Comparisons

Of course, he wasn't Valentine. It was silly of her to think of that when she first met him. Yes, he had the same voice, the same height, and the same mannerisms. And, yes, he looked eerily familiar in the mask that she had made for him, but no. He was definitely not Valentine.

For one thing, he was a horrible juggler. She couldn't comprehend how someone who generally had excellent reflexes, as evidenced by how easily and quickly he could catch random things thrown at him without any warning, was so helpless when it came to learning how to move an object from one hand to another for longer than two minutes. She had spent hours teaching him, drilling the lessons she had learned from her dad over and over again into this thick head, but nothing ever seemed to stick. Finally, she gave up on the lessons and her dad then took him aside and suggested that perhaps he may be more comfortable working as one of the clowns.

He had frowned at those words, but he had also nodded and accepted them. And so he had put white makeup on his thin face and learned how to do the tricks and pratfalls expected of him. And though he wasn't exactly the most skillful of the bunch, he became proficient enough at what he had to do that her dad had let him stay on and keep his job. But, often, she would catch him rehearsing, struggling with the pins and balls he vainly attempted to juggle whenever he had a spare moment. She always felt odd at such times. She wanted to go to him and try to teach him again, yet she also wanted to avoid him and pretend that it was perfectly all right that he didn't know how to juggle. Because he wasn't Valentine. She had to keep reminding herself of that. He was absolutely not Valentine.

His name was Jason and he told unfunny jokes about movies that only he had seen, and he never acted like he was an important man or an important anything because he was always nice and polite to everyone, but he was a little too comfortable chatting with girls who came to see the circus, and he never acted goofy or clueless around them, yet he never accepted their invitations for a dinner or a coffee, and he read every chance he got, books that were a little too serious for her taste since they were about subjects like outer space and biology because he used to study some kind of science before he left university, and he was always nice and sweet to her though he never pushed past the boundaries of the casual friendship he had firmly established between them once he learned her age, and he was a little too weird and fussy, but he never treated her like a child, and she was always vaguely confused about how she was supposed to treat him because he was not the person she thought he would be, and why couldn't he just be Valentine? Her head wouldn't be in such a muddle if he could only be Valentine.

She took out the Mirrormask from its hiding place inside her dresser one night and she looked at her face reflected on its silvery surface for a long time before she finally put it on. When she started dreaming, she wandered around the city for a while, asking strangers about the boy with the spiky hair who could juggle, and she received several conflicting directions before she finally found him entertaining a small crowd at the bridge where they had once talked about names and how important it was to have a properly romantic one.

Ever the showman, he finished off his act with a dazzling display of skill before he extinguished the flaming balls, took a deep bow to appreciative applause, and then finally acknowledged her presence. "Hello there," he said, and though his mask covered his expression, Helena knew that he was beaming. "Finally thought to pay a visit to old friends? Where are the rabbits?"

She rolled her eyes. "I didn't think to bring them this time. So, how are you?"

"Oh, excellent as always." He hoisted himself up onto the stone railing of the bridge, sat down, and patted the empty spot beside him. She followed his example and, for several minutes, they merely sat together in silence.

"So, what brings you back?" he wondered. "Some Dark Princess has stolen your place in your world again? Can't be the same one as before. I heard that her mum has got her locked up in a Tower of her own. Poor thing can't move without a guard shadowing her. She's gone quite mad, according to stories." He sounded like he couldn't care less about the Other Helena's terrible fate.

And that was the difference between Valentine and the man who should be Valentine back in the real world. Jason wouldn't talk so casually about something that was actually tragic. Not that Valentine was cruel or hardhearted. It was just that he was a boy, the first boy that she had felt something other than pure friendship for, who was a bit thoughtless and selfish, yes, due to his immaturity, though she knew that he had a good heart somewhere and he could even be counted on to use it from time to time. But, still, he was not Jason.

Impulsively, Helena leaned towards Valentine and gave him a brief kiss on the cheek of his mask. He started and almost fell off the railing and into the golden river below, but he righted himself quickly. "What was that for?" he demanded in a huff.

She smiled. "Oh, nothing," she shrugged. "You're quite adorable in your own way, you know. I'm glad I got to meet you."

"Well, please don't be so glad about it if it means you're going to kiss me and put your hands upon my person whenever you feel like it!" He scooted away from her. "You're acting very strange. Are you really Helena?" He peered at her intently.

She cuffed him on the shoulder. "Of course I am! Now let's go have an adventure and get chased by some sphinxes."

After a few minutes of teasing, he finally joined her and they did have an adventure, one that made her smile when she woke up the next morning though she could not remember all the details of it clearly. Then she got up, brushed her teeth, took a shower, and put on the nicest clothes she owned that were not dresses. When she went out of her room and went into the kitchen, she saw that her mum and dad were having breakfast with Jason.

"Hello there," he greeted her with a smile. "I was in the neighbourhood."

She sat across from him and accepted the cup of tea he offered. "I'm glad you're here. Could we go for a walk afterwards?"

Her parents watched the two of them keenly. Her father had a small frown on his face, but her mother had a knowing smile that she hid by taking a sip of her drink.

He took some time to answer her. But, finally, he said, "Yes. I'd like that."