The Hazards of Love
"How long do you have?"
Quick mental calculations were made. "Five days," was the final answer.
"You're cutting it close this year, hm?"
"I enjoy a challenge."
"Have anyone in mind?"
"A few likely prospects."
"Anyone I know?"
A pause. And then, "You know what I don't understand? Why you do this. I mean, what a strange profession. And it's not like it's year 'round."
"It is...it's just not commercialized like it is this time of year. People fall in love all the time."
"Exactly. So why do you feel the need to put yourself through this every year? What do you get out of it?"
"It's not like I had a choice in the matter."
"True. But you said it yourself – people fall in love all the time. And it's usually without your help."
"Some people need my help. They need that little...shove in the right direction."
A laugh answered this statement. "You don't shove – you poke."
"Whatever, you know what I mean."
"So, let me get this straight. You're telling me that for three-hundred and sixty-four days out of the year, you sit around on your ass doing nothing about people's love-lives and then, this one day, you decide to don your toga and wings and go around shooting people?"
"Okay, when you say it that way you make me sound like a deranged cherub. I only shoot two people." A pause. "And I don't wear a toga anymore."
Enid Clarke scowled as she stepped outside. Most would have considered the three or four inches of snow a winter wonderland, but Enid hated it – and not just because she would have to spend the next ten minutes digging her car out from beneath the white stuff. In her opinion, winter should consist of days in the low fifties, upper forties. And snow? She could do without, thanks.
They had been forecasting this for the past two weeks. The storm everyone was so sure was going to hit them last week had curled around the city like a snake making its way around a particularly annoying rock. So, when the weatherman had said, two days ago, that another snowstorm was heading this way, Enid had rolled her eyes and changed the channel.
Shoulda moved to Florida when I had the chance, she thought, eyeing the pristine white dunes balefully.
With a sigh, Enid carefully made her way down the stairs of her front porch. She wobbled preciously, regained her balance, and then hopped down from the last step.
Loud curses broke the crystalline air of the morning as she mistook the last stair for the sidewalk. Her leg jolted with the force of her shortened step and she lurched forward, arms windmilling and her ankle twinging with pain. Gravity took firm control of the situation and dragged her to the ground.
Rolling onto her back, Enid stared up at the thick clouds threatening to have another go at dumping more snow on the city. For a moment, she stayed that way, not caring that her hair was getting wet and probably freezing, or that she would be late for work. In fact, she was seriously contemplating digging her phone out of her coat pocket and calling in; staying in bed under her warm covers all day sounded much more appealing.
She was losing feeling in the toes of her right foot. Glancing down at the extremity, she found it buried in the drift up to her ankle. Snow had slyly crept its way into her shoe and was melting against her skin. Enid groaned. Just what she needed. Cold feet and wet socks.
"Hello, there! Need a hand?"
Enid tilted her head back to look toward the cheerful voice she assumed was addressing her. An elderly gentleman smiled down at her, his hands full of a furry reddish-brown bundle.
"No, thank you," she said, getting her hands underneath herself. She pushed herself to her feet and grimaced. "I was just making snow angels."
The old man laughed and the bundle in his arms squirmed. A slender tail spilled out from underneath his elbow and a long narrow face with two large brown eyes regarded Enid seriously.
"Jester and I were just out for our morning constitutional and noticed you lying there," the old man said. Jester blinked at Enid and then buried his head back in the man's arms. "Well, then, if you're sure you're okay, we'll be on our way. It's mighty cold out here."
"Yes, it is," Enid muttered. Her sock had officially become ice in her shoe. "Thanks again."
"Oh, and happy Valentine's Day!"
Enid rolled her eyes.
The rest of her day wasn't any better. She spent twenty minutes trying to explain the difference between a latte, a cappuccino, and a mocha latte to one woman (who finally settled on just plain coffee), and gave up the register to someone in a better mood when she had to explain the reason why she couldn't break a fifty dollar bill on a three dollar drink. Around lunch came all the students from the nearby college and she was of a mind to ban the whole lot of them from when she spent an hour trying to pick up after them, never mind that half of them were her friends.
She was leaning against the frame of the door leading into the storeroom when she felt a sharp nudge in her ribs.
"Ooh, Enid, he's back!"
Enid rolled her head to the side to look at Harley, the coffee shop's resident flirt. The girl might as well have been pointing, she was staring so hard. When the object of her attention turned clear blue eyes on her, Harley didn't even have the decency to blush.
