Scrolling through social media, Nick found himself unable to ignore the red, white, and pink storm looming over the horizon.
Valentine’s, only four days away.
He tried to convince himself that it was all just a huge corporate sham, a boon for businesses everywhere. Roses, chocolates, heart-shaped balloons, and a whole bunch of meaningless gifts. That’s all there was to it, he reasoned, and Valentine’s was a scam.
This, of course, didn’t stop the hype. His parents, out on a date. Andrew and Jin, the absolute worst, planning an “extra special surprise” for each other. He knew both their plans, realised it would clash hilariously, and decided to let it be. Jin, too stubborn and eager to change his mind, and Andrew, too caught in his head and anxious to simply allow things to run their course. Things always worked out for the golden pair, though, so he wasn’t worried. Mary Ann was sending virtual cards to her friends and whatever she had going on with her secret lover. Oshin, his roommate, was doing something for his mom, something that involved carnations, biscuits, chocolate and dinner at that expensive restaurant.
Everyone was really, really into doing something for Valentine’s…
Especially his girlfriend, if the dozens of Instagram reels, conspicuous messages and videos he’d been receiving meant anything.
Nick wanted to smash his head into a wall. He’d truly hate to come off as ingenuine, to be just another lovesick fool riding the high of love in the air, but he knew she’d love a sweet, romantic gesture for Valentine’s. Hell, she’d probably do something for him, too. The girl of his dreams ate lunch with him (swoon) every Tuesday when their schedules lined up, and sometimes even when they didn’t. They made time.
“What are you doing?”
Nick started, straightening in his seat.
Said girlfriend was on call, and he was not meant to be scrolling social media during their study sessions.
“…research,” he said, unconvincing even to himself.
“Love, seriously, when is your paper due?”
Nova clicked her tongue. “Tonight?”
“Then focus, okay?” He listened to her tap on her keyboard. “I mean, I’m here, doing my own work. So you’ve gotta do your work too. For me?”
The shame from being caught slacking and his girlfriend’s sweet, ever-patient tone proved a deadly combination, and he felt a blush creep unwittingly on. “Sorry, Nova.”
“S’okay. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
They lapsed into silence, and Nick boxed aside all thoughts of Valentine’s. It’d be fine. He’d figure something out.
He made an effort to keep with Oshin’s pace today, over their usual competitions. They jogged along, peaceful, the air crisp and cold. It felt good to start his days like this, and it was better now with his roommate. Finally, he felt like he’d made some progress in their friendship. He didn’t know what sparked it, but he was glad. He’d always wanted to drag Oshin out of his shell to get to know him better, and now that he did, he hoped to keep the boy out of said shell.
“I had this crazy dream,” he started, unsure how to pitch his Valentine’s plan to him. Oshin wasn’t dating anyone. Was that a choice? “I was butt naked, right–”
“-and I was trying to sleep, but my entire extended family walked into my room,” He spread his arms wide. “And they kept talking to me! While I was trying to sleep!”
Oshin huffed out a winded laugh. “Don’t you already sleep nude?”
“Yeah, but this was different. And, Oshin, a little personal question.” Oshin hummed. “Are you, like, dating anyone? Do you want to?”
“Um,” Oshin said. Nick waited. “No and no? It’s not… romantically, it’s not something – I don’t think it’s for me? Exactly?” His voice squeaked on the last word.
“Yeah. I get it.” He didn’t 100% get it, actually, but he understood enough. “Is it… is it still okay for me to ask about love and stuff?”
“I mean, I guess. I’m not heartless or something.” Oshin winced at his own words. “Sorry. I know you didn’t mean it that way, it’s just… nevermind. Go on. Please.”
“I know you’ve got a big ol’ heart down there, Oshin, don’t worry about it.”
“So I’m thinking – Valentine’s. My girlfriend, Nova, eats that up. I eat up whatever she eats up. I–I’m thinking of baking, maybe, and I’ll pull up with these sick, probably pink, cookies. Or cupcakes.”
“That sounds great,” Oshin grinned at him. “Truly.”
“Right! Okay, because I don’t know how to bake. And we don’t have an oven.” Nick grinned wider. “But Andrew is letting us go over to Boss’ place to bake, under his supervision.”
“That’s…that’s a solution. It’s settled then, isn’t it?”
“Yup! But there’s a few more small details.” He went on, hoping it didn’t sound as foolish as he felt.
“Thanks for telling me,” Oshin said finally. “It’s really sweet. What you’re doing.”
“Sweet because it’s baked sweets? True!” They started to turn back to the apartment. “But yes, also sweet sweet, I hope. You’re good to bounce ideas off, you know.”
Oshin looked at him like he wanted to say something but held his tongue, ending in a simple mm-hm. He often looked like this, Nick had observed. Always held whatever was on his mind, well, in his head, but today Oshin looked a little less pensive than usual. He could work with that.
They jogged back home, chatting some more.
Valentine’s was here. Nick shot awake and went straight to his phone. He’d gone with Andrew yesterday to bake a batch of pink sugar cookies, although most of them were barely heart-shaped. It’d been great to catch up, though, and to eat at the famed sandwich store. They’d dressed up the place in paper hearts – Nick even spotted a pride flag on the counter, too, allegedly handmade by a certain teenager next door.
HAPPY VALENTINE’S SWEETHEART!!!
He tacked on a series of heart emojis and stickers for good measure.
I have absolutely nothing planned today. See you at lunch!
