On one special day, once a year, people gave their special someone a gift.
"You give your Valentine your heart, and if he loves you he'll care for it, and he'll give you his," Isa's mother had told him.
Isa had been five the first time he had heard about it. He had been inconsolable because he knew that his mother was going to give her heart away, and he wondered; who'll love me now?
Everyone is born with one heart. God hadn't quite thought that through, considering how easily it could be broken.
But what's broken can be mended, Isa's mother had said one night when he had knocked on her bedroom door. She always cried when she thought that he couldn't hear her.
Each year she gave her heart away to a different Valentine, none of them cared for it much. She always ended up with a heart to mend.
No one could want something that had been broken so many times, Isa thought as his mother gave herself one last look in the mirror to look her best for her new Valentine.
"Don't bother sharing your feelings with anyone, Isa. They'll just be stomped and spit on. No one cares about anyone. It all just comes down to one thing…"
She gripped the rag in her hand tightly as she brushed her hair behind her ear with the other, and she sighed as she looked at the dish left from Isa's twelfth birthday party.
"Friends, girlfriends, they'll all try to hurt you eventually."
She was mumbling, and she was bitter; she was always bitter when her Valentine left her. Isa looked at her from the corner of his eye as he put a clean plate away.
"But what if it's a boyfriend?"
She smiled and ruffled his hair.
"Aren't you funny."
Lea would always give jelly hearts to the girls he liked on Valentine's Day. They were sweet and chewy, but the most convenient thing about jelly hearts was that Lea could give them away by the dozen, and no one ever turned them down.
"Why don't you ever give them your real heart?"
"I need it to live," Lea laughed. "Besides, I haven't met a girl worth dying for."
He pushed the small bag of jelly hearts through the mailbox on their third door this evening along with a homemade Valentine's Day-card that smelled mostly of crayons.
It was strange to see how happy he looked when he did this; when he gave his gift, pushed the doorbell and ran away, and Isa wondered if love only lasted as long as jelly hearts on Valentine's Day.
He didn't know when he decided that Lea was worthy of his heart. He wasn't even sure if worthy was the right word. His heart wanted to be a part of someone else. He only had to work up the courage to admit it.
He heard his mother open a bottle of wine and fill a glass from where he stood in the hallway. She didn't go out for Valentine's Day anymore.
It wasn't worth the trouble, she said.
"I'm going out," Isa announced and pulled the door open.
The chilly winter breeze didn't surprise him nearly as much as the sight of Lea standing there, looking back at him like a deer caught in the headlights.
"Shit," he breathed. "I mean, hi."
"You told me to meet you at the square. We're not gonna be able to keep up with the schedule if –"
"Could you close the door?"
"Close the door. Please."
Isa rolled his eyes and closed the door. Lea was going to keep him out after curfew anyway. The schedule was something Lea made up to keep the girls waiting in suspense.
A postcard suddenly fell through the mailbox and stopped by Isa's feet. He could smell the crayon long before he reached down to pick up the heart-shaped card.
Is he kidding me?
"Open the door if you'd kindly be my Valentine"
The short message had been erased and rewritten many times. Isa slid his finger across it to feel the traces of all the other messages. What if this wasn't for him?
He pulled the door open. Lea was still standing there, looking at him with a sheepish smile.
"Are you mad at me?"
"Did…is this for me?" He held up the card. What a stupid question, he thought. Of course it wasn't for him.
"But you're still here."
Lea's smile left him breathless. He didn't even notice that Lea had moved in closer until Lea's hand brushed against his.
"Of course I am, silly. I can't run around without a heart."