The melted ice cream was all that was left to show for the night before. Ed sighed before grabbing the almost-empty Chunky Monkey carton and tossing it in the trashcan under his kitchen sink. He then leaned his back against the counter and rubbed his forehead with his fingers.
He had always considered himself a fairly strong man. He had been through enough in his life that he had believed toughened him up- to an extent.
But this… this was a whole new ballgame.
He had slept fitfully the night before- a total of maybe two hours. Every waking moment was spent fearing to sleep, for if he fell asleep he might dream. And if he dreamed, chances were it would be of her. Ed couldn't even face his dreams anymore.
The recent turn of events had begun when Mike and Nancy decided to throw a Valentine's Day dinner. Well, not true. It had began months ago when Dennis Martino had first stepped through the halls of Stuckeyville High school, into the life of Carol Vessey, and in turn- Ed Stevens. But it was the Valentine's dinner that made everything all too much.
Ed wasn't the kind of man to live in denial. The fact that Carol had a new boyfriend may not have been the easiest thing to swallow, but Ed wasn't about to kill himself over it. He just kept telling himself, In time. He was a man of hope.
When it came time to ask someone to join him in dinner at the Burtons', Carol was his obvious first choice. But she was also just as obviously involved with Mr. Martino. The week before Valentine's Day, Carol and Ed were having a spontaneous lunch at the Pie Shop, and Ed decided to see what was really up with the principal and the English teacher.
"You and Dennis have big plans for V-Day?" he asked Carol, juggling the ice in his glass with a straw.
She didn't look at Ed, but remained concentrated on cutting her tomato into bite-size pieces. "No…actually, he hasn't even mentioned it. Kind of funny, huh?" She tried to smirk it off, but Ed could see she was getting worried.
"I'm sure it's a surprise or something," he volunteered, signaling the waitress to fill up their Cokes.
Carol just looked at Ed and smiled that smile. "He's not Ed Stevens. He's Dennis Martino. Ed is the one with the surprises up his sleeves."
He smiled like he was embarrassed. "Right, right." Ed sighed. "Well, you know, Mike and Nancy are having that dinner party."
"They are? I didn't even…" She stopped, blinking her eyes rapidly.
Ed quickly recognized his error. "You haven't seen either of them for a couple days, right? I'm sure they haven't gotten the chance to talk to you about it."
Carol simply nodded, pushing her food around on her plate with her fork, layers of yellow hair shielding her eyes.
After a couple minutes of silence she looked at Ed, as if she were looking into him, not at him. "Ed."
"Can I ask you something?"
At his response she crossed her arms on the table, cocked her head to the side, and squinted as if in deep concentration.
"Will you take me to the dinner?"
He just stared right back at her, his mouth slowly curving into a grin. "Why, Carol Vessey. Afraid of being stood-up on Valentine's, are we?" He laughed.
"No… that's not it. I've just thought about this, and I think… I would rather spend this holiday with a really good friend than… someone I'm dating." She stopped, surveying his response. "I feel like I've missed out on things lately, not just with you- but Mike and Nancy as well."
"You know I'd be more than happy to take you…"
Ed sighed, resting his elbow on the tabletop, his hand under his chin. "What about Dennis? I don't want to wake up tomorrow morning to an irate High school principal wanting to pound me to the ground."
Carol laughed, kicking Ed lightly under the table. "Let me worry about him. You just worry about what time to pick me up on Thursday."
"In that case, I surely will."
The next afternoon after school was let out, Carol met up with Dennis in his office. She pranced her way in, sitting down in a chair in front of his desk.
"Dennis, I just wanted to tell you that I have plans for Valentine's Day." She crossed her legs.
He looked up from his papers, his eyebrows raised in that annoying way.
"Oh? What kind of plans?"
"I'm having dinner with a few friends. Since you haven't said anything about it, and since I haven't had much free time lately to see them," She cleared her throat. "I agreed to join them."
"Alright. Thanks for letting me know." He looked back down at the notebook in his hand.
Carol moved in her chair, re-crossing her legs. "That's it?"
"What? Did you expect me to pitch a huge fight? Carol." He spoke to her in the same tone one would use if talking to a toddler. "It's just Valentine's Day. This 'holiday' was just created by the candy and greeting card industries,"
That's such an over-used excuse, Carol thought.
"It doesn't have any real meaning, certainly not to me." Dennis continued. "I thought you'd be more grounded than that."
"Right. I should have known you'd see things that way. Sorry to take up your time." Carol got up, tugged at her cardigan, and closed the door behind her.
