Wednesday, 18 July 2018

F Fic, Non-fic

Tradition: A Valentine’s Story

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tradition val pic

by Kathleen Stoughton


1998

"Aww, look!" Stephanie laughed and nudged her husband whose head was nodding slightly beside her.

"Mmph, what?" He snorted. She pointed to their young daughter, two-year-old Mary May, dressed up in her Valentine's Day finery. The whole two feet of her was encased in a shimmering blue puffy dress that she'd sobbed over when her mom had made her take it off in the store. Her red-blond hair sat on the top of her head in two puffballs, and each one had a ribbon tied around it.

She looked, Stephanie thought proudly, as if she'd stepped off the front of a Hallmark card.

Her sleepy husband snorted again, this time in amusement, as he watched his baby girl terrorize the Markland boy, her little hands holding the heart-shaped card she'd made "all by herself". He didn't seem to want anything to do with it.

"Love, Dan. Love!" she insisted, gesturing wildly. "It's Valtine's Day!!"

His face as dubious as a toddler's could be, he took it; his dirty hands smudged at the plethora of glitter. Mary May didn't seem to mind. She beamed.

"And with that, our fates are doomed," Angela remarked dryly, coming to sit beside them; she shook her head at her son. "If anyone but Mary May had given that to him, he probably wouldn't have taken it. Girls," she announced, "evidentially have cooties." Her neighbors laughed, and she grimaced. "He's three for Pete's sake! Shouldn't I have a few more years of peace?"

Stephanie just smiled, and they all watched as Daniel finally seemed to realize the honor he'd been bestowed. He held the huge heart gravely and patted Mary May on the head.

"Good girl, Em."

The good girl looked expectant. "Now me, Dan."

Stephanie grimaced, "Mary May, you little stinker. You can't demand a present! Where are your manners?"

"Gone!" she said happily and looked inquiringly at her friend once again. "Valtine's Day rules, Dan. I give heart, you give you heart."

He seemed to accept this. "Okay." And he kissed her with sticky lips on the forehead. "A kiss gives you this one." He pounded his chest and looked inspired. "Like Disney!"

Stephanie melted, "Oh my goodness," but her husband looked rather panicked.

Turning to Angela, he demanded: "You? What about me? Don't I deserve a few more years of peace?"

She nodded wisely. "Like I said, we're doomed." 

2004

"But Mama, I don't understand why Daniel can't just come over here!" Stephanie looked at her daughter in exasperation. She loved her children, of course she did. Right...? No, of course she did.

"I believe I've told you this twenty times now Mary May," she explained — somewhat — patiently. "Today is Valentine's Day, and your father and I are going out. Grannie's come all the way down here to see y'all, and it wouldn't be very nice to not even let her visit you."

"But she was able to visit me!" Mary May argued stubbornly. "The whole morning even! Daniel doesn't have to come over all day," she coaxed, "just for a little."

Her daughter's big, amber eyes pleaded up at her, and Stephanie groaned. Why was it so hard to say no to this tiny munchkin? "Alright!" She conceded. "If your Grannie doesn't mind..."

"She doesn't!" Mary May clapped her hands eagerly. "I already asked."

"Wha-?"

"Thanks Mom!" With a kiss and a hug, Mary May was out the door and yelling Daniel's name.

"So I can come over?" Daniel asked with a grin, ears ringing since he'd been standing right there.

His small friend grinned back. "Yeah. I wore her down. Used the big eyes and everything, just like you said."

The young boy nodded wisely. "Works every time."

 "You're very smart," Mary May said admiringly and turned the force of the afore mentioned giant eyes on him. "So did you get me a Valentine?"

He looked annoyed. "It doesn't work on me, Em. And besides, your mom says you're not allowed to ask people for presents."

The girl rolled her eyes. "Oh Daniel, you're not people; you're you! And anyways," she grinned and grabbed what had been hiding in her coat. "I got one for you!"

"Hey! Thanks Em!" He looked at the card with interest. "Is this a tattoo you can put on?"

"Yep! It's Star Wars: your favorite."

"I know Star Wars is my favorite, Em. You don't have to tell me."

"Okay." She still looked expectant.

He sighed, but secretly felt a little bit guilty. She had gotten him a tattoo. "I could give you Sarah's Princess coloring book."

