Valentine’s Day: Chapter 7

yafictionChapter 7

When I got home Aunt Esta was sitting at the kitchen table looking over a flyer for a local driving school. I raised an eyebrow at her as I got a diet soda out of the refrigerator.

“I thought you already had your license,” I said.

Aunt Esta jumped. “Oh, you scared me!” She laughed. “I was just looking at this for you. I know you’ll want to start driving soon. You’re already eligible for your license in this state.”

I raised the same eyebrow. I didn’t want to tell Aunt Esta that I was quite an accomplished driver. I had simply never been caught behind the wheel by anyone in a position of authority. Instead, I just smiled.

“That sounds great, Aunt Esta. Where is the school?”

“It’s about ten minutes from here. You’ve already had driver’s ed at your old high school, right?” She asked.

“Well, I sat in a room with a bunch of other students and watched a ton of movies that all told us we are lethal killing machines as soon as we get behind the wheel and no matter what we do or how careful we are, we WILL murder someone at some point.” I quipped, sarcastically.

“Driver’s ed really hasn’t changed much then,” Aunt Esta observed. “Well, I’m going to call them tomorrow and set up your first appointment. It says here that you just need to complete a 10 hour course with them, then take a written test at the DMV and you can get your license.”

“One problem though,” I said, sipping my diet soda and leaning against the kitchen counter.

“What’s that?” Esta frowned.

“I don’t have anything to drive,” I pointed out.

“Oh, well, I thought that I would help you get your first car.” Aunt Esta said, her smile returning.

“Really?” I asked, surprised. Although I had never discussed it with mom directly, the unspoken agreement between us was that I was never to ask her for a car and she was never to offer one.

“Sure. I’ll make the down payment, then you can make monthly payments to pay off the rest. Also, you’ll need to put gas in it, so why don’t you start looking for a part-time job?” Aunt Esta took off her glasses and gestured to her left. “There’s a great little shopping complex near here, I know they’ll be looking for a bright young person to come and help them out.”

“Okay,” I said. I was no stranger to part-time jobs. During the summer I had even worked full time. Anything to help me and mom scrape by. “Can you take me there tomorrow to ask around? I have a ton of homework I need to finish tonight.”

“Sure thing, sweetheart.” Aunt Esta said, tucking her reading glasses into her shirt pocket. “I’m going to order out some Chinese for dinner. What would you like?”

“Ooo, put me down for shrimp chow mein.” I said, taking another sip of soda. “I’m going to get started on that homework. Let me know when you order dinner.”

“Sure, study hard!” Aunt Esta smiled. “You know, if I knew that taking care of a kid was this easy I would have had children ages ago,” she laughed.

I didn’t want to have to tell her that kids didn’t pop out of the womb already self-sufficient and able to work. I just smiled back at her, then headed upstairs to my bedroom. Sitting down at my desk, I heard a faint beeping sound. Must be my new cell phone. I still hadn’t learned what all of the different sounds it made meant, so whenever I heard an electronic sound, I just assumed that it was my new cell phone.

Fumbling in my jacket pocket, I located my phone and slid the lock button. The phone sprung to life and alerted me that I had a new text message from an unknown number. Figuring that it must be Dash, I hit enter to view it.

919-395-3838
Hey, it’s Dash. Want me to drive to the concert? My mom said I can borrow her car for the night.

I flipped the keyboard out and began to type back to him.

Sure! I’ll find out where Toby lives and we can pick him up. I can’t wait!

I hit send and hoped I didn’t sound too eager. Back in my old life, I had never had a problem with boys. Most of them just didn’t interest me and the few that did rarely turned out to be who I thought they were. But Dash seemed different, fun, and exciting. I hoped I was right.

Putting my phone back into my jacket pocket I was about to return to my homework when it occurred to me that I would have to clear this with Aunt Esta first. I didn’t think she’d be thrilled at the idea of me driving alone with two teenage boys to a concert. But it was worth a try. I could at least ask her.

I hopped out of my chair and went down stairs to find Aunt Esta looking over a menu for a local Chinese food restaurant. She didn’t have her reading glasses on and kept squinting at the page.

