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“Shaun?” Valentine asked, gazing up at the clear blue sky. I looked up at her; she wore a black sweater and a rainbow scarf that day. It was warmer than usual, so we hadn’t bothered to wear jackets. “Yeah?” I replied, sticking a carrot in our snowman’s soft white face. She reached over and adjusted the carrot nose to her liking. “What if pigs could fly?” she cocked her head to the side, her red velvet cake colored hair falling in her face. I chuckled, Valentine liked to ask questions like that. Most people would say that it was stupid, but I thought it was cute.
“Well then we wouldn’t have anything to say when something sounds ridiculous” I grinned at her. She giggled and sat a black top hat on top of our snowman’s head. He looked like the snowman on the slushy machines in the only gas station in town. We stepped back to admire our work.
“Valentine, where did you get a top hat?”
“I know a guy”
“Who? A magician?”
“Don’t be silly, there aren’t any magicians in Shadowood”
I laughed, she was so cute. Valentine and I went to that park all the time, winter, summer, spring, and fall. During the spring and summer we had picnics and fed the ducks. In the fall we played in piles of golden and rust colored leaves. The winter meant snowball fights, snowmen, and ice skating on the frozen pond. Even though we were 18, Valentine and I were kids at heart. She brought out my inner child.
There were few people at the park that day, just a married couple, their kids, and us. The sun was beginning to sink behind the tall evergreen trees, staining the sky with an array of pinks, purples, and oranges. The silvery crescent moon was just beginning to materialize in the water color soaked sky. The married couple was gathering their things and starting toward the parking lot.
My mind was wandering, as usual. I was thinking about all of the times Valentine and I had gone to that park. I was pondering all of the countless hours that she and I spent together. I was wondering why I hadn’t told her that I was in love with her yet. “Shaun!” Valentine jolted me out of my thoughts. I spun around to look at her; she was grinning and holding something behind her back. If I had been able to focus, I probably would have guessed that she’d made a snowball when I wasn’t paying attention, but my mind was elsewhere at the time. I raised an eyebrow “um, what?” I asked a stupid question.
She giggled and kicked some snow playfully “nothing” she grinned and hit me square in the chest with a snowball. She broke out into hysterical giggles and fell back into the powdery white fluff. I chuckled and tossed some snow at her, not even bothering to pack it into a ball. I flopped down next to her.
I loved Valentine, right down to the crinkle she got on the bridge of her nose when she laughed. I loved her cheesy jokes, her silly questions, her erratic mood swings, and her seemingly endless knowledge of useless information. She and I had known each other for ten years, but I had never mustered up the courage to tell her that I was in love with her. I’d sat by and watch her go through boyfriends like a sick person goes though tissues. I comforted her after a rejection and I was always the one who brought over a tub of chocolate ice cream and a multitude of awful horror movies after a bad break up.
As I sat there in the soft white snow and watched my best friend make a snow angel, I realized that I didn’t want it to be a secret anymore. I let out a sigh, the sun had set and we would be leaving soon. I didn’t have much time to tell her. “Valentine” I touched her shoulder. She sat up and shook the snow out of her red velvet curls. “What’s up Shaunie?” she called me Shaunie every now and then, I didn’t mind.
“I need to tell you something”
“It’s really important”
“Well tell me!”
“I love you”
Time seemed to slow down. Everything went silent. She stared at me with her bright sunshiny green eyes and for just an instant, I regretted telling her. My stomach twisted and my palms started to sweat. Then, Valentine broke out into a fit of giggles. My heart flip-flopped and I started to get to my feet, but she grabbed my arm and pulled me back down next to her.
She stopped laughing and her face softened, a gentle smile graced her lips. “Shaunie … how could you think for even a second that I didn’t love you back?” she murmured. Relief swept over me like a tsunami, my heart beat like a snare drum. She reached out and gently touched my cheek. My lips curled into a huge grin. She took my hand and we laced our fingers together.
She pulled me to my feet and we started walking. The night had turned the air frigid and I was regretting leaving home without a jacket. Valentine walked close to me, I could feel her shivering. I let her hand go and snaked my arm around her waist, she leaned into me and rested her head on my shoulder. The silvery crescent moon and bright stars gave us just enough light for me to see that we stepped on to the frozen pond. If my mind had been where it should’ve been that night, I would’ve taken the longer route home. I would’ve remembered that the warmer weather caused the ice on the pond to get thinner.
