Harry sends Valentines in the summer. Rose reads them in restaurant parking lots.
Rose aspires to be the World’s Greatest Journalist.
So when she got accepted for an internship at Under the Blue, a marine biology magazine, she was pretty ecstatic. And when she went to Sea World for a little ‘welcome home from college’ trip with her friends, she thought it was a bit strange that most of the orca whales never seemed to live beyond a decade, at most.
When she walked into the Under the Blue offices the first day with that story on her mind, it was a bit of a reality check when all that they asked of her was to deliver coffee to meetings and photocopy print outs of that month’s issue. And when she did the same the next day, and the next, she realized that it was going to be tough to get herself noticed in this place.
So yeah, starting from the bottom isn’t exactly ideal, and serving coffee isn’t very exciting, but isn’t this how all the greats started?
That’s how Rose reassures herself, at least.
Besides her internship, summer may not be that exciting, but the bright California sun and breezy blue skies are a nice change from the cloudy cold New England “spring” she’s spent the last semester in. Still, since going to college on the east coast, a part of her feels as if it’s been left on the other side of the country.
And when she’s home at night researching orca whales her brain is (not) somewhere far away. It has (nothing, nothing), to do with the brown-eyed boy she left all the way back in New Hampshire, who looks at her like he’s got stars in his eyes.
Not at all.
“Letter from Harry came for you today,” her twin brother Gabe says in passing one night after she gets home from interning all day. They’re the kind of fraternal twins that look just alike. Except for the fact that Gabe is a head taller and Rose’s dark hair falls evenly to her shoulders, they’ve got the same green eyes, slender hands, and ears that are slightly too big for their heads.
He tosses a white envelope with terrible aim and it hits the wall beside her, coming to rest next to her left foot. She stares at it for a moment before picking it up, and well- that’s nice. She tries to ignore the way her heart sputters in her chest as she pushes her dark hair out of her face and straightens up.
“Doesn’t send me mail, though, does he?” Gabe mutters. “Since when do girlfriends come before roommates?”
“I’ll tell him you want his most elicit love letters,” Rose smirks.
“Harry doesn’t know how to write an elicit love letter,” Gabe rolls his eyes. He pauses at the doorway. “Oh, also, do you need the car for tomorrow?”
Rose raises an eyebrow at him. He knows she works in the city every day, while he’s off at the sandwich shop down the street for extra cash. “Yes,” she says.
“Thought so,” Gabe says with a sigh. “Do you think you could drop me off downtown real quick? At Jerry’s Pizza? I’m meeting some friends and spending the night. In like, five minutes?”
The envelope feels smooth beneath her fingertips and she’s itching to open it, and she could, in the five minutes before they leave…but, she wants more time than this. For stupid reasons she’s trying to ignore.
“Yeah, sure.” She waves a hand, gestures for him to get his shoes on.
The ride is quick, and it would only take another two minutes to get home, but the minute Gabe is out of the car with a hasty “Thanks, sis!” she’s reaching into her back pocket for her letter.
She opens the envelope and it’s so Harry, so very Harry that her chest actually aches just from the very Harry-ness of it. She can’t help the enormous smile that tugs at her lips.
It’s a card, a simple white card with an enormous red heart on the front. Inside, she finds familiar slanted handwriting.
Roses are red
Violets are blue
Roses are prettier
I like you
A little Love, Harry is scribbled in the corner, and Rose feels warmth run over her like a current, from her cheeks to the tips of her toes.
He sent her a Valentine, in freaking June.
She pulls out her phone, a smile still lingering on her lips, and types out a text.
You’re a sap, you know that?
A few minutes pass and she’s still sitting in the parking lot of Jerry’s Pizza, and the sun is setting a hazy orange in the distance as she reads the short lines again, then maybe a third time, perhaps a fourth- and her phone buzzes with a response, and maybe he guesses what she’s referring to, or maybe he doesn’t have a clue.
* * *
His smile and his handwriting.
They were probably the first two things Rose noticed about him, the first day he sat down beside her in the front row of their marine biology course last semester. (Which was awfully sappy of her, but.)
“Mind if I sit here?” he’d asked with a friendly lilt to his voice, catching her eye.
She’d shaken her head. “Not at all.”
She recognized him, vaguely, from somewhere, but she couldn’t put it down. His brown eyes caught hers again and they seemed to gleam, slightly, as his lips pressed into a soft, lopsided smile. He took the chair beside hers and, well, okay.
Class began, and she sat ready with her pen poised over the first line of a fresh sheet of notebook paper. She wasn’t studying to become a marine biologist (she majored in Journalism, of course), but she needed the class to fulfill her science requirement, and she was surprised to find just how much she enjoyed learning about the ebbs of the tide and ecology of zooplankton (because, well, who would have thought those things could be interesting?)
