3.9 Happy

March stared at the fish tank in her last period class, once again hypnotized by the graceful undulations of the animals within. Just as they had been on that day a mere few months past, the two girls behind her were all abuzz with excitement, only this time March shared their enthusiasm. In a matter of hours, she and her peers would hear the bell ring as high school students for the very last time.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the only members of the Callender family to have found romance on that now seemingly long ago prom night had been February and Hector. March had no idea what had finally led to to the big thaw, but now, although Hector still officially lived in Martin Luther’s old room, he spent more nights in February’s.

Not that prom had turned out to be a complete waste of time; instead of bothering to mingle with her peers, March had cornered the president of the prom committee in order to pick apart the entire decorating scheme that had been employed.

“This is supposed to be an under WATER theme…why do you have mini tiki torches at each table? Flames can’t burn UNDER WATER!”

“Well, because — ” the startled girl had begun to stammer, but March cut her off. She’d only just begun. For nearly twenty minutes, she harangued the poor girl, who really didn’t care what the decorations were anymore and just wanted to dance with her boyfriend. Finally able to seize a rare break in March’s diatribe, the girl suggested hopefully that March compile a list of ideas and suggestions for the following year to discuss on Monday. To her immense relief, March agreed and allowed her to return to her beau’s waiting arms. For her part, March spent the remainder of the dance trolling the premises and taking copious notes.

On Monday, March and her ideas for next year were far from the now retired president of the prom committee’s mind, and the girl could not be located. Undeterred, March instead ambushed the faculty advisor, who also happened to teach her last period class. Mrs. Hillenbrand may have officially presided over Geography, but was at her core a frustrated artist. She listened in awe as March passionately outlined possibilities she’d come up with and watched closely when March would stop to make small sketches from time to time in order to further illustrate her points. By the end of the conversation, Mrs. Hillenbrand was eyeing March thoughtfully.

“These are excellent ideas, March, and I must say, your drawing skills are quite good. Why have I never seen you in any of the art classes?” Bewildered by the unexpected change of topic, March frowned at her teacher a moment before replying.

“Well, I draw sometimes in my journal I guess, but honestly, the classes here are sort of silly. Leaf rubbings, really? Are we still in kindergarten?” Mrs. Hillenbrand barely attempted to restrain her smile; truthfully, she’d felt the same way. Amazing how much farther a silly diploma would get a Sim than raw talent.

After chatting a while longer, Mrs. Hillenbrand commissioned March to sketch out more ideas for the following year. When March brought her drawings in, Mrs. Hillenbrand determined that March or herself would be the only individuals up to the task of painting the scenery, so she set March in front of an easel and began teaching her the basics.  March took to the challenge like a fish to water and was expertly sweeping paint-laden brushes across canvases in no time at all.   She and Mrs. Hillenbrand spent many peaceful afternoons painting murals and props for the next year’s festivities, and March grew to cherish those long hours, mostly spent in companionable silence save for the damp sounds of paint being applied to various surfaces.

“I’ll miss that,” March thought now as an electric blue tang darted gracefully through emerald fronds of aquatic plants, “but not much else.”  High school hadn’t been particularly hard on March…true, she had no strong friendships outside of Cal, but she had never been bullied, and she received reasonably good grades.  Still, she found herself eager to be past this tumultuous period of her life and onto the next thing…whatever that might be.  In only a few more moments, the school bell would ring, releasing her from her teenage bonds and freeing her to go home to celebrate her first birthday as an adult.  February had insisted on planning a small party for both March and Valentine, who was ushering in her teenage years as well.

“Oh, you two are growing into such beautiful young women,” February had gushed that morning.  To her embarrassment, March found herself bursting into tears at her mother’s words; Valentine merely glowered and muttered something about the whole process being “inevitable.”

