It was Valentine’s Day, and fourteen-year-olds Alli Clairing and Ellie Black were shopping for art books at the mall. As they wandered through the stores, nibbling soft pretzels and sipping lemonade, Ellie caught sight of two familiar faces in a nearby jewelry store.
She nudged Alli and pointed. “Isn’t that Jake and Alice?”
Alli looked, chewing her pretzel thoughtfully. Jake Hernon, her older sister Brittany’s boyfriend, stood with Alice Howard, Brittany’s best friend, looking at the extravagant display of engagement rings. “Want to go spy on them?” Alli asked.
Ellie nodded, and the girls ducked behind the pillar marking the entrance of the store. Alli peeked into the store, watching the couple intently. She frowned as Jake slipped a silver band with a large ruby on Alice’s slender fingers. Alli stiffened as he took Alice’s hand in his to examine the ring. His approving smile was unmistakable.
“Jake,” Alice said ecstatically, “you have made me the happiest girl alive! I can’t wait until tonight!”
Alli stepped out of hiding. “What’s tonight?”
They whirled around, their matching expressions of guilt quickly changing to anger.
“How long of you been spying on us?” Alice demanded.
“How long have you been cheating on my sister?” Alli spat back.
“W-what makes you think that we’re cheating on her?” Jake asked.
“Yeah,” Alice added quickly, “what makes you think this ring is for me?” She inclined her hand to show it off.
Alli slapped Alice’s hand away from her face. “Brittany likes sapphires, not rubies, and it fits you. You know Brittany’s fingers are short and stubby. Your rings don’t fit each other. That ring is screaming your name!”
“It is, isn’t it?” Alice admired the ring smugly, then frowned when she realized her almost-confession. “That doesn’t mean anything.”
“Sure it doesn’t.” Alli turned on Jake. “What are you doing? You know what Brittany’s favorite gem is. You’ve been dating my sister for four years, and you’re just going to throw it all away? You were happy! You were going to get married!”
Jake avoided her eyes. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yeah,” Alice cut in, “it’s not like you have a boyfriend. Or have ever had one.”
Alli lunged forward, but Ellie grabbed her before she could reach the couple. “You low two-timing freaks! How dare you do this to my sister!”
“Alli, don’t! They’re not worth it!” Ellie begged.
Alli straightened proudly. “You’re right,” she said. “Let’s just go home and tell Brittany.”
Jake grabbed her as she turned to go. “Alli, don’t! You don’t understand! Just let me explain! I still love Brittany—a lot—but—look, Alice has leukemia. She doesn’t have as much time as Brittany.”
Alli gave him a look. “And that makes it okay? Why didn’t you just tell Brittany?”
Alice shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t want any sympathy. Jake found out by accident. Alli, we don’t want to hurt her, honestly. That’s why we haven’t told her yet.”
“Can’t prove it by me!” Alli snapped.
“You can’t tell her!” Jake growled.
Alli didn’t hold back when she kicked him. “Watch me!” she shouted, running away.
“Alli, come back!” Jake started to limp after her, but Ellie kicked him in the other leg before running after Alli herself.
The two girls dashed out of the mall and raced down the bike trail toward Alli’s house.
“What do you think Jake’s going to do?” Ellie shouted.
“Before or after that broken leg I hope I gave him heals?”
The mall was exactly a mile away from Alli’s house. Both girls were exhausted when they reached the porch. Ellie sat down panting as Alli stumbled inside. Brittany was sitting on the couch, cutting hearts out of red, pink and white construction paper. Markers of the same colors surrounded her as she hummed her favorite love song.
Brittany looked up and smiled as she showed Alli the heart she was making. “I know it’s cliché, and a little tacky, but I think Jake will like it. What do you—what happened to you?”
“I ran from the mall.”
Brittany laughed. “Why’d you do that? Was someone chasing you or something?”
“We were, but then we saw—”
Ellie burst into the room. “Jake’s here!”
“Jake’s here?” Brittany jumped from the couch and dashed into the bathroom to primp.
A minute later Jake limped into the house. “Brittany?”
Alli clenched her fists and growled threateningly, “If you don’t want me to crack your face like I cracked your leg you’d better get out!”
“Girl or not, you just try it and see what happens!”
“Oh yeah?” Alli lunged forward, forcing Ellie to hold her back again. “You’re such a creep! How could you do this to her?” Alli freed herself from Ellie’s grip, seized the heart Brittany had been working on and shook it in his face. “You don’t even deserve her paper heart!”
“Give me that!” Jake grabbed at the heart, catching part of it in his hand. The heart ripped, leaving one half in Jake’s fist and the other half in Alli’s.
Brittany chose that moment to emerge from the bathroom, her hair freshly brushed and teased. “What’s all the screaming abou—” She stopped in shock at the scene before her and looked from her sister to her boyfriend. “You ripped it.” she said numbly.
Jake dropped the torn piece and pointed accusingly at Alli. “That little home-wrecker made me!”
“You’re the one wrecking it!”
