It was Valentine’s Day.
There was a hallway full of roses, chocolate boxes, teddy bears, the occasional card, for those so inclined to handwrite sentiments, and then, of course, there was a trash can full of ramen. Maybe that doesn’t make sense to you, reader, because you don’t really think of ramen noodles having anything to do with Valentine’s Day aka Singles Awareness Day.
It made sense to Perlita Martan, though, because they were her noodles and she’d thrown them in the trash after her best friend told her she was going with the cheerleaders to, “catch a smoothie” and skip the rest of the day. This was ridiculous to Perlita on several accounts. First of all, Valentine’s Day was such a joke. Second of all, her best friend had never shown an interest in cheerleaders before. Or smoothies. And third of all, why was she not invited to go with Leani?
It was weird. Perlita didn’t respond as her friend walked down the hall to join her mini skirt parade. She dumped the rest of her snack in the trash can and headed to her locker, where she planned to mope until seventh period math class. Only someone else was also planning on moping until seventh period math, and that person was Perlita’s lockermate, Noa Blum.
“You’re not with Leani.” It wasn’t a question. Noa was telling Perlita as if she didn’t know this already, as though it was a helpful PSA only she could have provided. “Why?”
“But Noa, that’s not really-”
Noa leaned across their lockers, jean jacket catching on the corner of her open door. Her dark eyes narrowed on Perlita’s lighter ones. “Not really what? My business? Everything’s my business.” She tapped the camera around her neck. “School paper and yearbook captain.” Noa sighed. “It’s definitely my business.”
“With all due respect, don’t you have somewhere else to be? Like you said, it’s your duty as captain and captain to record the history of Valentine’s Day at Marlon Grunter High. I think there’s a trash can full of ramen noodles that would make an awesome expose on the sheer line between friendship and betrayal.” Perlita shut her locker and stepped backwards, almost tripping on her backpack.
Noa caught her wrist and pulled her back upright, “Easy there, Tiger. What’s your next class?”
Perlita’s braids swung as she found her balance. Noa let go of her hand. She picked up her backpack; there was no problem with getting to math class early and especially not if she could avoid Noa by doing it. Noa made Perlita nervous. Perlita made Noa laugh. They used to be friends, back before Leani moved to Marlonville and turned things upside-down.
“You’re just not going to answer me?” Noa straightened her back. She was a good three inches taller than Perlita and today she had on her boots, which gave her about two extra inches added to that. “Surely you didn’t forget me entirely. Isn’t it sad when your friends leave you for someone else? Or, say, a group of someone else’s?”
She was referring to the fact that freshman year of high school, Perlita stopped hanging out with Noa cold turkey. There were no more photo shoots in late night lit parking lots, no more lazy Saturdays watching Netflix until there was no more to watch, no more bowling, no more anything. Perlita left Noa and her jean jackets for Leani and her leather bracelet-ed wrists. Now Noa was talking to her about the things they left unsaid. “I’m going to math class. And Leani didn’t leave me, she’ll be back tomorrow. They went to go get smoothies.”
“Uh huh, and you went to go get a fork from the cafeteria. I thought you’d be back too but, nope. Anyway, I have an offer for you.” Noa had pierced her left eyebrow since the last time Perlita had seen her. She also shot up on the social ladder, climbing each rung so subtly that when she was voted prom queen alongside LaTrey Easter, it was a shock to everybody, even those who voted for her. There was no doubt about it. Noa Blum was one cool person. Perlita wished it didn’t bug her so much. She also wished she didn’t want to hear what else Noa had to say.
“Um, what? What kind of offer?”
“Come take pictures with me. Let’s document this day together.” Perlita turned to leave, tightening the straps of her backpack. Noa grabbed her hand again. “Hey, wait. Look, we don’t have to be friends. You don’t even have to talk to me after this. I’ll ask to move lockers, even.” She let go of Perlita’s hand for the second time that afternoon. It would have been startling, but Perlita was used to it. Once upon a time, there was a constant homebound feeling with Noa around because she kept Perlita grounded. Her hands were good and kind; most of the time Perlita found she liked them better than her own.
“I’d have to skip class.”
“Nah, look, I’m the captain, remember? So what if, say, I need an assistant for the day?”