“Inevitable or not,” February pronounced, planting a kiss on Valentine’s dark head, “it has been an absolute joy watching you both grow up.  It’s a privilege to be your mother.”  March hid a smile as her little sister’s sour expression softened.  Although Valentine’s eccentricities only seemed to grow more amplified by age, March knew that, beneath all of the mad outbursts and increasing paranoid behavior, her baby sister was still just a little girl, secretly excited about hanging out with her friends and turning into a teenager.

March’s concentration was drawn back to her present where, all around her, her peers had excitedly begun a countdown to the day’s last bell.  Mrs. Hillenbrand had given up any pretense of order and was instead paging through what looked like a magazine with glossy photos of verdant green fields, and an elegant, thin tower overseeing the landscape.  The clamor of the bell was nearly surpassed by the shrieks and whoops of the excited seniors as they gathered their belongings and began their final exit as students.  March shrugged her backpack on and stood, preparing to merge into the exodus, when Mrs. Hillenbrand  called her name.

“March, I know you’re probably most eager to  join the hullabaloo, but I wondered if I might have a moment of your time?” Mrs. Hillenbrand inquired as March drew near.

“Of course, Mrs. Hillenbrand.  What’s up?” asked March.

“Well,” the teacher began, straightening her glasses.  “I wanted to let you know that all of our hard work regarding next year’s prom has gone to naught.  It appears that administration did not approve of us shanghaiing the theme, as it were, from the next crop of ingrates on the prom committee.”

“Oh.”  March’s shoulders drooped as she furrowed her brow and thought about all of the pieces she and Mrs. Hillenbrand had spent so much time on, but before she could seriously consider having a tantrum over the event, Mrs. Hillenbrand was dropping a new bombshell.

“Yes, well, I strongly suspect that they’ll go along with our work in the end anyway, once they’ve seen it.  The better for them to go back to concentrating on what they’ll WEAR, and looking pretty, and all of that foolishness.  Anyway, it’s neither here nor there for me, as I will no longer be here.  I’m moving to Champs les Sims over the summer.  I’ve had enough of whiling my life away here in this llama-forsaken little town, attempting to teach insipid little boors who spend their entire time in my classroom gazing stupidly upon my fish and completely ignoring anything of substance I have to say.”  March flushed, recalling all the moments she had done that very thing, but Mrs. Hillenbrand continued, impervious to March’s discomfort.  “Painting with you for all of these months has forced me to remember that I am, at heart, an artiste, and I’m finally going to do what I should have done when I was your age and pursue art.”  Mrs.  Hillenbrand tapped the magazine she had been thumbing through before, drawing March’s eye once again to the beautiful countryside gracing its pages.  “Champs les Sims is the very epicenter of the artistic world, the place where all the creme de la creme congregate, and where I truly belong.  I’ve sold my house and am flying out tonight, and I suggest you do the same, post haste.”

“What?  Me?” March gaped at Mrs. Hillenbrand in confusion as the older woman made her way over to the fish tank and stooped over to peer at its inhabitants.

“Well, yes, of course you.  Who else would I be referring to?  You quite have the talent, I’ve seen that for myself.  No use wasting it here in this nowhere place.”  Having made her proclamation, Mrs. Hillenbrand stood, still frowning at the fish in consternation.  “All I have left to do now is to throw these creatures into the pond and drive to the airport.”

“Throw them in the pond?  Your fish?”  March repeated, sure she’d misheard and starting to worry that Mrs. Hillenbrand was going to think her mentally deficient due to all of her mindless parroting.  Mrs. Hillenbrand, however, merely shrugged and made a dismissive gesture towards her pets.  “Yes, it’s hardly practical to drag them along with me, and anyway, their presence would only remind me of less pleasant times.”