She made a face. "That's not a Valentine-y gift!" Mary May thought some more, and then she began to look mischievous. "You could kiss me," she said innocently.

Daniel was appalled. "Ew! No!"

Mary May laughed. "You're scared!"

"I am not!"

"Yes you are! You're a big scaredy-cat!" Daniel looked mutinous but refused to answer. The little girl leaned close and whispered, "I triple-dog dare you."

Steaming mad and bright red, Daniel Markland mentally prepared, and, screwing his eyes closed, touched his lips to Mary May's for a tenth of a second.

"Bleck!" They both made a face. "Why do parents like that so much?" Mary May asked.

Face still burning, Daniel felt deathly embarrassed. That is, until he felt a warm sensation begin to build inside his chest.

Ah, victory. "HA!" he shouted. "Toldja I wasn't scared."

2011

"It's an interesting idea though," Mary May argued with Cindy, "for the church to host a Valentine's Day party."

"Interesting?" Cindy snorted. "More like depressesting."

"You mean depressing?"

"You know," her friend ranted, "it's all well and good for those of us, like you, who have actual love prospects, but for those of us like me…" She waved her hands wildly at herself, "who are single and receive our romance intake from re-watching Cinderella 27 times..."

"I don't have love prospects!"

"...then it really is just depressing. I mean, I could be watching Disney," she whined. "And," her brain catching up, "don't even give me that nonsense! Everyone in the whole state knows you and Daniel Markland will eventually get married and have infuriatingly cute babies, so if you dare play dumb about your love prospects in front of me, I will have to take drastic measures."

Mary May rolled her eyes, but she was blushing. "We're just friends," she said firmly.

"'Just friends' my left foot!" Cindy scowled. "You made him a Valentine for Pete's sake!"

"It's a tradition," her friend insisted.

"Uugghh!" Cindy threw up her hands. "I can't even talk to you right now."

And Mary was left alone with her hopeful heart and her cynical mind. She made a face at herself. "Stop that."

"Stop what?"

Her heart leaped into her throat. Go back where you belong, she told it sternly. "Daniel!" She beamed. Too much, she winced inwardly. "How are you?"

He grinned, "Oh, you know, just as good as I was a few hours ago when you talked to me."

She laughed. "Right." Do not blush. You are calm. You are like a gentle tree.

"Nice party, huh?"

"Oh, yeah. Rockin'" What?!

 

Daniel laughed. "What's up, Em? You have the strangest look on your face."

She smiled widely and blurted, "I brought you your present!"

He looked slightly taken aback by her enthusiasm, but then regrouped. "Ah, your homemade card. I've been looking forward to it."

 

She thrust it at him. Be calm, be cool, be -

He laughed. "Lord of the Rings. I love it. And so do you," he said sternly. "Right?"

"Oh yes," she said dryly, finally forcing her way past her nerves to look at her best friend. "Who doesn't love a good three hour hobbit-induced snooze?"

Daniel shook his head mournfully. "I have failed you." She just smiled and shook her head. "No, really I have!" He insisted seriously. "I didn't bring you anything."

Now she laughed aloud. "Oh Dan, when have you ever?"

"Unfair!" he cried. "I have bowed to your bidding at this point every year. So, Em, what'll it be? Your eternal slave forever?" He smiled at her again.

Mary May was suddenly pale. What'll it be?! Do not say that, do not say that, do not even THINK that. "Daniel don't be silly," she stuttered. "I don't need anything. I just give them to you because of our tradition."

He looked at her solemnly. "Tradition? Are you sure?" She nodded jerkily. "Well, I seem to remember a dare sometime in our past," he said, watching her reaction. Her face went from no color to bright red, and he bit back a smile. It was all right. “You're a scaredy-cat Mary May Calver," he whispered, and then he brushed his lips across her cheek. She smelled nice. "Happy Valentine's Day, Em!" he said cheerfully and walked away.

"Em?" Cindy asked curiously, as she sided up to her a few moments later. "What's going on; what's wrong?"

"I am calm," Mary May said faintly, and Cindy just patted her hand.

2016

"Goodness!" Mary May said breathlessly. "Sorry I'm late! The traffic here: you wouldn't believe." She smiled at him. "Or I guess you would, but I'm used to small town streets, and suddenly Indianapolis is the new NYC."

