Cherry's head rested in her palm, her eyes lazily staring at Rachel's arm. Just seconds ago a black line had magically began to dance over Rachel's skin. The thin line turned into a word which Cherry read bitterly. “I love you.” The “O” in the word replaced with a little heart. Cherry's eyes rolled and Rachel continued her story, failing to see the word now printed just above her elbow. In a few minutes the words would fade and Cherry knew she would be the only to notice it, even though it wasn't a message meant for her. The idea that Jackson was somewhere writing “I love you” on his arm made Cherry depressed, she pulled at the end of her sleeves subconsciously.
“Cherry, are you cold again? You look cold.” Rachel suddenly stopped talking. Cherry blinked back to reality, she had stopped listening to her story long ago.
“Y-yeah, just cold, they must have cranked the AC up or something.” She scowled, looking up toward the massive vents over the mall food court. Rachel shrugged and turned back to their two other friends, Becky and Paul, who were absorbed in whatever it was Rachel was telling them.
Cherry tried, but she couldn't bring herself to listen, her eyes continued to wonder across the massive room. Tacky hearts and pink ribbons were taped up all over walls, trashcans and windows. Couples sat across from each other, feeding each other bad Chinese food or greasy pizza.
After being single her whole life, Cherry found it hard to appreciate Valentines day. It was so easy for people to find their soul mates, so why was she alone? There had never been any messages on her arm, no doodles or random notes, nothing. She was 5 when her mother explained to her how things worked. She remembered seeing little notes and smiley faces randomly appear on her mothers left hand and arm.
“That is a message from your father.” her mother explained, smiling sweetly at her.
“But he's at work.” She had said.
“Whenever you write on your skin, the thing that you wrote or drew also appears on the skin of your special someone.” Her mother tried to put it in words understandable for a child.
“Dad is your special someone!?” Cherry exclaimed.
“Of course.” Her mother laughed. Cherry remembered being so excited about the discovery that she had rushed off to her room and tried to draw on her arm with a crayon. However her mother had stopped her, explaining,
“Cherry, you must be very careful what you write when you haven't met your special someone yet.”
After that she had done her best to take things seriously, refusing to write anything on her arm, until one day in elementary school.
On that day Cherry had stepped onto the playground, spying her friends huddled under the big tree by the fence. She could hear them giggling to themselves, completely infatuated with something. Curious as to what they were doing, she had raced over to join them. Two of her friends, Jackson and Rachel were in the middle of the circle, both with markers in their hands. Everyone giggled and teased as Rachel drew a flower on her left arm. The boys snorted when all at once the same flower began to appear on Jacksons left arm.
“Cherry look! Jackson and Rachel are going to get married one day!” Paul joked.
“This doesn't mean we are getting married!” Jackson had argued.
“Jackson, you have to marry her, you're supposed to be together.” Becky insisted. The group doubled over with laughter again, causing poor Jackson to blush furiously. After that, the children began to pass the marker around, drawing random doodles across their skin. There were hearts and winky faces, cats and swirls. Then it was Cherry's turn. She took the marker nervously, her eyes wondering to her friends who urged her on.
“What...should I write?” She asked, unsure of herself.
“Draw a butt!” One of the boys exclaimed.
“No! Cherry, just say hi or something.” Rachel offered. Cherry gulped back her fears and wrote “HI” on her left arm. The marker was then yanked from her hand and nobody payed any attention to her as the rest of the kids took their turn drawing on themselves. However, Cherry didn't watch them. She stared eagerly at her arm, waiting expectantly for what her soul mate would reply with. The marker had made it around the whole group by now and everyone was laughing at the replies that began to pop up on their arms.
“Look look! It's...it's a bunny face!” One of the boys laughed as a poorly drawn rabbit popped on his skin. The girls giggled and blushed as angry faces and faces with their tongues out littered their dainty arms.
Cherry looked all over her arm, nearly twisting it to see the other side, but there was no reply. Rachel noticed her strange behavior and stepped over to her, holding out the marker.
“Try again. They fade after a while, maybe nobody saw it.” She speculated, insisting that her friend try again. Cherry licked her lips, debating if she would subject herself to it once more. Finally she grabbed it, quickly writing “Hi” again, just bellow her wrist.
The whole group was watching her now, all quietly waiting to see what would happen. Seconds turned to minutes and Cherry could feel her heart drop to her stomach.
“Maybe she doesn't have a soul mate.” One of the boys shrugged, bored with the little game. The other kids snickered lightly amongst themselves. Cherry's cheeks flushed red and she ran off across the playground to hide.
“Yup,” Cherry thought to herself after recalling that embarrassing moment, “I hate Valentines day.”
Rachel was done with her story which had Becky and Paul doubling over in laughter.
“This has been great.” Becky wiped a tear from her eye, holding back another chuckle.
“Thanks again for hanging out with me for Valentines, I thought I would be miserable with Jackson visiting family.” Rachel sighed, staring at her arm longingly.
“He wrote you a message.” Cherry grumbled.
“Really? Where?” She moved her arm around, looking for words or a picture.
“It's gone now, he said I love you.” Cherry tried not to roll her eyes at the thought. She wanted to be happy for her friend, finding her soul mate so young, but it was hard when all she felt was jealousy.
Rachel whipped a pink marker from her purse, scribbling down a reply on her left arm. Cherry's stomach flipped, she suddenly felt like crying, but she wasn't about to do that in the middle of a packed mall. She held a hand to her face, wiping as a persistent tear streaked down her cheek.
“Well this has been fun guys, but I've got to go. I promised my mom I would help her paint the bathroom.” She fibbed, standing from the cold metal chair. Her friends waved as she raced from the mall food court and out of sight.
“She was crying again.” Becky said solemnly.
“Just because she has never gotten a reply, doesn't mean i'm not going to answer Jackson just for her sake.” Rachel grumbled, drawing a kissy face to Jackson.
“It's Valentines day though, we should at least be considerate.” Paul chimed in. Rachel frowned, shoving the pink marker back in her purse, not that it mattered, Cherry was already gone. They sat awkwardly at their table, feeling guilty for their lonely friend.
As they sat quietly, a young food court janitor approached their table.
“Uhm, excuse me, are you guys done with your trays?” He eyed their trays of half eaten food.
“Oh yes we are....” Paul looked up, pausing for a second. The janitor raised a brow at him before smiling.
“I-i'm sorry, I didn't mean to stare!” Paul blurted awkwardly. The janitor chuckled, moving the small stump of an arm that hung from his left shoulder.
“It's ok, no harm no foul.” He teased, reaching for their tray.
“Let us help you!” Becky offered, stacking the trash on her tray.
“No need, I've had to deal with it my whole life.” He skilfully balanced two trays on his one arm, stacking them on his cart.
“What about that one?” He nodded towards the tray Cherry had left, her food was completely untouched.
“Yeah, I don't think she's coming back. Valentines day makes her pretty upset.” Rachel scowled, sliding the tray closer to him.
“Yeah, I know the feeling. It's not exactly easy to write things to your soulmate when you don't have another hand.” He snorted. Rachel and Becky immediately leaned forward, smiling widely.
“You mean, you haven't ever written a note to your soul mate!?” Becky gasped. He took a step back, blushing.
“No, I can't really.” He re-stated.
“Oh, I have a marker right here. Let us help you! It is Valentines day after all!” She hopped up, holding the marker eagerly.
The janitor was quiet for a moment, mulling it over. A shy smile crept onto his face and he nodded,
“Ok, let's do it.” Rachel squealed excitedly. She grabbed his right arm, poising the marker over his skin.
“So...what should I write?”