The dark sky towered over the city, the horizon large and overwhelming against the skyscrapers. Thousands of illuminated stars covered its expanse like diamonds upon a black canvas. It was a perfect night for Valentine's Day, beautiful and completely romantic. Already, restaurants were filled with dates, anticipation apparent with soft smiles and subtle gestures. Couples strolled through Central Park in each other's arms. Ice skaters glided across the rink, laughing if they fall. It was a night for making memories, fulfilling dreams, and appreciating the most important feeling. Love.
For Katie Walker, it was so much more. On this day, so many years ago, something had changed in her. It wasn't necessarily a losing of innocence or even a new lesson she had learned, but more of a gained awareness, an awareness of who she was and what she wanted in life. It was a turning point in her life. She had found love with the person she had least expected, but mostly, she'd found love for herself.
From that day on, Katie had always looked forward to the holiday, and tonight was no different. She knew her husband had something planned for the entire evening, and she was anxious to see what he had in mind. All he would tell her was to dress up, and she had every intention of blowing him away.
Katie studied her reflection in a large mirror hanging above classic mahogany drawers. Her long brown hair tumbled down her bare back in elegant waves, and the long, red halter dress she wore fit her curves wonderfully. The red heart at her throat matched her dress, and the bracelet on her wrist shimmered in the light. Her makeup was kept natural, with only a sheer lip-gloss to cover her usually naked lips. She wanted to look perfect for him.
She had changed a lot from the girl he had once fallen in love with. She was no longer the misfit who would have once traded any dress in the world for a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt. That time of awkwardness had long ago been changed into experimentation and eventually acceptance. It was funny when she thought about it. Katie had become everything she had dreamed of, successful, elegant, and happy. But deep down in her heart, she knew she was that same vulnerable sixteen-year-old. The only difference was that now she had someone to learn life's lessons with.
They had been married for five years now. Like all couples, they had the occasional fight, but their devotion was obvious. They had matured together, made mistakes together, succeeded together. After so many years, they only loved each other more. Katie smiled when she thought of the man in the bathroom, also preparing for their night out. He was singing to the radio, not exactly well, but charming non-the-less.
She glanced around at the home they had made together. It was just an apartment, but for now, they were happy with it. Living in the city was exciting, and it seemed like everyday she was able to do something new or meet someone different. Making a new life in New York definitely kept her on her toes. The apartment had been a dump when they found it, dirty and falling apart. It took a couple of years, but now glancing around the room, she was proud they had fixed it up all on their own. All of the work and money was more than worth it.
There were only three rooms in the apartment, but they made due. A small kitchen and living room were all they needed for space, since both preferred to go out for meals and explore the city. Their bedroom was modestly small, but more than comfortable. The king size bed and drawers pretty much filled it completely. Katie had sown burgundy drapes for the windows, and her husband had built shelves for the walls. The project had been fun, incorporating both of their styles. She loved it, but Katie was also looking forward to something better.
Within a few months, the apartment would be too small for them. Katie let her hand drop to her stomach; her heart fluttered when she thought of what was to come. She wasn't the only one with plans for tonight, and she couldn't wait to tell him her news. He was going to be so happy. They would be happy together.
Walking around the bed, Katie opened the sliding doors of her closet. A rack of shirts, ties, and dresses hung messily in front of her. Their clothes and shoes were mixed together in a pile on the floor, two hopeless slobs molding into one. Standing on her toes, she reached over the clothes and pulled out an old shoe box buried deep within the closet.
Stickers and drawings covered it randomly in a collage that she had created in her youth. So many memories had been placed inside of it. She found her old diary and other sentimental things that came from her past. She hadn't been able to bare the idea of letting them all go.
Katie sifted through the objects for a moment before she came upon what she was really looking for. Pulling the photo out of a small album, she stared at it dreamily. It was of a teenage couple laughing while they were getting their picture taken. It was at the Valentine's Day Dance during her third year of high school, one of the best times of her life. It all started ten years ago, about two weeks before February the Fourteenth…
Turning over once more in her bed, Katie finally opened her eyes to face the reality of a beeping alarm clock. She groaned and pressed her face into the fluffy pillow she had used since childhood. Mornings were never exactly her favorite time of the day. In fact, she usually dreaded them. They meant no more dreams, no more indulgence, and especially, it meant that school would have to be faced once more.
After almost five minutes of willing it to stop, Katie sighed in defeat. Lazily, she sat up and rolled a hand through her messy brown hair. She could already hear her mother downstairs getting ready for work and quickly making breakfast.
"Hasn't anyone ever heard of sleeping in?" she muttered to no one but her self. Absently and barely awake, she climbed out of bed to shut off the alarm clock still beeping across the room. It might have been the best way she had found to get herself up in the morning, but she despised it every time.
