Is Love a Miracle?



         She was watching him from the moment he left through the double doors of the old red brick building that was Hamilton High School. He was beautiful in every way, but nothing captivated her more than his glowing smile as he said goodbye to his friends as they parted ways at the end of the long school day. His smile seemed brighter almost every day. She wished that she could smile like that.

         The thought jarred her as unpleasant memories came rushing back to her; memories of times that shattered her ability to feel happiness or warmth. There was only one good thing left in her life, and that was the smiling boy. She loved him more than anything, more than life itself.

He had noticed her and was coming her way, and she had to put on a brave face. With a deep breath she released her white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel, and turned to face him, flashing him the best smile that she could, though she knew it didn’t touch her eyes. Too much pain got in the way.

With his smile only widening further, he opened the car door and got into the front seat, plopping his backpack at his feet. He then pulled out his cell phone, which for most parents was a sign that their kids were done talking to them, but it was never that way with Hayden. Hayden turned his phone on silent and slid it into his pocket, forgetting about it while he turned back to his mother. It was another of his wonderful quirks that she adored about him. He always made time for her.

“Thanks for picking me up, Mom,” he said as he buckled his seatbelt and faced forward. Sighing as he closed his eyes and reclined the seat just a little bit. He wasn’t sleeping, just resting a bit from his studies. School was difficult for him, she knew. Math and science had never come easily to him, but he worked hard and was maintaining decent grades. She couldn’t complain. What more could she ask from him?

“Of course, son. You don’t think I’d leave you stranded there would you? Make you walk home?” She replied with a bit of sarcasm. Their usual banter was enough to make the memories fade, at least for the time being. She was able to let it go and just focus on the grin he flashed her in return.

“You probably would, wouldn’t you? And then when I came home three hours late you’d question where I was!” He replied easily, though he tried to make it look like he was afraid of the possibility becoming a reality. He couldn’t suppress the grin for long though, and she did her best to grin back for him.

“Sure thing. It shouldn’t take you three hours to walk five miles. You’d probably be stopping by some girl’s house on the way home, getting into trouble! I guess I’ll just have to keep picking you up from school, saves me more trouble that way,” she continued her grin until she glanced over and saw that his had faded. She had never seen him lose it that quickly before, not in all of his almost sixteen years. He appeared nervous about something, which was an entirely new experience for her. Hayden was never nervous about anything except a math test.

“About that, Mom,” He began, but then hesitated. She was about to urge him on, but he took a deep breath and continued, “I just got asked out on a date.”

She should have been thrilled, but she wasn’t. Hayden had never been on a date, not one she knew about anyway. He had never seemed that interested before, and they had never really talked about it, except in jest. Weren’t mothers supposed to be excited for their sons when they started to date? But she couldn’t be, not even if she tried. It wasn’t a fear of losing her son to whatever girl he ended up with, it was something else entirely. She couldn’t deal with the thought of him losing her. She had enough pain to deal with after his father had left them almost twelve years before, over a decade of sorrow that she still couldn’t cope with, how could she handle his broken heart?

She tried to force excitement anyway, but found that she couldn’t, so she decided to address the issue differently. She targeted his apparent nervousness, while she digested the information. “You don’t seem very excited. Do you not want to go?” She had found the answer to her dilemma. If he didn’t want to go, maybe she could convince him not to.

“It’s not that,” he replied, and then hesitated again. During his pause, she had to collect herself again. If that wasn’t it, then she was out of options. She was going to have to deal with it. He continued, and she did her best to look supportive as he said, “I actually really want to go. I was surprised I got asked, but this date is super important to me. There are just a couple problems.”

Taking a deep breath, she kept up her side of the conversation, “And what are those? One at a time, and we can address them.”

“Well, first is the fact that I’m nervous. I really want this date to go well, but it’s my first one. How can I get over that?” He asked innocently, not knowing how much she wished the subject would just be dropped. Still, she had a duty to answer; a duty to take care of her son’s needs.