He laughed as he drank her in. This type of schedule was killing him; he hadn't had a chance to look into melted-gold eyes in 3 months. 3 months. What a crazy thing to have happen when you'd seen someone every day for your entire life.

"Daniel!"

"Hmm, what? Sorry.” He grinned sheepishly as he realized that she'd said his name more than once." I was just thinking about how great it is to finally see you."

His girlfriend laughed and wrapped her arm around his. "I know exactly what you mean." She was still smiling as she looked around. "The Canal, huh? How original," she teased as they sidestepped around yet another couple.

"What more do you want, woman?" he asked incredulously. "I planned a whole date, made the dinner reservations all by myself, and dragged you up here. This is the thanks I get for all my hard work?"

"My hero..." she replied dryly.

"Ungrateful. I don't even think you did anything. Where's my present?"

"Ha!" She laughed. ”Didn't your mama ever tell you that you shouldn't ask people for presents? Where are your manners?"

"Gone."

She made a face. "Touché. But please. I have never once, in our many years of existence, forgotten to get you a Valentine. How's your track record?" she asked sweetly.

He didn’t want to answer, so he kissed her instead.

"Mmhh..." She caught her breath, blushing a little. "Alright, you can have your present."

"Yes!" He winked. "Mission accomplished."

And so she opened up her spacious purse and withdrew his card. She'd made it, of course, and that fact alone made him smile, that she’d still go through the effort after all these years. She saw his face and laughed. "And you haven't even read it yet. The writing is even mushier, I swear." He looked at her. "Cindy gave me some pointers," she admitted.

"I love it!" he announced. "It'll go in my collection."

"You mean your mom's collection?"

"That too."

She laughed again. Again. Goodness, she was giddy. She was finding it very hard to look away from his smiling face.

Mary May cleared her throat, adding in a pointed look for good measure.

"What?" Daniel asked innocently.

"And where, might I ask, is my card?"

"Your card?" Her boyfriend was rueful. "Em, you should know by now how I am with gifts. You're lucky you got a date."

"There is that," she chuckled, "and honestly, I'd probably be disappointed if you did pull through. It'd break the tradition."

 "Disappointed, huh?" He tilted his head thoughtfully. "So I guess you don't want this?" And he pulled a tiny box out of his coat pocket.

Her eyes went wide. "A real live present. Bravo." But her hands started trembling.

Smiling, his eyes a mix of nervousness, laughter, and love, he pulled her gently to a stop, and she suddenly realized all the other couples had disappeared. They’d left the canal, and she hadn’t even noticed.

He took a deep breath, and she could feel his nervousness mix with hers, just as if they were one, just as it had always been. And she smiled as he got down on one knee.

"Mary May Calver," he started, and there were now tears running down her cheeks. Really.  "I had a whole speech planned, and it completed left my mind when I looked at you," he laughed self-consciously, "so I suppose I'll just state what I've been thinking."

Her chuckle was watery. "Alright."

“Alright. Everyone always tells you to be cautious: to become friends with, to really get to know the person you’re contemplating marrying. I obviously never had to worry about that because, looking back on life, I can’t even remember a time when you weren’t standing by my side.”

He was startled by her sob; a hand over her mouth, she waved him on. “I’m happy, I swear! Keep going!”

He chuckled. “I love you because you make me laugh. You see life as a mystery, and I admire that. It’s true, bad luck seems to haunt you, but with 21 years of practice, I think I can deal.” He took a deep breath. “So, I guess there’s not a lot left to do except to ask you..,

“Can I make your name a complete alliteration? Because let me tell you, the fact that your initials don’t completely match up has irritated me my entire life.”

Mary May blinked, laughed. “You’re such a loser.”

“Maybe, but I’m your loser. So will you?”

“Will I what?”

“Marry me, Mary May.”

“I’ve been waiting for that since age six.” Placing her lips against his she whispered, “Now give me my present.”


Kathleen Stoughton is a twenty-two-year old, floundering college graduate who writes short stories to stay sane. Her favorite style to write is anything that will make her readers smile. In her leisure time, you can find her eating, reading, or binge-watching BBC period dramas.

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