My SAD Valentine

Valentine’s Day is the absolute best and worse for people like me.

I work for a singing telegram agency. I won’t tell you which one. Are you kidding me? After telling you this story, I would most definitely get fired if they knew.

So, for the last several years, in addition to singing telegrams, I’ve also been a member of the sad group of people who call Valentine’s Day for what it really is: Singles Awareness Day. Is anyone else aware of the irony that the acronym for that actually spells out the word SAD?

Yeah.

So SAD was coming up, and I was actually pretty excited this year, because, y’know, money. It’s one of our busiest days of the entire year and I knew I wouldn’t have time to mope. And our boss usually threw in some kind of bonus. Last year it was travel-sized bottles of hard liquor. I’m not sure what he was trying to tell us there, but none of us complained.

I got to work, changed into my ridiculous tuxedo (yes, even the women wore them), and ran through a couple of scales to warm up my vocal cords.

And then the boss gave us The List. There were eight of us working that day, and we were all booked solid. Not a surprise, really.

So I get my list and skim through the locations. I scored the student dorms this year, which is kind of equally awesome and depressing. I mean, I graduated from the university (no names, again, no way in hell I’m getting busted) a few years ago, and my degree in music performance has amounted to me waitressing most nights and singing telegrams all the others.

After checking locations, I move on to names, and my heart drops into my stomach. I know one of these names. It’s the name of the guy I have been totally in love with for the last couple of years. His stupid girlfriend works at the same restaurant I do—she’s a hostess, of course, because of course she’s prettier than I am—and it has come up once or twice that I do singing telegrams. It’s the only way she ever would have known about this.

Whatever. I try not to think about it. He’s not scheduled until later in the evening. Maybe I can swap with someone by then.

So I go on my first call. I get to this office—and damn it, I hate doing this at offices because it’s always the whole damn cube farm that watches, which isn’t just embarrassing for me, it’s usually humiliating for the recipient, too. Anyway. I pull out my pitch pipe and clench it tightly in my hand. I ask for the woman I’m supposed to sing to, and the guy at the desk waves me back. The way he’s smirking, he must have had foreknowledge of this.

I get back to this woman’s desk, and I introduce myself. I pull out the card, check that I’ve mentally queued up the right song, and blow the starting note on my pitch pipe. The woman is already bright red.

I do my thing, singing my heart out. Might as well get into it, right? She’s practically crying by the end and can barely get the question out. Who is responsible for this wonderful gift? I give her the card with the actual telegram, and she seems to wilt. Her husband. Who had she expected? A secret admirer?

I glance around and catch several sets of eyes watching us. I stand there for as long as I can politely stand it, but of course, the tip doesn’t come. Why do I even still hope for that?

She thanks me again, and I move off. Maybe her husband included the tip when he paid.

I ignore the cat calls as I leave.

I make my way to my next stop. A construction crew. Great. It’s times like these that I’m glad our standard uniform is a tux, even for the woman. It saves me a little bit of grace. However, I don’t make it through that stop without a great deal of heckling. The guy’s coworkers punch him in the shoulder several times. I hand him the card and don’t bother to wait for the tip. He can chase me down if he really wants to give me one.

Stop three. Another office. Another flustered, middle-aged woman. Another round of heckling from her coworkers. At least they were more focused on her this time than me, so I made a speedy getaway.

My next stop is the dorm. I stop at three different rooms, all girls, and each girl is very excited. So young and innocent. Just wait until they have their freaking hearts ripped out someday.

I am pleasantly surprised when one girl places a five dollar bill in my palm. She gives me a look that says she knows what it’s like to sing for your supper. Literally in my case. I give her an appreciative smile and nod. With a flourish, I hand her the telegram card. She gives me a shy smile and waves as I make my way out.

Time to head back to the office for a break. Time to try to get out of the telegram for my crush. My boss has other ideas, though. He gives us all two more telegrams and asks us to squeeze them in. None of my fellow singers are feeling very charitable after that, and I don’t know any of them that well, so I grit my teeth and hope that my boss can’t get it up when he gets home to his wife tonight.

My first stop back out is my first one at a private residence. It’s after five o’clock, and people are getting off work. Going door to door is probably as safe as delivering pizza, I suppose, but it still makes me nervous. I keep pepper spray in my pocket, just in case, although I’ve never needed it.

I knock on the door, and a teenaged kid answers. She gives me a strange look, and I introduce myself. She bursts out laughing and yells for her parents.

This is where it gets hard. When the person who ordered the telegram stands there and watches you perform. They secretly judge you. They are waiting for you to prove that you’re worth what they paid. We don’t charge much. It wouldn’t take much for them to get what they pay for. And I am damn good.

Ok, when I’m done singing, I realize another reason it’s hard. While the teenaged girl has practically lost her eyeballs in the top of her head because she’s rolling them so hard, I can see the love that her parents have for each other. He goes over to her and hugs her. She gives him a tentative kiss, eyes sliding to me, embarrassed. But he gives her a more passionate kiss, and she kisses back.