“Being nervous is natural, son,” she replied, not believing how easily the words were actually coming out. Perhaps it was time to finish that law degree and become a lawyer, considering how easy it seemed to be to lie, and to her own son even. “You just have to go for the things you want, even if you’re afraid. There’s no reason not to do it, unless you’re afraid of a broken heart.”

As she realized what she said, her own broken heart started beating faster. She had never spoken of the impact that his father leaving had had on her. She glanced at him anxiously, but if he had made any special notice of her emotional state, he didn’t show it. Instead, he seemed to be mulling over her words and considering them. With a decisive nod his grin was back and he looked over at her and said firmly, “You’re right. I’ll accomplish nothing by remaining inactive. I already accepted the date anyway, but I was considering backing out. You’ve talked me into it. Thanks, Mom.”

She smiled back weakly, and thankfully became distracted by another driver on the road in front of her. He cut her off which made her curse and slam on the brakes. Hayden just giggled, which sounded like a five year old girl, and she was brought out of the darkness of her pain for a minute. She loved that laugh even more than his smile.

His next question brought back the darkness completely, and it was a good thing that she was pulling up to a red light at the time, or she might have lost control of the vehicle as she jumped when he said. “The other problem is that the date is for the fourteenth, Valentine’s Day.”

Every image from that night came flooding back to her, and she had to fight hard to stave off the tears. The image of him walking out the door, telling her that he loved her, and that he’d be back. What a lie that was. It was Valentine’s Day, the last day she had ever laid eyes on her husband. The day he had walked out on his family, his wife and almost four year old son. She had never really discussed it with Hayden, preferring to keep the pain to herself and not let it affect him, but she had always kept him to herself on the anniversary of that night, even if it was Valentine’s Day. It was nice to not be alone on that day.

He looked at her worriedly, and she wondered what was going through his mind as she glanced back at him. His eyes were filled with questions that she was unsure she had the strength to answer. She knew he was probably starting to catch on to her impaired emotional state, but she didn’t want to go into it then. She wasn’t ready to face it, even if it meant lying to her son.

“Don’t worry about me, son,” she replied slowly. It was the only way she could answer with any amount of conviction. She had to take the time to apply what little she had. “I’ll be alright. You’re growing up, and you should probably be dating now. Dating means falling in love and celebrating those holidays with the special people you want in your life. I’ll find something to do.”

Once again, she tried to smile, but this time she wasn’t sure how far the corners of her lips turned. It didn’t seem like her face had moved at all, and she noticed that he was very aware of it. She was about to open her mouth to make another attempt at reassuring him when he beat her to it and offered a compromise.

“Alright, how about this: since you say I should go on the date, even though it’s the day we always spend together, I’ll go on the date. However,” he paused, and his expression grew serious, as if there would be no room for argument from her, and then he said, “Since it’s this Friday, and the date isn’t until five, we can spend the entire morning together, and we’ll plan something really fun.”

“What do you mean we can spend the entire morning together? What about school?” She asked, not quite sure what he was getting at. Last she checked schools didn’t close on Valentine’s Day, even if it was on a Friday.

The smile was back as he rolled his eyes, and then looked out the window as he replied, “School is only a half day, and none of the teachers really do anything on that day anyway. You can just call in for me, and then we can spend the day together.”

She laughed despite herself. Even if this was just some elaborate scheme to get out of a math test, she was open to the compromise. She needed him on that day, even if it meant lying to the school system. To his obvious surprise and delight she said, “Sounds perfect. Tomorrow we can discuss plans, since we should probably have an idea with it only being two days away.”

“Really? You’re awesome, mom. I can’t wait,” He replied excitedly. For once the smile touched her eyes just a little as she grinned back at him. Seeing him that happy was all she wanted out of life. Perhaps the upcoming holiday wouldn’t be so bad after all.

