Authors: Anna Humphrey
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Love Stories, #Social Issues, #Family & Relationships, #Juvenile Fiction, #High Schools, #Love & Romance, #School & Education, #United States, #People & Places, #Adolescence, #Dating & Sex, #Friendship, #Maine, #Love, #Valentine's Day, #Holidays & Celebrations
Rhymes with Cupid
For Brent, my number-one valentine
’d been wrong about him. He wasn’t a player. He was sweet, caring, and genuine. So different from Matt that the two barely belonged in the same category of humankind. But then again, Patrick could have been a full-fledged saint and it wouldn’t have mattered. I’d already told him I didn’t date. Also, he’d made it crystal clear that his crush on me was history.
Which just brought me right back to my original question: Why was he being so nice to me? I needed to find out what was up, and I couldn’t wait until Valentine’s Day to do it, either.
The Itty Bitty Pocket Guide
Secrets of the Heart
edition), Cupid is the god of erotic love. He’s the son of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, and Ares, the god of war. He’s beautiful and mischievous and winged like an angel.
But at the SouthSide Mall in Middleford, Maine, Cupid was a far, far cry from the golden-haired god that the pocket guide (aisle four, right across from the ceramic clowns) described. He stood on the counter of Goodman’s Gifts & Stationery near the cash register—an overweight battery-powered baby doll with shiny red hearts on his diaper. When you pushed his belly button, he winked a creepy mechanical eye at you and started to sing along to music that came out of a speaker in his butt—the chorus of the classic 1960s Motown hit, “Do You Love Me (Now That I Can Dance).” And the doll
dance, in a way. You had to give him that.
Cupid shook his diapered hips indecently, his plastic joints making a faint clicking noise as he swayed from side to side waving a plush bow and arrow in one hand while the music built in intensity. Finally, he closed the routine with another skeevy wink.
If Ares and Aphrodite could see what had become of their golden-haired son, they’d probably feel like throwing down a thunderbolt or two—unlike the masses at the mall who thought creepy mechanical dolls were adorable. Several dozen people had already bought enough greeting cards to earn their very own stupid singing Cupid through the customer loyalty program at the gift shop where I worked after school. We’d already placed our third order from the supplier.
“Oh. My. God.” A woman approached the counter twirling a lock of her hair, which was severely teased and held back by a headband that was half zebra-, half leopard-print—what would you even call that animal? I wondered idly. A zepard? “Well, isn’t that the cutest thing you’ve ever seen? Don’t you just want to pinch him?”
I gave her my best neutral smile. Pinching Cupid wasn’t exactly on my list of things to do. Now
him, I could handle. Right across the hall into the Gap, maybe. Or into one of the boat-sized garbage bins the janitorial staff pushed around at closing time.
She picked up the doll and hugged him to her chest before flipping him over to get a look at his unmentionables. “Does he take AAs?” she asked.
“Four Ds,” I answered. Besides being annoying, the doll cost about twenty dollars in batteries to run. Money that could be
much better spent putting gas in her car, or groceries on her table, or even buying herself some stylish new animal-print headbands—giraffodile, maybe, or snakeetah?
“Oh, well now. Look here.” She held the doll’s butt up to my face. “You’ve got the switch flipped to the quiet setting. We can hardly hear his cute little song.” Using a long, pink fingernail, she remedied the situation before setting Cupid back on the counter and pressing his tummy. He winked and started to sing again—five times louder. “You have a nice day now, you hear,” the woman said.
“You too.” I smiled as sincerely as I could manage. “Thanks for shopping at Goodman’s.” As soon as she’d turned her back and walked away into the brightly lit, overloud mall plaza, I let the smile drop from my face. Unfortunately, Cupid kept right on singing. “That’s it,” I shouted to my coworker Dina a few seconds later when she came out of the back room carrying a cardboard box. “We definitely need to kill this thing.” I reached into the drawer for the scissors.
“Are you serious, Elyse?” she shouted back, her eyes growing wide. “You’re going to stab Cupid?”
The doll winked again and finally fell silent. I laughed. “Actually, these are for the box.” I held them up. “But, now that you mention it . . .”
“Elyse,” Dina said softly, blinking her big brown eyes at me. “We probably shouldn’t joke about damaging merchandise. Mr. Goodman would be really upset.”
