I was married once, back when the earth’s crust was cooling. I was in love and loved him --- until he left me with a house mortgage and a broken heart. The shell on my heart hardened as the ice age arrived.
I’m independent now and enjoy my career as a chemistry teacher at the local college. Being the same age as my next-door neighbor, she’s always trying to find me a guy.
“Frances, you can’t stay hemmed up in that school and grading papers at home all your life. Why don’t you date? I know you turn down offers. Go with us to the neighborhood Valentine’s party.”
Mary Alice always wanted to encourage my love life, not that I had one since….then. Might as well humor her, I thought.
“Alright, Mary Alice, we’re here. They’re mostly couples.”
“I know, Frances, but just enjoy the party. You hardly go anywhere, much less meet new people.”
“You specifically mean men, don’t you?”
“Don’t you know that my life is full with work that I love, my students, and even grading their papers? It’s a joy to see them learning. I put my heart into helping them enjoy and explore science. It’s quite rewarding.” I could see the anxious look on Mary Alice’s face. She knew that I knew that I was avoiding the real issue she had in mind.
“No, you know. Love for a man. You had it long ago.”
“I need to forget. That was stone-age ancient.” I knew she cared about me and so I didn’t abruptly cut her off.
“You are still an attractive woman with a caring heart. I bet you have room in it for another romance. It’s so fulfilling. I should know. I’ve had dozens. Even married a few of them.”
I had to laugh. She was so right. She was always the flirt if I’m to believe anything she’s detailed about her past.
Then, Mary Alice grabbed my arm and whispered into my ear. “Look, there’s that new guy who moved into our neighborhood.”
His back to us, he was taking off his jacket and wore a knit shirt. Muscles rippled underneath his sleeves. As he turned around looking around the crowd, my heart beat rapidly. It was Arthur, and I realized I’d never gotten over him after all this time. I dated a lot of boys in high school, but this one I remembered. Our only date went badly, so it didn’t surprise me I never heard from him again.
His full lips still captured my gaze. No, I said to myself. Stop. You don’t need your heart crushed again. I tried to look away and gaze at the Valentine Cupids that decorated the room, but I felt compelled to look back at him.
I must have stared too hard because he looked toward me, and our eyes locked. He smiled. Excusing himself from his friends, he headed straight for me. I felt the flush coming to my face, and as he approached, I instinctively eased backward until one knee touched a chair.
“Hello there…Frances, uh, Parsons, I believe from chemistry class. Bet you don’t remember me.”
You got to be kidding, I thought. “I do, Arthur. So good to see you after all these years.”
He gave me a quick head to toe glance. “Wow. You look terrific.”
“Thank you.” I could hear my voice trembling. “So, are you married and family?”
“No, never did. Got straight into my family’s investment business. And you?”
“Not anymore. I teach chemistry at the local college.”
“I’ve never forgotten that unfortunate date we had. I was pissed from earlier in the day and took it out on you.”
I hadn’t forgotten either but was shocked he remembered me or the date. I could tell earlier that something seemed to be bothering him. He seemed distracted. But then he cheered up, and we just had a good time. When his hand touched mine, I felt that bit of electricity that I hadn’t felt from others. His hands were soft and warm. When he put his arm around me, I wanted to snuggle closer.
About time for me to go home, and he’d had a few beers, his voice grew gruff, and words were harsh. I finally barked back.
“If you are so unhappy, take me home now,” I said. He did.
That was then. I chose to remember him and the best parts of the evening. And now, here he was back in my life again.
His smile was like magic. I felt my hand go to my chest. Stop, Frances. You can’t let the feeling melt the shield. It hurts too much to lose love. I repeated it to myself.
At that moment, someone bumped the chair behind me, and my knee crumpled. I started to fall and found myself against his body, chest to chest. His strong arms instinctively wrapped around me. Staring into dreamy blue eyes, my heart pounded like a racehorse’s hooves.
“Woah.” He clung tightly to me.
Woah is right. My hands now on his back, feeling the strong muscles. I longed to hold him back in high school and for a kiss goodnight before things ended on a sour note.
Arthur’s expression went from a warm smile to seriousness.
“I’ve been looking for the perfect Valentine for a long time. And my heart tells me we’ve got the right chemistry, Ms. Chemistry professor. What do you think?”
Someone might as well have poured Aqua-regia, the most potent mix of acids known, over the shell protecting my heart. I felt that layer dissolve as my chest heaved.
His eyes stared deep into mine as he came ‘breath-to-breath’ close. My lips parted when he moved closer. He whispered in my ear.
“What say we go outside, sit on the loveseat, and discuss some… chemistry?” His breath warmed my earlobe even more.
“I can’t think of anything I’d love to do more on this Valentine’s Day.”
The Ice Age is over. I looked heavenward. Thank you, Mary Alice.