to Daley Hayward. Before you accuse me of being shallow, I will say that it was not just because of her looks. Don't get me wrong; her looks are fabulous. If she had been alive in the 50's they would have called her "dreamy". At least I would.
The dark brown hair as soft as corn silk, the previously mentioned brown eyes and a shy smile that caused a hitch in my breathing every time I saw it were just a few of her attributes. It was something I can't quite put my finger on that pulled me to her though. It was if her very nature had been created to please my senses.
Of course I never could tell her any of that. We would work together and be associates and that would be that. It would be aiming way too high for me to try to be anything more. That was the way I planned it at least. I would bask in her nearness, gaze at her when she didn't notice and relish the scent of her perfume as she passed by me.
That was the plan, but like so many plans I'd had before, it was doomed. The business I bought from my mother seemed to be the only thing I could really do right and had a talent for. I should have remembered that.
It didn't seem things could get any better in the early days of my friendship with Daley. We were a great team in the antiques business, buying and selling, obtaining sought after objects and cementing a wonderful working relationship. We would talk nearly every day and I like to believe she enjoyed the time we spent together as much as I did. A lunch here, an estate auction there and all the while I was growing to love her.
I guess it was about a year after Daley walked through my shop door that a huge change happened. Please recall what I said about my timing.
Daley and I had just had a great morning. With my knowledge of antiques and her savvy bidding, we had won a gorgeous 19th century sideboard at a local auction. We had several customers I knew who would be more than happy to pay us a reasonable profit to own it. We were sitting in Johnson's Sandwich Shoppe reliving the victory and feeling full of pride in our coup. Daley looked more beautiful than ever and I knew it was useless to keep my feelings to myself anymore.
Daley took a bite of her turkey, Swiss and alfalfa sprout sandwich. "You did good going over that catalog at the auction. I don't think those other guys knew what they had right under their noses. They knew after you high-fived me though when the gavel came down."
I blushed at her compliment though I was secretly pleased. I loved it when she noticed the work I put into our ventures. She thought I looked down at my BLT because I was modest about my work, but the truth was that when she looked at me with admiration in her eyes, it was all I could do to not lean over and kiss her soundly. I glanced up and she was looking directly at me. A steamroller couldn't have smashed down my feelings for her then. I knew the time had come to tell her I loved her with my whole heart.
I took a small sip of my water and followed that by a deep breath. "Daley, over the past year you've become my best friend…"
"I feel that way too, Saxon," she said, cutting off my declaration. "That's why I want you to be the first one to know. I've met someone, someone special. She makes me feel like I don't think I ever have before. Her name is Ruth and I met her a month ago. I think I'm in love with her."
My BLT threatened to make a reappearance as my stomach was suddenly tied in knots. Daley mistook my silence for something else.
"Oh come on, girlfriend, I know you're gay. Do you think I didn't notice the copy of 'The Rubyfruit Jungle' you keep behind the counter? That and your Xena poster, they're a dead giveaway. So, isn't this the greatest news? I never thought I could be so happy."
How I sat there and congratulated her on her good fortune, I'll never know. I know I did it without a heartbeat. Mine stopped with her announcement.
Did you think I was kidding about my timing?
I hated Ruth of course. I couldn't figure out why she didn't just crawl back under the rock she had emanated from and leave Daley and I in peace. She was just…wait a second while I look in my thesaurus for another word for "smarmy". Hmm, wide choice here…crawling, ingratiating, oily, sycophantic and unctuous. Unctuous? Can you use that in a sentence? I can. Ruth was unctuous. She was unctuous and I felt with certainty that she was going to hurt the woman I loved.
Okay, maybe I am a tad prejudiced here, but I just couldn't believe an intelligent and perceptive woman like Daley was being fooled by somebody like Ruth. Want to know what really sucked? Daley was happy. Really happy. So what could I do? Not a damn thing but hope she stayed that way. I hoped I could love her enough to let her be happy with someone else. To be honest though, in the wee small hours of the night when my mind wouldn't turn off and I started to think, I wondered what might have happened if I had just spoken what was in my heart earlier.
