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Drama Romance Friendship

There had been winter storm warnings in Texas before, but they hadn't seen snow since 2010. There was a joke that a person could experience all four seasons in one day in Texas. Funny, but not really, considering most of the seasons were just varying degrees of summer. He didn’t give the storm warning a second thought. Sure, there may some flurries, maybe even sleet, or the roads may ice. But as soon as the sun came out it would all melt away. Or so he thought. By noon, the city would be back to normal. 


While others were panicked and rushed to the store for toilet paper and canned food, he watched serial killer documentaries while working from home on his laptop. He hadn’t been to the grocery store or a restaurant in months. Everything was delivered. Mostly because he absolutely refused to wear a mask.


Masks, while in the beginning were okay at best, now he couldn’t force himself to wear one. In fact, he posted almost daily about the insanity of an entire world population wearing masks. Not even the disease experts thought masks would work. So, he refused to participate in the paranoid delusion of COVID-19. 


It had been 8 months and 4 days since he had stepped foot into his office on the 5th floor of the Fountain Place Building. The pandemic hit early in the Spring. The first memo read, “Stay home if you are sick.”, and “Wash your hands for 20 seconds.”, along with some other, mostly common sense information. There was no way that a virus from China would bring a screeching halt to commerce in Texas, was there? Well, actually, yes there was a way, and yes it did. 


The second memo required masks and shortly after, the third memo was that all non-essential staff would work from home. Now, that gave him pause. First, masks indoors. Then, non-essential? After 10 years of 12 hour days, had he earned the descriptor, non-essential? Perfect.


On the last office day before transitioning to working remotely, he gathered his laptop, extra charger, office supplies, files that he would need over the next few days, and was gone by noon to set up his new work space at home. It was a Friday, so it felt a little like taking a long weekend. He made a few calls, created his calendar for the next week, and was done by early afternoon. He spent the weekend alone, watching TV, riding his Peloton, and playing online video games.


Really, staying at home was his only option. The county had issued a mask mandate and no congregation rule. Restaurants, bars, and gyms shut down. Masks were required in public. Nowhere to go and nothing to do. At the time, he had no idea that this would be the state of his life for months to come.


Monday morning hit different. His alarm went off at the usual time. He started his day like so many before, with coffee. When he made it to the kitchen, it dawned on him. He would not be going anywhere at all. He, like 90% of his co-workers, would be working from their homes. 


Should he wear a tie to sit on his couch? Would he even be able to work from his couch? Yes and no. Yes to the tie. He would still see people on Zoom, so work up top and party on the bottom. No to the couch. He found out quickly that sitting on the couch is quite unmanageable due to needing a hard surface for all the work tools: laptop, notebook, files, and such things. In the early days of the pandemic, he was confident that the quarantine would be over quickly and everything would go back to normal. But, he was wrong. 


Within a few days, he had to adapt his home to create a workspace. It wasn’t terrible. He could make due. Days turned into months and the comfort in working from home faded. He was going stir crazy living and working all within the 1,000 square foot space. He had broken off his last relationship right before the pandemic hit, banking on the “plenty of fish in the sea” concept. But now that the “sea” was off limits, the chance of catching a “fish” to cure boredom and frustration was all but impossible. The only way to have real in person interaction was to get outside in the neighborhood. 


In the fall, he began jogging at the lake near his home every morning instead of indoors on the Peloton. He still got his exercise in and heart rate up, but he also got fresh air. And, there were people. Real, live people. According to the mandate, a person did not have to wear a mask if they were exercising outdoors. Score. The whole mask thing was over the top. He refused to participate in the hysteria. 


There were plenty of joggers along the lake trails in the early morning hours. He established a routine; wake up, dress warm, walk to the trail, stretch, run the 3 mile loop, shower, then get to work, play video games, binge Netflix, repeat. On about the 5th day, he put it together. He wasn’t the only one with a routine. 


She had made eye contact with him each day as he was stretching. He knew she smiled, even though her mask covered her mouth and nose, because the smile reached her eyes. He also knew that she was in pretty good shape. He had noticed her on the loop. She continued for another lap each day when he was ending his run. Six miles a day. That was impressive. 


She was tall and lean. Her long sandy blonde hair was always neatly pulled back into a ponytail and topped with a college ball cap. Her eyes were piercing blue. Blue enough to cause him to stammer each time he tried to come up with the right words to say. Ultimately, she was the one that started the conversation.


