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Happy Valentine's Day 2017

Rob, Freshman Year at State

“It’s official,” Alex mutters over my shoulder. “Evie’s turned you into a girl.”

“What?” I save the last pin I was looking at before my roommate, best friend, and all-around pain in my ass interrupted me. “The last time I checked I hadn’t grown a vagina.”

“Do you even realize what you’re doing right now?”

I turn from my laptop to face him.

He’s standing in the middle of the floor between our desks, his arms crossed over his chest, a disappointed glare in place of his usual happy-go-lucky expression.

“What am I doing right now?”

He gestures at my computer. “You’re on Pinterest, man! It started out slow at the beginning of the year when Evie’s clothes crept their way into the room. Next thing I know, there’s fucking throw pillows on your bed. Throw pillows, Rob! What kind of self-respecting man has throw pillows on his bed?”

A smug smile creeps across my lips. I don’t bother to hide it. “The kind of man who shares a bed every night with a woman.”

He leaps forward, latching onto my shoulders and shaking me. “She’s brain washing you, bro! Snap out of it before it’s too late!”

His hysteria only makes me laugh. “Oh, it’s way too late for me, and I think we all know it.”

“Don’t do this, Falls!” His eyes are wild, a little on the crazy side. “If you want to have a girlfriend and let her hide pads in your desk and sleep with her when she’s all bloody and nasty, that’s one thing. But, Pinterest? Really?”

I roll my eyes and shake loose from his grasp, turning back to my idea board. Funny how fucked up his list of priorities is. The red wave ranks a step lower than a website. “There’s some really good shit on here. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it.”

“Never. I will never get on Pinterest. I don’t care if it has porn.” 

“Okay.” His loss.

A heavy sigh behind me signals he’s not ready to abandon ship yet. “I can’t believe I’m asking this, but fine. Have it your way. Why?”

“Why, what?”

“Why are you on that God-forsaken website?”

“Oh. I’m looking for ideas for Valentine’s Day gifts.” Ooh. Make her a book, listing all the things I love about her. Lists are my thing. I save that pin for later. First, all possibilities must be thoroughly researched.

Alex startles me with his unexpected, or maybe expected, laughter. “Dude. Just get her some roses, chocolate, and jewelry. Boom. Done.”

I turn around again, raising my eyebrow. “How do you know about the big three?”

He shakes his head, the disappointment returning. “Basic. Every guy knows that.”

Yeah, well…not this guy. My girlfriend had to spell it out for me. “I can’t afford stuff like that. I swear, they triple the prices around this time of year.”

“Why can’t you afford it? Did you blow your inheritance on something I don’t know about yet…” Alex’s face pales. “No. Do nottell me you bought her an engagement ring. You can’t propose to her on Valentine’s Day. Jesus, didn’t I teach you anything?”

Aside from more sexual positions than I’m sure are even physically possible, no. “I wish. Evie read me the riot act when I gave her diamond earrings for Christmas. She told me I need to be more financially responsible.”

“You’re taking financial advice from the girl you had to tutor in calculus?” He cracks up at this.

“She might not know what a derivative is, but she made a good point. I have to make this money last for the next three years because I don’t have time to hold down a job, play ball, and study enough to keep up my QPA. I worked out a budget, and it’s gonna be tight, but I’ll have enough for the basics with a small emergency fund.”

He shakes his head like I’m being ridiculous. “So, buy her a single rose, a small chocolate bar, and a plastic ring from a gumball machine, and get off that site before it corrupts your quarterback brain.”

“Aww, are you worried about my brain, Alex?”

“I’m worried about your dick shriveling up.” He points at my crotch before retreating to his own desk and firing up his laptop. “I don’t know why you’re putting so much thought into this. You already have Evie, it’s not like you’re trying to get her.”

“I’m trying to keepher.” Trust the guy who’s a relationship-phobe to not get it. He wouldn’t understand if I don’t stay on my toes, and take every opportunity to show her how much I love her, she might leave me for someone else who will.

“Well, you’re not gonna keep her unless she’s suddenly a lesbian. Get off Pinterest, man the fuck up, and do what men have been doing for decades for this made-up holiday that’s all about women. Trust me.”

My forehead stings from the force of meeting my desk, but the outright shudders of laughter rolling through my body dull the pain somewhat. “You’re concerned I’m taking financial advice from a girl who’s terrible at math, but I’m supposed to trust youto give me solid relationship advice? Do I look stupid to you?”

“No, you look like a guy who’s switching teams to me,” Alex grumbles. “Fine. Laugh all you want, but I know women—what they want, what they like, and what they need even if they won’t admit it to themselves.”

Okay, now he’s got me curious. Evie doesn’t admit a lot to herself. Has Alex picked up on it, too? “All right, all right. I’m listening. Please enlighten me, o master of females.”

Alex spins in his chair. “Show me you’re ready to learn.”

We move our chairs until we’re facing each other, huddling in the middle of our room over an entirely new play.

“That’s better. Now, grasshopper,” Alex whispers conspiratorially. “Women like Evie are the worst when it comes to VD.”

“Watch it.”

He splays his hands in a defensive gesture. “Oh, come on. You know it’s true. The problem with feminists is most of them have warped what the term stands for. They want equality, yeah, but they want romance and all that girly, fluffy shit, too. Even though,” he points at me for emphasis, “they refuse to admit it to themselves.”

