What is love?
Is it the butterflies in your stomach? Is it the way that just one smile can make your insides melt? Is it how you spend all day thinking about that one person, hoping they’re thinking about you in the same way?
I thought I was in love. He made me feel all of those things.
David and I had been together for two years, which is practically an eternity in high school. He knew everything about me and he was the first person I’d turn to.
He thought I was staying with my grandparents over the weekend. He thought that I wasn’t going to be at home for Valentine’s Day. He had no idea that I’d already travelled home, a day early, to surprise him.
As I started to get closer to his house, I grabbed my mirror out of my bag to quickly check my reflection. My hair was still as bouncy and curly as it was when I left, thank God. I’d spent hours making sure each lock of it was perfect.
I put the mirror back into my bag and rearranged my dress as I approached his driveway. I felt the familiar butterflies in my stomach as the excitement to see David built.
I was already walking up his driveway when I realised that he was sitting in his parents’ parked car. I was just about to walk to the car door and knock on the window when I saw that there was someone in the passenger seat.
Her blonde hair was standing out in the dim evening light. She turned her head to face David and I realised I’d seen her before. She was in the year below me at school. I had no idea that she knew David.
I was naïve, I guess, to not realise the obvious. The scene that was playing out in front of me didn’t ring any alarm bells until he put his arm around her shoulders. That was when I realised what I was seeing.
He thought I was away from the weekend and he was out with another girl. There was no innocent explanation, no matter how hard I tried to come up with one.
I was frozen on the spot. However much I willed my feet to move, they refused to go anywhere, forcing me to stay and watch.
It felt like a huge weight was resting on my chest as I saw his other hand move a piece of her hair away from her face.
And then he kissed her.
I felt like I was being crushed, squeezed until there was no air left.
Two years of being together and it was gone, everything was falling apart, right in front of my eyes, as quick as a flash. All the time we’d spent with each other, every memory we shared was now being swallowed up by this one moment.
I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Did I go up to the car door, show him that I’d seen everything? Make a scene, scream at him until I was blue in the face? Or did I just turn around and throw away the Valentine’s gift bag in my hand?
My decision was made for me just moments later when the car door opened. Life seemed to slow down as I watched David step out of the car, knowing that he was going to spot me at any second.
It was as he was closing the car door that he finally turned his head and noticed me standing at the foot of the driveway.
For a second, he just froze. Then I watched as the realisation of what I’d witnessed hit him. His eyes widened and I could almost see the cogs turning in his mind, trying to come up with an excuse.
“Jess,” he breathed, not attempting to move towards me. “What are you doing here?”
I looked pitifully down at the gift bag in my hand. “I came to see you.”
The blonde girl looked surprised to see me. He’d obviously assured her that I was out of town. She’d known that David and I were together, she’d seen us walking hand in hand around the school. Everyone had.
I looked away from her and focused my attention back towards David.
“I came home early,” I said. I let out a sharp laugh. “I felt bad for being away this weekend, for leaving you alone on Valentine’s Day.”
I expected him to apologise, beg for forgiveness, but he didn’t. He just looked extremely embarrassed that he’d been caught.
I dropped the gift bag onto the floor and turned to walk away.
I won’t lie to you, part of me hoped he’d call me back, follow me and say he was sorry. Instead I walked out of his driveway in silence and made my way back home, trying to swallow down the lump that had formed in my throat.
I’d like to say that I went home telling myself that I could do better anyway, that David wasn’t worth it.
Instead I ran up the stairs, shut myself in my bedroom, crawled under my duvet and cried. Then after an hour, I resurfaced to go to the bathroom, caught sight of my sorry state in the mirror and I was off crying again. My eyes were all puffy and I looked like I hadn’t slept for a week, so I crawled back into bed to continue my self-pity.
I didn’t move until a half hour later when I heard a small knock on my door.
“Are you okay, kiddo?” my dad asked, sounding concerned.
I didn’t want to have to tell him what had just happened, but I figured I’d have to tell him sooner or later.
I dragged myself out of bed and opened the door.
Dad listened without saying a word.
Once I was done talking, I looked across the table at him and waited.
“Let me guess what you’re going to tell me,” I said. “That I can do better than him anyway? That I deserve more?”
He shook his head. “Saying those things, as true as they may be, won’t make it any better.” He was right. “Chocolate also won’t make it better, but it sure will help,” he added, getting up from his chair and heading into the kitchen.
He emerged a few moments later with a box of expensive looking chocolates.
“What are they for?” I asked suspiciously.
“It’s Valentine’s Day,” he said with a shrug. “The best time to get good deals on chocolate.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “You bought chocolates for yourself?”
“Might as well.”
He opened the box and put it down on the table. We sat there picking at the chocolates for a while before eventually finding a film to watch for the rest of the evening.
It was just after midnight when I felt my eyelids starting to drop. I said goodnight to dad and made my way towards the stairs.
“Jess,” dad called as I left the room. “It might feel like the end of the world right now, but it will get better. Try not to tear yourself up over it. You know I hate to see you upset.”
I gave him an assuring smile before walking up the stairs to my bedroom.
