Write On!

Conversation Hearts

In Responses on January 26, 2012 at 5:07 am

by Jill Clingan

Valentine’s Day Party
7th grade class
1995

While the electric hum of adolescents hopped up on sugar buzzed around her, Anne, dressed for the holiday in a red plaid skirt and white Peter Pan blouse, sat at her desk twirling her wavy brown hair and reading Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl. She vaguely thought that perhaps she should join the party, but she couldn’t tear herself away. She had already read the book twice, but she couldn’t help reading it again. She could keenly relate to the narcissism and passion of a fellow thirteen-year-old girl, a girl who shared her name, a girl who loved to write, a girl who felt that her one true friend was her journal named Kitty.

“Now I’m back to the point that prompted me to keep a diary in the first place: I don’t have a friend.

Let me put it more clearly, since no one will believe that a thirteen-year-old girl is completely alone in the world. And I’m not. I have loving parents and a sixteen-year-old sister, and there are about thirty people I can call friends. […] I have a family, loving aunts and a good home. No, on the surface I seem to have everything, except one true friend. […] This is why I’ve started the diary.”

Anne, too, had a loving family, a good home, and friends, but she was an introvert at heart. She could never open up to her friends the way she could open up to her journal, and she never felt truly herself unless she was penning her thoughts or reading the thoughts of others.

Her mom, a class roommother who had baked heart-shaped sugar cookies with pink buttercream frosting for the party, sidled over to her desk and gently suggested that she join the party. Anne sighed, closed her book, and started to look through the Valentines she had collected in the pink-doily and red-construction-paper-shoebox she had decorated the night before. She heard a little cough, glanced up, and saw Joel looking at her with a face the same bright color as her Valentine’s box. He dropped something down into her decorated shoebox, hesitated a second, and then turned on his heel and quickly walked back to his seat. Curious, Anne opened the box and peered inside. She found a single, pastel-pink candy conversation heart with the words “Be Mine” stamped in red dye. She blushed a matching shade of pink and quickly darted a glance over at Joel, who was suddenly very busy building a precarious tower out of his own collection of Valentine’s Day cards.

Every year after that, Anne found a mysteriously placed, pink, “Be Mine” candy heart on February 14th.

8th grade: in her brown paper lunch sack.

9th grade: on her desk in science class.

10th grade: on middle C of the piano on which she practiced in the music room after school.

11th grade: on the driver’s seat of her car.

12th grade: on the desk in the corner of the library where she always retreated to study during study hall.

She never said anything to Joel about these tokens of—what where they tokens of, exactly? She wasn’t sure. She hardly ever talked to Joel. They hung with different crowds. Her crowd was the smart kids, the ones who met to study together more often than party together. Joel, who stood out in any crowd with his flashing blue eyes and shaggy blond hair, mostly hung out with kids who, like him, chose a vocational track rather than a college preparatory one. He was on the automotive vocational track, and his head was much more likely to be found buried in the engine of a car than in the chapter of a book. Anne never told her friends about his mysterious little Valentine’s Day gifts, and the two of them never said more than a shy “hello” to each other when they passed in the halls.

On graduation day, Joel gave her a quick, awkward hug, and then that was that.

Joel stayed in town and opened up his own automotive shop. Anne went away to college, graduated summa cum laude, moved on to graduate school for a master’s degree and then a Ph.D., and then got a job teaching literature at a private college. She went out on dates occasionally, but mostly she enjoyed the quiet rhythm of her life: she taught during the day, wrote in the evenings, and curled up on her couch with a book and a steaming cup of tea every night before bed.

Then, one day, everything changed. Anne’s small college had a decrease in enrollment, she was part of those who were let go, and two months later she was back in her hometown, teaching Chaucer and Shakespeare and yes, Anne Frank, to high school students rather than college students. She hadn’t realized high school students would be so much more draining than their college counterparts, but they were, and many nights she fell asleep on her couch with very few pages read and the steam still rising from the tea beside her.

One evening, Anne had just settled in with her favorite cup of rooibos chai tea and her beloved collection of Lord Byron poems when there was a knock at the door to her apartment. Startled, she answered it to find Joel standing at the door, a sheepish but hopeful grin on his face. After a few moments of small talk, he asked her if she wanted to attend a poetry reading at the local used bookstore on Friday evening. She agreed to go, but she obviously must have looked surprised, because as he backed out of the door he said, “You underestimate me,” and then, looking at the book still in her hand, began to quote,

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes….

Anne stood with mouth agape, and before she could stammer out a reply, Joel placed a bag in her hand, turned to go, and bounded down the stairs. Anne poured the contents of the bag into her hand, counted the number of pink heart candies with the words “Be Mine” printed on them in red ink, and smiled.

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  1. Loving your pieces. Your tone and voice are just so pleasant and thoughtful. Thanks once again!

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