“Vali, we need to talk to you.”
I hadn’t even gotten one foot in the door before my moms were practically surrounding me. I blinked and pulled my backpack off of my shoulder, letting it fall to the ground before looking up at the two of them.
“Why?” I asked. I thought about moving past them, but my feet stayed firmly stuck in their positions. There was no way this meant anything good…
They shared a look that could only mean something bad. Great. I don’t think I did anything bad this week – I haven’t even gotten detention!
“Sit down,” Mum said softly as they walked into our front room. I felt like I was walking to my death as I trudged towards them slowly.
“Okay, what?” I threw my arms out, sighing. “Just stop with all the weird glances and tell me what’s going on.”
Mom bit her lip, squeezing her eyes shut. “We think… that you need to see a tutor.”
A what? You’ve got to be fucking kidding. I don’t need a smart person to tell me I’m not smart! Come on, just make me watch some educational videos or whatever. An actual tutor is so twentieth century. Do we even have those? And shit, I literally tore up my report card, so how did they… the online grade book. How did I forget that existed? It’s the twenty-sixth century, of course there’s an online grade book – but I never check it. Shit. I kept switching my gaze between them as the silence hung in the air. “You’re kidding.”
Mum shook her head. “No, Vali, we’re not. You need to pass high school.”
I could practically hear the words she left unsaid hanging in the air. ‘And since you can’t do it yourself…’ I blinked, ignoring the lump growing in my throat. The thing was… she was right. You might not need to go to college, but you definitely need to pass high school! Ugh. “And who do you think would do this?”
“Your friend, Jaden. We’ve already called Lyric and she said he’d be happy to,” Mom replied smoothly. Of course they’ve thought out every single thing. And of course my tutor has to be my best friend who isn’t speaking to me. Okay, the not speaking part was kind of definitely an unspoken rule between us right now, but still. Why would he even agree to that? We pretty much hate each other right now. I stood up and started waking out of the room.
“Uh, where are you going?” Mom asked, raising her eyebrows.
“To my room. This conversation was done, wasn’t it?” I looked at the two of them, hoping that it really was over. I didn’t want any more of their pity looks.
“Well…” Mum sighed, “your first lesson will be tonight. The other ones will be after school.”
“I have drama club after school, Mum,” I reminded her.
Her and Mom shared another look. “Your grades need to get better before drama club can become a priority, Valentina. So, yes, you will be missing some rehearsals.”
My jaw dropped. They were actually going to take the one thing I was good at in school from me?! I took theater seriously, really seriously. What if Mrs. Wesson won’t let me be the lead after this? It’s going to be hard to, you know, practice, if I can’t be there!
“But… that’s not fair!”
Mom raised her eyebrows questioningly. “How, exactly?”
I groaned. “It’s just not! I work really hard at theater! I love it! And you guys want to destroy that!”
“Vali, I think you’re overreacting a little bit. You won’t be missing every rehearsal.”
I balled my hands up into fists. “You don’t understand! You aren’t the one doing it! I need to be there every day!” I fumed, glaring at the two of them. I didn’t get it! This is exactly what I mean. Nobody cares about the ‘extra’ things – which are the things I happen to love. It’s all about what they think is important, what society thinks is important. Society can go fuck itself.
“If you had better grades, we wouldn’t be having this talk, Vali. Just give actual school some effort first, then we can talk about theater,” Mum said. They were trying be all reasonable and put up the ‘we just care about your future’ shit, but I don’t want it. They obviously think I’m such a failure, and they obviously don’t care about what I actually care about.
I looked at them silently before walking up the stairs, the sound of my every footstep hanging in my mind. I hate this. And you know what? I did this. I didn’t this to my own damn self. Why can’t I ever do something right to everyone else? I laid down on my bed, staring up at the ceiling. I saw a glint out of the corner of my eye and turned to see my trophy from the talent show sitting neatly on my desk. I sighed, turning back over and looking out the window.