Enid recognized him; he had been coming to the coffee shop every day at the same time for the past three weeks. He always ordered the same thing – a large chai tea – and would sit near the counter. Every once in awhile, Enid had the creepy feeling he was watching her. But when she turned to look, she would find him engrossed in a book, reading the newspaper, idly watching the flow of traffic out the windows.
Harley's eagle-eye had spotted him the first day he had stepped into the shop. Enid had to admit that he was hard to miss. While guys she classified as "pretty boys" normally put her off, she found this particular customer intrigued her for some unknown reason. Of an average height with a slender build, he had a mass of unruly flaxen curls that brushed around his ears and fell rakishly across his forehead. Thick blond lashes seemed to weigh his eyelids, giving him a constantly dreamy expression. And Michelangelo himself would have fallen in love with those cheekbones and that strong jaw line.
"Struggle to contain yourself, Harley," Enid muttered.
She sighed as Harley bounced over to the register and smiled brightly. As Enid started to get things ready to make the drink that the man would inevitably order, she listened to Harley's conversation with him.
"So, what's the attraction to this drink?" Harley asked, leaning forward and giving the customer her full attention.
He paused a moment before answering. "Well, some of the ingredients are natural aphrodisiacs," he said. He leaned forward a little, as though he was about to reveal a secret. Full lips, already prone to a boyishly charming smile, tipped up at the corners. "Did you know that the great Cleopatra used to put saffron in her baths so that her lovemaking would be more...satisfying?"
Is he flirting back?
Enid's fingers convulsed around the knob on the espresso maker. The knob turned and steam whooshed loudly out of the spout, drowning out Harley's reply.
" – have to name the drink after you," the young woman was saying as Enid got the coffee maker under control.
Harley's comment was answered by a rich, velvety chuckle. Enid glanced over at the two, noticing that while Harley was busy counting change, the man's eyes had wandered away from her to rest on...Enid.
She bit her lip and blushed at having been caught staring. Well, not staring really. Though she found, as she held the hot drink out to him, it was difficult not to look at him. Everything about him seemed to...glow. When she was looking directly at him, the phenomenon seemed to contain itself to his cerulean eyes. But in the peripherals of her vision, he became almost a beacon of golden light.
I wonder what kind of product he uses to get that effect, Enid mused.
"Thank you," the man said, taking his drink from her.
His hand brushed against Enid's and, during that brief, almost nonexistent touch, she found his skin was as warm as the smile he gave her. The feeling of his fingers on hers burned into her, shot through her, making her gasp softly as the sensation jolted up her arm and made her heart beat wildly. Heat spread through her body and settled in her stomach, which started doing little acrobatic flips like it was practicing to join the circus.
"Y-you're welcome," she murmured, not quite snatching her hand away.
Looking back on it, Enid would have sworn he'd had a firm grasp on the cup before she let go. The only explanation she could come up with later was that she must have been mistaken.
The cup fell. The plastic top popped off and the cup, its determinedly downward course changed by a stack of coffee mugs, flipped top over bottom. The creamy, hot liquid it had just recently contained arced out of the cup, spraying across everything in its path.
Enid looked down at her shirt in dismay.
"Oh, crap," she muttered.
He had been observing her for just over two weeks now, trying to figure out, from snatches of conversations he overheard, who her perfect match would be. He mostly watched her while she was at work, but sometimes trailed along after her when she was at school. All of her friends seemed to genuinely like her, care for her, love her. Most of her male friends seemed loyally protective of her, like big brothers (although, he noted with irritation, a few of them loved her in a not-so-brotherly fashion), but none of them seemed quite right.
Usually, Carwyn immediately knew who another's soul mate was. Each had a particular glow about them that wasn't visible to mortal eyes. But there wasn't anyone in Enid's acquaintance who had this…radiance.
He did, however, notice it in her, always when he was in the coffee shop. It was the reason he came back everyday; he was trying to figure out what customer or employee was the object of her affections. The task was frustrating at best. All the customers seemed to like her, to be attracted to her. Even Carwyn had to admit that she was the most stunning mortal he had seen in a very long time. However, as he gazed into each of their hearts, he always managed to find something, some quality or quirk, which made him immediately dismiss them as even a possibility.
