On matters concerning the heart, both literally and figuratively, Lucas Aspergil had always felt broken. Born with a congenital heart condition, he felt trapped in his body and smothered by his parent’s loving fears all his life. Growing up, he had felt alienated and alone, restricted from normal life as his condition restricted his breathing. He had never felt alive before Jenavieve, during those few glorious months leading up to his eighteenth birthday. The day he had died.
The first time he died was in the dining room, just after trying to blow out his candles, with his mother begging God for a miracle. The second time, fifteen seconds after being revived in the back of an ambulance, his father’s strong, reassuring voice warbled as he cried repeatedly, “That’s my strong boy, that’s my strong boy.” His father’s voice followed him back down into darkness. The third time was the last and the charm, a kaleidoscope of sights and a cacophony of sounds suddenly flooding in from a black sensory deprivation. The rhythmic click of the gurney wheels as they hit the grout lines between tiles, a backbeat to the droning flat line tone that suddenly began oscillating in higher pitched tones. Faces appeared above him, floating without bodies. An EMT was straddling him and thrusting against his chest as he performed CPR. “I got a pulse,” Lucas heard him shout, but then the voice trailed off echoing slightly. The fluorescent lights in the hallway above flared then seemed to fracture and crystallize, fading to floating embers as darkness began creeping back into the corners of his vision, and the flat line tone carried him once again down into oblivion. When Lucas had woken up from surgery, the first face he had seen was Jenavieve’s. If he had not been certain before, Lucas was certain then. He loved her.
Jenavieve Frost had lived a hard life in her short span of years, left on church steps seventeen Christmases ago. As she grew up Christmas took on a special significance in her life, and not always for the worse. She had moved from foster home to foster home, with stints on the streets and in homeless shelters along the way. It wasn’t until her fourteenth Christmas that she found family and a home.
Martha Steinman had been sleeping on the couch, still dressed in her black dress. Her eyes had been swollen from crying, too sad to change clothes after her beloved Frank’s funeral. Frank Steinman had been a New York cop, and had survived a stabbing and two shootings. He had not survived Alzheimer’s. They had retired to Florida and had been happy for many years until Frank starting forgetting things. Martha wasn’t sure now, if the slow hell of your loved one losing their memory of you was worse than losing them to death. She had woken up when Jenavieve broke the window in the backdoor of the kitchen.
Jenavieve had been cold and hungry, with nowhere to go. Martha had left the kitchen light on, with food from the funeral reception left out on the table. Emotional raw and scared, Martha had grabbed the gun Frank kept in the house for security. Afterward, they had both decided they needed each other that night. Staring down the sights of Frank’s .45, as Jenavieve wept for her life, Martha realized she needed someone to take care of again. Jenavieve looked so in despair, Martha had wanted to throw the gun down and hold her. Looking down the barrel of a gun, choking on the food she had been shoveling in her mouth and crying hysterically, Jenavieve realized she needed someone to take care of her, to love her. Something she had been running from all her life. The gun had ended up on top of the refrigerator, and they had ended up on the kitchen floor, hugging and crying to one another. By New Years they were a family. They started a tradition that Christmas. Jenavieve had taken the first shower in a long while, and Martha had made homemade hot chocolate. They sat on Martha’s back porch, drinking hot chocolate and sharing their life stories. They laughed and cried, listening to each other’s joy and pain, all while Mr. Farmers Chihuahua Melvin barked at them from next door. That Christmas morning, Jenavieve thought her life couldn’t get any better. And it didn’t until she saw Lucas for the first time in high school.
Jenavieve had watched Lucas for years, at first feeling sorry for him, then simmering in a slow infatuation. During lunch break or between classes, she would watch him. She ached to go to him as he sat alone eating. Or to take his hand as he walked alone in the halls. He was always alone, and she was too afraid of what he might do or say. Lucas moved through the day, from class to class, like a wraith. Jenavieve was a dreamer and a romantic. She was a poet and avid reader, and she dreamed of all the ways she could let Lucas know he was not alone. It wasn’t until Mr. Vandover’s English class that she had truly fallen in love with him.
Jenavieve stood at the front of the class, squirming uncomfortably with fear. She hated public speaking, but hating sharing her personal thoughts even more, so giving a book report in Mr. Vandover’s class was doubly distressing. She stood before her classmates, met with a mix of disinterest and ridicule. Lucas only stared at her and smiled encouragingly, and his support comforted her.
“My book report is for Rising Dawn, by E.I. Jennings,” she began hesitantly as snatches of jeers and laughter erupted from the class. “Respectfully silent and dutifully attentive,” Mr. Vandover boomed, accentuating every syllable as if he was driving nails in with his tongue. “That is the only acceptable demeanor for an audience.” The tide of raucous behavior receded, only to resurge and diminish between her fumbling through her book report and Mr. Vandover’s glares. “The main character is Jessica Dawn and she discovers she is a pureblood vampire. Her guardian is Rueben, a werewolf who is sworn to protect her. They are in love.” Jenavieve blushed, thinking of Lucas holding her, and the classroom broke out into laughter again.
Mr. Vandover cleared his throat loudly, and the class quieted down. “I had a dream once, that Lucas was my prince and he gave me a white rose laid on red velvet, and asked me to marry him…” Jenavieve was suddenly shocked, realizing she had spoken that out loud. Daydreaming of Lucas, she had spoken in an outburst from her heart. The class room of students gasped as one, and even Mr. Vandover seemed embarrassed. “Was that part of your book report, Miss Winters?” He asked gruffly. The laughter and catcalls erupted and rolled over her like thunder, as he vision blurred around her and focused on Lucas’ impassive face. He showed no emotion either way to what she had revealed she had dreamt about him, and she felt like the world was closing in on her. She ran to her desk, and sat with her head buried in her arms, crying.
Clapping made her look up, not caring about the makeup running down her face. Lucas stood by his desk, giving her book report a standing ovation. Shouts of “Lucas has a girlfriend” then “a raccoon for a girlfriend” and other remarks were made by the other students but she didn’t care. “Sit down Mr. Aspergil, and get your hormones firmly in grasp.” Mr. Vandover was fuming at the class disruption. “A young man can’t go around clapping for every young girl that has fancies for him!” But Lucas kept clapping, and Jenavieve ignored Mr. Vandover as well. She sat turned around in her desk, and watched Lucas. He seemed to be bathed in light. All she could do was smile; a smile that threatened to fall off the edges of her face it was so big. Her dream had come true, and she had found her prince at last.
The bell rang, and Jenavieve got up slowly and walked out of class in a daze. When a hand took hers outside in the hallway she didn’t even look. She just smiled and laid he head on Lucas’ shoulder as they slowly walked to their next class. Their knuckles where white as they gripped each other’s hands tightly, the attraction surging between them like electrical current.
Those few months passed in a blur of bliss for both of them. Lucas had invited Jenavieve to his birthday dinner, choosing that time to reveal their relationship to his parents. Jenavieve had kissed him for a long time before answering, then told him she couldn’t. She was dual enrolled in school, and in nursing school, and would be training at the hospital that night. If she had asked him, Lucas would have ashamedly admitted he was relieved. He was still not sure how his over protective parents were going to react to Jenavieve. When Lucas passed her in the hallway, as he died the third time, Jenavieve had almost fainted. Her relationship with his parents would have a volatile start, forged in fires of distress. She introduced herself to them in the waiting room. Lucas’s father was too numb to feel anything. Jenavieve could tell from her eyes, that his mother hated her immediately but she said nothing. She wouldn’t even look in Jenavieve’s direction. All three waited in an uncomfortable silence to see if Lucas would live.