In our seventh annual Valentine Love Story Writing Contest, we received 40 entries from local aspiring scribes with a flair for romance.
We had a few guidelines for our writers: Keep the ending to 750 words, meet our Jan. 31 deadline and be creative! Our three winners were alike in that they saw a love connection for our reluctant reveler Danielle Werther with those who understand the pain of loss. But the road to lasting love for Danielle is unique in each.
The room in the community center was ablaze in red for the annual Valentine’s Day dance. Every square inch was decorated with hearts, roses and outlines of Cupid holding his bow and arrow. It was so jarringly red that Danielle Werther considered the possibility that the place could catch fire and no one could tell the difference between the decorations and the dancing flames. “How morbid of me,” Danielle said out loud, chiding herself a bit.
She sat at an empty corner table at the dance. A sound track of songs about love blared from a speaker at the other end of the room, but Danielle felt nothing of the love that surrounded her in the decorations nor other revelry of the event.
When Danielle thought about love, she thought about Kevin. It was three years now since he had passed. When they were kids, Danielle was the tomboy who tagged along with Kevin and his neighborhood friends. Soon, the two became an inseparable duo, and then became something more after a fateful kiss one summer night among the fireflies.
Danielle was grateful, looking back, that she found Kevin so early in her life; it afforded her many wonderful years with him. She relived the happy years the most and tried to forget about the last years, as cancer appeared, reappeared and then got so bad that it took him away for good. The years since his death had been difficult. She had trouble leaving the house in those early days and had become a bit of hermit. In an effort to reconnect with the world again, she had started volunteering at the city community center in a limited capacity.
The center’s director, Stan, had lost his wife 15 years before, and he was understanding. She worked primarily with two very patient and sweet event managers, Cindy and Rose, who let Danielle work mostly behind the scenes. Danielle had grown close with the crew at the center and began to socialize more in the past few months, greeting guests at the front desk and answering phones. Still, it was a surprise when Stan, Cindy and Rose cornered her last week and urged her to attend the Valentine’s Day dance. With a flourish and a “ta-da!” Cindy even presented her with a dress to wear. In all honestly, Danielle’s heart still hurt from her loss, but she couldn’t deny the good intentions shining in the eyes of her friends. She agreed to go.
So here she was at the dance, taking sips of sparkling cider, nibbling at cookies and toying with the edge of the flouncy dress Cindy had provided her, but not feeling truly present. There were plenty of people on the dance floor or chatting and making connections, but Danielle felt lost on how to join them. “Have I become less approachable?” she wondered. Tears began to sting at her eyes and a familiar feeling in her heart, the weight of loss, started pushing down on her. She rose from her chair, her eyesight blurred by tears. She began to run. She let out a gasp of surprise as she ran into a party guest. Not used to the high heels she had worn with her party dress, she teetered back and landed squarely on her butt. And then she started to laugh. A deep belly laugh that felt a lot like a release. The stranger above her started to chuckle as well. He offered a hand so she could get up, and then Danielle ...
Name: Jessica Ward
Prize: $100 gift certificate from Rulli Bros.
He offered a hand so she could get up, but Danielle scooted away when she got a better look at his face. This was no stranger, even if she hadn’t seen him since Kevin died.
Standing on wobbly legs, Danielle crossed her arms over chest before addressing her former father-in-law. “Frank? What are you doing here?”
The hostility in her voice surprised her. She hadn’t realized until now how much it hurt knowing Kevin’s father had ignored all of her calls and requests to meet these past few years.
“Nice to see you too, Danny,” he replied, wiping cookie crumbs from his mouth. Danielle made no attempt to alert him of the bits still caught in his beard.
“It’s hard to believe that,” she answered, smoothing out her dress with shaky hands. “You never returned any of my calls.”
He shrugged apathetically and plopped himself at a table with the rest of his treats in hand.
Huffing, Danielle marched past him and over to the cider bowl. There is no way I’m letting that jerk ruin my night, she thought. After refilling her cup, she took a long drink while regaining her composure. Another love song belted out of the nearby stereo. She contemplated throwing her drink on it. Or Frank.
Maybe she could locate Stan and beg him to kick Frank out.
