The moonlight streamed through the window panes, casting on angelic glow on her ivory face. She lay draped on the couch, hair spread about the pillow like a golden halo, an untouched glass of champagne sitting on the coffee table beside her. How beautiful she was, even now. As I watched her, I couldn’t help but smile inwardly. Here I was, a self-professed Valentine’s Day cynic who scoffed at all things romantic, treating a girl to a candle-lit dinner and champagne on the one night of the year I had sworn to hate, complete with a heart-shaped box of tiny chocolates and a cutesy Hallmark card that, a few months ago, might’ve made me gag. I guess love can do that to a man, though. That’s what they say in the songs at least.
Careful not to disturb her, I slid my arms beneath her body and gently lifted her, feeling like Jock Mahoney or one of those other goofy old action heroes lugging a fainting damsel out of harm’s way. Her head lolled against my shoulder as I carried her down the hallway to the the bedroom. With her eyes closed, she looked almost child-like. To me, she had never seemed more lovely.
I though back to the days before I had known her, those long dark days when I had done nothing but wander the city streets over and over again, wrestling with the crippling loneliness that had wormed its way into my heart. It was my senior year of college, and I was loveless, friendless, and broke. I barely talked to anyone in my classes. In fact, I doubt anyone was really even aware of my existence. Living in an apartment off-campus only added to the sense of isolation. But just when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, just when I thought I was about to break, she was there. She was my savior, waiting until I needed her most and then appearing before me in a brilliant flash of light.
I still remember with perfect clarity the moment I first laid eyes on her. It was the beginning of the second semester, and I had just arrived at the first day of my sociology course. The three week winter break had provided a respite from the constant anxiety I faced around my peers, so I was feeling even more depressed then usual to be back. But as I pulled my textbook from my backpack, the softest, most melodic voice I had ever heard came from behind me:
“Is this seat taken?”
From that very first moment, I knew it was love at first sight. So did she. “Uh—uh—no, feel free,” I managed to stutter, motioning to the seat beside me. I could’ve hit myself for sounding like such a moron, but she didn’t seem to care. Beaming, she took the seat beside me. Her eyes were a deep hue of ocean green.
It was an hour and a half long lecture, and I didn’t hear a single word of it. I couldn’t stop thinking of the veritable goddess who was sitting right beside me, washing me in her heavenly scent. I couldn’t believe she had outright flirted with me like that. There were several empty seats in the class, yet she had chosen to sit beside me! I was smitten. Quite frankly, a girl had never acted like towards me before. Usually, girls just turned their noses up at me and acted like I wasn’t any more than a grease spot in the hallway. I ached to hold her in my arms, to kiss every inch of her body, to run my fingers through the long, golden curls of her hair. Did she feel the same way about me? She must have. I could feel it in those beautiful jade green eyes for the brief moment she had looked at me.
The class ended. She slipped her books into her bag, and I caught her name, written in exquisite penmanship on her binder cover: Anita. It was quite possibly the loveliest name I had ever heard. It rolled off my tongue like a song. Anita. I was enraptured. In fact, I was so enrapture that by the time I came to, I realized that she had packed up and left. She must have had another class to get to, I decided. But I knew we had shared a connection. I promised myself that tomorrow, I would work up the courage to talk to her.
But when I arrived in the lecture hall the following morning, Anita was nowhere to be found. I frantically scanned the rows of desks, but her soft, smiling face was not occupying a single one!
“She must be sick,” I told myself. “She’ll be back tomorrow.”
But she wasn’t there tomorrow. Or the next day, or the day after that. After a week of painful not knowing, I couldn’t take it anymore. I caught Dr. Walden, the gray, aging, wisp of a professor, on his way out.
“Excuse me, Professor, do you know if Anita is okay?” I asked. “I haven’t seen her in class the last few days.”
Dr. Walden lowered his spectacles on the bridge of his nose, a quizzical expression on his wrinkled brow. “Do you mean the young woman who attended only the first lecture? I believe she had to drop the course. Scheduling issues.”
Panic dropped like a stone in the pit of my stomach. I simply didn’t understand. There was obviously a spark between us. How did she expect our relationship to blossom if we couldn’t even see each other in class?
“Do—do you know what she dropped it for?” I was struggling to keep my voice even.
“I don’t believe I’m at liberty to discuss that,” the professor answered, merging in with the crowd of oncoming students.
I stood petrified in the hallway, trying to make sense of things. What had I done to deserve this? What it something that I had said or done? Did I offend her in some way? I thought back over that class, trying to think of something that I could have done to turn her off without realizing it, but I came up with nothing.
I didn’t see Anita for weeks, and with each passing day, I sank deeper and deeper into the blackest despair I had ever felt. I was miserable. College was no good for me, I decided. I should just quit. Drop out and go home, where I can truly wallow in my pain.