I nod slowly. I can’t say I’ve never had the same thoughts. Hell, I’ve told Evie as much.

“They want us to hold doors open for them, but when we ask for sex and get up-front and honest about what we want and what we don’t, they suddenly get all offended. At least until you give them what they don’t even realize they want. I can’t tell you how many girls gave up their so-called moral code after a little ego stroking and spoiling.”

I swallow a ball of dread, suddenly not so sure I want to hear any of this. “Alex. You’re not seriously implying what I think you are…are you?”

He gazes at me with clear confusion written across his face. “What do you think I’m implying?”

“Uh, it sounds a lot to me like you’ve tricked girls into sleeping with you.”

His shoulders relax, and he waves my concern away with a sweeping gesture of his hand. “No, no. You’re not listening. I didn’t trick them; I gave them what they wanted, but were too afraid to admit to themselves in the interests of being independent, modern women.”

How did my afternoon go from gift research to this? As much as I feel in my bones I’m going to regret this conversation, I’m in too deep to back out now. “Explain yourself. You’ve got ten minutes before I teach youa lesson on respect.”

He laughs, not taking my threat seriously. “Ease up there, QB. We’re not on the field. You don’t get to boss me around in my own room.”

“Make that five minutes, and you sure as hell don’t have a problem bossing mearound in our room.”

Alex rolls his eyes. “I don’t trick them, Rob. I give them what they want, so I can get what I want.”

I glance down at my pretend watch. “Four.”

“Okay, take Evie, for example.”

“I’m going to speed up this beat down if you give me an example of how you’ve tried to trick my girlfriend into sleeping with you. You understand that, right?”

He cocks his head back in disbelief. “You couldn’t put the beat down on me if you tried.”

“When it comes to my girl, I know a guy sitting in the county lock-up back home who could tell you otherwise. I could have killed him with my bare hands. Don’t think I won’t do the same to you.”

I’m not proud of my homicidal rage tendencies, but I’m not playing games when it comes to Evie, either. Judging by the expression of fear on Alex’s face, he understands this.

“Point taken,” he back pedals. “And for the record, I have nevertried to put the moves on Evie.”

“And you never will,” I tell him in no uncertain terms. “Is there a lesson here somewhere or not? Because, frankly, I’m growing bored, and I have work to do.”

Alex makes a gesture for me to sit still. “Remember my hot tutor I told you about last semester?”

“Yes?” 

“She’s a lot like Evie. A total ball buster, feminist, smart-chick type who tries to hide her hotness behind thick glasses, frumpy hair, and baggy clothes.”

I hold up a hand to halt his explanation. “Number one, you’re not making a real strong case for yourself on keeping your grubby paws off my girl if you’re telling me how the chick you’ve been lusting after since last semester reminds you of Evie. Number two, Evie doesn’t dress like that anymore, and you’re the one always telling me it’s a good thing.”

He nods excitedly. “That’s just it! That’s the whole point!”

I throw my hands up in exasperation. “Whatis the whole fucking point? Get on with it already!”

“Evie’s making her feminine charms work for her, but Amira still thinks of her assets as the enemy as much as any penis!”

“One minute left,” I tell him, deadpan. Not only is he pissing me off with talk of Evie’s new dress code, but he’s comparing his tutor’s assets to Evie’s. Not cool.

“The point is this: All I had to do was remind Amira she’s freaking gorgeous, and no amount of covering up can hide her beauty from a guy who really appreciates women as the fucking seductive creatures they are.”

I mentally rewind our conversation, trying to find the link between this information and Alex’s insistence that the big three play is the way to go. “Help me out here, bro. What the fuck are you even talking about at this point? How is you finally getting Amira to sleep with you related in any way to what I should get for my girlfriend for Valentine’s Day?”

He rolls his eyes and huffs like he can’t believe I don’t see the connection. “They think they don’t want to be treated like typical women, but they do! They want independence, but they also want a guy to just fucking tell them how it’s going to be! They want wined and dined. They want roses, jewelry, to be treated like spoiled fucking princesses! They’re smart enough that just telling them they’re beautiful, and you want to fuck them isn’t good enough. You have to show them with gifts and actions you’re not going to give up until you get what you want.”

“You’re insane, Fossoway. You are a certifiable lunatic.”

He shrugs, not the least bit offended. “Maybe, but I’m also the lunatic who had mind-bending sex for a week straight with a girl who swore months ago I’d never lay a finger on her.”

That sounds all too familiar. Minus the mind-bending sex part. “Yeah, but you said it yourself. I’m not trying to get Evie. I’m trying to keep Evie. And if your past track record is any indication, you had amazing sex for a week, but Amira hates your guts now and probably has threatened to cut off your balls at least once since this semester started.”

“Nope.” He grins.

“She doesn’t hate you?”

“Nope. In fact, we have a standing date once a week.”

Something’s off. Alex never hooks up with a girl more than a few times. A steady fuck buddy at his beck and call just isn’t his style. More importantly, he doesn’t work hard for women. He prefers easy over a challenge.

