Candy Hearts

“Be mine”, crunch. “XOXO”, crunch. “Say Yes”, crunch. I alternate sips from the glass of Merlot sitting in my left hand with the candy hearts I’m gorging with my right. Looking at the box, the amount of hearts on the cover nauseates me, but that could be due to the thirty-something ones that were already sitting in my stomach, fizzing in acid. On the brink of vertigo, I gulp down some more wine before I resume popping them into my mouth, one by one, like an addiction. I don’t even like the taste of them truth be told, but I was at the grocery store earlier and I wanted something that took effort to chew, something hard. They were also on sale since it’s February 15th. I felt bad for them; standing at attention on the shelf, ready to give and be loved. A lapse in better judgement—and caught in a moment of weakness—I bought the hearts, along with the wine. I remember the cashier who checked my items out, not knowing quite what to make of my stock. She was trying to figure out whether I was a bad girlfriend who’d forgotten about Valentine’s Day, or if I was depressed. “That’ll be $14.79. Are you sure that’s all you want? You know we have roses in the front, and apology cards in aisle seven”. I only responded with a stare and gave her the cash, with exact change. I didn’t have the energy to tell her that I was very much alone, or that she was a bad feminist.
My fingers smooth over the curves of the next candy heart I’m planning to devour. Although the text was off center leaving only the bottom half legible, I could still make out what was printed. “Angel”. The last guy I slept with called me that. I haven’t had sex in six months. I want that fact to rouse anger and frustration within me, but it doesn’t. Although I try, my body can’t be bothered to feel that way. And it’s not because I don’t want to have sex, believe me I do. Casual sex meant non-committal gratification, and that’s the name of the game I wanted to play. It felt like a dare every time I went out, meeting a stranger, communicating through possessive stares until erotic desire kicked into overdrive and one of you made the first move. Something small, like an arm touch, a hand on the small of your back, a whisper where their breath lingers on your neck. The spark to start the flame. No strings attached, just sex. However, what they never tell you is the build up is better than the climax, or lack thereof. I find myself faking an orgasm too often because I know I could do it better myself, and then I’m overwhelmed with the excitement of when I get to leave. I’ll be lying there, romanticizing the walk back to my apartment while some man whispers sweet nothings in my ear. No one talks about the awkwardness of sex, especially with someone new. You can read their body language, but you don’t know what’s in their head. You figure that out with time, and I wasn’t interested in the long term; it was a liability. So I stopped.
With heightened anticipation I shake the box like a magic eight ball, leaving my fate to chance. “Stay”. I ran my thumb over the smudged red text, applying pressure so it could smear some more. That was the last thing I said to Fred before—. I haven't heard from Fred in ages. He’s moved out now, but I still can’t sit on his side of the couch. His side, my side; our unspoken rule. We balanced out; each of us on either end. Now that he’s gone, the seesaw is missing a partner. It’s pathetic I know, but I still text him sometimes. I never send it, god no, but I type it out, always the same message. “Let’s not end things like this. Talk to me, please. I wish I could take back everything. I just need to know if you hate me”. That’s as far as I get before I delete it all. Oh god—my hand reaches out for my phone. I’m not telling it to do this. It wants to text Fred, and I just can’t cope. Before the impulse absolutely controls me, I throw my phone across the couch where I see it fall into the crevice between the cushion and the frame. I put the heart back in its box, returning the fortune. I suddenly lost my taste for candy. Buzz. Buzz. I start as I hear a noise coming from the crevice where my phone is. I’m scared. I don’t want to pick up the phone. Buzz. Please don’t let it be Fred, but let it be Fred. Buzz. I wouldn’t even know what to say. My heart’s thumping. Buzz. Hesitantly, I dig for my phone. I didn’t even realize I was holding my breath until I turned it over. Buzz. Incoming call, from Beth.
“Hello,” I muffled out, hoping my acting was good enough to convince her that I was asleep so that I could return to my pity party. I look at the clock, it’s 1am.

“Don’t pull that with me. I know you’re awake.” I’ve been caught.

“What do you want Beth?”. My response was curt, but she did call at an odd hour, and she wasn’t the person I was hoping would call.

“Jesus,” I’ve already offended her, “am I not allowed the right to call my own sister.”

“Not at one in the morning.”

“Well clearly I’m not interrupting anything so I don’t see what the problem is.”

Beth never calls for late night “chats”, and certainly not with me. She’s more of the strict sleep schedule type of person; something about too many precious hours, little time to waste. I hated her type of optimism, and she my despondency veiled in humor. That’s not to say we hate each other, it’s just weird at the moment.

“If you aren’t going to tell me what’s wrong I’m hanging up.”

“Wait, wait, wait. Ok, you’re going to think this is so dumb, but Serena”—Beth’s irritatingly perfect wife—“bought me those silly candy sweethearts, and...well I was eating them, and you won’t believe what one of them said, It was really such as surprise—”

“What did it say Beth?” Beth rambles, and time was far too precious to keep the conversation longer than it had to be.

“It said ‘Tulip’.”

I didn’t know how to respond, so I didn’t. “I couldn’t believe it either,” Beth continued. “I didn’t even think it was that common. I was genuinely surprised”. “Tulip” was what my mother used to call me. I haven’t heard it from anyone since she passed away. Hearing it now, and from my sister’s sounded familiar and foreign at the same time. There was another version of me that existed in its own liminal space, now reawakened.

“Haven’t heard that in a long time.”

“Too long, if you ask me. It really suited always had so much love inside you, and so ready to give it. Thought you’d want to hear it again.” I did.

“I shouldn’t have called, I’m sorry, I should’ve texted you—”
“You can call me that...if you want,” I heard myself say.

“Ok, um ok, If that’s ok with you. I miss you, you know. I miss us.” I feel her words wrap around me and I wish they could stick to my skin, become permanent.

“Me too, goodnight Beth.”

“Goodnight Tulip.”

After hanging up, I shake the sweetheart box again, and the last heart fell into my palm again. “Stay”. I pull out my phone and type out that message I know by heart. My thumb trembles over the word “send”. Just do it Tulip, do it, please do it. I toss the heart into my mouth and suck on it while I wait for a response to the most dangerous text I’ve ever sent. Self-defense instincts activate, and I curl my knees into my chest, the only thing keeping me from completely combusting. With immediate regrets I snatch my phone. There had to be a way to undo a text, but it didn’t matter anyway. As I read the notification I couldn’t tell if it was me or the glow of the screen that was making my face hot. I had one new message from Fred.