But just like that, after weeks of moping about feeling sorry for myself, Anita came back into my life. It was a late Thursday night, and I was studying for a major Trigonometry test that I had the following morning. I looked up at the clock on the far wall to see what time it was, and there she was, just as stunning as the first time I had saw her, dressed in a sky blue sweater, her long hair cascading over a maroon scarf wrapped loosely around her delicate neck. She smiled at me as she walked by, and a warm feeling flooded by entire body. I knew that whatever my sin had been, whatever she had been punishing me for, had been forgiven. I thought she might sit down at my table, might stop to explain herself and tell what I had done to deserve her cruelty for the past few weeks, but she breezed past without a word through the library’s front door. I understood. She was playing hard to get. Her coyness, I knew, was an invitation. As the door swung shut behind her, I got up from my table, forgetting my books in a pile, and followed her out into the courtyard. The January night was frigid, so I pulled up the collar of my windbreaker to protect the back of my neck from the biting cold. Dead leaves rattled across the parking lot. A few hundred yards away, I could see her slim figure, silhouetted by a streetlight, beckoning me. I followed her from a distance. She walked for blocks, never once looking back at me. Still, she knew I was there.
We arrived at her house. I was surprised she had taken me there. We hadn’t even really been on a real date yet. She must really like me, I thought. Nonetheless, I still felt uncomfortable, not knowing whether to follow her to her door or simply wait outside. I decided to play it safe and wait in the shadows of the neighbor’s hedge line. I watched as she unlocked the door to her small, brick ranch house and went inside, closing the door behind her. My decision had been right. The house was a lot nicer than my apartment, which meant her parents probably had the money to pay for it. I would have to ask Anita about it later. Maybe I would be marrying into money. Wouldn’t that be something.
I was pulled out of my thoughts when I saw her bathroom light light on, a soft yellow glow in an otherwise black night. She appeared in the window, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. She had stripped off her sweater, and was standing totally naked! Her body was like a portal to the divine. It was the first time I had ever seen a naked woman outside pornographic magazines and videos, and I savored every minute of it. I peered hungrily at her from the hedges as she stepped into the shower. I couldn’t believe my luck. We barely even knew each other, and yet here she was, putting on this fantastic show just for me! It was erotic and sensual, far more than I ever could have asked for. The temperature outside must have been far below freezing, yet I had never felt so warm, so full of love for this wild, fantastic creature that had somehow found her way into my life. How could she love a man like me? I was tall, gangly, and awkward. I had never so much as kissed a girl, yet she didn’t seem to care at all. She saw who I truly was, and she loved me for it, and that made me love her even more.
Our courtship continued like this for several more weeks. We would always meet at the library at exactly eight o clock. I was never late, and she would never say a word to me. After all, what could two people possibly say to one another when they shared such a deeply intimate spiritual bond as I had with Anita? An hour later, we would leave the library and I would follow her to her small, cozy house. She wouldn’t let me inside, but I would leave her small gifts, trophies of my boundless love for her, such as squirrels and chipmunks I had killed by mixing rat poison into the plate of bird seed I kept on the fire escape. Once, I even managed to snare an alley cat. I would leave these tokens around her lawn. I don’t know if she noticed them, but she must have, because the next evening they had always disappeared.
In return, she would leave me things as well, in her garbage can. As I sifted through her trash, I would find little hints—the wrappers of her favorite foods, credit card bills and letters from her parents in Tampa, old drafts of her school papers—slowly but surely, I was getting to know her. She was letting me into her life, and in doing so, was giving me a life of my own. For the first time in so long, I felt like I had something to live for again. No more feeling sorry for myself. No more sleepless nights lurking the city streets. Things changed. I began taking better care of myself. I ate right. I exercised twice a day. I did all of my assignments beforehand. After all, I had to graduate with honors this spring if I wanted to be able to find a good job and support us in our new life together. I even had some time to do some writing of my own. Love sonnets, mostly. They were for Anita, of course, but none of them were very good, so I never showed them to her.
Before I knew it, Valentine’s Day was approaching. How time flies when you’re in love! In the past, my experiences with the holiday had been filled with nothing but terror and shame. I vividly remember being the only kid in the second grade not to get a lacy paper heart in my cubby, or walking through the halls of my high school trying to block out all of the entwined couples with their hands all over each other but only feeling a sort of dull, jealous rage that made me want to hurt them.