He did, obviously. As Rose copied down notes, her eyes slid from her notebook to the boy sitting beside her. He had a mop of wavy brown hair that shadowed his eyes, and a dusting of freckles on his nose. His handwriting slanted neatly to the left, and he wrote meticulously, as if he had all the time in the world. When he finished his bullet point he looked up to listen to the professor, but his eyes caught on Rose, watching him.
She looked away quickly because no, she wasn’t watching him. She was just…well, it was human nature to be curious about the people around oneself. Of course.
The class plowed on and Rose took very diligent notes on deep water circulation, which, admittedly, wasn’t the most interesting lecture they’d had so far, but she wasn’t about to let her mind (or eyes) wander anywhere they really shouldn’t. Not if she wanted to get an A and not look like a creep to the innocent boy beside her (even though she wasn’t staring. She wasn’t.)
When class was over, Rose quickly tucked her notebook into her bag. She was just about to swing it over her shoulder and head to the library to get a head start on homework when a voice spoke up behind her and- yes, it definitely sounded familiar.
“Hi…uh, hi?” His voice sounded hesitant and when she turned to meet his gaze, it was still obscured partly by his mass of wavy dark hair. He brushed it away and offered a slow smile that was all bright brown eyes, and she didn’t even know the guy, so there really wasn’t any good reason she should have found the whole thing so endearing.
“Hi,” Rose said.
He cleared his throat. “You’re Gabe’s sister, right?” he asked. “Gabe Clearwater?”
“Yeah, I-” she started, and it came flooding back to her. Running into Gabe on the first day of classes in the busy dining hall, he was with his roommate- him, the bushy haired boy in front of her. But what was his name? Larry Something?
“Oh!” she said, “Oh, sorry, yes. You’re- his roommate.”
The boy nodded, looking pleased. He held out his hand. “Harry.” She thanked the gods that he thought to introduce himself again. Though in all fairness, he probably forgot her name, too.
“Rose.” She shook his hand, and she didn’t notice that it was warm, or strong, or any of those things.
He slid his own notebook in his backpack and gestured for the door. They walked out together, and Rose suddenly found she couldn’t think of a single thing to say. So, my brother’s messy, don’t you agree?
“What did you think of class today?” he asked as they walked out of the lecture hall. Classic ice breaker. Why didn’t she think of that?
“It was alright,” she shrugged. “Usually I find it more interesting. Today was a bit dry.”
An odd little smile broke out over Harry’s face. “Pun intended?”
She blinked. “What?”
“You said, today was a bit dry,” he said. “Today’s lecture. Deep water circulation. Dry.”
She blinked again, staring at him as they walked out of the classroom. “That…that is so awful.”
He grinned, and it lit up his entire face. “I know. I like puns.”
When they got outside the afternoon clouds were hanging low, but his face was still so bright and dear god she wasn’t sure how she felt about his sense of humor.
“Well, I’ll see you around, Rose,” he said as he started stepping in the opposite direction.
And when he sat down beside her in the next class, and the next, she would briefly wonder if it was because he was hoping to get another good pun out of her.
* * *
It’s early in the morning and Rose is in the parking lot of a Starbucks. She hadn’t seen the letter that had come for her yesterday, and her mother passed it to her this morning when she was grabbing the car keys and slipping her shoes on and clearly didn’t have time to read such an important parcel, but she couldn’t very well leave it at home.
So when she was sent out to fulfill her official intern duties (aka get coffee) she figured the office could spare a few extra minutes for something all of them had already consumed that morning, anyway.
This time, there’s a dolphin on the front, diving into a sea of blue hearts, and oh my gosh, Harry, she thinks to herself. She chokes back a stupid smile and opens the card.
You’re the bait that got me hooked! You give my life porpoise.
And- that’s- wow.
There’s a hastily scribbled Love, Harry in the corner, and dear God, the cheese is practically melting off of this card, and it almost scares her how lovely she feels with the knowledge that out of everyone in the world, she’s the one Harry’s sent this atrociously sweet sentiment to.
Once she can effectively control her smiling muscles, she carefully slides the card back into the envelope and gets out of the car to order the coffees. And if there’s a tiny spring in her step in being reminded that she does have worth beyond providing caffeine and photocopying (she gives his life porpoise, what an utter goof), well, it just makes getting the daily coffee all that much smoother for one morning, at least.
She arrives back at the Under the Blue offices about thirty minutes later, her fasted record yet, even with the five minutes she took to read Harry’s card.
“Someone sure is happy, hmm?” the receptionist at the front desk says when Rose comes striding through the front doors with two cardboard trays of coffee. Her name is Jenny, she’s got curly red hair and can’t be that much older than Rose herself.
“Oh, ah, sorry?” Rose says, startled, meeting her curious gaze.
“You’re very smiley today,” Jenny says with a slight grin, tapping her pen against the desk. “It looks nice on you, keep at it.”
Rose smiles even wider, and because they gave her enough money to get a coffee for herself, she takes the extra cup and plunks it down in front of Jenny, because the envelope in her back pocket is enough to sustain her for the next five days, probably.
* * *
The first time they hung out outside of class, they went to get coffee.
