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July 04, 2022

Winter Thaw

By Wendy Robards

The wind screamed down the street and threatened to tear the scarf from Meg's throat. She reached gloved hands up and wrapped the scarf tighter, pulling it over her mouth and reddened nose. Then she dragged the woolen hat farther down on her head. Her entire face was covered with material except for her eyes, watering in the subzero temperatures. Cold snow crystals swirled around her legs. She made her way across the frozen sidewalk and approached a dark red brick building. StarTech Enterprises, read the sign above the door. The name was deceiving, StarTech Enterprises had nothing to do with stars; it was just another huge corporation with ties to the computer industry.

"Good morning, Scotty," Meg said to the doorman.

"Is that you Miss Fieldstone?" Scotty leaned forward to look into her eyes. He blinked and tipped his head like a confused squirrel. His graying hair, frozen on the tips, stuck out from beneath his doorman's cap.

"It's me."

Scotty laughed. "How many layers you wearin' today, Miss Fieldstone?"

"Not enough."

She slipped past Scotty into the warm dry air of the building. Her glasses immediately fogged and she was plunged into blindness. God how she hated Iowa winters.

By the time she arrived on the second floor of the building, her glasses had unfogged and she had managed to peel off her hat, scarf, gloves, outer coat and bulky woolen sweater. She sweated beneath a turtleneck and long underwear shirt. Her boots left a puddle in the elevator. Just another day of work. Her coworkers were already huddled in their carrols, punching away on their computers, talking on their phones. Meg fought the urge to pile back on her clothes and run. Her life had become one boring moment after the next.

Her desk sat cluttered and unappealing at the far end of the large office. Perched atop her computer keyboard lay an ivory colored envelope with her name scrawled across the front.

"What's this?" Meg lifted the envelope and slipped it open. Two soft, red rose petals fluttered from the envelope and settled on a stack of reports. Inside the envelope was a folded piece of paper that read:

And snow falls outside my window,
Do you know I am thinking of you?
You, with hair the color of sunset;
Reminds me of warm summer nights.

Do you know I am thinking of you?
You, who coax the tulips from their frozen beds in spring;
Reminds me of warm summer nights.
The seasons change, but my feelings stay the same.

You, who coax the tulips from their frozen beds in spring;
Do you think of me?
The seasons change, but my feelings stay the same.
I only love you more as time goes by.

Do you think of me?
You, with hair the color of sunset;
I only love you more as time goes by,
And snow falls outside my window.

Meg's heart thumped. She looked up and cast her eyes around at her coworkers. She looked for a quickly averted glance, or a sly smile. Was this a joke? Who had left this poem on her desk? Anger suddenly flared inside her. Someone was making fun of her! As a child, Meg had dealt with the taunts of other children. "Four eyes." "Nerd." "Carrothead." Once another girl had told her that if she wanted a boyfriend she should act less smart. "No boy likes a girl who's smarter than he is." She had hoped it would be different in college. But, she soon discovered that the girls who wouldn't "put out" were the girls who stayed at home on Friday and Saturday night. It didn't help that she was, by nature, a shy woman. She began to believe that she was a nerd, a woman who was so plain that no man would ever look at her twice. Now this. Childhood revisited. She dropped the note and rose petals into the trash can, sat down at her desk and immersed herself in work.

When lunchtime arrived, she decided to eat from the vending machine rather than fling herself back out into the weather. She selected a Mounds bar, a bag of potato chips and a diet coke.

"That doesn't look like the best lunch in the world."

Meg glanced up at Mike, a manager from the third floor. His blue eyes blinked from beneath beach boy blond hair. She inwardly admired his square, chiseled jaw and slender hips that rose into a perfectly rounded butt.

She shrugged. "It beats going out in the snow."

Mike laughed and dumped his own quarters into the machine to retrieve a root beer. "Oh, I don't know. Walking in the snow can be somewhat romantic, don't you think?"

Meg narrowed her eyes and pinched her lips together. Was Mike the culprit? Was he making fun of her? She scooped up her vending machine lunch. "I wouldn't know about romance," she tossed over her shoulder on her way out of the lunchroom.

She approached her desk, then froze in her tracks.

"What the hell."

A bouquet of two dozen red roses sat in the middle of her desk. The card with it said:

"Something to match your beauty..."

Meg's geographically closest coworker, a man named Charley who wore coke bottle glasses and slicked his brown hair back with Brill Creme, leaned over the edge of the carrol.

"Looks like you have an admirer."

"Did you see who left these?" Meg demanded.

Charley raised both hands up, palms out. "Hey, I'm just the guy next door." Then he winked at her.

"Did you leave these here?" Meg glared at him.

Charley looked confused. He pushed his glasses up more snugly against his nose. "What?"

