33 Valentines

by Stephanie Monahan

All Sophie wants for her thirty-third year is a calendar without a February—and without a Valentine’s Day. The unlucky month haunts her with regrets, loss, and missteps she can never take back. But this year, she’s determined to make a change— and she’s going to start with telling her best friend, Sam, how she feels about him.

But February isn’t making it easy for her. Sam’s got a date with his dream girl, and Sophie finds herself in the hospital. Then there’s her father, who has a surprise that’s about to turn her world upside-down, and her little brother, who doesn’t seem to have any room for her in his life. While everyone else seems to be living life, Sophie is stuck in neutral.

Now, Sophie must come to terms with everything that’s holding her back in order to fight for what she wants before she loses the chance to turn her luck around.

 

Information:

Title: 33 Valentines
Author: Stephanie Monahan
Genre: Women’s Fiction / Contemporary Romance
Length: 264 pages
Release Date: January 2013
ISBN: 978-1-62266-960-8
Imprint: Entangled Edge
 


 
 

Praise for 33 Valentines:

“Smart, quirky, and full of heart!” — Stephanie Draven, award-winning author of IN BED WITH THE OPPOSITION

 

Excerpt:

© 2013 Stephanie Monahan

Chapter One

This year, February had twenty-nine days. Still the least of any month, but I’d prefer February had none at all. I’d like to create a calendar that flowed straight from January to March, a calendar with only eleven months. If I could do something to make that happen, and erase the last thirty-two Februaries of my life, I would. Because when I woke this morning, on the first day of my thirty-third February, I convinced myself that somehow, this one would be different—that I held the power to turn the tide of my own life. That I could make February into anything I wanted it to be, and I was going to start with something big. I was going to start with Valentine’s Day. But first, I was going to start with Sam, and finally give myself something to look forward to on the holiday I always dreaded.

What a joke.

“You okay?” the nurse asked.

I gave her a weak nod, because I couldn’t say anything through gritted teeth. My head throbbed at the temples and still hadn’t quite stopped spinning, so moving it wasn’t the best idea. The queasiness in my stomach returned and I waited to be sick. I hadn’t thrown up since college, the first time I’d ever gotten drunk. My one-time foray into the world of beer pong. The thought of it scared me almost as much as the fact that right now, my left arm was mangled, hanging loose like a cottony Muppet limb.

“The X-ray was the worst part,” the nurse said in a soothing voice. “The doctor will be right in to tell you if you’ll need surgery. If not, we’ll fix you up right here and you’ll be all set in no time.”

She was trying to make me feel better by talking in that calm voice, slightly high-pitched, like I was a dog or a little kid, but it wasn’t helping. Though I wasn’t sure if anything would at this point, not after I saw the way my arm was bent, at an angle that no human limb should ever be positioned. I’d never broken anything in my life. I’d never even had a sprain.

The nurse wore blue scrubs smattered with tiny flowers. Her face was obscured by gigantic John Lennon glasses, the same kind I wore to see the blackboard in middle school. She smiled at me.

“I know it’s scary, but I promise, you’ll be fine.” She patted the shoulder of my good arm and I bit back tears, resisting the crazy urge to tell her the whole stupid story of how I got here. I bet she had kids waiting for her at home.

The doctor appeared in the doorway. A handsome man with floppy brown hair and a square jaw, just like all the doctors on prime-time soap operas. He flashed me a smile, but unlike the sympathetic one offered by the nurse, his was reminiscent of performance art. A stage smile. I didn’t like him. I wasn’t judging him only on his theatrical entrance and good looks; I was also judging him by the fact that he was probably not much older than me.

“I’ve got good news, and I’ve got bad news,” he boomed without introducing himself. “Which would you like first?”

I glanced at the nurse, who barely suppressed an eye roll. She must have to work with him often. “Um…the bad news?”

The doctor nodded, and this time his smile patronized me, as if I was a slow student who’d finally come up with the right answer. “The bad news is the x-ray shows I will have to reset the bones.” It was like he was reading from a script, deep-voiced and appropriately concerned. “You must have fallen at just the right angle, because the radius snapped at—”

“Doctor,” the nurse interrupted. They looked at each other, and then at me. My vision started to blur and I couldn’t make out their expressions, but the doctor stopped talking and I was sure it was because I was about to pass out.