Katie rolled her eyes when she heard her mother singing off tune to some oldie. Even after sixteen years, she couldn't fathom how her mother could be such a morning person. It was just another quality of theirs that was different, among many others. They rarely agreed on anything.
Instead of turning the clock off, she pressed the snooze button and flopped back into bed, molding herself comfortably in the blankets.
"I know you pressed that snooze button, young lady! Get your butt out of bed!" Though meant to be in a firm and strict tone, her mother's voice still sounded sweet and gentle. It had always attracted others easily. Victoria Walker never had trouble making friends a day in her life. It was her so-called gift. Well, whatever gift she had, she certainly didn't pass it down to Katie. She would never be considered popular, not like her mother had been in high school.
She groaned with disappointment. Was five more minutes too much to ask for? She looked over at her alarm clock as it glared 6:08 in bright red numbers. School started in an hour and a half, and although she could care less how she looked most days, she had to get ready. Katie glanced around her room, stalling the inevitable. Clothes were thrown carelessly on the ground, and the computer on her desk was still lit as she had left it the night before. Photos lined her mirror and sentimental objects littered her room.
"Common Katie, I don't have time for this today. Get ready for school. You're going to miss your bus!" her mother yelled up to her once again, except this time it sounded stressed.
"Oh, what a shame," she mumbled .
If she missed the bus, she wouldn't have to deal with the uncomfortable seats, the bumpy ride, and the loud drone of voices talking about whatever they deemed important. She might even miss some of first period. It would be a huge inconvenience for her mother, so she never really considered missing the bus on purpose, but it was an idea she thought of often anyway. Katie knew that things had always been hard for her.
Victoria Walker became a mom before she even had turned twenty-one. Her boyfriend had been a kind man, someone who motivated others to be better people. When the baby came, they had tried to make it work. They strolled their daughter in the park at night and pretended to everyone, including themselves, that they were happy. Eventually, Katie's father grew restless, and he craved adventure in his life. He wasn't ready for the responsibility a baby and a wife needed. When he left them in the middle of the night, Victoria hadn't been surprised, just hurt. Since then, she had done everything she could to be both mother and father to Katie.
For the most part, she had done a great job. Her mother had gotten part time jobs and made it work for them. Katie loved her mom a lot, and she couldn't help but admire her. Few people had the guts to carry on like she did and come out on the top.
"Did you hear me, Katie? We've got to get going."
Heeding her mother's words, Katie trudged her way to the bathroom and turned on the light by the door. Wincing slightly, she waited a few seconds for her eyes to adjust to the brightness illuminated before her. She approached the sink and splashed cold water on her face, forcing herself out of her sleepy stupor. When she finally felt awake enough to function, she got ready for school. Mostly, she just went through the same actions she did every morning. She brushed her hair in to a neat ponytail, got dressed, and went downstairs to eat breakfast with her mom.
Her mother usually insisted that they ate breakfast together, since they weren't always able to do the same at dinner. She was a publicist and often had to work with stubborn clients or go to meetings. Katie had resented this at times when her mom wasn't home to help her with homework or drive her to practice, but she knew her mother loved her job. She got to meet famous people and do something important with her life.
She had been working up to this for so long. Tired of slaving over part time jobs, she started taking classes again when Katie went to school. And after she got the client of a lifetime, everything changed. Her life was busy, in a good way. She was able to really put food on the table consistently for the first time in years.
Katie could see how happy her mother's job made her. How could someone resent happiness? she wondered. It was sad that she did.
When she got downstairs, she found her mother humming happily in front of the skillet. She wore a flowery apron around her waist, and she put her hair up in an elegant bun for today's conference. Her high-heeled shoes were lying on a chair by the kitchen table, waiting for the long day ahead.
It was amazing how different they were. Her mother was all glamour and elegance, and Katie was plain and preferred comfort to beauty. She often wondered what the hell went wrong.
"Is breakfast ready?" Katie asked, coming to stand beside her.
Victoria Walker looked up. "Yea, it's almost done. Go sit down."
Katie nodded and walked towards the table. Instead of sitting, she gathered the notebooks and papers scattered across the surface and stuffed them inside her backpack. By the time she sat, her mother was coming over with the skillet. She dumped half the eggs onto Katie's plate and then continued with her own.
"Mom, can you drive me home from school today? I have a dance committee meeting, and the last thing I want is to go on the bus."
"Honey, I can't. The singer I'm representing is having an interview today, and I have to be there. Maybe you'll be able to catch a ride with someone. I'm sure one of your friends wouldn't mind."
"But mom," she whined. "I'm tired of always asking people for rides. You can't just take five minutes off from work and bring me home?"
"Katie, be reasonable. You know I can't do that."
Picking at her food, she muttered harshly, "Fine, I'll ask someone."
"I'm sorry, honey. It isn't possible today."