"Forget it, just forget it." Meg waved him away. "I'm not feeling too well. I think I'll go home for the day." She gathered up her multiple layers of clothing, and on impulse, reached into the trash can and retrieved the poem. She waved it at Charley. "Evidence," she said with a snarl. Then, she jerked the roses from her desk and marched out of the office.

Meg's house sat on the edge of town, a white clapboard built sometime around 1920. When she had first seen the house, she had known that she would buy it. It had spoken to her, lured her in, made her feel like she had come home at last. She spent every dime she made on the house and had carefully restored it down to its original pine flooring. So, when she slid her key into the lock on this day, relief and peace settled over her.

"Nice flowers."

Meg jerked at the voice over her left shoulder and whirled around to see her neighbor, Elwin, standing there, with a stupid grin plastered on his face. She looked from Elwin's face to the roses in her hand. They were dusted with a fine sheen of snow, a bright red against the white.

"An admirer?"

Meg sighed. "You could say that. They just appeared on my desk. I have no idea who they're from."

Elwin laughed. "And you can't just enjoy getting them, can you?"

Elwin had lived next door to Meg for two years now. He had come to Iowa from a small town in Vermont, a self proclaimed bachelor. What had begun as a friendly wave in the morning, had blossomed into a real friendship. Meg allowed a grin to stretch her lips.

"Now I know why your parents named you Elwin. It was to punish you for just those kind of comments."

"How about a cup of hot chocolate?"

Meg's mouth watered. She remembered growing up as a child, playing in newly fallen snow for hours, cold toes inside wet boots. She remembered her mother standing in the doorway, calling her inside for a cup of hot chocolate and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. She remembered sitting at their warped kitchen table, the smell of cookies heavy in the air and the snow wisping past the windows.

"Meg?"

"I'd love a cup of hot chocolate. Just let me put these flowers in some water."

Moments later, she pushed open the door to Elwin's house and found him pouring hot chocolate from a pan into two thick mugs. His kitchen was cozy, with an old gas stove and ceramic tiled counters. A braided rug of his grandmother's lay in front of an apron front sink. He handed her a mug and they sank onto chairs at a lovingly restored farm table.

"Why are you home today?" Meg asked, peering at Elwin's heart shaped face over the edge of her mug. Elwin worked as a copy editor for an advertising company in town.

He shrugged. "I woke up to snow falling and decided to play hooky from work." He took a sip of his chocolate and left a tiny rim of brown on his upper lip. "So tell me about your admirer."

"Oh hell, it's probably a joke. He left me a poem too."

"A poem?" Elwin's thick eyebrows rose and he let out a low whistle. "Sounds like he has it bad."

"This isn't really funny, El. It could be a stalker for all I know."

"Or maybe it's someone who really likes you, but doesn't know if you like them in the same way. Maybe they're testing the waters, seeing how it all plays out."

"And maybe there really is a Santa Claus, Virginia." Meg shook her head and took another sip of her chocolate. "The only thing this is missing is marshmallows."

Elwin leaped to his feet. "I have that! Your wish is my command." He pulled open a cupboard and produced a jar of processed marshmallow.

Meg laughed. "I never would have pegged you for someone who ate that stuff."

"There's a lot you don't know about me," Elwin said in a vampire voice. He twisted off the top of the marshmallow jar, and handed Meg a spoon. "Take a dollop."

She dug out a hug spoonful of the sweet, sticky stuff and slid the spoon into her mug. The blob of white disappeared for a second, then warped to the surface with a gentle bob and spread out to touch the edges of her mug. She grinned. "Now we have hot chocolate the way it's supposed to be drunk!"

"So tell me why you think it's impossible that some guy might have the hots for you."

"Oh, let it go, El. Really." Absently Meg stirred the marshmallow in her cup. "I mean, come on, look at me. I'm the nerd. And now I'm almost 40 years old on top of it." In spite of herself, tears welled in her eyes.

"If you think that's old, what must you think of me? You underestimate yourself." Elwin leaned over the table and folded a hand over hers. She looked at him, suddenly noticing the color of his blue eyes, pale like the hue of a robin's egg. Her mouth went dry. What the hell was she thinking? This was Elwin for God's sake. It would be like dating her brother. Or would it? She tugged her hand from beneath his.

"Don't get me all dewy eyed." She tipped the mug to her lips and took a long swallow. "I have to go, El. I have about five loads of laundry to do before my mother calls and keeps me on the phone for an hour." She stood. "Thanks for the hot chocolate and the words of wisdom."

"Sure, anytime."

Meg woke the next morning to an overcast day, but no snowfall. She lay in bed and watched the skeleton branch of a tree sway in a light breeze. Snow lined the top of the branch like frosting on a piece of cake. Her eyes traveled from the branch, across her room to the roses. They sat in her crystal vase with their red heads drooped outward. Roses. No one had ever given her roses. Until now. She allowed herself a full five minutes of loneliness, then swung her feet out of bed, showered, dressed, and headed to work.