As if on cue, Stan appeared next to her. “So, are you enjoying yourself?”
“Oh, yes. Of course. It’s just” —Danielle turned and motioned toward Frank, who was now happily chatting with Cindy and Rose at his table—“Kevin’s father showed up and I haven’t seen him since ...” Danielle couldn’t finish the sentence, her throat constricting from the heart-wrenching memories of the funeral service years ago.
Stan’s face reflected the pain Danielle felt. “Oh gosh, Danielle. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“No, it is.” Stan’s face crinkled with worry. “I invited him to the party. I thought it would help to have a familiar face here, since most of your family lives so far away. I didn’t know things were … rough between you two.”
Another wave of annoyance rushed over Danielle with this new detail. Of course Frank came when a stranger asked him. Still, it was sweet that Stan had gone out of his way to try to make her comfortable at the party.
“I can ask him to leave,” Stan offered, straightening his stance.
“No, I can handle this.” Seeing Cindy and Rose leave Frank’s table, Danielle took a deep breath and walked back over to him.
“You’ve got some nice friends here,” Frank said, smirking up at her.
“Why now?” Danielle blurted out. She couldn’t bring herself to fumble through fake pleasantries when all she really wanted was to understand why Kevin’s father had cut her out of his life.
Frank’s eyes fell to the empty plate he was fiddling with. “I miss Kevin, too, you know.”
The tightness in Danielle’s throat returned along with the tell-tale pressure behind her eyes. She sniffled in response, unable to say anything more.
“It’s strange to me that I’m still here and he’s not,” he continued. “I didn’t know how to deal with those feelings for a long time, but I’m trying now.”
Danielle nodded, a weight lifting from her chest.
“Anyway,” Frank went on, “this Stan fellow, he seemed pretty genuine when he called me up, so I figured I should come down here and make sure he was a stand-up guy. Can’t have my daughter-in-law dating any old chump.”
Danielle squinted at Frank in confusion. Had he noticed Stan’s feelings toward her, too? She’d tried to write them off as simply being nice, but maybe Stan’s small smiles in the halls these past few months had meant more. If Frank was okay with her moving on, should she be, too?
“So what’s your opinion of him then?” she squeaked out before holding her breath.
Frank shrugged. “He can stand-up, and he’s a guy. I guess he’ll do.”
“Frank!” Danielle punched him in the arm, but they were both smiling.
“Well, stop torturing the poor man and go dance with him,” Frank insisted, shooing her out of her chair and toward Stan.
Still smiling, Danielle wiped her eyes and approached a beaming Stan. She was extremely grateful in that moment for not acting on her urge earlier to annihilate the sappy love songs. They provided the perfect backdrop to an unexpectedly hopeful evening.
Name: Antonette (Toni) Yuhasz
From: Berlin Center
Prize: $50 gift certificate from Rulli Bros.
... saw his bemused grin, a grin, she realized, didn’t belong to a stranger but to someone she knew well and hadn’t seen in two years. Helping her up was Tom Robinski, the man who had been her neighbor for more than 20 years.
They bought their home on Bryson Street a year after their marriage, and Tom and Alyce Robinski were the first to welcome Danielle and Kevin to the neighborhood. The Robinskis were close to them in age and had two sons, Tom Jr. and Peter. It wasn’t until after their daughter, Angela, was born they learned that even though the Robinskis wanted more children, Alyce could not carry another child. She had a problem with her heart that, although treatable with medication, made another pregnancy impossible. Danielle had suffered severe complications during her pregnancy, with a difficult delivery, and, though she and Kevin wanted a larger family, they decided that Angela would be their only child. This shared disappointment brought the families closer together and they became the best of friends.
Throughout Kevin’s illness, Tom and Alyce were there for Danielle. Without them, she could never have coped with her devastating loss. She was still reeling from Kevin’s death when Tom called one morning five months later, his voice breaking, as he told her that he, too, had lost the love of his life. Alyce had died in her sleep, apparently of a massive heart attack.