“Right,” said the doctor. He smiled again, reached into his white coat pocket, and set a pair of thick-rimmed black glasses on his nose. I wondered if he was aware of the complete impossibility of his existence outside of television. “Let’s get started.”

Get started? The nurse put her hand on my shoulder again and told me to relax. In the emergency room, being told to relax was generally not a good thing. I lifted my eyes to hers and she tightened her grip on my shoulder.

“Don’t look at the needle,” she said. Oh God, the needle. This couldn’t really be happening to me. I shut my eyes and told myself this wouldn’t have happened in January. Or March. Or any other month. It wouldn’t have happened.

Just a few hours ago I’d been so hopeful. I wasn’t sure exactly what time it was—I got out of work at five, so it must have been at least seven now, maybe later—but just a few hours ago I’d envisioned where I’d be right now. At dinner with Sam. Finally telling him everything. I’d even planned it this way, waited until February first to prove to myself that this entire month wasn’t cursed.

And here I was in the ER.

In retrospect, it couldn’t have played out any differently.

“She was on her phone at the time of the call, huh?” the doctor said to the nurse, like I wasn’t even in the room.

“That’s what they said.”

He glanced at me with a closed-mouth, “kids these days” look on his face. I’m not a kid, I wanted to say. I’m a thirty-three-year-old woman. Jerkface.

Something reeked of glue. It sent my stomach spinning. “We’re just finishing up the cast,” said the nurse.

I wasn’t sure if I fell asleep or just zoned out, but the next thing I knew the doctor was gone and the nurse was cleaning up. Her hand returned to my shoulder. “Just rest for a little while. You’ll be discharged soon.”

“Thanks,” I said as she turned to go. “Wait. My phone. Did she survive?”

The nurse opened a cabinet, revealing my camel brown messenger bag. “It’s in there. You’ll get it when you leave.” She frowned. “The doctor’s right, you know. Those things cause all types of injuries. My niece? She’s only twenty-four years old. Already has carpal tunnel. You should really limit your usage.”

I nodded and tried to look serious, as if I was considering it. Once she was gone I swung my legs over the side of the bed. As soon as I tried to make myself vertical, though, the room started to spin. My arm, dead against my left side, began to throb more insistently. I had no choice but to crawl back into the bed. I stared at my cast, which extended from my wrist all the way to my shoulder, the whole thing ensconced in a sling. My left hand—my dominant hand, I realized in another rush of panic—was completely immobilized. Somehow, I felt like it had betrayed me.

That asshole.

The next time I opened my eyes, there was more commotion outside my room. A doctor in full regalia rushed down the corridor. An elderly man pushed an IV pole with all the energy of a dying snail. A nurse walked between a couple, both of them with their heads bent toward her, listening.

Then I saw him. Sam. He walked right past my room. You couldn’t miss his head of messy brown curls or the stupid plaid blazer with mismatched elbow pads, just one of a collection of blazers he insisted on wearing in class.

I called out his name. He stopped, looking around as if he’d heard a voice from space. I called his name again. This time he turned and saw me. His face changed from confused to concerned in the second it took him to hurry into my room and settle at the edge of the bed.

“What the hell happened?” His pale cheeks were flushed and he was breathing heavy.

I narrowed my eyes. “Have you been running?”

“Four flights,” he said, peeling off his blazer and draping it over the end of the bed. “Elevator’s broken, and I thought you were on the brink of death. Is there any water around here?”

“Sorry.” I smiled. “I could call the nurse.”

“I’ll survive, I suppose. And now I’m all sweaty.” He moved a chair from the other end of the room to the side of my bed and sat. “You’ve already made me break my resolution not to work out.”

I laughed, and he smiled, and as soon as our eyes met all I could think about was why I fell.

I stopped laughing and looked away. In the hallway behind Sam, somebody was being wheeled on a gurney. In or out, I couldn’t tell. “Thanks for coming,” I said softly.

Sam stretched his long legs and scanned the room. Eventually his gaze landed back on me. “Of course,” he said. “Though it puts a lot of pressure on me now, knowing I’m the one you call when you” —he eyed my cast— “break your arm, apparently.”

I rolled my eyes, but the rest of me grew hot. “It had to be someone local. My dad’s not local and Naomi’s always losing her phone.”

“I see,” Sam said.

“Don’t be a jerk. My arm really hurts.” It didn’t, really, after all the meds they dumped into me, but his face softened and when it did, something inside me melted too.