Finally one day, she shared a greeting. Next day, she introduced herself. By the third day, he found the courage to ask for her phone number. He confessed that the pandemic boredom had set in and he wanted someone to talk to. She gave him her number with the condition that he could only text her when he wasn’t bored. Win. He loved a challenge. Only thing was, each time he had ever seen her, she was wearing a mask. He had no idea what she looked like beyond her eyes and forehead. But, he felt like there could be a spark between them.


What was the appropriate amount of time to wait before texting someone you just met? He couldn’t remember, nor could he contain the excitement of meeting someone new. Finally! After months of basically no human contact, he had hope. 


They texted each day, and began running the first lap together. Conversation flowed between them like they had known each other for years. They had common interests, liked the same TV shows, and to his surprise, they were both Virgos. The one thing that they differed in was the response to the pandemic. She followed all precautions. She wore a mask each time they met. He refused to wear a mask, but he agreed to maintain a 3 foot distance from her when they were together in person. She could live with that. 


Winter approached with gusto. If it weren’t for the opportunity to run with her, he would have opted for the Peloton on the coldest mornings. But, he had to see her. He had to hear her laugh, smell her perfume, and look into her eyes. At the end of the run on the day the winter storm was rolling in, he joked that they wouldn’t be seeing each other for a few days because they would be snowed in. They laughed together and he started to walk away. She called to him, “Come over and we will get snowed in together.” They both laughed because the chances of a snowstorm in Texas were really close to nonexistent. 


“I will if you text me the address.” He tried to contain his excitement. He didn’t wait for a reply, but walked away with a grin that showed all his teeth. He had been patiently waiting for the day that they would be closer than 3 feet from each other and finally she would take off her mask and he would see her entire beautiful face. This would be the day. 


He continued his routine while looking at his phone every 15 minutes. She didn’t text. The morning stretched into the afternoon. No text. He stopped working for the day at 4 PM, and turned on the local weather just in time to see that there was a 60% chance of snow with temperatures below freezing. Well, its happening then. He went to the fridge and pulled out a frozen dinner to heat, then decided to look one more time at his phone. She texted. 


She sent her address with the message to hurry up before the snow started to fall. He was so excited that he was on his way within 10 minutes of reading the message. He missed being close to someone. He missed friendly banter, watching a show, and taking a meal with someone. As strange as it was, he found that he missed her even though he didn’t really know her. He surprised himself when he realized that sex wasn’t even at the top of his “most missed” activities. He felt at home with her. He felt happy. But, if sex happened, that would be good too. 


His heart began to beat faster as he pulled into the drive. It was already dark out. The wind had picked up considerably. His internal thermometer said it was already below 32 degrees. There could be snow afterall. Stepping out of the car, he walked briskly to the door and rang the bell. Was he underdressed? Should he have brought something? Wine, maybe? 


She opened the front door and welcomed him in. His face dropped when he saw that she was wearing a mask covering her mouth and nose. She asked what was wrong. He realized that his face was talking for him and quickly changed his expression. “Nothing at all!”, he said. “I am so happy you invited me!”. That was the truth, mask or no mask.


He reset his expectations as she was making him a hot cocoa. Being there with her was better than being alone, even if he couldn’t see her fully. Kissing would be out of the question, but hey, they could still talk and laugh. That would be good enough. He decided to leave by 10PM. It was a weeknight and he would have to work, snow or no snow.


She was the perfect host. They played card games, then watched his favorite TV series. They definitely had the same sense of humor. He noticed that when she drank her hot cocoa, she would turn away from him to lift her mask. A little red flag popped up in his mind. Is she deliberately blocking me from seeing her face? If so, why? The questions in his mind were gnawing at him.


Three hours passed quickly. It was time for him to go. He thanked her for the best night he had had in months. Even with the red flags, he meant it. He felt connected to her in a way that he hadn't felt in years. He asked if they could break the 3 foot rule for a hug. She agreed. Something about the way she felt in his arms was familiar. It felt like home. Her hair smelled like flowers and honey. The scent reminded him strangely of his college days, freshman year maybe?


He didn’t want to let her go. She must have felt the same because she held onto him, with her hands around his neck. They breathed a few breaths together and reluctantly broke away. 


“Thank you for coming, I had so much fun.”