As he had done for her, Danielle helped Tom bear his grief. They spent hours together drinking coffee, talking through their pain and heartache. Though neighborhood gossip circulated about them, they remained just friends. They didn’t feel “that way” about each other. After several months. Tom talked about needing a change and getting away from Ohio winters. He told Danielle he was considering moving to Florida where Tom Jr. lived or to Nevada to be near Pete. Danielle said she would miss him and the friendship they had shared for so long, but she understood his desire to leave and wished him well, whatever he decided to do. Within a month, his house was sold and he was gone.
Now, here he stood, grinning and gently holding onto her arm. Danielle, unable to contain her astonishment, blurted out, “Goodness, Tom, what are you doing here?”
“Well,” he began, speaking slowly, “I’ve been to lots of places the last two years, spending time with my sons and then traveling to see the world, but I wasn’t enjoying any of it. I was sad and felt disconnected from everything and everybody. One day, it occurred to me that it was my own sadness keeping me from connecting with other people. It was like a heavy weight was resting on my heart and I couldn’t lift it off. I found myself thinking about Alyce and how much it hurt to lose her. I thought about you, too, Danielle, and the time we spent together, mourning both her and Kevin. I remembered how much that time and your friendship meant to me. I thought about you for a long while and the more I thought about you, the lighter my heart began to feel, until I realized something new had replaced my old sadness. Danielle, my feelings for you have grown from friendship to love, and I wanted you to know that.”
Rushing now, Tom continued, “I called Angela and told her I had to see you. She put me in contact with your friends here at the center. They told me about the dance tonight and suggested that I stop by. They said they thought you might be happy to see an old friend. They didn’t know I was going to tell you I love you and to ask if you think you could love me, too?”
Danielle looked at her good friend and thought about the special bonds they shared throughout their relationship. Love born of friendship can be the most precious of all, she thought. She looked into Tom’s eyes and, for the first time, saw the depth of his love for her. Her breath caught as she felt her own heart grow lighter and the joy of new found love rising within it.
Softly she answered, “Yes, I could.” Smiling, she took Tom’s hand and, together, they joined the others on the dance floor.
Name: Bobbi Ennett Allen
Prize: 2-pound box of chocolates from Philadelphia Candies, provided by The Vindicator
He offered a hand so she could get up, and then Danielle noticed a second hand reaching towards her. She looked up as she heard a familiar voice say, “Thanks, Son, I’ve got her!”
Stan’s strong arms pulled her from the floor. Before she could apologize to the young man he disappeared among the dancing couples. “Kevin always said the tomboy always won out when the lady wanted to dance!” she joked. “If I couldn’t dazzle the fellows, I could always beat them up! I really need to find that young man and apologize before I leave, “ she told Stan. “He must think I’m some kind of nut!”
“He knows more about you than you think!” Stan laughed. “He’s been hearing good things about you since you first walked through our doors!”
Danielle stopped searching the crowd for the young stranger and turned to Stan. “What? Why?” she asked. It was then she noticed that Stan had not released her hand after helping her from the floor.
Stan smiled and looked embarrassed. “I’ve, um … well, I’ve been asking his advice about some things,” he stammered. “He’s quite the ladies’ man!”
Little did he know that the puzzled look on Danielle’s face had more to do with why she hadn’t taken her hand from his by now, and less to do with why he had been asking the advice of a “ladies’ man.”
“Let me explain, Danielle, please?” She smiled, and nodded. The look on his face made her wait, and the warmth of his hand reassured her that this might be an explanation she would want to hear.
“It’s been a long time since I wanted to ask a woman to a dance. Just as I was building up the courage, Cindy and Rose devised their own little plan. So, well I, I followed along and, uh. Well, I was grateful that they don’t know how to take no for an answer! And you’re here, at the dance, and you look, well, you look happy, and, well, I know you just consider us just good friends, but I thought that, maybe …” Stan’s voice trailed off as he realized Danielle was smiling, and he was still holding her hand.
“I am happy, Stan. And until a few moments ago, I never thought I would ever say that again and really mean it.” She paused, and drew him closer.
The lights dimmed and the band played a soft, slow love song. He held her close, and as he looked at her smiling face, he hoped she would remember that a good friendship could still become a great love.
FROM: Megan Smith
He offered a hand so she could get up, and Danielle allowed him to help her to her feet, still giggling as she eyed his costume.
