Six Years Old
Max saved the best Valentine’s for last. He’d already given out the rest of the little bags of candy to his classmates, but the one still in his hand was better than those. It had a mini Hershey chocolate among the gummy bears.
He walked to Jacey, who was bent over digging in her purple backpack and tapped her shoulder. Her dark pigtails swished as she turned. The red ribbons she had tied in each one reminded Max of cherry Twizzlers.
“Here,” Max said, holding out the bag of candy.
She took it and swooped back into her backpack. “I have yours.” She came up holding a square card with a picture of Snoopy surrounded by hearts attached to a tiny bag of heart-shaped candies. The gross kind that taste like chalk.
“Thanks,” Max said. Not because he was really glad to get the candies, but because it was the thing to say when someone gave you something.
Jacey frowned. “It doesn’t have a card with it,” she said peering into the clear plastic bag. The bag, much to Max’s embarrassment, had red and pink hearts all over it. He’d wanted plain bags, but his mother insisted on the one the ones with hearts to make up for his un-valentine’s-day-like candy of gummy bears.
“But it has chocolate,” Max said. Which was more than she could say for her gift.
“Yeah, but it’s more fun when there’s a card too,” she said, swishing one of her pigtails over her shoulder. “Then I can keep them on my dresser and look at them.”
Max couldn’t see why anyone would want to keep a bunch of cards with pictures of cartoon characters that said “Be mine” on them. “You can put the candy on your dresser,” he tried.
She shook her head, making her pigtails swirl around her shoulders. “Candy isn’t pretty. You eat candy. The cards are cute.”
Max shrugged, not sure how he could argue with a girl about what was pretty or not. Next Valentine’s Day, he would get her a bag of candy and a card.
Ten Years Old
There was a large Hershey bar sitting on his desk when he got to class. Max wasn’t surprised. It was Valentine’s day, so that was normal. But the note on the back wasn’t normal. Unfortunately, Max didn’t get to read it first.
“You got a whole chocolate bar?” asked Danny in the desk next to him as he snatched the bar from his hands. “Hey there’s a love note on the back of it.”
“It’s not a love note,” Max said, though he had no idea what it said.
“Yeah it is.” Danny held it away so Max couldn’t reach it. “It says, ‘Happy Valentine’s Day. P.S. I think you are cute.’” He read it loudly so the kids nearby could hear.
“Who would think you’re cute, Danny?” asked one of the boys behind Max.
“Eww, it’s not mine,” Danny said. “It’s his.” Danny gave the chocolate back to Max. He flipped it over, hoping that Danny was making it up, but there was a square valentine with a picture of Snoopy. Scrawled over the Snoopy were the exact words Danny read.
Max turned red.
“Max has a girlfriend. Max has a girlfriend,” the boys chanted.
“I do not.” Max tossed the chocolate to Danny’s desk. “I don’t even want it.”
“I’ll take it,” said one of the boys.
“No way. It’s on my desk.” Danny cupped his hands around it like a turtle shell.
Max pulled out his notebook, glad that they were all arguing over the chocolate and not teasing him anymore. He glanced up to make sure no one else was looking at him and saw Jacey looking at him from her desk across the room. She quickly looked away, without giving him her usual smile.
Max was sorry about more than the chocolate he didn’t get to taste.
Sixteen Years Old
Max helped himself to a third glass of punch from the heart-shaped bowl. He didn’t feel as awkward with something in his hands. Plastic cup filled, he went back to his spot against the wall and watched the rest of his high school swirl past in graceful moves and huge smiles. Among them was his date. Or at least the girl he’d asked and had said yes. He wasn’t sure if she was still his date or not, since after the first dance, she’d gone off to talk to some other guy. She hadn’t been back.
Max spotted his red-haired ex-date laughing as she dance with a tall boy. Was that the fifth or six different boy he’d seen her dance with?
He took another swig of the punch. It was too sweet. He headed toward a trashcan, deciding he would wait in the hall for the party to be over. At least he could count on his phone to keep him company.
Halfway to the trashcan, he bumped into someone and dripped some punch on their arm. Max apologized, thinking that this night couldn’t get any worse.
“It’s alright,” said a laughing voice. Max looked up and right into Jacey’s deep brown eyes.
“Oh, hi,” Max said lamely. They’d use to be close friends when they were little, but he wasn’t sure if she remembered.
“Care to get me a napkin.” She held up her punch-speckled arm.
Max hurried to the punch table and grabbed a handful of napkins. He spun around and almost knocked into her again when he found her standing right behind him. He apologized again, but she only laughed and took the napkins.
“Are you here by yourself?” she asked.
“No,” Max was quick to say. He didn’t want to look lame. “She’s over there.” He pointed to the red-haired girl that looked like there was nothing more fun than being apart from Max. He immediately wished he would said he was here by himself.
“You too?” she raise an eyebrow.
“What do you mean?”
She shrugged. “My date is a bit more enthusiastic about the whole dancing thing than I am. So he found someone equally enthralled with trying to impress the other with their amazing collection of movements.” She did a jerky movement that looked like a demon-possessed robot and Max laughed.
“I’m glad I’m not the only one at this thing that doesn’t like to dance,” Max said. “It’s too bad Valentine’s couldn’t stay like it when we were little. All we had to do was hand out cards and eat candy.”
“I’d take chocolate over loud music and vanishing dates any day.” She grinned. “You always gave out the best Valentines.”
“I did?” Max was surprised she even remembered his Valentine’s gifts. He was strangely pleased that she thought they were the best.
“They always had different kinds of candy in them. Like gummy bears and sour candies.”
Max grinned. “I’ll have to tell my mom that. She thought sour candy was all wrong for Valentine.”
Jacey grabbed his arm suddenly. “You know what we should do?” The curls in her hair bobbed as she did a little bounce. “We should go to the store and find some candy and Valentine’s cards—you know, the kind we gave out as kids.”
“For our dates?” Max asked, imagining the look he would get from the girl he came with if he tried to give her a kid Valentine card and gummies.
“Not them.” Jacey laughed. “For each other. Just for fun.”
Max tossed his punch in the trash. “I could use some candy.”
As Max wound through the crowd with Jacey by his side, he knew just what he’d get her. Sour gummies with a Snoopy card. And across the Snoopy he’d write: Happy Valentine’s Day. P.S. I think you cute.