"What's she going to come up with next?" Dennis smirked, shook his head and continued reading his papers.
Friday night, as usual, was a busy night at the bowling alley; at least on Stuckeyville terms. Carol managed to find a parking place in the third aisle of cars and entered Stuckeybowl, noticing as she went in that the 'C' and 'E' were blinking.
Phil was nowhere in sight, but Kenny was in his place at the shoe stand, distributing pairs to a familiar-looking group of High school students.
"Warren!" Carol called, smiling big.
"Miss Vessey! What brings you to- ah, never mind," Warren grinned his mischievous grin and held his pointer finger in the air as if showcasing his brilliance. "Looking for someone, eh? Not to name any names-"
Kenny cut him off. "I believe I saw Ed go into the back room."
"Kenny. Warren. Is it not possible that I just came here to enjoy a Friday evening of bowling?" Carol looked from one to the other. The two started laughing.
"Right… bowling, I'm sure. Have a fun night, Miss Vessey," Warren said, raising his eyebrows and picking up his size ten's before walking to his lane where Mark, Diane and a few of his other friends were waiting for him.
"So, Carol. Size seven, right?" Kenny asked, leaning down. By the time he came up with the shoes, Carol was just a plaid skirt disappearing through the back door. Kenny shook his head, put the shoes back, and asked the next customer their size.
Ed was in deep concentration with the bowling pin machine on lane thirteen when he felt little objects being pelted at his back. He turned around to find Carol, her hand full of Sweethearts Conversation candies. He smiled and put down his screwdriver.
"What is with you always throwing things at me? First string cheese, now this? Aggression problems, huh?"
"You're one to talk, with the waffles," Carol looked at the purple candy in her hand and read, "Cool Guy," before crunching down on it.
"Yeah, I know it," he laughed. "So what's going on?"
"That Smile." She ate the white one. She noticed he was wearing that yellow bowling shirt of his and felt herself starting to melt beyond her control.
"So that's how it's gonna be? Two can play at this game." Ed grabbed several of the hearts from Carol and stood in front of her. "Look Good." He retorted, eating the yellow heart.
Ed looked Carol straight in the eyes with this one. "Be Mine."
"Why Not." Carol smirked, the pink heart going in her mouth.
"Dare You." He tucked a piece of her hair behind her ear, his hand resting on her neck. Carol's eyes fluttered closed when she felt his breath on her cheek.
As they edged closer, she whispered the next one without reading it. "Kiss Me…"
Ed was about to do just that when who but Phil Stubbs practically fell into the back room.
"Hey Bosco, have you fixed the-" Phil started, before realizing what he had walked in on. Carol and Ed acted like two junior-high students caught by their parents; quickly jumping about five feet apart, causing the heart candies to go flying. "Whoa… sorry, I will converse with you later on this matter. Over and out." He made a little clicky noise with his mouth before turning on his heel.
The two watched Phil close the door behind him, neither looking at each other.
"I'll clean these up," Carol suggested, pushing up her sleeves and starting to pick up the hearts.
"Don't worry about it. I'll take care of it," He took her hands in his own, getting her off the floor.
She shook her hands free and bit her bottom lip. "I need to leave. I'll… I'll probably see you tomorrow."
"Why?" He questioned as she headed for the door. "I mean, why are you leaving? I thought…"
"Ed… I don't really know what… what THAT was, but I am with Dennis." Her lips pursed at his name.
"If Dennis is your boyfriend, why are you spending Friday night with me? Or Valentine's Day, for that matter?"
"How him and I choose to spend our time is really not your business." Carol stated firmly, moving closer to him and crossing her arms.
"Damnit, Carol." He grabbed one of the candies ("Two Hearts") and threw it against the wall. It didn't even break, which seemed to make the situation even more pathetic. "It becomes my business when we almost kiss." His eyes widened to stress the point that he had said it out loud. She didn't reply, just looked at his shoes. "Why are you even here, anyway? Don't you know that it just makes it worse when you're constantly around me? When things like this happen and I can't do what I want to do, or say what I want to say? Don't you know that?"
She looked at his face now, her eyes brimming with tears at his words. "I…" she stammered. Ed realized his mistake too late. "I'm sorry. I just came here to tell you that I talked to Dennis. And he's fine about me going to dinner with you guys. I'll be there." Carol grabbed the door handle, and turned her head to him one more time before leaving. "Good night, Ed."
He didn't run after her, just sat on the ground, slowly tossing the remaining candy hearts at the wall.