“Home-wrecker?” Brittany frowned in confusion. “What’s going on here?”
Jake gave Alli a dark look. “Absolutely nothing.” Somehow he managed a disarming smile. “Look, Brit, I’m sorry about the heart, and even though it was gorgeous, it was only paper. It’s your actual heart that means the world to me.”
Brittany blushed, but Alli hissed. “Sure it does.”
Jake glared at her, and then turned back to Brittany. “Listen, Brit, no matter what anyone says, I love you. Never doubt that.”
“I don’t, and I won’t.”
Jake smiled in relief and checked his watch. “Whoops! Sorry gorgeous, but I’ve got to fly. I will see that fabulous face of yours tonight. I love you.” He winked, and left.
“I love you, too,” Brittany told him dreamily as she shut the door.
After that, Brittany was impossible to talk to. She pranced about the house getting ready for what was bound to be a night she would never forget. Both Alli and Ellie tried to warn her, but Brittany was too busy dancing on her little cloud to listen. As the day wore on, the girls had to resign themselves to drawing pictures of Jake being eaten by a dragon, then throwing the pictures into the fire and poking the ashes as they burned. That night, Alli watched as Brittany applied the final touches to her make-up, still ignoring Alli’s desperate attempts at warning her. As Brittany danced off with Jake on their special Valentine’s date, Jake’s dad waved from the front seat of the car as they drove off.
“Somehow,” Alli commented to Ellie, “I don’t think having a chaperone on this date will keep her heart from being ripped to pieces.”
Ellie hugged her. “Maybe having his shin kicked in twice made him change his mind. And look on the bright side, he’s still limping.”
“Oh, hurray. Brittany gets to live the rest of her life knowing that her best friend since kindergarten stole the man she’s given her heart to for the past four years right out from under her nose. Jake only has to live with limping for a week. Yup. I feel like a winner.” Alli turned to her. “Brittany doesn’t deserve scum like him. She deserves someone incredibly handsome who will love her forever. Someone who will protect her, never hurt her, and kill anyone who even tries. She deserves a real man, not Jake.”
The night passed with seconds that seemed to crawl. Ellie wasn’t able to stay the night. The two said good-bye with a reluctance that had never entered their friendship before. After Ellie was gone, Alli waited anxiously on the couch for her sister to return. Jake walked Brittany to the front door hours later, and they said good night while gazing dreamily into each other’s eyes. As Brittany shut the door, Alli caught the hesitant look on Jake’s face over Brittany’s shoulder. The door clicked shut, and Brittany turned to her sister with wild eyes.
“Tonight was the best night of my life!”
“I seriously doubt that.” Alli muttered.
“If it gets better than this, I don’t know how!” Brittany laughed as she reclined on the couch beside her younger sister. “Want me to tell you about it?”
“No thanks, I’m good.”
“Girls! Time for bed!” Their mother called from the kitchen.
“Yes ma’am!” The girls chorused reluctantly.
As Alli headed off for bed, she dared to hope that Jake and Alice had decided to stop cheating on her sister. Still, the look on Jake’s face as he and Brittany said good-bye was going to haunt her. Alli sent a silent prayer to God for the best.
That night, Alli was woken by a heart-wrenching scream. She sat up, rubbing her eyes sleepily. She heard a loud sob and sleep fled from her mind. Terrified of what she would find, Alli scrambled out of bed and raced out of her room and into Brittany’s. Their parents were already there, trying to console an inconsolable Brittany. Alli froze in the doorway, watching her sister sob into their mother’s shoulders. Their father was pacing around the room, shouting into the phone. A moment later, he shook his head and lowered the phone.
“He hung up,” he growled.
“What happened?” Alli asked, her voice sounding small and insignificant even to her.
Her mother looked up and whispered, “Jake and Alice eloped.”
“Eloped?” Alli went to Brittany’s side, and wrapped her arms around her sister’s convulsing form. “Oh, Brittany, I’m so sorry!”
“It didn’t happen! It didn’t happen!” Brittany’s voice was choked with her tears. “They were my best friends! Why would they do this to me?” She looked at Alli, tears streaming from her blue eyes.
Alli scowled angrily. “Because they’re stupid morons that don’t deserve you.
Brittany sat up. “You knew, didn’t you?” Her blue eyes searched Alli’s open face. “That’s what you kept trying to tell me, wasn’t it?”
Alli threw herself into Brittany’s arms. “Oh, Brittany, I’m so sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”
Brittany hugged her. “It’s not you, it’s him. It’s all him!”
Alli snuggled deeper into Brittany’s arms. “Want me to kill him? I could dig that rotten heart of his out with a spoon. Give him a taste of his own medicine.”
Brittany managed a small laugh and hugged Alli tighter. “But then I would lose my last best friend.”
The two girls held each other as they cried. Alli told herself that she would never let a guy hurt Brittany again, and she would think twice before believing that a guy really loved her. For now, however, she concentrated on comforting her sister. Alli knew that tears wouldn’t heal the hurt, but they would cleanse the wound. Only time could heal this betrayal.