If you haven't read Double Clutch or Junk Miles this will probably kind of not make much sense to you...but if you PLAN on reading these books, this passage will contain spoilers. And I'd hate to do that without warning, so consider yourself fairly warned, friends! Enjoy!
I love Valentine's Day! And I realized that we haven't seen Brenna get to enjoy one...but there was this gap in time during Junk Miles when she would have been back with Jake and still kind of shaky. Anyway, her V-day was bobbing in my mind, and I thought, why not WRITE IT for the ones I love so madly in my life? So, here for your V-day reading pleasure, is the lost Valentine's Day from Junk Miles. Please enjoy!
“Carnations are for Mother’s Day,” I declared, banging the top compartment of my locker shut with a tiny bit more force than was really necessary. There were crinkly pink and red petals crushed into the floor, muddy from the chilly, ugly February muck.
Kelsie pressed her hand to her heart and rolled her eyes as she slumped into a pretend faint. “Brenna Blixen, romantic sap, doesn’t like flowers? Could it be because her own personal Romeo doesn’t go to this school, so there’s no way he could make sure she had a carnation for herself?” She tapped her chin with the carnations she’d collected from Chris and half-a-dozen other guys who were seriously hoping their silly flowers would make her glance in their direction.
“Jake wouldn’t get me a carnation,” I said, flicking Kelsie’s bouquet with my fingertip. “Not that yours aren’t gorgeous, darling.”
She laughed at my drawl. “You’re so damn lucky your boy is more romantic than the average carnation-giver. What are your big plans, anyway?”
I shrugged and glanced up and down the hallway, looking for the one person I had no business looking for. “Um, it’s all a big secret,” I said, trying to talk coherently while I scoped every corner, just in case. “I think Jake is making up for...everything.”
“Well, good. He should.” She bounced the flowers on the top of my head. “After the whole Nikki fiasco--”
“Don’t,” I pleaded, my voice louder than I meant it to be. I dropped it and took Kelsie’s hand. “It was my fault, definitely. The whole thing. I take full blame.”
Kelsie’s pursed lips made it clear she didn’t agree, but the bell was about to ring, so arguing was out of the question. “Whoever takes the blame, I’m glad you get the romance now. I’ll make due with my mommy flowers while you’re basking in whatever plan your sexy guy has for you.”
She flounced down the hall, making people laugh and duck as she tried to coronate them with her flowers, and I headed to government class, breath held, heart pounding.
But he wasn’t there.
Which was good. His attendance had been spotty at best for the last few weeks. Which was all his issue, and definitely not my problem or my fault. What had happened between us was over. I’d been honest, so had he. Now it was done, and we both had to learn about the advantages of unitary government. Or we both should be learning about it. If Saxon decided not to come to class, it wasn’t my business.
I was finished with the unitary system and moving on to the pros and cons of federalism when the intercom crackled to life and shook us all out of our stupor.
“Yes,” he barked, head craned to look at the box with annoyance.
“Can you send Brenna Blixen to the main office at the end of the period?” The secretary’s voice was grainy through the ancient system.
“Will do.” Sanotoni glared at his watch. “Blixen, did you finish the paperwork?” I nodded and he jerked his head towards the door. “Go ahead. Quiz tomorrow.”
“Thank you,” I murmured as I collected my bag and headed down the empty hall.
Just before I passed the stairwell doors, a hand reached out and grabbed me by the crook of my arm and yanked me into the little space by the stairs. My first instincts told me to kick and jab, hurl my backpack at my attacker and scream until my throat went raw.
But a pair of nearly black eyes stopped me before I started.
“Saxon.” I adjusted my backpack on my shoulders and tried to calm my unsteady breath. “What are you...why are you...” I gestured to the deserted stairwell. “What the hell are you doing?”
He slid a cigarette from behind his ear, peppering today’s dramatic show with some devil-may-care rebellion. I made sure to keep my entire face blank. I refused to give him the satisfaction of reacting to all his put-on bravado.
He tossed the cigarette and caught it in his mouth, smiling wide at my disinterest before moving into a slow clap.
“I see you’ve mastered the art of not-even-bothering-to-despise-me. Well happy V-day to me,” he said around the cigarette, his clap loud enough to make me nervous. The stairwell was only vaguely private--any teacher could pop in at any minute and see us skipping class and partaking of tobacco products on school property. Like he could read my mind, he started to clap harder and louder, and I grabbed him by the wrists. “Damn. You still can’t keep your hands off me, can you, Blix?”
I yanked the cig from between his lips and shoved it in the front pocket of his frayed dress pants, the hem of his Dropkick Murphy’s shirt brushing my wrist and causing shivers to trail up and down my arm.
“I have to go to the office.” I willed my voice still and looked him in the eye. “Why come to school but not go to government?”
He lowered his eyebrows and laughed hard and loud. Too loud. Like he wanted to get caught and get us both expelled.
“Do you ever listen to yourself talk?” He shook his head and let one fingertip repeat the trail his shirt just travelled down my wrist.