“So,” he prods. “Now you see why Pinterest isn’t going to help you. You need to take charge, be an alpha male, sweep her off her feet, and give her what she doesn’t think she wants for Valentine’s Day.”

I pop my eyebrows before returning to my desk. “Okay, sure.”

“You don’t believe a word I said, do you?”

“Nope.” I open a new search tab. Creative Valentine’s Day dates.

Most of the suggestions are useless. Expensive dinners, hotel reservations, weekends away. Kinky sex positions to spice up your mundane love life.

Too expensive, not enough time, not applicable.

Refining my search options seems to be in order. Inexpensive Valentine’s Day ideas for my girlfriend.

Hmm, a full body massage. I can’t admit this to Alex, but something he said does apply to my situation. Evie hasn’t ever had great self-esteem, but she feels worse than ever, thanks to the scars she constantly hides with thick makeup, tight clothes, and straightened, glossy hair. 

Taking the time on Valentine’s Day to show her I think she’s beautiful might be just the ticket. 

And she’s a huge fan of my so-called magical hands.

I can spring for a bottle of massage oil, right? Evie can’t possibly bust my balls over that…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eva

With my hands full, I kick on the door to Rob and Alex’s dorm room in lieu of knocking.

“Please tell me you didn’t lose my key.” Rob chuckles even as he swings the door open. One look at my precariously balanced bags, and he dives in to help me secure my laptop before it hits the floor. “What is all this?”

“Everything we need.”

“For what?” Alex cranes his neck to watch as Rob helps me unload. 

“The perfect day.” I can’t stop the overly bright smile that erupts on my face. 

Rob eyes me with a look bordering on suspicion. “You said you were going to the library to study in peace and quiet when you woke up this morning, and I wasn’t allowed to come with you because we weren’t doing anything special for Valentine’s Day.”

“I lied.” I shrug. “I couldn’t exactly take you shopping with me for your gifts.”

When I first started thinking about ideas as to what to give Rob, I was a little overwhelmed. Though we’ve been together for over a year, most days I feel completely inexperienced in the girlfriend department. 

Not wanting him to feel pressured to spend money he shouldn’t on me for this unnecessary Hallmark holiday, I knew I had to come up with something meaningful yet low cost. So, I began thinking of all the things we’ve missed out on over the years, all the ways my friends showed affection to their boyfriends during high school while I was single and pining away for the boy I had no idea wanted me, too.

And then genius struck.

What’s the one thing everyone wants more of that can’t be bought?

Time.

Rob and I are no exception. We regret all the wasted years we spent apart, not telling each other how we felt. While we try to make up for every lost second, it’s simply not possible. Especially with our hectic schedules. His dad may have kept us away from each other for much of our senior year of high school, but as freshmen in college, classes, studying, his football obligations, and my part-time job mean we usually only spend the night together. Asleep.

Luckily for us, football season is over, it’s Saturday, and Rob doesn’t have any team activities or conditioning scheduled today.

“Uh, babe? Cranky time isn’t until next week. What’s up with all the junk food?” Rob peers over my shoulder as I unload my haul onto his desk, but tries to be sneaky with checking his phone.

I keep telling him that app is useless since my cycle isn’t regular, but damn if he doesn’t think of it as the holy grail of preparation for PMS week.

“Relax. It isn’t all for me.” 

Licorice, a box of microwave popcorn, chocolate-covered raisins, several bags of chips, a carton of ice cream, a box of soda, and the coup d’état—a bag of pork rinds. Rob never lets himself indulge in his favorite snack, knowing full well his body is a finely honed machine which requires the most efficient fuel.

Okay, okay. His trainers have him on a strict diet, and he doesn’t think it’s worth it to incur their wrath if he doesn’t follow orders. Even in the off season.

I feel both of the boys at my back as I work to control the explosion on Rob’s desk. Ice cream goes in the mini-fridge/freezer, popcorn on top of the microwave for later. The rest of the bags get organized in a sweet versus salty grouping.

“Are we supposed to get a blizzard today?” Alex laughs. “You forgot the bread and toilet paper.”

I narrow my eyes at him. “You two don’t eat bread. It’s not a complex carb.”

“Uh…we don’t exactly eat all this stuff, either.” The words come out of Rob’s mouth like a poorly read script. He’s eyeing the pork rinds with clear longing.

I step forward and wrap my arms around his waist, hoping to thoroughly convince him of my plans. “It’s only for one day, and this is my gift to you. Today we’re going to be lazy, eat a bunch of junk food, and binge watch whatever you want. I already have Star Wars and Game of Thrones queued up on my computer. All you have to do is choose…and maybe hook my laptop up to the TV.”

Rob’s brow furrows, and he cuts his gaze to Alex, who’s already picking up the bag of Cheetos.

My heart sinks. He doesn’t like my idea.

I didn’t think the usual romantic, fluffy stuff would be the way to my guy’s heart, but maybe I was wrong about that. Rob’s more sensitive than most men. Maybe he would have preferred a dozen roses?

Rob bends down, brushing his lips across my ear, his hot breath washing over my neck. “Honey, I can’t kick Alex out of the room all day. A few hours tonight, sure, but it’s only noon.”

“Oh.” My mood lifts, realizing Alex’s presence is his only concern. “That’s okay. The whole point is just to relax. It’s something we never get to do. Happy Valentine’s Day.”