         Their conversation was cut short as they arrived home and went about their separate tasks. She prepared dinner, while Hayden grudgingly started his biology homework. The thoughts were still with her though, and she had to fight back tears several times while peeling potatoes.

         “Only two more days and it will all be over,” she whispered bitterly as she scrubbed her hands clean under the running water. She always liked to clean up between each task if she could, and with the potatoes in the boiling pot, it was time to check on the meatloaf. She took the pan out of the oven, but dropped it to the stovetop suddenly when she heard Hayden say something behind her.

         “Until what is over, Mom?” He asked, with a hint of suspicion in his voice. She turned and met his gaze, but had to drop her eyes almost immediately as anxiety overtook her. His eyes were far more piercing than she remembered. It seemed as if he could read her soul at that moment.

         But that didn’t change how she had trained herself to respond to situations like this. She knew she couldn’t handle talking about the truth openly, if it meant lying to him even more, then so be it. “Nothing, honey,” she replied smoothly, and then tried to change the subject, “Did you get your homework done?”

         “Yes,” he answered quickly, but he hadn’t been fooled this time, and he pressed the issue, “You didn’t answer my question very well. I think we need to talk, mother. I think it’s time you told me what’s so important about Valentine’s Day. Is it about Dad? I know it was around this time of year…”

         “I don’t want to talk about it!” She snapped, cutting him off abruptly. It shocked him, but it shocked her even more. She had made a pact with herself when he was very young that she would never raise her voice in anger with him. This was the first time she had ever broken it. The flood of tears could be held back no longer, and she was lost in uncontrollable sobs.

Her legs gave out beneath her and she would have fallen to the floor if Hayden hadn’t caught her. He hugged her tightly as she wept, doing his best to say words to soothe her, though he had never seen his mother in such distress. She didn’t seem to hear him anyway, and so he simply continued to hold her as well as he could.

Eventually her sobs seemed to subside a little, and he guided her over to a chair and sat her down, then went to check on the potatoes while she watched on numbly. He quickly got them ready to mash until she stopped him by saying his name quietly.

“Yeah, mom?” he replied, with a bit of uncertainty. He turned to look at her and saw what she had long kept hidden. The pain seemed reflected in every aspect of her face, instead of just her eyes, where he had always noticed it. He had always done his best to smile for her, because he knew it was the only thing that drove it away even a little. Even though it was often hard to keep smiling when she was obviously so hurt. Perhaps it was time to get the answers he had always wanted.

“Have a seat, dinner can wait. I think it’s time I told you the truth.” She gestured to the seat across from her, the seat he normally sat at during dinner, and he took it quickly, and then turned around to face her, flashing the best smile he could. She smiled back weakly, though it faded just as quickly as it had come. With a deep breath she began, and this time there was no anger in her voice. The only emotion she had at all was a tone of bitterness.

“Your father was a good man, Hayden. I know that we’ve never really talked about him, despite your questions over the years. To be honest, I was grateful that you had stopped asking those questions, even though it was never fair to you that you didn’t get to know him,” she paused for a moment, and then hung her head in shame as she said, “I suppose that is just as much my fault as it is his.”

“It’s okay, mom,” He replied, and placed his hand on hers, giving it a squeeze, “I know that whatever happened wasn’t easy for you. It must have been hard, losing him. I only have a few memories of him, and they are all good ones.”

“I think that may be part of the problem, the fact that the only memories of him are good ones…” She stared off wistfully for a moment, as she finally allowed. He was never one to hurt anyone else, and in fact, he was always sacrificing his time and energy for someone else. Maybe if he had been terrible just once, I would have made losing him easier to bear, but he wasn’t like that. He was perfect. You remind me of him a lot, actually.”

