Alexandra's Valentine's Daybynicecthulhu©
This is a Valentine's Day 2012 Contest entry, so please vote. Thank you.
This story includes people and places introduced in Holly's Winter and is set after that story. Please note that this story is a complete story and it is not necessary to have read Holly's Winter.
I was dreaming again and it was the same fantasy that had disturbed me for almost two months. I knew that I was sleeping and I understood it was just a dream and that I was going to awaken shortly, but I could not stop the inexorable process that led me to wake in tears almost every morning.
In the dream, I was at the North Pole, in Santa's home, having been invited personally by Santa during his Christmas Eve run. A small and lovely elf woman pulled me from Santa's bag, kindly handed me over to another one of Santa's elves who then escorted me to a classroom. There were a little over a dozen women there, but at twenty-one I was perhaps the youngest present. After the last woman arrived, disoriented and wearing only a short, silk kimono, a middle-aged elf woman stepped up to the front and began lecturing us about Santa and the reason as to why all of us had been brought there.
I listened attentively to all that was said. But as the pretty woman in the silk kimono talked privately with the lecturer about returning home, I decided that perhaps I had best return to my own life as well. I approached the mature woman timidly, as did three other girls, and each of us requested that we be returned to our homes.
I had awoken on the morning of Boxing Day with my pillow soaked, tears streaming from my eyes and no idea why the strange dream had given me such a sense of loss. I'd never experienced this type of emotional turmoil before and suspected it might have something to do with stress from the finals I had written shortly before the Christmas holiday. Well, stress from that and the fact that my parents had just divorced after twenty-one years of apparent bliss. Both parents had been hounding me to choose which of them I was going to spend Christmas with. In the end I had decided to stay at school, perhaps in a fit of childish spite at both of them for destroying my family life.
Now, here I was two weeks into February and my strange problem continued to plague me. I grabbed a Kleenex and gently dabbed my eyes dry.
"It was that dream again, wasn't it?" asked my roommate.
"Yeah." I looked over at the young woman I shared the room with. Kate was very pretty and had mixed black and Asian heritage. Her hair was black and wavy, her eyes were a deep, dark brown and her skin was an attractive golden-brown. She had a slim figure, with good feminine proportions, unlike me. Kate, again unlike me, was quite popular with the guys on campus, mostly because of her looks, but also because she was friendly and vivacious. I'd initially been shocked when she confided to me that she'd had trouble finding a roommate.
"You really should talk to someone about that, Alex." Kate sat up in bed and stretched her arms as she let out a loud yawn. "It's been almost every night since I got back from the holidays and you said you had the same dream every night after Christmas Day. You've woken up crying through most of January and here we are half-way through February and it's the same story!"
While I climbed out of my bed and stretched, Kate pulled off her negligee and put on her bathrobe. My own nightie stretched down to the floor and was far more concealing than the semi-transparent things Kate wore to bed, when she didn't sleep nude. I waved to my stuffed animals, bidding them a silent good morning. I spied Kate staring at me and shaking her head.
"Maybe you're only problem is finding a guy," she suggested, yet again.
"I'm saving myself for marriage," I said softly.
"I don't believe that." She began to count on her fingers. "You're just afraid of guys. You don't date. You keep stuffed animals in your bed and you talk to them. You wear an outfit like that to bed as if you're afraid someone will see your legs, or heaven forbid a boob. You choose to wear the most unsexy clothes you can. Even on a Saturday, like today, you almost never go out unless it's school related. It's as if you don't want guys to be interested in you, Lexy."
"It's not like that!" I shrugged and sighed. "We've been over this before. A girl like you wouldn't understand. You go to a class or a library and the guys all look at you. They just don't look at a girl like me. My hips are too wide and my chest is too flat! Guys want something pretty on their arm, not someone like me!" I was getting upset. I knew Kate was fond of me and was merely trying to help, so why was I getting so upset?
Kate walked to the door and paused, giving me time to throw on my thick bathrobe over my nightie. "Girl, you're prettier than you think you are. You've got a curve on your hips and your chest isn't flat. There are guys who'd like to go out with you, hold your hand, kiss you and then take you back home and get into your pants." I blushed. "But you won't give them a chance! Maybe your other problems wouldn't seem so bad if you had someone to cuddle up with every once in awhile."