“I’ll take them,” March blurted out before she really knew what she was doing.  “Looking at them will make me remember you, and…how happy I’ve been working with you.”  She blushed, realizing her words probably sounded much stranger to her teacher than she had intended, but Mrs. Hillenbrand’s mind was already far across the sea, and she paid no mind to any possible innuendo behind the flushing young girl’s statement.  Instead, she happily helped March scoop the blue tang and its companions into an old punch bowl that had been laying around the classroom and wished her luck, reiterating her hopes that March would move to Champs les Sims sometime in the near future.

****

When March arrived home, incongruously bearing her punch bowl full of fish, she found that February had spent the day busily preparing for the girls’ birthday party.  Two identical cakes had been baked and exquisitely decorated, and an assortment of young people were already milling around the water slide in the yard.

“Honey, you’re home!…why do you have fish?” February exclaimed in surprise upon seeing her older daughter’s unexpected acquisition.  “Never mind; Cal and some of your other friends are here; go on out and enjoy yourself!”  March carefully situated her new pets onto the table between the two birthday cakes before changing into swim clothes and joining Cal and the other kids at the water slide.  Before long, everyone — including February and Hector — was thoroughly drenched as each person attempted to come up with a move down the slide that was more spectacular than the next.  March was experimenting with a particularly complicated maneuver that involved spinning down the toy on her bottom when she caught sight of a familiar figure through the haze of mist and bubbles that sprayed her face.

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“Uncle Martin!” she shrieked, barreling off the slide and colliding into her uncle with a damp squelch.  “Mom didn’t tell me you were coming!”

“They say it’s your birthday!  It’s my birthday too, yeah!” Martin Luther replied, returning his niece’s moist embrace.  March giggled.  “It’s so good to see you, Uncle Martin.  I’ve missed you.”

“Like the deserts miss the rain?” teased Martin Luther, tugging one of March’s long pigtails.  “Hey little girl, is your daddy home?  I’m taking care of business.”

“Oh yeah, I think he’s out back,” said March.  “See you later for cake?”  Martin Luther nodded, and March ran back to the slip n’ slide.  As she had predicted, Hector was in the backyard, preparing several hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill for the party attendees to eat.  He seemed unsurprised to see Martin Luther.

“Hey, Martin Luther,” he called softly, raising a hand in greeting.  “Were you able to bring it?”

“Signed, sealed, delivered, it’s your’s,” Martin Luther responded, withdrawing a small package from his pocket.  “Are you ready?  For what’s to come?”

“I believe so,” Hector replied seriously.  “If not now, then when?”

****

All of the kids were so busy sliding and splashing one another that no one noticed when Hector returned and took February’s hand.

“February,” Hector said, “Come with me, please.  There is something I need badly to discuss with you.”

“What is it, Hector?” February asked.  “It’s the girls’ birthday…can’t whatever it is wait until after the cake?”  Her silvered hair was dripping wet, her cheeks were flushed with exertion, and her voice was breathy from all of the laughing she had been doing.  Hector thought she had never looked lovelier.

“No, February.  I’m afraid it cannot.  It is in fact a discussion long overdue, I believe.” Mystified, and slightly apprehensive, February followed Hector behind the house, away from the commotion of the birthday party.  The sun had just set, but the light from their home’s windows cut the darkness in the yard with a comforting glow.   February could just make out the two cakes she had labored over for their girls and smiled wistfully, realizing that her days of parenting small children were long over.

“Hector, what is all this about?  I really don’t want to miss any of the girls’ birthday,” February reiterated, turning to face Hector.

“Nor do I, but this business is of the utmost importance,” explained Hector, taking February’s hands.  Alarmed, February noted that Hector’s hands were shaking around hers, and that his face wore an expression of deep gravity.

“What is it, Hector?  Is this about that Somer woman again?” February demanded suspiciously, but Hector shook his head.