Thoughts like that are just stupid though. What ifs and maybes are the stuff ulcers are made of. It also makes you end a sentence with a preposition, which is what I just did. Oh well, what do you want of me? I don't write; I sell antiques.
Those were the dark days for me and they are tough to think about. If you don't mind I would like to interrupt these reminiscences. You know what I haven't done in a long time? Made a snowman. That's what I'm going to do. If I keep my hands busy, maybe I can get through telling you the rest of this business.
Have you ever heard the old saying, "Be careful what you wish for"? I understand that phrase now.
One fine late summer day, about six months ago, Daley came into the shop. I wasn't officially open for business yet that day, but she knew she was welcome anytime. Usually my day was made just by seeing her, but this day was different. She'd been crying. She didn't have to spell it out for me, I knew the minute she came in that she and Ruth had broken up. She didn't need to tell me, but she did. Then she cried. I held her awkwardly and felt responsible somehow. I had wanted her to be away from Ruth, but now Daley was miserable and unhappy. If I did cause that with my wishing, then I was going to have a lot to answer for in the next life, if you believe in karma.
Daley wanted to get back to work and she did that with a vengeance. She worked hard and even helped around the shop. I let her because I knew that only time was going to heal the hurt she was feeling. I tried to be as supportive as I could, but I suppose I was as useless in that regard as I am in most every other thing.
We set up a comfortable routine, working and occasionally going out to a movie or out to dinner. I was her reliable friend and after a while she didn't talk about Ruth as much. Okay, it might have helped that one evening while we were headed toward a craft fair, we saw Ruth. She was being very cozy with another woman, laughing, touching and being unctuous again. It didn't appear to me that she was nearly as ripped up by the break-up as Daley was. It didn't appear that way to Daley either. All the names I'd called Ruth in my head, Daley now called her out loud. Just to me though, she wouldn't give Ruth the satisfaction of knowing she was still hurting.
Would it be too stupid to admit I started having hope again about Daley? I had never stopped loving her you see. Being close to her and seeing her everyday was wearing down my resolve to keep my feelings to myself. I gave it serious consideration and decided it was time I told her how I felt. That was two weeks ago.
I've dug into the snow a little to find pebbles for my snowman's face. The snowman itself is a rather pitiful effort. Another foot of snow on the ground and I might get it to look a little better. Right now it looks like a malformed gnome instead of a jolly holiday figure. The pebbles make the eyes too beady, so I'll just dig holes out for eyes and use the pebbles as tears. It's fitting.
Where was I? Oh yeah, two weeks ago. Well once I decided to tell Daley how I felt, I became more and more sure that I was doing the right thing. Here is my idea. I think we all should have somebody follow us around and when we think we have a brilliant idea that really isn't one, they should smack us right across the kisser. Hard.
I invited Daley over to the shop after I closed for the day. I was nervous but in my self-delusion that I was making the right move, I looked forward to the meeting. Daley arrived right on time.
"Hey, Saxon, it's starting to snow a little out there. It isn't sticking but maybe now we'll have a white Christmas. The more Currier and Ives, the better I like it."
"Come on in and warm up, Daley. I've got some cocoa to take the chill off. Did you get a chance to head over to see those first editions today?" We had been given a heads up on a nice collection of books one town over.
"Sure did," she said proudly. "The deal is all sewn up and they'll be on the shelf in time for the Christmas rush."
"That's great." I hesitated only a moment before plowing right ahead. "Um, Daley, I've been wanting to talk to you about something for a while now and I think now is as good a time as any." I moved to join her at the counter where we perched on matching kitchen stools. She placed some catalogs and a newspaper on the counter and I placed her cup in front of her. She took a sip from it gratefully.
"Oh, that's good. I'm thawing out already. Now, what did you want to talk about?"
