The Day After Valentine’s

by Loretta Sylvestre
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (6 votes, average: 3.83 out of 5)
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Our tiny house had thin walls. Not long ago I used to fall asleep at night to the sound of my mom humming in the kitchen, my dad’s news show mumbling on the TV, and my brother tapping out his email in the bedroom next to mine. Now, thin walls only meant that even though everybody else was keeping secrets from me, my whole life turned into their business.

Mom’s voice shot right through from her bedroom to the kitchen. “Eddi? Is that you? As late as you came in, I thought you’d sleep all day.”

I gave up on sneaking out, slapped my flip-flops on the linoleum, slid them on and took a giant step to stand in a square of sun. I had goose bumps. In March at six A.M., skinny legs get cold, even in Los Angeles.

The floor squeaked under Mom’s slippers as she walked toward me. “I waited last night,” she said.

I twitched my hair to hang between us, but it wasn’t thick enough to shield me from what I figured was a stranger posing as my mom.

She said, “We were going to talk. Where were you?”

“Beach,” I answered. No point adding details – she wouldn’t even hear them.

“Eddi, I’ve told you not to go down there at night. You don’t know what can happen to a thirteen-year-old girl.”

I did know – she’d told me six times in the last three weeks since Dad left.

Something had happened, but not what she thought. I’d found something, that’s all. Just as the sun got low enough to flash across the water, it glanced on something even brighter, a pointy piece of yellow metal sticking out of the sand. Once I’d dug it out, I found a pendant, about two inches long and oval-shaped like a smooth stone. It hung on a heavy chain, and some kind of letter had been carved into it, maybe a rune. Wild thoughts crept through my mind, thoughts about witches and charms, about magic.

I dropped it into my palm and hefted it, surprised by its weight. “Not magic,” I said then, “but maybe gold.”

If it was worth something, maybe things would change. Maybe Dad could come home. Maybe we’d be like we were before the day after Valentine’s, the day I’d come in after school and found a family who looked like mine but acted like strangers and didn’t bother to tell me why. I could fix it, I thought, if my pendant was gold, but I wanted to keep it secret – I had to – until I knew for sure. I’d come straight home after that – climbed up to the old tree house and fallen asleep – but I didn’t tell her that, either. My family kept secrets; I’d keep them too.

I looked at Mom’s eyes, a funny brown like old pennies, like mine. For just that second I thought I might change my plan. I might tell her about the pendant and what I was hoping for, if only those eyes would crinkle up smiling like they used to when she trusted me.

She said, “Listen,” and put her hand on her hip.

I flipped my hair back and breezed by. I had a bus to catch.

The Greyhound stopped in Sacramento for an hour, and the depot was packed. Old men, moms, babies, every size person crowded between, and not one of them looked at me, even when I stopped a toddler’s rolling bottle and handed it back. “There you go,” I said to him, and smiled up at the woman I thought was his mom, but she grabbed his hand and walked away. I’d turned invisible. It was worse than home.

I took a swallow from my water bottle, dug two quarters from my pocket for the pay phone, and dialed my brother’s number. All my extras were cut off three days after Valentine’s, but he still had his cell phone.

“Eddi, where are you?”

“Promise you won’t tell Mom.”

“She’s worried. It’s dinnertime.”

I knew that – my stomach hurt like never before. But all I had left after my ticket and the phone call was four dollars and a dime. A day and a half on a bag of chips wouldn’t kill me. I swigged more water.

“Eddi?”

“Promise.”

“You’re always doing this to me.” He had his driver’s license now, and he figured that made him like a parent.

“I’m on my way to see Dad,” I said, and hung up before he could talk me out of it.

I’d lived in L.A. all my life; Seattle shouldn’t have scared me. But something about getting off a bus in flip-flops, at dusk, with wind whipping my hair and hurling raindrops, set off an alarm in my guts. Hunger cranked it up – forty-two hours since peanut butter toast at home.

Home.

Why hadn’t I stayed there? I grabbed the golden pendant out of my pocket, shuffled to the wall and sank to the concrete, staring at my great find. It didn’t even shine.

Why I’d thought it might make us rich was a mystery, one more piled on all the others. Like what it was that happened the day after Valentine’s. Like why the little money we had was suddenly gone. Like how I was going to find two-thirty-two Cedar Street in a city as wide and wet as the Pacific.

A car door slammed. Ronny’s yellow Rabbit was parallel-parked, crooked, and he was running toward me out of the gray. He seemed tall. His voice cracked between “Ed” and “di” – just like Dad’s did whenever he was pissed. I stood up, still clutching the pendant and the paper with Dad’s address, and I wanted to hug him, but he was dripping. He hugged me. The drips weren’t so bad.

Besides the cell phone, Ronny still had the laptop our parents had bought him before he started high school. He hooked up through the depot’s Wi-Fi and e-mailed our Uncle Cook to tell Mom I was safe. “I told her where you’d gone,” he said to me.  “I had to.”

He’d brought food and we moved the Rabbit to a quieter spot and sat inside to eat. Cold bean burritos became my new favorite. When they were gone, Ronny passed me my water bottle and asked, “Why?” He wasn’t talking about tortillas.

I showed him the pendant and told him how it had flashed in the day’s last sunlight. “It seemed like…” I wasn’t going to say magic. “…like a treasure.” Ron would know what I meant. Ever since we were small, our Dad had told us stories and showed us books about pirates and shipwrecks, treasures and hunts, and small, gleaming things that might be worth a lot.

“Things aren’t always what they seem, Eddi.” Ronny sighed, stretching his hands like they hurt from driving. It wasn’t a kid-like thing to do. He’d grown up since after Valentine’s.

But I hadn’t. I’d been chasing after the chance to stay a kid as if it was a runaway marble.

They’re in the living room the day after Valentine’s. Dad clears his throat when I walk in, ready to speak. “I’m going to Patti’s,” I say, and slide past. Next morning at the table, Mom sits down across from me and tries to catch my eye. I stuff my toast and leave. Later, Ronny’s Rabbit waits at the curb after school. He leans over and opens the door. “Get in,” he says. I do, but I talk fast the whole way home just to keep him quiet.

They hadn’t kept secrets – I’d refused to hear. I sat quiet for a long minute, my face burning. Ron looked straight back into my eyes when I finally lifted my head.

“The pendant isn’t anything,” I said. “That was dumb. But I still want to talk to Dad.”

He started the car, and then looked at me sideways. “Talk?”

“This time,” I said, “I’ll listen, too.”

He handed me the map and I used my key light to find our way. We turned onto Cedar Street and Ronny parallel-parked like a pro. I tossed the pendant on the dash and it gleamed under the streetlight. I hesitated, still wanting to believe I’d found a miracle on the beach. I got out and shut the door.

I started to walk away, but Ron was smiling across the Rabbit’s roof with a hint of the old big-brother tease. “I told Mom you’d be okay,” he said. “I was right.”

“As always?”

“Of course.”

2 Responses to “The Day After Valentine’s”

  1. Kim Moore says:

    Very much enjoyed this plight of a young woman looking for answers. Unconventional but fascinating characters. A short but good story that left me smiling. Had I been able to rate it, I would have given it a 5.

  2. Ron Pavellas says:

    Dear Loretta,

    A soulful story, well told. I am happy to see it published for general reading.

    Warm regards,

    Ron

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