January. Barely a week after the New Year, and already the powder-pink love hearts of Valentine’s Day were starting to creep in. Softly, at first, in the corners of windows, in the peripheral of a store. A hint of love. A hint of lust. Just a touch. By the second and third week, it was everywhere. Beginning of February, it was almost unbearable. Red exclamations of love plastered across every possible surface, deals and products and experiences.
It was sickening.
Ellie hated the falseness of it. Every year was the same thing, the same dire need to be in a relationship, the same urgency to buy the perfect gift, get the perfect flowers, book the perfect table for the perfect meal, for the perfect date night. All of it, for one day.
Ellie had always been the single friend in her group. The perpetual third wheel, her confidence had been knocked years ago, on Valentine’s Day of all days. That’s why she hated it. It was a yearly reminder that the one relationship she’d had (albeit a teenage relationship) had been such a catastrophe. She’d lost everything to Jason, and had had to move university in the end just to escape the public horror show her life had become.
That was years ago, though. Ten years ago. Ten years she’d dated on and off, but hadn’t found a guy who she really wanted to be with. No-one who made her feel special.
And here she was again. A day before Valentine’s Day, the same offers being blasted in her face, the same painful reminder that the world considered singletons to be failures on that one specific day. Ellie brushed past a guy handing out flyers for a Valentine’s Day special at the local Italian restaurant, moving into the crowds of shoppers and losing herself for a while.
She was wandering along, lost in her music, when she hit a solid yet soft wall, and fell backwards. She put her hands out to catch herself, and felt something snap in her wrist.
“Shit! Oh shit – I'm so sorry -” A guy crouched down and grabbed her wrist, and the scream Ellie let out was not human. She snatched it back, heart racing. “Fuck! Is – that's broken!”
“You fucking THINK?!” Ellie hissed, starting to cry. She cradled her wrist as the guy and his friend lifted her up. “I’m sorry – I d-didn't mean t-to shout -”
“God - no, I should apologise – I'm so sorry! Here, sit down, we’ll call an ambulance -”
“No, please, it’s nothing -”
“Your wrist is broken! You need a hospital!” Ellie looked up at the guy for the first time. His face was horror-struck, and very obviously concerned. She looked at her wrist, which was now swelling, her watch painfully tight.
“Alright,” she said quietly, conceding defeat. The guy sat beside him. Ellie was painfully aware of the people who’d stopped to look and watch. It felt too much like that day... still, her wrist was killing her. She didn’t have any adrenaline to hide the pain.
“Chris, can you find someone? Anyone? A first-aid person?” The guy’s friend nodded.
“You should probably take the watch off, though.” Chris left, and Ellie fingered the strap on the watch that was now cutting off her circulation to her hand.
“Want me to?” the guy asked. Ellie nodded, holding her hand out. “I never caught your name?”
“I never gave it.” Ellie opened her mouth to speak again, but the pain of him opening the watch clasp made her bite her lip hard enough to draw blood. The pressure released, suddenly, and the blood started flowing back to her fingers. The pain increased. A LOT. “Fuuuuuck, I think it was better left on...”
“I trust Chris on this stuff. He’s first-aid trained.”
Ellie cradled her wrist for a moment, willing the pain to stop. Beside her, James routed through his bag and brought out a bottle of water, unopened. He cracked the lid open and held it out.
“Drink this.” James’ expression was still concerned. Ellie took the water in her good hand and took a sip. She felt sick. Directly in front of them, a huge Instagram-worthy heart artwork encased her and James in a reflection. Her stomach turned again. After a few quiet moments, James spoke again. “I always think this sort of stuff is so false.” He gestured to the heart artwork on the wall, where a young couple were posing for a photo. “One day out of the year to show someone you love them?”
“Right?!” Ellie smiled at him. “What about the other three-hundred-and-sixty-four?!”
“Right! And everything is so expensive, too! I was getting my mom some flowers yesterday for her birthday tomorrow, and the Valentine’s ones were like five times the regular price! Ridiculous!”
“It’s refreshing to meet someone who doesn’t turn to a lump of hot marshmallow fluff over this stuff, to be honest. All my friends go crazy over it.”
“Chris does. He’s married, though, and I think a lot of it with them is a joke.” James chuckled softly. “I take it you don’t have any plans, then?”
