The Two Worlds of Sydnee Cameron Year 3 Episode 15: A Green Valentine’s Day

Welcome to The Two Worlds of Sydnee Cameron, entering its third year. If you’re new to this series, just start reading. 

If you enjoy this episode and want to catch up on Year 1, you can start with Year 1, Episode 1: Winners and Losers or check out the List of Year 1 Episodes or read the Year 1 Synopsis.

Episode 15: A Green Valentine’s Day

“You’ve got plans next Saturday.”

My boyfriend Chris Clayton’s words—I couldn’t tell if he was asking a question or making a statement—caught me by surprise, and the plate I was lifting from the dishwasher slipped from my hand. Luckily, the plate’s fall was only a few inches, and it crashed harmlessly between matching ones.

“I don’t think I have plans.” I responded as if he’d asked a question and stacked clean plates.

“You do now.” The eagerness in his voice and grin on his face raised my curiosity.

“Okay.” I stepped around him and put the plates in the cabinet. “What are my plans?”

“It’s a surprise.”

“Is that why you abandoned me to do kitchen chores alone?” I waved at the stack of dirty dinner dishes in the sink waiting for an empty dishwasher. Chris and I always paired up when one of us had kitchen cleanup chores, but tonight, he’d ditched me after dinner.

“Kind of.” Chris watched me like I was supposed to be reacting somehow to his news. But with his news being a “surprise,” I had no clue how to react. Apparently, Chris decided to help me. “You do know what next weekend is, right?”

“Next Saturday is February thirteenth.”

“And the next day is . . .”

“February fourteenth.”

“Which is . . .”

“The middle of the month?” I stopped unloading the dishwasher and leaned against the counter. This could take a while.

Chris shook his head.

“Whatever that thing is in English when two words start with the same sound?”

“No. I mean, yes, it’s an alliteration, but no.”

“C’mon. You know I’m not very good at—Oh, Valentine’s Day!” I almost jumped up and down at my excitement over answering what should’ve been an easy question. Especially for a girl with a boyfriend.

“Good job.” Chris clapped his hands.

“So we’ve got a date for Valentine’s Day?” Probably a dumb question. He was my boyfriend. Of course we’d have a date on Valentine’s Day.

But I’m really slow on the obvious. Unless it’s literally two plus two equaling four, I need help.

“Yep.”

“What kind of date?”

Chris shook his head. “Not going to trick me into details.”

As if tricking him occurred to me. “I mean, is it a date that I should wear this for—” I pointed at my T-shirt and jeans. “—or date-date clothes.”

“Date-date clothes.”

“Okay.” I returned to my dishes chore.

“You’re not disappointed are you?” The excitement dissolved from his voice, unlike the strands of spaghetti I spied in the dishwasher’s trap. Yuck.

“Disappointed about what?” I’d clean out the spaghetti when no clean dishes risked contamination.

“I don’t know. That I planned the date. That I’m keeping it a secret. That you have to get dressed up.”

“What? No.” I froze clutching a glass in each hand. “If you didn’t make the plans, we wouldn’t celebrate at all, since I obviously didn’t remember Valentine’s Day.”

“So you’re excited?”

“Yeah.” I put a grin on my face.

“That almost looks believable.”

“I’m—”

“I’m teasing.” Chris took the glasses from me and put them in the cabinet. He took over unloading the dishwasher. “Holidays, anniversaries, you forget them all. Weird, since you’re number obsessed.”

I stepped aside and pinched my lower lip. He was only half right. I didn’t forget those things. I remembered the exact dates of every kiss, every date, every breakup. What I forgot was to celebrate on those days. Not the breakup days, obviously, but the others. The days anyone else would recognize as romantic.

“A special date for Valentine’s Day.” I explored the idea, searching for the giddiness I was supposed to feel. Hearts and flowers and chocolate. Nope, didn’t do anything for me. Chris and me, alone, away from his parents, his siblings, and my cousins. Holding hands. The spicy-sweet scent, some cologne or something that Chris only wore on our dates.

Those thoughts sent a tingle all over.

“I can’t wait.” I smiled again, this time, one-hundred percent believable.

***

Now that I knew about Valentine’s Day, I had ten days to get Chris a gift. Plenty of time, if I only had any idea what to buy.

