Love in the Time of Covid

Submitted into Contest #53 in response to: Write a story about summer love — the quarantine edition.... view prompt



I hardly ever heard a word out of her mouth during High School. I think you know the type. Sat in the back of the class. Kept to herself when asked anything. Never made eye-contact if she could help it. 

An enigma. 

A riddle. 


That was her name. I at least remembered that much about her. Somehow, someway, we became Facebook friends. I don’t know when, to be honest. We had never actually talked as best as I could recall.

Then one day it happened. Her post showed up on my feed. It was a simple enough picture with one, maybe two likes. I believe a friend of hers had taken it. (I thought to myself at the time ‘She has to have some friends, right? Doesn’t everyone have friends?’)

She was sitting on the Old Railway Bridge at St. Peterson’s Circle, just outside of Lynsburg. Unless you’re familiar with the place you wouldn’t know why the picture surprised me. The railway is abandoned, sure, but the bridge is about 100ft off the ground. One slip on the metal and you could go plunging off the side. It’s dangerous, more dangerous than I thought a girl like her would ever dream of attempting. Look at me, thinking I knew “a girl like her.” Where did I get off with that kind of crap thinking?

In the picture she was smiling, her head kicked back and eyes closed, amber hair soaked in sunlight. I also realized that she had some freckles on her face. But those things weren’t what caught my attention. What seemed to imprint on my mind (and it’s what I can still see, even now) was the utter joy that shone from her face.

So I did what any normal guy who falls in love with a girl over her FB photo would do. I ignored her for another 3 months. 

I mean seriously, what would I have said to her? 

“Hey, remember me? No…um well, I saw your photo and it was pretty cute…I mean neat.”

Yep, even in my head, I was verbally face-planting. 

With what I know now, I wish I had tried to reach out to her back then, considering those 3 months were to be the last picture of normalcy in my life for a long time.

As you know, our social lives vanished almost overnight, like the last smell of fall disappearing with the first snow of winter. (Or something poetic like that. Look, I’ve been cooped up so long that I’ve actually started reading poetry. Good lord, poetry of all things). 

In other words, I missed my chance to see her, in person, for probably another 6 months to 20 years - if the conflicting reports are accurate, that is.

Strangely enough, I wonder if I ever would have written her without the craziness of this pandemic. 

It happened one Saturday. It was a day like any other. 

I was trying to keep myself distracted with Netflix and I just couldn’t anymore. It asked me if I was still there and I almost had an existential crisis. Like, am I still here? Who am I? And why am I watching the Office for the 70th time?

Thankfully, the crisis lasted only a minute before I knew exactly what I really wanted to be doing. I wanted to talk to that shy girl. I wanted to see her smile, to make her as happy as she had looked in that picture. 

So I opened FB, got distracted for a few minutes by someone spouting a conspiracy about Obama, Bill Gates, and the Aunt Jemima company being behind Covid, before clicking to her profile page. There was the photo from 3 months ago. 

I took the plunge and messaged her. I didn’t know what to say, so I just wrote, 

“Hi, do you remember me from High School?”

I instantly regretted every word I had chosen and went about mentally tearing my message to shreds.

She then messaged back, which was much scarier than me continuing to dissect my own words. I opened the message, but not too quickly. She would see that I had seen it and I didn’t want to be seen as desperate. Her message read, 

“Of course I remember you silly. How have you been?”

And we were off to the races - whatever that means. As quiet as she was in person, she was that chatty over messenger. We must have gone over everything that happened in each others’ lives in about a week’s time (maybe twice over). 

I began to form a new image of this riddle. This amber-haired, hazel-eyed girl. Much deeper and more beautiful than the picture I had seen months before.

“Look, I know you don’t mind me asking, but why on Earth did you really contact me?”

We were at the point when things were getting really real. I mean really.

“You said maybe 2 words to me in High School. I overheard you making dirty jokes with your friends over a dozen times, talking about who you had laid the night before. To be completely frank, I thought you were a total jerk.” 

You might think that would have insulted me. It didn’t.

“I’m glad you didn’t like my behavior. I was a jerk. But I was doing that because I didn’t know any better. I’ve changed.” 

“Oh? What changed?”

Now that one made me pause for a few minutes. After racking my brain, the moment when things shifted came to me.

“I changed the day my dad died.”

There was a pause, then I heard the messenger sound.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know about your dad.”

Did I really want to get into all this? Yes, I did.

“He was a cold man, honestly. Never told me he was proud of me. Never said anything about love, respect, or anything important. But I’ll never forget the day he died. I had never seen him cry, but there were tears in his eyes. He was coughing hard, trying to get air into his lungs. He’d smoked a pack a day since he was 12 and it was now coming back to bite him.”

Wow, typing this was harder than I thought. But I wanted to tell her.

“He looked me in the eyes and begged for forgiveness. Said he had only been trying to prove he was as tough as his old man, that he had been afraid most of his life. He died apologizing to me, saying he wished he had shown me the love I deserved.” 

