“I just don’t know if I can be in the same place as her without feeling like absolute rubbish.”
Friday meowed sympathetically and rubbed against Rory, who sat beside him on the front steps with Daisy snuggled in his lap.
Rory stroked Friday, observing the occasional twitch of his sleek, black tail. “Don’t judge me, okay? She’s so—perfect! Everyone wants to know her and be with her. How am I supposed to measure up to that? She doesn’t even know I’m alive.”
Friday looked deliberately at the front door of the house, and back at Rory, and then swatted him with his tail.
“I can’t talk to Rose about this. What’s she going to say? That I’m a great guy and it’s her loss? Ha!” Rory buried his face in his hands.
“Hey, Rory! Are you okay?” Amy opened the front gate and hurried down the path to Rory, sitting beside him. “What’s wrong?”
“Oh, it’s nothing…”
“Sure it is. Because you’re on top of the world. How can I help?”
“You can’t. Nobody can.”
“Ah, I see. Well, I’m here if you change your mind.”
“Thanks.” His smile when he looked up at Amy was genuine, but it didn’t hide the sadness that plagued him.
“Are you coming to the Valentine’s Day party?”
“Oh, please come. I know it’s a bit lame, but I don’t want to go on my own.”
“Why go at all?”
“It’ll be fun. We can feast on hot dogs and cotton candy. And heaps of kids from school will be there.”
Rory groaned, and a look of understanding crossed Amy’s face.
“No need. She doesn’t know I’m alive.”
“Then she doesn’t deserve you.”
“Thanks, but unless she understands some aspect of having lost out, that doesn’t mean much.”
“You could be my Valentine.”
“What? I mean– uh… what?”
“For the party. We can go together and hang out. Maybe she’ll notice, and see what she’s missing out on.”
“Thanks for the offer, but I don’t need a pity date.”
“Oh, Rory, it’s not pity. It’s— we’re friends, right? Friends do things together. Friends hang out. So come with me and hang out, and help me eat all the hot dogs that the popular girls won’t touch because they’re fattening, or not vegan, or whatever.”
Rory shook his head as he stood up. “There’s no reason for vegans not to eat hot dogs. Everyone knows there’s no meat in those things.”
Amy laughed. “I’ve never thought of it that way. Come on.” She looked at the bulge in his sweater. “Are you bringing Daisy?”
“Why not? She goes everywhere except school with me. Friday can come to the party, too. No reason why cats can’t enjoy a Valentine’s Day hot dog, is there?”
The local park on the corner of the block had been decorated with streamers and balloons. Fairy lights twinkled in the trees and around the rotunda, where a DJ had set up his gear at one side, leaving most of the floor free for anyone who wanted to dance. Two couples swayed there to a slow song, while others milled about the stalls and tables offering food, drinks and treats in varying shades of red, pink and white.
“Oh, this is all so pretty!” exclaimed Amy, “Aren’t you glad you came?”
Rory looked at her with a blank expression and muttered, “Kill me now.”
“Oh come on, Rory. Have some fun!” Amy pleaded, taking his hand and trying to pul him further into the park, but his feet stayed planted where they were.
“I don’t think I can do this.”
“Relax. Come and get something to eat. Please?”
As they lined up for hot dogs, Rory’s eyes trailed to the next stand where some teens had set up a kissing booth, decorated with a large banner that read ‘Kisses $1’. It was hosted at present by two pretty girls who wore buttons that said “Kiss me!” and a guy in his late teens who wore a tee shirt with the slogan “Your Next Boyfriend” on the front. On a table at the front of the booth sat a large glass case with an mesh lid on it and “kiss me for free” written on the front in red lipstick. Inside the tank, two large pet frogs sat quietly, possibly on their best behaviour in the hope of a pretty girl turning one of them into a prince.
Amy rolled her eyes. “I guess that’s one way to make money. Look at them all lining up.”
“I’d rather have a hot dog.” Rory laughed. Yet he couldn’t help watching two of the girls in the line as they took a selfie, smiling and simpering back at themselves through the phone.
Amy followed his line of vision and caught her breath. “Oh no… Rory… tell me it’s not Samantha you’re keen on.”
His silence was even more telling than the misery on his face as he watched his crush snap more pictures of herself and her friend.