After classes and classes (or maybe two, three tops) of sitting beside each other, obviously they went to get coffee. Tentatively uttered like the thousands of college kids before him, Harry said one day at the end of lecture, “So, uh, are you busy now? Or would you like to maybe get coffee?”
And it just so turned out that Rose was not busy, unless she wanted to get ahead on homework like she usually did, which would be the smart thing to do (except, not really). So she said, like the thousands before her on the receiving end of that question, “Sure.”
They went to the Starbucks just off of campus, and there were those several painfully uncertain moments in which she wasn’t sure if he wanted to pay, and when he said that he did, she had to say her painfully awkward, “Oh, no, that’s alright,” and he said, “No, I’ve got it,” and she said, “No, really, it’s alright,” and he said “No, really, I’ve got it,” and he paid a whole three dollars on her and it most certainly was not a date.
Just some classmates hanging out outside of class.
“Over here,” he said, and led her to a table in the far corner by the back window. Usually the place was bustling with studying students, but at such an odd afternoon hour on a random Tuesday, it was unusually quiet. Rose wouldn’t say she hated it.
It was, perhaps, an interesting seating choice, but Harry leaned across the table and said, eyes alight, “This is my favorite table to study.” He murmured it like he was sharing a beautiful secret, and Rose felt her lips quirk up into a soft smile.
“I like it,” she said, and Harry leaned back and grinned, obviously pleased with her approval. He was so very easy to please.
And she did like it. It was set apart, just slightly, from the rest of the coffee shop, and the sight through the back window gave one the perfect view of the parking lot and an empty bench.
“People sit on that bench, sometimes,” Harry said, pointing. “They can be interesting to watch.”
“Yeah?” Rose said, intrigued. “What’ve you seen?”
“Hm,” Harry said, like he did when he was thinking. She imagined him carefully looking through the shelves in his mind, so delicately preserved and organized,
searching for the right memory to share with her.
His eyes lit up, and she knew he’d hit upon a good one.
“There were these two boys once, and they were maybe like, ten years old, eleven? And one of them had a box, like a good sized cardboard box, and I bet they thought they were all sneaky, out back like that.” His voice was slightly hushed like he was imparting some sacred wisdom to her.
“What was in the box?” Rose asked, lowering her voice to match his and leaning in slightly.
“Well that’s the question, isn’t it?” Harry said. “I mean, they may have been out back, but they weren’t very obscure about it at all.” He leaned back, smirking. “I think they robbed a bank. Two million dollars in there, perhaps more. Definitely no less.”
Rose laughed, taking a sip of her coffee. The taste was rich on her tongue; she never liked a lot of sugar.
“Either that,” Harry went on, “or like, a snake. A giant boa, probably.”
“I hope so.”
Harry shrugged. “I mean, I did see them drop a dead mouse in there.”
Rose lowered her coffee, snorting. “Yeah, I’m sure.”
But Harry merely shrugged, tapped the lid of his own coffee as if he had some secret method of deducing if it was cool enough to drink. He probably did.
And that was the thing, with Harry. He was never ruffled. Someone could accuse him of conspiring to kidnap the president and he would merely shrug and say, “Maybe I am.” And they would laugh, but later, while eating dinner or doing laundry or brushing their teeth, they would suddenly pause and think, “Maybe he is.”
But that was Harry, and Rose knew him well enough to know he was too good to kidnap so much as a spider from its web. And the fact that she knew that pleased Harry, she could tell, because it showed in shine of his smiling eyes.
* * *
A couple of weeks pass before Rose gets the third Valentine, which she reads in the parking lot of her mother’s favorite seafood restaurant – a little hole in the wall fried clam place – as Gabe runs in to pick up their take-out. It’s their mother’s birthday tomorrow, and Gabe came up with the sentimental idea of surprising her today, and, well, Rose would never say no to a dinner of fried clams and looking like a good daughter.
And things have looking up for her internship. By this point she’s gotten beyond the role of coffee girl and now she sits in on meetings and takes notes and offers her opinions and they might actually ask to her write a piece, with her name written, published, in an actual magazine. One step closer to being the World’s Greatest Journalist. One step closer to alerting the world that orca whales should actually be living as long as a century, not a feeble ten years.
Harry’s excitement for her shows in his Valentine, not that it really makes any actual sense.
I like my coffee how I like my girls, sweet, pretty, and smart!
On the front of the card he’s drawn a little mug of coffee, with eyes and a smiling mouth and arms with two hands, one of which is holding a pen, the other with a notebook. And he’s given her eyelashes, which Rose supposes refers to the “pretty” part. She’s entirely sure it’s supposed to be a portrait of herself.
And beneath the Love, Harry there’s a p.s. do you get it? Smart because she’s got a pen and notebook in his hands, because she’s going to write an article, like you!