“Oh no, of course not…the very opposite, in fact.”  Hector cleared his throat nervously before continuing.  “February Callender…you started out as my best friend, and then you gave me the greatest gifts a man could ever receive.  We have had so many ups and downs, but, until recently, I truly believed I could not possibly ask for more in life. Today, as we celebrate the births of our beautiful, unique daughters, I realize that there is yet one more gift you can give me, and if I may be so bold…”  To February’s complete astonishment, Hector sank down to one knee and began fumbling around in his pocket. “Please, February,” Hector entreated, finally withdrawing a small box.  “Please give me this honor, and be my wife.  We are far too old and have lived too much life to continue to carry on merely as boyfriend and girlfriend.”  With this pronouncement, Hector opened the box, and February gasped.

“Mama’s ring!” she exclaimed, instantly recognizing the piece of jewelry, “Where did you…how did you get that?”

“Well, I had a little help in that department,” Hector admitted.  “Of course, you can have it regardless of your answer…or, if you’d prefer a ring of your own choosing –“

“No!  This one is perfect,” February interrupted.  She turned beet red as she realized what her statement implied.  She and Hector stared at each other silently for several moments before Hector asked, “Does this mean…?”

“Yes…yes, of course.  I will,” February confirmed, nearly as surprised as Hector by the firmness of her answer.  Hands quaking more than ever, Hector slid the ring on February’s finger and smiled up at her as she gazed admiringly at the bauble.

“I still can’t believe you had Mom’s old ring…you know, it was one of the few things she brought with her when she came here.  She made Dad use it instead of buying her a new one when they got married…she thought it would be more practical, of course.”  February smiled at the recollection.  “I thought it was lost after she died…where on earth did you find it?” she asked, helping Hector back to his feet.

“Oh, well, it seems that Martin Luther has had it,” Hector explained, brushing grit from his knees.  “When I made these plans, to, you know, ask you, I went to him for advice, and he told me I should give you that.  Not in those words, naturally.”

“Naturally,” February repeated musingly, then startled as she realized how late the evening had grown.  “Oh!  The girls!  We have to get changed; it’s almost time to cut the cakes!  Hector…let’s not tell them about this quite yet.  I don’t want to take away from their night.”

“Of course, dear,” Hector agreed readily, still steeped in relief — and shock — that February had actually said “yes.” Prepared to celebrate the birth of their daughters, the pair clasped hands and entered the house where they were soon joined by the dripping party.  By the time everyone had changed into clean, dry clothes, the hour had grown late.

“Hey, Vally, everyone’s going to want to be getting home soon…wanna skip dinner for now and go straight to the cake?” asked March.

“It doesn’t matter to me…it isn’t like we’re going to erupt in sparkles and magically transform into new people as soon as we blow out the candles,” Valentine replied.  March took that as assent enough and gathered her friends and loved ones around one of the cakes.  Grabbing a nearby party favor, she held the noise maker high above her head and twirled it merrily, gazing happily around her at all the faces of people who cared for her.

Valentine stood at the other end of the table, surrounded by her own small entourage. Together, the sisters leaned forward and simultaneously blew out their candles, accompanied by the cheers and whistles of their parents and friends.

Afterwards, having cut the cake and opened — and, in some cases, donned — their presents, March and Valentine surveyed the scene.

“Looks like you were right, Val…not a sparkle to be seen,” March remarked teasingly.

“Not a one,” Valentine agreed.  Directly after extinguishing her candles, she had changed into a long sleeved turtleneck and a ball cap in an apparent effort to cover as much of her body as possible.  March eyed her little sister’s new look curiously, half afraid of whatever reaction an inquiry might provoke.  “Sooo,” she hedged at last, “Feel any differently?”

“Nope,” Valentine answered glibly, carefully balancing a fat slice of cake.  “Except I’m pretty sure I know what I want to do with my life.”

“Oh?  Already?  And what is that?” March asked cautiously.

“I’m going to crossbreed creatures and robots,” Valentine mumbled around a mouthful of cake.  March frowned, certain she’d misheard her sister.

“You heard me,” Valentine asserted, swallowing her lump of cake with some difficulty. “I’m going to be a creature/robot crossbreeder.”

