Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"Good assumption," Mila said, taking the index card out of Rick's hand and examining it. As promised, on one side of the card was a bad sketch of what was apparently supposed to be her, but with a curvier figure and a midriff- and cleavage-bearing outfit adorned with a Cowboys star. While Rick was looking around them nervously, this being a clandestine meeting like the one she'd had with Mike the week before, she analyzed what information his covert actions had produced, and found it to be mostly accurate, if one ignored the glaring oversight he'd made about her resemblance to a much older, more famous Mila. "But I do not look like Mila Kunis, Rick," she said, handing him back the card.

"You're just being modest," he replied.

"And I can't believe you're like the third person to tell me that!"

"You're definitely being modest."

"So how did it go with Iris last night?" she asked.

Rick sighed. "She made me throw away all my notes."

"And yet, I was holding one in my hand just a minute ago," Mila said.

"I saved yours," he explained, and the girl on the card somehow took this as a compliment and smiled. "And also Cassie's, which I gave to Mike."

"That's sweet." Mila couldn't believe she'd just said that. "By your standards," she added.

"Iris told you I had a heart, didn't she?" Rick said.

"So does it still belong to her?"

"It does."

Mila nodded. "Then you should probably go."

"But what if it didn't?"

Mila raised an eyebrow, then opened her hand and said, "Give me the card back." With a sigh, Rick placed the index card about her in her hand; a second later, she began tearing it to pieces.

"What are you doing?" he gasped.

Looking for a trash can, and finding a big gray plastic one under a planted tree not far away, Mila tossed the remains of the card inside and answered, "The right thing."

"No, the right thing would be to recycle that," Rick said. "That's what Iris made me do."

"Do you honestly think we have a connection, Rick?" she laughed. "Are you so sure about it that you'd break up with Iris right before Valentine's Day just to be with me? Because you're wrong, and a dick."

"I thought we had a connection," he shrugged.

"You probably think that about every girl you put the moves on! Just because you knew I liked the Cowboys doesn't mean I'm going to throw myself at you!"

"But you seemed flattered."

"I was flattered! But it doesn't mean anything!"

"It means you like me. Just a little bit."

"I'll like you more when you start getting to know girls the old-fashioned way—by talking to them!"

"I do talk to them!"

"You make crass comments that no woman with half a brain would find attractive! That's why Iris is your girlfriend—who else but your best friend could even tolerate you?"

Surprisingly, Rick didn't continue arguing with Mila after she said this. He seemed just as surprised as she was, with a face that was more evident of a sudden epiphany than a drawn-out defense of his behavior. "Holy crap."

"Harsh reality, huh?" Mila said, proudly. "As long as you act like this, Rick, you'll never know the touch of another woman."

"I've got to go!" he said, scrambling away like a cartoon character into the crowd of students at the top of the amphitheater.

"Mike!" Rick shouted when he'd found him at the bottom of the amphitheater, with five minutes in snack left before they had to separate and go to their third period classes. "Mike!" he said, feeling out of breath despite the relatively short length of the run he'd just made down the stairs. "Mike, I know what to get Iris for Valentine's Day!"

"Good for you," Mike said halfheartedly. "What is it?"

"Nothing." This response garnered the expected dumbfounded reaction from Mike, and before a sarcastic wish of good luck could be made, Rick elaborated. "I just need to show her how much she means to me! I don't need to con Kent into buying me some expensive ring for her! All I've got to do is remind her why she started dating me in the first place!"

"Exactly the point of Valentine's Day," Mike said. "So how do you plan on doing this without spending any money?"

Rick snapped his fingers and smiled. "That's the best part!"

Thursday, February 14, 2008

There she was. Sitting at a table in the cafeteria, conversing with some friends was Cassie. She did remind Mike of a feminine version of himself, just as Mila had said: tall, blonde, and Southern, the primary difference, of course, being that she was much prettier. Which made this all the more intimidating. Hidden from her sight on the exterior side of the doorway into the cafeteria, Mike pulled out the card that Rick had diligently, if unethically, prepared about her behind her back. He wondered how much of it was accurate, and for the parts that were, how well it would do him to exploit that information. If he used it, he might have to lie about how he knew she liked such-and-such. He'd derided Rick for preparing these notes before, and especially now that Iris had made him destroy the rest, this could all lead to Mike being exposed as a hypocrite and alienating one of his friends. But this internal debate couldn't go on for much longer; he had to make a move soon.

Mike crossed himself. Why did he cross himself? Cassie wasn't a divine spirit, she was just another ordinary middle school student like himself. And his belief in God was iffy at best. Whatever the reason, it happened, and Mike made his way into the crowded, excessively lit room towards Cassie and her friends. Almost without realizing it, he suddenly found himself standing directly across from her. The girls circled around the table gradually took notice of him, and an awkward silence befell them.