Small snowflakes fluttered down past the gray sky. I closed my eyes, hearing snippets of the soft classical music from my sister’s stereo emanating through the walls. Damn, it’s way too quiet in here if I can hear her music. I sat up and sighed, sliding off the side of the bed before crouching down to look under my bed for the textbooks I stuffed down there earlier this year. I flipped through the pages of one, sighing. Do they really expect us to remember all of this? I closed it shut, stuffing in under the bed again. I can only wonder why Jaden decided to ‘help’ me. I bet it really wasn’t his choice at all. Our moms are all pretty good friends, his mom could’ve made him do it. Yeah, that’s probably it. I got out my violin and started to play a few songs before my moms told me it was time to go. I brushed past them on the way out the door. It’s not like they were driving me, anyway.
The school is surprisingly dark at night. I slid my student id in the scanner, pushing open the door, then closing it behind me until I heard a click. I walked up the stairs to the library slowly. There was practically nobody in the school – until you got up here. There was more people here than I expected. At first, I didn’t even notice him. The school library was surprisingly vast and I could barely see the secluded table he had chosen to sit down at while he flipped through some book.
For a small, fleeting second, I almost just walked back out. I twisted around to look at the door, squeezing my eyes shut.
I opened my eyes, turning back to see Jaden looking at me expectantly. “Um, yes?”
He motioned for me to go over there and I did, looking back at him. We sat there silently for a few seconds before he finally sighed. “Okay, what subject are we doing first?”
I glanced at the stack of textbooks and back to him. “Whichever.”
I stared at him for a second. “You pick one.”
Isn’t it funny how you can fight without seemingly saying anything about it at all? How sometimes, a certain look and tone can say more than the words truly spoken? He bit his lip, finally taking the top textbook from off the stack.
“Fine.” He flipped the book open, his eyes never once turning to look at me.
“Yeah, let’s just get this over with,” I sighed, leaning forward. We just sat there, looking over the pages in silence of our own. There were other people here tonight, talking on the other side of the bookshelves. But it seemed like there was really no noise at all. Neither of us made a move to flip the page after plenty of minutes had passed.
Jaden let out a sigh, finally meeting my eyes before waving his hand above the book page. “This guy just wanted to help out his friend, but his friend just didn’t understand what he was trying to do and – ”
I sighed, looking over the pages. “What? Where does it say that?”
“And the guy,” Jaden continued, “just wanted to stop his friend from doing something she would regret.”
“Jaden, I can read! What page are you looking at?” What the heck was he talking about? I swear there was nothing on these pages about this guy. He didn’t respond and I rolled my eyes, getting more annoyed. “Yeah, I might be failing all my fucking classes, but I can read!”
“It’s so obvious!” He groaned.
“The fuck, Jaden?! Just point it out if it’s so obvious!”
It took me a minute to realize he wasn’t talking about something history-related after all as we sat there stiffly.
I closed the book shut loudly, and he jolted back in surprise. “This is about Kyle and I, isn’t it?”
He looked away. “What?”
“This! You weren’t talking about some ol emperor, you were talking about me and you and my boyfriend!”
He shrugged. “Well…yeah.”
I narrowed my eyes. “God, Jaden, why don’t you just get out of my business?! You know, before I came here, I wished you wouldn’t act like some bot, but now I wish you would.”
He looked genuinely hurt. “What?”
“Yeah, some emotionless, detached bot would be better than this,” I groaned, waving my hands around.
“You don’t really – ”
“Yes, I do.” I stood up, rolling my eyes dramatically, and began to saunter out of the library. There was still a surprising amount of people there, but most of them weren’t really studying. I was about to walk out when I suddenly realized I’d left my phone back at the table.
I bit my lip. Now I have to go back. Fuck. So much for some dramatic exit. I exhaled slowly, speed-walking back over. Jaden looked up in surprise.
“You’re coming back?” He asked, eyes widening.
“No,” I snapped, grabbing my phone. “I just forgot my phone.”
