The First Valentine's Day
Today was the first day that Lena Haloway could remember being nervous about in a long time. Peace, or something like it, finally had come to be. Where Invalids and Cureds lived together and no one was forced to have the procedure. The walls around the cities had come down, with time and effort and although there were downsides to this new way of living, at least everyone had the freedom to make their own choices. It'd been scary for a while, with uncertainty plaguing everyone at the idea of how their country would be expected to function. They'd had to look to other countries around the world to see how they functioned, in particular, Canada was a good model.
Slowly but surely, people settled into their new lives. Where love was no longer seen as a disease, where men and women were free to be together with whoever they wanted and where even Unnaturals found acceptance with the majority of the public eye. The Book of Shh was no more and the religious system fell apart as well, although some continued to try and cling to the old workings. From Canada and other places in the world, they learned of the way life had been going on without them, of the way that things had been in the olden times.
It hadn't been easy to shake the damage away, or the loss, but the future continued to look brighter every day that she woke up. She'd made her choice, to give herself and Grace the best life possible, long ago when the wall around Portland had come down. By now she'd even long forgiven Hana for her betrayal. Not because a cure had forced her, but because she did love her best friend, even after she'd hurt her.
And then, of course, there was Alex. Alex, who'd loved her all along and who she'd never been able to stop loving. Even when he'd been terrible and Julian had been the definition of all things wonderful, it'd been to him she ultimately turned. Alex was her love and though things hadn't ever been easy for the two of them, even years later she didn't regret her choice. Besides, by now Julian was happy with someone else, Coral of all people. They made a nice couple and she never felt jealous toward their happiness, or hadn't felt jealous since initially learning of it.
Thinking of Alex brought back the nerves. Today was a special day, the day of a national holiday that hadn't been celebrated in many, many years. The name had been as unfamiliar as the concept, Valentine's Day. A day for people to celebrate love. No wonder they'd never heard of it before they began to contact others. Not everyone was celebrating, there were still people who feared deliria
although they were mostly the older crowd who'd been cured when things had changed. However, most of the country was enthusiastic about their first time celebrating the holiday of love.
While Lena got ready, pulling on her nicest clothes and brushing out her dark hair, she thought about how fitting it was to celebrate this holiday with Alex. They'd gone through so much together, since the day he first entered her life while she'd told the board of examiners that her favorite color was gray. It seemed like ages ago when he first told her that he was in love with her and when she was able to say it back. Then there'd been the dark times, when she'd loved him and lost him and he'd been chained away in the Crypts, when she found herself falling for Julian instead. When she'd believed all was lost with Alex, but he'd come back for her and when he stayed with her after everything went to Hell. He'd been loving and kind the entire time, waited for her to be ready for the relationship and helped her with Grace. Overall, he was amazing.
A knock came at the door and her heart sped up in anticipation. "Coming!" she called, walking over to the door and feeling her heart skip a beat when she saw Alex on the other side.
He was in his best clothes as well, his golden bronze hair done back in the way she liked it best. Her eyes met his own and read the warm and love there. His whole face was lit up by the smile spread across it and he held out some flowers to her. She momentarily let her eyes flit across the now faded scar down his face from many years prior and still felt the now familiar pang of guilt. "You look beautiful," he said.
In that moment, for just an instant, she remembered the first time that he had said those words to her. When she'd been only 17 and scared of catching deliria, when she hadn't believed him. Now she believed him, even though age was slowly stealing away her looks and even though she'd never been pretty like Hana. "Thank you," she replied, taking the flowers and inviting him inside with the wave of a hand.
He'd followed her in, very familiar with the small house that she'd only recently stopped sharing with Grace. It was strange to think that she was all grown up now and moved on, but a happy thought too. Finding a vase in the kitchen, she filled it with water and put the flowers inside.
"I've been thinking," Alex said suddenly, breaking the quiet.
"About?" Lena raised an eyebrow as she curiously turned to face him.
"I think we should get married," he said after only a moment of hesitation.
"What?" It'd been a long time since she'd felt so caught off guard, but there it was. The uncomfortable feeling of not knowing.
"I want to marry you, Lena," he repeated, taking a step closer to her and grabbing her hands in his own. "I have for a long time, but it's just never been an option. Things were never stable enough, until now."
For a moment she couldn't say or do anything, just stare at him and wonder if she'd heard him correctly. But the more she thought about it, the more that it made sense. At only 17 she'd been willing to run away with him, away from everything that she'd ever known and cared about to be with him. They'd risked their lives together so many times that it was crazy they'd both remained alive. In so many ways they were already practically married. True, they had two different residences but that had more to do with her mom and Grace than anything else and they did spend so much time together. It made sense.
"Yes." The word was out before she'd realized that she'd spoken, like he'd done to her in the beginning when she'd agreed to do everything with him without thought.
If it was possible, his grin widened and suddenly he was pulling her into him. Their lips meeting in a passionate kiss, her hands winding into his hair as his fingers gripped at her hip, keeping her close. They kissed until she couldn't breathe or think or do anything really, but then he mumbled the words as he buried his face into her neck. The words that had changed her life forever so long ago. "I love you, Lena."
And unlike the first time he'd said them, now she could confidently return them. "I love you, too," she whispered, holding him close as she realized just how great this world actually was and could be.