These musings distracted him entirely. So much so that, when her fingers brushed against his, when a sharp jolt shot straight through his body and to his heart, causing the organ to beat wildly, he was surprised and more than a little confused. The glow around her, which he had only subconsciously realized was getting stronger with each passing moment, suddenly exploded before his eyes as though she had just become a miniature supernova.
Carwyn's fingers suddenly went numb. All he could do, as the cup became a hapless victim to gravity, was stare into Enid's large, brown eyes.
No way...This can't be...
She dropped her gaze to frown at the coffee now covering her shirt. As though released from a spell, Carwyn stumbled away from the counter and shoved his way outside, feeling dazed. He leaned back against the cold stone of the building a few feet away from the coffee shop's entrance and took a deep breath of icy air. He tilted his head back and closed his eyes, successfully ignoring the concerned looks that a few people gave him as they passed. After a moment, he let the breath go in one short burst, watching as its cloudy manifestation dissipated. His heart felt as though it was trying to break free from his chest and he had this oddly warm sensation in the pit of his stomach. The warmth spread itself though his body, making him feel almost giddy and light-headed.
Reaching into the back pocket of his jeans, Carwyn pulled out a small case. Inside sat two small arrows, barely the length and width of his thumb. He took one out and shoved the case into his coat pocket, idly turning the arrow over between his fingers.
I couldn't possibly...
The bells over the coffee shop door tinkled like precious crystal in the hushed winter air. Carwyn turned his head to see the slender figure he had been watching for days pause just in front of the store.
She was looking away from him, gazing down the street in the opposite direction. An errant breeze caught long strands of sable hair and playfully tugged it around her. She absently brushed it away from her face before shivering and wrapping her arms around herself.
His mind suddenly found itself hostage to his body. While the rational side of him screamed for him to move, to walk away before she could turn and spot him, his limbs stubbornly refused to obey. His legs, suddenly encased in thick blocks of ice, caused him to remain helplessly immobile as she walked toward him.
"Are you okay?" she asked, her brow furrowed with genuine concern. "You didn't get burned, did you?"
If you only knew.
"No," he managed to say. "I'm fine."
She nodded, a whispered, "That's good," passing her lips. She glanced down at his hands and regarded the object between his fingers.
"That must be the world's tiniest arrow," she said. Her smile made his breath hitch. "You aren't going to win any contests with that."
Carwyn laughed despite himself. He held up the arrow for her to see better. "The game I play isn't about winning," he told her. "It's about timing."
He nodded and Enid reached forward to take the arrow from his hand.
Carwyn knew an instant before it happened that he was in trouble.
The business end of the arrow caught on the skin of his finger and he only had a moment to panic as the golden tip nicked the pad of his thumb. He watched, horrified, as his blood sprang swiftly to the surface and slovenly dripped from the wounded extremity.
Enid gasped. She pulled a small towel from her back pocket and immediately pressed it against the wound.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"No. I mean, yes, I'm..."
Looking up, Carwyn instantly became hopelessly lost in Enid's dark, wide-eyed gaze.
"Oh, crap," he muttered.
A laugh boomed through the high-ceilinged room.
"It looks as though your son has finally gotten a taste of his own medicine, my dear sister."
"I can't believe he was so irresponsible! Why that girl of all people?"
"'Love knows no reason, love knows no lies. Love defies all reason – '"
"This is only amusing to you because of what happened with Daphne."
"It was bound to happen sooner or later, sister-mine."
"What makes you say that?"
"How can he really know what he's doing if he's never experienced love himself?"
"That's beside the point. He is Love. He should have had this under control. I didn't raise him to be so...so...foolish."
"'Love is just love, it can never be explained.'"
"Oh, shut up."
A/N: Just in time for Valentine's Day! This is my response to hearing people rant and rave about the holiday. A story all about Love and the hazards he faces :) I kinda like doing these one-shots...maybe I'll give a few more a try for various other holidays...
I had this story up some time ago on another site (waaay before The Decemberists' song of the same name came out), but took it down for various reasons – one being that I felt it needed to be re-written. However, after going back over it (and only tweaking a few things), I decided I was rather fond of it just the way it was. Cookies to anyone who can guess who the two people talking at the end are!
A brief explanation of the main characters' names: 'Carwyn' and 'Enid' mean 'blessed love' and 'soul', respectively. I struggled with whether or not to use the original Greek names, but, since the story is set in more modern times, I decided against it.