“It doesn’t have to be like this,” he sighed, and I knew the second those words came out of his mouth, even he knew it sounded pathetic.
“Like what? Like you getting in my business? Maybe you should just fuck off for a while.” It sounded harsher than I expected, but so what? He thinks that just cause we’ve been friends since we were toddlers, he automatically knows what’s best for me? I know what’s best for me. Me. I do. Not him.
He turned away and I could swear I saw a tear fall from his face. “Yeah, sure.”
“Yeah. Great.” I looked back at him one last time before walking out, this time with my phone.
It was only a couple weeks later that I finally realized he might have a point. A really, really, really small one, but… still. Kyle texted me a few days before February 14th – Valentine’s Day – saying that we needed to talk. And everyone knows what that means. Emily and Amaya tried to assure me that it might not mean the end of our relationship, but it did. It had to. It’s not like everything’s been going great or anything. We haven’t talked in over a month. We were just… unofficially broken up. I doubt that Kyle just said we needed to talk just so he could ask me to be his valentine this year. I’ve been putting off talking with him ever since that night. We’ve just been in limbo.
The place everyone always goes to meet up is Sprinkles, the cute little mom-and-pop shop about 10 minutes from the school. It’s a self-serve ice cream place that’s really become the place to go in these last few years. The couple is really sweet, too. I know that I called it a mom-and-pop shop, but that’s really just a saying, since it’s really run by two married men in their late sixties. They always talk to everyone that comes in, but after nine, it’s just open, even though nobody’s really running it. They have a security system and all, so it’s fine. I was surprised to see the place empty – empty except for Kyle. I sat down next to him quietly.
“So… what’s this about?”
He ran his hand through his hair, sighing. “I just thought we should talk, you know?”
I nodded. “Yeah… okay. Should we get ice cream? Or..”
“Yea, why not?” He stood up and (awkwardly) waited for me to get up too.
We scooped out a couple round-ish balls of ice cream and got a few toppings before sticking our cards inside the slot in the counter that automatically documents it to our accounts. Everyone gets one free ‘fun food item’ every month like ice cream, or basically any food that isn’t the basics. I’m pretty sure I’ve already used mine for this month, but my family’s rich, so it’s not like it matters. I walked back to the table and waited for Kyle to come back. It takes like two seconds for the card to register, I don’t know why he took forever to come back.
He sat down, putting the card back in his pocket before looking over to me. “What are we, Vali?”
I blinked. “What?”
“What are we?” He repeated, looking at his bowl of ice cream.
“We’re dating…” For now.
“We aren’t really acting like it,” he whispered softly.
“No, we aren’t.”
“Could you ever forgive me?” Kyle stopped moving his spoon around in his bowl, still not looking up.
Could I, though? “I – I don’t know. I still don’t understand.”
“I don’t either. You’re everything I want in a girl. I just…couldn’t.”
I took a bite of my ice cream slowly. He just couldn’t, huh?
“Vali, I’m sorry,” he murmured.
“I’m sorry, too. I’m sorry that none of this really worked out.”
“We aren’t over yet, though,” he whispered so quietly, it almost seemed like it was to himself.
“Aren’t we, though? Isn’t that why you told me we needed to talk?”
“I – I don’t know. Do you still want to be with me?”
I bit my tongue, closing my eyes. “I don’t know.”
He chuckled softly, shaking his head. “I guess we don’t know anything.”
“Yeah. We don’t. Do you? Do you want to be with me?” I asked slowly, looking at his soft gray-blue eyes. Eyes I had spent the summer looking into.
“I really don’t know. Maybe… we should take a break?” And there it was. A break. Breaking up. It’s the same thing. I knew it was coming, but it hurt all the same.
“Maybe we should,” I finally said softly.
He nodded slowly. “I’m sorry.”
There were a million things I think we both left unsaid that night, alone in the ice cream shop. So… it’s really over, after one and a half-ish years together.
I guess I’m not getting a valentine this year.