Bye Bye Valentine
Nicolette would always tie her hair up on Valentine’s Day. Being the red JubJub that she was, this always gave her the striking resemblance of a puffy, fluffy heart, which is exactly what she always wanted to be, after all.
We first met in preschool, but we never really talked until the first grade. She had always been the perky red JubJub who stole all the attention, and I had always been nothing more than the little pink Bori who hid in the corner all day with his coloring books and crayons. I could never manage to draw in the lines, but somehow, she always could.
It was this day fourteen years ago when she passed out heart-shaped strips of red wrapping paper taped to chocolate candies for everyone in our class. For some reason, whether general hospitality or genuine pity, she had handed me mine first. I was so overjoyed, I don’t think I ever realized that she had given them to anyone else until the next day when she came over to me and asked me why I still hadn’t eaten mine yet. Everyone else had eaten theirs.
I looked up at her and felt the blush filling my cheeks. Pink as I was, I don’t think she ever really realised how nervous I was when she was around those first few days of February. I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. She smiled, and I giggled, and for some reason, she invited me over to play with her dolls. All the other boys in class laughed at me, but I didn’t care. At least now they had all noticed that I was even there, and at least now I wasn’t there alone.
In the second grade, Nicolette gave out Valentines to everyone again, but this time, she gave me mine last. After school had ended. In the playground before we went home. Mine was bigger than everyone else’s had been; mine was something different. Instead of the heart-shaped paper cut-outs with candy glued atop them, she’d given me a spoon full of sugar wrapped in a bit of that clear stuff lollipops are wrapped in. It was obvious she’d had some help putting it all together, and I didn’t even know what I was supposed to do with it, but that day, I was happier than I’d ever been before.
The next day, she asked me if I’d used it yet and I blushed again. My pink fur was still rather pale, but if she saw me blushing, she never said a thing. She smiled, and I giggled, and she told me not to worry, that I should save it for a rainy day when I needed an extra bit of sugar to sweeten things up. The school bell rang and we had to leave then, but walking home, the metallic trees in the schoolyard looked like the liveliest things I had ever seen in the Space Station.
By the time we began third grade, we still shared no mutual friends. She shared friends with everyone; everyone liked her, there wasn’t a reason for her not to be friends with anybody. But I had never had any other friends than her. So when Valentine’s Day rolled around, I wanted to give her something special. I spent weeks getting every little thing perfect, and then I spent all day making sure I looked perfect, too, and when I finally headed out the door for school, the Station’s generator shut down, the halls went dark, and there was no Valentine’s Day that year.
The next day, the power was back on, and Nicolette handed out her Valentines to everyone like she’d done every year before. But I had left mine home at home, and I hated myself for it. When I crawled into bed that night, I cried myself to sleep.
In the fourth grade, Nicolette and I were in separate classes and couldn’t see each other until after school had let out, but nevertheless, when Valentine’s Day rolled around, I could still count on meeting Nicolette beside the large steel tree bathed in artificial sunlight where she’d given me the spoonful of sugar. Hair tied up in the shape of a heart as always, she handed me a handmade card and I handed her a small box of candy I’d stickered with red hearts from the convenient store near my family’s apartment.
The next day, Nicolette was sick and didn’t come to school. She never told me, but she never had to: I always knew it had been the cheap chocolates that had made her so sick.
We were back in the same class by the time fifth grade rolled around, but by now we had more homework and more friends than ever. Even I had made a friend over summer break when my family had visited Meridell for a few days. He was a nice farm boy, a yellow Kacheek, kind of simple and shy like I was. It was hard for us to keep in touch with so much distance between us, but somehow, our monthly letters—the post rarely made it to Neopia and back again more than once or twice every couple of weeks—made me know in my heart that we were still good friends. And in my heart, I still knew that Nicolette and I were friends, even when on Valentine’s Day she came with no gifts for anyone.
The next day, she told me her Noil had gotten into her supplies and eaten all the candy, that she hoped I’d understand. I bit my lip and waited for her to smile, but she never did. I never giggled. And we never spoke again until the end of the school year when she told me she was dying.
Sixth grade was lonely without Nicolette. Her parents had moved to Faerieland for special treatments over the summer, but I never got their new address and couldn’t send her any letters. I made her a get-well-soon card one day and sent it to her old house, hoping they’d send it to her new one, but the next day, they sent it back to me.
Valentine’s Day arrived soon, and with no other friends, I sent my Valentine to Mikhail in Meridell. He sent me one back a while later, stamped with heart-shaped potatoes and red dye, but it still didn’t make up for missing Nicolette’s.
In the seventh grade, my father lost his computing job in the labs and we had to move across the Space Station. The halls were dimmer there, with flickering lights and fewer windows. No longer could I look down on Neopia every morning on my way to school and point out Meridell to tell Mikhail I had waved to him the other day and ask if he’d seen me. No more could I gaze down upon Faerieland and tell Nicolette to come back soon.
The eighth grade was especially hard for me when I got the news that Nicolette had died. Her parents sent me two Valentines and told me that they were sorry they hadn’t gotten in touch any sooner, that it’d taken them some time to find my new address.
I got another Valentine from Mikhail the next day. I tore it up and threw it down the garbage chute. I cried that night and cried all the next day. I didn’t write back to him for months. He said he was sorry when I finally told him about Nicolette. He said he’d lost a Babaa over the summer, so he knew how I felt. I’d never had a Babaa, but I still doubted he knew how I felt.
