February 14th, not too long ago….
Lalura stopped in the open attic doorway, her small bent frame and surrounding dust motes outlined by the hall light behind her. She stood still for several long moments and gazed into the darkness. The stark blue of her eyes was hidden in shadow, just as were the remnants that waited in the corners and piles of the rickety shelter. It smelled of cedar and memories up here.
Cedar and dust and memories.
Lalura’s intelligent gaze narrowed on the darkness of the neglected room. It seemed a challenge, almost. There were whispers inside, from old friends and enemies; they pushed at one another for a chance at her ear. There were flashes of things she’d tried a thousand times to forget, like bits of torn movie reel flung before a projector light. There were old songs in there, and even now she could make out their faint notes, piano keys and violin strokes from long, long ago.
Lalura lifted her chin. She took a slow breath, filling her ancient lungs with both dust and courage before releasing her breath into the past once more. Then she spoke a harsh, magic word, and extended an arm.
An old-fashioned gas lantern appeared in her gnarled grip. Its yellow, flickering flame cast dancing shapes across the long floor boards in front of her. She stood there in the under-used doorway for several more long moments, and then took the first step past the threshold that she’d taken in seventy years.
At once, the atmosphere of the room changed. The dust lifted away, the darkness turned to light, and the past greeted her with the jubilance of an old friend. She moved through the attic, leaving behind her a trail of dancing couples and bridesmaids in a line and little girls learning to ride their bicycles. Winters, springs, summers and falls blossomed to life, froze to silence, and fell by the wayside with every one of the witch’s slow, steady steps.
She moved with resolution, her blue eyes trained on the end of the attic, where a man stood at the windows that looked out over a snow-covered world. She didn’t see him, though. She saw past him, she saw through him, her far-away gaze trained on yesteryears and bygones, her heart trapped in what might have been.
But he saw her. His handsome face was clean shaven, his tall form was draped in uniform, and in his hands he held the hat of an air force colonel. His blue eyes matched the blue of his station; he was tall and regal, and the very air about him spoke of good deeds done. He was a hero. He was her hero.
Once upon a time.
Lalura smiled now as she remembered.
You’re a fool, she’d told him. Such a romantic. A proposal on Valentine’s Day of all days. Only you would brave the crowds, Conrad. Only you.
Is that a yes?
She could hear the nervous tremor in his deep voice. She’d held her breath and tried not to giggle. It wasn’t like a witch of her growing stature to fall to giggling. But her heart had grown wings – wings like the ones on his chest.
“Yes,” she whispered now, echoing her response of long ago.
Beneath the dusty window with its cobwebs and peeling paint sat a music box. Lalura made her way to it as the echoes died down and the memories settled and the world became still once more.
He watched her in his ghostly silence as she stopped before it and reached for its latch with gnarled, weathered fingers. It slid back and away as if it had not been seven decades since she had opened it last. A spell kept it safe. Dusty, but safe.
“I love you, Lana,” he told her now, his long-dead voice reaching into the empty spaces of the attic to grace them with remnants of another time.
Lalura closed her eyes as if she’d heard him – this ghost of the man she’d once promised herself to.
A moment later, she opened her eyes once more, and then opened the box. She gazed down at the small collection on the single velvet pouch that sat within it. The music of the box began to play, its crisp, lilting notes filling the air with bitter sweet harmony.
On the pillow sat a pair of wedding rings, as shining and smooth as the day she’d slipped them inside. Neither of them had ever been worn.
Beside the empty rings rested a set of metal dog tags and a single sterling silver pin. Lalura picked up the pin with trembling fingers and gazed longingly, rememberingly, at the small propeller and set of angel-like wings. “I love you too, Conrad,” she whispered. Snow swirled and curled outside. The wind rustled the branches of a nearby tree and brushed the wind chimes hanging from the porch rafters. Somewhere, violins joined the music box notes, and a symphony soothed Lalura’s tired soul.
The handsome soldier looked on. He always had and always would.
Lalura, or Lana as her fiancé had once called her, closed her eyes and held the pin to her heart. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
Lalura Chantelle is a crotchety and much beloved character in Heather Killough-Walden’s Big Bad Wolf spinoff series, The Kings.
Look for book ten in The Kings series: The Shifter King, coming SOON.