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The Catastrophic-Yet-Not-So-Catastrophic Valentine's Day
Howling, yowling, yipping, yapping, the wind twists, turns, cracks snaps, through the boughs of oaks, firs, maples, willows, still brittle from the long winter. As it races onward, tossing the dry, brown leaves in spiraling gusts, the wind shoves itself through all of the cracks and niches and crannies it can possibly find. It whips at hair. It whips at hats. It whips at coats. In particular, it whips at the hair, the hat, and the coat of one Miss Aster Hemingway.
Aster finds herself huddling inside her long, russet trench coat on her way home from work. Oh, what a miserable walk to my car it will be! she silently commiserates about her current plight when the weather throws an even bigger temper tantrum. The thick, dark, furious clouds, opening up, drench the sidewalks in thousands of angry tears for their mummy would not allow them to play. “Oh joys!” Aster groans, shuffling along. “Thank you for the chilling, refreshing shower. I wasn’t cold enough already, you know.” Shaking her now-soaking head of dark hair, she takes refuge under a shop awning, for she had quickly made the decision to catch a taxi to her car.
Taxis come and taxis go, before Miss Aster Hemingway manages to flag one down. Flinging the door wide open, she hurls herself inside, shivering and drenched, looking like a drowned rat. “T- t- take m- m- me,” she stammers, teeth chattering from the bone-deep chill, “t- to Al- Alm- Almond W- Way, p- please.” Chills stampede down her spine as she shrugs her very heavy coat off. “Th- thank-- thank you.”
Buffeted by the mad charioteer--more commonly known as a tempestuous, ill-tempered wind--the taxi-driver eventually lets Aster off at her car. “Thank you,” Aster repeats graciously, slinging her still-soaked coat on. “I am much obliged.” Grabbing her purse and hastily paying the driver, she slips out of the cab and dashes madly towards her own car, fumbling for her keys as she runs.
She barely manages to unlock the car before she sees, sitting on the seat, a Valentine’s card, reminding her the date was February the fourteenth--the very day a year ago when Jared Tate dumped her, a week before they were to become one, for a different girl. Seeing the handwriting of her former fiancé, she tosses it in the glove box and starts the engine. As she pulls away from the curb, she finds herself much further away than she was before, noticing her would-have-been brother-in-law waving her down. Unconsciously, she lets out an audible groan, but, knowing how incredibly enjoyable it was to take a leisurely walk through the pouring rain, she stops and gestures him over to the car. He gladly bounds inside. “Oh, thank you, Aster! Thank you!”
“You’re welcome, Joshua,” Aster replies in a very cold, stiff voice, not daring to make any eye contact with him.
The newcomer rolls his eye, quickly shoving his damp hair off his forehead with an impatient flick. “Aster, come on, girl. We’re buddies. We’re pals. We’re chums. Don’t call me by my full name. You haven’t called me that since you decided you ‘hated’ me in fifth grade for getting you out in wall ball.” He cracks a smile, laying a hand on her shoulder. Aster immediately shrugs it off. “Gosh, Hemmy! Why’re you being so cold to me today?”
That did it. “Hemmy” was the last thing Aster wanted to hear from Joshua Tate. Whipping around to face the staring, green eyes beside her, she locks eyes with him, her face hot and red with anger. “Joshua!” she scolds him. “Just shut your mouth, won’t you? We’re not buddies. We’re not pals. We’re not chums. Not anymore, Josh. Not anymore. Your brother hurt me when he ran off with Isabelle Turner a week before our wedding. You are the brother of my former fiancé. My former fiancé who ditched me for another, prettier, slimmer girl. How the heck am I supposed still be buddies, pals, chums, with his brother? I’m sorry, Josh. I just don’t want anything to do with him. And that includes his family.” She whirls back around in her seat, angry tears broiling behind her big blue eyes. First the weather went haywire, then some guy from her past turned up, acting like they were still best friends after so much had happened to ruin their relationship. This was just the way she had planned her day.