"I didn't know they'd hired a real Cupid," she said, brushing off her skirt and tucking her hair behind her ear. She gestured to the white wings protruding from his back, marveling at how real they looked. He held a shiny golden bow and arrow, and with his long blond hair, bright blue eyes, and angelic features, he made a perfect Cupid.
His smile widened as he held up the sharp arrow. "They didn't," he said, raising an eyebrow. "I'm here for you."
Danielle laughed nervously, backing up a few feet. Just her luck, being the one to run into the weirdo with a pointy weapon.
"No, it's not luck that brought me here," he said, somehow reading her thoughts.
She knew she should be frightened, yet his presence seemed to have the opposite effect, and a wave of calm washed over her. Cupid, angel, whatever he was, she somehow understood he meant her no harm.
"Why would you be here for me?" she asked, and he wordlessly held out a hand.
With a deep breath, she stepped forward and tentatively put her hand in his, then immediately gasped.
Visions of Kevin flashed around her, like a movie showing the happiest moments of their everyday lives: standing next to each other in the kitchen cooking; hiking and camping during their road trips; lounging around the pool in the summer; Saturday mornings browsing the flea market; Kevin gently stroking her cheek with his thumb before kissing her nose; snuggling under a blanket watching old movies.
The visions flashed faster until Kevin appeared right in front of her, smiling. Danielle's heart swelled at the sight of her lost love, but then he was gone. The visions faded, and the only person in front of her was the man dressed as Cupid.
"He wants you to let go, Danielle," he said gently. "That's why I'm here. Love is what I do. Kevin loves you so much that he wants you to let go of him. He wants you to be happy again." He paused, looking deep in her eyes. "He wants you to love again."
Danielle took a deep breath, wiping away tears. Their life had been so full of love and laughter--Kevin would hardly recognize the shell of herself she'd become. No more, she told herself, and something inside her suddenly felt different. The gaping hole in her heart caused by Kevin's death was finally ready to begin closing, and she swiped away another tear.
Cupid gripped her hand again, whispering in her ear. "Look."
His touch brought her another vision, this one of Stan. Kind, generous Stan, who'd never loved again after his own loss.
But now, she could clearly see that wasn't true--Stan had loved again. She saw how he'd watched her when they worked together, the way his face lit up whenever they spoke, the way he was always there for her when she was feeling down. She saw the way he gave her the space she needed, fully aware she wasn't ready to feel about him the way he felt about her.
The visions faded, and she stared at Cupid with wide eyes. "Stan...loves me?"
Cupid smiled, holding up his arrow. "As I said, this is for you...metaphorically speaking," he added, his eyes twinkling. "I don't make it a habit to stab the lovelorn."
Danielle shook her head; despite what she'd seen she was hardly able to believe this was real. Then her gaze shifted across the room to where Stan was guarding the refreshment table, making sure the cookie platters stayed filled. He glanced up and caught her staring, and flashed her a quick grin. She'd never let herself notice before how his warm brown eyes crinkled around the corners when he smiled, or that his smile itself was endearingly crooked.
She turned to thank the mysterious Cupid, but he was gone. She spun in a circle, certain she hadn't seen him leave, but somehow he had. She stared at the empty spot where he'd stood, putting a hand on her heart. The steady beat under her palm felt stronger, and she knew it meant her heart was finally mending, finally ready to open up to someone again.
"Thank you," she whispered, then started across the room toward Stan--toward the beginning of the rest of her life.
FROM: Lance Lumley
Danielle looked up and saw at her point of view that it wasn’t a tall dark stranger, but a younger boy, around 15 years old. The young boy seemed as embarrassed as she was, but was kind enough to help her to her feet.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t see you. I was going the other way.”
Danielle brushed herself off while she replied. “It’s alright. I was distracted too. Are you having fun?”
The young man looked down at the floor. “No. I want to go home.’
Danielle nodded her head in agreement and look at a nearby table. “ Why don’t we go get some punch and decide after a drink?’
The young boy agreed and they walked to the table. Danielle handed him a cup as he drank it all immediately. “Slow down there. I hope you’re not driving.”