And the “sweet” is no mystery at all. Sure, maybe Rose is sweet, but she could never amount to the extent of sugar in his coffee. It’s almost sickening (except he went light that first time they went to Starbucks. “Didn’t want to shock you,” he’d said on a later coffee date, after she witnessed him empty about seventeen packets of Sweet n’ Low into his cup. “I was weaning you onto my ways.”).
And while the card doesn’t really make sense, it makes Harry-sense, which is an entire branch of sense in its own. Which means she totally gets it, which is slightly alarming.
“What the hell?” Gabe says once he slides back into the car and plucks the card right out of her hand. He holds a big greasy paper bag in his lap, and immediately the mouthwatering scent of fried food fills the air. He glances over the drawing of the coffee mug, then flips the card open and skims it. He holds it back out to her. “Harry’s fucking weird.”
“Shut up,” Rose says as she snatches the card from his fingers. She slides it back into its envelope and puts the car into reverse. “He’s sweet. And don’t fucking swear so much.”
* * *
Rose was never in the habit of visiting Gabe much while they were at school. They saw enough of each other at home, why did they need to hang out at college?
Except, all of the sudden that question had an answer, and it started with ‘H’ and ended with ‘arry.’
Suddenly, Rose had all sorts of reasons she could go knocking on Gabe’s (and Harry’s) door. “Hey, you major in business, how do you think the journalism business is going? Oh, as bad as ever? Thanks, Gabe” or “Studies show that twins need to spend more time together, so here I am! Of course they’re real studies. I don’t know their names, do you think I copy down the names of random researchers in my spare time? Shut up, Gabe.”
Fortunately, she never sunk so low as to actually do that, but a weaker part of her found herself spending an increasing amount on coffee at Starbucks. Because, fine, maybe a tiny part of her hoped Harry might be at that corner back table, and well, sometime he was, and if they spent more time together outside of class than they did in class, well. That was nice.
Then there was that one Friday afternoon that Gabe called her, because he and Harry were having some friends over that night to just “chill,” and by chill, of course, he meant have a party.
“And basically someone just really wants you to come,” Gabe said pointedly, and Rose could practically hear him glaring at Harry from wherever he was in their room.
Still, she said in her sweetest voice, “You?”
“Exactly,” Gabe said dryly. And sure, she’d come to the party.
Rose showed up about a half an hour later than the time Gabe told her to be there (college party protocol, of course. Don’t want to be lame and get there first, don’t want to get there sort of late for awkward mingling. Safest to get there when the party was in full swing, especially if coming alone.). She was slightly nervous, for some reason, and her hopes weren’t all that high. These were Gabe and Harry’s friends, though she supposed she was included in that group, but.
Whatever. They all knew why she was coming, anyway.
And Harry wanted her to come. Forced Gabe to make a stupid phone call (even though he did have her number, the wuss). That earned her at least a ten minute conversation with him, right? She didn’t walk the six and a half minutes from her dorm for nothing.
And then- when she knocked on the door, he was the one to answer, and his eyes lit up like it was freaking Christmas morning, and she was not prepared for that reaction or the formfitting blue button down he was wearing, sleeves rolled up the elbows, hair tousled back as if a nice breeze had passed through the dormitory. It probably did, just for Harry McBride’s stupid wavy locks.
No, she did not sign up for this.
“Rose!” he said, and because it was a party and he was a host, he leaned forward and hugged her. And it should have been awkward and with one arm and fifty feet between them, but. It was strong and warm and not something he did to be polite but because he meant it, and if he lingered, just a little, well. Okay.
“You smell nice,” he said once he pulled away, and she would have responded with “I love you, too” if she didn’t have that last feeble ounce of self-restraint left.
Honestly, she suddenly wanted to announce to the party, I don’t normally get like this over boys! I swear! On my twin’s life! But no one would believe her, and Gabe, most likely, would die.
But Harry just smiled, his expression nothing but soft and intent and on her, and all the voices behind him turned muffled as her heart grew five sizes in her chest and something strange in her relaxed and told her it’s okay to like a boy, it’s a beautiful, dizzying thing and maybe, later, you can kiss him, but right now just take it slow, because you’re okay. You’re okay.
“Thanks,” she finally said, and he grinned and gestured for her to follow him into the party, but grabbed her hand anyway.
* * *
Rose has lost count of the Valentines by the time she gets the mail one Saturday and finds the familiar envelope with his handwriting. She smiles to herself and is just about to start opening it right then and there when her phone buzzes in her pocket.
pick me up from work ?
Rose sighs, but fine, she’ll pick up Gabe from work. Even though it only takes about ten minutes to walk home. Because she’s a good sister.
So she stuffs the card in her back pocket and drives the two minutes down the street to the parking lot of the sandwich shop that Gabe’s working at for the summer. Of course, she probably didn’t need to leave so fast, but. Rose pulls the envelope out of her pocket and tears the seal.
There’s a little fish on the front, leaving behind a trail of heart shaped bubbles. Rose bites her lip.