Cassie's blue eyes met his. Mike could feel a drop of sweat roll down his temple, though that could have just as likely been from the heat of the food and the lights that penetrated the room. She waited a moment, and then said, "Yes?"

"Hi," Mike said.

"Hi," she said. "Can I help you with something?"

Some of the other girls held back giggles and blushed.

"Um…" Mike began, eloquently. "Well…you know what today is?"

"Thursday," Cassie said.

Mike laughed, but was hesitant to say she was funny, since there was a possibility she was being serious. "It's…it's Valentine's Day."

"Oh. I guess it is."


She nodded, and tapped her hands on the table lightly. "Is that all?"

"No!" Mike said. "No, it's not. I, uh…" He thought about what was on the card. "What do you think of the Grizzlies?"

"Aren't they endangered?"

"No, I mean the Memphis Grizzlies. The basketball team?"

"I have no opinion of them whatsoever."


Cassie slowly shook her head, while her friends continued to hide their laughing.

"Okay," Mike said, clearing his throat. "Neither do I." Running low on items of conversation, he looked at her plastic tray and the rubbery chicken nuggets and noodles that sit half-eaten on it, and asked, "Good food?"

"I wouldn't recommend it."

"Do you want to go out?"

"With you?"


"No." She impaled some noodles on the spork in her hand, and Mike couldn't help but think she had just imagined him as those noodles, the implications of which were not at all good, on multiple counts.

"Can I ask why not?"

"You can."

"I will." Cassie took a bite and looked at him, awaiting him to make good on this promise. "Why won't you go out with me?"

After swallowing, Cassie took a moment, and then answered, "You're not the one I'm interested in."

"So who is?" Mike said, his spirits having by now dropped considerably.

"Nobody you'd know."

This may or may not have been true, but in any case, by now Mike knew he was wasting both his and her time. But at least he could say he'd tried. Not that that was any comfort. "It was nice talking to you."

"Meh," she shrugged.

Mike nodded, waved goodbye, and walked out of the cafeteria as quick as he could without looking desperate or hurt. Rick, Iris and Alex were all probably wondering where he was, and he had to get back to them, not to mention eat some lunch of his own. The heartbreak inside seemed to make him even more acutely aware of the lack of food in his system, and he probably shouldn't have tried to ask Cassie out on an empty stomach in the first place. He looked at his watch; there was still another ten minutes of lunch left for him to take some of his frustration out on something edible. With that in mind, he hurried over to the vending machines.

Iris looked up at the decorations in Rick's room: the Dodgers merchandise, the swimsuit model pinups, the Nickelback poster. She thought about the money that had been spent on them, and with the lateness of the hour, why she hadn't yet received anything from Rick to celebrate their second Valentine's Day as an official couple. The navy blue t-shirt with the witty statement on it she'd given him had already been unwrapped and tucked away. Where was the reciprocation?

She was just about to ask him what was going on when he abruptly stopped kissing her. He lifted his face up from hers, looked down the body underneath him, and said, "You're probably wondering where your gift is."

"I think you've stretched this 'I'll give it to you later' thing to its limits," she nodded, glancing at the clock overhanging his dresser, which now read 8:30. "This is a school night, after all."

"It is," he said, "but it's Valentine's Day, too, so I think that gives us some leeway."

"Leeway for what?"

Rick bit his lip, looked into her eyes, and began rubbing his fingers on the collar of her blouse. He slowly moved his hand down the crease of the pale pink garment until it reached the first button.

"Rick, you know we can't," she sighed, pulling herself out from under him.

"I want to show you what you mean to me."

"You can't do that with a gift?"

"Iris, you bought me a shirt."

"It's a funny shirt!" she said. "I thought you'd like it!"

"I do!" Rick said, putting his hand on her arm. "But Iris, this is the ultimate gift!"

"That's why it should wait. Once we go there, there's no going back."

"I know."

"And really, why waste the best gift now? We're only fourteen! If we do it now, all the birthdays and Valentine's afterward are just going to pale in comparison!"

"I'm of the opinion that they'll just get better. See, it'll be awkward the first time, no doubt, but between then and the next holiday we'll have plenty of time for practice!"

Iris grumbled, shook her head, and buried it in her hand in disappointment. "Wouldn't you rather wait until we're a little older, a little more mature, more self-aware?"

"That's one possibility," Rick said. "Or, we could do what we can now, and when that time does come, we'll be that much better at it!"

"There's just no convincing you, is there?"

This important, if by this stage in their relationship largely redundant, conversation was then interrupted by Rick's ringing cell phone. He and Iris silently agreed to disagree, and he stepped off the bed to pick up the phone off his nightstand. "Hello? Tom, my man, what's up? You and Oriel get your freak on yet?" He turned to Iris, who rolled her eyes while Tom no doubt denied the getting on of any freaks. "Whoa, what? Come again? What?"

Iris jumped off the bed to stand beside him. "What? What is it?"

"Kent and Holly just broke up."