The Valentine

May 25, 2011
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All of the children rushed to the playground for their twenty minute recess. She pouted by the classroom; she had staked a claim to that second desk, now a mere two days later and it was given to a boy who couldn’t stop talking. Opposites in every sense of the word—a social experiment no doubt. He would not learn to be quiet and she would not learn to speak freely.
Best left alone.

He reached over and tickled her side.
“You’re annoying.” She rolled her eyes, pushing him away. The boy smiled—laughter in his eyes.
“You’re nice.”
Said with absolute sincerity. Out in the open.

The card burned in her hand; the lollipop threatening to fall from its loose hold. Its cheesy “Bee Mine” was a bold declaration from her eight year old heart; the lollipop’s “Kiss Me” an absurd proposition—laughable. Still… Too late for regrets.
In the midst of the chaotic noise, she slipped both items separately into his make-shift mailbox. Surprise, surprise: it was filled to the brim.
He walked over to his overflowing box and poured its contents onto a nearby desk. Was it there? Was it there? There it lay, in all its beauty.
When her back was turned to him, he quickly prepared himself. Smiling, he tapped her shoulder. The two little words sat on his tongue, heavy with anticipation.
“Kiss me!” He declared, peeling off the clumsily labeled tape.

Lunchtime. She sat in her little nook as usual; not isolated but not welcoming. The hellos directed towards her were met with a halfway smile and nod. Not cold, not warm. Friendly acquaintances—all of them, nothing more.
His tray dropped next to hers with a loud clang. She looked up, shocked—he smiled. (Did he always have to smile?)
“I’m sitting with you.”

Her hand was sweating. It happened so fast; when had she agreed to this? Her friend laughed at him as he looked for his pencil with a SpongeBob topper. Her friend pointed at her, snickering as she yelled, “She has it!”
Cheeks burning, she met his gaze. His eyes worried, filled with anxiety.
“Do you have it?”
“No.” The lie flowed naturally. Had she really said that? He visibly relaxed.
“She’s lying!” Her friend screeched. Ah, what a friend.
“She would never lie to me. I trust her.” He smiled—there it was again—and gave her friend a stink face.
Never would she feel such guilt then she did in that moment as he walked away, continuing his search for the novelty pencil.

“Can I tell you who I like?” He asked, breaking the silence that had settled in.
“Yes.” She nods. He leans towards her, whispering the fortunate girl’s name into her ear. Unconsciously, her shoulders droop. Yes, she feels disappointed but no—she’s not upset. In the back of her mind she realizes that her bond with him goes beyond that of an average friendship, one that could never be satisfied by a romantic pursuit.
Does he realize this too?

For two years now, they’ve had classes together. For two years now, they’ve sat next to each other. For two years now, his girlfriend has looked on with envy. He doesn’t know this. She, on the other hand, is painfully aware. She has no intention to steal him away—it makes no sense for that to be the conclusion that everyone comes to. Of course, it didn’t matter to her and it seemed like it didn’t matter to him.
In her heart of hearts, she feared the day it would. All was imminent.

“I didn’t know you listened to music.”
“Who doesn’t listen to music?”
“I guess losers.”
“You thought I was a loser?”

“They want to cheat off of me and I can’t handle that.”
“You won’t have to. I’ll protect you.”
“You’ll switch seats with me then?”
“Don’t worry. Every note will be returned to its sender. You deserve better.”

His yearbook is just a few inches away. It calls her. She yearns to sign it, yearns to do so before they embark onto high school before they forget. His girlfriend avoids her casted glances. His girlfriend has had enough of this. This home wrecker knows the “love” of her life better than she, his girlfriend, ever will.
She feels like crying. Every opportunity she has had to verbally express her love is dashed.
But not quite.

New school, new start.

He’s ignoring her now. What did she do wrong?

She had cautiously approached him, attempting the small talk conversations that always eluded her in his presence. Conversations with him should be grand, but something was better than nothing.
Swing and miss; deer-in-the-headlights. Well, no more. He ignored her; she’d ignore him.
Were that it be so easy.