The boy started to laugh at her joke, and she laughed with him, although she knew it was a bad joke.
“What’s your name? I am Miss Werther. I am one of the workers here. I haven’t seen you here before. Why aren’t you enjoying yourself, may I ask?”
The boy grabbed another cup and took a smaller drink before answering.” I’m Aaron. This is my first time here. I wanted to come because of a girl I know in school was going to be here.”
He looked towards the dance floor where some younger kids were on the dance floor dancing and having fun.
Danielle looked at the blonde haired girl who was the center of attention among her friends, giggling and singing along with the song blaring over the speakers.
“Ah yes. Samantha. She comes here often. She’s a really nice girl. She’s very pretty. Why aren’t you out there dancing with them?”
Aaron shrugged his shoulders and looked down at the floor again.
Danielle took a drink of her punch. “Just go up to her and ask her to dance.”
Aaron looked embarrassed. “What if she says no?”
Danielle replied, “ You just need to go ask her and I’m sure she’ll dance with you. I know Danielle and she’s a sweetheart. Besides, it’s Valentine’s Day. It’s the time of the year where you should take a chance, especially if you believe in the power of love.”
Danielle froze at her comments. She was on her way out the door and if it weren’t for this young shy man standing in her way, she’d be at home right now trying to think of an excuse to tell her co-workers for leaving early. What would Kevin think of the way she’s acted after his death? He always taught her to take a chance in life, because life was so short and precious, and that tomorrow was not a certainty.
She grabbed a party favor that was on the table of a plastic Cupid figure. She handed it to Aaron and said, “ This will help you out. Put it in your pocket for good luck. It’ll help you believe in love.”
She took him by the hand and walked over to Samantha, who was standing with the rest of her friends. When they arrived, Samantha spoke, “ Hi Miss Werther.”
“Hi Samantha. Do you know my friend Aaron?”
Aaron reluctantly moved closer to Samantha. A few minutes later they were both on the dance floor slow dancing to the music.
Aaron looked out behind the podium at the audience in the room. The community center looked just as it did to him ten years earlier when he was a shy young boy afraid to ask a girl to dance. He held the Cupid figure in his hand as he spoke.
“Because of a lady who believed in the power of love, I danced with my future wife for the first time. And even though it was a small party favor on the table, it gave me courage to ask her. Not only did Danielle adopt my future wife a year after that event, she adopted all of us in a way by turning her love to the center, which today will be renamed the Danielle and Kevin Werther Center of Love.”
Danielle smiled as the audience cheered while she walked to the podium. Even though she did not find love in a man, she found it in Samantha, Aaron, and at the center. She found love a different way, and her life was much richer because she gave love to a whole community and had no regrets.
clapped a hand to her mouth. Her eyes widened as she realized that she had not run into another party guest but rather the photographer sent by the local newspaper to cover the event.
“Oh my! I hope you didn’t get a photo of me flat on the floor!” she exclaimed.
The young man grinned and shook his head. “I was tempted.”
“You were?” Danielle’s face showed a mix of embarrassment and horror as she let him gently pull her back to her feet.
“Just a tight close-up of your face,” the thirty-something old hurried to reassure her. “You had such a joyful expression.”
“Well, I’m sure you’ve had plenty of couples to get the perfect happy picture,” Danielle replied, brushing imaginary dirt off her skirt.
He nodded, a look of discomfort flashing in his eyes. Although the expression was brief, Danielle recognized it. She had seen the same loneliness looking out from the mirror at her many times over the past few years. Immediately she felt a motherly pull towards the younger man and without quite knowing what she was going to say opened her mouth.
“Does that mean you can go on with other plans for the evening then? It is Valentine’s Day after all.”
The young man opened his mouth to speak, paused, and eyed Danielle. He must have found her trustworthy because he leaned a little closer and confided. “This dance was my plan. I actually came here for a certain girl.”
As he spoke, the man glanced over Danielle’s shoulder. Subtlety forgotten, she turned away, her eyes landing on the punch bowl—and Rose who was carefully filling plastic cups with the red liquid.