There’s no one in the deep blue I love as much as you! (and you know how much I love fish)
And Rose truly feels honored because she does know just how much Harry loves fish. And as someone who’s taken a whole marine biology course, works for a marine biology magazine, and has been researching sea life furiously in the last few weeks, yes, she can understand what is to maybe like your girlfriend more than you like fish.
And orca whales, because in addition to her first real article, she’s about to send a very angry and fact-checked letter to Sea World regarding their captivity policies and how they shorten their whales’ life spans by almost ninety percent.
But for now, Harry’s fish drawing is cute, and he said he loved her, and she smiles perhaps a bit too brightly at Gabe when he finally gets into the car.
* * *
“Wanna get out of here?” Harry said around a chocolate chip cookie.
The party was definitely in full swing by now- lights were dimmed, kitschy indie music was playing, people were laughing, and a cozy group was playing a drinking game on Harry’s bed.
“Leave your own party?” Rose said, raising her eyebrows as she looks up from a marine biology magazine she was flipping through on his desk. Under The Blue. Typical Harry.
Harry shrugged. “It’s kind of stuffy in here.”
True, it was, but that just came with the price of stuffing twenty people into a tiny dorm room. But Rose had no reason for wanting to stay, and some fresh air really would be quite nice, so she nodded. Harry grinned and grabbed a couple more cookies for the road.
“I still can’t believe you bought cookies for this,” she said with a tiny smile, eyeing him.
“It’s a party,” was his only explanation.
They’d almost made it out the door, they almost did, but not before Gabe’s loud, tipsy voice rang out over the whole room, “I see you leaving with my sister, McBride! I’ve got my eye on you!” and everyone fell silent and looked around, and suddenly everyone’s eyes were on them and Rose could have strangled her brother.
But Harry just waved his hand and took it all in stride like he does. “Yeah, yeah, just don’t spill anything on my bed, you drunk.” And he looked at Rose, smiled, and opened the door for her.
Stepping into the hallway was like walking out of a cloud, and she breathed in the clean air. Rose felt herself relax slightly.
“Come on, I know a cool place to go,” Harry said as he shut the door behind him. He handed her a cookie, and they munched as they walked.
“Where?” she asked.
Harry gave her a mischievous eye wink, because he was the only person who could pull off an eye wink that was mischievous. “You’ll see.”
She wasn’t sure what she expected- some rooftop with a hidden entrance that he probably just stumbled upon one day by accident, or a secret way to get into the dining hall at night. Neither would be surprising.
He simply let her into the building where they had their marine biology class, unlocked on a Friday night, but she wasn’t going to question that. He was the marine biology major here.
“I know this is probably weird,” he said in a hushed voice, glancing at her as they walked down the empty hallway, which felt strangely quiet when she was so used to it being loud with students. “But you’re going to like this. It’s really cool. Well, I think it’s really cool.”
“Must be lame, then,” she said. He quirked an eyebrow dryly and she gave him her sweetest smile.
Their rubber sneakers echoed on the tile, and Harry led her to a flight of stairs that descended to the basement. “Also. I swear I’m not trying to be creepy.”
She shrugged. “If you say so.” He poked her side, and she poked his arm right back.
Finally, they arrived at a door at the end of the hallway which bared the sign, LIMITED LIGHT- KEEP DOOR SHUT AT ALL TIMES. Rose’s eyes slid from the door to Harry’s face. He was beaming. “I love this place,” he said, eyes a particularly lovely shade of happy in the florescent hallway lighting.
He opened the door, and Rose blinked into the darkness as her eyes took their time to adjust. Only, it wasn’t completely dark. It was glowing.
“What- is all this?” she started, looking around at Harry as he shut the door with a quiet snick behind them. His face was outlined in a gentle blue.
“These,” he said with an air of pride, “are deep sea fish.” Little fish – and big fish – and some that didn’t even look like fish swam around inside tanks that lined the walls. The filters emitted a quiet hum that Rose thought she could probably fall asleep to, and Harry tapped the pad of his thumb on the tank of a fish that looked particularly skeletal. “They don’t need very much light. They thrive in darkness. I had to do research on them for a class last year, that’s how I know about this place.”
“They’re…interesting,” Rose said slowly as she walked from tank to tank. Most of them were not particularly pretty; some were spiky and imposing, others almost transparent. Most of them had big glassy eyes that gleamed in the low lighting.
“I know, not very cute, are they,” Harry said. He studied a rather grumpy looking fish in the tank beside him. “Except, they’re a little cute, in their own way.”
“You’re a sap.”
“Don’t knock ’em till you know ’em.”
She turned, and Harry was smiling at her, always smiling, always at her. Something in her chest dropped at the quiet look, and her brain went slightly fuzzy.
His brown eyes glowed in the darkness and what she saw there was so unspeakably fond, and maybe she was looking at him the same way, she didn’t know. She just hoped she didn’t look as giddy, as terrified (as hopeful) as she felt.
“Rose,” he finally said, slowly, quietly, so that it took time for her name to float from his mouth to her ears to her fuzzy, silly brain. “Can I tell you something?”