“Hey, Aunt Esta, I’ve figured out who I want to take to the concert,” I told her, proudly.

She looked up. “That’s great, sweetie. So who’s going with you?” She asked.

“The new kid in school, Dash, and my new friend, Toby,” I informed her. “Is it alright that Dash drives? He said he could borrow his mom’s car.”

Aunt Esta chewed on the inside of her lip. “Well, I suppose that’s alright. As long as Dash is a safe driver.”

I blinked. I actually didn’t know about Dash’s driving skills. He might have been a worse driver than my mom and getting into his car could put both Toby and me in danger. “Well, I’ve just met him, so I’ve never really seen him drive,” I admitted.

“Why don’t you invite him over for dinner one night? I’d like to get to meet him since you two have become friends,” Aunt Esta smiled.

“Sure, I’ll invite him over this weekend.” I bit my lower lip. Was I inviting him over as a date? Did I want to invite him over as a date? I wasn’t sure. The bottom line was that I needed to make sure he wasn’t going to kill Toby and me with his driving. Besides, I had spent the last few months alone, it would be nice to have someone over. Maybe we could watch movies and talk. That would be one of my better first dates, if everything went smoothly. I decided to go text him.

*

The next day in English class Dash and I both arrived early and got to talking about what kind of movies we wanted to watch on our kind-of, not-really, but no one said it wasn’t a date. We quickly discovered that we both liked zombie movies, so Dash said he would put a bunch on his Netflix queue and we could pick which ones we wanted to watch. Everything was going swimmingly when Whitney Prescott, a girl who had been particularly rude to me whenever I had asked her a question walked over to him. She placed herself between us, completely ignoring me and turned to Dash.

“So, are you busy this weekend? I thought you could take me out to dinner and a movie,” She said, smoothly.

I almost choked on the overwhelmingly powerful scent of her flowery perfume. It smelled like she had taken a bath in it, instead of just spritzing herself. I peered around her and saw that Dash was wrinkling his nose too.

“I already have plans with, Valentine,” he responded. “Sorry.” He added, although he didn’t really sound sorry at all.

Whitney laughed. “Oh please, like you would want to hang out with her instead of me,” She said it like she had given him the choice between dating her and being boiled in oil.

“I would, actually,” Dash said, his tone sharp. “You’re totally not my type.”

“Oh really?” Whitney asked, sarcastically. “What is your type? Drippy loser girls that need a haircut.”

I looked at the ends of my dark brown hair. I didn’t need a haircut. I had had one a few months ago before mom’s funeral. It hadn’t grown out that much.

Dash laughed. For a second I was worried that he was laughing at her description of me. “I thought this would be difficult, but you’re making it really easy. I like real girls that aren’t two-faced piranhas.” He smiled at her, sweetly. “You can go back to your seat now,” He added.

I heard a murmur behind me and turned to see that most of the class had been watching Dash and Whitney talking. Several of my classmates looked on, their mouths open in horror at the way Dash was talking to Whitney. Todd Cleverland, who, from what I understand, was Whitney’s recent ex-boyfriend, had his hands balled into fists. He didn’t look at all pleased about what Dash had said.

“You’re going to regret this.” Whitney said, leaning over Dash and whispering harshly.

“Are you threatening me?” Dash asked, in response. “Because I’ve heard of girls who don’t take rejection well, but actually threatening people seems a little over the top.” He smoothed one of his eyebrows as Whitney stalked off back to her seat. By then the class was alight with gossip. No one seemed to notice or care that the all of the players in that little drama were all within earshot.

I leaned over to Dash. “Do I really need a hair cut?”

He laughed. “No,” Dash responded, “but Whitney is going to need a new reputation.”

*

After my technology class was over I went to the library instead of to the cafeteria in order to find Toby again. I had friended him on Facebook, but it seemed that he wasn’t very active on that social networking site. I found him sitting at the computers again, looking up a patch for a video game.