Kate left for her shower. We shared the house with a number of other girls, just north of the main campus. There had been two or three of us to each bedroom originally, but more than half the residents had dropped out of school for various reasons. The University of Toronto was spread across several blocks near the heart of the city and you either were lucky enough to find a good residence or you had family who lived in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) who were willing to put you up. The house was almost abandoned this weekend as Valentine's Day had sent most of our housemates off to be with their boyfriends.
I thought over what Kate had told me. It wasn't the first time she had said these things to me and I was amazed that she hadn't lost patience with me. Then again, I was pretty good as roommates went. I didn't sneak guys into the room late at night. I didn't stay up late with loud music playing. I didn't keep alcohol in the room or smoke or do drugs. I helped Kate with math and science and she helped me with English Lit and grammar. I didn't complain when her last boyfriend spent the night; I just quietly slept on the couch in the common room.
As for having a boyfriend making my problems go away, I sincerely doubted that. Kate often had a good cry on my shoulder after a break-up and it never seemed to matter who had instigated the break-up. I'd always wanted to have a boyfriend, but there never seemed to be a guy really interested in me.
On the other hand, I currently had my eye on a grad student. He was tall, gorgeous, had a charming English accent and was always ready to sit and talk about Biology with me. Of course I was majoring in Biology and he was trying to get his Ph.D. in the same subject, but I suspected maybe it wasn't just our common interest that kept him talking to me. Truthfully, I was probably fooling myself, but other than my dad, he was the first male that I had ever had any kind of relationship with and I cherished every moment with him.
After Kate returned, wrapped in a small towel with her bathrobe hanging on her arm, I went to the bathroom to have my own shower. Later, I met Kate in the kitchen while she seemed to be idly playing with her now-soggy cereal.
She pointed her spoon at me. "Girl, you need a guy."
"Yes, they just seem to be lining up to meet me. I'll just snap my fingers then?"
She ignored my mocking response. "Look, I'd bring you out to a club or pub with me, but I don't think that would do you any good. Besides, most of the guys I meet there want only one thing."
Kate went quiet and stared into her cereal.
"I'm sorry, Kate. I didn't mean to imply anything. You're a good friend and you're trying to break me out of my rut and I'm fighting you every inch of the way." I chuckled. "You've evolved and I haven't. You mingle and meet potential mates, while I sit at home and pine away. I wonder which of us will get married and have kids first?"
"Spoken like a bio major, Alex. I'm sorry, too, for taking what you said the wrong way. It's just so frustrating! You're such a good person and you're pretty, but you conceal it!" She opened her mouth to say something more and then thought better of it.
I finished my breakfast and washed Kate's bowl and spoon along with mine. She sat quietly, waiting for me to finish. Then she put her hand on mine.
"Are you sure you're not a lesbian?"
"Yes, I'm sure. You did offer to experiment with me back around Hallowe'en, remember?"
Kate laughed. "You went beet red! I was curious and I thought maybe you were afraid to face your true feelings. Then you told me you were a virgin and all your behaviour made sense. But, I'm just saying that although I am decidedly into men, if you're having doubts about your orientation than let me know and we can play a little bit to find out for sure."
I hugged her tightly. "Kate, you are such a good friend! I wish I knew you all through high school! And next year we are definitely going to be roomies again. But I just know I like men. That dream I keep having? I'm supposed to have sex with Santa Clause and I run away. And I've had fantasies about having sex with guys for quite a long time, but never about having sex with women."
We disengaged and Kate dropped herself onto the chesterfield, while I sat down in a chair across from her.
"So what are your plans for the day, Kate?"
"I don't know. This is my first Valentine's Day that I haven't had a boyfriend since I first started dating."
"So maybe you should go to a club and pick someone up?"
Kate frowned at me. "That's not how I work. And it doesn't feel right for today. Valentine's Day is more about already being with someone and sharing a special day with that person you love, or might soon love. When I'm old, like thirty or forty, then it will be about desperately finding a sex partner."
"What about an old boyfriend?"