“We met at the gym about two months,” the photographer explained. “She has such a positive attitude even in the middle of a really tough workout. After Rose mentioned that she would be helping at this dance, when my editor asked for a volunteer to cover the event, it seemed like a good chance to get to talk to Rose for a longer time than just the warm up and cool down at our spin class.”
“Well, let’s make it happen!” Feeling a boldness she had not felt in months, Danielle grasped his arm and then started tottering over towards the refreshments. Her legs were perfectly fine but she figured seeming in need of help was the quickest way to get the man to follow her without questions.
“Danielle, are you alright?” Rose looked up from pouring a drink as the older woman limped closer.
“I guess I’m just not used to wearing high heels anymore. I took a spill on the dance floor and this nice young man helped me up,” Danielle laughed. She smiled at the photographer. “Thank you so much for your help although I don’t even know your name.”
“Brandon,” Rose supplied, her grin growing at the sight of the dark-haired man.
“You look beautiful,” Brandon said, a grin on his face as well.
Rose bit her lip shyly but returned the compliment. “You look good too.”
“I guess we clean up well outside of the gym,” Brandon replied. Just then the music shifted to a slow song. “Would you like to dance?”
Rose’s eyes brightened and then dimmed as she remembered the responsibility of the refreshment table.
“You know I should probably take it easy for a little bit,” Danielle broke into the conversation. “I can pour punch while you go dance.”
Both young people beamed at her, and then Brandon twirled Rose into the crowd of dancing couples. Danielle watched them swaying in each other’s arms.
“Good job, Cupid,” Stan’s voice suddenly spoke up from behind her.
Danielle turned to face the director. “Those two fit together just right.”
“They do,” Stan agreed.
“You know, I never really got that excited about Valentine’s Day,” Danielle confessed. “The cheesy cards, the emphasis on the dramatic romantic gestures, it just always seemed too much. My husband though loved the day.”
She nodded. “It’s because he saw past the commercialization and always focused on what the day was supposed to represent. What I see on so many faces here this evening.”
Danielle paused, letting her eyes take in Rose and Brandon dancing right next to an elderly couple. “Love from its beginning to forever.”
FROM: Martha J. Uber
…said as she took the stranger’s hand, “So much for making a graceful exit. This was anything but,” she laughed as the stranger helped her safely stand.
“It could have been worse. You could have been carrying a drink that I would now be wearing,” he chuckled.
“Oh, don’t even think it,” groaned Danielle.
“I’m Nick Rossetti in case you were wondering. You are?”
“Danielle Werther. And very sorry to have nearly bowled you over,” she apologized.
Nick smiled. “It would take more than a little thing like you to knock me over.” Now Danielle knew that Nick was gallant as well as handsome for she stood at nearly 5’10” in her heels. In addition her body was decidedly Rubenesque.
Danielle wavered on her heels. Why did I wear these miserable little torture devices? she thought. Nick noticed the waver. “Let’s sit down over here for a few minutes while you regain your equilibrium,” suggested Nick as he gently steered them to an empty table.
“I do feel shaky from falling,” Danielle admitted. “Thank you.” Almost as soon as they were seated Stan, Cindy, and Rose descended on the table demanding to know what happened and if she was okay. Only then did Danielle realize she and Nick had been the cynosure of all eyes at the dance. She felt her face becoming heated and knew she had turned crimson from embarrassment.
Nick spoke before she had to. “I think she’s all right guys. Just shaken up,” he said reassuringly.
Danielle was surprised when Stan said, “We’re glad it was you that Danielle ran into. We were planning to introduce the two of you this evening anyway. Nick is on the board of directors,” Stan said to Danielle. She knew the board was made up of local business people interested in the community.
“Danielle is a long time volunteer who has become increasingly valuable to us,” Stan informed Nick.
“Well then, it’s a good thing there are no permanent injuries,” Nick said. Only to my dignity, thought Danielle.
The concerned trio finally left the newly acquainted pair alone. They mutually sized each other up. Danielle saw a handsome dark haired man with kind, intelligent brown eyes of approximately 6’5”. Nick saw a gorgeous blue-eyed brunette. He wanted to find out what made those pools of blue look so sad. Danielle’s visible tears had not escaped his notice.
Nick wanted to put Danielle at ease and defuse her embarrassment. “So where was the fire that had you rushing out of here like that?” he queried.