“Hey Toby!” I greeted him joyfully, only to be shh-ed by the school’s ancient librarian. “How are you doing?” I asked, in a much softer tone.

“I’m great,” he responded as I sat down next to him. “Getting more and more excited about the Rhyme and Reason concert.”

“Me too. By the way, do you think your parents will be okay with Dash driving us?”

He shrugged. “They don’t really care what I do, so I’m sure they won’t protest.”

I raised an eyebrow. “They don’t care what you do?”

Toby glowered. “No, I’m too much of a disappointment for them. Instead, they put all of their energy into my little brother, at least he’s not contaminated.”

I shook my head. “What is it with people in this town? Where I used to live, no one cared if you were gay or straight or whatever. If you were a nice person, you were a nice person, no matter what your orientation was.”

“You’re preaching to the choir,” He said, running a hand through his unruly brown hair. “I’m counting the days until I can go off to college and get out of this hell hole. I really can’t wait until I can be around people who understand me and won’t judge me just because I’m gay.” He shook his head. “Hey, let’s talk about something else,” he suggested.

“Sure thing,” I responded. “Hey, can I ask you about Whitney Prescott?”

“What do you want to know about her,” Toby asked, turning his attention back to his computer.

“Well, she asked Dash out this morning in English class and he turned her down rather harshly.”

“Oh yeah, I heard a little about that,” Toby nodded, “called her a two-faced piranha, huh?”

“Yep. Although he was trying to defend my honor after she called me a drippy loser. But anyway, Whitney told Dash that he’s going to regret it. Was that just an idle threat or do you think she’ll find a way to get even?”

Toby turned to look at me. “I didn’t heard that part of the story,” he admitted. “Whitney Prescott is possibly the most powerful person at this school. I don’t know quite what she would do, but she has ways of messing with him. Her dad donates thousands and thousands of dollars to the school every year. If she stirs up any trouble, no doubt it will be overlooked. I really wouldn’t want her as an enemy.”

I nodded. “Well, I hope she doesn’t try anything silly.” I thought for a second. What could she really do to Dash anyway? The students had already been ostracizing him, so it’s not like they were a real threat. I bit my lower lip. In my old neighborhood, threats like that were usually backed up with violence, but for some reason I couldn’t see Whitney stabbing Dash in a back alley. Besides, she was a girl and girls were always more passive-aggressive about things.

I turned back to Toby. “Hey, so why don’t you eat lunch in the cafeteria?”

He raised an eyebrow at me. “Have you eaten in the cafeteria lately?”

I thought about the last time I made my way to the cafeteria and the reception I had received. “Oh, I see your point,” I said. I turned back to the computer I was sitting at and started typing up my reaction paper for history class.

*

I arrived at history class early and took my regular seat in the back. I had brought a book with me, so I was happily reading, engrossed in the story when the other students started filtering into class. I didn’t even notice when Whitney Prescott approached me and stood in front of my desk. She cleared her throat, bringing me out of my fantasy world. I looked up at her.

“I heard about your mom,” Whitney said. I furrowed my brows, but didn’t say anything. “It’s really sad when your own mom would rather die than spend any more time living with you.”

I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. My jaw dropped in horror at what she had just said to me. Pleased with my reaction, Whitney turned and walked back to her seat, smiling all the way. I froze in my place. I didn’t know what to do, how to react, or what to say. Nothing that crossed my mind seemed like a rational or logical reaction. I could feel tears welling in my eyes. Before I knew what I was doing I had grabbed my messenger bag and was headed out of the door. I wouldn’t realize it until later, but I had left my book sitting on top of my desk.

By the time I exited the classroom, tears were streaming down my face. I stared at the ground, unable to make eye contact with anyone who was still meandering to class. I was almost to the counselor’s office when I heard someone call my name. I ignored it and kept walking, but I heard my name called again. Suddenly, two arms grabbed my elbows. I looked up in surprise.

It was Dash. He looked stunned to see me crying. I tried to hold back my tears, but it was too much. I hid my face in his shoulder as I sobbed. “Oh my God, what happened?” He murmured, although it seemed to be rhetorical. I could feel Dash looking around him while I cried. “Hey, we’ve got to get out of the hallways. Come on, let’s go to the senior lounge.”