Nova didn’t usually wake up until nine on Tuesdays, so he had nothing to worry about, he hoped. He wanted to make sure it was as much of a surprise as possible. She loved surprises, and there was nothing more surprising than him making an effort to be ultra-romantic on what he had dismissed as a corporate sham before.
God, he’d changed.
He brushed his teeth and ran through his mental to-do list, hoping it wasn’t too much or too little. It was the gesture that counted, he reasoned, the gesture. He put on a clean button-down and pants, throwing on a blazer for good measure, even if the heat from the combo would kill him. God knew Nova always teased him for his fashion sense, so Oshin picked this out of his wardrobe for him yesterday. He sprayed on cologne and packed the whole damn bottle in his bag as an afterthought. Smelling good never went out of style, right?
Oshin stumbled out of his room as he was leaving, patting his shoulder. He gave him a grin and thumbs up.
He got this.
“I’m just… sweetheart, you’re sure this lives up to your expectations?”
Nova broke the heart in half, passing him a piece. A piece of my heart, for you. “Yup.”
He accepted the cookie, tossing the whole thing in his mouth.
The roses were a great idea. She’d squealed at the sight of him, gave him a big hug and a peck when he showed up with the bouquet, waiting for her outside the lecture hall. It sat atop their bags, now, and they ate on the stairs of the college building no one used. Or at least, barely anyone used it. Nova had read him a poem, which was honestly just hilarious. He loved the way she read it, though, and he teased her for her warbling, high voice as she read it as dramatically as possible. Thoroughly endeared, they’d sat down to sandwiches, Nova-made, and it was the best damn thing he’d ever eaten in his life.
Then came the cookies and the handmade keychain he’d made for her – a laminated image of them both on a chain. It was amateur at best, but she had proudly attached it onto her wallet. She, in turn, gave him a pen. It was silly to get so worked up, he thought, but he’d been nearly moved to tears. His favourite brand. His favourite type, thickness, and everything. A tiny gesture, maybe, but it touched him beyond words.
Now that they were snacking here, he was beginning to think – wait, hold on, don’t we already do this every week? Gift exchange aside, he wondered if things were overly lacklustre.
“I just mean – I thought you might like something way grander you know?”
Nova’s brows knitted together, and she glanced at him. “Why?”
“I dunno. Aren’t you super big on Valentine’s?”
Nova set down her sandwich, and Nick felt a pit form in his stomach. He balled up the sandwich paper. She hadn’t explicitly said she loved it, of course, but she just did, right? There were all the signs.
“I–is this because I sent you a bunch of Valentine’s stuff?”
“Ye…ees? Do you not like it?” Nova blushed a little now, pursing her lips.
“I don’t not like it! It’s just… I sent those because I was trying to figure out if you liked it.”
Nick opened his mouth and shut it, wisely, because it made sense. “Ah.”
“But this is great, really. Really.”
“Is it… is it fun? Do you feel loved – it’s not too much, right?” Nova had stuffed her mouth with a cookie, leaving him in suspense.
“I feel loved. And yes, it’s fun because you’re my boyfriend,” she said easily.
Nick squinted at her.
It was so casual. Nova’s focus was drawn to the cookie in her hand, but he felt the world shift on his axis. Like it was an easy statement, a fact of the world. This was a textbook line, of course, like a mother telling her child that their crayon scribbles were masterpieces, or a lover telling their partner that they were beautiful in their eyes, no matter what. Hell. Nova said it so sweetly, though, as she said everything to him. So matter-of-fact, he believed her immediately, as he did with nearly anything else she said.
“Really? Even if it’s over the top, or unromantic, or boring?”
“Yeah, well, I might complain,” Now she turned to him, bashful. “But being with you – being here with you, being anywhere with you, I would enjoy it.”
“You must like me a lot,” Nick said, licking his lips. “What if we were in Saw?”
“You know. Let’s play a game? The guy with, like, those red spirals on his cheeks?”
Nova leaned against him, kissing his shoulder, laughing. “Not something to worry about in the near future,”
“Right,” he said, a little giddy. “Nova?”
“Hm?” He shifted her off him, turning to face her properly, studying her face. Crumbs around her mouth, acne dotting her cheeks, dark hair curling and framing it all. He held her hands, gently, cookie forgotten. He heard her breath catch.
“I love you,” he said, seriously. “Well and truly. I am so lucky. I love you so much.” It was partially true, luck, for they had found each other by chance. Arguably, however, it was a choice, their choice, to love each other. In the moment, though, blissful and grateful, it felt fated to be – a blessing, and Nick swore it with every fibre of his being.
Nova laughed. Mockery, maybe, and had it been anyone else, he might have worried so. But it was her, and everything she ever said to him was sugar-laced, and sweet, sweet, sweet.
“I love you too,” she said, pink. “Love you lots.”
His emotions shot sky high, a giant smile breaking out on his face as he leaned in to kiss her.
“I am so lucky,” Nova said, giggling, between kisses. “I’m so lucky to have you, too.”
He kissed her again and again, unwilling to stop. Each time he pulled away, he saw her again – all smiles, ecstatic, and he couldn’t help but go in for another, on her lips, on her cheeks, all over her face, tasting buttery sugar cookie on his tongue.
“We are!” He felt like a mushy, feel-good mess, and he didn’t care. “Happy Valentine’s, Nova.”
“Happy Valentine’s, Nick.”
And it felt like no scams, no ulterior motive, no business marketing plan.
It felt like I love you, all over again.
Happy (early) Valentine’s!
Written by: Erika