Why Do We Need Valentines Cards, Anyway?
Art by nut862
The slamming of the front door announced Clyde's arrival home from school, followed by a stream of other sounds. As she hurried down the stairs to greet him, Clyde's mother listened to kitchen cupboards being flung open and shut. "Stay out of the pantry, honey," she said. "I've got your lunch all ready for you."
Stepping into the kitchen, she found the little green Kacheek sitting on the floor amid a scattered pile of various art supplies that he had pulled out of a cabinet, gazing at the tubes of paint and glitter in disgust. "Where's all our red construction paper, Mom?" he asked. "I'm going to need loads of it for school."
"Oh, I forgot. Valentine's Day is almost here, isn't it?"
"I forgot about it too," Clyde said sourly. "But our teacher reminded us. Now we've all got to make valentines for everyone in class. For everyone in class! Do you know how long it's going to take me?"
His mother smiled, heading to the counter and picking up the plate of food she'd prepared for her son's arrival home. "Maybe I can help you," she said. "And I'm sure you can use colors besides red. It'll make your valentines more interesting. You can draw things you like on them."
"I don't want to sit in here drawing," Clyde said in a resigned tone that indicated he thought he was going to end up doing it anyway. "We were going to play ball this afternoon, but some of my friends are staying home to work on their cards. We have to have everything done by the day after tomorrow, or the teacher will be disappointed." He glanced forlornly at the art supplies strewn over the floor, and then abandoned them to follow his mother to the table. Sitting down and biting into the sandwich she'd made for him, he rolled his eyes and said, "Most of the girls got their cards done early." He paused. "Roxanne didn't. She didn't want to make them either."
"I thought you always used to like making valentines," his mother said. "You thought it was fun to spend all afternoon playing with the craft supplies."
"I was a little kid then, Mom. I didn't know what a stupid holiday this was." Clyde swallowed the last of his sandwich and jumped down from the table. "I'm going out to play. I'll make the valentines when I get back."
* * * * *
There were only a few other kids at the empty lot when Clyde came running around the broken fence to join them. A Purple Kacheek had the ball, kicking it around in tight circles and sending dust scudding along the ground. She turned and took a shot, sending it flying straight through a hole in the fence. The other two kids laughed, and she flashed a grin as she jogged off to retrieve it. That was Roxanne, the only girl in Clyde's class who played ball games. Apparently she hadn't felt like staying indoors to make valentines on this cold clear day, either.
"Did you finish making all your cards?" Clyde asked the Mynci and Tonu who were standing in the middle of the lot.
They both nodded. "There's only twenty pets in our class," said Max, idly twitching his curly tail. "It doesn't take that long."
"Twenty pets," Clyde groaned. "I haven't even started making cards yet."
"I haven't, either." Roxanne reappeared from the gap in the fence, firing the ball towards the three of them.
Clyde caught it and sent it spinning across the field. The four of them spread out, passing the ball back and forth over the lot.
"We've got an even number of players now," Max said. "Let's have a game."
"Come on, Clyde, you're on my team," Roxanne said. They took their positions at the end of the lot, letting the other team have control of the ball. Max fired it towards them, and the green Kacheek darted forward, catching it with his foot. Roxanne was immediately running down the field opposite him, yelling his name so he would pass. The Tonu came between them, barreling towards him in an effort to steal the ball. Clyde dodged swiftly to the side, lined up the shot, and kicked the ball to Roxanne. She twisted her body and fired it cleanly down the lot, sending dust flying as it bounced past the line that had been drawn in the dirt to mark the goal.
"That was great, Roxy!" Clyde shouted, beaming. "One-zero for us!"
Roxanne grinned back as Max went running off to fetch the ball. "This game's ours," she yelled after him. "We're just getting started!"
That was the great thing about Roxanne; she'd actually play games with you and have fun with you, not just sit around making valentines or whatever the other girls did. She was different from everyone else.
The four of them played until the sun began to set, casting the white houses of Neopia Central in pink light. Clyde waved wildly to his friends as they parted ways, their long shadows stretching down the paved roads.
"Hey, we won every game today!" Roxanne yelled, pumping her little purple fist in the air as she walked away.
Clyde grinned and raised both fists in response. Roxanne smiled, then turned a corner and disappeared.
Now to work on those valentines.
* * * * *
The little green Kacheek sat bent over the kitchen table, several glue-covered construction paper cards laid out to dry around him. He sat deep in concentration as he dragged his crayons across his current work, creating a rough, childish outline of what might have been an Acko or a particularly prickly variety of singing cactus. To his annoyance and distraction, Clyde's mother put her arm on the back of his chair and whispered in his ear, "I'm going to have to clear these off the table so that we can have dinner."
