The Heartbreak Next Door
First love can be so poignant…or painful. Which will it be for Helena?
With her mom’s help, Helena spent the weekend baking and decorating cookies for Valentine’s Day. She’d set aside one special cookie for her next-door neighbor, Erik. It had taken her a half-hour to decorate that particular one. She’d piped white icing around the edges of the large, heart-shaped cookie and then filled the inside with a checkerboard of colored icing. Helena had finished it off by piping XOXO in the center. It was the prettiest cookie Helena had ever made. She could hardly wait to give it to Erik when he got home from school on Valentine’s Day.
Erik happened to be the most gorgeous boy in the seventh grade. He was unusually tall and well muscled for a kid his age, with grey eyes and blonde wavy hair, but that wasn’t important to Helena. She had known Erik since they were both toddlers. They used to run naked through the sprinklers back then, oblivious to the differences between boys and girls. When they got a little older, she and Erik would pitch a tent and camp out in the backyard. It was so much fun to lie there at night, just the two of them. They would tell ghost stories and talk about what they wanted to be when they grew up. When they started school, Helena couldn’t help but notice girls would act goofy whenever Erik was around. They all wanted to marry him for some reason. The boys couldn’t decide whether or not to hang out with Erik or pound him into the ground. Erik’s involvement in sports had the dual benefit of keeping girls at bay and winning him acceptance by his peers.
Although Helena was often pushed aside by girls who wanted to be with Erik, she wasn’t jealous. Helena knew that silly girls would come and go, but best friends were forever. Besides, Erik was frequently embarrassed by all the attention, which made Helena all the more sympathetic and loyal. Eventually, though, the girls learned to cope with Erik’s glamour, and the incidents calmed down.
Until this year.
It wasn’t as if Helena was immune from the effects of the hormones that were unleashing themselves on her body, but there seemed to be a collective insanity running through the seventh grade. A maelstrom of gossip swirled amongst the students…who was interested in whom, which kids were already a couple, who’d split up or who’d gotten back together. Very few kids were actually allowed to date, but facts didn’t seem to get in the way of the rumors. In this atmosphere, Valentine’s Day was shaping up to be the Holy Grail of holidays. Preparations had been underway for weeks as the girls decided what kinds of Valentines they were going to pass out, and to whom. The boys were largely and deliberately oblivious.
On the appointed morning, Helena stood on the sidewalk outside Erik’s house and waited for him to emerge. Walking to school together had become routine. Helena had her backpack slung over one shoulder, and in her hand she held a plastic container of the cookies she’d carefully prepared. To commemorate the occasion, she’d tied a red ribbon on the end of her braid, and worn red socks with her white tennis shoes. Helena had also thrown a red hoodie over her jeans.
Erik bounded out of his house, backpack flying. There was not a shred of anything red on his person, nor was he carrying anything that remotely resembled a Valentine. “Sorry I’m late.” He looked Helena up and down. “What’s with all the red?”
“Duh, it’s Valentine’s Day, don’t you remember?” Helena retorted.
It was as if she’d reminded Erik of an overdue library book. “Oh,” he replied.
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