Hayden blushed as she said that, but didn’t reply. He wanted to give her a chance to continue without interrupting her, even if he was embarrassed by her compliment. His hesitation paid off as she went on, finally telling him the story he had longed to hear. “You’ve been to his grave, you know that he didn’t die on Valentine’s Day, but that was the last day either of us really saw him. Saw him for the person he was, at any rate. The last time he saw you was when we dropped you off at your grandmother’s house, since she had agreed to babysit you that night. We had intended to have a nice candlelight dinner, a night of romance, finishing off with… well, you probably don’t want to think about what we were going to do after that,” Hayden cheeks became an even deeper shade of red, and she smiled at him warmly, despite the pain in her eyes.

“The irony of what happened next is as twisted as can be. When we went to light the candles, we found out that we were out of matches. He was embarrassed that he had forgotten, even though I would never hold it against him. Why would I have been angry that he had forgotten matches? I would have been fine without the candles, but he wanted the dinner to be as romantic as possible. He said that he’d just run to the gas station and pick some up. It would only take ten minutes. He kissed me, told me he loved me, and that he’d be right back,” she took a deep breath, and then let out another sob, which seemed to threaten to bring back her tears, but somehow she held them back as she said in almost a whisper, “That was the first time he had ever lied to me.”

She did start crying then, and Hayden moved back to her side to embrace her once more. This time the tears didn’t continue for long, and she was soon wiping her face as she gestured back toward his chair so that she could continue the story. With some reluctance, he complied, seeing that she still seemed to need comfort. He settled on the compromise of taking her hand as it rested on the table, trying to be as supportive as he could in her distress.

“He didn’t come back. He was gone for a half an hour before I thought to give him a call. I figured he had just been caught in traffic or some other nonsense. When I called, he didn’t answer, which was how he normally was if he was driving. I figured I would see him in a few minutes as he was probably on his way home. I went ahead and started the dinner then, thinking I could surprise him with the meal already on its way. A half an hour later, I knew something was dreadfully wrong.”

She stopped a moment to collect herself. If she had any more tears to cry, they would have been falling, but she knew that she had to go on, if for no other reason than that Hayden deserved to know what had happened that night. Taking another deep breath she continued, “I tried calling him again, and this time someone did answer, but it wasn’t your father. It was the fireman who had carried your father’s unconscious body out of the burning building he was in. He told me what had happened, and then told me to get to the hospital as soon as possible. I was so worried at the time that I never realized how fortunate I was to find out so quickly. His cell phone must have fallen out of his pocket when he was being carried.”

“Wait, so dad was in a burning building?” Hayden asked, bewildered at the turn of events. He hadn’t wanted to interrupt, but it seemed like he was missing something important. “Why? That doesn’t make any sense!”

“I guess I am getting ahead of myself, aren’t I?” She replied numbly, and then tried to smile again but couldn’t, instead she just sighed and went on, “Remember what I said about your father being selfless? Well, that apparently extended to running into a burning building to save people. On his way home from the gas station, he drove past a house with smoke billowing out of the windows. The first thing he did was call 911, the second thing he did was park his car and rush into the building. He saved an entire family of four that night, but was knocked on the back of the head while rescuing the last one. He never woke up from that blow, and died a few weeks later.”

Hayden was confused, and it was written plainly on his face. When his mother made no move to continue her explanation, he felt it was time to seek clarification and said, “So dad was a hero… I don’t get it though, if he did such a great thing, why can’t you focus on the good side? He died saving people, what better death could a person ask for?”

She laughed, and the look of shock on Hayden’s face made her laugh harder. It was mirthless and bitter, but she laughed anyway before she explained, “He was so selfless he forgot about his wife and son who loved him, who needed him. Sure, some family is alive because of him, but what about our family? Don’t I get a chance to be happy? Yes, it’s selfish, but he willfully left me that night, on the day of love he chose his love of others over me. I don’t know if I can ever get over that. Why couldn’t he choose our family, instead of someone else’s? Maybe that makes me a terrible person, but I’ve never been able to feel differently.”