“B-but we’re not seniors.” I choked out.

“Screw semantics, this isn’t the time.” He responded. Quickly, he navigated the halls, pulling me along with him. We passed students as they walked to their final classes, reaching the senior lounge quickly. Dash gently set me on the lounge’s plush purple sofa and sat down next to me.

“Can you tell me what happened?” He asked, tenderly stroking my cheek.

“It was Whitney,” I said, wiping my cheeks. “She told me that she knew my mom committed suicide and said it was because she didn’t want to be around me anymore.” I burst into a fresh torrent of tears. Dash wrapped his arms around me and held me against his chest. I could hear his light curse as he started to stroke my back.

“I can’t believe that she would say that to you,” he murmured. “There is no excuse for that kind of behavior.”

“But what if it’s true?” I questioned.

“What if what’s true?”

“What if my mom didn’t want to live with me anymore? What if she –” I broke off the sentence with more sobbing.

Dash smoothed my dark hair off of my face and gently stroked my cheek with his fingertips. “Valentine, you know that’s not true. I know your mom loved you a lot. You’re a great girl that’s easy to get along with. No one would want to die rather than spend time with you.” Dash sighed deeply. “Whitney just wanted to hit a nerve after I told her off this morning. She just went for a low blow. That totally was not fair.”

I choked out one last sob before I wiped my cheeks again. “I can’t believe she said that.” I whispered.

“I can’t either,” Dash said. “When she said I would regret it, I didn’t thinks she would accomplish it by going after you.”

“You know, you didn’t have to turn her down.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“I mean, if you think she’s cute, you could go out with her.” I had no idea what I was saying. I didn’t want Dash to date Whitney. I didn’t want Dash to even like Whitney. I wanted Whitney to die in a fire. What in the world was I saying?

Dash laughed. “Now I know you’ve lost it. My first day here, I asked little miss Whitney where the gym was and she asked me if I needed my mommy to come hold my hand to take me there. Like I would ever be attracted to someone that shallow and cruel.”

For some reason he smiled at me and I smiled back. I felt better somehow. Dash continued stroking my cheek, then I realized that his eyes were closing and his lips were hovering over mine. As my own eyes slid shut I waited for contact. Instead, I heard; “What are you two doing in here?”

I jerked away from Dash, my eyes opening to observe a teacher I didn’t recognize coming around the couch. “Are you both cutting class?” She asked, crossing her arms over her chest.

“We’re technically cutting class, but we need to talk to the principal,” Dash informed her.

“Well, this isn’t the office,” the teacher said.

“We’re aware of that. Valentine just needed a moment to collect herself before we went,” Dash explained, slowly. The teacher didn’t seem amused.

“Well, get to the office as soon as you can. I don’t want to have to write you up for cutting class.” With that, the teacher walked away.

“Who is that?” I asked.

“I have no idea,” Dash told me, “but I hope I never have her for a teacher.” He rose from the sofa and held out his hand for me. “Come on, let’s get going.”

“Wait,” I said, standing, but not walking with him. “We can’t go to the principal.”

“We have to!” Dash objected. “That little bitch can’t say that to you and get away with it.”

“But Toby told me that her parents are big donors to the school. She won’t get in any trouble as long as her daddy keeps stroking those checks.”

Dash shook his head. “No, that’s not acceptable. You don’t get to treat people like crap just because your dad has money. We’re going to go to the principal and make it very clear to him that he needs to do something about this. Or else.”

“Or else what?”

Dash thought for a second. “Our first line of defense is our parents. They pay money to this school too, there’s no excuse for why we should have to put up that little bitch on a power trip. If that doesn’t work, then we can go to the media. Imagine the scandal if the principal does nothing. The nightly news would eat this story up.”

“Do you think the media would listen to us? We’re just kids,” I pointed out.

“Hey, I don’t know if it will work, but at least we have options,” Dash responded. He took my hand and began leading me towards the office. “Come on, let’s go see the principal.”

