The Warmest January — New Short Story

coupes-de-champagne

New flash fiction! ❄️

The Warmest January

“Hayley, can you hear me?”

I glanced over at the beautiful blond woman next to me.

“I’m sorry, Mom,” I said. “What did you say?”

She smiled. “I said it’s really cold—even for January.”

I glanced out the window next to our table.

There was a blanket of snow on the streets, and people in hats, coats, and scarves hurried along, as if to escape the cold.

I blinked a little, wondering if I’d looked that way as I’d arrived at the restaurant.

“I guess it is,” I said. “Somehow I didn’t notice.”

My mom—Pam Whittle—laughed. “That must have been some party.”

She raised a hand and nodded at someone behind me, and I turned to see a handsome, silver-haired stranger smiling at her.

I wasn’t surprised—that sort of thing happened everywhere I went with her. Everyone noticed my mom. But I didn’t mind—I was proud of her.

“So about this party,” Pam said, returning her attention to me. “Did you meet someone?”

“What?” I said. “No. I’m not even sure what party you’re talking about.”

“New Year’s Eve,” Pam said. “You’ve been in a dreamy fog ever since then. A mother notices these things.”

“New Year’s Eve?” I thought back. “That was two weeks ago.”

“Well, something must have happened. Like I said, you haven’t been the same since then.”

I looked up into my mom’s clear blue eyes. There was a mysterious twinkle there.

“So?” she said. “How about it?”

I thought back again—the night was hazy, but more because it had been a little dull than for any other reason. I was pretty sure nothing special had happened.

And then an image flashed in my mind’s eye—a golden glass of champagne and a man’s black sleeve.

The image quickly faded—but somehow it felt like I’d remembered something important.

“Are you all right?” Pam asked, her forehead crinkling with concern. “You looked a little funny just now.”

“I’m fine,” I said. “I was just remembering how uneventful New Year’s Eve was.”

Pam sighed. “Oh well. I was really hoping something nice had happened for you—I was hoping you’d met some handsome mystery man. The next party you go to will be better, I’m sure.”

She gave me a wink.

In that moment, basking in my mom’s good humor, I couldn’t help but think she was right.

After lunch, I headed out to my car in the swirling wind. Everyone else had their shoulders hunched against the cold, but somehow I didn’t feel it.

I figured I was just warm from the restaurant—and the walk to the car hadn’t been too far.

I stood for just a moment, watching a little patch of snow swirl in the wind.

The swirling snow made me think of another swirl I’d seen not too long ago—a cascade of bubbles in a champagne glass. Beyond the bubbles, I saw other glasses of champagne—all filled with swirling amber bubbles. And beyond the bubbles was a room full of people—graceful women in gowns of all different hues—men looking very square-shouldered in their black tuxedos. But there was one set of black-clad shoulders that somehow seemed out of place. His tux was just as elegant as everyone else’s, and yet he seemed ill at ease in it—as if he wasn’t used to wearing that type of clothing. I looked up into his face and—

The image faded as quickly as it had come. I was once again standing in a snowy parking lot in front of my car.

I got in quickly and drove home.

That night, as I sat down with my laptop, I found myself googling the party I’d attended on New Year’s Eve. It had been a big party thrown by one of the fashionable hotels, and it had been open to anybody who had enough money to buy a ticket. The party had attracted a fair amount of media coverage—social and otherwise—and I scrolled through pictures looking for something that might jump out at me. I found pictures of people I knew, and I even found one of myself, but I couldn’t find the owner of those square, uneasy shoulders. I tried to remember the man’s face, but it just wouldn’t come to me.

I decided that if it were important, it would come back to me. I went to bed.

I didn’t think about the New Year’s Eve party again until two days later when I was out walking with my best friend, Lauren, and her boyfriend, Todd. We were on our way to a restaurant.

“I can’t believe you’re not cold,” Lauren said, looking at me through the small gap between her hat and the red scarf that covered the lower half of her face.

“I know it’s cold,” I said.

“No, you don’t,” Todd said. “You’re not shivering. I’m shivering and I’m a big guy—this cold cuts right through me.”

I glanced over at him—Todd was indeed a big, sturdy guy, and he looked even bigger in the puffy coat he wore.

“I don’t get it,” Lauren said. “You’re the one who’s always cold. You’re the one who keeps your house at seventy-three degrees.”

“I feel it,” I said. “I’m wearing a coat, hat, and scarf just like you two.”

But as I watched them, I could see what they meant—I was pleasantly warm inside my winter gear, and I didn’t seem to feel the extra nip in the air that had both of them quaking.

I suddenly saw an image of a glass of champagne, and I stopped. I looked around—I spied a coffee shop and a clothing boutique.

I quickly chose the boutique.

“I’ll be right back!” I shouted. I ran toward the little shop.

“Hayley, wait!” Lauren called after me. “Where are you going?”

I hurried on—I didn’t want to lose the image.

I ran inside the shop and grabbed the first dress I saw.

“I’m just going to try this on!” I cried.

Then I ran for the dressing room.

I hung the dress on a hook and closed the door behind me. Then I closed my eyes and focused on the glass of champagne, which was still floating in my mind.

The image stayed with me, but I couldn’t get it to go any further.

Instead, my mom’s words from lunch a few days ago floated through my mind.

