Jenny had put yellow curtains up and some colorful pillows on her bed to make her cheap and slightly run-down room feel more like home. In September 2019, a new job in New York City required her to move. Having rented a room in a shared house, she looked on the bright side of the situation — she was making friends with the other occupants, plus the house was not too far from the Coney Island beach.
Getting to work on time meant waking up at 5 a.m. to walk to the train station. Being 23 years old and coming from a small town, the fast pace of New York City, plus knowing that she had no family or friends nearby to watch over her, put her on edge. As always, she was wearing a skirt and jacket and carrying a big black bag.
She could feel the brisk morning air as she moved quickly through the streets to the Sheepshead Bay subway station in Brooklyn. Many people were waiting, habitually standing idle. She would say: “Good morning” and “How are you?” conducting herself in the same manner as she did in her hometown. Most people would reply kindly back to her.
At the station, she always noticed a young man dressed in the scrubs worn by people who work at hospitals. Jenny was curious about him as he sat on the bench with his head down. She saw he had the ability to ignore everything around him. As for herself, she always stood straight, clutching her bag as she waited for the train.
One day Jenny noticed the hospital worker was walking her way. He looked toward her as they both were finding it hard to find an empty seat on the subway. She smiled and said: “Good morning.” He replied with a small smile and a nod of his head, then he slumped down into a seat.
After this day, he would always smile at her brightly, and many times he would ask if she had a good day or how her weekend was. She answered, always with a smile, and asked him the same questions. She grew fond of his thoughtful nature. His friendly brown eyes and smile appealed to her.
Everyone she knew at work and those living in the shared house all had hectic lifestyles just like hers, and so far she had made no real friends. Going for a walk or downloading another novel onto her phone to read was a good distraction — better than having thoughts about being on her own.
Jenny spent Christmas with her parents and the New Year 2020 began, with her going back to work in mid-January. She did not see many of the familiar faces on the subway platform, only recognizing the hospital worker that she secretly became attached to. He greeted her more cheerfully now and sat opposite her on the train.
On a windy day, the train rocked them from side to side and their eyes met. “The name’s Ted. This train could be like a roller coaster the way it’s moving!” He joked and they laughed and talked until Jenny had to get off at her stop.
Now knowing his name and that he was a nurse, she had hoped to see him the next morning. He didn’t show. Weeks passed like a blur and all the news was expressing warnings about the spread of coronavirus. In March, her boss told the staff to start working from home.
The cozy nook, her rented room at Sheepshead Bay, was her refuge. But that didn’t stop her from being afraid of catching the virus. The only way to forget it was to download another book. While doing so, an advertisement popped up about meditating. Jenny took a bit of interest.
After that, she was happier as those bothersome thoughts of Ted and herself being infected by the virus stopped rattling around in her head.
“It’s best to think positive,” she spoke to herself, putting her hands together, and she looked up. “I hope Ted and I will be safe,” she said aloud. The daily routine was now meditation in the morning, then she could work efficiently at home, and later she took a quick walk at the end of the day.
In May, she went back to work at the office. There was no one she recognized at the subway station, but there were many people waiting for a train. She reached for a tissue from her bag to wipe her teary eyes while she wondered what had happened to those she once greeted. Were they safe from the virus? What was happening in their lives?
The months flew by fast and Thanksgiving arrived. All who shared the house together cooked a traditional dinner. Some weeks later, the Christmas holiday came at last. Jenny couldn’t wait to return home to see her parents. Then, after time spent with family, she was eager to start work again.
Returning to work on January 10, 2021, she began seeing some of the people she had greeted in the morning before the pandemic started. The days went by like a dream, with her moving back and forth, and stopping only briefly to talk to someone if she got the chance.
Now it was February, and today her heart skipped a beat. Spotting a familiar person sitting with his head down while waiting for the train, she almost flew as she headed toward him. She tapped him on his shoulder, forgetting herself. He lifted his head and his brown eyes lit up. “Sorry I was taking a nap.”
The two held each other in a tight gaze, taking in the masks covering half of their faces. Ted broke the silence, and with his eyes downwards he said: “I’m glad to see you. You’ve got a beautiful smile.” He brought his eyes up to hers to see the reaction.
“I missed your smile. It’s good to see you too,” Jenny said as she moved a strand of her brown hair behind her ear.
Ted stammered his words: “There’s no one else like you.” They kept their eyes locked on each other.
Jenny’s eyes were beaming and her heart pounded as she listened. “Never felt like this before…” He stood up and faced her. “Work is intense right now, but I would like to get to know you even if it has to be over the phone.”
Jenny couldn’t stop grinning and thought it was time to take a chance. “Yes, you can call me.” Ted glanced at his phone. “You know it’s Valentine’s Day! You could, if you wanted, be my Valentine?” He held his phone out for her to see. She saw the date and Jenny said: “Wow!”
Ted ran his fingers over the screen of his phone: “How would you like some flowers?”
Jenny grinned and blushed at the same time. She took her phone out and composed a message: “Yes, I would love to receive flowers and I will be your Valentine!” Her brown eyes glowed as she sent the text along with her work address to his phone and listened as the little ping announced it had arrived.
The train arrived at the platform as they stood enticed with each other. Her phone made some pings of its own, telling her she would receive flowers today from Ted. Smiling, he put his hand out to suggest for her to board the train. Before she did, she turned to him and said: “Happy Valentine’s Day!”
This is a fictional story based on overcoming difficulties in the circumstances of the coronavirus spread in 2020.