“Valentine,” March began gently, “I don’t believe that’s even possible…”

“You’d be surprised at what’s possible,” Valentine interrupted, stabbing a fresh chunk of cake from her slice.  “Anyway.  Maybe don’t be so concerned about me.  Maybe you should be concentrating more on yourself.  You’re the one who just finished high school, you know.  What are you going to do with your time now?  Just sit around and stare at fish all day?”  March’s frown deepened as her gaze found her new bowl of fish.  As much as she hated to admit it, Valentine raised a valid point…just where did her path lead her now?

3.8 All of Me

March stared moodily at the fish tank kept in her last period classroom, lost in the hypnotic movements of the fish within. The teacher’s voice had been reduced to a droning hum at least half an hour earlier while she had watched the fish, thinking about her family and trying hard to ignore the whispered conversation two girls were carrying on behind her. In the months following February and Hector’s big dispute, March had struggled to accept the changes that indicated the “new normal” for the Callender family while enduring the latest obsession of all her classmates — prom.

March hadn’t exactly been dying to go to prom even before her life was turned upside down, but her mother had insisted it would be something she’d regret missing out on. While shopping for a dress, March had tried — without success — to talk some sense into February.

“I don’t get it, Mom…YOU didn’t even want to go to prom. Why are you making such a big deal about this?”

“Yes, I know…but looking back, it was so…magical and romantic,” February explained dreamily, a misty look in her eye. “Cameron held me so close…it was kind of like a fairy tale.”

“Cameron? Who’s Cameron?” The misty look in February’s eyes vanished at the question. She cleared her throat as she began busying herself shuffling through the closest rack of dresses.

“Oh, Cameron. He was my, well, my boyfriend…uhm, for a while. Through a lot of high school. What do you think of this one, honey?” She held up a garish purple number full of sequins. March wrinkled her nose in distaste, her mind still full of this sudden piece of romantic intrigue from her Mother’s past.

“Ew, no! And stop trying to change the subject! How come I’ve never heard about Cameron before, since he was so DREAMY and everything?” March demanded, her interest piquing as a slow flush began to overtake February’s face. February sighed, clearly wishing the subject could be as easily dismissed as the purple dress she was now shoving back onto the rack.

“Honestly, March, it isn’t that big a deal. We were just high school sweethearts, I guess…we grew apart. We didn’t really have that much in common to begin with.” March stared as her Mother’s face took on a deeper brick hue, sensing there was somehow more to the story than February was letting on.

“Oh, ew, Mom!” March squealed as a sudden thought occurred to her. “You aren’t about to tell me this guy’s my actual dad, are you?”

“Of course not, March! There’s no question about that…Hector is definitely your father. Unfortunately.” February muttered the last bit under her breath peevishly, but March still heard her. The teen rolled her eyes, electing not to comment. An uneasy truce had been forged between February and Hector after February’s discovery of Somer; initially, she had demanded that Hector move out immediately, but had eventually relented and allowed him to merely move into Martin Luther’s former bedroom — “For the sake of the girls,” she had said. Hector had seemed under the impression at first that February’s freeze out would only last for a few days, especially when she seemed to accept the copious amount of apologies he made towards her. But the days stretched into weeks that grew into months, with February refusing any of Hector’s advances. Valentine had left toddlerdom behind and grown into a child, watching as her mother spitefully threw roses Hector would bring her back into his face, and March wondered to herself how that environment could possibly be healthy “for the girls.”

To maintain some peace in the house, March had relented on the prom issue. She told herself that maybe the experience really would be a romantic chapter of her life to look back on rather than the overly crowded, tacky occasion she feared, but now, hours before the commencement of the dance, she found her hope harder to hold on to. Throngs of hyped up teenagers surged around her as soon as the closing bell sounded, chattering giddily about the evening’s festivities. March groaned inwardly as she eyed the lurid streamers festooning the hallway. Cal met her at the end of the hallway, grinning at her knowingly as he twirled his maroon scarf.

