Bard Valentine Invitational 2008
For those who read my story in last year’s Valentine Invitational, these characters will be familiar. You don’t need to read that story to enjoy this one but is highly recommended by the author. <BG>
A pair of women sat on a wooden bench overlooking the marshlands of a bird refuge. One had her right arm draped comfortably across the other’s shoulders and the fingers of their left hands were entwined. They were watching a pair of Canada geese floating on the almost still waters of a pond surrounded by banks of dried grasses. In another part of the year, the grasses would be green and nourishing but in the early spring they were an uninviting blanket of dirty browns and harsh grays.
The geese paddled to a pair of sandy islands in the middle of the pond and climbed onto the shore of the larger island. They waddled to a clump of grass partially concealing the depression that was their nest and the female settled onto the ground while the male stood beside her.
“Did you know that they mate for life?” Ann asked Frankie. “And if one of them dies, the other might not ever look for a new mate.”
“You don’t think that’s romantic?”
“I think holding you in my arms is romantic,” Frankie said tightening her hold on Ann’s shoulders and pulling her close. “But being alone as you get older… That’s sad.”
“When you put it that way…” Ann said leaning into Frankie until their heads touched. “I’m glad you brought me here. It’s beautiful.”
“It’s even prettier in late spring. And in the fall when the leaves are changing colors. I can’t believe you’ve never been here before.”
“I’ve thought about it.”
Frankie chuckled. “You really do need to get out more often.”
“I doubt that will be much of a problem anymore. You never want to stay home.”
“If I stay home, I feel like I have to be doing something useful. It’s more fun to jump in the car and go somewhere.”
“I’m beginning to see your point.”
Frankie grinned. “Corrupted you already, have I?”
Ann laughed. “Yes, I’m afraid you have.”
“Good.” Ann snuggled against Frankie. “Are you cold?”
“No. I just like to be close to you.”
Frankie adjusted her position on the bench so she could wrap both arms around Ann and pulled her even closer. “Better?”
“Much.” Ann looked up at several quacking mallards circling the pond. “What’s their problem?”
“They just want everyone to know that the fleet has arrived,” Frankie said as the ducks drifted downward with wings spread and webbed feet extended to the front to break their speed. The ducks continued to quack even after they landed on the pond’s surface and set off to explore it. The male goose honked a loud protest over the unwelcome commotion.
“Sounds like my old neighborhood.” Ann laughed as she watched the male goose turned his back to the new arrivals. “I doubt his snub will have much effect on them.”
“What’s over there?” Ann asked pointing to the left.
“A much larger pond and a good place to look for turtles sunning themselves on warm summer days. And way over there,” Frankie pointed further into the distance, “is a system of trails that go down to the river. And over there where all those cattails are,” she pointed off to the right, “is another trail that follows the edge of the marshes down to another series of ponds.”
“Is that where Kelly and Terry disappeared to?”
“Yes. The trail is almost two miles long and has lots of places like this to sit and watch the birds.”
“Are we planning to walk any of those trails?”
“Not today. I’m perfectly content to stay right here.”
“You are, are you?”
Frankie nodded. “Yes.”
“And what if I wanted to go for a walk?”
“So, do you?” Frankie asked when Ann remained snuggled against her.
“Do I what?”
“Want to walk the trails?”
“No. At least, not today. You do plan to bring me back here again, don’t you?”
The women sat quietly watching the ducks and geese for several minutes.
“Do you ever think it’s odd?” Ann asked.
“How well we seem to… I mean it’s only been a year and we…”
“Seem like an old married couple? That’s how Kelly describes it.”
Ann laughed. “If we seem like an old married couple, what does she think they seem like?”
“An older married couple?”
Ann grinned and backhanded Frankie in the stomach. “That’s funny.”
Ann giggled. “Stop it. I’m trying to have a serious conversation with you.”
“Oh. Why didn’t you say so? I’ll put on my grown up hat. Now what were you saying.”
“You are such a goon.”
“This is exactly what I’m talking about. Doesn’t it ever strike you as odd how easily we get along?”
“Yes, but I try not to think about it.”
Frankie looked across the marshes to the snowcapped mountains on the opposite side of the valley. “Because I’m afraid if I think about it too much I’ll…”
“You’ll what, Frankie?”
“I’m afraid I’ll jinx it.”
Ann slipped her hand under Frankie’s joined hands and lifted them to her mouth. She tenderly kissed the soft skin. “You won’t, you know,” she said looking into Frankie’s eyes. “These past months have been wonderful. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.” She placed Frankie’s hands back into her lap then reached up to caress her cheek. “I hope they go on forever. I hope we go on forever. I love you, Frankie.”
“I love you, too, Ann. I love you so much that I could kick myself for not realizing it before. We lost so much time together.”
“No. It wouldn’t have worked before. When we first met, I was happily in a relationship. Sure, it went sour. But at the time, I would never have left her. Not even for you.”
“I know. I just wonder sometimes what it would have been like to have those past years with you.”
