Haven’t managed to get this one published but I still like it, and since there’s no new Valentine’s Day story written this year, thought I’d repost it for those of you who missed it last year. Enjoy!
There was a knock at Alexandra Wright-Phillip’s bedroom door. Alex left her other two friends to their sorting on the floor rug and got up to answer it.
“Hello, ladies! Gym class was grand, I got 33 just from them. Check it, my box is full!” Kasturi gave a gleeful shake of her crinkly pink shoebox.
“Oh stuff it, Kas, we all have full boxes. This school is so very friendly, after all,” said Charity Horne from her spot on the rug, surrounded by untidy piles of little cards.
Tamisha Jones was too busy counting to herself to greet Kasturi. Her cards were sorted by size, color, and shape so that each stack was perfectly aligned.
Alexandra waved her inside. “Hurry and catch up, Kas. My mom is at her steam-room aerobics class until 6, so we’d better be done and cleaned up by then.”
Kasturi Patil shrugged off her coat and tossed it with the others on the bed, then took the spot on the rug that would complete their little circle and began counting her shoebox contents.
“Misha, what’s our total?”
“Wow, we are totally empowered!” Kasturi clapped her hands as she said this.
Charity rolled her eyes and said, “How many did we miss?”
Tamisha looked back at her paper before she replied. “256, according to the latest school enrollment.”
Alex nodded firmly. “That’s close enough for what we need. Have you all made your choices for the ritual?”
The others all held up a single card they had each set aside from the larger stacks.
“Then let’s begin.”
Alexandra reached under her bed and pulled out a book. It looked like a diary, but old; the edges were yellow, paper peeling back from the posterboard covers. She’d showed it to the girls last week when she’d told them about the ritual, and how she’d found it while looking for a book on her mom’s bookshelf. She’d used that and the evidence from her mom’s old yearbooks to convince her friends to go along with the plan for today.
She’d marked the correct page beforehand, so she could open right to it. She did so and directed the others to pile all their cards into a large mound in the middle. “Now I’ll start, and then we go around the circle and you do what I do, just like we talked about.”
She didn’t wait for them to agree but picked up the card she’d set aside and showed it to them. “Sweets to the sweet,” she read from the front where the words were spelled out in candy dots on the icing of a huge cupcake. She turned it over. “Best wishes to one of my favorite students, Mrs. Tilsen.”
“Hey, that’s what she wrote on mine!” Kas actually looked upset.
“Quiet, idiot, that’s what she wrote on everyone’s, don’t screw up the ritual!” hissed Charity.
Alex ignored them both as she positioned the card against her finger, then slid the edge rapidly past her skin. She grimaced but didn’t make a sound from the sting of the papercut, and squeezed her finger hard to make the blood well up. “Approval is important.” She smeared it across both sides of the card, then held it up to show everyone again.
“I want to be popular.” With that she dropped the stained valentine into a bowl she’d set next to the heap of cards, and nodded to Charity on her left.
Char sighed, and held up her card. “Be my valentine.” She read from the simple white script angled across a red heart, then flipped it over. “It’s just signed ‘Heidi’. Heidi hates me.” She didn’t even flinch as she cut herself and said “Appearances are important.” She mashed her bloody finger especially hard against Heidi’s signature before throwing the card in the bowl. “I want to be popular.”
“I will forever be true.” Tamisha looked a little sad as she read from the back, “Bestest friends forevers! Love, Alina.” She looked up at the others. “Since I was 5 years, 3 months, and 17 days old, when her folks moved next door from overseas. It’s been fun, but she won’t ever be anything other than what she is.” Misha cut herself and watched the seepage of red appear with detached interest. “Ambition is important.” She placed a neat fingerprint in the same position on either side and lay the card gently down on the stack in the bowl. “I want to be popular.”
Kasturi made a face. “I hate blood, ladies.” She picked up her card without further protest, and smiled as she read first the front, “You stole my heart,” then the back: “Hey let’s hang out and play again soon! Love Jeremy.” She learned forward and whispered, “He was my first kiss, three months ago when we were playing house.”
Charity hissed, “We know. You’ve told us 57 times since then.”
Kas tossed her hair and said, “Now who’s interrupting, Char? Anyway, adoration is important.” She whimpered as the sharp card edge slit her finger. She looked away from the wound as she marked the sides, then completed the stack in the bowl. “I want to be popular!”
Alex picked up the lighter she’d set next to the bowl and caught the edges of the bloody cards on fire. They sat quietly watching until the smoke had filled the room enough to set them all coughing.
Alexandra got up to open the window. “That should be good, thanks. See you all at school tomorrow, oh and don’t forget to wash your hands on the way out. I don’t want you getting blood all over Mom’s stuff.” Alex made scooting motions with her hands as she pulled bandaids from her pocket and handed them out. She put hers on, then started her ceiling fan to let the smoke out.
The rest of sixth grade was much better after that.