Gifts for the boyfriend fell into the same romance category as anniversaries, and I was no less clueless. If I wasn’t under the pressure of a holiday, I’d have no trouble. I’d see a T-shirt or an autographed poster or anything at the sports memorabilia store in the mall and just buy it. But I’d bought every gift for Chris from there, before we were a couple, after we’d broken up, and every gift-giving holiday in-between. This year, for a Valentine’s Day that Chris had carefully planned, those gifts didn’t seem special enough.

I asked everyone I knew for suggestions.

Abby: “In a magazine, I saw the suggestion of a romantic date box. You put in a movie, popcorn and candy, drinks, a candle, and . . .” Her face had turned red, and she wouldn’t tell me what else had been included.

Angel: “I got Dean a pair of red boxers with heart-shaped basketballs on them.” This time, my face turned red.

Derrick: “Why are you asking me? Why do you always ask me these things? I. Don’t. Care.”

Joseph: “Valentine’s Day . . . think I should buy Lilli something? Or is it too soon for her to forgive me?”

Not helpful.

I even brought it up in a letter to Jaxon Braddock. I’m horrible at romantic gifts, and this weekend is Valentine’s Day. What am I going to get Chris?

The Wednesday before our big date, I still hadn’t found anything, despite scrolling through Amazon and Googling “Valentine’s Day Gifts for Guys.” Those only brought up suggestions that flamed my face. Romantic gifts wasn’t researchable.

When I got home from school that day, a letter waited on the table from Jax. I quickly tucked it into my backpack.

Chris acted like he hadn’t noticed, but he ripped open a box of crackers with enough force to send a dozen flying into the air.

I helped him clean up before we did our homework.

Later, after I was in bed, I read Jax’s latest letter. He talked about a science experiment gone wrong and how his Geometry teacher never explained things as well as I had. He said he’d finished reading the book of Acts and asked if I knew what had happened to the apostle Paul. Then he brought up Valentine’s Day.

You really need help choosing a present for your boyfriend? You’ve known Chris forever. And you can literally buy him anything he would want. Suggestions? Sports anything, right? Isn’t that what he’s into? Or tickets to a game. March Madness is coming up. Any of the games close enough?

Tickets to a March Madness game? Like the Sweet Sixteen or the Final Four? Why hadn’t I thought of that? I’d love to go to one of those games, but I’d never realized I could. But why couldn’t I? Like Chris said, I could literally buy almost anything. I’d just need David and Candy, Chris’s parents’, permission. And a close enough game.

I grabbed my phone and searched for tickets. One of the Final Four games, teams TBD, would be played in Chicago. A two-hour or so drive or I could buy plane tickets if David didn’t want Chris driving that far.

This could totally work. And be the best Valentine’s Day present ever. For Chris and me.

***

David agreed to the game and the plane tickets, but he had to join us. He said he’d pay for his own game-and-plane tickets and even sit in a different section. I insisted we sit together. Chris might not like his dad tagging along, but we were going to a basketball game, not a dinner for two or a movie.

So two days before Valentine’s Day, I finally bought Chris a gift. Luckily, March Madness tickets were purchased online. No wait for mail delivery. No visiting a ticket office. Just print and slide into an envelope. Done.

Then rip open the envelope because a Valentine’s present needed more than a sheet of paper, even if what was printed on that paper was better than any card I read in the store. But I found a cheesy one—what’s Valentine’s Day without a little cheese?—with a basketball and a line about bouncing into my heart, placed the folded, printed tickets inside, and put everything in a red envelope. Done. For real.

For the next two days, I felt jittery keeping Chris’s gift a secret. Then I woke up Saturday morning, and the whole world felt jittery. Spinning.

I sat up but immediately fell back against my pillow. My head throbbed. My stomach heaved. I squeezed my mouth and eyes shut. Not today. Any day except today.

Maybe if I laid here a few more minutes, the feeling would pass.

I might’ve fallen asleep or maybe I’d woken up a lot later than usual the first time. Either way, the next time I opened my eyes, the clock showed after ten. I never stayed in bed that late. Not even the morning after a double overtime basketball game that lasted until eleven p.m. at a school two-and-a-half hours away.

I pushed upright, slowly. The throbbing inside my head was still there, but less intense. If I got moving, I’d probably feel better. I twisted around until my feet dangled over the side of the bed. Anchored my heels to the floor. Stood. The room swayed for a moment. Deep breath. I could do this.

Dressing in jeans and a T-shirt took fifteen minutes. Sweat broke out along my hairline. Weird, since I was freezing. I pulled on a hoodie. My toes were cold, but socks would be too much work. I could deal.