“Looking forward to tonight?” he asked mischievously, his light accent lending a musical quality to his query. March scowled and swatted her friend’s arm.

“You know I’m not,” she growled. “Are you SURE you can’t come and keep me company in my misery…just for a little while?”

“No can do, lovely. You know I have an Egyptian thing…I simply can’t get out of it. And besides, you don’t need a third wheel dogging you as you’re swept off your feet by the man of your dreams.”

“As if,” March muttered darkly. She cast a wistful eye at Cal, wishing, not for the first time, that she could summon some kind of attraction for him. It would have been perfect…he was so cultured, so witty, not hard to look at, and she loved him, with her whole heart. But there was no fire in her affection for him, no desire for anything more romantic than the chaste kiss he planted on her cheek as they left the school building.

“Cheer up, my lovely. It will be over before you know…and who knows? Maybe you will be surprised?”

*****

Somehow, March doubted that coming out of the shower with an unexpected head of turquoise hair was quite the surprise Cal had had in mind. Clearly, someone had been tampering with her shampoo….again.

“VALENTINE!!!” she screamed, glowering at her moisture streaked reflection in the mirror. “I’M GOING TO KILL YOU FOR THIS!!!”

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“Chill out, sis. You look good in blue. Anyway, THEY would never let you go to your precious teenage ritual with blue hair, so don’t waste your time being mad.”

March opened her mouth to argue, but one look at her little sister’s eyes was enough to tell her not to bother. Valentine had been an odd baby, prone to finding provocation in anything, good or bad. As she’d grown into a child, the premonitions March had expressed regarding Valentine’s behavior had proven true; Valentine not only seemed completely disassociated with reality, but was prone to outbursts that had grown so alarming in their intensity that Hector and February has deemed it necessary to medicate their youngest daughter. Doped up Valentine still insisted that their lives were all under the control of “them” and refused to eat animals under the basis that they were only “fellow victims of the All Seeing Eyes”…but did so in a much more mellow, containable fashion. Tractable as she was in those states, March secretly preferred her excitable, lunatic baby sister.

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“Ok, Vally, I’m sure you’re probably right,” murmured March soothingly. Valentine threw March a penetrative stare before turning back to the chess pieces she’d been shuffling around, muttering darkly to the board under her breath while March slipped back into the bathroom to rewash her hair and get dressed.

****

Long after March had left, and Valentine had retreated into her room, February sat by the window, gazing out at the night and pondering the fleet passage of time. After a while, she sensed Hector beside her. For a time, they sat in silence within their own thoughts, until February asked,

“Do you think I did the right thing, having her go?”

Hector hesitated, torn between honesty and the desire to keep peace between himself and February. Finally, he spoke tentatively.

“I’m not sure why you felt it was important….you certainly didn’t enjoy your own experience.” February glanced at him, surprised.

“You remember that?” she asked. By the time she and Hector had become good friends, that fateful prom had been long over. She hardly recalled even mentioning it in passing.

“Of course,” Hector answered, smiling. “I remember a lot of things…the important things.” He paused a moment before adding carefully, “I’ve had a lot to remember through the years.”

February considered Hector’s statement, mulling over the long period of time they’d shared. Looking at him now, she saw how his once bright red hair had acquired a silvery sheen; her own head was streaked with gray strands of its own. Their relationship unfurled before her like a ribbon, faded and knotted in some places, frayed thin in others, but still there, stretched between them, their two girls holding tight to each end. She thought of their girls — March never dating and going to prom alone, Valentine all too often lost in her own mad ramblings — and her own parents, living practically like strangers, leaving her and Martin Luther to lead lonely, fractured childhoods.

Then she took Hector’s hand. They sat silent once more, hands clasped, as they shared the evening and waited for their daughter, together.

3.7 Loyal

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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