Halfway across the pond, she stopped me. Her arms wrapped around my neck and she gently pressed her lips to mine. I held her waist and pulled her close. Her heart beat close to mine, we felt synchronized. My head whirled. It was so perfect.
Suddenly, a sickening crunch brought me spiraling back down to earth. That’s when I remembered the recent warmer weather and the fact that no one had dared set foot on the pond for three days. I let her go, her eyes coruscating with fear. The harsh sound returned and I could see the ice cracking around us. Fear gripped me like a vice and I slowly took a step back. The fissures were underneath us now, I could see them widening in the pale moonlight. Valentine looked up at me and whispered “I love you Shaunie”. Then she pushed just far enough away from the break in the ice.
I would have rather gone down with her. I didn’t want to lose her. The ice shattered underneath her and she screamed as she disappeared underneath the waters frigid surface. I screamed and started toward the hole, the ice underneath my foot cracked and I stepped back. It wouldn’t do any good for me to go down too. I lay down on my belly and slid forward, hoping that my weight would be distributed enough to keep the ice from breaking anymore. She bobbed to the surface, sputtering and gasping for breath as she tried to pull herself out of the pond. Icy water soaked my sweater and skin.
I reached out and grabbed her hand, trying to pull her out. The ice was so thin, every time I tried to pull her out, the hole widened. Soon she and I were face to face. Her lips blue and she was shivering so badly. I could feel the ice cracking underneath me. “Go” she whispered, resting her head on the ice. I shook my head and held her hand. There was no way that I would leave her. I could hear sirens wailing in the distance, someone must have heard us screaming.
“Try again” I pleaded softly. She put her free hand on the ice, frigid water splashed on me as she tried to heave herself out. She managed to get her torso out of the water without breaking the ice. I pulled her out the rest of the way with one final tug, praying that the ice would hold until the police got here. Blue and red lights light up the park and a man called to us “just stay where you are, we’ll get you out!” more sirens screamed and more lights lit up the pond.
I gently stroked Valentine’s cheek and whispered reassuring words to her. She smiled faintly and groaned in reply. I laid my head down next to her, thinking over and over that everything was going to be alright. My head was reeling; my entire body was numb from the cold. The flashing red and blue lights became blurry and my eyelids drooped, slowly … everything faded to black and I drifted off into unconsciousness.
When I awoke, I was in a hospital bed wrapped in starched white sheets. The lights were bright on my tired eyes and my mind felt fuzzy like television static. What had happened, it felt like just a dream, my hospital room served as proof otherwise. As I tried to get my brain to function properly, I remembered …. Valentine! Her name popped into my head and everything became crystal clear, like someone had changed the channel.
I could hear the click of a nurses shoes on the tile floor and I called to her. She rushed in “what’s the matter?” she asked, concerned. “What room is Val- … Maggie Valentine in?” I’d gotten so used to calling her by her last name. The nurse looked pensive for a moment “I’ll be right back” she said before vanishing out the door. I’d assumed that she was going to go check in the hospitals computer and she would be back bearing good news.
She returned flanked by a doctor wearing wire rimmed glasses and a bone white coat. He wore the sad mask of sympathy on his face. Doctors were forced to master the look. They were the star-crossed bearers of bad news; it was their burden to bear. He started off by asking me how I felt and explaining what happened to me. I wasn’t interested in hearing anything about me. I wanted to know where Valentine was and if she was okay. I forced myself to believe that she was alive and well, but something in the back of my mind tugged and pricked at my thoughts. It was that same feeling when you haven’t studied for a test and you’ve convinced yourself that you’ve aced it anyway, but in reality … you failed miserably. Part of me knew that his speech was going to end with “I’m so sorry for your loss”.
He sighed and looked down at me, that sad expression hung on his face. I let out a shuddery sigh “please … don’t tell me that she’s dead” I implored him. His expression softened “I’m very sorry, but your friend didn’t make it. I’m so sorry for your loss” he replied in a grave tone. With those final words … my heart shattered.