“Okay,” I nodded.

We walked, hand-in-hand, to the principal’s office. When we arrived we saw the principal’s sharp-tongued secretary was eating cookies. She shoved another one in her mouth before she stood and went over to the desk to address us.

“Hi kids, what do you want?” She asked, while chewing.

Dash paused before saying; “We need to see Mr. Patterson.”

“What is it about?” She asked, trying to disguise the fact that she was rolling her eyes at us.

“We need to report a student for inappropriate behavior,” he responded. “Can we talk to him now?”

The secretary made a frustrated sound and walked over to the principal’s closed door. She knocked softly, then stuck her head in. We heard her ask Mr. Patterson something, but couldn’t hear exactly what she said. She then exited his office and returned to the desk.

“You can see him now, but make it quick.” With that she walked back to her desk and ate another cookie.

Dash and I walked into Mr. Patterson’s office, Dash holding the door for me. Mr. Patterson was a tired-looking older man with gray hair and a small mustache. He smiled at both of us as we walked in.

“Hello there,” he greeted. “What can I do for you today?” He set down the piece of paper that he had been reading and folded his hands on his desk.

“We need to report an instance of bullying,” Dash said, rather darkly. He looked at me and nodded. I slowly told Mr. Patterson exactly what had happened with Whitney, my voice trembling, then finally breaking when I related what she had said to me. Mr. Patterson’s face went blank. I wasn’t sure if he was infuriated or if he even believed me. He didn’t show any emotion.

Instead, he pressed his call button. “Mrs. Nelson, please call Whitney Prescott to my office right away,” he told his secretary.

Barely a minute had passed when Whitney entered the office, looking calm and pleased with herself. She stood by the principal’s desk, since there were no more chairs.

“Whitney, Dash and Valentine have told me that you had a very disturbing exchange with Valentine in history class a few minutes ago. Would you care to explain?” He said, slowly.

Whitney looked suitably confused. “Disturbing exchange? I just asked her if she wanted to be my partner for our history project. I didn’t think that was disturbing.”

My mouth dropped. “That’s not what you said!” I objected, loudly.

The teenager blinked innocently at me. “What did you think I said?”

I gritted my teeth. I couldn’t stand to repeat what she had told me. “You know what you said about my mom,” I choked out.

“Your mom?” Whitney asked, pretending to be shocked. “I’ve never met your mom. Why on earth would I say anything about her?”

“Don’t play,” Dash snapped. “You didn’t get what you wanted and now you’re taking it out on Valentine. Stop being so immature and malicious.”

“M-malicious?” Whitney stammered, looking like she had just witnessed someone stomping on a kitten. “I’m not a malicious person. Mr. Patterson you’ve known me for years, am I a malicious person?” She asked.

“Whitney, I have only seen you act with the most care and consideration for your fellow students. However, I have heard many things that would suggest to me that you are very good at pretending to be innocent whenever someone is watching.” Mr. Patterson rested his elbows on his desk and clasped his hands together. Whitney looked outraged. “Adults are not as oblivious as you think they are,” he added.

“Mr. Patterson, I have no idea what you’re talking about. If I’ve offended someone in any way, I apologize, but I sincerely don’t know what you mean.” Whitney stammered.

“Save it, Whitney,” Mr. Patterson said, stopping her from adding to her floundering. “You now have detention for three weeks. You will also write a letter of apology to Valentine for what you said and you will submit it to me to be read before you give it to her. Do you understand?”

Whitney’s cheeks flushed. She glared at me with pure fury in her eyes. “I asked you if you understood,” Mr. Patterson repeated.

“Yes, Mr. Patterson,” Whitney responded.

“Good. Now you can go back to class,” the principal said, gesturing towards the door. Whitney left without another word. After she slammed the door Dash breathed a sigh of relief.

“Thanks, Mr. Patterson,” I mumbled.

“Not at all, Valentine. I’m here to help you,” He smiled warmly at me. “There is something I want to ask you two about, since you are new students.”

Dash and I exchanged glances.