Hayden tried to look sympathetic, but it didn’t sit well with him, and being his father’s son, he chose to say what he thought was right instead of placating her. This time, he held his ground as he replied, “You’re right, it is selfish. I respect that you’ve been through a lot, and I love the life that you provided me, despite the pain you’ve suffered, but that doesn’t change the fact that he died being who he was, and doing the right thing. I hope that you’ll be able to accept that one day, but I’ll love you just the same regardless,” he gave her hand another squeeze and said, “I know it was hard for you to tell me all of that, but thanks, Mom. I’m really glad to know what happened. It’s been torture for me not knowing the full story. Do you want to tell me anything else, or should we get dinner finished?”

She sighed and wiped her eyes, then nodded as she rose to her feet. She gave him one long hug and then said, “Maybe you’re right, and I’ll have to try again. I’m willing to try, Hayden, but you’ll have to give me time, okay?”

He nodded and replied, “Alright. Now I’m hungry, let’s get that meatloaf!” They set about finishing getting dinner ready together, and spoke only of happier things. She drilled Hayden about his schoolwork and how his classes were going, but she did it good-naturedly. She knew he was trying, and his B in Math was as good as he had ever had. He asked her how work at the bakery was going, and if she had had a good morning. It was the usually type of conversation they had at that time, and it was almost easy to put aside the sadder thoughts from earlier in the evening. By the time dinner was over, neither of them was dwelling on what would be revisited in a couple days time.

         At least until Hayden left to hang out with a couple of his friends. Then she was alone with her thoughts, and the memories came back. But she was surprised to find that there was less pain then before. Maybe finally getting some of her feelings out in the open had been good for her. Though it was still painful, there was little anxiety attached to the memories.

         It was because she no longer had to hide them. Hayden had taken it in stride and had listened in his usual caring manner. She no longer had to worry about crying in front of him or not showing a strong front. He was an ally, and he could take care of her just as she took care of him. Once again she was reminded that she couldn’t live without her son. He was still everything to her.

         The day came faster than either of them had expected. Just as they had planned to spend Friday morning together, Thursday had been spent together in deciding what they would do. After she had double checked to make sure her shift was covered at work, and had called in to the school for him, they were on their way to a short hike in the mountains, one of their favorite shared activities. They both appreciated the revitalizing power of nature, and after their serious talk two nights before, she needed the energy from being in the mountains, even if it meant climbing over mounds of snow. Hiking in February was not for the faint of heart.

         Eventually they made it to the point in the trail where there was a small pond, which was frozen over at this time of year. They had hiked the trail before, and had agreed that this would be the spot they would turn around, but before they did, they took a moment to appreciate the beauty of their surroundings. It was there that Hayden decided to bring up the subject that had been troubling him for quite some time.

         “Mom, there’s something I have to tell you about my date tonight,” he said nervously, not quite sure how he wanted to approach things. He had rehearsed it a thousand times, but it had never quite sounded right, but now that he had started it, he knew he had to finish it.

         “What’s that, honey?” she replied, noting his nervousness. She had already begun facing her greatest fear, that of her haunting memories, and she doubted there was much that he could throw at her that would hit her any harder.

         “Mom, I don’t really know how to say this, so I guess I’ll just come right out with it… You see, the person that I’m going out with tonight, the one who will be picking me up, the one I really, really want to go out with…” He trailed off, and started fidgeting nervously, then turned away from her and looked toward the pond.

He didn’t seem to make any progress at getting his thoughts out, and so she stepped up beside him and laid a comforting hand on his shoulder and said, “It’s alright honey, you can tell me anything. I’m here for you, and I’m not going anywhere.”

With a deep breath he said in a rush, “Mom, I’m gay, and the person I’m going out with is a guy I’ve been crushing on for almost two years now, and I really hope you’ll be okay with all of this because I…” he looked at her as he trailed off and saw nothing but support in her eyes and he smiled the biggest smile he ever had as he said, “You knew, didn’t you? Somehow you knew this whole time… Wow, you’re the best mom ever.” He embraced her hard, and she returned it just as fiercely.

