Coming onto the landing, slow and sore after kickboxing—pummeling something has always been the best way to work out my nerves—I was greeted with a howl of “Oh, hell!” from inside the sitting room. I opened the door in time to see her fling something into the fire, whirl and throw a shiny, pointy thing at the back wall, and run.
“Sherlock?” I said to the emphatic bang of the door at the end the hall.
It was a crochet hook—the thing she’d thrown. It had rolled under the sofa, but I got it out and regarded it, bemused. It sat slender, blue, and innocent in my hand. I could see no reason for Sherlock’s dismay in it.
Next, of course, I considered the fireplace, but whatever she’d thrown in had already burnt out into a small, curled crisp. It smelled horrid—burnt plastic. Likely a failed experiment; but I’d never seen her so overthrown by anything inanimate.
Finally I gave due consideration to her silent, defiant door. Had she behaved that way six months, even six weeks ago, I’d have shrugged, made a cuppa and gone on about my evening, but now—well. Now I had seen Sherlock Holmes in coveralls, and I was a changed woman.
A mouse had died behind the ancient, rusted-in heating vent on a frigid week in January, and festered there, till the entire building smelled of it. We couldn’t pry the vent cover off. It took the combined efforts of Mrs. Hudson (with biscuits to sustain us), Mr. Chatterjee, and me (persistent despite my bleeding knuckles) to free the despicable thing. Triumphant at last, I’d carried the corpse downstairs to be disposed of; had returned to find Sherlock kneeling there, eyes shining with determination and a screwdriver shoved between her teeth while she wrestled the vent cover back into place. Her teeshirt was sleeveless, her bare arms beautiful; that, I believe, influenced me considerably, but the worst of it was the coveralls she’d put on at some point out of, I assume, the idea that the costume made the handyman. Seeing her in them made me want to climb into her lap.
That wasn’t the beginning of my crush. It was more the sudden awareness of a crush already very well formed. I could have sank to my knees in the hall and kissed her sweaty neck with the reek of the mouse still in the air, but instead I walked past her into the bathroom; sat down on the toilet and whispered, “You can’t do this, she’s your flatmate.” But of course ever since I’d been irredeemably gone on her.
Now I regarded her door and waited for a sign from the heavens that would never come. I’d been floundering about for weeks, awaiting one–should I make a move? Confess my suddenly discovered, rather overwhelming love? Knock myself over the head, and hope for amnesia? I suppose the heavens just wanted me to get on with it. It was Valentine’s Day, and there was a Heath bar and a tiny vial of strychnine wrapped in a tissue inside my jacket pocket, chosen instead of flowers. I knew I had to do or die. I marched down the hall to knock on her door. Sepulchral silence continued from within.
“Sherlock,” I said, “I’m coming in.”
A sudden, soft scramble. Further silence.
I pushed open the door.
She lay buried facedown under her half-dozen pillows, arms flung out in the misery of (evidently) her crushed feelings and thwarted hopes (the reason still unknown). I approached cautiously, and tapped at the heel of the long, sad bare foot hanging off the near side of the bed. She shivered, but didn’t move.
I sat down beside her. Considered my options.
“Is the crochet hook in the sitting room filched evidence of any sort?” I said, for lack of a better opener. “Or are there bodily fluids dried on it, or acid, or something?”
A scandalised sound emerged from under the pillows. “I wouldn’t fling acid-covered evidence about in the sitting room,” she said, muffled, but firm. “Really, you should know that.”
“I supposed so,” I admit, and then, “You burnt something in the fireplace.”
“Only yarn. A stupid lot of ridiculous, impossible–.”
“You were actually crocheting in the sitting room.”
“Clearly. Yes.” A soft, tumbled head of curls poked up a little; the owner of the curls peeked over her sad bare shoulder at me. “Must we talk about it?”
“Perhaps just a little.” I patted her leg in an attempt to encourage, or perhaps to apologize. “Isn’t it working out, then? Could I help?”
“It’s too late,” was the bitter reply. She buried her head amid the pillows again, but a hand crept back, found my knee and stroked it. “I’ll never finish now.”
She’d always been nudgy; liked to lie draped over my lap like a cat on the sofa, or lean over my chair and rub her hands through my hair the wrong way in lieu of a greeting. It was glorious. It was torturous. I put my hand atop her hand; wound my fingers between the slender fingers, and she clung to it and said softly, “I was making you a scarf. For—” another tiny peek— “for today.“
“You keep picking up coughs and colds. From that dreadful clinic.”
“You do, and then you go out barenecked in February. It makes me chilly, looking at you.”
“For God’s sake.” I couldn’t honestly deny it. I thought a moment. “For today, though?”
“Valentine’s Day,” she said into the pillows, and all at once my insides were turning bright, glowing, shining all over the room. She said, “One gives gifts to one’s—other. So I’ve heard.”
“I’ve heard that, too,” I said, and I knew the change in me was audible when she scrambled to sit up all at once. She was blushing. She was blushing over me. I said, “I brought you chocolate. And also poison. Not in the chocolate, separately. To adequately reflect the duality of your contradictory soul, which I lo—I love.”
There was an endless, an epochal pause, and then she said, ineloquently, “Oh,” and at once I had an armful of Sherlock, a warm curly head pushed up under my chin, and then, wonder of all wonders, kisses were being pressed into my skin; and it was a very good day, Valentine’s Day.