I walked to the door, changed my mind, and dug a pair of socks out of my drawer. Another five minutes, and I finally left my room.

“You slept in.” Chris’s greeting in the kitchen was more like stating the obvious. He sat at the dining table in front of a plate piled with food I tried not to look at. “Mom made pancakes.”

My stomach reacted violently to the suggestion. “Not hungry. Thanks.”

“Getting extra sleep for your date tonight?” Elizabeth, Chris’s younger sister, wiggled her eyebrows and stuck a sticky, drippy forkful of pancake and syrup into her mouth.

“Our date,” I echoed. That’s right. Today was Chris’s and my big Valentine’s Day date. Chris’s surprise. I couldn’t be sick.

“You feeling okay?” Chris squinted at me.

“Uh, yeah.” I forced a smile.

“Good.” Chris chomped down on a piece of bacon.

I clamped my teeth.

“Today would be a bad day to be sick.” Chris didn’t know how close he was to the truth. Or maybe he did.

“I’m fine.” I would not be sick today. “I’ll be back.”

I left the kitchen for the bathroom, trying to move at a normal pace, not the careful shuffle of the seriously ill. Maybe I’d find something in the medicine cabinet. At least some tylenol or ibuprofen that might let me pretend to feel better.

When I reached the bathroom, I had to sit on the toilet to catch my breath before exploring the medicine cabinet. Not many options. Candy, Chris’s mom, kept most of the medicine in the master bathroom. But I found tylenol. Even better, they were children’s chewable tablets. I didn’t think my stomach could handle swallowing pills.

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The pink tablets tasted sickeningly sweet, but my stomach didn’t object. I chewed eight of them, half the box, but the right amount for my weight. Then I sat back on the toilet lid and waited for the magic to happen.

After about ten minutes, I felt exactly the same.

Someone knocked on the door. “I gotta go!” The high pitched, desperate voice belonged to seven-year-old Jamie, Chris’s little brother.

“Just a sec.” I stood, supporting myself with a hand on the cool ceramic vanity, and shuffled to the door.

Deep breath.

Smile.

Pretend to feel awesome.

“Bathroom’s all yours.” I stepped into the hall.

Jamie almost spun me around as he dodged inside. My hoodie barely missed catching in the slamming door.

“You sure you’re okay?” Elizabeth paused by our bedroom door. “You’re not getting sick, are you? Not before Valentine’s Day.”

Deep breath. Smile. Pretend to feel awesome. “Of course not. I’m fine.”

“Good.” Elizabeth sounded relieved, like my date mattered to her, and went into the bedroom.

Deep breath. Smile. Pretend to feel awesome. I repeated that over and over, and after a couple of hours, I was able to delete the “pretend.” I almost did feel awesome. Positive thinking? Or the tylenol kicking in?

Must’ve been the tylenol. By late afternoon, the throbbing returned inside my skull. Getting dressed for my date took ten times longer than it should’ve. Good thing I’d chosen my clothes the day before. I’d needed clothes from my mansion closet for something as special as tonight, and the thought of walking in the dark and cold from the Claytons’ to the mansion set me shivering.

I should probably take more tylenol.

The dark red dress didn’t warm me up. My legs were bare from the knees down, and the sheer sleeves added only style. So I slipped on a black sweater and a pair of black leggings I found buried in a drawer. Both were about three inches too short, but I felt less cold. Not warm, just less cold. Probably the best I could hope for.

Dressing took way too long again, so I was out of time when I went into the bathroom to do my hair. Didn’t matter. Brushing made my head ache. I couldn’t handle any twisting, pulling, or fastening. But I chewed up the last four children’s tylenol. Not a full dose, but hopefully enough. If anyone found out I was sick, the date would be off. I couldn’t do that to Chris. And I was still conscious and upright. That would have to be enough.

After grabbing a purse, which functioned as a hiding place for Chris’s present and nothing more, I walked out to meet my date.

Chris stood near the front door, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, drumming his fingers against dark khaki pants, looking as nervous as any date waiting to pick up his girl even though we’d been an off-and-on couple for over two years. Even though we lived in the same house. Even though this was his house.

And the way he grinned when he saw me . . .

I’d just been looking at myself in the bathroom mirror. I was pale, my eyes dull, my hair lifeless behind my ears. Nothing I’d seen deserved that kind of smile. But Chris gave it anyway, and a burst of fireworks inside me had me forgetting how awful I felt. For about two seconds.

