Please take a moment to review Hachette Book Group’s updated Privacy Policy: read the updated policy here.

Dark Valentine

Rose Macro: Fractalius - IMG_8032-fraEnjoy this twisted slice of fiction from the brilliant mind behind Prison Break and Breakout Kings, and the novels  FIFTEEN DIGITS and SLIP AND FALL, coming from Mulholland Books in April 2012.

“This is called Candy Cane,” the sales girl said, handing me the small bottle.

I unscrewed the top and sniffed it.

“It doesn’t smell like candy canes; it’s just candy cane red,” she pointed out.

“Yeah … I know,” I said, playing it off. “I’ll take it – with all the other stuff too.”

The girl rang up the order, placing eye shadow, rouge (I called it rouge, the sales girl called it blush), Berry Juicy lipstick and Candy Cane nail polish into a CVS bag. I gave her a twenty.

“It’s $63.17,” she said, embarrassed for me.

“What for?”

“Um … the make-up.”

“Man,” I said, digging into my pocket. “When I was a kid, my mom could do a whole week’s grocery for sixty bucks.”

Sales Girl said nothing, just stared through me. She could care less. When I was a kid she was 20 years from being born.

I shoved some more bills at her and left before she could give me my change. I didn’t have time to wait for some seventeen-year-old to count out $1.83 … because it was Valentine’s Day and my sweetheart was waiting for me.

I walked through automatic doors – they opened at my unspoken command – and as cool night air caressed my face, I thought of my girl:

Remember our first Valentines, baby? We’d been dating for exactly 41 days. I gave you 42 roses – all red, except the white one – the one for good luck. We went to a restaurant I couldn’t afford. I sold my grandfather’s Purple Heart at a pawn shop to pay for dinner. World War II collectibles bring good money – even more when you served under Patton. I knew Pop Pop wouldn’t care – he would’ve loved you. He’d want me to be yours, and you to be mine. We ate seared antelope and roasted asparagus and other foods I never had before or since. Fancy waiters called you Ma’am and called me Sir. We talked all night, so in loved, separated only by candlelight. How I loved watching the fire light flicker across your face.

At Sutphin Avenue, I stepped off the curb, nearly getting clipped by a city bus. I was lost in though about her again. I had the habit of doing that – of thinking of her and forgetting all else – little things like the fact that buses make wide turns, that subway stops come up quick, that faucets need to be turned off.

That’s what true beauty does to you – that’s what true love does to you. It blocks all peripherals.

My ex-wife didn’t understand this when I explained it to her. My children were too young to get it either. They might understand it now, but I’m not allowed to see them. It should bother me more, but it doesn’t. Because I have her. Because I have my Sweetheart.

I was just a little east of Lakewood Avenue when the church bell rang out loud from St. Joe’s. It made me think of where we were exactly two years ago, listening to the ship bells on the harbor.

Remember our second Valentine’s, sugar? I took you on a boat trip around the city. You said it was too cold and it was touristy, but I was sure you’d like it if you just gave it a chance, if you’d just stop being so moody. You had been moody since New Year’s. I knew it was because of my wife. She was in the way. I remember the look on your face when I told you that I had left her. “Nothing’s between us now. Now we can be together forever,” I said. “Happy Valentine’s.”

I waited for your reaction. You were speechless. In fact, you barely spoke the rest of the trip. I knew the news would thrill you.

I held the CVS bag tightly as I passed some tough-looking kids by a Park Lot. If they followed me, I’d just throw my wallet on the ground and run. They can have my money. But they can’t have this bag. It’s my Valentine’s present for my Girl, and I can’t let anything go wrong. I want tonight to be perfect.

So I picked up my pace. I didn’t want to keep my Darling waiting. She hates it when I’m not on schedule.

Remember our third Valentine’s, angel? You asked me what the hell I was doing there so early? You said I was an idiot – why couldn’t read a fuckin’ clock? Remember how I explained that I wanted to get to your house early to surprise you with the dinner I had made? The truth was, I ordered most of it from a diner, but I baked the Pecan Sandies myself from a recipe my mother used when I was little. I never asked if you ate the cookies, but I have to assume you didn’t, after I dropped them, since the platter was ceramic and all.

That wasn’t my fault. He startled me when he stepped out of the bathroom, rubbing his eyes, naked. “Sorry, boss,” he said to me, so cocky, making no attempt to cover himself, almost daring me to look down at it because we both knew where it had just been.

“Just go away,” you told me. “It’s over.”

But that was last year. Ancient history. It’s our fourth Valentine’s, honey, and against all odds, we’re together again, like we always should’ve been. Like we always belonged. Nothing could’ve made me happier.

I love entering through the front door of your house again. No more sneaking behind the garage for me.

When I walk up to your bedroom, you’re still lying on mattress, where you were when I left, quiet as a mouse. I place the CVS bag down next to you – I can’t wait to give you your gifts.

You don’t move when I put on the rouge or the lipstick or the eye shadow or the candy cane nail polish.

He doesn’t move either. He’s still naked, just like when I saw him last Valentine’s Day. But now he’s a little less cocky.

His head keeps sloping to the side – that annoys me – I wanted him to see us, wanted him to see that our love was the love that lasted. But I drove the knife too deep and there’s not much left to hold the head in place.

He looks messy, unkempt, preposterously weak.

I love it.

But my girl … well … she looks beautiful. The dress I put her in camouflages the persuasions I had to use to get her to be with me again. The dress is red. It works wonders.

I take a box of Blue Tips from my pocket and flick them off my front teeth, tossing orange arcs across the room, onto the bed, into the curtains … before long, the room crackles.

I lay next to my sweetie and stroke her hair. How I wish her eyes could open one last time and see how beautiful it all is.

And as the smoke chokes me off to sleep, my last thought is how much I love watching the fire-light flicker across her face.

Happy Fourth Valentine’s, baby.

NICK SANTORA was a lawyer before his first screenplay won Best Screenplay of the Competition at the 2001 New York International Independent Film Festival. A co-creator, executive producer, and writer for the hit A&E show Breakout Kings and former writer and co-executive producer of Prison Break, Nick Santora lives in Los Angeles, California.