“So what happened?” he asked.

The e-mail he sent me flashed in my mind and I pushed it away. I fumbled with my words. “I don’t really remember, exactly. I fell.”

“I’m sure those monster heels had nothing to do with it.”

“I’m not wearing my monster heels.”

He looked down at my boots to confirm. “Baby monster.”

It wasn’t fair. If I had to go down, I might as well have done it rocking my five-inchers.

“I’d just gotten off the T and was waiting to cross the street. Some kid on a skateboard plowed right into me and I fell.”

“Those little bastards are out there all the time,” Sam said. “I say we start a petition.”

“Oh, and there was this old woman too, waiting at the light. I think I might’ve knocked her over.”

This sent him into laughter. “Now you and your baby monster heels are taking out the elderly.”

“Okay, she wasn’t that old. Maybe sixty. Ish.”

“A senior citizen,” Sam declared.

I shot him a look. “A young sixty. Possibly late fifties.”

You shouldn’t make fun of me, I wanted to tell him, considering this is all your fault.

Indirectly, at least. Or directly. Either way, I just wanted to be mad at him.

Just like everyone else on the T, I passed the ride home messing around on my phone. I got his email just after I reached my stop and was walking up the stairs to the street. I thought it was going to be about our plans for tonight. I’d sent him a message earlier, a casual invitation to dinner. It wouldn’t be a big deal to him, since we ate together all the time, but I knew my invitation wasn’t casual at all.

His e-mail was not about our plans. Didn’t even make any mention of receiving my message. I read it over and over, not believing it. I was on my fourth go around when I tripped over an uneven patch of cement and crashed into an old lady on the sidewalk. She was old—near eighty, I guessed—and frail. I knocked her over, sending her hat and her linen tote bag flying. I was hardly concerned with her, though, because I’d landed on my arm and heard it crack. Stabbing, burning pain shot up from my wrist, through my elbow and to my shoulder. I couldn’t look.

A man I recognized as a passenger on my train knelt by me. “You’re all right,” he’d said. But then he’d looked at my arm and his face turned green. “I—uh—I’ll call someone.”

“I’m not all right then?” I’d asked in a small voice.

A group had converged around the poor old lady I’d almost killed. They lifted her to her feet. A teenage boy collected her bag and her hat and handed them to her with more care than I put into just about anything. My eyes started to tear up. See, there were good people in the world. It hadn’t all gone to shit, at least not yet, not everything. The woman hobbled over to me and I tried to smile through the searing pain.

“I’m so sorry,” I’d started to say.

She’d interrupted me. “You stupid whore!”

Up close she not only looked old, but she looked nuts. For a minute I thought she might kick me.

But the teenager put his arm around her. “Where are you going, ma’am?”

“Oh, thank you honey,” she’d said. She stopped to glare at me once more before being led away.

I turned to the man who’d stopped to help me. “I can’t believe—”

The man was gone. The entire street was empty. My arm felt like it’d been cut in two. Which it basically had, I guess. Eventually the EMTs showed up and carted me into the back of the ambulance. They didn’t even turn the sirens on.

Exactly none of this story would I ever tell Sam.

He stopped teasing me when we heard the sobbing. A middle-aged woman with a cell phone pressed to her ear collapsed against the wall directly across from my room. A minute later another woman found her and lifted her up. They walked away together, both crying.

“Get me out of here,” I said.

 “Holy shit, no wonder you fell.” Sam had retrieved my messenger bag from the cabinet and wasn’t giving it back to me. “How do you even stay upright with this thing?”

“It holds all of my essentials.” Like my phone. And a lint roller, an umbrella, a couple magazines, a water bottle, an extra pair of shoes…

“Since when did the entire contents of your apartment become essentials?”

“I didn’t hear you complaining last week when I smuggled your contraband Milk Duds into the movies.”

“True.”

I held out my right hand. This was weird. I’d always taken so much nonsensical pride in being a lefty. “Now hand it over.”

“You can’t carry this. You’re much too feeble.”

“Sam—”

“I got it. Now come on.”

I was leaving this godforsaken place with a bottle of painkillers, a medical note to excuse me from work for the next week, and a follow-up appointment with an orthopedic surgeon in seven days. The break was bad, the doctor had explained to me and Sam. I could be in the cast for weeks.