“We have a problem with bullying at this school. I am aware that what happened with Whitney is not an isolated incident. I apologize for anything the students might have said or done to make you uncomfortable. We have been trying to deal with this problem since it first cropped up, but making teenagers change their ways is far more difficult a task than anyone could imagine,” Mr. Patterson grimaced.

Dash and I avoided each other’s gaze. Mr. Patterson sheepishly ran a hand through his hair. “Have the other students said or done anything to make either of you uncomfortable.”

I caught Dash’s eye. Neither of us wanted to say something first. But finally I blurted out; “Everything! When I first got here, no one would talk to me, no one was friendly to me, everyone insulted me whenever I tried to ask them something. A girl purposely gave me the wrong assignment for anatomy class, everyone avoids me at lunch, and that’s not even the worst of it. Do you know a student named Toby Matthews? He’s being openly discriminated against and no one seems to notice or care. He tries to blend into the background just so everyone will leave him alone.” I finished my rapid speech and sat back in the chair, unsure of what Mr. Patterson was going to do.

After an uncomfortable silence, Mr. Patterson heaved a heavy sigh. “I know Toby. I’ve been trying to teach tolerance to all of the students here, but some things are easier said than done.”

“You need to try harder,” Dash said, incredulously. “Yeah, teenagers are stubborn, but they need to learn that that type of behavior is not acceptable. What are they going to do when they go to college or find a job and discover that they can’t treat people they way that they’ve been treating us and Toby? They’re going to have a total meltdown.”

“I know what you mean,” Mr. Patterson began, “however, I’m tapped out. I don’t know what else to do. We’ve brought in sensitivity trainers, diversity appreciation trainers, motivational speakers, and nothing seems to work.”

“There’s your problem,” Dash said, raising a hand. “You’ve been trying to get kids to model their behavior after adults. You need to get through to one of the popular kids, one of the kids that sets the standards for this school. Get them to be more open minded and tolerant and the other kids will follow suit.”

Mr. Patterson sat back at his desk and thought for a second. “I can see where you’re coming from,” he told Dash. “But I’m unsure how to proceed from here.”

Dash and I exchanged glances again. Neither of us had any idea how to solve this problem.

“I don’t know,” I finally stammered. “I’ve never had to deal with this before. I’ve always been well liked and never had problems fitting in.”

Suddenly, we heard the bell ring. “Well, you two had better be getting home,” Mr. Patterson stated. “But please, think about ways to help your classmates learn tolerance and get back to me. I’d be very appreciative of your perspective.”

“Sure thing, Mr. Patterson,” I said, getting up to leave. Dash stood as well and slung his backpack over his shoulder.

“Yeah, thanks for talking with us,” He said. Dash then took my hand and we left the office together. When we got outside Dash turned to me.

“Do you want a ride home with me?” He asked.

“Sure,” I said, my heart leaping at the thought.

“Come on,” he smiled, leading me towards the student parking lot.

*

Dash probably should have taken me straight home, so as not to worry Aunt Esta, but we took a small detour by a park that he had recently discovered. Due to the fact that I didn’t have my own transportation and I knew better than to try public transportation, I hadn’t really gotten to see a lot of the suburbs that I was now living in. Dash owned a modest 4-door sedan that was perfectly comfortable.

We stopped by the park and got out to go investigate the duck pond. It was so beautiful there, with a light breeze and the leaves changing colors. We walked along the path to the pond, holding hands. It seemed so natural to be close to him, like we had known each other for ages.

“So what do your parents do?” I asked Dash, trying to make conversation. For as long as I had known him, he hadn’t talked much about himself. Which only added to his mysterious persona.

“My mom is in the army, hence the constant moving around,” Dash explained, rolling his eyes. “I don’t know what my dad is up to these days. He was supposed to have a supervised visit with my last month, but he never showed. Knowing him he was passed out on a couch somewhere drunk off his ass.” His tone was bitter and I decided it was probably best to change the subject.

“Oh,” I responded. “So, where did you and your mom move from?”