I lift onto my toes to press a kiss to his cheek, feeling his skin stretch in a smile against my lips.

“I vote for Game of Thrones,” Alex says through a mouthful of Cheetos.

Rob and I face him in slow motion.

“You’ve never read the books.”

“You’ve read the books?”

We glance at each other and snicker before Alex redirects our attention.

“Hell, no. Too long, and too many of them. Natalie Dormer is hot, though. That show’s practically soft-core porn.”

Rob glances at me with a raised eyebrow. “I’ll hook up your laptop to the TV, and then we’re binge watching Star Wars.”

While Rob sets to work with cables and connections beyond my level of knowledge, Alex whines about the choice of programming. 

“Aww, come on! If you two are gonna have some cheesy, romantic Valentine’s Day that I have to be stuck with, at least we can watch something entertaining for all of us!”

“No,” Rob responds, not an ounce of emotion in his voice.

“But, Star Wars is boring! I can’t possibly watch that geek fest all day!”

“No.”

“Come on, man! It’s my room, too!”

“No.”

“This isn’t a fascist regime. We’ll put it to a vote. There’s three of us, so no possible tie.” Alex falls to his knees by Rob’s bed where I sit, clasping his hands in a prayer-like pose. “Come on, Evie. Just vote GoT, and I’ll give you anything you want.”

“Anything I want?” Like I’m going to pass up this opportunity.

“Anything.”

“Okay.” I shrug. “Go hang out with Mike today.”

Alex smirks, then shakes his head. “Nice try, but that would totally defeat the purpose. If I go hang out with Mike, then I wouldn’t get to watch it, anyway. You know he hates that kind of stuff. Besides, I said I’d giveyou anything you want, not doanything you want.”

Is he seriously trying to get into a semantics war with me? “I want you to giveme the day alone with my boyfriend.”

“Fine.” He rises to his full height, then points at me. “This means war, Papageorgiou. Don’t forget I tried to play nice.”

Alex slips on his shoes and coat, then storms out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

Rob shakes his head with a frown, but crawls onto the mattress behind me, folding me up in his big arms as the opening chapter of Episode I: The Phantom Menace scrolls up the screen.

Ah. Perfection.

My favorite movies with my favorite guy. A light snow falls outside on the State campus, blanketing everything in sight under a glittering cover of white. I shiver as the wind rattles against the window, glad to be out of the storm. I’m warm, tucked under the blankets with Rob’s solid body wrapped around mine. 

I don’t always get what I want, but sometimes…the universe gives me a break.

Rob buries his face into my hair. “I’d say that was well played, Mrs. Falls, but honestly? I’m a little worried about what Alex might do in retribution.”

I burrow further against Rob’s chest. “What’s he gonna do? Cut power to the whole building? Not likely.”

“No, but he’s right: this is his room, too. What if he decides to bring back his own Valentine and gross us out with PDA?”

My whole body vibrates with laughter. Just the thought of it has me in near hysterics. “Rob,” I wheeze. “Do you even realize what you just said?”

“Why does everyone keep asking me stuff like this lately?” he mutters. “What did I say that was so funny?”

I roll over to face him, trying to soothe his frazzled ego by stroking his stubbly cheek. “You implied Alex wants to celebrate Valentine’s Day. I think we all know that’s an untrue statement.”

“Oh, no.” Rob shakes his head. “I know exactly what I said. He’ll go find some lonely girl who’s upset about not having anyone special to spend today with, promise her the moon, bring her back here just to annoy us, then cut her loose after some spoiling.” He makes air quotes around the last word.

“Alex doesn’t do spoiling. He does no-strings sex.”

“Yeah, that’s what I always thought, too. Until last week.”

I scrunch my nose in confusion. “What happened last week?”

“He basically confessed he’s a jerk, willing to do anything to get his way.”

That doesn’t sound like the Alex I’ve come to know and love. Sure, he likes his sex plentiful and casual, but he’s not the asshole about it I once assumed he was. “You’re being melodramatic. It’ll be fine. He likes to talk a big talk, but underneath his macho exterior is a good guy. Honestly, he was probably happy for an excuse to get away from us for the rest of the day.”

Rob quirks an eyebrow, his signature skeptical expression.

I continue to glide my hand along his face, tracing over his eyebrows, his nose, his lips. It’s an innocent touch, but something about the tactile sensation of his features against the sensitive pad of my finger sends a spark of heat between my legs. He smiles as if he knows exactly what he’s doing to me without any effort at all. His pupils dilate; the teal of his eyes darkens to a hazy blue. We’re so close his chest brushes against mine as his breathing picks up.

I press my thumb into the deep indentation in his right cheek. I love this dimple. It’s such a boyish trait on an otherwise very masculine face. His blond stubble grates against my palm. Though I’m not sure I ever want to see him with a full beard again, his nearly invisible facial hair has become another of my obsessions. Like some sort of secret only I get to keep. While the hair on his head is a sandy light brown, his scruff is so blond, it takes a week without shaving for the hair to be noticeable.

No one else knows when he doesn’t shave.

No one except me.

He brushes a loose strand of hair off my cheek. “What’s running through that pretty head of yours?”

