A Short Story: Valentine’s Day

Every year, there’s a day that encourages so many people to push past the brink of hesitation. By no fault of their own, they’ve subconsciously bought-into the cultural fever, succumbed to their thoughts, overwhelmed with emotion, and have decided to bite the bullet be it for better or worse. It’s more or less a betrayal of oneself — self control and inhibitions completely cast aside. This is the one day where courage culminates in the hearts of many and where individuals can finally remove one less regret from their lives. It’s a beautiful thing really, but typically only in retrospect.

Today was the day. Her mind was everywhere, scattered amongst a million different thoughts — words, actions, mannerisms — all the things she needed to know for the big reveal that would be happening later when she met up with him. Emily brushed her hands down the front of her shirt for the umpteenth time, smoothing out fictitious wrinkles in her flannel that, honestly, really looked best when slightly disheveled anyway. She took one last glance at her outfit in the mirror and gave her reflection a small, reassuring smile.

“If you don’t do this, you’ll regret it.”

With that, she threw her things into her bag and whirled down the stairway and into the kitchen for breakfast. There, her brother was already seated and chewing through a piece of toast. He seemed unbearably calm, in spite of the occasion, completely unaffected and clearly not subject to the waves of fear that passed down her spine every time she thought of saying the words she’d been rehearsing since last night. Her mouth felt dry just thinking about them, but she swallowed her reservations and managed a curt:

“G’morning brother.”

This day would be like any other day, so Emily pushed herself to keep charging forward up until the moment she would finally confess her feelings to her long-time crush.

Arec was a very good friend of hers and she couldn’t help the fact that she had fallen for him. It all came to her in an abrupt realization one day, after she’d picked-up on something strange about her behaviour whenever he was around. She found that, many of her motivations for doing things had mostly been because she wanted to spend more time around him. At first, these feelings seemed strictly platonic, since wanting to be with your friends seemed so obvious and innocent. But then came the tenser situations, where she’d noticed that twinge of jealously whenever he was with somebody else or her slight switch-up in attitude towards someone if she felt threatened by their intimacy — which was really none of her business. By then, it was as clear as day to Emily that she had been crushing on him the entire time.

Emily tried many times, prior to this day, to give up on these feelings, to convince herself that “just by having a friend like Arec” was good enough. She wanted to believe that if he had ever felt the same way, something would have happened by now. So then, she asked herself:

“Why do you even like him, anyway?”

The search for the answer to that single question, consisted of many weeks of convoluted deliberation between her ever-changing thoughts and rationales. It was a stupid thing, she concluded, to try and explain a sentiment that philosophers and romantics have been trying to describe for ages. At the very least, she always felt like he could be a shoulder to lean on. This didn’t really become apparent until Emily had hit some rough patches in her life, and she had decided to turn to him for support. She’d been out once or twice with other guys, mostly out of courtesy, but it was during the aftermath of her breakup that proved to her that he was the real deal. Through and through, she was able to count on Arec to lend an ear whenever she needed a second opinion. Of course, there were also times when she felt frustrated that he couldn’t have noticed sooner or caught on without her asking. But those were unreasonable expectations — things that are too good to be true — simply because people are not mind readers and she shouldn’t have expected him to be one.

Back in present day, Emily is commuting towards her local college. Her course load for the day was not too hectic, but it definitely did not leave enough room to prepare herself before meeting Arec. Normally, Emily was an attentive student and an avid participant in lectures, however it took almost all her concentration to focus on the subject at hand instead of getting lost in her maze of thoughts. Halfway through her day, she felt fatigued and mentally drained despite barely having retained any of the material that was discussed. She spared yet another glance at her wristwatch. As the clock ticked closer and closer to the time in which the two of them would meet up, Emily found it increasingly difficult to muster the courage to follow through with her plans.

She would meet him after their last lecture of the day, which so happened to be the same class. When the clock struck 3 ‘o clock and she saw him walking through the aisle to sit beside her, she felt a lump swelling in her throat, impeding her from speaking.

“Hey, Em.”

The sound of his voice wasn’t smooth because it always started off a little gruff. But given a few hours, he would then become the most fluid speaker in the room — at least to her it seemed. Emily turned to face him and returned with a slightly high-pitched:

“Hi.”

They proceeded with small talk until the professor showed up. The lecture, as expected, went in one ear and subsequently out the other. All Emily could focus on was the proximity of his body to hers and the faint warmth she felt to her left. Her breathing was controlled, unlike the thoughts in her brain. She went over and over again, the words she would need to say in order to get her feelings across. She risked a glance at Arec, but that only flooded her brain with unnecessary signals to abort her mission and salvage the friendship they already had. She let out an involuntary sigh and tried to focus on the professor at the front of the class.