“None at all, outside of a long run, and then a pizza in the bath with a decent movie. I might extend to a face mask.” Ellie gave a shrug. “You?”
“Much the same. Minus the bath, the face mask, the run...” he laughed again. Before he could continue, Chris arrived with a security guard and a first-aid official.
The trip to the hospital was fairly uneventful. James and Chris followed in James’ car, and kept Ellie company. Chris brought food while Ellie’s wrist was set. In the end, James settled the medical bills, and took Ellie home. By the time they reached the front door, Ellie was spent.
“Thanks for taking care of me today, James.” Ellie ran her fingers along the soft edge of her plaster cast.
“It was the least I could do. I’m like double your height. There was no way you were knocking me down.” He chuckled softly, but in the dim light, his pupils huge, Ellie found herself drawn in a little more.
“But you didn’t have to pay my medical bills.”
“I’m good for it, I promise.”
“Let me pay –“
“Alright. Let me take you out to dinner, and we’ll call it quits.”
“Let you take me to dinner – alright then. It’s on me, and before you argue, one dinner isn’t going to cost $10,000.”
“Alright, alright, you’re right.” James held his hands up. “Your time might cost that, though.”
A moment of silence passed between them. James ran a hand around the steering wheel, and Ellie looked down for a second. Her phone lay in her lap, the battery dead.
“So… I should probably head inside.” She looked at James, biting her lip. “I’m really sorry… could you get me inside?”
“Feeling faint again?”
“A bit, yeah.”
As they walked along the pathway to Ellie’s detached home, she stopped, head spinning. Then…
“Woah! You’re alright, I’ve got you…” James swept her up as though she were weightless, carrying her inside. Ellie came to as he flipped through her keys, trying to find the right one. A wave of emotion took her.
“I’m a fucking cliché!” she cried, her voice slurred. “I’m a fucking cliché the day before Valentine’s Day!” James burst out laughing just as he got the door open, nearly dropping her. It took Ellie a moment to notice that James was wearing her backpack.
“You’re hilarious, and absolutely not a cliché. It would be cliché if you had like four cats waiting for you. And one of those huge wine glasses single girls have.” As James turned on the lights, Ellie looked up at him.
“Shit… Sorry Tiddles, Paws, Ebony and Philip.”
“Eh?” Ellie gestured to the silhouetted cat art on top of the living room door frame, four kittens that looked like they were climbing across the top. James burst out laughing again. Then, he spied the PS5 beneath the TV, the Rick and Morty posters and blanket, the little Marvel and DC characters strewn here and there… He grinned.
“I think I can forgive those. Philip seems like a pretty cool kind of guy.”
“He’s chill. It’s Tiddle’s who’s the rat bitch.” Again, more laughter.
“I think you need a bit of sleep, after the morphine.”
“You’re probably right.” Ellie smiled at him, tired. “Thanks again for today, James.”
“I’ll call you tomorrow. Make sure you’re not dead.”
“I have a mom and a dad, you know.”
“Yeah, and didn’t you say they lived in Michigan?” Ellie rolled her eyes. “So, I’ll call you tomorrow. Make sure you’re not dead. And, since it’s the worst day ever, see if you wanna shoot the shit or play some PS and eat pizza?”
“Subtle, yet very obvious. Nine out of ten for execution.”
“I’ll take it. Now seriously, sleep.”
“Yes, sir.” Ellie grinned at him, then trudged to the front door with him. Before he left, he gave the front porch a once-over, then turned.
“And just to add to the cliché…” James stepped back to her and kissed her cheek. Before Ellie could tell him all the reasons why he should run the fuck away and leave her, he’d jogged off down the path to his Tesla, which rolled away almost silently after a few moments.
Ellie felt her stomach churn and drop and flutter. Valentine’s Day this year might just be different…
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This is the cutest story! Sounds like Ellie and James' matching senses of humor are going to equal a match made in heaven. Glad to see you back at it with the writing too.
Thanks so much Gip!! Honestly this one I struggled with, but I wanted to create something, since I haven't written fiction for what feels like a million years! I'm glad you enjoyed!! :D
Awwww loved it. Adorable. 💕
Thanks Rachel! :D I appreciate it!