“Well, at least it wasn’t her head,” Sam had said brightly, tousling my hair. The doctor didn’t smile. I got the impression he didn’t appreciate being upstaged. He wordlessly handed me the prescription and we were on our way. I didn’t get a chance to say good-bye to the nurse.

We stepped on to the now-working elevator, a teenager with a surgical mask over his mouth already inside. “I really don’t feel like getting back on the train,” I whined.

“I figured as much. So, my dear, you are in luck.” Sam pulled keys out of his pocket. For him it was as impressive as a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. We’d both lived in the city for years. Neither of us owned a car.

I grabbed them from him. “Where’d you get these?”

“A special place. A very special place.” When I groaned, he sighed. “It’s a Zipcar.”

“Oh. Aren’t those expensive?”

He shrugged.

“I’ll pay you back.”

“Soph, you’ve already blessed me with the image of you and your baby monster heels attacking a helpless handicapped woman. That’s payment enough.”

The teenager stared at us. Maybe, if I were a better person, I’d have looked past the part where she swore at me and feel sorry for her instead. But I wasn’t.

“She wasn’t handicapped,” I told the boy. He folded his arms and inched away from us, into the corner of the elevator.

Outside the wind howled like a newborn baby. It sounded angry. I wondered if February hated itself as much as I hated it. Sam stepped in front of me and made a show out of opening the Zipcar door. “Ladies first.”

“Wait a sec,” I said as he started the engine. “Do you even have a license?”

He smiled, showing all his teeth. Back in high school, while the rest of us turned sixteen and salivated at the thought of a license, Sam had refused to get a permit. He hated suburbia and insisted that as soon as we graduated, he’d be out of there and back to the city. He had no need to learn to drive.

“Oh God,” I said. “Please. I’ve already almost died once today.”

“Calm down.” He patted my knee, and I jerked away, a bodily response I couldn’t control. He’s always touched me—elbowing my side or pulling on a strand of my hair or wiping crumbs from my cheek. He’d been touching me since we were thirteen years old. Only recently had my body started reacting so strangely. Warming, wanting him to touch me again. Craving it. Dreaming about it. All of it needed to stop. Now.

He looked at me, but only for a second. “Of course I have my license. They won’t let you get one of these if you don’t. I got it when I was thinking about moving.”

Oh yes. The Year of Katie. We both remembered The Year of Katie. I didn’t say anything else.

“Of course,” Sam continued, putting the car into reverse, “I haven’t actually driven since my driver’s test, but I have an excellent memory.”

He flew out of the space, then slammed the brakes to avoid hitting a car passing behind us. As we exited the parking garage, I hung onto the side of my door with all the strength in my right hand. If I were the kind of person who prayed, I’d have been doing so now.

After a full stop, Sam accelerated into a left turn, cutting off an SUV. We were greeted with the blast of a horn and a couple of muffled expletives. Sam adjusted his rearview mirror and waved to the pissed off driver behind us, a white-haired man in a Sox hat. He gave us the finger.

Sam turned to me and smiled. “See, now we’re both responsible for ruining an old person’s day.”

Somehow, we arrived safely at my apartment. I felt like kissing the paint-chipped front door. It was almost midnight, but Sam walked in with me anyway. “You sure you don’t want anything to eat?” He opened my refrigerator, as if he expected to find something there.

“I’m sure.” I couldn’t think about food, not with the throbbing ache in my arm. I could take another pain pill, but I needed to change first. I grabbed the comfiest pajamas I owned and headed toward the bathroom.

At my sink, Sam downed a glass of water. “You’ll probably need help with that,” he said.

I couldn’t tell if he was being serious or teasing. Either way it made me a little shaky. I hid it with a laugh. “Don’t be a perv. I’ll be fine. I’m an intelligent, independent, capable woman.”

“Whatever you say.” He filled the glass again and drank.

Inside the bathroom, I plopped down on the closed toilet seat. My head was pounding from exhaustion and the medication, but I had to get this done. I stared down at my boots. Knee-high and zippered, they should at least be easy to remove. The right foot slid off without much effort. By the time I’d gotten the left one off, though, my arm was burning. I considered my jeans, and how snugly they fit around the thighs. This morning it’d taken a little oomph to get them on. I undid the button fairly easily, but when I attempted to remove my jeans, they moved no further than the tops of my thighs. No matter what angle I tried, or how much I wiggled, they weren’t going anywhere.