Why is this so hard…

Emily contemplated and pitied her predicament for a brief moment, before scolding herself for thinking such a thing. Of course matters of the heart would be painful, prolonged, and especially complicated. Why else would she ever think otherwise? If anything that was worth anything was always within arms reach, nothing would be special. Everything meaningful would cease to exist and would just simply become the ordinary. She’s boarded this train of thought many times, and each trip has always yielded the same answer — as frightening as it may be. It all came down to whether she would bite the bullet or continue to live downcast and trod down the road of a person who could never speak up for themselves when they needed to.

With renewed determination, Emily steeled herself for the end of the lecture.

“Phew, glad that’s over, huh?”

Arec always had something to say about the lecture after it finished. It might have been in his nature to commentate on the things around him or maybe it was just something normal people did. Emily replied meekly:

“You can say that again, although I can’t say I was following much of it.”

Arec laughed, flung his backpack on, and waited in the aisle while Emily gathered her things. Then he followed up with:

“So, food?”

Emily smiled and nodded her head. She was hungry and also slightly relieved that this would buy her time before she confessed. They decided to go for pizza, nothing too fancy. Midway through the meal, the conversation uncannily drifted towards relationships, breakups — heavy stuff. Emily could feel her palms getting sweatier with each passing moment. She exhaled and looked at Arec directly in the eyes.

“Hey, can I say something?”

Arec nodded, not cluing in, but there was nothing that gave away her intentions up until now.

“So, I don’t know if you know this… but for a while now, I’ve been…seeing you as more than just a friend.”

“….”

Arec had stopped moving and had his eyes remained completely fixated on Emily.

“And the reason why I’m telling you this now, after all this time, is because I’ve been feeling extremely conflicted with myself.”

Arec still didn’t move to say anything.

“Sometimes I catch myself, more recently than ever, and I feel guilty for feeling a certain way or having a really rude thought pass through my mind.

I love having you as a friend, I really, honestly, appreciate our friendship. And I can’t feel more disappointed in myself for wanting to shake things up because I’ve developed these feelings for you that I — that I think I can explain but have no way of ignoring them for good.

I just wanted to tell you for two reasons. First is to be honest with myself, and hopefully move on from this emotional hell I’ve put myself in. Second is to be honest with you, because I don’t feel right feeling this way and doing the things I sometimes do while you don’t know any better of my intentions. That’s…all I have to say.”

Arec and Emily sat at the table in silence for minutes that seemed to span for eons. To the average bystander, it would be obvious that the air was thick with a tension that couldn’t be so easily dissolved with a timely punchline or funny anecdote. Emily looked at Arec’s face for something, anything, it didn’t have to be words, but she was looking for signs of an answer to her feelings whether it be for better or for worse.

Finally, Arec cleared his throat and put his hands on top of the table. He exhaled loudly and stared directly at Emily. She could feel an involuntary shiver of anticipation run up her spine, but quickly dissuaded herself from getting her hopes up.

I have to expect nothing if I am to move on. I can’t set myself up like this. I won’t.

“Em. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with me. I’m more in shock, if anything, because I never saw this coming — please believe me. I’m honestly not sure what to think. I’ve never thought of you in that way because I had only ever seen us as really close friends. I’m so sorry you had to go through this all by yourself…”

Even with all the preparation in the world, Emily could still feel her lip tremble as she heard his response. She bit back the sob and blinked hard to hold back the tears that began to pool behind her eyes. She clenched her fists tightly and tried to calm down before she responded — but her voice came out weaker than she would have liked.

“Yeah, that’s completely fair. I’m sorry I sprung this up on you all of a sudden. I didn’t know what to do with myself and I just felt that this was the way to go…as unpleasant as it may be for the both of us. I won’t blame you if you want to put some space between us for a while. In fact, I think I’ll need some space regardless…”

Arec looked at her with saddened eyes and a tight grimace. As a friend — her friend, there was nothing he could do for her in this moment. He was the one that was responsible for the pain she was feeling and there wasn’t anything he could do to change that.

Emily swiped her eyes roughly and fought back the tears swelling inside of her. She forced herself to smile at him, even though it felt hollow and fake, before excusing herself to go home. She paid her check at the counter and left Arec behind at the table.

She was walking at a frantic pace, almost running down the sidewalk towards her bus stop. When she got there, she exhaled deeply and breathed in the cool night air while staring up towards the night sky. It was a starless night, but it wasn’t pitch dark because of the streetlamps littered throughout the city. She felt calm, but knew she really wasn’t. In spite of this, she whispered to herself under her breath:

I’m glad I did it.

And she repeated it several more times, in hopes that in time she would actually believe them.

Fin.

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