Katie ignored her mother's apology and stared down at her food. This was becoming so typical, she thought. It wasn't like her clients were completely helpless. Why should her mother cater to them like they were babies? It wasn't fair that she always had to ask someone for a ride. Her mother should be there for her.
She didn't even want to go to the stupid meeting . "It will be fun," her mother had said. "It'll help you make friends." She rolled her eyes, just remembering the conversation they had at the beginning of the year. If she was being forced to do something, then she should at least get a ride home.
"Mom, I've got to go," Katie said, glancing at her watch. The bus should be there in five minutes.
"But…" Victoria glanced at the clock on the wall. "Oh, okay. Have a good day at school."
Katie just mumbled, "Sure" sarcastically under her breath. She grabbed her coat and bag. Closing the door behind her, she walked quickly to the bus stop. Outside, the weather was cold and a light layer of snow still covered the ground. Katie couldn't wait until spring. It was February, so she still had a few months to go. She hurried to the end of the street and bounced a little to stay warm. After a few minutes, the bus came and she sat in her usual seat by the window, staring out aimlessly. Just as she did every morning.
Katie looked up from the bright orange locker towards the voice. A tall boy with sandy brown hair and a dimpled smile approached her. His soft hazel eyes looked down upon her, always watchful in an intense and yet comforting way. His frame was much larger than hers, a body disciplined by basketball and will power. He had always towered over her, even when they were younger. His jeans were old, and the plain shirt he wore was a dark green. She knew it to be his favorite color. She knew most things about him. After all, he was her best friend.
She smiled and offered a greeting of her own, "Hey Bryan, what's up?"
He leaned next to her on the lockers while she dug through books, crumpled papers, and whatever else could be found in a messy locker. Katie had never exactly been the neatest person, and her locker was no exception. She never really knew how things got so messy; it just seemed to happen. Every once in a while, she would go through a cleaning spree, but that didn't usually last long. She was just a natural born slob. Her mother had given up on her a long time ago and decided to accept it.
"Not much, as usual. What's going on with you?"
"Nothing. My bus just got in," she said, distractedly. The warning bell rang throughout the halls and she began to search her locker more frantically. A notebook fell out of the bright storage space, and he bent to pick it up.
"What are you looking for?" he asked, handing the notebook back to her. Katie grabbed it from him and stuffed it back in her locker.
"I can't find my math homework!"
Bryan Mackenzie raised an eyebrow as a rotten apple fell next from his best friend's locker. "You know, it would probably help if you actually cleaned your locker every once in a while."
"You think?" She blurted out sarcastically.
The missing homework was only adding to her worsening mood. She was barely passing Algebra 2 as it was. She couldn't afford to loose all of her homework. Mr. McCartly would love that. It was common knowledge that he was an ass, and he had singled her out from day one when she started chewing gum in his class.
She groaned with frustration. She just couldn't find it. Katie had spent two hours on it the night before, and now, she wasn't even going to be able to hand it in.
"Bad day?" He asked, sympathizing with her mood.
"Please, its barely started yet." She brushed off his question, giving him a fake smile. Her homework wasn't the only reason for her anxiety, but that was the last thing she wanted to talk about. She looked around the hallway as students piled in through the doors and sought out their friends. It was almost time to go to class, and she didn't think she could bear it if she went empty handed.
She turned back to her locker, ignoring the scrutinizing way he gazed down at her. She never could hide anything from him.
"Bad morning, then?"
"Yea…well, not really. Things are just getting bad with my mom. She's gone all the time now," Katie said, unable to lie to the one person who knew her best.
They had been friends for as long as she could remember. All through school, swimming lessons, first bras, dances, and chicken pox, they had been inseparable. Their mothers had been friends once, before life and complications got in the way. It always made sense for them to become friends too. They just kind of stuck to each other early on and never let go. They shared their lives, their dreams, and all of the stupid little mistakes they had made along the way. Brian knew her better than even she knew herself, and it was the same for him.
"Have you talked to her about it?"
"You know I can't, she loves that job."
"She loves you more. Your mom would never work so hard if she knew it bothered you this much. She would give it up if you just asked."
"It's not that easy, Bryan. Things are more complicated than that. We need the money. We're getting by, but it's hard. You wouldn't understand..."
"Money or not, you can't avoid things like this with your mom. Look how upset you are. You're practically spazing out."
He worried about her at times like these, when reality hit her so hard that she couldn't rely on her dreams to get her through it. He knew what this was doing to her. Their mother/daughter relationship had always been close. Hell, Brian had spent most of his life wishing that the relationship with his mother was that close. She was an alcoholic, and sometimes, he thought she cared more about her bottle of wine than him. Mrs. Walker had always treated him like a son, but it just wasn't the same.
"Thanks a lot." She gave him a sided glance but continued her search quickly. "I don't know, I'll think about it.