"Mornin' Miss Fieldstone." Scotty tipped his doorman's hat and leaned to push the door open. "Sure do like your neighbor. Nice guy."

Meg halted in mid stride. "My neighbor? Elwin?" Her mouth hinged open stupidly.

"Yup, that's what he said his name was." Scotty shook his head and smiled. "Nice boy. Reminds me of my son. Sure do miss that boy."

"When did you meet Elwin?"

"Yesterday. He came by in the morning. Said he had an appointment on the second floor. He was back again 'round lunch time. Guess he forgot his gloves."

Meg's stomach dropped like a rock. Elwin. "Oh my God," she whispered.

"Miss Fieldstone? Is everything all right."

"Yes. Yes. Well, no. I don't feel so well." She turned away from the doorman, suddenly sick to her stomach and dizzy. It couldn't be Elwin. What the hell was going on?

"Miss Fieldstone?" Scotty dropped a hand on her shoulder. His voice filled with concern. "Do you want to sit down?"

"I'm going home, Scotty." She pulled away from the doorman, her mind a blur of thoughts. She just wanted to go home and climb beneath her bed covers. Maybe sleep for a week. She remembered Elwin's words: You underestimate yourself. Her heart thumped. She could hardly catch her breath. Not Elwin.

Back inside her home, Meg wrapped herself in an afghan she had crocheted herself and tried to think. Maybe Elwin really did have an appointment at her place of work. But why then didn't he mention it to her yesterday? If he was the one who had left the poem and flowers, was he joking with her? No, he wouldn't joke about that. And how would she feel if it was Elwin. Her palms began to sweat. She felt her belly tighten. She pictured Elwin's impish smile; his soft brown curls; those pale, pale blue eyes. A warmth settled over her. In the last two years they had built a friendship, shared stories, laughed at jokes. They had hunched over candles and eaten grapes and cheese when the power went out last winter. He had helped her paint almost every room in her house. She had been there for him to talk to when his father had died last spring. When had their friendship become this? And what if its not him?

"Then you'll make a fool out of yourself," she whispered. "Don't do that. Whatever you do, don't do that."

For the rest of the day, Meg cleaned the house, baked bread, thumbed through magazines, and obsessively checked out the window looking for Elwin's car. Nerves jangled inside her. She drank several cups of herbal tea to calm her stomach. The gray light of day faded to darkness. Meg brought the vase of roses out of her bedroom and placed them in the center of her kitchen table. Instead of turning on her lights, she lit one candle and sat, her head cradled in her arms, watching the play of candlelight on the fragile petals. She felt exhausted. The sweep of headlights briefly lit her kitchen. Elwin was home. She lifted her head from her arms and sat unmoving. Waiting. Waiting. She had no plan.

"Meg? Meg?" Elwin's fist rapped on her door. Concern laced his voice. Still she sat, not moving. She heard the creak of her front door. "Meg? Are you in here? Are you okay?" Elwin's form filled the kitchen door. "Jeez, Meg. What the hell are you doing? I saw your car, but the house dark. I thought something was wrong."

"Nothing's wrong. I'm just sitting here." Her voice sounded odd to her in the dimly lit room.

"Are you okay?" Elwin crossed the kitchen and squatted beside her.

"Why did you go to my office yesterday?"

"Why?"

"Yes, why?"

Silence spun out between them. In the candlelight his eyes looked almost black.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"Try me." She watched his face.

"It was a stupid thing to do. You probably don't feel the same way."

"And how is that?" Meg's breath grew more shallow, almost a pant in her chest. Fear. Excitement. Hope.

Elwin shook his head. "I can't wait to see you at the end of a day. I don't feel whole unless you're with me. I don't want to do anything that will scare you away. But Meg..." His voice trailed off. "Meg." He reached and slid a hand up her jaw. His thumb caressed the mound of her cheek. "You're so beautiful," he whispered. She closed her eyes and allowed the surge of emotion to fold over her. In the darkness, his lips touched hers. Soft. Gentle. She lifted her arms and slid her fingers up the nape of his neck, fingering his curls. She let the kiss carry her away. And then he pulled back and she opened her eyes and slipped her hands down his arms to entwine her fingers in his.

"Did you really write that poem?"

"You liked it?"

"I didn't know you wrote poetry."

"I don't. Isn't that obvious?"

She smiled and reached out a finger to touch his cheek. "I never thought it could be you. I never dreamed it could be you. When were you going to tell me?"

"Tonight. Over chocolate and red wine." An impish light reflected back to her from Elwin's eyes.

"Chocolate and red wine, my two most favorite food groups in the world." Meg laughed.

"I knew that." Elwin took her hand in his and squeezed.

Article © Wendy Robards. All rights reserved.
Published on 2004-09-11
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