Laughter bubbles up my throat. Oh, if only he knew. His ego would grow to the size of Texas. I’m not about to make it that easy on him. “You think my head is pretty?”

He nods, mimicking my exploration of his face, his fingers dancing across my sensitive lips. “Your head is very pretty. But, your mind? Your mind is fucking beautiful.”

Warmth blooms in my chest at the sincere compliment. Of course, Rob Falls knows the exact route to run to win me over. 

“That reminds me.” He pulls away, then climbs off the bed. “I have something for you.”

I roll over to watch as he digs through his desk, my curiosity building. I hope he didn’t spend too much. While the diamond earrings he gave me for Christmas are gorgeous, I’m not comfortable with accepting such expensive gifts. Maybe it’s years of being raised in a frugal, middle-class family, or maybe it’s that I haven’t had enough practice being someone’s girlfriend, but either way, I don’t want our relationship to be based on material signs of affection.

He faces me again, clutching a regular-looking notebook to his chest. Approaching the bed slowly, his expression reminds me of the shy, unsure boy I met freshman year of high school—flaming red cheeks, averted deep blue gaze, tension-bunched shoulders.

Without any fanfare, he thrusts the notebook toward me. “Here. I thought…” he trails off, then clears his throat. “I thought you might like to have this.”

I sit up and take the proffered item from his grasp. It takes me a few tries to pry the poor, bent notebook free. He doesn’t seem to want to let it go.

When I flip to the cover, I realize why.

This is his old biology notebook. The one I was never supposed to see, but found in a desperation-induced fit of snooping through his bedroom last year.

Quickly, I school my expression. “What’s this?”

He doesn’t sit beside me. It’s obvious he wants to pace and is only standing still from sheer will power. He shrugs, still not looking at me. “Just open it and see.”

The tip of my tongue burns with a confession that’s long overdue. But, Rob already seems stressed out enough, so I thumb through the pages with feigned ignorance.

“Ahh, yes,” I murmur. “Meiosis is so romantic.”

I peek up, hoping to see a smile on his nervous face, but no. He’s chewing his lip furiously, something I usually do when I’m anxious.

“Keep going,” he prompts. 

So, I do. It’s impossible to prevent my eyes from welling with moisture as I reread our faded handwriting. The pencil marks smudge and bleed into the ruled lines; the spots where my tears blotted the paper last year still remain.

“Thank you, Rob.”

The words escape my chest in a gust of emotion-filled breath. This gift means more than anyone else could possibly understand. It’s a small glimpse into my forgotten past. There’s no doubt in my mind Rob summoned all his courage to give me this of his own free will.

He’s so adamant I never remember any of the bad things.

The mattress dips beside me as Rob perches on the edge of the bed. My gaze remains fixed on the last words he wrote me.

 

God knows I’ve been stuck on you all this time.

 

“It’s still true, you know,” he whispers, nudging me. “Maybe more now than ever before.”

All I can do is nod in agreement. My throat tightens against any words which couldn’t hope to convey all the emotions swirling through my chest.

Rob flips backward a few pages until another old list appears in my blurry field of view. “I wrote this list of all the things that made me fall for you without any thought at all that day. But, it occurred to me it’s incomplete.”

I finally glance up at him in question. 

From behind his back, he produces a small journal, bound in soft, worn-looking leather. He places it on top of the school notebook. “I fall for you all over again every day because you constantly give me new reasons to love you. I think you’ll always surprise me. And, I don’t ever want to stop learning new things about you or taking for granted the pieces of yourself you show me that no one else gets to see. So, I’m going to write them all in here.”

Tears spill down my cheeks even as laughter rolls off my lips. All this from the guy who doesn’t think he’s romantic?

“Am I allowed to read it?”

He shrugs, a sheepish grin accompanying the faint pink tint of his cheeks. “Yeah. That’s kind of the whole point.”

I open the front cover. On the first blank page, only one word is written.

 

Hello

 

More unusual girlish giggles spill from my throat. Rob still has the distinct ability to turn me into a blushing, crush-addled school girl. “You decided to take my advice by always starting with hello, huh?”

“I figure I need all the help I can get. So, by all means, keep telling me exactly what to do and what notto do. I’ll add any advice you care to throw my way to the original list you made for me.”

“You don’t need as much help as you think,” I murmur as I flip to the next page where he’s rewritten everything from the biology notebook. Several more pages are full of his neat handwriting. Some of the items flush my body with heat.

 

I love the way you sometimes hum and smile in your sleep.

I’ve never wanted to know so much in my life what someone else dreams about.

You never get mad when I have a nightmare that wakes you up.

The worst part of my day is leaving you in the morning.

The best part of my day is falling asleep with you in my arms at night.

Please never stop torturing Alex.

Your laugh can erase any pain or bad mood.

I hate the way other guys look at you, but I also appreciate it.

You’re mine, and all they ever get to do is look.

I get to touch.

Your skin is the best thing I’ve ever felt.

You really don’t need padded bras.

I love your boobs. J

You wear many expressions, but my hands-down favorite is the look of ecstasy on your face when you come for me.

Thank you for making me feel like I’m worthy of you.

(Not that I believe it, but you always try to make me feel that way.)

You still look so damn good wearing my jersey.

Mrs. Falls. Enough said.

You always tell me you’re my number one fan; I’m yours, too.