In angry silence, she steps on the gas and heads towards the Tate residence. When she is about a block away, Joshua points the opposite direction. “We’re headed that way, Aster,” he informs her quietly, attempting not to upset her again. One blow-up was enough for one day, let alone a month. “I’m not going home. I have a business trip on the east coast. I’ll be there about a month..” Pausing, he pats his old, beat up brief case and sighs. Here goes nothing… he groans inwardly. “I- I thought you could come to visit your family.” Hastily, he adds, “But only if you want. I can gladly leave you here to your boring old job, all alone in your lonely apartment.”
Aster has had enough. She simply cannot handle Josh right now. His sarcasm and piteousness will drive her mad if she doesn’t rid herself of this nuisance. And quickly. “Who do you think I am, Josh?” she bellows. “I can’t just leave me job for a month. They need to know beforehand. Like way beforehand, Josh. This is not enough notice. I’d like to visit my family, but I just can’t leave my job right now.
“Besides,” she continues, blushing, “I’m not going anywhere with you, especially on a long road trip. Maybe I would have. But I’ve changed, Josh. I’ve changed since your stupid brother had to up and leave me for Isabelle. You know it’s been a year?” She heaves a heavy sigh, shaking her head, trying not to cry. She pulls the car to the curb, stopping it. Still cowardly enough to keep her face averted, she whispers, “I’ll just drop you off here, if that’s okay.”
But Josh makes no move to unbuckle. Looking straight forward, he replies quietly, “Aster I know you’re not the same. I didn’t expect you to be. I know my brother hurt you. But I just want to be friends again, like we always were. That’s not too much to ask, is it?” Troubled, trembling, he bites his tongue. He is very, very tempted to blurt out his feelings, but he keeps them locked inside for Aster’s sake. With a deep breath, he continues, “I just want to be friends. Not even buddies. Not even pals. Not even chums. You can’t say no to an old friend.”
“Even if he’s now an old enemy?” she questions tearfully, wanting so much to say yes, yet resisting the urge. After Jared left her, she had locked away all feelings she had ever felt towards him--and towards Josh. Even before the incident with Jared, Aster would hardly admit to anyone--not even to herself--that the feelings she claimed she had for Jared were actually for Josh. But there were reasons. She never felt she was good enough for Josh. Josh was smart and kind and patient and everything Aster ever wanted in a man. Yet Aster was slow and hot-tempered and impatient and everything she was sure Josh wouldn’t want in a woman. She couldn’t bring herself to admit that she had good points, too, that Josh admired. She simply found that thought confounding. And she still does.
“Would you really want me to take you back as a friend?” Aster asks. “I- I’ve been rather cold to you this last year. I- I don’t see how you could want me back as a friend, let alone won’t me to take you back as a friend.”
Josh lays a hand on her shoulder. With a deep breath, he responds, “Yes, Aster, even if I’m now an old enemy. As long as you’ll forgive me. You don’t even have to forgive Jared if you don’t want to. He’s too happy with that Isabelle character to care too much about old friends. Even friends as old as you, Aster. But me? I’m free enough still to care. And I really do want your forgiveness. That is, if you’ll accept my apology. Because I kind of neglected our friendship this last year, too.”
The car is overwhelmed by an overbearing silence which crashes down over their unexpecting shoulders like a tidal wave. They both sit there, reflecting, silent, respectful, for a couple of moments. Squeezing her eyes shut, Aster feels warm tears tiptoeing down her cheeks. And then she feels a tissue--a light cloud of tender, friendly love--pat them away. A sob escapes as she whispers, “Oh, Josh, I forgive you. I forgive you. I do. I really do.” Pausing, she lets her words sink in before adding, quieter still, “But can you forgive me for shunning you in the first place? I mean… I kind of started it.” She opens her eyes in time to see him nod slightly.