"They're part of the past. I need something fresh. The guys that I've been seeing since September have sort of seemed like 'boyfriends' and not like 'lovers'. I need a lover, someone that I can share a long relationship with as we slowly grow as people."
"That sounds so romantic, Kate."
"That's sheer idealism, Alex. And you shouldn't get caught up in that nonsense. You need a guy to go on a few dates with and then you bring him back here and lower the boom. If something develops then fantastic! If the relationship goes nowhere, then at least you've had some fun. And you've broken your slump."
"So what are you going to do, then?" I asked her.
"Well, I think I'm a pretty good human being. I love who I am. So maybe I spend the day with just myself. I go for a long walk. I'll do a little shopping. Whatever catches my fancy, Alex."
"We could spend the day goofing off together, if you like," I suggested.
"No." She sat forward on the couch. "I have plans for you, my dear. This is going to be the last Valentine's Day that you spend alone."
I laughed and then stifled my laugh when I noticed the serious look on her face.
"You are going to meet a guy! I'll fix your clothes today. You're going to hang around campus and go to the library and go to the buildings you usually go to. There should be some people around and some of them will be single guys who have nothing better to do today than say hi to a pretty girl. You'll meet one and even if you just have a bite to eat and never see him again, you'll at least have started yourself down the path you need to travel."
"I don't know..."
Kate jumped up, grabbed my hand and pulled me back to our room. She dressed herself up in a sweatshirt and sweatpants and then she pulled another set of clothes out of her dresser.
"Here. Put these on," she commanded, handing the clothes to me.
I examined the clothes. There were jeans that would be quite tight on me, a normal t-shirt and a tight sweater. I started to balk, but she waggled her finger at me. Reluctantly, I put her clothes on. I knew my coat would cover me down to almost my knees, so I needn't worry about the pants being too tight.
"That looks much better, Alex. It says 'I'm a woman, take a look, don't you wish you could get your hands on this?' Far more suggestive than what you usually wear."
"How am I supposed to bend over, Kate?"
"You bend at the knees or better yet, you ask a guy nearby to pick it up for you."
I sighed. "This all seems so...contrived."
"Of course it's contrived! And the guys in a club or pub all dress their best to make it look like their not dead-broke students. It's all contrived, but what really matters is that you're honest when you speak. The same goes for the guy."
My shoulders slumped. "I don't know..."
"Shh. Where're you going first?"
"I guess to the library. I do have a project that I might as well get started on." And Kate didn't need to know that most of the books I required would be deep down in the bowels of the library where almost nobody ever went, I thought.
"Well, get going then. And tonight I expect a good story from you about whom you've met and what you did with him. Even an exchange of phone numbers will make me proud of you, girl."
She followed me to the front door, where I grabbed my long coat out of the closet.
"Ah, no." She grabbed the coat from me. "You're not wearing that thing, it's designed for arctic cold! Take my coat."
I plucked the white coat with the soft fur lining from the closet. "I can't wear this! It's freezing outside, Kate. I'll catch a cold!"
Dropping my coat on the floor she began to dress me in hers. I gave in. The coat did feel luxurious with its fake fur lining.
"Now, keep the hood down. You'll be cold, but you only have a few blocks to walk. Wind-blown hair is more enticing to a guy then 'hat-head' or 'static-hair'. Now scoot and have some fun."
I grabbed my backpack, avoiding Kate's attempt to grab it from me, and skipped out the door. Wearing her style of clothes made me feel somewhat carefree and it was an unusual sensation for me. The wind whipped around me, causing my brown hair to fly into my face. I brushed it back with a chilled hand, hunched my shoulders and marched through the frigid wind.
The gusts made it feel a good ten degrees below zero, cold enough to redden my bare skin every time the wind hit me face-front. Kate's coat was pretty, but not very practical. My legs and butt were freezing by the time I raced up the steps to the library.
I found that her coat did have one practical use though; as I approached the glass door a male student hesitated and then held it open for me. I gave him a thank you smile and he nodded and then went off into the grey February day. Maybe Kate had the right idea, I thought.