“Rory?” Transfixed, he didn’t realise Amy was talking to him until Friday swiped his leg with a paw.
“Ow! What the actual–?” Rory glared at Friday, who stared right back at him with a rather annoyed expression on his own face.
“I was talking to you and you completely zoned out.”
“Sorry, Amy. I got distracted.”
“Yeah, so I noticed.”
“Wait– are you jealous?”
Amy shook her head. “Rory, as soon as that ice princess senses any vulnerability on your part, she’ll make you wish you’d never even looked at her.”
“Hey guys, what’ll it be?” Rory and Amy both turned their attention to the server.
“Hey Denny! Good to see you! One with ketchup and cheese and just a plain hot dog extra, no bun, for Friday and Daisy, please.”
Denny grinned. “Feline dates for Valentines, eh?”
“No drama, no fuss!” Rory laughed. “What are you having, Amy?”
“I’ll have one with ketchup and mustard, please,” added Amy.
“Coming right up.”
With their hot dogs in hand, they thanked Denny and walked over to a bench at the outer edge of the park where they sat with Friday between them. Daisy wriggled out of Rory’s hoodie and purred as she rubbed against Friday, who gave her face an affectionate lick in return.
“You know, I never get tired of watching them together.” The affection in Rory’s voice matched the adoring expression on his face.
“You’re both so beautiful!” Amy said to Friday and Daisy. “It’s all good when the affection is returned, isn’t it?” She looked up at Rory as she spoke.
“I know, Amy. I know. Samantha doesn’t know I’m alive. She’s so perfect, and I’m–”
“No, she’s not perfect. She might look perfect, but she’s actually a horrible person.” Amy couldn’t bear to look at Rory’s face, so she focused on feeding little pieces of hot dog to Friday and Daisy. “She’s nasty, and she’s heartless. And–”
“And what?” Rory asked, much more subdued and less defensive than Amy had thought he would be.
“I don’t want you to be hurt. Especially by her.”
Rory opened his mouth to speak, but attention was drawn instead by the approach of Samantha and her friend. A soft moan escaped as he nudged Amy to look up.
“What have we here? Can you believe this, Maddy? They’re feeding the cats on a park bench. It’s like they don’t have anywhere else to go.” Derisive giggles fractured the air behind them. “Are you two homeless?”
“Go away, Samantha.” Amy only wished that the defiance in her voice could hide the deflated look on Rory’s face.”
“Ooo, Little Miss Plain has a voice!” Samantha mocked. “Go away, Samantha!” she mimicked in a cruel whine. “And does your friend Mr Nobody have a voice too? Or does he just sit around feeding his dinner to cats and looking pathetic?”
Friday turned his head to look directlyly at Samantha, then at her giggling friend and back again, his whiskers and tail quivering with anger.
“Better look out, Samantha. You know what they say about black cats.” Maddy laughed, crowing over her own cleverness.
“Ohhh no, the poor widdle homeless kitty is angry with me!” she squealed, laughing and recoiling in mock terror of Friday, who stood with his hackles raised and his tail twitching at the end.
Rory stood up at the same time, and took a step toward Samantha. “Cut it out! Just stop! You might look amazing, but your particular brand of ugly goes right to the bone.”
“Is that so?” she laughed. “You’ve been having a pretty good look lately, though, haven’t you?” Maddy cackled mindlessly in agreement.
“They weren’t kidding about you being an Ice Princess!” Rory spat back. At that very moment, Friday leapt from the bench, arched his back and hissed at the hateful girl.
Maddy’s laughter stopped short as she saw her friend stiffen and freeze as she began to transform into an icy statue. Her face froze in mid-sneer, creating an expression on her face as ugly and hateful as her words had been. A blue tinge spread over her skin before it became clear and glassy; underneath, the flesh and bone turned opaque, then solid white and then transparent; only her heart could be seen, as black as deepest night within her, still throbbing at its normal rhythm and pumping murky fluid through inky veins that pulsed with every beat.
“Samantha! No!” Maddy screamed. She turned to face Rory. “What have you done? How did you do this?”
“I didn’t do anything,” Rory replied.
“It was that cat!” Maddy growled and pointed at Friday. “You evil little—“
“You’ll want to be nicer to him then, won’t you?” Rory quipped, earning himself a scowl.
