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!!!”
“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.
“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.