Ninth grade came and I was moving to another school again. It wasn’t much brighter than the last one, and the teachers certainly weren’t any nicer, but I was determined to start over and stop being the shy pink Bori who always hid in the corner all day. I scrounged around and did all the chores I could over the summer in search of some way to change the way I was, and finally I had found a Transmogrification Potion thrown out in one of the dark Station halls I’d been hired to sweep. I knew it was stupid to drink, but I drank it anyway.
The very next day, a mutant Lupe walked down the halls of Virtupets High, but even with his new look, he found himself hidden in the corner once again. Everyone was a class above him, and everyone had style and personality. But all I was left with was loneliness.
The tenth grade wasn’t much easier, but I was determined to start breaking out of my shell. Nicolette had always been happy with all her friends, and I wanted friends, too. She’d made her friends by passing out Valentines, so on Valentine’s Day, I handed out candies wrapped in heart-shaped wrappers to everyone I knew.
The next day, people pointed at me and laughed. I took all my savings and a few of my things and bought a Morphing Potion off the Trading Post. I could never show my mutant-Lupe face in school again, so the very next day I was once again the little pink Bori who hid in the corner all the time. I wrote to Mikhail, telling him not to send me any more Valentines, that the holiday was childish and stupid and that I hated it now, but one arrived in the mail just as I’d sent him the letter. I don’t know if he ever read it or not, but we never spoke of Valentine’s Day again.
I joined some clubs in the eleventh grade, but I was always the odd one out. Everyone else always knew everyone else, and when they got to talking, I was left listening on the sidelines with no way to step in. They’d talk about people I didn’t know, about things I didn’t know about; they even talked with words I didn’t understand, and every time I asked what they meant, they’d laugh at me and tell me to get out more.
The next day, I decided I’d get out more.
I spent the twelfth grade in Meridell. Mikhail had invited me to stay with his family, and we ended up sharing a room for the year. School was different in Meridell. We still went to class every morning, but the classes were smaller, all with the same teacher, and things were calmer and more relaxed. It took me a while to adjust to the constant sunshine and the fluctuating weather, but after a couple of weeks, I spent the afternoons helping out Mikhail on the farm. And I liked it.
The next day was Valentine’s Day, and although everyone at school handed around chocolates and hugs, Mikhail said nothing about it to me. I knew he wanted to, but it hurt me too much, and I knew he knew that, too. I could look up at the horizon every evening and see the edges of Faerieland floating there before me. The last thing I wanted to do that year was think about Valentine’s Day, but I couldn’t keep it off my mind.
I convinced my parents to let me spend the year after I graduated in Meridell with Mikhail. He was ecstatic when I told him, and he cleared out some of his closet so I could have extra room to bring down more of my things from the Station. We worked together on the farm day and night, and I told my parents I wanted to stay in Meridell and attend one of the agricultural courses offered in Brightvale, maybe even start a farm of my own one day. They said they wanted me to go to one of the universities in the Station, but that they’d support my decision no matter what.
Valentine’s Day came upon us soon, and I left a heart woven of dried long grass on Mikhail’s pillow before we went to bed. When I woke the next day, I found a Valentine on my end table. I wore it down to breakfast, made sure that Mikhail saw it, but he said nothing. I smiled, and he smiled, and we stifled a laugh as we walked outside.
When my parents asked if I wanted to stay in Meridell after the year had ended, I told them I’d already applied to Brightvale’s leading agricultural institution and had already been accepted. They were so proud of me, I couldn’t imagine that only a few months earlier they’d wanted me to come back to the Station. My dad said he’d begun reading up on agriculture and that he thought it was pretty interesting. He even said he was trying to use some of his old computing formulas to enhance the projected crop yields of a model farm.
It wasn’t long before Valentine’s Day, and I was sullen when it finally came. I was busy studying and working on my thesis, and Mikhail was steadily picking up more work on the farm as his parents grew older and weaker, but I still wanted do something with him to celebrate. But we still hadn’t spoken about it in years, and Faerieland still loomed over me like a shadow, and when the next day came, I knew it was too late to do anything after all.
I applied for a loan from King Skarl after my course in Brightvale had ended, and soon enough I’d been given enough money to buy the lots surrounding Mikhail’s farm and expand the house to accommodate my parents and me. With our combined efforts and my dad’s new irrigation plan, we calculated that my debt to Skarl would be paid back in full in less than three years.
The next day, all our stuff from Virtupets arrived in a cargo crate that landed in the middle of our new fields. Mikhail helped me drag the massive crate inside, and while he helped my mum and dad set up their metal furniture—it fascinated him not being made of wood—I went through the final few boxes I had left to unpack. As I sifted through the bottom of the last one, I found a small plastic spoon wrapped in that clear stuff lollipops are wrapped in. It was a bit dusty, and it looked like some of the sugar had leaked out of it, but it was still just as good as when Nicolette had given it to me thirteen years ago under the metallic trees outside our Space Station schoolroom.
I walked to the window and stared up at the sky, somber and sullen but somehow still smiling, waiting for Nicolette to giggle back at me this time. For so many years, I had watched over her from the Space Station, and now I knew she was watching over me from the sky where she had passed away. I turned away then and set the spoon on the highest tier of my bookshelf. There may come a day yet when I need that extra bit of sugar to sweeten things up.