“Whatever this is, she did it to herself,” Amy agreed, folding her arms defiantly and looking directly at Maddy, although she avoided looking at Samantha’s gelid form.
“Is— is she dead?” Maddy’s voice was timid now, all traces of mockery having been banished.
“I don’t know. Her heart is still beating, if that means anything.”
“B-b-but she has n-no brain!” Maddy wailed.
Amy raised her eyebrows and tilted her head in ironic amusement. Rory gave her a wry grin and shrugged silently in reply.
“Samantha!” Sobbing, Maddy reached out to touch her friend, but as soon as she did, her own fingers began to turn to glass, the frost of transformation spreading slowly up her arm.
“NO! Make it stop!” she squealed. “Someone, help me! Please, no!” Her cries were pitiful, but Rory and Amy remained unmoved.
“You’re the only one who can do anything to stop this, Maddy.” Amy spoke quietly and calmly.
Maddy held her breath and began to shake as her hand and arm turned white, then transparent, just as Samantha’s whole body had done.
“How? Tell me how to make it stop,” she begged tearfully, “I don’t want to freeze, and already I can’t feel my hand or my arm.”
“Be willing to step away from Samantha and stand on your own, I suppose.”
“I can’t. I don’t know how.”
“Try moving your feet. The rest of you has to follow.”
“But she’s my friend…”
“You have to choose.”
“I’m going to get Trixie,” Rory told Amy as he tucked Daisy safely back into his hoodie. “She might know what to do. You stay here with Maddy?”
Amy nodded and then continued as Rory jogged away, “You have to let go, Maddy.”
“I can’t. I’m stuck to her.”
It was true. Her arm had turned to frosted glass as far as her shoulder, yet it was still firmly attached to her own body, so that even as she tried to pull away, her arm held fast to the ice princess beside her.
Rory returned with Trixie who sucked in her breath at the sight of the statue-like teenager and her partially frozen friend.
“Trixie, this is Maddy. The other one is Samantha. I’m not exactly sure how this happened–”
“It was that cat!” Maddy avoided looking at Friday, but her accusation was loaded with malice.
“I know exactly how it happened.” Trixie wore an expression of grave disapproval as she spoke. “If all you do is treat people horribly, Maddy, sooner or later everyone will see right through you.”
“How do I make it stop?” Maddy’s voice shook.
“There’s a very special kind of magic that you need.”
“Like the cat is magic.”
Trixie rolled her eyes. “Stop blaming Friday.”
“I suppose you’re going to tell me he’s just a regular cat.”
“Oh, I’d never suggest any such thing!”
“Well I don’t know how to do any magic.”
“You just need the right ingredients,” Trixie said. “Remorse, apology, and change.”
“What?” Maddy’s voice rose into a squeak. “How are they ingredients for magic?”
“Maddy, your problem isn’t one of needing some kind of herb or a spell. Your problem is that you don’t realise that your hatefulness is poisoning you. You need to be truly sorry for the hurt you’ve caused, and you need to say so, and then you need to change your ways. That’s how to undo this.”
“Okay. I’m… I’m sorry.”
Instead of melting, though, the pace of the freezing actually sped up, causing her shoulder and chest to stiffen.
“It’s not working!” she cried out. “It hurts!”
“You have to mean it, Maddy. Lying to save your own skin is only going to make it worse. You have to realise that every time you’ve been cruel to someone, you’ve sent coldness into their heart. You’ve made their feelings freeze. You’ve caused hearts to break, bit by bit.”
“It wasn’t me! It was Samantha. She said all the mean things, not me!” As her torso began to turn white, tears of self-pity crystallised on the skin of her cheeks, now ashen with a hint of blue. “Please! Save me!” she whispered, before her voice fell silent and her lips stopped moving.
Rory, Amy and Trixie stood quietly, gazing upon the frozen girls in front of them. Friday sat on the park bench nearby, licking his paw and washing his face with it.
“That is an incredible ice sculpture!” exclaimed a man who was leaving the park with his children. “Did you make that?”
“No,” replied Rory. “Two teenage girls made it. But they’ve gone now.”
“Teenage girls, eh?” the man responded. “Unbelievable!”
As the man walked away, Rory shook his head and said quietly, “Sir, you have no idea how right you are.”