“Come on,” I whispered, on the verge of tears.

“What’s that?” Sam bellowed. I imagined him standing outside the door with a glass to his ear.

“Nothing!”

I stared at myself in the mirror. The make-up I’d applied over twelve hours ago was cracked and faded. Dark circles under my eyes made me look like a junkie. My hair, which I was pretty sure had been pulled back at the start of the day, could’ve doubled as a haystack.

One more attempt at my jeans and I collapsed back onto the toilet seat. I closed my eyes. In a voice normally reserved for four-year-old girls, I called his name.

“Everything okay?”

“No.”

The bathroom door opened a crack until I could see one of Sam’s eyes. Green or blue or gray, it depended on the day. “What’s up?”

I closed my eyes again so I didn’t have to see the inevitable smirk on his face. “I need help.”

The door creaked open and Sam stepped inside my bathroom. I couldn’t believe he was seeing me like this. I opened one eye. He wasn’t smirking. He was strangely serious.

“All right. Stand up.”

I did as I was told. He stood in front of me, assessing the situation.

“Hey, you’ve already got your boots off,” he said. “That’s a start.”

“I did the button too. I know I could totally do the jeans. I’m just tired…”

“It’ll be easier in the morning,” he agreed.

I nodded, keeping my head down. I was sure my face was on fire. And—oh God—there was my underwear, the generic kind that came rolled up in a three-pack, pale blue with dark blue moons. No, this wasn’t happening.

“Okay,” he said in his professional voice. “This will be quick and painless, I promise.”

I steadied myself with my good hand gripping the side of the sink. Sam’s hands were warm as they grazed the side of my thighs. “Lift your right foot.” I felt the fabric fall away. “And now the left.”

He folded my jeans nicely and set them on a shelf with my towels, then picked up my black yoga pants.

“I can do them,” I said quickly.

“Putting them on will be harder than taking them off,” he said. As if he was the authority.

I lifted my feet for him again, one at a time, and he slid my pants up. “There. See? Wasn’t so bad.”

I could feel him looking at me, so I forced myself to look up. His expression was still straight-lipped, but I could see in his eyes just how much he was enjoying this.

“Now, let’s get these off,” Sam murmured. He gathered my hair carefully with one hand, and pulled my tangle of necklaces up over my head with the other. Being so close I could see the paint under his fingernails. “By the way,” he said, still so soft, “Cher called. She wants her jewelry back.” He set the necklaces on top of my jeans, a mess of blue and yellow beads and feathers.

“Yeah, well, someone really not funny called. He wants his jokes back.”

Sam laughed. “It’s so sad when you can’t come up with a decent comeback.” Then his expression turned serious. “Okay. Shirt time.”

They had to cut the sleeve off my blouse to get the cast on. And of course I’d worn my favorite top today, an apricot silk that matched my hair. The only blouse I’d ever found in that exact shade.

“Wow,” Sam said. “Lots of buttons.”

I watched Sam’s face as he concentrated on undoing them—the same focus he had when he was painting. I wouldn’t be surprised if he could feel the skin over my heart thumping. It was taking him way too long.

“Are you being serious right now?” I asked.

“Hey, they’re tricky.” He bit his lower lip. “Girl buttons are smaller than boy buttons.”

“I’m not saying anything to that.”

“Stop talking. You’re making me lose my concentration.”

“Sam,” I groaned. “Come on, please, I just want to go to sleep.”

He slipped off my shirt.

“I—you can leave the tank top on,” I said. Thank God I was wearing a tank top.

“Of course, madam.”

Sam helped me into one of my father’s oversized button-downs. I’d stolen at least three of them when I moved out. He spun me slightly to get the sleeve over my cast. A head rush knocked me off balance. He grasped my shoulders.

“You okay?”

“Yeah. Just need bed.”

I didn’t fight him when he took my hand and led me out of the bathroom. Falling into bed felt like falling on clouds. He situated my pillows and blankets, handed me a glass of water and a pill, and watched as I drank. “Need anything else?”

“I think I’m good for now.” I gave him the glass.

“You’ve been a very good girl today.” He pulled the quilted comforter up to my neck, then folded it down. “If I had a lollipop, I’d give you one.”