Danielle smiled wanly. “No fire. Only my emotions. I shouldn’t have come here tonight. It was too soon.” She knew her friends meant well but she regretted letting them push her into this fiasco. “What happened?” Nick sympathetically asked.
“I lost my husband to cancer three years ago,” Danielle said. “I still miss him. I’ve been making myself try to be more social and rejoin the world, but it’s hard. I have good days and bad days,” she finished.
“I understand. Something similar happened to me about the same time. My fiancée was killed by a drunk driver a week before our wedding. I was devastated. It was only the need to keep my business running for my employees that kept me going,” Nick quietly stated.
No wonder they both seemed to feel a certain comfort with each other. They had both experienced deep sorrow.
For the remainder of the dance as they nibbled at cookies and chips and drank sparkling cider and coffee, the feeling of comfort and understanding grew.
When Nick walked Danielle to her car after the dance they exchanged cell numbers. Neither wanted to lose this new connection that each sensed was special.
The following months were a happy blur of calls, texts, and dates as they got to know each other.
Exactly a year after they met, Nick proposed to Danielle. She happily accepted. Though they initially bonded over grief, they had come to love and appreciate each other deeply.
After their wedding Nick and Danielle had their reception at the community center where their romance began. This time it wasn’t decorated in such bright colors that one couldn’t tell if there were flames or not. It was decorated in love with pictures of Nick and Danielle through the course of their courtship and new life together.
FROM: Carly Zaitzew
He offered a hand so she could get up, and then Danielle sensed something familiar about this man standing over her with an embarrassed grin on his face. Danielle quickly wiped away the tears on her reddening face and graciously accepted his outstretched hand. Once she was on her feet again, her heels put her eye to eye with the man. As soon as she looked in his eyes, the recognition clicked. After all, who could forget someone with eyes that were so dark blue that they looked purple?
“Scott?!” Danielle shrieked as she threw her arms around his neck.
Scott was totally taken aback as he racked his brain for an answer as to how he could not remember this beautiful woman who apparently knew him. When she pulled away and he got a good look at her face, he knew her immediately.
“Danielle! It’s been so long!”
Scott was Kevin’s best friend and neighbor all throughout their childhood. Scott’s father got a job in North Carolina and moved his family there when they were in 10th grade. The distance caused the boys to gradually grow apart and by college, they only talked sporadically.
Scott explained that he moved back to Youngstown last year to be closer to his family again and then they spent the rest of the night talking, laughing, and reminiscing about their childhood together. It was like they took a trip to the past; remembering the countless summer days in Kevin’s pool, sled riding for hours at Rocky Ridge on snow days, and telling stories of old friends, teachers, and neighbors.
For weeks after, the two were inseparable. For Danielle, Scott helped to dull the pain of losing Kevin, and having someone that knew him so well was like having a little piece of Kevin with her.
One day, as the two were laughing about a teacher they had in elementary school, Scott suddenly got serious. “Danielle, I need to show you something. I’ve been meaning to for a while but I have been too nervous.”
Scott reached into his pocket and pulled out an old, wrinkled envelope, which he handed to Danielle. She recognized the writing instantly. She looked up at Scott, her eyes asking a million questions at once.
“I got this in the mail a few weeks before he passed. He asked me to give it to you. Just please read it.”
Carefully, she opened the letter, and unfolded a piece of Kevin’s stationary she got him for an anniversary long ago. When she saw the date, she burst into tears. Kevin had written this exactly one month before he passed. She blinked the tears away and started to read…
My dear Dani,
I asked Scott to give this to you because I wanted him there when you read it. There is something I have kept from you all these years, and I know if Scott told you, you may have not believed him…so here it goes. All throughout middle school, Scott had a crush on you, but you were so stubborn you never saw it. Over the years, as I listened to him talk about you in that kind of way, I realized that I liked you too. By high school we were both falling for you but didn’t want to mess up our friendship by going after the same girl. When Scott got the news he was moving, I think we both realized what was going to happen; he could tell how much I had fallen for you. The next year we kissed, and there was no going back. I’m sorry I never told you, darling; I couldn’t figure out how, especially since I knew Scott never truly got over you. I love you so much and all I want is for you to be happy, find love again, and live a full life. I wrote this in the hope that it would help you find happiness. I love you, Dani. -Kevin
When she finished, she read it through two more times before looking up at Scott, her eyes swimming with tears. She saw Scott, a friend for over twenty years, in a whole new light. As she gazed into his dark blue eyes, an unusual feeling spread throughout her body. For the first time in three years, she felt a sense of hope.