“Now, will you go with me on my trip? Just to see the rest of your family?” he asks again. This time, she’s the one to nod. “Let’s go to your place. Just so you can pack a little something.” He gestures again to his brief case. “I already have mine.” Nodding again, Aster starts the engine, heading home.
Days later, when they arrive on the east coast, the two go down to the beach. Josh grabs the Valentine--really from him, not his brother--out of the glove box, making sure Aster doesn’t see him do so. He has a special purpose fro the Valentine’s contents. A purpose Aster would soon discover.
As they walk, barefooted, in the soft, warm sand, Aster stops, gazing out across the sea, a smile inching across her face. “Do you remember,” she begins softly, “when you, Jared, Violet, and I would come out here when we were little and make wishes on seashells?” Josh nods, smiling at the fond memory of the four youngsters. “Well, I once made a wish that nobody knows. I wish I was sure would never come true. Before Jared proposed, that is. Thos were the happiest days of my life, the days of my engagement.
“And then he broke it off. He ran away. He married Isabelle. He hurt me. He hurt my family. He left me alone. He scarred me.
“He broke my heart. But now… I feel whole again. I have hope again. I have hope that my secret wish will come true.” She shrugs. “It still probably won’t, but there’s a thread of hope dangling there still. I feel like I’ve returned to my former self. Like I can just forget what Jared did to me, forgive him, and live my life normally. It’s like my heart, once stolen, has been returned.”
Here, she gets very quiet. In the crimson light of the setting sun, who bathes the beach in his warm love, she can feel the blush creeping up her cheeks at a certain thought. The thought which has always been there. The thought which has always scared her. The thought she has always shoved away.
Yet before she can even think about expressing her emotions, Joshua slips the Valentine gently into her slim fingers, clasping them shut around it. “Here,” he whispers. “Read it. Please.” And then he wanders off down the reddened sand, leaving her to her thoughts.
Staring in the direction he headed, Aster’s fingers tremble as she lifts the little red envelope’s tab. They slip over the edge, anxious to discover the contents. They pull it out. A small, plain card, it is indeed. The only decoration is a print of a bright pink aster, wringing a shaky smile from the woman of the same name. It was their symbol--hers and the Tate boys. Oh, the memories! Slowly, tremulously, she peers inside. There is a note. A rather long note. From Joshua. Not Jared. It reads:
My dearest Hemmy,
I know your pain. I know how much of it Jared caused. All of it. It’s all because of my brother. And I’m very sorry. Please forgive me, for it was my fault Jared acted the way he did. He was jealous of me. I have always been smarter, more talented, more diligent, more willing to work than he. And he felt like I was trying to show him up. So he took the thing he knew I wanted most.
That thing, Hemmy, is you. He started dating you because he wanted to keep you away from me. Envy was eating away at him, gnawing at him. If it was something I wanted, Jared wanted it more so that I couldn’t be mine. And that envy led him so far he asked you to marry him, even though he loved another woman more than you. His envy trumped even his love.
Jared and Isabelle are now living in England. Isabelle has been corresponding with me, since Jared still envies all I have more than anything else. I keeps him form speaking with me. Besides his terrible envy, Isabelle says they’re very happy. Happier than Jared would’ve been with you. Isabelle says even he admits that, because deep inside he knows that his actions are wrong. Sadly, he refuses to repent of his nasty ways.
And now, Hemmy, I want to apologize for Jared, since he won’t do so himself. I can’t let his envy destroy the friendship we’ve always had. That’s too precious. I want to let you know that even though Jared never truly loved or respected you, I, Hemmy, always have.
As Aster reads the note, her eyes fill with tears. Tears of joy. Tears of forgiveness. Tears of so many emotions all mixed into one large boiling pot. It really hit home with her. She knows how she has always felt--that she was not good enough for Josh. Because of this feeling, she had settled for Jared. And now she knows why Jared even claimed to love her. Pocketing the note, she runs after Josh. When she catches up with him, she whispers gently, “Oh, Josh, so have I. So have I.”