When I went to the bathroom ten minutes later, I heard his voice talking quietly downstairs. He was on the phone.
“I know, I’m sorry,” he said. “Maybe we can do it another day?”
It hit me then that he hadn’t randomly bought a box of chocolates because they were on sale. I was supposed to be out this evening, with David. Dad had obviously planned a date, and he’d bailed out on it for me.
I felt a fresh wave of tears coming on. When I got back to my room, I buried my face in my pillow and cried myself to sleep.
Someone was pulling at my duvet.
“Jess, wake up right now,” a voice said. “Don’t make me sit on you.”
I opened my puffy, sore eyes to find Maddie at the side of my bed, looking way to wide awake for a Sunday morning.
“Your dad told me what happened and if you think I’m going to let you wallow in this pit for the rest of your life, you can forget it,” she scoffed.
I sat up. “Maddie, it’s been, like, twelve hours.”
“Yes but I’m saving you in advance,” she said. “Before you start the wallowing.”
“How about you just let me sleep,” I muttered.
“That’s the positive attitude I just knew you’d have.”
She ripped my duvet away from the bed.
“Maddie!” I squealed “Give it back, I’m freezing!”
“Get up,” she ordered. “Right now, come on.”
“Why?” I asked, suddenly suspicious of her determination to get me out of bed.
“Lucas and I are taking you to the ice skating rink,” she said, opening my wardrobe. “We have an hour until his dad picks us up in the car, so hurry up.”
“But you’re busy today,” I reminded her.
Maddie had been talking all week about her Valentine’s plans with her boyfriend, Michael. They were going to visit the zoo before going to dinner together. And as for Lucas, he was supposed to be going to a gig with his brother.
“Yeah, well, you need us more,” she said casually.
“Oh, no way am I going to let you cancel—”
She held up a hand to stop me. “Don’t even think about arguing with me, Jessica. Our decision is final.” She threw some clothes at me. “Now, hurry up before Lucas bores your dad to death with his overly enthusiastic discussion of video games.”
Two hours later, we were strapping into our ice skates.
“I can’t believe you guys cancelled your plans for me,” I said to them. “You should have just left me in my bed of self-pity.”
“Wouldn’t you do the same for us?” Lucas asked.
“Not at all,” I laughed. “I’d leave you to fend for yourself whilst I had fun.”
He walked past me and patted my head jokingly. “Of course you would, Jess.”
I watched as Lucas helped Maddie onto the ice and then held a hand out for me. I felt a rush of gratitude towards the two of them. They’d always been there for me when I needed them most, no matter what the situation, and I would gladly do the same for them.
It took us less than ten minutes to end up in a heap on the floor. Lucas was the first to go down, dragging Maddie and I down with him. It took us a further fifteen minutes to get up again because we were laughing so hard. Sitting on the ice with them, watching show-offs whiz past us and shoot us glares for getting in the way, I almost forgot why we were here in the first place, I almost forgot all about how David and ran his hands through that girl’s hair.
I felt a million times better when our session on the ice ended a few hours later. Lucas’s dad took us to get some food in town before dropping us off at my house. I tried to convince the two of them to leave me but they weren’t going anywhere.
Instead, they came into my house and the three of us crawled out onto the little roof area outside my bedroom window with blankets in hand. It wasn’t the first time we’d sat out here, watching the stars come out.
I went down to the kitchen later on that evening to make us all a hot drink and found my dad sitting at the dining table, doing some paperwork.
He took his glasses off to pinch the bridge of his nose. He’d been working harder since mum left, determined to keep up the mortgage payments on his own. I’d already told him a thousand times that I didn’t care if we downsized to a smaller house. It didn’t matter where we’d live, I’d still follow dad rather than the woman who walked out on us.
I sat down on the chair opposite his.
“You were supposed to go on a date last night?” I asked him.
He looked up, confused. “How did you know?”
“I heard you talking on the phone,” I admitted. “You should have gone, dad, you really didn’t have to stay at home with me.”
“There’ll be other chances to go on dates, Jess,” he sighed. “Well, I hope so, anyway.”
I laughed. “Seriously though, dad, why didn’t you go?”
“Because the only woman in the world who truly needed me last night was you,” he told me, a soft smile on his face. “My little girl needed me and that was all that mattered.”
I felt the hot tears forming under my eyes, threatening to spill. I got up and walked over to dad, leaning in to give him a hug.
“Thanks, dad,” I whispered.
I heard footsteps coming down the stairs and saw Lucas standing in the doorway.
“You’re not going to be able to carry three mugs up the stairs by yourself,” he told me, heading towards the kettle.
We made the mugs of tea and carried them up to my room, clambering back outside whilst trying not to spill anything. I shuffled under the blanket, into my space between my two best friends.
We watched as the sky grew darker and the stars began to show.
What is love?
I don’t think it’s the butterflies in your stomach. I don’t think it’s the way just one smile can make you melt.
Love is friends who would do anything for you. Love is being willing to put the needs of others before your own. Love is a father willing to give up anything in order to not see his little girl cry.
Love isn’t just kisses and holding hands. Love isn’t just someone who is going to bring you roses one day a year. Love is someone who is going to help you get rid of them when they wilt.