I should have known better than to kid about a thing like that with Dina. She was quite possibly the sweetest girl I’d ever met. So sweet that, sometimes, she was a bit nauseating—at least to someone as cynical as I’d been feeling lately. In the three months we’d been working together I’d lost count of how many times I’d caught her going all teary eyed over a clichéd love poem while shelving wedding cards.
“I’m kidding, Dina. Of course.” I gave her an earnest look. “I would never do a thing like that to Cupid here.” I patted his head to show I was sincere. “Or to anything else in the store.” I motioned for her to pass me the box.
“Oh, obviously.” She slid it down the counter. “I knew you were kidding. You’re such a bighearted person, Elyse. Actually, that’s partly why I’ve been meaning to ask you a favor.” She leaned down and took a folder out of her backpack, which was stashed behind the cash. I caught a glimpse of a sad-looking baby panda on its cover. I could pretty much guess what was coming.
“I don’t know if you knew this . . . but the giant panda is one of the world’s most endangered species,” Dina began, her voice cracking a little out of sympathy for all the threatened forest-dwelling bears of China. “Scientists think there are less than fifteen hundred of them left in the wild.” She must have noticed that I was avoiding eye contact because she quickly added, “Just so you know, I’m not going to ask you for money.”
I breathed a small sigh of relief. It wasn’t that I had anything against pandas (although, now that I thought of it, if you wanted to make a
headband, you could combine a panda with a bald eagle . . . just kidding). The thing was, since my mom had lost her job six months earlier, part of my salary had been going to help with household expenses. Even now that she’d found a new job (which she was starting that afternoon), there wouldn’t be a ton to spare. Plus, I’d sponsored Dina in a knit-a-thon to help stop the slaughter of sheep just a month before. Since then, I’d had to avoid getting the curried lamb special at India House in the food court, and it was my favorite.
“I’m organizing a panda party,” she explained, “for Valentine’s Day. We’ll all wear black and white, and each guest will make a donation to Panda Rescue. I’m hoping we can raise five hundred dollars to cosponsor a panda for the year. This one is Oreo.” She pulled a picture out of her folder. I tried to avert my gaze—no need to get swept away by the panda’s inevitable cuteness. “I know you’re good at baking, Elyse. My family practically inhaled those cookies you gave us at Christmas. So, I was wondering, would you make black-and-white snacks for the party?”
I hesitated. After all, making food for a panda party would put a crimp in my big plans for February 14. I was going to buy five boxes of heart-shaped chocolates using my employee discount and eat them all in one sitting to drown my sorrows.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’ll probably be busy that night.”
“With a guy?” Dina asked eagerly.
“No. Just, you know, with my mom. I don’t want her to be all alone on Valentine’s Day.” That much was true. Well, partly true, anyway.
The whole truth was this: I’d been betrayed last Valentine’s Day by the former two-most-important people in my life. So it was no surprise I’d been looking forward to the love fest with the kind of dread I usually reserved for dental fillings and driving lessons. All I wanted to do was hide in my house and wait for all the happy togetherness of the holiday to be over with—not to mention for all the singing Cupids to be silenced.
And working at Goodman’s wasn’t helping matters. Every time I picked up a tacky pink teddy bear or shelved a heart-shaped card, my mind drifted back to where I’d been this time last year—so happy, and so much in love—then compared it to where I was this year—alone, and still more than a little brokenhearted.
See, exactly one year ago, I had a boyfriend. His name—ironically enough—was Matt Love. We’d met in chemistry class in September of tenth grade while doing a lab. We had to calculate the moles of water we’d just removed and the moles of magnesium sulfate left in our solution. He had no idea what he was doing.
“There are moles in that beaker?” he’d said. “So what did they do? Dig them out of their mole holes and liquefy them? Nasty.” At first I thought he was kidding, so I laughed, but then I saw that he was actually serious.
“Moles are a unit of measurement in chemistry,” I explained, fixing him with a steady stare.
“Huh. Who knew? You’re smart, aren’t you? Pretty, too.”