And oh god, oh god oh god. Her heart was hammering so fast in her chest she felt it might actually burst open, and what terrible timing death had. She was so young, so young and stupidly gone for this boy who bought cookies for a dorm room party and liked fish that glowed in the dark.
But she was able to manage a croaked, “Sure,” and he took a step closer. The sides of their arms were touching and they stood facing the tanks, eyes both on a rather tiny fish that had yellow stripes and may just have been the prettiest one in the room.
“These fish aren’t even from very deep water. Now those are the freaky looking fish. And their eyes are really sensitive. Like, a hundred times more sensitive to light than our eyes. Helps them survive, see things down there when it’s possible.”
Rose blinked. “Oh.”
Harry glanced at her, a sheepish smile on his face. He looked down and her gaze followed and rested on his hands, clasped together in front of him and she noticed, slowly, that they were shaking.
“I-” he started. He bit his lip, and his eyelashes caught the blue light from the tank as he looked down again, soft against his freckled cheek. She was struck with the desire to kiss all over his face. He looked up again with another sheepish grin. “I didn’t come here to dazzle you with fish facts.”
Rose shrugged. “Doesn’t stop be from being dazzled.” She nudged his arm, took a quarter step closer, and maybe if the lighting wasn’t so dim and blue she would have seen that he was blushing.
He bit his lip and leaned into her touch, and she was almost afraid that he would feel just how hard her pulse was running. It was as if sunlight had been injected into her veins and it made her feel slightly lightheaded (pun not intended).
“Rose,” he said again, the ‘r’ sound slipping through rounded lips she was tempted to catch with her own. He looked at her, and there was a nervous pleading in his eyes that made her realize he needed help.
“Harry.” She slid her hand down to his, nudging his fingers. Sparks danced up her arm.
His lips pressed into a soft, lopsided smile and he glanced down at his hands, their hands, and he said, “I just wanted to say, well, that, that I- it’s probably really obvious anyway, but, ah-” He paused, and the humming of the tanks was like a roar in the quiet space. Harry swallowed thickly and looked up to meet her eyes. “I- I’ve got, like, I’ve got the biggest crush on you.”
And her heart shot up her throat and her brain went positively dizzy, it went well and truly fuzzy and she barely noticed the way his hand tensed beside hers in her silence. He cleared his throat and her eyes focused on his again and- he looked absolutely terrified and horribly pale in the glowing light and wow, she actually ruffled the unruffle-able Harry McBride and she felt such an intense rush of endearment that her heart ached in her chest and her head was positively swimming–
“I’m sorry, that was- super lame. I mean, we’re not like, in second grade. A crush, I’m sorry-“
He broke off when Rose let her fingers curl around his, lacing them together in a way that illuminated the very skin of her fingertips.
“Not lame,” she said. “Not at all.”
The worry in his eyes softened and stretched into a tiny, jubilant smile. The tanks hummed around them and the fish swam on, and the blue danced in the radiant gleam of his brown, brown eyes.
* * *
When she randomly pulls off the road and into an Olive Garden parking lot, it’s because hot, fat tears are obscuring her vision she just needs a minute.
Rose knows she shouldn’t take it personally. That’s like, the number one rule of being a journalist; don’t take it personally.
And she’s good at that, usually. When she writes horrible article at school, she’s fine with that. She uses that to improve. She likes constructive criticism. It’s the only way to grow as a writer, she’d say. She should use this to grow.
And she knows it’s a big, professional magazine with real writers and they don’t have much room or time for interns, but. When her mentor told her she could write an article, told her they needed something for their August issue, well, it was a big deal. A Big Deal. And the whales, the whales, they were a big deal and her heart ached for them and people needed to know. She spent hours and hours researching and writing and perfecting her article about them, and it was important.
Her publication doesn’t have to be the best or the greatest, not anymore. None of that matters right now, she just wants to inform people of important things. She wants to write important things and inspire important change.
Sighing, she wipes her eyes with the back of her hand and recomposes herself. She doesn’t want to look like a puffy eyed mess when she gets home, because even around her family she needs to practice her persona as a dignified journalist.
Instead, she pulls out the letter that came for her yesterday, another Valentine for another summer day and God, she really loves Harry for them. She really, really does.
It is the east! And Rose, you are the sun. But not even the sun shines as brilliant as you.
(p.s. sorry for my horrible attempt at trying to be Shakespeare. I should leave the words to you. )
Rose had laughed out loud at this one, and hugged it to her chest. There’s a drawing of a sunrise on the front of the card. The sun, of course, is smiling.
While she doesn’t feel particularly brilliant right now, just looking at the card, reading the words and letting them sink warmly into her bones, is enough to dry her tears and get her home.
* * *
It was pretty late by the time they finally left the deep sea room, but it was spring and one of the first warm nights and they both had stupid big crushes on each other, so when Harry suggested the rooftop, well, why not?