But he kept going; up my forearm, around my elbow, and under the sleeve of my shirt.
It was just my upper arm, the bare, innocent skin right before my shoulder, but my body rioted the way it always did when he played with me like this. I snapped back and knew from his smile that I was wearing my heart on my sleeve, my blushing face, my goose-bumped skin, and everywhere else blatantly visible and available for his never-ending entertainment.
“You should come back to school. Not fail. Not sit at home doing drugs and cheerleaders,” I declared, rubbing my hands up and down my arms to calm the chills.
“If I come to this shithole, it’s sure as fuck not going to be for Sanotoni’s bullshit lectures on democracy. And I moved onto coke, so I’m not mellow enough to just sit at home anymore. Sadly.” He grinned at my eyes, which I knew were popping out of their sockets. “And I already screwed every cheerleader available. I don’t like them too young, you know? I’ll have to start with a fresh crop next year.”
In a weird way, his being an asshole made some of the tension melt away. I took two deliberate steps back from him, his hands, the chemical-orange and dull-smoke smell of him, and breathed in the refreshingly un-Saxonated air in the musty stairwell.
“Why are you here?” I asked, using the voice he hated, the one he called my ‘buzz-annihilator’ voice.
“Don’t give me some martyr lecture, Blix.” He closed the space between us with two easy steps, and those few glorious seconds that lacked his essence just made having him close all the more overpowering. “It’s Valentine’s day. Give me some v-love. You still have it to give, don’t you?”
I swallowed so hard, I could hear the sound my throat made. “Fuck off, Saxon. That’s none of your damn business.”
Even his shrug was sexy. And irritating as hell. “Maybe not. Doesn’t change the fact that I know. Why didn’t Jake jump you the minute he had you alone?” He asked it like he was really going to give it some deep thought, which made the hairs on my neck stand up with pure fury. Then his eyes flipped to mine and he pushed his face so close, the slightest wrong move would have pressed us into a kiss. “Or maybe it isn’t Jake who’s holding back?”
One hand came up to brush along my cheek, and I swatted it back. “Saxon, damnit, cut the shit! What are you here for? Why are we--here?” I gestured around the space.
“Good question,” he breathed, his lips so close, I wasn’t sure whether we kissed or not.
But I was pulling back before I did know and the answer was that we had.
But he beat me to it and turned on his heel, strolling out the door. A cold draft of icy air swirled into the overheated space, and I shivered uncontrollably.
“Think about the question, Blix,” he said into the parking lot, tossing the half-mashed cigarette back into his mouth and lighting it as he stalked to his Charger and pulled out.
Waves of rage and humiliation took turns rising up and crashing over me. We had just gone through this. I had just made a decision, a damn good decision, to not get caught up in Saxon’s web anymore. So why had I let him pull me in? Why didn’t I end it?
I had no clue how long I stood, cold and stupid in the stairwell before the warning bell rang, and I remembered I had to go to the office. I was in a daze by the time I made it to the counter, which was completely littered with bouquets of roses and foil balloons, heart-shaped candy boxes and plush animals that kissed with little magnet mouths.
“Brenna,” a freshman girl by the copy machine hissed, waving me over. “This is for you. Marley Pierson brought it in and wouldn’t say who it was from.”
My heart did backflips, and I was about to smile at my eager messenger when my eyes fell on the paper.
It was decorated with glittery Eiffel Towers.
Not Jake. Nope. Definitely not Jake.
I thanked the girl and stumbled into the hall, pulsating with the swell of students eager to explode out of the classroom doors and roam the halls to kiss and shriek and bat each other with carnations.
I knew I should throw it away. Toss it out. Let it go.
But, like I was being maneuvered by a psychotic master puppeteer, I found my fingers sliding under the crease, unsticking the tape, and bunching the blue and silver paper into a tight ball.
A Frank Sinatra mix that included the song we danced to on New Year’s. Twice. And Dawn of the Dead. The retro zombie flick we were supposed to see the night he and I kinda decided we’d never work out.
My throat felt scratchy and my breath came out in stupid, unsteady gulps. There was a gaping trashcan ten feet away, and I walked up to it, the gifts shaking in my fist. With a flick of my wrist I tossed in the crumpled paper and stuffed the two relics of my dumbest, most bittersweet mistake into my backpack before I marched back to class.
We dissected John Donne’s poems in English, and I hated and loved him for being so damn wise and writing poems hundreds of years ago like he knew I’d read them this Valentine’s Day, in this classroom that stunk like chalk dust and teenage sweat.
His words ran through my head long after I stopped stabbing at them with my pen and cracking them apart to determine rhythm and metaphor.
‘If yet I have not all the love,/ Dear, I shall never have it all’
My fingers tugged my backpack around and ran over the front pocket, where Saxon’s gifts were stashed. John Donne’s words echoed in my head when I pedalled to VoTech to eat lunch with Jake.
All the love.
Did anyone have all the love to give to anyone else?
Could anyone take all the love from someone else?
