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Paper Heart

Valentine's Day is a pretty wonderful day to share with your beloved, but it can be sheer torment if you are alone and forgotten. How many lonely Valentine's Days does it take to reach a breaking point?

“I told you I hate this holiday.” Mike’s tone was gruff; having been asked the same question for a third time in just as many minutes was frustrating.

Colin knew, to some extent, that he was pushing Mike too far, but this kind of playful teasing had always been a part of their friendship, and even more importantly, Colin truly was interested in Mike’s reasoning. “Look, Mike, I get the fact that you hate Valentine’s Day; I just don’t get why.

The tension in Mike’s neck and around his temples drained away, causing him to appear as though he was somehow accepting defeat, and he lowered his gaze from Colin’s face to a spot on the table between them. “I just do, okay,” Mike said in a faint voice.

He raised his eyes back to meet Mike’s and, with a smirk and a bit more strength in his voice, he added, “It’s all just a big marketing ploy anyhow. It’s just made to sell Valentine’s cards and candy. Who the fuck needs that?”

“I don’t doubt that, but that’s not why you hate it, is it?” Colin was now curious enough that he would not let the subject drop so easily. “Come on, man, I’m your best friend – spill it.”

Mike’s smile had faded and his eyes took on a pleading quality before he dropped his gaze once again. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands for a moment and then rested his palms flat on his thighs below the edge of the table. Without raising his head, he began in a soft, sad voice, “It hurts, man. This bullshit really sucks. Every year it’s the same happy fucking signs everywhere and everybody talking about getting a Valentine’s card or going to a special Valentine’s dance or getting lucky or some other bullshit. Every fucking year, man. Every fucking year since I’ve been a little kid, and you know what? I never have any of it – no cards, no dates, no dances, no nothing.”

Colin started to speak but Mike cut him off. “No – don’t even give me that shit about how you know I got cards in grade school and shit. Everybody got them. Hell, the fuckin’ teachers made everybody make them for the whole fucking class, and getting a card just because you’re there doesn’t count. I’m talkin’ about a real card where someone likes you and wants you to know it. Fuck, I don’t even know why I’m tellin’ you this; you’ve always had cards and dates and shit, man; you’ve always been popular.”

“Heck, man, I ain’t popular,” Mike said with surprise. “I’ve never been one of the popular people.”

“That’s not what I mean. I mean that people like you, that you’re not just invisible or a freak.”

“Man, you’re not a freak. People like you! Why do you think they don’t?”

“Look, I know people don’t dislike me, but I’m pretty much nothing to people. I’m okay to talk to, but it’s not like anybody’d date me or even just give me a fucking Valentine’s card. That’s just the way it is.”

“Mike, man, I don’t know where you come up with that. People like you. And you’re a good lookin’ guy. Sure, you could be a little more stylin’, like me –” Colin ran his fingers through his wavy auburn hair and shook it back as his lips curled into a devilish smile. “But nobody expects you to be perfect. And seriously, dude, I’m sure that all sorts of people would like to go on a date with you.

Mike was staring at Colin again, grinning slightly against his will, attempting to hold back a true smile, and slowly shook his head back and forth. “That’s easy for you to say, Colin. You have dates all the time, and most of the time they asked you out. I’ll bet you even have Valentine’s cards stashed somewhere that you’ve gotten this year.” Mike paused a second and then added, voice lowered, “Everyone wants to date you.”

“Look, Mike, you’re no different from me – “

“No, Colin, you’re wrong. I’m a lot different than you.” Mike’s quick reply stopped short and his face flushed red, confusing Colin. “I mean, uh, you know me … I never go on dates.” Mike added quickly, followed by a forced chuckle.

Colin could tell that he had just missed something, and his brows drew together as he tried to figure out why Mike was behaving so oddly. “You could get a date, Mike. You’re fun to be with, and you’re a great guy.”

“So you’re telling me that you’d date me?” Mike spoke in a dry, quiet voice that threatened to squeak as his throat tightened and became hoarse. His face flushed again and he rubbed his hands back and forth along the thighs of his jeans, the sweat from his palms darkening the worn material.

Colin’s eyes went wide as the significance of Mike’s question sank in. The playful confidence he had displayed throughout their conversation was now gone, and Colin said the first thing that came into his head. “No. I couldn’t do that, man.”

Mike collapsed in upon himself, sinking down in his chair and pulling his arms tighter in against his body. His head drooped until his chin nearly touched his chest and he spoke softly. “I guess you could never date a guy.”

Lowering his gaze to the table, Colin shook his head and made his reply in quiet, secretive tones. “I’ve dated guys before.”

Mike’s head snapped up, and he stared at Colin, unable to speak for a few minutes. Each of them sat still, deep in their thoughts, until Mike finally could no longer bear the silence.

“You’ve dated guys before?”

Colin nodded slowly without raising his eyes to meet Mike’s.

“Then why wouldn’t you date me, Colin?”

Colin’s temples throbbed as he looked up at Mike. The revelation of Mike’s interest in him was still a new concept, but it was easy to see that how he approached this news could play a pivotal role in their friendship. He didn’t want to hurt Mike, but he had to be honest.

“I … I don’t like you that way.”

Mike winced. The truth was no different from what he had ever expected but was all the more harsh now that it had actually been said. He sat still for a minute, numb and unsure what to do, but after a moment he rose from his seat and walked across the room to gaze out the patio doors. Silent tears traced down his face as he stared at the bitter, cold day, the wind whipped white with blowing snow. He took a deep breath and cleared his throat, putting his hands in his pockets but not turning to face his friend.

“I’m sorry, Colin. I shouldn’t’ve said anything. Now it’s all screwed up.” He sniffled a few times and cleared his throat again, the tears ended but not forgotten. “Now I’ll really have a reason to hate this holiday.”

He stiffened as he felt arms close around his chest and Colin’s body pull him close from behind. He relaxed a bit as Colin hugged him tighter and rested his chin on Mike’s right shoulder.

“I love you, Mikey.” Mike stiffened again as Colin spoke. “You’re my best friend, and I love you, but I don’t love you that way. I’m the one that’s sorry; I wish I could be what you want. I just can’t do it, though. I see you as a friend, a brother even, but I don’t think I can see you as a boyfriend.” Mike relaxed again, slumping in Colin’s grasp. “You’re still my best friend, though, and I hope I’m yours. All this does is let us know a little bit more about each other; that’s it. Is that okay?”

“Yeah,” Mike said between sniffles. “But I still hate this fucking holiday.

“Well, my friend,” Colin said as he let go of Mike and turned him around. “We’re just going to have to change that,” he said with a smile. “Now that I know who’s team you’re playing for, I can start pointing people your way.

“You wouldn’t …” Mike replied with a smile.

“Oh yes, oh yes, I would indeed. Be prepared to be put out to stud.”

Colin smiled as Mike grabbed his shoulders and tried to pull him to the ground, their familiar dining room wrestling match once again under way. They were back to their old routine in seconds, teasing each other as they wrestled, while outside the mailman placed a lone letter into the mailbox, a red envelope that stood out against the driving snow.


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Paper Heart, by Paul Cales, © August 2003