It turned out that Harry did know of a secret rooftop stairwell, in the History building. When Rose asked him why on earth he’d been in the History building and how he’d even discovered this, he’d only shrugged, tugged on her hand and said, “I like to explore?” like he wasn’t even sure himself.
It was quiet, up on the roof. It was quiet everywhere, besides, perhaps, the dorms. When Rose voiced her curiosity (though to be honest, she really didn’t care at all) as to how the party was going, Harry just shrugged and shifted his figures more securely in hers. “Don’t really care to find out. Someone probably puked on my bed. And anyway,” he glanced her, a slight shyness softening his features. “I’d rather be up here with you.”
She let herself smile, because she could and because he smiled just as widely back at her. And she really wanted to kiss him, because they didn’t kiss back in the deep sea room, even though they really probably should have.
They sat on the edge of the rooftop looking over campus, and the sky was, admittedly, quite cloudy and they couldn’t see many stars, but that was alright. The air was clear and warm and the breeze ruffled their hair and it all felt really quite nice.
It was too soon in the season for crickets to be out, and Rose found she liked it. She liked that they could sit in a comfortable silence, liked that their hands were linked between them. She just liked Harry.
“You know,” he said, breaking the silence, voice low in the breezy air. “It took me, like, three weeks to sit next to you in class.”
Rose looked at him.
“We met in the dining hall, right?” he said, sounding thoughtful. “With Gabe. And you were, like, the prettiest girl I’d seen. Definitely. But you were Gabe’s sister, and I barely knew him, or you, and I figured I’d probably never see much of you again anyway. But then I saw you on the first day of class, sitting in the front and all like the valedictorian you are, and, well.” He smiled fondly at her.
“Not a valedictorian,” she said, but she was grinning already, because really? He thought she was the prettiest girl he’d seen? “Glad you sat next to me, though.”
And she had no idea what time it was, or how long they’d been out, or how long they’d be out, but she didn’t care. It was warm and there were (some) stars above them and he was the most beautiful boy she’d seen, and his freckles stood out in the moonlight and his face was so, so very kissable right then, so very kissable always–
Her heart drummed in her ears and she felt like she did in the moment before she jumped into the deep end of a pool, that split second suspended in the air with barely enough time to get a breath-
And going under is all soft lips and awkward hands, giddy laughter, skin on fire and the faint taste of chocolate chip cookies.
* * *
The summer is nearly over and it’s the last day of her internship and Rose isn’t quite sure how she feels about it. Especially when her mentor calls her in and sits her down and tells her she’s one of the best interns they’ve ever had.
“I- am?” Rose says, stunned, and it must show on her face, because her mentor laughs.
“Yes, Rose,” she says, smiling at her. “You worked tremendously hard, you should be proud of yourself. I once had an intern that quit because of all the coffee he had to get for us.” She winks at her, and Rose feels her face redden slightly.
“Thanks,” Rose says, though she doesn’t feel as if she entirely deserves the praise.
“Oh, and that article you wrote a few weeks ago,” her mentor goes on, leafing through a stack of papers on top of her desk. “It was brilliant, did I ever tell you? Really important stuff. We haven’t been able to publish it yet because we want to expand it. We have plans devote a large section of the September issue to marine wildlife conservation in captivity.” She smiles slightly. “So thank you for the inspiration, Rose.”
“Oh- you’re welcome,” Rose says, stunned. She’s inspired a whole part of the next issue. The words swim in her mind.
“It’ll definitely be published, don’t worry about that,” her mentor says. She looks at her. “And if you would like to continue your work here next summer, or in the future, I think I can safely say you’ve got a place here if you’d ever like it.”
Rose blinks. Is this real life? Something wells in her chest and she’s having a hard time speaking. “I- thank you so much.”
Her mentor smiles. “Keep at it, Rose. You make a fantastic journalist.”
Rose leaves her office feeling as if she’s walking on air.
By way of congratulations and goodbye, Jenny the receptionist and a few other of her coworkers take her out to dinner, and they nearly move her to tears because hold on, she’s not quite ready to be finished here yet, where did the summer go?
When Rose comes home she’s feeling melancholy and ecstatic and not quite ready to just sit and there’s a letter on the counter waiting for her.
And for some reason, she can’t open it here. She doesn’t want to open it in her dark empty kitchen when the sun is setting outside and the world is moving and she’s not quite ready to stop moving with it. So she grabs her bag and slips the letter inside, and hops back into her car and just drives.
She drives and she drives until the sun has gone down, much earlier than it did at the beginning of the summer, and by the time she’s reached the coast, ice cream sounds like a pretty good idea.
Stops at an ice cream stand along the beach, parks her car in one of the empty spaces and gets her favorite flavor, chocolate peanut butter chunk. She’s about to sit at one of the picnic tables overlooking the sand when she remembers the envelope in her bag, left under the passenger seat.
Rose sits on the hood of her car to read it. Her car faces the ocean, which is dark and she really can’t see much, but she can hear the gentle waves and feel the salty breeze. She licks at her cone, relishing in the sweet flavor as she opens the envelope.
