Life in the Callender household didn’t miraculously change overnight, but, after the nearly disastrous kitchen fire, a marked improvement took place. February began to take great pains to pay more attention to both March and Valentine; her writing suffered as a result, but her family benefitted and grew closer as a whole. Practically overnight, March became a lovely teenager while Valentine grew into a precocious toddler. March began reveling in her role as a big sister and was often found at home playing or cuddling with Valentine.
In spite of all the extra attention, Valentine was a bit of an unusual toddler. To February’s horror, Martin Luther sent her youngest daughter a doll similar to the one he’d had growing up. Valentine spent hours with her toy, though she seemed much more inclined to abusing the poor stuffed thing than to singing to or hugging it, as Martin Luther had seemed to spend most of his childhood doing.
Nevertheless, in spite of her youth, Valentine was already portraying some of the same kinds of tendencies that Martin Luther had always had. March couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but something about the way Valentine would look at things, or the odd manner of things she said, concerned her.
“March, stop worrying!” February chastised. “She’s only a baby still; of course she’s going to say odd things. You and I both know there aren’t REALLY other beings out there controlling and observing our every move. That’s just her imagination. And who cares if she does turn out a little like Uncle Martin? He’s just a little eccentric…that doesn’t make him bad.”
Deep down, March knew her mother was right and she shouldn’t worry so much…still, she resolved to keep a sharper eye on Valentine, just in case.
Aside from Valentine’s occasionally peculiar behavior, things had never been better in the Callender household. March’s grades were excellent, Valentine grew like a weed, and, true to his word, Martin Luther stopped by often to spend time with his nieces, leaving February and Hector time to feel connected. Life seemed good, and the family was full of love.
On the other hand, love was all March could seem to think about. Now that she was a teenager, and felt more secure at home, she turned her attention to the all important goal of coupling up. All around her, friends had managed this very thing, while the reality of becoming half of a romantic duo remained elusive to March. It wasn’t that she lacked for admirers; with her coal black hair and deep blue eyes, she was a natural object of infatuation for many of her peers. However, few possessed the nerve to actually approach her. Although she was artistic and clever, March had never outgrown her childhood tendencies to throw emotional outbursts at the drop of a hat, giving her the reputation of being somewhat high maintenance. The few students that viewed her as an appealing challenge always gave up within a short time; March wanted love, but she was particular about it and had yet to encounter anyone that drew forth that special spark she was searching for.
Even friendships suffered from March’s often extraordinary moodiness; the only constant mainstay in her life was Cal, who had been her best friend since his family had emigrated from Egypt in fifth grade. Cal’s apparent immunity from the bleaker aspects of March’s personality was not a fact that went unnoticed by Hector, who harbored some concerns for the state of his eldest daughter’s romantic prospects.
“You know, that Cal that’s been coming around here for a while now…he’s a nice young man.”
“I know he is, Dad,” March answered wearily, already familiar with Hector’s plane of thought. “You say that about all the boys I bring home.”
“Well, all the boys you bring home are nice young men. I suppose I just don’t understand why they never seem to come around for long.”
“Because, Daddy…they aren’t right. They aren’t what I’m looking for.”
“Well, dear, do you even know what you’re looking for? How can you possibly know what you want at this age?”
“I don’t,” March admitted. “But I know what I don’t want, and so far it’s all the boys in our high school….including Cal, EXCEPT as a friend!” Hector, recognizing the unmistakable edge that had developed in his daughter’s voice, backed off hastily.
“Ok…ok…I’ll let it go. I just worry about you sometimes, you know? I don’t want you to spend your whole life looking for something that may have been right in front of you all along.”
“Oh?” February, who had entered at the tail end of the conversation, now stood in the doorway, glowering at Hector. “Funny YOU, of all people, should mention that.” Before a startled Hector could respond, February hurled his cell phone in his face, missing by mere inches.
“Your girlfriend just called. You might want to call her back,” she snarled before turning around and leaving the house, slamming the door angrily behind her.
February stood in the yard, seething. She could still hear the lightly accented voice of that girl…what had she said her name was? Somer?….breathlessly requesting Hector after February’d answered his phone. “I am back in town,” Somer had trilled, “from France, and I would, how you say, like very much to take up where we left off.” February had barely been able to respond; after an abrupt, “He’s busy,” she had hung up the phone and stood staring at it as her pulse raced and sweat erupted from her suddenly trembling palms. In the living room, she could just make out Hector talking to March about her friend, Cal. He was forever trying to get the girl to stick with one boy or another, the lying, conniving, sneaking, hypocritical — February had stomped into the other room, still shaking, just in time to hear Hector’s last comment.
Behind her, February heard the door click open as Hector entered the yard to talk to her; before he could utter a word, she whirled to confront him.
“How could you?? How could you do this to me…to the girls?? Don’t we mean anything to you, hasn’t any of this meant anything at all?” she shrieked, only dimly aware that March had accompanied her father and stood behind him, her eyes huge and her face pale.
“Of course…the girls, you, it’s been everything to me — ” Hector began in a soothing voice, but February cut him off.
“But not ENOUGH, apparently! We haven’t been ENOUGH for you!”
“NO!” Hector yelled back, his temper finally slipping. “It hasn’t been enough! I wanted to get married…a wife, a proper family, not just this limbo of living with the woman who happened to bear my children. You wouldn’t even be my girlfriend, for crying out loud!”
“Oh, and I suppose you want to marry HER, then? Go off and live happily ever after with a ‘proper’ WIFE, instead of just ‘shacking up’!”
“No!…I don’t know. Somer and I, we haven’t even talked in years, aside from a few emails here and there. We had a brief fling before you and I moved in together, while she was here on business. It couldn’t have led anywhere then, she hardly even crosses my mind now. Frankly, I don’t even understand why you’re upset…I didn’t think you’d even care.”
“Not care?? How could I NOT CARE? We have children together, we live together…”
“Yes, but that’s IT, that’s ALL…just living together. No formal commitments, no permanence!”
“Mama…Daddy…are you going to get divorced?” March whispered tremulously, her gaze moving from one angry parent to the other.
“You can’t get divorced if you aren’t even MARRIED,” Hector spat viciously, glaring at February.
“Oh yes, I forgot…the only thing that could POSSIBLY make a relationship relevant is a meaningless piece of PAPER. FINE. If you feel that way, then GO! Get out and find someone else who wants that SPECIAL PIECE OF PAPER!”
February’s screaming response was followed by an anguished wail from March; sobbing violently, the girl turned away from her parents and ran. She ran until her lungs burned and her feet blistered, only then collapsing in a heartbroken heap in the fields beyond her house, knowing in her heart that the period of peace in the Callender home had come to an end.