“Are you ready?” Chris stepped forward and took my clammy hand in his warm, dry one. “You look beautiful.”

“Thanks.” If only my mother would view me like Chris did.

Where had that thought come from? Mother was not someone I wanted to think about, and most of the time, I didn’t. I shook her out of my head, figuratively since any real head shaking would leave me dizzy.

Chris and I walked hand-in-hand into the garage. He opened the car door for me, and I winced when he pushed it shut. The metal-on-metal sound rattled my brain. Luckily, Chris was walking around the car and didn’t notice.

Deep breath. Smile. Pretend to feel awesome.

Worked earlier today, so maybe the mantra would work tonight.

We were silent on the drive. Chris kept glancing at me, so I forced the corners of my mouth to stay tipped up. At least he didn’t try to get me to talk. But quiet was normal.

Chris drove into the parking lot of L’assiette, and my smile fell off my face. I rubbed my foot against the hem of my leggings like I could make them longer. This was the nicest place in town, kept alive by people like my parents and Jax’s on evenings when they couldn’t fly into Chicago for something better. “We’re eating here?”

“Yeah. Valentine’s Day. Reservations.” Chris sounded proud of himself, but then his smile fell off. Not a good night for smiles. “Is this okay?”

“As long as I don’t have to eat snails.” My stomach lurched at my joke. “I’ve tried them before, but I’m not in the mood for them tonight.”

“No snails. Promise.” Chris’s smile returned. He got out of the car and rushed to open the passenger door for me.

He didn’t need to hurry. I still moved like the world was made of water and everyone in it had fins but me.

I locked my arm through Chris’s and let him walk me into the restaurant. The coat check room was near the door. I checked my sweater too, leaving me goose bumpy. But this wasn’t a restaurant for a too-short sweater. I should probably slip into the ladies’ room and shed my leggings.

The first thing I noticed was the quiet. No TVs blasted a game. No music competed with dinner conversations.

My head felt happy. Or at least as happy as my head could feel when aching as if stuffed with a scratchy, bunched up tutu.

An impossibly tiny woman—tiny wrists, tiny ankles, tiny neck—showed us to a table lit with a candle floating in a shallow glass bowl of water. Everything on the table was white, except the silverware lined up on the cloth placemat.

I opened my menu. I’d barely eaten all day, but not in anticipation. My stomach rebelled with each description. Filet Medallions in White Wine Sauce. Chicken Livers Sautéed in Butter on a Bed of Greens. Prawns with Hollandaise Sauce.

Simple and bland. That’s all I could handle.

“Would you like anything to drink other than water?” The waitress caught me by surprise. She set a goblet of water in front of each of us and waited for a response.

“Coke,” Chris said.

“Sprite.” Maybe the lemon-lime and carbonation would settle my stomach.

“I’ll be back in a few moments to take your order.” She left as silently as she’d appeared.

“What are you going to have?” Chris asked from behind his menu. “The filet sounds good. Or maybe prawns.”

“I don’t know.” I continued searching for simple and bland. Boring. Like soup. A consommé with mushrooms and asparagus. Perfect.

“What would you like tonight?” The waitress placed our drinks on the table and folded her hands in front of the narrow black apron tied below a white button-down shirt.

Chris nodded at me to order first.

“The consommé.” I pointed in the menu, then handed it to the waitress.

“Is that all?” she asked.

“Yes.”

Chris narrowed his eyes and scanned the menu. “Aren’t you going to eat something?”

“Yes. The soup.”

“I mean real food.” Chris’s voice was tight, and I had the feeling I’d done something wrong. But I couldn’t figure it out around the fogginess.

“All I want is soup.” Why waste food? At best, I’d take a few bites. At worst, those few bites wouldn’t stay down.

The waitress listened without changing her expression. I couldn’t tell from her if I was messing up the date or what.

Chris frowned over the top of his menu—hardly a romantic look—then slapped his menu closed. “The filet mignon with potatoes.”

“I’ll tell the chef.” The waitress picked up the menus and retreated.

“You’re doing it again.” Chris leaned toward the middle of the table, his voice harsh.

“Doing what?”

“Being cheap. Acting like I can’t afford to spend more on a date than the price of soup.” He said “soup” like Jamie would say “spinach.”

“But soup is all I want.”