“You never needed an assistant before.”
“And you were never free before. Come on, Per, let’s be old friends for a while. You know you love the camera. And you hate Valentine’s Day. What fresher perspective can I find?”
Perlita blinked at the sound of her nickname. Leani always called her Lita, never Per, and it was strange hearing a sound you’d let slip so far back in your memory. “I’ll do it.”
“I mean, unless you were kidding. I don’t have anything better to do. I’m ahead on three assignments in math, so I technically am free, like you said.” Perlita stuck her hand in her jacket pocket. Her fingers twitched. Noa grinned like the child of the Cheshire Cat. She had a smiley piercing. Perlita wondered if it hurt as much as the internet said it would.
“That’s awesome. Leave your books and bag here, though, we may be running.” Noa’s teeth were straight now, years of braces had done their work and the shambled mix of white and metal gray was gone. Well, the white was still there. Noa always whitened her teeth to shining perfection. “Let’s hit the road, Jack.”
Perlita nodded, “Cue the montage.”
They headed out to the parking lot, but then Perlita had a question and they stopped in front of the exiting doors. “If everyone’s in class, where are our pictures coming from?”
“Oh, dear, sweet, naive in the ways of photography and journalism Perlita. Don’t you worry about that. Here,” Noa fixed Perlita’s glasses from falling down her nose, “I’ll show you what I mean.” She pushed open the door and Perlita followed her out of the building. The way they were walking, she thought they might be going to the football field, but then they turned the other way, towards the elementary school.
“Why are we going to the elementary school?”
Noa sighed again. “Do I need to take you to the hospital and get you checked for short term memory loss? Seriously.” Her face settled grimly as she faced Perlita. Maybe she was serious. Perlita laughed, but she was nervous. She couldn’t think of a reason the high school- well, not even just that, they were both seniors this year- yearbook captain would be interested in anything to do with the elementary. Noa didn’t like kids, or at least Perlita remembered her not liking kids.
“They still get to have parties.” Noa turned and started walking backwards, facing Perlita as they strolled down the catwalk connecting buildings. It was a small campus, to say the least. “And I obviously can’t put pictures of one of our parties in the yearbook, so why not theirs? They get cake and everyone, I mean the whole class, gets a Valentine’s card from every single person they know.” Noa shook her head, musing. “People want to blame Disney for disillusioning us when it comes to love, but I know the truth, Perls. It was there.” She pointed at the door of their old kindergarten building. “So, shall we revisit the origin of our lives as we now know them?”
Perlita didn’t see why not. At the very least, she would cake.
Twenty minutes later, both girls had a stomach ache, a camera full of pictures, and glitter in their eyebrows. They waved goodbye to Mrs. Fuller, who had been one of their kindergarten teachers but was still going strong, and by the time they got to the catwalk again, the pressure was too much. Perlita started to laugh and it made her fizzy from the bottom of her feet to the top of her head. This was fun, she was thinking. I crashed a kiddie party with my ex-best friend and I ate too much cake and I think the camera lenses are smeared with permanent sticky fruit snacks but it was fun, dang it. Noa started laughing too, and soon both of them were leaning into the catwalk railing with all the strength they had left.
“Do you think we even got pictures you can use?”
“Yeah!” Noa took the camera off its cord and handed it to Perlita. “You can look at them while we walk. I know you’re good at multitasking.” Perlita waited for the next thing she said to be something about how great she was at multitasking until it came to friends, but Noa ended it there. It was a compliment, plain and simple. Perlita took the camera.
“So, where are we going now?”
Noa pulled the sleeves of her jacket and swung it off before tying it around her waist; the buttons pinned to it jingling like silver bells. “I have heard, from a little bird named Phillip Amilo, that the choir room may have an intriguing event occurring in approximately three minutes.”
“The choir room is all the way across campus.” Perlita’s stomach was still reeling from laughing and all the cake. Under that, she was an uneasy feeling about whatever Noa was planning next. It took at least-even if you ran like crazy-five minutes to get to the choir room.
“Only if you’re trying to get there on foot. Which we are not.” At Perlita’s alarmed reaction, Noa put both hands on her shorter friend’s shoulders and grinned. “Perlita Consuelo Martan.” Her hands were always warm, even in November. “Don’t you trust me?”