Sometimes your hair gets in my mouth when we’re sleeping.

I don’t mind. It means we’re together.

I’m still trying to figure out a way to sneak you to away games. I’ve decided stuffing you into my duffel bag won’t work. Will let you know when I come up with a reasonable method. Stay tuned.

Did you know you make this tiny little sigh every time I kiss you?

I noticed the very first time. I notice it still.

I don’t ever want it to go away.

Speaking of going away, we should take a vacation together for spring break. Where have you always wanted to go but never been? 

I want to travel the world with you.

Everything I see, do, experience is so much brighter when you’re with me.

You make my world technicolor.

We should make a bunch of lists of things to do together:

Movies we’ve never seen.

Travel bucket list.

Sky diving?

Bungee jumping? Not sure my coaches would let me do that kind of stuff, but you get the idea, anyway.

Yearly reading challenge? We could totally do this.

Pick a hobby we’ve never done and take classes together. Painting, maybe? You don’t know how to paint, right?

 

Rob’s disappointed voice pulls me from my intense focus. “I think it turned into more of a word association, free range letter to you than anything else.”

“What’s wrong with that?” My only disappointment lies in the fact there aren’t any more pages full of writing.

“It’s supposed to be a book of all the things I love about you.”

I clutch the journal to my chest and fall back on the mattress with a sigh. Did I just swoon? Is this what that overused word from romance novels feels like? “I don’t care. I love it. I’m keeping this forever.”

Rob lies down beside me, propping his head up on his hand. “You have to give it back. How else can I keep adding to it?”

Before I can pout about him being right, the door bursts open.

Alex’s voice fills my ears though I can’t see him from my spot on the bed. “Look who I found moping around in the snow!”

Rob and I sit up to find Alex dragging Mike into the room, clutching a bouquet of roses. They’re both covered with rapidly melting snowflakes which dampen their hair.

Rob stiffens beside me. “What’s going on?”

Alex shrugs, but casts a worried glance at us that he knows Mike can’t see. Sure enough, my big brother seems not only wet, but miserable.

Guilt washes over me. Just because I’m having a perfectly wonderful Valentine’s Day with the man of my dreams doesn’t mean everyone else on campus is, too.

Poor Mike.

This is his first Valentine’s Day as a single guy in years. He must feel so lost and lonely.

I stuff my gifts under the pillow next to me, not wanting to rub my sweet romance in anyone’s face. “We were just starting a Star Wars marathon, and we have tons of snacks. Come veg with us.”

Warm breath washes over my ear with Rob’s harsh whisper. “Why are you inviting them in? They’re like vampires, Evie! They’ll never leave!”

I direct a glare at him to shut him up before Mike overhears, then respond in my own hushed tone. “You said it yourself. We can’t keep Alex out of the room all day. Besides, you know Mike’s been in a bad place lately. Why are you being like this?”

“Because I have plans for us. Plans that involve being alone." He raises an eyebrow, like I should have known this already.

“Well, we’ll just keep them occupied, and their minds off everything for a while, then when Mike’s feeling a little less down, they can go hang out somewhere else. Okay?” I clasp my hands together in the universal begging pose. I’m not above playing dirty to make sure all my boys have a nice day. Rob can’t possibly say no to me now.

And he doesn’t. With an expression that conveys defeat, he flops down onto the mattress and gets comfortable for our movie marathon.

Could this day possibly get any better?

 

 

 

Rob

I smell a set up. Alex looks a little too concerned; Mike seems more depressed than he has in weeks. They make a big show of taking off their snow-covered coats and boots in the entryway, but it’s the flowers and bags in their clutches that really have me on edge.

Alex kneels on the floor in front of Evie. “I know I was a jerk earlier, and that’s not fair. Especially when you’re always doing my laundry and cleaning up in here. So, I went out and grabbed you a little something just to say thanks.”

I can’t see the expression on her face since I’m behind her, but Evie takes the offered fancy heart-shaped box of chocolates and gives Alex a big hug. “Aww, you didn’t have to do that. I’m happy to help you guys get through the season however I can.”

He doesn’t make eye contact with me, but he doesn’t bother to hide the smug smile that slides across his face, either. 

The asshole.

Mike takes a seat beside Alex, his expression so dejected it almost makes me feel bad for him. Until he opens his mouth. “It was weird not to buy roses for anyone this year, but you’ve always stuck by my side no matter what. You’re the most loyal friend I have, and I don’t show you how much I appreciate you nearly enough. So, these are for you.”

Evie makes this tiny sound of delight in the back of her throat, almost imperceptible, but it assaults my ears nonetheless. She brings the bouquet to her face, brushing the blooms against her cheek as she inhales audibly. “They’re beautiful, and they smell so good! Thank you, big brother.”

Another hug doled out to someone who isn’t me, and I nearly snap.

What is this fresh hell?

I didn’t even get a kiss!

Just when I think I can’t take anymore, they pull out the big guns.

Alex reaches behind his back, then thrusts a black velvet box toward mygirlfriend.

Oh, no.

Hell, no.

Fuck, no.

“We both chipped in to get you something special. Something just for you, from us. So, you’ll always know we’ve got your back, and we’ll always be here for you whenever you need us.”