"You do that."
"I'm not in the mood for this Brian. I barely got any sleep last night, my homework has mysteriously disappeared, and I can't even get a ride home after the dance committee meeting. So just fuck off with the cheeky comments, okay!"
Katie knew she was loosing it, but she didn't really care. He should know better than to provoke her when she was feeling so bitchy. Then again, if you couldn't bitch to your friends, who could you bitch to?
"Calm down," he said, coming up behind her. Resting his hands on her shoulders, he turned her around to face him. "Look, if you want, I can wait around after practice to give you a ride home."
"You don't have to do that. I can take the bus."
"Kate," he said, shortening her name like he usually did when he was exasperated, "Don't be stupid. I offered you a ride. Take it."
She sighed and relented to his heavy gaze. "Thanks, Bryan. I'll make it up to you. I promise."
"Fine, you can owe me a trip to Starbucks."
"How about I make you a PB&J sandwich instead? I'm kind of broke."
He laughed, and putting his arm around her, snuggled her against his body with a swift hug. "Okay, that works too. Don't forget, I like extra crunchy peanut butter."
"How could I forget? It's pretty much all you ate when you were little. Do you want me to take the crusts off too?" she teased.
"No, I think I can handle crusts."
She smiled and leaned her cheek against his shoulder. Katie smelled in his cologne and sighed. She loved how nice he always smelled. It was something musky and spicy that made her head spin when she breathed in too much. She would always think of him when she smelled it on someone else.
"Could they get any more public?" Bryan asked, bringing her out of her daze. "You know, something tells me that they aren't going to be together for much longer."
Katie looked past his shoulder to a couple tight in a lip-lock. The girl had long blonde hair, big boobs, and was wearing the shortest skirt she had ever seen. Her boyfriend wore an expensive hockey Jersey and good looks made most girls swoon. They were in the running for class couple and a dozen of other class awards that were reserved to the most popular of the school.
"What do you mean? It doesn't look like that from where I'm standing." She asked curiously. Forgetting her homework, she gazed upon the saliva exchanging couple. In the world of high school this was big news.
"There's a rumor circulating around that Mandy cheated on him with Thomas Parkins, the captain of the wrestling team. It must be the spandex." He grinned boyishly.
"Mandy Miller cheated on Kyle Wexler? Why would anyone ever want to cheat on him? He's perfect," she said, staring at him dreamily as a fan might a celebrity.
Bryan shifted away from her. "Please, don't tell me you have a crush on that oaf."
"Who are you calling an oaf? He's totally hot."
He glanced back towards the couple. "Sure, if you like all that muscle and no brains kind of guy."
Bryan never really understood what girls saw in Kyle. He had no substance, nothing that made him interesting. The only thing he ever talked about was sports or the latest girl he was banging. Still, he had looks going for him. That's all some people needed to get buy in life.
"Just because he doesn't get straight A's doesn't mean he's stupid," she said, defending him.
No one deserved to be judged like that, not even him. He may have everything in the world handed down to him on a plate, but he was still probably a good guy. Most people in their town had money. She couldn't hate him for that. Even Bryan was rich, though he didn't flaunt it as often as everyone else seemed to. Katie had gotten over the fact that she didn't have as much money as they did a long time ago. She'd had to.
Her mother had grown up in this town. When her parents died, they left her the house and a modest inheritance. With the rising taxes and cost of living, the inheritance barely let them get by. Her mother worked hard to keep them afloat.
"No," Bryan answered. "It doesn't mean that he's smart either."
She gave him a look that clearly said to drop it. "Whatever. I don't have a crush on him," Katie insisted. She wouldn't let herself have a crush on him. He would never look at her the same way she looked at him, and she knew it.
"You just think he's hot?"
"Is that a crime?" Bryan was about to respond when the bell rang. She shut her locker abruptly. "Shit, I'm going to be late. I'll just tell McCartly that my dog ate my homework." She laughed and picked up her backpack from the floor.
"You don't have a dog."
"He doesn't know that." She rushed away from him. "I'll see you later!"
"Bye!" he called after her.
Shaking his head, Bryan stared after her with amusement. He turned to leave, but something at his feet caught his attention. He picked up the crumpled paper and unfolded it while walking leisurely towards his study hall. It was her math homework. With a smile, he tucked it carefully in his pocket, and turned into his first period classroom.
Author's Note: Hey everyone! I hope you enjoyed the first chapter to my story. I hadn't intended on posting this so soon, but since Valentine's day is on Monday, I thought it would be a good time to. You guys can expect the chapters to stay around this length and to be posted every two weeks or so. This is my first real manuscript, and even though it has a long way to go before I consider publication, I hope its a good start. Any kind of comment or constructive criticism is greatly welcomed and appreciated. Thank you.