The girl make gaging sounds and leaves the room. I feel a slight tugging at my heartstrings.

Atheist that I am, I send up a silent prayer that my crush’s girlfriend is not there when I deliver her telegram. Not enough baby bottles of booze in the world to get through that hurt.

The man is a legit decent dude. He gives me a huge tip. I reward him with a wide smile and sing “Goodnight, Sweetheart” as I shimmy out the door. See? Bonus gets a bonus.

My next few stops aren’t nearly as awesome, but they all equally feel like I’m being stabbed in the chest. Love, love, sappy, love, hugs, tears, kissing. I have two more stops, and I wish I had a flask in my car.

The second-to last-stop is a crappy apartment where a broke college student surprises his girlfriend by proposing. It was one of those, so cute you want to puke but also secretly want it to happen to you type deals. I knew this was going to happen once I saw the song. I do what I’m supposed to do and keep singing while it’s happening.

They’re too busy staring lovingly into each other’s eyes to notice I’m done singing. I leave the roses and the card on a side table and let myself out.

And now I’m sitting here in my car with one last telegram to do before I’m done with this hellish day. And it’s for him. Do you want to hear about him? Well, too bad. I’m stalling for time, so you get our story.

We met during a production of Babes in Arms. I scored the lead, Billie Smith. Cast members were required to put in a certain amount of time at the shop to help build sets. He basically runs the shop, so we spent a lot of time together, mostly him telling me where to paint and not to take my hand off with the table saw. He came to see the show, and gave me a rose afterward, saying that my singing “My Funny Valentine” was the sweetest he’d ever heard.

And I fell totally in love with him, of course. I go back and help at the shop when I can, and we’re, y’know, social media connected. But I don’t think I’ve spent more than two hours with him total in the past year. I resort to cyberstalking him and his perfect hostess girlfriend.

I finger his telegram in my lap. I turn on my dome light to see what song the princess picked for her prince.

And suddenly all the air whooshes out of my lungs.

That bitch.

Oh. My. God. I knew she was a bitch. But this is a bitchy thing even for her.

It’s  not a Valentine’s Day telegram. It is a freaking breakup telegram.

I press my eyes shut. Is this my fault? Is karma kicking me in the asshole for secretly wishing for this? Surely I did something to piss off Cupid for this.

I can’t do it. I feel like I’m going to throw up. Yes, I might throw up. Too many candy hearts combined with life being too ironically stupid for me to handle.

I could just not show up. It’d come out of my pocket, though. With interest. The whole reason I worked my ass off today was because of the money. Clearly I have no pride, or I wouldn’t be doing this.

So I have to show up. If I call in sick, there’s nobody to do it for me. Plus we’re scheduled too tightly today. There’s nobody but me, and I have to go.

I could sing a different song. As I walk up to his door, I rack my brain for another song I could sing. But then what? He doesn’t know they are broken up, and he is probably even more humiliated. And that would really be my fault.

I chew my nail. I stand in front of his door.

Should I sing it? Not too late to flee.

The door jerks opened.

There he is.

“Oh. Hi! I thought you were the pizza. What are you doing here?” He gives me a strange look. He knows I do the singing telegram thing. But he doesn’t know why I’m here. I try to think of his roommate’s name. It slips my mind. All I can think about is how shitty it is to be dumped on Valentine’s Day. It’s worse than being alone.

I can’t do that to him.

“Are you here to sing me a telegram?” he asks, his perfect mouth curling into a smirk.

“Uh.” I clear my throat. “Yeah. I mean, no.”

He raises an eyebrow. “You ok? What’s up?”

I close my eyes. There’s no avoiding the blow. I have to tell him, but I want to give him something first.

So I sing “My Funny Valentine.” He smiles at first, and then his eyes glisten a little.

“Wow. Beautiful. Thank you. Was that a Valentine’s gift from—“

I cut him off before he can say her name. “No. That was from me.” I give him a meaningful look. Let it sink in. I can see consternation start to twist his face. I already know the words that will come out. I have a girlfriend. We’re just friends. I’ve never thought of you that way. I have a girlfriend.

“Here,” I say, giving him the card. “I’m sorry.”

I turn and walk away as fast as I can.

I get to my car, hand shaking, and I can’t get the key in it. I finally do, and he calls my name.

I turn slowly. I can see that he’s hurt. But he has that irresistible half-smile on his face.

“You want to stay for pizza?”

I blink. “You sure?

He nods slowly. “Yeah, actually.”

 

He shoves his hands in his pockets. He looks perfect, standing there in the halo of his porch light with that easy grin on his face.

I take a deep breath. What the hell, right? I’m off the clock now. We can celebrate Single’s Awareness Day together.

“Ok.”

Sara is a Kansas-grown author of the fantasy and horror persuasions. She is convinced that fantastical things are waiting for her just around the corner, and until she finds the right corner, she writes about those things instead.

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