He stared into her eyes as she spoke. For the first time, he saw something that he recognized, but couldn’t put his finger on quite what it was. He opened the front door to leave and found a Texas-sized blizzard. Truly. Snow was pouring down in sheets. There was at least 10 inches of accumulation on the street and on his windshield. They looked at each other in disbelief. 


“Looks like you are snowed in, sir!” They laughed together. He moved to leave, thinking that she was joking. She reached for his arm and told him that there was no way she could let him leave in a blizzard. She had an extra room and he was going to stay, at least until the sun came up to thaw the roads. He agreed.


For a very brief moment, he thought he would get to first base, maybe second. He quickly realized that she meant exactly what she said. He could stay in the guest room. She showed him the room and headed to her own, all before 11 PM. He sat on the edge of the guest bed, reflecting on the night. He liked her. In fact, there was nothing that he could think of that he didn’t like. He stopped himself short. The red flags were back.


He had never seen her whole face, yet he was there pining away for her like a dog in heat. Did it really matter? He was attracted to her insides; the person she was. He was attracted to her self discipline, humor, and straightforwardness. That was enough, wasn't it?


He crawled into the bed and pulled the covers up around his shoulders. The bed was perfect, the pillow was made of down, the bedding smelled like fresh cotton. It was going to be a perfect night’s sleep. Only, he was wide awake. Something was hammering at his brain. Her face. 


His curiosity took over. Was it really the pandemic that kept her from revealing her face? What if she had a scar? Fever Blister? Terrible teeth? If so, would he still feel the same way when he was with her as he did at that moment? He would love to have given himself credit, but no, he wasn’t sure that he would. How would he find out, if she always wore a mask, without pressuring her or making things weird between them? He knew exactly what he would do. Social Media. 


He looked up her name on Facebook and found her immediately. The thing was, her account was private and her profile picture was the trail on the lake where they run each morning. He then tried Instagram, same result. She must have a reason why everything is private. There were no pictures of her anywhere on the web. Another idea, what about photos of her in the house? He hadn’t seen any photos in the living area or hallway, but surely there are some hanging somewhere. He decided to go spying. The door made a loud creak when he opened it. She was in the hallway, walking toward her bedroom and turned to face him. 


“Need something?”, she asked.


He jumped in his skin. Busted within the first minute.


“No, just the restroom.” He smiled at her and she told him goodnight again.


He decided to go back to the guest room and abort the mission. The last thing he wanted was for her to find out that he was a snoop. 


He fell asleep thinking about her eyes, smell, and feel in his arms. He liked her even if he had not seen her whole face yet. He imagined her nose, her lips, and her dimpled chin. Wait. How was he sure that it was dimpled? The question confounded him as he drifted off. 


He was sitting in History 101 at the University. She was sitting in the desk in front of him, her sandy blonde ponytail brushing the top of his desk. He could smell her. Her scent was like honey and roses. She turned to face him, smiling. Her lips were plump pink. Her chin dimpled. As she opened her mouth to speak, his alarm went off. It was 6AM. 


He stumbled out of the guest room with the sleep still in his eyes. He found his shoes by the door and hopped around on one foot trying to get them on. From the foyer, he saw a light in the kitchen. There were sounds of toast popping out and coffee brewing. It would be rude to leave without thanking her, he thought. He slipped the shoes off again and walked toward the kitchen. She turned to face him. No mask. She smiled, same plump lips over perfect teeth. The braces were gone. The glasses that dimmed her magnificent eyes when they were freshmen had been replaced with contacts. It made sense. The immediate attraction between them, the ease of being together, and the way she made him laugh was the same as it had been 10 years ago. 


She reached for him, wrapping her arms around his neck. “I wondered how long it would take for you to recognize me.” 


He looked down at her realizing that this was the one that got away. “ My heart knew it was you all along.”


December 09, 2021 06:19

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2 comments

Joy A
19:17 Dec 12, 2021

**Insert excited screams** I mean, Astrid! I'm sorry, I'm speaking (well, typing) like I know you. But honestly, after reading this amazing piece, I feel like I do know you. This story has so much soul, so much emotion. I could feel my heart in my throat. I was genuinely terrified that a beautifully budding relationship was going to be ruined because of the lower half of someone's face! You tricked me into trepidation there. I love the honesty of the main character. I was so relieved at the end, not because she wasn't scarred or something, b...

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Astrid Mercier
01:46 Dec 13, 2021

Thank you so much Joy! Your kind words made my day.

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