By the time I got to the squat building, my heart was thumping hard and my head was achey. But then there was Jake, leaned against the brick wall, a smile on his face and his arms full of flowers.
“Jake!” I yelled, and when I ran at him, he had nowhere to put the bouquet, so it just got squashed between our bodies when we held on to one another, tight and frantic with love.
I dipped my face down into the blossoms. “Tiger lilies?” I inhaled their scent, and Jake wrapped his arms around me and pulled me closer.
“I know flowers are predictable, but I thought you’d like these. I always had a crush on Tiger Lily from Peter Pan, and you remind me of her.” When I gave him a questioning look, he explained, “She’s wild, but smart. Sexy. Loyal. Brave as hell. Beautiful.” He cleared his throat, the silver in his eyes shrinking as the black of his pupils expanded. “So, yeah. Wow. How is it that you can even make my old bedtime stories hot, Bren?”
“It’s a gift,” I whispered close to his ear. “And I love them. And I love you.”
“The most?” He asked mostly to joke, but there was a hint of serious worry jabbing through his words.
...not all the love...
I crushed closer to him. “The most most.” My voice was fierce around the words, and I wanted them to be true, so they were. True Neverland style.
“Come inside, pretty lady. I have all kinds of Valentine’s Day gifts for you,” Jake murmured, his lips warm on my neck and along my jaw. “Or we could skip.”
“Mmm. We skipped two weeks ago, Jake,” I reminded him, but it wasn’t easy to put that into focus when his hands were so skillfully making their way up the back of my shirt, his rough skin rubbing against the smooth of my back in a way I really didn’t want to stop.
“Fine. But you’re getting the full Valentine’s treatment, woman. I never want to hear anyone say Jake Kelly isn’t romantic enough.” He pulled me to his side and walked me through the double doors. “Now, let’s go enjoy your romantic lunch.” He stopped at his locker and tugged out a bag.
I bit my lip and grabbed onto his shirt with both hands to steady myself. “Mmm. Jake. Are those meatball parms?”
His smile was wicked. Jake knew damn well the best way to my heart was via Italian food to my belly.
“Express delivered from Louie’s. Meatball parm, extra parm, and maybe even cannolis for dessert.” His voice dropped low and husky, and I snuggled against him.
“Have I told you lately how much I love you?” I crowed, heading to the cafeteria.
“Bren, seriously?” He tugged my hand, spinning me around. “Romance, woman. Romance.” He led me away from the deafening crowds and snuck me through the deserted shop doors, back past the drafting tables and woodworking machinery, and into the wood room.
There was a little space cleared between the boards, and he pulled a low stool over for me to sit on.
“Is this where you take all the hot girls?” I asked, running my foot up and down his leg as he passed me my sandwich.
He waggled his eyebrows. “Only the ones who are as good-looking as blocks of wood.”
I laughed around my first bite, surprised that he remembered the awkward flirting words I made fun of him for the day we met.
That sweet, the sweet I cherished about him, brings the guilt of earlier today rushing back.
“Jake?” I said, putting my sandwich down and causing my boyfriend alarm. “No, don’t worry. I feel fine, and this is amazing. I just...I need to tell you something. Um. I kind of saw Saxon today.”
Jake nodded slowly. “You’re going to run into him. You guys go to school together.”
“He, uh...he left me a gift.” I unzipped my bag and held the mix and movie out his for inspection.
Jakes mouth tightened slightly. “They mean something?”
I nodded and pressed my lips together.
He reached out and pushed them back towards me. “Not tonight,” he began, “because I have mad romantic plans for the two of us...but some other night, we’ll listen to that mix and watch that movie, okay?”
I nodded, confused.
“He’ll always be part of our lives, Bren. That’s a given. And you’ll always have...memories I’m not a part of.” His words gritted out over those words. When he looked at me, his eyes were a little sad and a lot gorgeous. “But I’m part of your life, too. And we can make new memories, so Saxon’s will at least have to fight for space in your head.”
Relief flooded through me, swift and sweet. And my appetite came raging back, which was awesome. We ate in happy silence, and then, for dessert, Jake let me devour my cannoli in peace, but then insisted I sit in his lap while he detailed exactly what he loved most about me with plenty of hot, sweet kissing to illustrate. It was threatening to get a tad out of control when the warning bell shocked us out of our quiet, secret hide-away.
Jake held my hand under the table during lecture in drafting class, and I linked my fingers through his rough, strong ones, thinking of the John Donne poem still folded in my back pocket.
I ran my thumb over his knuckles and thought about my heart and his and Saxon and John Donne and Valentines secrets and revelations, and decided that Donne said it best: ‘But we will have a way more liberal,/ Than changing hearts, to join them, so we shall/ Be one, and another’s all.’
And I didn’t even consider what Donne would have thought about more than two hearts joining to make one. And I didn’t think about how black and silver swirled together when I thought about being looked at with pure love. Instead, I squeezed Jake’s hand made room for new love, more love, love washed clean.