I’d always considered myself average. I was thin in a tomboyish way, with straight brown hair and brown eyes with tiny blue flecks in them. I wore glasses. I wasn’t the kind of girl guys flirted with, unless they wanted someone to review their English essay or help them with calculus. I’d had no idea how to respond to Matt’s comment, but it didn’t seem to matter. He’d already decided that he liked me, and he was determined to keep pursuing me with puppy-dog-like enthusiasm until I started liking him back.
“You’re insane, you know that, right?” my then-best-friend Tabby told me the third time I turned down Matt Love’s invitation to see a movie over the weekend. “He’s gorgeous. And popular. Funny, too. Plus, he has his own car. I’m just saying. . . .”
If I could travel back in time, I’d tell Tabby that if she thought he was so great, she should have gone out with him. It would have saved us all a lot of trouble, and me a lot of heartache. But, instead, the short version of what happened is that, eventually, Matt Love wore me down.
I started noticing the cuteness of his slapstick brand of humor, and the hotness of his smile, instead of the lowness of his IQ. I
go out with him. And he was gorgeous, and popular just like Tabby said. We were a weird match—the cautious, brainy girl and the total goofball popular guy—but we worked. He introduced me to Jackie Chan movies and taught me how to spit watermelon seeds really far. He gave me my first real kiss, and then my second, and my third. He even let me drive his car once (which, trust me, was a very bad idea). And, meanwhile, I helped him bring his chemistry grade up from a D to a solid B-minus.
But it all ended on Valentine’s Day when I walked into my room, expecting to find Tabby there. Matt and I had a date (the new Jackie Chan movie followed by dinner at Flapjack’s—his favorite pancake restaurant), and Tabby, who was good at that kind of thing, was going to go to my place right after school and pick out an outfit for me while I finished my tutoring session. And, in some ways, she didn’t let me down.
When I got home, Tabby was in my room, like she said she’d be. And she’d picked out an outfit and laid it on the bed, like she’d promised she would. It’s just that she happened to be lying on top of the outfit, and Matt Love—who had obviously arrived early to pick me up—happened to be lying on top of her. And as for how the rest of my Valentine’s Day went, you can pretty much guess.
Dina carefully moved aside Styrofoam packing in the box I’d just opened and lifted out a picture frame. “Awwww. Look.” She showed me. It was pink and had pictures of daisies and sunflowers running up the sides. Across the top it read in swirly script:
Like a well-tended garden . . .
Then it continued on the bottom: . . .
our love grows stronger every day.
I tried not to gag.
Suddenly the look on Dina’s face went from gushy to sad. I braced myself. “You know what this would have been perfect for?” she asked, then answered her own question. “This photo of me and Damien I have.”
I nodded in what I hoped seemed like a comforting way but, secretly, I was glancing at the clock. There were two more hours left before the store closed. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to stand that much Damien talk.
“We asked this homeless man at the botanical gardens to take it for us last summer,” Dina explained. “Damien thought he was going to run off with our camera, but I said, ‘Just because he doesn’t have a place to live, doesn’t mean he’s not a good person.’ And I’m so glad we asked. That photo’s one of my favorites. I’ll bring it tomorrow to show you.”
“Great,” I said. “That would be great.” I’d already seen pictures of Damien standing on the sidewalk. Pictures of Damien eating hamburgers. Pictures of Damien taking pictures of Dina, who was taking pictures of him. It was pretty amazing how many pictures of Damien Dina had, especially when you considered she’d only dated him for three weeks last summer before he’d dumped her and gone off to college. “I’d love to see that photo. But, Dina . . .” I chose my next words carefully. “Do you think it’s maybe time you started seeing other people? Or, at least, thinking about seeing other people?” She clutched the picture frame against her chest. “I mean, Damien’s dating someone else.”
The mere mention of the other girl made Dina’s eyes glaze over with tears, and I felt horrible for bringing it up. If anyone knew what it was like to have your heart broken by a guy, it was me.
dating her,” Dina corrected. “They’re just seeing each other. Casually.”
“Right,” I said. “That’s what I meant. But you know, Dina,” I went on, “there’s no reason you can’t see someone else casually, too.” I lifted a stack of frames out of the box, counted them, and checked them off against the packing slip. “At least consider it. You never know who you might meet.”
I managed to say the words with authority, but even as I doled out the advice, I knew I was being a hypocrite. Just that morning, over breakfast, my mom had suggested I introduce myself to the guy next door. My reaction was less than positive.