“It’s the thought that counts.” I could barely form syllables into words. My eyelids felt weighted down and whatever Sam said next sounded muffled, as if he was speaking through a bad telephone connection. I felt him get closer, the brush of his fingers against my cheek. I could smell his cologne. Old Spice or some other discount drugstore selection. Something my father would buy. Totally unappealing. Normally Sam smelled faintly of a college lecture hall, old books, and popcorn. That was during the week. On the weekends, he smelled like paint, just like his apartment, the floor lined with canvas. His fingertips caked with yellows and blues and greens. It was that image of his fingers that fluttered behind my eyelids as I fell asleep.

In the morning, I woke with the sun. Temporarily forgetting who I was, where I was, or what month it was, I tried to roll over.

I cried out in pain.

A pile of what looked to be blankets and clothes, heaped on the papasan chair under the window in the far corner of my room, jumped up. I nearly screamed again.

“It’s just me,” Sam said.

His hair looked even worse than mine did last night. We were both proud owners of what my hairdresser euphemistically called “temperamental” hair. But while I at least attempted to control mine with product, Sam let his frizz flag fly. So mornings were an especially not great look for him. No, not great at all. As long as I kept telling myself this I was sure the urge to pull him into bed with me would go away. Any second now.

“Sorry.” I put my hand to my heart. “I didn’t know you were still here.”

Sam huddled himself back up under blankets in the chair. The heat in my apartment was known for not working. “I couldn’t very well leave you overnight,” he said. “What if you had to get up to pee?”

I had to go now—badly—but I couldn’t fathom getting out of bed and tackling that maneuver quite yet. Or asking for Sam’s help again. My arm felt like it was on fire.

“I have to call the floral shop.”

“I sent Naomi a text after you passed out last night.” He yawned. “You’re all set.”

“Oh. Thanks. Don’t you have class this morning?”

“Eh.” He shrugged beneath the blankets. “The perks of being the professor.”

“Oh.”

“How’d you sleep?”

“Good,” I said. “You?”

“Good.”

I wasn’t sure why he’d slept on the papasan chair. We’d shared sleeping quarters before, usually after a movie or late night drinks. No biggie.

“Good,” Sam continued, “after you stopped talking in your sleep.”

The low morning light seeping through the blinds made it hard to see, but I thought he might be smiling. Oh God. Had I had another one of my dreams? I had no recollection of anything except a solid night of pure black sleep, but I knew I fell into that sleep thinking about him. As Sam rose from the chair and came toward me, I rummaged through a list of possible excuses. I was hallucinating from the morphine. I’d secretly been hooking up with another guy with his name.

Sam got closer, my old college blanket wrapped over his shoulders like a cape. He sat down on my bed and looked into my eyes.

“All you kept talking about was never playing the piano again.”

I’d like to have let out a sigh of relief, but his words offered no safe place. My eyes flitted around the room, landing on the window, the ceiling, anywhere but on his face. “I was hallucinating from the morphine,” I said.

“You know, what you say when you’re dreaming is what you want to say when you’re awake but can’t.”

I forced a laugh. “I’m pretty sure you’re thinking about what you say when you’re drinking, not dreaming.”

Sam wouldn’t stop looking at me, even when I stared at my cast. It still smelled like glue.

“I have to pee,” I told him.

He moved out of the way to let me pass and didn’t make a comment about assisting me. I locked myself in the bathroom for a good ten minutes, five of them just getting my yoga pants down, the rest formulating my next move. Pretending this conversation never happened seemed like the best idea.

I took a deep breath and walked into the kitchen. Sam immediately handed me two pieces of buttered toast on a paper plate. “Can’t take your meds without some food.”

I guessed he’d come to the same conclusion. We both knew the lines not to cross with each other. For him, the Year of Katie. For me, the Illustrious Music Career that Never Was. So he didn’t mention the piano again.

Or the fact that he saw me in my blue cotton underwear last night.

I ate the toast even though I wasn’t hungry. He forced me to drink an entire glass of water with my pill. Seriously, he watched me until the glass was empty. “Says so on the instructions,” he said. “You don’t want to get dehydrated, do you?”

I shrugged, not caring about anything except the meds settling in and washing away the pain in my arm.

Sam set up my pillows and blankets in the living room so I could watch TV. I pointed the remote at the screen, but nothing happened. I kept pointing and clicking, but still nothing. I slapped the remote on my knee a few times, but I couldn’t put much force behind it. It didn’t work.