Before Perlita could answer, a golf cart pulled under the catwalk. The driver yelled up at the girls, “You guys coming or what?” It was Phil. Phillip Amilo. Driving a golf cart. Asking them to jump off the catwalk.
Perlita blanched, white as her namesake. “Surely not, Noa…”
“Surely so.” She extended a hand. “It’s a ten foot drop. We’ll be fine!”
“What about your camera?” Perlita asked. Noa grabbed it and tossed it at Phil, who, being the football team’s star quarterback, caught it and tucked it in the seat next to him.
Noa started climbing over the railing. She dropped, landed on her feet, and then looked up at Perlita to see if she was joining her. “It’s okay if you want to go back to class!”
“Can’t I just run around to the stairs?”
Noa and Phil exchanged a look. Noa said, “No, the time is really ticking. Hope or not, buddy.” Perlita was not built like Noa was, not all agile limbs and svelte bones, but she’d make it. Right?
She was over the railing and on the concrete before she could prove herself wrong.
“Ha, you did it!” Noa was effervescent and bouncing in her seat as they rocketed across the campus, Phil pressing the gas pedal as hard as he could. You would think it would have been faster just to walk, but this wasn’t an ordinary golf cart. It had been, ahem, modified. In addition to being the star quarterback, Phil was also the robotics champion. He’d been winning tournaments consistently since third grade, and his latest project was this golf cart they were in now, speeding towards the choir building like a youth group on potluck Sunday. “I’m glad you decided to join us.”
Phil nodded, smiling at Perlita and Noa. He’d heard from Noa how they used to be best friends, and it warmed his heart to see them together again. He wasn’t sure what he would do without his own best friend, or, for that matter, any of his friends. They were awesome. A team in more ways than one.
“Here we are!” They pulled into the choir building’s parking lot. “Go, go!” Phil waved the girls away, “I’ll be there in a second.” Perlita and Noa rushed into the classroom, not the auditorium, just in time to see what Phil had sent them in for. It was an event, but more than that, it was a moment.
There were flowers falling from the ceiling. Literal petals of every shape and size drifted like rainbow snow, covering the choir classroom is a sweeping gesture. The students all looked like they’d just found the closet to Narnia, or even better, had come out of the closet in Coraline. Either way, Noa captured it all. She snapped photos of the flowers, the petals, still falling free. She got a few of people holding them, or handing them to people around them, and there was a particularly precious one of a little ninth grader with flower petals balanced on her nose.
Perlita couldn’t help but kneel to get a closer look, “Whose idea was this?” She gathered long stemmed roses, pink tulips, purple orchids, carnations, and white daisies into the fabric of her folding skirt. “They’re so pretty!”
Noa didn’t answer. She didn’t tell Perlita that all around the school, the same thing was happening. Flowers were raining, and people loved it. That was what she had wanted all day, after all. Noa had an exterior of not giving two shucks and a duck about anything or anyone, but that was far from true. It’d been her idea, about the flowers, and she had to make sure Perlita was with her when she saw it. She missed her friend. Perlita missed her too.
“Was it your idea?” Perlita stood up, the flowers and pieces of them still in her hair and sticking on her clothes. She’d kept a few, put them in her pockets, because who knew if she’d need them later? After all, despite being Valentine’s Day and Single’s Awareness Day, it was also a day to celebrate friendships, new, old, and in between. “Noa.” Perlita pushed the camera away from her friend’s face. “Was it?”
“Yes. You caught me.”
Perlita gave her a yellow rose, stem cut short, and shook her head. “It took me too long. I’m sorry. I wish there was a better excuse for wasting the high school we should have had together.”
“There’s still three semesters left. And I have a feeling I may be needing an assistant for the rest of the year.” Noa took the flower and tucked it in her braid. “What do you say, Martan? Help me out?”
“As long as we can do a special editorial on the sheer line between friendship and betrayal.” Perlita hugged her, close enough that she could smell the soft sandalwood cologne Noa always wore and behind that, the flower addition in her hair. “I think we should start with the trash can full of ramen and-”
Noa moved her camera behind her and pulled Perlita closer, feeling home after three years alone in a crowd.
“And I think we should end it here.”