Evie takes the jewelry box and flips open the lid, letting out a loud gasp. “Oh my God, you guys! This is gorgeous! You shouldn’t have!”

Yeah. They reallyshouldn’t have.

With her dainty fingers, she picks up what seems like a real gold necklace. From my vantage point, I can’t tell for sure, but it looks like there’s something engraved on a heart-shaped pendant.

My suspicions are confirmed when Mike prompts, “Turn it over and read the back.”

“Stronger together,” Evie whispers, obvious tears choking her voice.

Well, isn’t that special. I think I taste vomit. I definitely roll my eyes, so these usurping bastards can see my reaction to their little “gifts.”

Oblivious to what’s really going on here, Evie wraps her arms around the both of them. “Thank you so much. I…I don’t know what else to say.”

Once she releases them, Mike reaches for her cheek. Probably to wipe away her tears. “You don’t have to say anything. We just wanted to make sure you know we love you.”

Alex nods, really playing up his heartfelt performance. “Anyone who wants to hurt you has to go through us first. You’re stuck with us now, sweetheart.”

I grit my teeth at his pet name.

Evie sniffles a few times, then rises to her feet. “I think I have a vase in my room. I’m gonna go put these gorgeous roses in some water. I’ll bring up some extra pillows and blankets, too, so we can all get comfy for movie day.”

I wait until she’s closed the door behind her to face my buddies.

They stare back at me with stone-sober expressions. A light saber battle on the forgotten television is the only sound in the room. How ironic. What I wouldn’t give for a weapon right now.

I hold my breath, waiting for them to fess up. The more time goes by with no words said, the more I sweat until I break first. “All right, fuckers. Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Like my anger was all that was necessary to break their games faces, they both collapse back onto the carpet, laughing their asses off.

“You think this is funny? You guys suck! This is my first Valentine’s Day with a girlfriend, and you two have to come in here and fuck it all up!”

“In all fairness,” Alex wheezes, “you and Evie were together last year, too. It’s not our fault you were gonna screw the pooch two years in a row.”

Mike sits up, a stupid grin plastered on his face. “We couldn’t let you crash and burn again, bro. When Alex told me you were making her a homemade Valentine you found on Pinterest, we decided to take pity on your sorry ass.”

“You told him about that?” I turn my rage onto enemy number one. I should’ve known he was to blame for all this. “You’re such a fucking asshole, Fossoway!”

Alex sits up, propping his elbows on his knees and shrugging, but he can’t erase the look of glee on his ugly mug. “Hey, don’t get mad at me. Evie’s happy, so you should be happy.”

“She was perfectly happy with what I made her!” 

Mike shakes his head. “She wouldn’t have told you the truth, no matter how bad it was. Let’s see what you made, Mr. Crafty Pants.”

“Yeah. I want to know what you finally decided on after pinning no less than a hundred different ideas.”

Their jabs combine with my case of blue balls until a potent formula of rage filters into my veins. With a roar, I leap off the bed, tackling them both to pound the arrogance out of them.

“I will kill you!” I shout as they return twice as many hits for my every one.

The floor of our room quickly turns into a full-blown wrestling match, complete with grunts and dirty moves like elbows to the face. 

At one point, Mike shoves his armpit into my face, trying to stink me into submission. “Evie deserves better than your stupid first-grade construction projects. Let this be a lesson to you.”

I twist and pull at his tree-trunk arms until I free myself, then quickly maneuver him into a half nelson. “Stay outta my relationship.”

A sharp pain in my lower back forces me to release my hold as Alex bear tackles me from behind. “Do your job, then we won’t have to do it for you.”

“Fuck you,” I grunt, trying to breathe against the carpet. “You don’t even want a girlfriend. Why do you care?”

A loud whistle nearly bursts my ear drums, but then all the pressure on my body evaporates as Alex and Mike scramble away.

“I leave you three alone for fifteen minutes and all hell breaks loose,” Evie admonishes.

“He started it!” The three of us chime in unison, all fingers pointing at each other.

“And I’m ending it,” she calmly replies before burying us in an avalanche of the promised extra pillows and blankets. “Now spread these out and calm yourselves. Cave man time is over.”

Like the good little soldiers they are, Alex and Mike follow orders without any grumbling. I climb back into my bed. Hell no am I going to snuggle with those two.

Is isn’t until Evie settles on the floor between Mike and Alex that I realize my mistake. 

They chat happily about the movie as Evie munches on her chocolate. After about a half hour of misery, Alex pulls Evie’s feet onto his lap and gives her a foot massage as her moans ripple through my chest. Her head rests on Mike’s shoulder. He plays with her hair, running his fingers through it until my own hands twitch with resentment.

When he reaches for my bag of pork rinds, I growl like a dog. “Hands off. Those are mine.”

That girl is mine.

The asshole just laughs, then chucks the bag over his shoulder at me.

The Phantom Menace ends and Alex stretches his arms over his head, yawning. “Let’s switch it up and watch a few episodes of Game of Thrones now. Then we’ll go back to Star Wars.”

The argument from earlier forgotten with all the attention they’re heaping on her, Evie acquiesces easily. “Sure. Go ahead and load it from my laptop.”

Alex aims a wide grin at me. He got exactly what he wanted in the first place.

I imagine punching his teeth out.

