Claire woke and lay still for a moment, warm under the heavy comforter. The house was quiet, but she could hear the ticking of the grandfather clock down the hall and the gentle roar of the furnace starting up in the basement. She smelled coffee and thought for a moment that Nick had woken up before her and made it.
But then she remembered that he was gone. And it was Valentine’s Day.
She opened her eyes and looked at the ceiling, wondering what would happen if she stayed in bed all day.
She had never let herself do that. Not even in those first days after Nick’s heart attack. There had been so much to do and people were in and out of the house, constantly. And there was David and Jessica. Claire had shoved her own grief aside to help her children, so lost and bewildered at losing their father just when they were starting their own lives.
She had woken up every day and gone to work and tried to be both mother and father. She had powered through the 337 days since Nick had died and had done her best to accept the fact that he was gone and there was no loophole that would bring him back.
She sat up and threw off the bedcovers and swung her legs over the side. She slid her feet into the waiting slippers and grabbed the robe flung across the end of the bed.
She went downstairs to the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee. After Nick died, she had learned how to program the machine. She had learned how to do a lot of things.
She sat down at the kitchen table. This was her first Valentine’s Day without Nick. Everyone told her the firsts were the hardest. She’d made it through Easter and birthdays and Christmas and New Year’s by focusing hard on her children and her parents and everyone else.
But this was different. Valentine’s Day belonged to her and Nick. He’d never given her roses. “Too formal,” he’d said. “Being with you is like being in a field of daisies.” And every year he’d brought home the biggest bouquet he could find.
She thought of David and Jessica. They both attended college nearby, but it was Saturday and they’d be busy. David had a girlfriend he’d be taking out and Jessica would go out with friends after her shift at the restaurant. Which, thought Claire, was exactly how it should be. This was their time to be young and she didn’t want to hold them back.
She took another sip of coffee and thought maybe it would have been better if she were at work, surrounded by activity. Or maybe not, as people discussed their plans for the evening or flowers were delivered to desks.
Claire felt suddenly impatient with herself. She could have made plans to go out. She wasn’t the only person alone in the world today.
But the truth was that she didn’t want to. She and Nick had rubbed the edges off each other until they fit just so, and Claire knew that no one else could ever fit the same way.
The doorbell rang. Surprised, she pulled her robe shut and went to open the door.
An enormous bouquet of daisies met her eyes, hiding the person holding it. And then Jessica peeked around the flowers and smiled. “Hi, Mom.”
David stood next to her and he held out his arms and Claire stepped into them, not caring about the cold, enveloped in gratitude and grace.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Mom,” he said.