After months, he’d taken the initiative that she had desperately hoped he would.
A rushed “Happy Valentine’s Day!” as he sped out the door, hurrying to his usual lunch table. Hurrying to his friends and ex-girlfriend who held out hope.
Hurrying away from the person who had loved him beyond means.
Valentine’s Day six years ago, beautiful. Valentine’s Day today, utterly bitter.

“I have a partner for the project. Sorry.”
“But, it was just assigned.”
“I promised someone else earlier I’d work with them.”
“Maybe next time.”

Red. That’s all she could ever see now. Anger. That’s all she could ever feel now. Accidental run-ins would find both parties watching the ground with such intensity.
Awkward eye contact followed by quick turns—deviations.
Once friends, now strangers.

I’m afraid of losing him even after I already have.
How could he leave without saying good bye?
He’s the only person I will ever love this completely and that terrifies me.

Remorse. Her fault, all her fault. The signs were everywhere. From the start their strained friendship had a short life expectancy. The flickers of hope in the first year had been the grasping of straws, the life support.
Now it was gone, and the better part of her optimism and love with it.
A poor investment. Time heals wounds, but leaves scars.

No resentment. Just appreciation. Was such a thing possible?
Her friend was right—like always. A childhood friend who changes isn’t a shock, is expected. Had “friend” ever been the right term?
She knew much of it was an exaggeration on her behalf. She had never been as important to him as he was to her.
She would never be as important.

He changed. She changed. What do you know? Life goes on.

If social networks didn’t exist, he wouldn’t have been tempted to “friend” her. If she had avoided it, she could have avoided him.
An act of fate.

Before it’s all over, I need to see you. Do it for old time’s sake. Do it for the friendship we once had. Please.

She sat at the bench, waiting. He appeared from behind the building—bounding towards her with no hesitation. The years of humiliation and silence seemingly disappeared in an instant. Before long, she would leave. He would leave. They would all leave.
“What do you want?”
“To tell you that I miss you.”
“Isn’t it a little too late for that?”
“You were the best friend I ever had—the best friend I ever lost.”
“When did you come to that conclusion?”
“The moment I realized I’d never see you again.”
“How convenient for you.”
“I was wrong—so wrong—for letting you go. I realize that you may never want to speak to me again. You hold no judgment. No one is as understanding like you were—you know me better than I know myself.”
She couldn’t bear to hear such proclamations. Not now, why now? She had gained self-respect, had removed him from his glorious pedestal. He came back—he always came back. Now all she could do was run.
Does anything ever really change?

He chased her. Not she, he.
“I’ve always loved you.” Yelled it, for everyone to hear and everyone to see. She stopped cold. Spoke without turning.
“Don’t say things you don’t mean.” Walked in front of her, earnest eyes.
“Never more than now.” Hint of a smile. Damn that smile! Years had changed his stature, changed his hair, changed his eyes even.
His smile was still the same.
The truth rushed over her. The wall of safety came crashing down. No matter how different they were now, it persisted.
“I still love you…” She whispered. A tear escaped; she hadn’t meant to.
His smile broke free—she broke down.

He had been selfish. He had relied on her love, taken it for granted. Relinquished it when he should have held on. He had not loved her as she loved him, but not for lack of sentiment—for lack of a bigger capacity.

The last day. After all of it, this was the last day. It was now or never. He ran to her. She sat on the bench like she always had. Isolated like it seemed she had always been. Pure hearted like she would always be.
If someone could ever live up to her, it wasn’t him.
“You deserve better.”
Before she could say anything, he gingerly placed his envelope next to her. Without faltering, he kissed her forehead. A warmth stirred within.
“Let me go.”
His final words. Swiftly and unexpected: he left her life as he had entered it.
She reached into the manila envelope, grabbing a fragile, thin card—the valentine. Everything was faded: the bee, the words, her name, his name. Her heart dropped. Speechless. She sat paralyzed before remembering that there was still something left in the envelope. Her hand claimed a neatly folded pink origami heart. Writing on the back.
My heart will always “bee” yours.

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