Evie stands up, lengthening her body and arching her back like a cat before rolling her head around a bit.

My dick twitches in my sweat pants, practically crying out for mercy. The bottle of massage oil in my desk hasn’t been forgotten, but those plans seem like a pipe dream now.

Evie graces us with a genuine smile, taking the time to make eye contact with each of us before she clasps her hands in front of her, and a shy expression overtakes her face. “This is the best Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had, guys. Thank you, honestly. I was always the little girl in school who never got a special gift while all the other girls did. For years, I dreamed of the fancy boxes of chocolates and the glittery cards and flowers everyone else but me seemed to get. It got to the point where I dreaded this holiday before I even turned thirteen. I actually begged my mom to let me play hooky the day of the Valentine’s Party in fifth grade, just so I wouldn’t have to go and feel like a loser again.” She shrugs as a faint blush steals across her cheeks. “So…thank you. I’ve never felt so special as I do today.”

Alex clears his throat and averts his gaze. 

I’m stunned silent. How could no one else have ever paid this gorgeous creature any attention? Just because I didn’t meet her until ninth grade and never knew what I was missing doesn’t mean other guys had the same shitty luck. No one came before me? Really? Not even a playground elementary fake relationship? That’s so hard to believe.

“Where are you going?” Mike asks as Evie heads for the door.

“Just gonna use the restroom real quick while the next show loads. Don’t start without me!”

As soon as she’s gone, Alex and I turn to Mike for confirmation. They’ve gone to school together since kindergarten. He would know if her story is true.

He nods at our silent questions. “Yeah. She had these really thick glasses that made her eyes look enormous, and not in a good way. Frizzy hair, so skinny her clothes seemed to hang off her. No one paid her any attention unless it was to make fun of her. A couple of the kids used to hide her glasses and laugh when she’d trip over things while she tried to find them. In third grade for Valentine’s Day, this kid, Zack, made a big deal of giving her a box of candy. She opened it up and mud and worms poured all over her fancy dress her mom had bought her. She ran out of the room, crying, while the rest of the class laughed. We weren’t really friends then, so even though I felt kinda bad, I didn’t help her, either.”

Alex hangs his head. “I used to tease the ugly girls like that at Our Lady, too. I was such a little asshole back in the day.”

Anger pumps through my chest at his casual use of the word “ugly.” He’s still an asshole in many ways.

Mike twists until he faces me. “Didn’t you leave a rose and chocolate on her locker freshman year? And pretty much every year after that for Valentine’s Day?”

I nod, wishing now more than ever I’d had the balls to follow through with more than just anonymous gifts. “Yeah. I did. I never asked her to the Sweetheart’s Dance, though. I should have.”

Mike stands from his cushiony spot on the floor. “Well, you’ve got her now. I guess you’ve done a better job than the rest of us all this time after all. Don’t screw it up.” He points a finger at me, then gestures to the door. “Come on, Alex. Let’s go play Call of Duty in my room. Give them some space.”

“Yeah.” That’s all Alex says as he follows Mike’s lead.

I’m still steaming about all the shit my girl’s been through when she returns to the room.

“Where’d everyone go?”

“They went up to Mike’s room.”

Evie approaches the bed with a sly smile on her face. “Ah, excellent. That didn’t take as long as I expected. They’re so easy to manipulate sometimes.”

My face must twist into an expression of confusion.

Evie doesn’t waste any time, pushing me to my back before climbing on top of me and pressing a kiss to my nose. “They thought they could buy me off with fancy gifts. While I appreciate their sentiments, today is for you and me.”

I brush her crazy hair off her forehead and tuck it behind her ears, taking the time to savor the softness of her cheek against my fingertips. “You knew what they were doing the whole time? I totally thought you bought into it.”

Her sweet breath fans across my face as she lowers her mouth to mine. “I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t enjoy it, but I overheard them making fun of you for your gift during your impromptu wrestling match.” 

“How long were you standing there before you intervened?”

“Long enough.” She raises her chin, gazing down at me with a sparkle of mischief in her blue eyes. “I might not have known it then, but you were the first person who ever gave me a gift for Valentine’s Day. Not because you had to like in a classroom exchange, but because you wanted to. You actually spoiled me quite a bit during high school, even from a safe distance.”

“I should have done more.” I pull her back against me, tasting the chocolate on her tongue until we break apart for necessary oxygen. “I’ll do better. I’ll spoil you rotten for the rest of my life.”

Evie shakes her head. “It’s not about things, Rob. It’s about time. It’s about love. You can’t put a price on that.”

“I love you with my whole heart.” No matter how cheesy it sounds, it’s the absolute truth. “I always have, and I always will.”

“I know.” She grins at me. “What those two boneheads don’t appreciate is your actions prove that far more than any gift. The big three play is nice, but being loved the way you love me is every girl’s dream.”

I roll us over so she’s pinned beneath me. “Then, let me love you, Dream Girl.”

Her gorgeous smile takes my breath away. “That was the plan all along, Superjock. Happy Valentine’s Day.”

That bottle of massage oil in my desk calls to me. “It’s not as happy as it could be, baby. We’re just getting started.”

She quirks an eyebrow up at me. “I’m game for anything.”

Happy Valentine’s Day, indeed.