I cleared my throat, folded my trembling hands together and began the most important speech of my life. "Daley, I probably should have told you this a long time ago. About two years ago I suppose, but I didn't have the nerve. Almost from the very first second I saw you, I've had feelings for you. Very strong feelings in fact." I took a deep breath and looked directly into the brown eyes that had been a mainstay of my dreams for such a long time. "I was afraid to say this before now, but I'm in love with you. I always have been, Daley. I know this is a bit of a shock, but if you're willing, I'd like to see where this might lead."
The shocked expression on her face was something I expected. The newspaper smacking me upside the head was not.
"You little shit! You're in love with me? For two years? Tell me I did not just hear that!" I really didn't know what to tell her at that point. I was flabbergasted.
"This is just damn peachy, Saxon. You've had feelings for me for two years and said squat. I thought you were cute when I met you and I was interested in you. I dropped hints and hoped you would say something, but you never did. I figured I wasn't your type and that was okay. You were a good friend to me. Then I met Ruth." She stopped here and squinted her eyes at me.
"You knew, didn't you? You knew it wasn't going to work out with her," she accused. I could only shrug. "And still you said nothing. You just let me go on and get hurt. You could have prevented all the bullcrap I've gone through just by being honest, but you never said a single word." The situation wasn't going at all as I'd planned. In my fantasy world I actually hoped we might be kissing by this point. That didn't seem likely now.
"Well thanks for being open and honest with me, Saxon. It's just too little, too late. A long time ago it might have been something nice but now it just is too lame for words."
She gathered up her things and headed for the door. "What was real, Saxon? What can I believe? Were you ever really my friend even? I feel like I can't trust anything you say now and without trust, there is nothing." She headed out the door and I braced myself for the slamming, but she only closed it quietly. I think I would have preferred the slam. Once again my timing had been impeccable.
And that was it. I haven't heard from her at all for the last two weeks. I've left a dozen messages on her machine, stopped by her apartment and tried tracking her down through family and friends. Nothing. It's like she's just disappeared. No, not like that. Just disappeared from me.
My snowman is completely homely and I'm giving up trying to make it presentable. I'm going to sit on this porch for a few more minutes and then I'm going inside to drown my sorrows in eggnog. Merry Christmas to me. Ho, ho, friggin' ho.
I guess this is what they call the epilogue. It's two in the morning and I'm awake and downstairs getting a bottle of water from the fridge. Things are a little better than earlier. Quite a lot better in fact.
I was sitting on the porch when I heard the crunch of boots on the snow. I had my head down, trying unsuccessfully to fight off the tears of loneliness and frustration. No way I wanted one of my neighbors to see me like that.
"That's the most butt ugly snowman I've ever seen. Why is it crying?" Daley's voice was calm and as welcome as rain in a drought. My head snapped up. "And why are you crying?" she asked quietly.
I shrugged my shoulders. "Reasons," I said, sounding like a school kid.
"Me?" she wanted to know. I said nothing. "Look," she continued, despite my silence, "I had to think about what you said to me in the shop that day. I was pissed at first, but then it struck me…maybe I was overlooking something. You did say you loved me, right?" I confirmed that with a nod.
"After these last two weeks, do you still?"
I was silent a moment, but I knew from now on there could be nothing but the truth between us. "Yeah. I'm still in love with you. There's no changing that, Daley." And the truth set me free.
"That's nice," she said. "I think maybe I'd like to explore that a little with you." She moved closer to me and I stood up and went down the two steps to stand in front of her.
"You want to come inside?" I asked hopefully. "It's cold out here and there might be a present or two with your name on it under the tree."
"In a second," she answered. "You know, now might be a good time to kiss me." She had taken me by surprise once again, but this time my timing was perfect.
She did come in from the cold and I got a kiss, and more, for Christmas. I have a date for New Year's Eve and a pretty bright future. Daley is asleep upstairs and I can't wait to get back to her. She's chased every bit of chill from my life and I plan on doing the same for her, even if it takes the rest of our lives.
Return to the Academy