“—some handsome mystery man.”

I opened my eyes then and looked at the dress I’d grabbed—it happened to be a sequined evening gown. It wasn’t the sort of thing I usually wore—except at the very occasional party—and this one was the same color as the one I’d worn on New Year’s Eve—

Suddenly, I was back at the party. Standing before me was the man in the tuxedo. I looked up into his face. His features were finely chiseled, and his chin was maybe just a touch too angular—but it was a handsome face. His eyes were blue, but there were flecks of brown and green in them—somehow his eyes were every color all at once. And his hair was so black that it shone silver in the light. He was obviously a stranger, but somehow I felt like I had seen him before.

“You don’t like the cold, do you?” he said. His voice was rich and musical.

“No.” I shivered. It was New Year’s Eve, and it was cold outside. That wasn’t surprising—it was always cold on New Year’s Eve. The party itself was well-heated, and all of the other guests seemed to be perfectly comfortable. But somehow I still seemed to feel a chill swirling around my bare shoulders.

The man sighed and I sensed that he was deeply amused.

“A child of summer,” he said. “That’s what you are.”

“Yes, I suppose that’s true,” I said. I’d been born in the summer—but how could he know that?

“A child of summer and a child of winter,” he said. “If they wanted to be together, where would they live?”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

The man smiled. “That’s okay, Hayley. That’s really okay.”

He paused. “If you ever need to find me, you can find me in the winter woods. Any woods will do.”

“Why would I need to find you?” I said. “And how do you know my name?”

“How could I not know your name?” the man said. “You’re all I’ve thought about since I saw you last winter shivering in the forest.”

“In the forest?” I frowned. “Do you mean last year when I was in Maine?”

The man simply smiled again, and I sensed his amusement once more.

“Look here,” I said. “Who are you?”

“You may call me Sam—”

The party faded suddenly, and I found myself back in the dressing room staring at a sequined evening gown.

I hurried out into the boutique.

“Sorry,” I said to the confused shop clerk as I quickly pressed the dress into her hands. “It’s not quite what I’m looking for.”

I hurried outside.

I was actually supposed to be going to lunch with Lauren and Todd, and there was a worried text from Lauren waiting for me.

I quickly texted back an apology, and then told her that I had something I had to do right away.

I ran to my car.

I didn’t know where I was going exactly—but there was still snow on the ground, and there had to be a forest somewhere nearby.

As I pulled out of the parking garage, I remembered there was a park a few miles from my house. I didn’t know if it would qualify as a proper winter woods, but there were certainly trees there.

I drove over and parked just beyond the little gate at the entrance to the park, and then I followed the snow-covered trail into the forest.

The trail soon became clearer thanks to the shelter of the trees, and I looked around at all the evergreens cloaked in a dusting of white.

It certainly seemed like a winter woods to me.

There was no one else around, and though a cold wind blew, somehow I didn’t feel it. I felt as warm and cozy in the woods as I would have standing in my own well-heated house.

I wandered for a little while but didn’t see Sam.

Once I reached a spot that was remote enough, I decided to try calling out his name.

No one was around, so no one would see me acting crazy.

“Sam!” I said. “Sam!”

I fully expected nothing to happen. But almost immediately I heard a rustling in the trees, and a tall form moved toward me.

He was dressed in a plaid shirt and jeans, but his hair was still silver-black and his eyes were still blue and yet all colors at once.

It was Sam.

“I can’t believe you’re actually here,” I said. “So I didn’t dream that whole night—I actually met you.”

Sam smiled. “Of course.”

He paused. “Did you need me?”

“I just needed to know you were real.” I glanced at him. “Aren’t you cold?”

Sam shook his head. “I live in winter—it’s natural for me. A cold winter’s day for me is like a perfect summer day for you. It’s exactly where I belong.”

“So you said you’d seen me before,” I said. “Did you come to the party to find me?”

“Yes,” Sam said.

“But how did you know I’d be there?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I just knew. Sometimes Nature tells me things. This time she told me where you were. She knew that I was drawn to you.”

“And you first saw me in the woods?” I said.

“The winter woods, yes. And I have thought of nothing but you ever since.”

“You’re not like me, are you?” I said. “You’re something different entirely.”

“You’re right,” Sam said. “I’m something different.”

“Is your name really Sam?” I asked.

He smiled. “Not exactly. But it’s close enough.”

He looked at me for a long moment. “Do you want to see me again?”

I looked into his amazing eyes. “Yes.”

“I’m glad,” Sam said. “I want to see you too.”

He sighed. “At the moment, it’s difficult. I’m not sure how to get to your world and stay there. Right now I can only come for short visits. But you can come to the winter woods any time you wish to see me, and I can stay for a little while.”

“Oh,” I said, disappointed. “Is that all?”

“That’s all for now,” Sam said. “But I’m working on it. Who knows? Maybe Nature will grant me this wish. But in the meantime, I have a gift for you.”

“A gift?” I said.

“You will always be warm when it is cold,” Sam said. “You will never feel the bite of the wind or the chill in the air. Winter will always feel to you like a warm embrace. I’ll find a way to be with you someday—until then you have my love to keep you warm.”

He smiled. “That is my gift to you.”

******************

Thanks very much for reading!

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