“Yeah, I always knew, that’s why I teased you so much about the girls, actually. I wanted you to tell me, but I was starting to get a little impatient. I’m glad you finally did, though,” she replied with her own smile, and she noticed that for once the smile actually did seem to fit her face. She was happy for her son. “So what’s his name? Do I get to meet him tonight?”

“Do you ever!” He replied excitedly, but he started pulling her toward the trail again so that they could start down before he kept going. “His name is Luke, and I’ve told him all about you. I really hope…”

She lost a lot of what he said as he was speaking too fast in his excitement, so she smiled and nodded along anyway. He still hadn’t finished talking about him by the time they had climbed back in the car and were heading home. It was the best distraction she had ever had from the pain she normally felt on Valentine’s Day, and she was genuinely excited for her son. Despite the fears she had of nurturing a broken heart, it was clear that he was incredibly into this boy named Luke.

The excitement continued all through the drive home, and she didn’t stop hearing about him until Hayden had gone upstairs to prepare for his date, though she did have to talk him through his nervousness of what to wear, which took going through almost every outfit in his closet, until he finally settled on the suggestion she had made to him a half hour prior. She was surprised that she had found the strength to help him through it all, considering her normal emotional state. She had to admit that she was finally starting to accept the hand that fate had dealt her, even if she did still have the urge to cry every so often throughout the day.

Hayden was a bundle of nerves once he was finally dressed and ready, and couldn’t sit still. Instead he paced around the family room, glancing between the clock and the door every thirty seconds. She had to stop herself from laughing at him several times, and instead channeled that laughter into a supportive and knowing smile. She thought he was going to bolt away from the room when the doorbell rang, from the look of anxiety that washed over him, but he took a deep breath and went to the door. Another doorbell ring and deep breath sequence later, he pulled the door open and said nervously, “Hi.”

She couldn’t see Luke from where she was standing, but she could see her son’s reaction and it was almost enough. Her son was infatuated with the boy on the other side of the door, and the nervous reply that echoed her son’s greeting told her that the feeling was mutual. She decided that things weren’t going to go anywhere without a little parental involvement, so she sighed and approached the door.

Standing on her stoop was one of the cutest teenage boys she had ever seen, and she admitted very quickly that Hayden had chosen wisely. He looked just as nervous as Hayden did, though he was also shuffling from foot to foot, as if he had no idea what to do next. She took that decision for him as she extended her hand toward Luke and said, “Hi, I’m Hayden’s mom. Would you like to come in?”

With an embarrassed grin he took her hand and stepped into the house as he replied, “Hi, I’m Luke. It’s nice to meet you.” The introduction seemed to get him the courage he needed to break the ice as he turned back to Hayden and said, “You look great, by the way.”

“Thanks, you do too,” Hayden replied, and they exchanged nervous giggles.

It was then that Luke’s eyes widened in shock, and then a bit of confusion, which spawned similar looks of confusion on both Hayden and his mother’s faces. Luke was focused on something behind Hayden, and without warning he suddenly stepped past both of them toward the small picture frame standing on the couch-side table; the only picture of Hayden’s father displayed anywhere in the house. His mother normally forgot it was even there, until she noted Luke’s focus on it.

“Who is this?” Luke asked in wonder, as he gently lifted the picture frame from the table.

Hayden, though confused, was more than happy to placate his date’s curiosity as he replied, “That’s my father. He died when I was very young.”

Without warning, Luke started tearing up, but after only a couple sniffles he got it under control as he whispered, “I don’t believe it. That man once saved my life, when I was very young.”