Dash laughed. “Where haven’t we been?” He asked. “I was born in Hawaii. I’ve lived in Maryland, Virginia, Texas, California, and now Nevada. And did I mention that I just turned 17? That’s a lot of moving for someone my age.”

“Yeah, it is,” I agreed.

“What about you? Where have you lived?” He asked.

“Well….” I trailed off. There was no way to put this delicately. “My mom and I were never well off. She had no idea who my dad was, so she didn’t have any child support coming in and with no college education or any kind of specialized skills she always ended up working minimum wage jobs to support us. So we’ve lived in some seedy neighborhoods and apartments.” I shrugged. “I guess you could say that I’m from the wrong side of the tracks.”

“I don’t think so,” Dash said, smiling at me. “You’re the most down to earth person at that entire school. If that kind of upbringing made you the person you are today, then it worked.”

I blushed.

“You know what I always wanted?” Dash asked me.

“What?” I asked.

“I always wanted to find someone special. You know, to share things with. It gets really lonely on your own all the time and it can be so hard to make friends, especially at this school. I always just wanted to meet a nice girl that I can talk to and go visit duck ponds with.”

I blushed again. “I can’t imagine you’d have any trouble finding someone to visit duck ponds with you.”

“You’d be surprised,” he smirked. “I’m kind of picky.”

We arrived at the pond and both leaned against the wrought iron railing. “What about you?” Dash asked.

“Huh?” I responded, mesmerized by two ducks playing in the water.

“Have you ever found a special person to share your life with?”

I raised an eyebrow. “No. I’ve found a ton of un-special guys that I was to stay away from though.” I laughed, even though my dating experience really wasn’t funny.

Dash took my hand again, weaving his fingers between mine. “You’re different, Valentine,” he murmured. “You’re a very special girl.”

I could feel my cheeks flushing again. “You’re not so bad yourself,” I laughed. Dash laughed with me. We both paused and looked at each other.

“So, tell me something about you that I don’t know,” Dash finally said.

“I was born in Oregon in the middle of a snowstorm,” I said, immediately.

“Oregon, wow,” Dash said, thoughtfully. “How did you end up in New York from there?”

“My mom wanted to go off on her own and seek her fortune. She wanted to get far, far away from her family and everyone who wasn’t supporting her,” I shrugged, “She had said that she always wanted to live in New York.”

Dash made a thoughtful sound.

“So tell me something about you that I don’t know,” I said.

Dash thought for a second. “I have a secret crush on Kim Kardashian.”

I wrinkled my nose. “Why?”

“She’s hot!” He said, defensively. “Granted, she probably can’t do simple math, but she is pretty.”

I nodded in agreement. “She is really pretty.”

“Besides, I have a thing for brunettes,” he smiled.

“So what do you want to be when you grow up?” I asked, after a pause.

“I think I want to be an officer in the air force. My mom is in the air force now and she’s got a great job and really enjoys her work. I don’t know though. I have to take the ASVAB and if I can, I want to get into a good military college and get a degree there before joining up,” Dash leaned against the railing and sighed deeply. “It’s so ridiculous that adults want to have us map out our entire futures before we’re old enough to vote. Sometimes I wonder if I’m going to make the wrong decision. What if I wake up one day when I’m in my 40s and realize that I really wanted to be a lion tamer?”

“I think that’s called a midlife crisis,” I laughed.

Dash chuckled. “Yeah, I think you have a point.” He paused, turning to watch the ducks. “So what about you? What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I have a lot of different interests, but nothing really leaps out at me as a possible career path.”

“What are some of your interests?” Dash asked. He gestured to the park’s path and we started walking along the pond.

“Well, I like to sing. I love video games. I like writing and history. And there are still a ton of things I want to try. I mean, I’ve never played an organized sport before. Maybe I’d be good at it. I always wanted to try sculpting. Maybe I could make a career out of that. I don’t know. I feel like it’s just too early for me to definitely state that that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. I know what you mean, Dash. It’s difficult.”

Dash took my hand. “Well, we can always figure it out together.”

I smiled at him and he smiled back at me.

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