Flash Fiction: Valentine’s Day

They sit on the hood of his car, staring into the sky. The moon is full and pregnant with light, the stars are dripping with it, diamonds catching and refracting it until the whole sky is lit like a beacon. The lake in front of them reflects everything, not even a ripple marring the image, so that the sky seems continuous, enveloping them in universe. They sit on the hood of his car and they say nothing for a long time. Their arms are folded behind their heads, makeshift pillows. It’s chilly but not unbearably so. It would be worse inside the house, where the fighting hasn’t ceased in years.

“Tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day,” she says casually. Her hair is encircled in a halo, cast off moon beams. The first time it can ever be agreed she is angelic.

He snorts, unimpressed. “So?”

“So I like Valentine’s Day. It makes me happy.”

This is news to him. “Why? It’s not like you have a boyfriend.”

She shrugs. “That’s not what it’s about. It’s just about love, that’s it. I love you, I love my friends. I even love Mom and Dad.”

He rolls his eyes. “Whatever. I’ll just be glad when it’s over.”

She sighs. “Well, I’m excited for it. I even made you a Valentine.”

He turns sharply, his neck cracking. He looks at her for several long moments, something like surprise, or guilt, or apprehension taking his expression hostage. They have never given each other valentines before. Even in elementary school, they’d pass all of their cardboard “be mine”’s to their classmates, none left in hand for each other. No money for tiny bags of conversation hearts, no boxes of chocolate, no teddy bears. No patience for promises of love that had yet to show its face.

She reaches into her back pocket and removes a card, crinkled from time spent pressed under her jeans. It is homemade, cut out of red construction paper and dollar store paper doilies. He takes it with shaking hands.

“It’s not much,” she says. “Not very good at making cards, I guess. But I feel like it’s a crime that you’ve always been there for me and I never even gave you a crappy valentine.”

There’s nothing he can say that won’t sound like a cliche, like sugar and syrup stuck in his teeth. It’s never been their style, really. Words in general never have been. “I never gave you one either,” he points out.

stargazingShe shrugs. “Sure you have. You just never knew it.”

He is speechless. He opens the card and he reads the words she’s written in purple sharpie. She’s drawn a large heart on the opposite page, surrounded with myriad smaller ones. One of them has a smiley face.

His throat catches but he holds his composure because he is, after all, the older brother, and he would never live it down. But he has never seen her handwriting before and the words here are words she would never say out loud. He’s sure that later on she will likely regret giving him the card at all. Perhaps she’s been drinking, and the courage came as soon as she started to dizzy.

He wonders what made her do it, what gave her the idea at all. But sometimes he sees her eyes glaze over, like she’s imagining some far off place, and when he smiles she comes back to reality. Sometimes things are just bad, and he has always done his best to guard her bedroom door, to cover her tracks, to let her mess up time and time again. Sometimes he wonders if they’ll ever make it out of that house alive, and decides he has his answer. He closes it and tucks the paper into his own back pocket.

“Thank you,” he says. And that’s all he needs to say, she expects no more than that. They turn away from one another again and the night sky engulfs them, paints them bright like the stars, and for a moment they are baubles in the universe, made of light, part of everything and still far enough away to be out of reach.

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