Hayden’s mother touched Luke’s shoulder gently, and he turned around to meet her gaze. She whispered as well, not trusting herself to speak in anything louder, but for fear that she would lose all control of her emotions as she pleaded, “please. Please tell me what happened.”

Luke took in a deep breath and explained, “When I was four, we had a house fire. My parents had wanted a nice candlelit dinner for Valentine’s Day, but a candle tipped over and they were unable to put it out. It soon got out of control, and they panicked. Luckily, a passerby happened to see the smoke and rushed in to help my family. He got my parents out first, and asked if there was anyone else inside, then rushed back into the house. He got to my baby sister first, and managed to get her out to safety, but by then the flames were very high.”

Luke seemed lost in the haze of the memory he was reliving for a moment, but he shook himself to clear his head and then continued the story. “I was in the furthest back room of the house, and I was terrified. I was screaming for my parents, and even though they could hear me, they felt helpless and paralyzed by their fear, or so they told me later. But that man, the one in the picture, he came through the flames and picked me up, carrying me toward the doorway. Once we got to the ground level though, the entryway collapsed, and he pushed me down to the floor and covered me to protect me from the explosion. He shouted something to me, that everything would be alright, and then I felt his whole body stiffen up for a second, as if he was struck from something. He did the best he could to protect me, covering me up with his body, and then he went limp.”

He looked up at her sadly as he went on, and the helplessness in his voice carried with it every emotion that she had felt over the past few days. “It was lucky for me that the firefighters showed up very soon after that, but it wasn’t enough to save him, I know that he died from the injury he sustained while he was protecting me. I was only four, but I’ll always remember his face. On the most terrible night of my life, it was the first thing that gave me any hope. I’ve thought of him as my guardian angel ever since.”

Luke continued to meet her gaze until he dropped his eyes, ashamed by what he was feeling, he then muttered sadly, “I’m sorry, maybe I should go. If it weren’t for me, maybe he’d still be alive. I guess it’s been selfish of me to think of him as my personal hero all these years.”

Though several tears had already stained her face during his explanation, the single one she wiped away then seemed more important than the others. It was the final one, as she had finally received the knowledge she needed. She could move on. With a smile that more that touched her eyes, it touched her soul; she embraced Luke fully as she whispered, “Nonsense. I couldn’t ask for a more fitting ending to the story of my husband, and you finally answered a question for me, one that I’ve had since the day he died. Did his death really have meaning? I haven’t known until now, meeting you, that it did. He died protecting someone worth protecting, and I’m very glad to have met you, Luke.”

He met her eyes again, this time he almost looked away in shame because of his tears, but the acceptance he saw in her face told him that he had no reason to be afraid of crying in front of her. She looked over at Hayden and saw that his cheeks were wet as well, but he met his mother’s eyes with a look of pride in his. He was pleased with what she had said, and agreed with every word of it.

“Now, I want to see you around here a lot more often, Luke, especially considering how infatuated Hayden seems to be with you,” she said with a smile as she glanced at her son again, seeing his embarrassment. “But I believe that the two of you had dinner reservations, no?”

The question shocked the two boys out of the moment, for which she was glad, and they were out the door a moment later, after a quick but heartfelt hug between Hayden and his mother. In the excitement of youth, they were able to put the moment aside in order to focus on their date, and the exploration of their young love.

Which left her alone on Valentine’s Day, the exact thing she had been dreading, but it wasn’t as bad as she thought it would be. Instead, she hadn’t felt better in years. She sat on the couch and picked up the framed picture of the love of her life, and instead of the haunting memories of the hospital and the smell of smoke, her thoughts were filled with the words he had left her with, the words she now knew were true. He loved her, and he loved their son.

“You know,” she said to her husband in the photograph, “If I had known that you died protecting the love of Hayden’s life, I would have never held it against you.”

She touched the picture lovingly, and smiled the same smile that her son had gotten from her. It no longer felt strange on her face, because she felt like he had finally come back to her like he had promised. Love was no longer dead.