"They're not dry yet," Clyde said, eyeing the folded sheets of paper lying in pools of glue.
But his mother was already loosening them from the tabletop and carrying them off. "Put the art supplies away, Clyde. You can finish working on this after we eat."
Grumbling, Clyde jumped down from the chair and returned the crayons to their cabinet. His father walked into the room as he was finishing. The older Kacheek settled himself down at the table, then squinted at its surface through his square glasses and ran a finger along the wood. "Ugh, why is this sticky?"
"I've been making valentines," Clyde said. "It's for school. I have to give one to everyone in my class."
"Well, put newspapers down if you're going to use the kitchen table. Did you get all the valentines finished?"
"No, I have to do it after dinner. It's taking me a long time. Who came up with this stupid holiday, anyway?"
His mother laughed as she set the steaming bowls of soup down on the table, making sure to place them on spots that hadn't recently been covered in glue. "When you're older, honey, you might not think it's so stupid."
Clyde's father raised his eyebrows. "Yes, he will."
The bowl landed with a clatter. "What? What's that supposed to mean? Don't tell me you aren't planning to get me anything!"
"Never mind." In an attempt to change the subject, his father would have taken that moment to stuff his mouth full of soup, except for the unfortunate fact that his spoon had landed on a sticky patch of the table and he spent the next several seconds yanking it from the pool of glue it had become embedded in. "Why doesn't your teacher just let you buy valentines from the store?"
"She thinks it's not personal enough," Clyde said. "She thought we'd have fun making our own." He rolled his eyes, although he had to admit that it'd been fun thinking of what to draw for his friends' cards. He and Max both loved Tyrannian Petpets and discussed them all the time at lunch, so of course he'd drawn an Acko for him. But some of the pets Clyde didn't know that well, so he'd just covered their cards in thick layers of glitter and construction paper to make up for the lack of a personalized drawing.
"He would have been finished with these cards earlier if he'd started when he got home from school," Clyde's mother said.
"What were you doing instead?" his father asked.
"Playing ball with Max and Blane and Roxanne. Roxy and I were a team and we won all the games."
"Thanks." Clyde grabbed a spoonful of soup and gulped it down. "She's really good at it."
* * * * *
"Honey, you've got to go to bed. I'm going to turn out the kitchen light."
Clyde hunched over the sheet of paper he was working on. "I only have one more card to make. Just five more minutes."
He stared over his shoulder until his mother had gone, and then turned back to the card he was making. He didn't want her to see it. Not that it was anything much: just a drawing of himself and Roxanne playing ball in the empty lot, as they had done nearly every afternoon since school had started. Other kids came and went, but Roxy was always there to play. She was his friend, and that was why she got to have a drawing, not just another card smeared in glue and caked in paint.
* * * * *
"I've put all the valentine boxes at the front of the room," Clyde's teacher announced. "The names are on the boxes. Come up here and drop off all the cards you've made."
The kids lined up at the front of the classroom, all carrying stacks of valentines. Clyde moved slowly down the row, dropping his cards into the boxes as he came to them. Then suddenly the table ended, and he found himself still holding one card. He looked around in confusion.
Roxanne was sitting down, the only pet still in her seat. Clyde ran over to her. "Where's your box, Roxy?"
The Purple Kacheek glanced down at her lap and shrugged. "I never got around to making valentines. So I didn't bring my box to school either."
"Why? You didn't have to do that. Everyone made you a valentine."
Pets were already filing past Roxanne, dropping off their cards on her desk before returning to their seats. She glanced at the pile and gave a guilty shrug. "I forgot everyone already did it. Sorry. I thought if I didn't get any, it'd make up for not giving any. I guess I just didn't care about the whole thing."
"Oh." Suddenly Clyde felt foolish standing there while everyone else was sitting down. He went back to his chair and took his seat, shoving the card under his notebook.
The bell rang at the end of the lesson, and there was clattering and scraping as chairs were pushed aside in the rush to get out onto the playground. Roxanne still stood at her desk, shoving the valentines into her backpack as quickly as she could. Clyde lifted his notebook and stared at the card under it. Why hadn't he just left it on her desk earlier? Maybe he should just bring it home with him; it wasn't as though it mattered to Roxanne whether she got it or not. But then he'd be the only one who hadn't given her a valentine, and he had put so much effort into making it...
He went over to her desk. "Um, Roxy? I forgot to give you this."
She glanced at the card, her eyes flickering over the crayon drawing, and then she beamed the same smile she had when they'd won every game last night. "Thanks!" Roxanne said, pushing it between her notebooks and zipping her backpack.
Then she grabbed Clyde's paw and dragged him towards the door. "Come on, let's play ball!"