“Here.” Sam grabbed it from me. He took the batteries out, rolled them around in his hands—his two working hands, the bastard—replaced them, and clicked. The TV came to life. He handed it back to me. “Do you have extra batteries? I’ll replace them before I go.”

“Do you think I have extra batteries?”

“Right,” he said.

I wasn’t the “extra batteries” kind of girl. I was always running out of toilet paper. I never had a working pen. All the milk in my fridge always went bad.

“I can bring the invalid her extra batteries tomorrow,” Sam said.

He got up and stretched, like a cat. I’d never seen another human being stretch as much as he did. I guess he had to because he was so tall. The cuffs of his shirts never met his wrists. He once wore watches on both wrists to fill the empty space until I told him how completely stupid it looked. Honestly, he might have been the one taking care of me now, but without me, I didn’t know what he’d do.

At least that’s what I liked to tell myself.

“So,” I said casually, as if I didn’t care either way, “are you coming back later?”

“Sorry.” He was still stretching. The tips of his fingers brushed the ceiling. He had perfect fingernails, rounded naturally without a file, never any hangnails. “I’ve got a faculty meeting and late office hours.”

He came back around to face me. He bent down and for a quick second my heart threatened to stop beating. His lips touched my forehead. “Don’t worry, though,” he said, straightening. He pulled on his jacket and covered his head with a skullcap. “There’ll be a surprise coming for you later.”

Sam knew that surprises and I did not get along. At all. “What? Sam, what are you talking about?”

He started to laugh. His bubbling, ridiculous, annoyingly infectious, absolutely adorable laugh. “You’ll see.”

“Sam, I’m serious!”

“So am I.”

“Sam. My arm hurts. Please.”

He stopped shuffling the Zipcar keys and, for a second, I thought I had him. But he knew me too well and just laughed again. “Call me if you need help in the shower tonight. I could probably cut office hours short for that.”

He shut the door behind him before I could say anything else.

As soon as he left, I grabbed my phone from where he’d set it on the end table, along with a cup of tea and two more pieces of toast. There was a new message from Naomi in my inbox, telling me not to worry about missing work and that she’d call me later. I scrolled through some other unopened messages, mostly spam from stores I couldn’t afford, offering me coupons for things I didn’t need. Maybe I’d imagined the whole thing. Maybe, in the shock of broken bones and needles and the ER, I created a story to keep my mind occupied.

Then I found it. The email I’d received yesterday, sitting there all innocently, as if it hadn’t done anything to me at all.

TO: Sophie Parker

FROM: Samuel McDonald

RE: VD

Catchy subject line, huh? Get it? Haha. Anyway, just wanted to tell you I won’t be able to make our horror movie marathon next week. Wanna know why? Yup, I’ve got a date. Just met her. Possible dream girl potential going on here. I’ll tell you everything tonight. Hope you’re having a great day!

Nope, the email wasn’t a figment of my traumatized imagination. It was fully and truly real. Sam had a date for a holiday he professed to hate. He had a date with a potential dream girl. He was going to fall in love with her. Maybe he already had.

My stomach turned, and I took a sip of tea. I’d been so stupid yesterday. Thinking that somehow, this year I’d get February off to a good start. I pitied the person I was twenty-four hours ago, so hopeful and naïve.

“Pathetic,” I said.

And now I was talking to myself.

I turned the TV up loud and watched a stupid morning show full of useless stories, like an eighth grader who could list all of the presidents in reverse order and the next miracle cure for weight loss. I could be on this show. How Not to Exit the T. See, I could be teaching the American public Very Important Lessons. I could be doing something, at least.

Instead, I sat there and thought about Sam. And then I realized I should thank this potential dream girl, whoever she was. She stopped me from making a huge mistake. Contrary to what eighties movies would have us believe, telling your best friend you love him was something you just shouldn’t do. As far as things that seemed like a good idea at the time, it was right up there with my freshman-year belly ring. So, really, dream girl did me a favor.

Except this whole cast thing. I could have done without that.

I was sipping tea and biting the crusts off my toast and getting sucked into a story on killer alligators and how they might be in your toilet right now when there was a knock at the door. Instantly, I forgot everything I’d just battered myself into believing. I couldn’t help the huge smile that took over my face as I opened the front door. But just as quickly, it faded away.

Right when I thought February couldn’t get any worse, my father showed up at my door.