August 1, 2016 by Lyn
Valentine’s Day, Year 4 of the Addergoole School
He’d thought the flowers would be the hard part, but it turned out that the shop that could order anything for the students really could order anything, and had managed to come up with yellow and white roses and daffodils when daffodils wouldn’t be in season for another month.
He thought he’d have trouble picking out a piece of jewelry, but Mabina and Cassidy showed up, flush with the smiles of people so linked that they needed none of this romance, and helped him pore over the cases of jewelry at the shop. “Not a necklace, it’s just another collar. Earrings. These. They’ll complement her eyes and that hair.”
He was worried about cooking dinner, but Conrad popped into the dorm kitchen, laden with groceries. “Relax, bro,” he’d grinned. “I’ve done this before.”
It had all gone so easily that he’d forgotten that the real challenge lay ahead.
He walked into his room, their room, balancing a tray with the flowers, the earrings, and the meal on it, to find her laying on the bed, pretending to read her homework. She’s been on the same page when he left in the morning – although she’d changed her clothes and showered, and arranged that lovely hair artfully over her shoulders.
“Oh, it’s you,” she said disdainfully, and he did his best not to flinch. She couldn’t have really expected anyone else.
“It’s me,” he agreed. “I, uh…” Half a year, and she still made him tongue-tied. He remembered, wistfully, the conspiratorial smiles Mabina and Cassidy shared. “Happy Valentine’s Day.” He set the tray down on the table, and arranged things as if she weren’t glaring at his back.
“Why do you even bother?” she sneered. “You own me. Why still bother with this shit?”
This time, he did flinch. “Because I like you,” he said, as gently as he could. “Because I want you to be happy.” He set down the small wrapped present, his back to her. Why did he still bother?
She made a small noise, and he turned to find her smiling – not the mean, bitter smile she’d given him for much of this year, but a small, genuine smile. “You’re a weird, weird creature… man, Vlad.” She stood up, one hand on the small curve of her belly, and crossed the distance to him.
Sometimes, Shahin thought that the coolest thing about Keith was the way her mother flinched when he showed up for a date. The Mustang didn’t hurt, either, or the fact that he was never creeped out by her, no matter how weird she could get. He could usually manage to be a step less acceptable, no matter how far she went.
It was frigid and blustery out, but he’d driven her out to the middle of a nearby state park, broken into one of their cabins, and gotten a big fire started in the fireplace. Now, laughing and teasing each other, they were wrapped in the huge old blanket he kept in the backseat of his car, sitting in front of the fire roasting marshmallows while the storm raged outside.
“It’s Valentine’s Day,” he teased, “we’re in the middle of the woods, and you’re still dressed like a Victorian Widow.”
“All I own is widow’s weeds,” she countered. Unlike most people at school, there was no venom in his teasing. “Besides, you wear leather in the middle of the summer. This, at least, is warm.”
He pushed up the layers of petticoats under her skirt to reveal a stocking’d ankle. “It had better be.” He tugged her a little closer to him. “Do you… you know, really?”
“Really wear all black?” She was suddenly chill, despite the fire and the layers of clothing, knowing what he was really asking.
He laughed more, thinking she was serious. Let him play a little longer, let him not ask… “Honey, I’ve seen you down to the skin. Even your panties are black. No, I mean… do you really see dead people?”
The look in his eyes was so sincere that she almost believed he wasn’t putting her on. And it would be a long, frigid walk home if she pissed him off. “I don’t see dead people,” she answered. “That’s a vicious rumor put about by my detractors.” Her smile was perfect, light-hearted and playful. Her heart was a block of ice.
“Oh.” He almost sounded disappointed, but turned his attention to nuzzling her neck instead. “And what about the one part of you I’ve never seen naked?”
She chuckled – oh, so lightly. “Oh, my valentine,” she teased him lightly – no point in letting him know how much this hurt. “I see how it is. You only want to see me naked.”
Nick showed up with roses, a giant bouquet of them in a cut-glass vase, something lacy and pink tied around the vase like a ribbon. His expression was half defiance and half nerves, but Tya noticed that he was wearing, peeking from the open collar of his crisp white shirt, the necklace she’d bought him so many months ago.
“Come in,” she said, although she didn’t need to. Maybe a little ruefully, although she tried to keep it out of her voice. He’d been avoiding her as much as he could – and, to be fair, she’d let him. Forcing him to deal with the reality of what she was hadn’t worked so well, and had made her question her decision to be a girl this year… but what was done, was done.
He took a single step inside the doorway, choosing to interpret her invitation as an order, she supposed, his mouth working although no sound was coming out. He took a breath, began to speak, and then turned around.
For a moment, she thought he would turn around and leave again, but he simply closed the door behind him, and turned back to look at her. “You look… lovely,” he croaked.
She looked down, a little wryly, at the satin robe she was wearing. She’d been resigned to spending the day reading – since, here even more so than in the world above, Valentine’s Day was for wooing – and hadn’t really done anything with herself. But he was trying, wasn’t he, and that was something. “Thank you,” she said, as graciously as she could. “You don’t look half bad yourself.”
And he didn’t. He’d taken the time with his clothes and with himself, shaved that lovely square chin smooth, gelled his curly hair into a semblance of order, and he… yes, he’d used the cologne she’d bought him. For the first time in years, Tya felt underdressed. Nothing to do but go with it.
“Thanks.” He stepped further into the room, holding the vase in front of him like a shield, and set it down on her nightstand. Up close, the lacy and pink thing was no less clearly purposed, until he untied it and offered it to her – a headband, the pink lace looking like lilies. “I, uh,” he stammered, but Ty, who had done his share of stammering nervously at girls, understood: I remembered that you liked pink, and lilies. And, when everything was okay, I loved the way your hair looked pushed back from your face.
“Thank you,” she said warmly, sliding the headband into her hair. It clashed with her robe, but that wasn’t the point. “Does this mean I’m forgiven?”
“I, uh.” He flushed, biting his lip, and nodded. “Yeah.”