Li returned to me on a chilly day in the deep midwinter. The Colorado sky, blue against the white backdrop of our mountains, had no cloud layer to shield me from the numbing cold. Just as I had no protection from my own heart. The way it beat for only Li.
First, came the smoke, billowing in front of the train’s engine in a puff of grey, followed by the roar and clanging of metal, complaining like a grumpy old man with aches and pains in his joints. It slowed as it came around the bend and came to stop before me.
I searched for him in the windows. The face I knew as well as my own. And there he was. Centered in a window as if he were a photograph in a crude frame. I lifted my hand in welcome. He placed his hand against the foggy window.
My stomach fluttered with excitement even as a sense of calm washed over me. He was here. Everything was right in my small world. There would be no one else for me. I’d known it for a while now. I wanted him for all time. Not only as a musical playmate but as the love of my life. By my side, through seasons and children, joys and sorrows.
By the end of this week, I would be nineteen years old. I’d decided I would tell him, finally, of my feelings. In all the days we’d spent together I’d searched and searched for hints in that face I loved so. Did he love me too? But I couldn’t see it, one way or the other. Li was not like my father or my brother Theo. Everything they felt was portrayed with a nod of the head, twitch of the cheek, or curve of a smile. Not Li. His reticence and caution informed his day to day life. Except when he played music. Then, I knew his heart.
And still, I had no idea if he returned my feelings. I’d bided my time, restless and itchy but knowing it was unlikely. For one thing, he was six years older than me. I might be a silly schoolgirl to him or the youngest sibling of the original Barnes children. A little girl with black curls and a big bow. I didn’t know and so I waited.
He’d been away in Denver since the new year, playing music in a club there and playing piano and violin for a recording with a renowned blues singer.
For as long as I could remember, my family had departed and returned from the train platform in Emerson Pass. I’d watched with a bittersweet ache as my sisters and brothers left for adventures. Later, I’d waited for them in the same spot I’d said goodbye, delighted to welcome them home. Yet, I had no desire to travel myself. Was this a character flaw? This natural contentment and love of home? I’ve no idea. I was quite simply Fiona Barnes. Sister, friend, daughter, and auntie. My gifts were appreciated. I never had any urge to go myself. Why would I, when everything and everyone I loved was a stone’s throw away?