There’s a little magazine drawn on the front of the card, open to an article entitled Rose Clearwater: World’s Greatest Journalist! Followed by little scribbled lines of paragraphs. Rose smiles at it, pursing her lips as something lodges in her throat at the picture. She opens the card.
I can’t believe I’m dating the world’s greatest journalist!
You, darling, are something worth writing for.
p.s. congratulations on finishing your internship. I’m beyond proud of you, Rose.
And no, she does not cry over this. It’s just, her ice cream is really, very delicious, and a bit of sea salt from the wind gets in her eye. That’s all.
On the drive home, she realizes she’s only got a week and a half until she goes back to school, and she really can’t wait at all.
* * *
“Oh, did I tell you? I got an internship,” Rose said as they walked across campus the day before they would part ways and go home for the summer.
Harry turned and looked at her, a huge smile on his face. “What? No, you didn’t tell me that, congrats, Rose!” He pulled her into a half hug as they walked, and Rose smiled against his shoulder, pride welling in her chest.
“I didn’t even tell you what it is yet,” she said when his grip let up, but he didn’t take his arm from around her shoulders.
“Oh, oops.” He grinned. “Well, what is it?”
“It’s for a magazine.” She glanced up at him, lips falling into a smile. “Under the Blue. Maybe you’ve heard of it.”
Harry halted, looked down at her with surprise. “Wait- what? Rose, that’s my favorite- wait, you know that! How?”
Rose laughed and pressed her lips against the fabric of his shoulder. “I saw in one of your issues that their offices are located near my town back in Cali. I sent them my resume. And poof! Hired to write about fish.”
“Rose, that’s-” Harry started, looking down at her with brown eyes wide and proud. Rose felt like she was glowing. Finally, he said, “I’ve got the coolest girlfriend in the world. I’ve definitely got the coolest girlfriend in the world.”
“Not that cool,” she said. But maybe a little cool. Definitely cooler than Gabe.
“Way cool,” Harry said, grinning. “And one day, you’ll be the best journalist in the world. And people will write about you!”
Rose snorted. “Yeah, right.”
Harry looked down at her. “I’m serious. You, darling, are something worth writing for.”
Rose didn’t respond, just smiled to herself in the crook of Harry’s arm as they made their way across the sunny campus.
* * *
Rose sits on the bench beside the Starbucks parking lot.
The six hour flight from California to Boston was long, and the bus ride up to New Hampshire felt even longer, and when she and Gabe and finally, finally got to campus it was nine o’clock at night and all she really wanted to do was sleep. So once she got to her new dorm room, she unpacked her pillow and her favorite blanket, and slept until ten o’ clock the next morning.
She spent the rest of that morning unpacking and the afternoon helping her roommate move in, and when she went to see how Gabe was faring with his own unpacking, he raised an eyebrow knowingly and pointed to Harry’s bed, which was already made up. All of his stuff was there and unpacked. Everything was there, except Harry himself.
“He’s out to lunch with his parents,” Gabe said. “But he told me to give you that note if you came by.”
There was a white envelope on Harry’s bed. Her name was scribbled on the front in his familiar slanted writing. Rose.
“Just take it and go read it somewhere, we both know who you’re really here for,” Gabe said, rolling his eyes. She might have been mistaken, but she thought she detected a slight fondness in the eye roll. Maybe. She could have been seeing things, of course.
“Sure you don’t need help?” she asked him anyway, gripping her envelope.
Gabe shook his head. “Nah, I’m almost finished unpacking.”
Rose smiled and pecked him on the cheek before he could duck away, snickering as he swiped her “germs” off his face. She opened the envelope as she walked out of the dorm. It was a beautiful sunny day, very warm; summer was clearly still here and would be for a few more weeks.
Roses are red
Violets are blue
I cannot wait
To see you
p.s. meet me at Starbucks at 2:30
There was a big red heart on the front, reminiscent of the first Valentine he’d sent at the beginning of the summer. Only this time, it had eyes and a mouth, and was smiling. Everything was always smiling, with Harry.
Rose glanced at her watch. It was 1:45.
She walked to Starbucks slowly, taking in the weather and being back in New England and at school, and it all felt very right, and after being in the real world of journalism all summer, she was ready for another year of school.
When she got there, she figured there was no real reason to wait inside Starbucks on a day like today. And she remembered the bench by the parking lot and the boys with the box and she thought, that would be a nice place to wait, and Harry would think to find her there, eventually.
She rereads the poem to preoccupy herself in the meantime, looks at Harry’s slanted handwriting and the way he curves the letters of her name. Cars drive past, but she doesn’t look up.
And when she hears footsteps, she still doesn’t look up, and when they stop in front of her, her heart is beating a million a minute in her chest and-
“Mind if I sit here?”
And he’s smiling widely, face tanned and freckles fresh from summer and brown eyes bright, and she stands up to meet him first. The Valentine slips from her hand and her fingers curl into his hair instead. She smiles against his lips.
“Not at all.”