FROM: Kim Urig
Turns her head up to discover Stan’s outstretched arm.
“If only it was easy as when we were kids. But then again, when we were kids, we’d never have been as brave.”
Danielle looks at her director and smirks, “Yeah, kids these days. They’ve got nothing on awkward adults.”
Stan smiles warmly at Danielle, leaning in close and whispering in a conspiratorial voice, “But do you really wish you could go back?”
“Never,” Danielle states emphatically. “But nor did I ever think I’d have to return.”
Intently, Stan looks at her. “Don’t think of it as a return, think of it as a do-over with experience.”
“Yeah, right…” Danielle drifts off.
Stan meets her gaze, asking, “I really do understand. What do you miss most?”
“Believe it or not? I miss helping him match clothing to wear in public because he was color blind. How I would laugh at his combinations. I never thought I would miss how predictable his outfits were, but only because he couldn’t even tell what color he was wearing.”
“It’s the little things we miss the most,” Stan nods his head in agreement, “I miss how my wife folded socks. She would ball them and I would fold them over the top. I cannot believe I would argue with her that she did it wrong.”
“Socks should be paired in balls. Then they don’t separate when you rummage through the drawers.”
Stan grins at Danielle knowingly, “Ready to get out of here? There is a local band nearby. I love the music, but hate going in there alone.”
Danielle nods gratefully at Stan’s kindness, appreciating his willingness to help her through the awkward stages of being alone.
Settling into a corner booth, with the band playing familiar music from before either of their eras. The sounds of the 60s protest music was somehow comforting in the mélange of modern life.
Danielle sways and hums,
“Love is but a song to sing
Fear's the way we die
You can make the mountains ring
Or make the angels cry
Though the bird is on the wing”
“Great band,” Stan pipes in.
“Thanks for helping me escape that awkwardness. How did you know?”
“I’ve been there, Danielle. I’m still trying to figure out what is worse, thinking you’ll never find it again or never trying. I decided that never trying was the worst.”
“How do you start to try again?”
“Sometimes it’s as simple as paying attention. Maybe noticing another friend in the same position and reaching out. Sometimes it takes a bit more work. Sometimes you have to really push the other person. Maybe even help them figure out what to wear, and drop it in their lap,” Stan continues, “Although Cindy was the one who picked the dress. I think she fancies herself a matchmaker.”
Danielle glances down and notices that Stan is wearing one navy blue and one black sock with brown shoes, and nods with a certain endearment. “You don’t say? Who do you think she hoped to match me up with?”
“Ah geeze, Danielle. Cindy is behind all this. She came to me with the idea of getting you out there again. I hated to admit it at the time, I was jealous. Instead I suggested that you find your own way. She wanted to at least nudge it along. It made me crazy to think of some man who didn’t know a thing about you try to move in. So I made sure I was here, too.”
“Here we are, Stan. “
“Yup. We’re here. And I’m glad you’re next to me. You have no idea how nervous I was getting ready for tonight. I wanted to look my best. How’d I do?”
Danielle faintly smiles, yet hesitates to answer.
“Did I ever tell you I am colorblind?” Stan nervously pipes in. “I’m pretty sure I don’t match at all. But I don’t know. I just knew I needed to be nearby in case things got weird for you tonight.”
“Stan, I think you match just fine. I am glad you’re here.”
“Danielle… “ his voice trails off shyly.
Danielle grabs his chin and leans in slowly, “No, really. Thank you.” Her lips touch his and they embrace.
Kissing deeply, they envelop the other, intertwining their fingers and truly connecting.
“Ahhhhhhhhh Stan. Thank you for making sure you were here tonight, “ Danielle continues, “but since we’re on the topic? Your socks… “