I sent the message. After a little more thought, I added,

“I regret that day more than anything else. I wish I had said something to him. To let him know that I forgave him. I wish I had taken his hand like he wanted me to. But I just stood there. Dry eyed and angry.” 

Tears were falling on my keyboard. I couldn’t see the screen any longer. I know she responded, and it was a lovely response. But I don’t recall it very well.

We decided to video chat for the first time the next week. It was awkward at first, I’m not gonna lie, but as soon as we became familiar with one another’s cadence, the tics and tells that make talking with someone possible, we were off to the races again. 

It was as if she knew me, and I knew her. As if we had been on countless dates and movies. As if we had kissed in the backseat of my old Subaru (wait, do people still do that kinda stuff once they’re adults?) How I wanted to do those things with her.

I knew her birthday was coming up on May 24th.

“I like flowers,” she had said to me over Zoom one night, “but not just any flowers.”

“Really? What kinda flowers are we talking here because I’m hoping my stimulus package is gonna cover anything I have to buy you.”

She laughed, coughing as she did.

“Have to? You want to buy me nice things. Admit it.”

“Oh, I’ll admit it, but only after you tell me how much these ‘nice things’ are.”

“No pink. It’s too girly.”

“Um…but…aren’t you…”

“Let me finish. My favorite flower is Jasmine. Purple with a sweet smell.”

“Yeah, I like Jasmine as well. It one of my favorite kinds of rice.”

“Hardy har har.” 

She stuck out her tongue and then looked off-screen in thought.

“Oh, I also like amethysts. In silver, with a nice little silver pendant to go along with it.”

I grinned.

“Anything else your highness?”

“Hey, you asked jock boy.”

“Yeah, well maybe I’m regretting it now. I know my wallet will be pretty soon.”

“Psh, Jasmine flowers and amethyst jewels are super inexpensive.”

“Super, huh? You do know I’m unemployed?”

“Um, that’s where your Trump money comes in, remember?”

Yeah, yeah I could let you in on the whole conversation, but I’m sure your eyes are already glazing over. I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t able to get her purple gem and flowers for her birthday. Everything online was out of stock or wouldn’t get to her in time. 

But I had a plan. The media reported that the lockdowns in many of the states would be easing soon. Of course Michigan had to be one of the last ones reopening. Even still, I hoped to give her those gifts in person.

That’s when things went wrong. Like waking up from a dream only to experience the worst nightmare of my life kinda wrong. 

Emelia stopped messaging me for a day or two. At first, I was worried that maybe she was backing away until I saw one of her closest friends post on FB.

“Most of you probably don’t know this, but Emelia was recently hospitalized with coronavirus. She’s been intubated, and the doctors aren’t sure if she’s going to make it. I know many of you care about Emelia. Please pray for her.”

How could I have missed it? The signs had been there. The coughing. The fatigue. But why hadn’t she told me? I messaged her friend who explained that no one had known, not even Emelia. She had ended up collapsing in the hospital waiting room after going to get tested due to her cough. 

I sat in front of my computer screen, the window through which all of this had been made possible. It wasn’t enough. This time hadn’t been enough. She was young, I told myself. She would pull through. She also has asthma, my mind brought up. I paced the floor of my 400 square-foot apartment. I pulled out my phone and called an old friend who works at the hospital. 

“Robby, I need a favor. I have a friend that is in critical condition with Covid-19, I need to know which room she’s in-” 

“Adam, you know I can’t do that.”

I was close to breaking down.

“I know, I know, there are no visitors allowed with Covid patients. I just…I need to see this girl Rob, please if there is anything you can do to get me in.” 

“It’s not going to happen. I’m sorry, my friend, I am.” 

Weeks passed.

I checked in every day to see how she was doing. Her vitals stayed the same.

Until they didn’t.

Her blood oxygen levels dipped even lower, and the doctors I spoke with said that her chances were quite slim.

And so I did what no sane human being would dream of doing. I put on an N-95 mask and an I.D. sticker I had gotten when I visited Grace Memorial the year before and went to the hospital. Yes, I know, I was a master of deception, and this was an idiotic plan. But I felt desperate. 

I walked into the empty lobby of the ER, and before anyone could examine my outdated sticker, went down the nearest corridor of the hospital until arriving at an elevator. Beside it, there was a panel with information about what was on each floor. I picked the one that seemed most likely. I don’t remember the name. I was wrong the first time and the second. But the third time I ended up on a floor with ventilators; lots and lots of ventilators with people hooked up to them. 

I was confronted by a nurse that told me I shouldn’t be in there. I walked past her, ignoring her continued warnings. I knew I was on borrowed time before security came. If I could just find her, see her face-to-face. 

It took me two passes to finally realize which one was her.

She was facing up. Her amber hair was matted since she had already been there a week. But it was her. Her petite face with the slight freckles gave it away. There were tubes everywhere.