“Yeah, right.” Chris thumped back against his chair and looked around the room, his glance going everywhere but to me. “You can eat way more than a bowl of soup. You can eat as much as me. More sometimes.”

I rubbed my forehead and groaned. The ache was getting worse, and the thought of eating like normal . . .

“I wanted—”

“Stop.” I lowered my hand and stabbed him with a glare of my own. “I know what you wanted, which is why I’m here tonight. I feel terrible.”

“You should,” he muttered.

“Not for the reasons you think.” If I’d had the energy, I would’ve kicked him under the table. “I’m sick, Chris. My head hurts and my stomach can’t handle anything more than soup—if it can handle that. But I didn’t want to ruin tonight by letting you know. If I’d realized how important ordering was for our date . . .”

“You’re sick?” Chris’s gaze landed on me again, and the heat in his voice evaporated. “I guess that explains why you slept in this morning and didn’t eat much and looked so, um, less like normal.”

“Thanks.” My sarcasm was only half-serious.

“Do you really feel that bad? Because we can go home now and go out again next weekend.”

“No. I’ll be fine. I took some tylenol.” I’d already survived this far; no reason to give up now. “Besides, I’ve got your present.”

“A present?” The eagerness on Chris’s face made up for our earlier fight.

“Yep.” I pulled the envelope out of the purse. Anticipation danced through my veins, overpowering the germs still determined to take me out. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

Chris opened the envelope, the flap scritch-scratching. The smile that spread across his face while he read said I’d chosen well. Then he set the card and envelope down and unfolded the tickets. The real present.

His smile disappeared, replaced by wide eyes and a slack mouth. “Final Four tickets? You got us tickets to the Final Four?”

“Just one game. And we’re flying up there, but I didn’t put those tickets in the card. And David’s coming with us.”

“Wow. These must’ve—” Chris clenched his jaw. “I mean, I can’t believe you got us tickets to the Final Four. This is awesome.”

“I know, right? I can’t believe I never thought about it before, until Jax suggested it.”

“What?” That one word snapped off Chris’s excitement. The hardness returned to his eyes. “You asked Jax what to get me for Valentine’s Day?”

I didn’t quite understand why mentioning Jax was bad, but I should’ve known better. Jax always got this reaction. I blamed being sick. My head just wasn’t connected.

“I asked everybody. You had something big planned, and I wanted to get you something just as special.”

“So you asked Jax?”

“And Derrick and Angel and Abby and Joseph.”

Chris folded the tickets and returned them to the envelope. He wasn’t looking at me again, but with his head down, I couldn’t tell if he was angry or something else.

“So do you not want to go to the game because of how I came up with the present?” I sidestepped mentioning Jax’s name.

“I still want to go.” Head still lowered, Chris slid the envelope under his silverware.

“Do you want to go with someone other than me?”

Chris didn’t answer.

I was trying to make a joke. Mostly. What if he did want to go with someone else?

“Of course I want to go with you.” Chris raised his head, but his expression was indecipherable. Not happy. Not angry.

“Is it a good present?” Ugh, I sounded needy. But gift buying was difficult, so feedback was important. For future holidays.

“Yes. It’s the best present you’ve ever gotten me.” The sincerity was clear, but Chris’s smile lacked wattage. My insides didn’t warm.

The waitress returned with Chris’s filet and my soup. If possible, I had even less appetite now. I’d failed at Valentine’s Day. No surprise, since I usually failed any romantic occasion. But I’d tried this year. Stupid sickness.

The rest of the meal passed quietly. My aching, foggy brain couldn’t come up with much small talk. Just stuff about the food being good.

Chris paid the bill, and we picked up our coats from the coat check. Then we walked into the cold darkness, back to the car. I wanted, no needed, some way to fix tonight. To turn it back into the romantic date Chris planned.

“Chris—”

“I love you, Sydnee.”

His words knocked whatever I was going to say right out of my head. Not hard to do tonight, but still.

“I love you,” he repeated, waving the envelope I’d given him. “More than tickets to any game or any meal in a fancy restaurant.”

“I love you too.” This was only the second time I’d said those words to Chris, and they filled me with a electricity. “More than anything—or anyone—else.”

Chris moved in like he was going to kiss me.

“I’m sick.” I ducked away, not wanting to share my germs any more than I already had by breathing the same air.

“I don’t care.” Chris cupped my cheek and pressed his lips against mine.

Maybe I hadn’t failed at Valentine’s Day after all.

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