"I hate this darn day," Eustace grumbled, more to himself than to Courage.
Courage glanced at him worriedly. Every year on this day he seemed to get more and more vitriolic, and Courage couldn't understand it; surely it was nice to celebrate your love for another person with gifts on a special holiday...right? He didn't know why he was surprised, really. The man was even worse on their anniversary.
This Valentine's Day, like every Valentine's Day since Courage had lived with the Bagges, Eustace was driving to the store to get Muriel a card, a heart shaped box of chocolates and a bunch of flowers. Every year she would kiss his cheek like it was a big surprise. He would go to the store when Muriel ushered them out of the house to make her Valentines surprise, of which Courage was always given a share and which, thankfully, was different every year. Her Valentines surprise was dessert to be served after Eustace's favourite meal, and varied from Banoffee pie with toffee syrup to crumble to angel delight and strawberry pie and cake. Courage licked his lips as he daydreamed, momentarily distracted from the old man's grumbling. Just then, he was disturbed by Eustace giving an abrupt curse of anger. Startled, Courage jumped and looked at him, and followed his gaze to the familiar card store.
"It's shut!" Eustace exclaimed with a forlorn, angry kind of despair. "How can it be shut? It's never shut! It's Valentine's Day!"
It was indeed shut. Courage blinked at it a few times as if answers would emerge from the building of their own accord. He was as surprised as Eustace. Perhaps they had gone out of business. They wouldn't be the first, being so isolated.
"Great. What am I gonna do now?" Eustace huffed. He pondered it briefly before bringing the engine back to life. "There's gotta be somewhere else," he muttered as he pulled away, peering into the horizon as if another store could materialise at any moment. "I swear I saw s'where a coupla months ago..." He muttered on to himself as he drove. Courage glanced at the trucks clock anxiously. Muriel wasn't expecting them to be long.
Before long, Eustace cried out triumphantly, "Aha!"
Courage followed his gaze - and began to cower.
"I knew it," Eustace was saying as he pulled over. "I just knew there'd be somewhere. It better not be expensive."
"Butbutbutbut - "
"Come on, stupid dog," Eustace said impatiently, dragging Courage out after him.
Courage hid behind his legs as they entered the store, and peeked out from behind them. Sure enough, his old enemy was poised over a newspaper on the counter, flicking his tail languidly.
"Good afternoon," he said idly. He glanced up. Then he took another look, and straightened up slowly. "And how may I help you?" He asked courteously.
"I'll do the candy, you do the flowers," Eustace told Courage, ignoring Katz completely. Then he stepped away from the dog, exposing him, and headed to the candy at the back of the store.
Courage almost hated Eustace then, really hated him. He had to talk to Katz to get the flowers. He expressed this with a small whine. Approaching the counter reluctantly, he could feel the feline's eyes on him.
"Yes?" He said, amusement evident in his voice, when Courage didn't speak.
"I need some flowers," Courage muttered.
He felt himself blushing under his fur. He didn't know flowers. He was forced to look up. "Uh...those," he said, pointing.
"The lilies? How many?"
For crying out loud...
"I don't know. A bunch."
Katz took them down and ostentatiously began to wrap them up. Courage glanced to the back at the store at Eustace, who was taking his time grumbling over the candy selection. Over the prices, no doubt. Katz came out from behind the counter just then, causing Courage to flinch as he just barely brushed past him. Courage watched him take a ribbon from the shelf of gifts and use it to complete the wrapping. He turned to Courage and held the bunch up for his inspection. "Will this do?"
"Yes." He seemed incapable of speaking above a mutter, but he couldn't help it; he was wary, anxious, and convinced the cat was laughing at him. All of a sudden, Katz' tail was under his chin, tilting his jaw to look at him. "Do speak up and look at me when you're talking, dear boy. I can't hear you as well."
Courage jerked his head away with a little more force than necessary. "Yes," he said again, with emphasis.
Katz smirked and turned from him, taking the flowers back to the counter to draw them up into the till. "Anything else?" He asked when he had done so, still insolently courteous.
Courage grabbed a card from the shelf, barely looking at it, and stood on his tip toes to push it onto the counter. Eustace never remembered.
Katz slid it over and studied it for a moment before putting it beside the flowers and tapping the numbers into the till.
Courage let out a sigh of relief as he heard Eustace finally, finally, returning with a box of chocolates.
"You're too expensive," he informed Katz, dropping them onto the counter carelessly.
Katz blinked at him, and looked hard at him for a moment as if he couldn't imagine how another person could be so distasteful. Then he got a familiar look in his eye that Courage didn't trust.
"We'll, I could let you have a look at my...special collection in the back, reserved for certain customers. Half price, of course," he added silkily. He was grinning wickedly.
Courage had begun to pull on Eustace's trouser leg before Katz had even finished speaking. He pointed at Eustace's watch frantically. For once, amazingly, it worked.
"Nah," he said."I'll just take these."
Katz' eyes widened slightly with surprise. He opened his mouth as if to try and change his mind, but after a pause turned his gaze nonchalantly to the till. "As you please."
Courage stared at him. His heart was hammering. Even if it was his lucky day, it was almost too good to be true. He watched him hand Eustace the purchases.
"Do come again."
He said it pleasantly enough, but Courage detected a subtle threat in his words. He couldn't get out of there quick enough.
In the car, Eustace thrust the presents at Courage while he dug around for a pen for the card. As Courage waited for him, something caught his eye in the lilies. Frowning with bemusement, he reached into them and carefully plucked out a single red rose. Attached to one of the thorns was a note that read simply, "Dog." It made no sense. It had to be for him, he was the only dog, but what did it mean? Why had he done it? And how had he missed it.
"Done," Eustace declared, throwing the card aside. He started the engine eagerly, in a good mood now his chore was done and he was to be spoilt more than usual for an afternoon. He sped them away. Courage sat in the truck clutching his single rose as Eustace took his gifts inside, hearing Muriel's cry, "Oh, what a surprise."