I stood there a moment, knowing I didn’t have long. I pulled out of my pocket a silver necklace with a flower pendant and amethyst crystal and said a silent prayer. My other hand already held the sweet purple flowers whose fragrance had haunted me for days in my apartment.

I reached out to touch her hand but stopped in mid-air. My hand was shaking. I could hear my dad’s last words.

I took Emelia’s hand, placing the amethyst in it. I felt the warmth of it ebbing away. I wanted to say so much. But I only said what I knew. 

“I’m sorry, Emelia. I should have seen you when you were that quiet girl in the back. I should have, but I took everything for granted. I assumed the touch of someone’s hand, the kindness of someone’s laugh, the beauty of someone’s face as if they weren’t important. I didn’t see you as important then. But now I do. Now that I have come to know you…I love you. Please, forgive me.” 

I took the Jasmine flowers and laid them beside her head, barely brushing the side of her face.

Her monitor began to beep, alerting the medical workers that something was wrong. Within moments they had surrounded her, doing about a dozen things I didn’t understand. 

“Her vitals are elevated” 

“Make sure she doesn’t pull out that tube.” 

One of them pointed to me and said to a fellow staffer, “Get him out of here.” 

I had no intention of resisting. I didn’t want to see this. Not again. The last thing I heard as they were escorting me out of the ICU was the sound of her heart monitor flatlining. 

That ringing stayed with me as I drove home. 

As I entered my apartment which still smelled like Jasmine. 

As I lay down on the sofa, sobbing to myself.

Once my tears had subsided I noticed that my phone had received a call from the hospital. I didn’t need to hear the news I already knew. I turned it off. It would be a few weeks before I turned it back on. 

I slept on the sofa that night, letting the sound of the traffic drown out my thoughts and that incessant ringing noise. The quarantine had eased up a week or two ago. What did it matter? I couldn’t see her now.

Besides, I needed to spend 14 days self-quarantined. Maybe I too would get sick with that virus and die? The thought numbed and scared me.

I woke up in the middle of the night and headed to the bathroom, but stopped when I saw the black screen of my laptop, still open from the day before. I picked it up and slammed its screen against the side of my desk, shattering it. I didn’t want to see anything ever again through that black window. That painful window; full of memories.

The last day of my quarantine came. I was leaning up against the counter in my kitchen, considering if I should eat the week and a half old Chinese food in the fridge or order Chipotle. I decided to toss the food-poisoning-waiting-to-happen in the trash and order a burrito instead. 

I heard a knock at the door. That was too quick. I called out, 

“Just leave the food on the doorstep.” 

The visitor knocked a second time. 

It better not be those Jehovah’s Witnesses again, I thought. 

“I swear if you don’t have a mask on and keep your distance I will make you eat this moldy Chinese food.” 

I opened the door. The person wasn’t keeping their distance and they didn’t have a mask on, but neither of those things mattered. Her head was to the side, obscuring her face, but I would have recognized that amber hair anywhere. Emelia turned.

“Moldy Chinese food, huh? Could I not?”

An amused expression crossed her face. I couldn’t catch my breath.

“But you…died.”

She shook her head.

“They tell me that I yanked the cord to my heart monitor.”

“So, you were just waking up?”

She nodded. I glanced down and saw that she was wearing the amethyst I’d given her. She noticed my look and said, 

“Hey, my eyes are up here.”

I laughed, a few tears trickling down my face as I did.

“I only remember the last bit of what you said to me in the hospital.” 

I managed to choke out a couple words, 

“Which was?”

“Something about loving me.” 

She looked down and smiled.

“I love you, too.”

 Her face then scrunched up in thought and she said, 

“And for some strange reason, you apologized after that. What on Earth were you apologizing for? And why wouldn’t you return my calls or messa-”

She didn’t finish that sentence. My lips interrupted hers. 

I don’t know how long I kissed her in the doorway to my apartment. Probably enough to make the neighbors squeamish. 

I didn’t care.

August 06, 2020 10:30

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Doubra Akika
14:30 Aug 09, 2020

Really beautiful story! Loved the hope in this. When he went to visit her at the hospital (snuck in rather), I thought she would die or something but I'm very happy that's not the case. Wonderful job! If you're not busy, would you mind checking out my recent story? Have a nice day!


Show 0 replies
Leya Newi
01:45 Aug 09, 2020

This was so sweet and hopeful. Very beautiful, Daniel. Keep writing!!


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Jun Ann Peh
13:49 Aug 14, 2020

Lovely story!!


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Deborah Angevin
11:18 Aug 14, 2020

OMG, this is wonderful! A sweet story between the two characters; I'm glad they got a happy ending! P.S: would you mind checking my recent story out, "Grey Clouds"? Thank you :D


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Kate Winchester
04:12 Aug 14, 2020

Hi Daniel, I enjoyed your story! I loved the humor, but I also loved that there were deep moments too. It was a good balance. I liked that he didn't take no for an answer and snuck into the hospital. I'm happy that she lived. It was such a satisfying ending. :)


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