“We have plenty of years ahead of us.”
Frankie smiled. “Yes, we do.”
Ann leaned against Frankie. “What’s that?”
Ann pointed across the pond where a solitary duck was diving under the water as it fed. “That duck over there.”
“Um, hard to tell with only it’s butt sticking up. Oh, that’s a Harlequin duck,” Frankie said when the duck popped back up to float on the pond’s surface.
“It’s different from the others. Very unique.”
Frankie laughed. “In a clown make-up gone bad sort of way.”
The duck had a small white spot behind each eye and a larger patch of white filled the area between its eyes and beak then narrowed into a stripe up to the crown of its head. Between these patches was a stripe of dark green-blue feathers that spread out at the back of its head and continued down to cover its neck until replaced by another stripe of white circling the base of the neck. Its body was dark gray and red patches separated by more white stripes crisscrossing its back. And an added flair of red bordered the head strips.
Ann giggled. “It is colorful.”
“Yes, it is.” Frankie pulled her cell phone from her jacket pocket and opened it to check the time. “I supposed we need to think about heading back to town. We don’t want to be late for our big night,” she said as she punched in a number she knew by heart. “Calling Kelly,” she told Ann who nodded. It took several rings before her call was answered. “Are you two headed back? Well, think about it. I’d like to get home in time to get cleaned up… All right. See you in a few.”
Ann smirked. “Did you interrupt something?”
Frankie laughed. “Don’t I always? She said they were sitting on a bench bird watching.”
“I’ll bet. How long until they get back?”
“Not long. They’re not too far down the trail.”
“In a hurry to leave?” Frankie asked.
“No. But I’m really looking forward to tonight.”
“The anniversary of our first date. It’s been a wonderful year.”
“It sure has. I can’t believe how I fought against going to the Valentine’s Day dance last year. Thank goodness, Kelly refused to take no for an answer.”
“I almost didn’t go either,” Ann revealed.
“Yes. I always felt so silly going to things like that alone. But I decided I needed to get out and socialize again. I’m glad I did.”
“Me too. And I’m really glad to be going to the dance tonight. With you.”
“You’re such a sweetie. You know, you haven’t left me much in the way of things to do for you for Valentine’s Day. You asked me to the dance. You made dinner reservations for afterward. You had flowers sent to my office yesterday. But I want to do something for you. So, what do you want?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” Frankie said as she reached back into her jacket pocket. She pulled out a small black box and slowly lifted the hinged top. Inside were two matching gold rings. “I want you.”
“They’re beautiful, Frankie. And that design…”
“It’s Celtic. It’s means friendship.”
“It also means forever. I was hoping… I know we can’t be legally married here. At least, not yet. But maybe… I mean, if you want… Well, I know couples have commitment ceremonies… Or, we could go to Canada…”
Ann placed two fingers against Frankie’s lips to stop her ramblings. She smile when she her lover’s attention. “Yes.”
“Yes. I love you and nothing would make me happier.” Ann held her left hand out to Frankie who lifted one of the gold bands from the box then slipped it onto her ring finger. Then, when Frankie held up her hand, Ann removed the second ring and slipped it onto her finger.
Frankie smiled. “I love you.” She lifted Ann’s hand to her lips and kissed the ring. Then she tilted her head and gently pressed her lips against Ann’s.
A squeal of delight announced the arrival of Kelly who was sprinting toward the couple. She skidded to a stop in front of the bench and forced her way between Frankie and Ann to sit. “Well, it’s about time. We thought you’d never get up the nerve to ask her. Ohhh, so pretty,” she said examining the rings. “I never knew you had such good taste.”
“Kelly, you are such a…”
“Careful, girlfriend, I know lots of secrets about you,” Kelly warned Frankie then turned to Ann. “Have I told you about Frankie’s run in with a duck in kindergarten?”
“Oh, no, you don’t.”
Kelly was pulled up from the bench. “But, Babe?” she whined to her wife who was tugging her to her feet.
“Come on,” Terry said, keeping a firm hold on the struggling woman. “We’ll meet you at the car,” she told Ann and Frankie who laughed as a protesting Kelly was led toward the parking lot.
“We won’t be long,” Frankie called after her friends.
“Take your time.”
“Where were we?” Ann asked when the other women were too far away to hear.
“I think I was kissing you.”
“Yes, I do believe you were.”
Frankie tenderly cupped Ann’s face and pulled her close. For several long minutes, the women expressed their love to the other before shouts from the parking lot reminded them that Kelly was impatiently waiting at the car.
“I think we need to go,” Ann said.
“We’ll continue this later,” Frankie said as she stood. She reached a hand down to Ann and helped her up from the bench. They walked hand-in-hand to the parking lot.
“She has known you a long time, hasn’t she?” Ann asked as they walked.
“Most of my life.”
“So, she does have lots of stories to tell about you.”
Ann laughed and pulled her hand free. “Oh, yes I would,” she shouted, running toward their friends.
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