But this year, things were different. This year, I was excited because I actually had someone to celebrate it with. I wasn’t alone anymore! I racked my brain, trying to come up with the perfect gift for the woman I loved. It was my first Valentine’s Day with Anita, and I had to do something that she would remember forever. I considered killing the neighbor’s German Shepard and hanging it from her ceiling fan to surprise her when she got home from school, but I ultimately decided that it would be too difficult to pull off. Instead, I decided to go with something traditional—a home cooked dinner, a box of chocolates, and a dozen red roses. A bit cliche, but romantic nonetheless, and there’s always something to be said for simplicity.
Finally, the day came. I cut my Trig class and headed towards her house, dressed in my nicest navy blazer, clutching a plastic bag from CVS, where I had picked up everything I needed earlier that afternoon. As I walked, I whistled that cheesy old one hit wonder “Walking on Sunshine”, a song that usually would have made me cringe. But not today. Today, I really did feel like I was walking on sunshine. I was head over heels in love with a gorgeous woman who loved me back, and there was nothing in the world that could stop me. It felt amazing.
I arrived at Anita’s house just as the sun set low in the west, casting brilliant hues of color across the horizon. I imagined the two of us snuggled under a blanket on her couch, watching the winter sky change, warm within a little world of our own. When I arrived, I saw the familiar glow of the bathroom light. She had gotten home early! I guess she wanted to give me a little Valentine’s Day surprise as well. I watched in eager anticipation from the hedges, but the figure that stepped out of the shower wasn’t Anita. It was a man. He took a towel off the rack, dried himself with it, and wrapped it around his waist. As I crept closer, I saw that he looked familiar. A long face. A scruffy beard. Sandy blond hair. I recognized him from my Sociology class. He sat towards the front. His name was Doug, or Paul. Something like that. But no matter what his name was, what was he doing in my girlfriend’s shower?
“They must have another class together,” I decided. “He must have come here to study.” Maybe Anita had forgotten that today was such a special day for us.
I moved closer to the house, close enough to peer through the bedroom window. What I saw made my blood turn to ice in my veins. She and the man were in bed together! And what was worse, they were doing the dirty, unspeakable thing! Bile rose in the back of my throat. My ears buzzed. My vision went blurry. I had never felt such a seething anger in my life. The woman that I loved, that I cared for and cherished, was being defiled, raped right in front of my eyes! I knew I had to do something. I had to stop this. Clenching the bag in my white knuckled fist, I ran blindly towards the porch, slamming through the the door, which was thankfully unlocked. I stumbled into the kitchen, searching frantically through the drawers to find what I needed, sending whisks and spoons and utensils clattering to the floor. I was too upset to even realize that this was the first time I had ever crossed the threshold into her home. Finally, I found what I was looking for.
“Hey! What the hell do you think you’re doing in here!” I turned to find Paul, standing naked except for the bed sheet he clutched around his waist. Anita was crouched behind him. I could see it in her eyes that she was begging me to rescue her from this barbaric animal.
“Look,” Paul continued, holding out his hand. I could see it was shaking. “We don’t know who you are, but just take whatever you want and go. We’re not looking for any—”
I pivoted, swinging the serrated butcher knife I had found in the drawer and plunging it deep into Paul’s stomach. Dark blood blossomed like roses on the white of the bed sheet. Dull incomprehension flooded his beady eyes. I brought the knife down again and again, violent and wild. He fell to the ground with a heavy thud, making small, pathetic gasping noises as he writhed on the kitchen tile. He deserved it. Anita, who had backed up against the cabinets, began to scream.
By now, I was crying. Great hitching sobs that rocked my body. “How could you do this to me?” I asked through my tears. “I thought we loved each other! I thought that we we’re going to be together forever!”
Anita kept screaming. It was so loud that it hurt my ears. I didn’t get it. Why was she screaming? I had to get a hold of myself. She needed me right now. Needed me to comfort her. She had been through an ordeal.
I walked towards her with outstretched arms. “It’s okay, honey,” I told her, trying to keep my voice steady. My nice blue blazer had been ruined by Paul’s blood. “There’s no need to be upset now. I’m here, and everything’s going to be alright.”
But she wouldn’t stop screaming.
In the end, we made up, as all true lovers do. I forgave her for what had happened with Paul. If we were truly committed to one another, it was something we could work through. To apologize for the way I had behaved, I gave her the candle-lit dinner and champagne I had prepared. I even read her some of the sonnets I had written, even though they weren’t particularly good. She loved them nevertheless. The whole night was absolutely magical.
And now here I was, standing over her as she lay so peacefully, her head resting on the pillow. It was time for me to get some sleep too. I crawled into bed beside her, laying close to feel the warmth of her body.
“Good night, Anita,” I whispered, stroking the bloody red gash that stretched in a jagged crescent across her pale throat. “Tonight was the most wonderful night of my life. Happy Valentine’s Day, honey. I love you more than the whole world.”
I kissed her on the forehead and closed my eyes, drifting off to sleep with a smile on my face and love in my heart.