Just inside the door I undid the zipper on the coat and then walked through the foyer on my way to the stairs that led to my usual library haunts. I found I wasn't looking down at the floor as much as I usually did and I was able to notice a few pairs of eyes glance at my tight sweater. Perhaps Kate really knew what she was talking about. Could I have just been wearing the wrong clothing all this time?
I bounced down the stairs in a happy mood, dropping past a couple of sub-floors before entering my familiar territory. Finding an empty desk and chair that was fairly secluded, I set my stuff down and then headed into the shelves searching for the references I required.
It had been Stephen, the grad student, who had suggested I research the original, decades-old papers to begin my project. A quick internet search the day before had given me a few leads and I was familiar enough with the library to know where to look for the articles and book I required.
Soon I was engrossed in my subject, grabbing books from the shelves, retreating to my desk to copy down information and then returning to the shelves to search out more papers. People came and went, their boots clunking on the stairs and along the hard, smooth floors.
My research was taking me further and further back in time, to much older journals and books than I had ever looked for before. I was forced to take my belongings to a deeper level and then at last to the bottom level, which was vacant of other library patrons. So much for Kate's plan for me to meet guys; I could have spent the entire day on the lowest basement in this library.
The shelves on this level were movable. That is, there was a large wheel at the end of the row and you had to turn it to move the shelf out from the others. Sometimes you had to move several such shelves to access the particular row you wanted. It sounds dangerous, but if you were between the shelves and they started closing on you, you had plenty of time to escape or at least shout out.
At one point, I found that I was forced to move about a half dozen shelves to reach the single shelf I was looking for. My shoulders were beginning to ache, by the time I had access and I found I was kicking up a layer of dust as I walked down the empty aisle. It looked like no-one had been down here for some time.
I searched spines, looking for the combination of letters and numbers that told me I was drawing near. With an 'aha' I found exactly the book I was looking for and I gently eased it from its place. I leafed through it quickly, double-checking that it was what I wanted and as I did so I thought I heard a faint cry for help.
I stood still, listened and heard it again. It was very weak and seemed to be coming from further down the row of shelves. Cradling the book in my arms, I tiptoed towards the source of the noise. I reached the end of the aisle, where a brick wall blocked any access at this end and I heard the cry again. It sounded like a man's voice.
"Where are you?" I called out, my voice echoing. "I can hear you, but I don't see you."
I walked back a few steps and then stopped. The voice seemed to be coming from behind the shelf. I stared past the books, but there was no room between the shelves. I dropped the book as my hands flew to my face. Had I squeezed someone between the moveable shelves?
I crouched down searching for a trapped body and I spied a shadow that resembled an arm.
"Oh, my God! Don't move! I'll help you! I'm so sorry!"
I thrust my hands past the books, trying to grab the person's arms. My hand searched, past the metal framework of the shelves until my fingertips touched skin. No wait! It was leather! I pushed my arm further, feeling along the leather sleeve. Then I felt paper.
I realized that whoever had been trapped had probably been carrying a book, or that a book had been knocked off the shelf.
"Just let me get this book out of the way so I can see where you are."
I gripped the book and wiggled it up and off some support beams. It was heavy and it was only with great difficulty that I was able to pull it out and drop it on the floor beside me. I peered into the opening between the shelves. I could see no-one. Desperately, I reached in with my left hand, trying to feel where the person was.
"Help me," came a plaintive cry to my right.
My heart stopped and I slowly turned my head to regard the book that I had just dropped on the floor. It was very old. The leather cover had no title that I could make out and rusted, metal bands stretched out from the spine, like ribs. The leather was wrinkled and scuffed, but not torn.
Then I realized that someone was playing a joke on me.
"Very funny!" I shouted out to the room. "I really thought someone was hurt!"
"I was," said the weak voice, seeming to come from the book.
I fell back on my butt. Was the book actually talking to me? No, it had to be a small speaker or something inside a joke book. I grabbed the book and opened it. The pages were yellowed with age, brittle and didn't actually feel like paper. Each page was bordered with silver. There was a beautifully elegant writing on the two pages in front of me, but I had no idea what language it was. The letters didn't appear to be Latin, Cyrillic, Hebrew or Arabic. I turned to a few more pages and saw the same odd or unearthly script. Where the Hell was the electronics for the voice?