Yep, that's what I said.
A few months ago, MLR Press posted an unusual submissions call. Instead of looking for sweet, happy, hearts-and-flowers romance stories for Valentine's Day, they wanted stories where at least one of the heroes hated Valentine's. Anti-Valentine's stories.
I've always had mixed feelings about the holiday, so writing a story about a guy who can't stand it was right up my alley.
Originally, The Pink, It Burns was supposed to be a humorous story. At least, that was how I conceived it. But when I started writing, it took a dark turn. Dyer doesn't hate Valentine's Day because of the pink hearts and flowers. He hates it because when he was ten, that was the day his father's physical abuse crossed the line. Dyer ended up hospitalized, and never saw his parents again.
As an adult, Dyer's doing all right. He was raised by a foster family who treated him like one of their own, and he's still close with them. He has a good job. And he pretends he isn't lonely, even though he's never been in a relationship. He has a crush on Myles, the barista at his favorite coffee shop, but he doesn't plan to ever act on it.
Until a little girl and a pink balloon, and another abusive father, change everything.
The Pink, It Burns will be released on Valentine's Day 2014 from MLR Press.
On Valentine's Day, Dyer's usual morning routine of buying coffee at the shop near his job is disrupted when he realizes the child in line in front of him has been kidnapped by her father. Dyer calls the police and with the help of the barista, Myles, manages to keep the man and child in the shop until help arrives. Valentine's Day has always been Dyer's least favorite day and the day's events don't help. But an afternoon with Myles might make things better.
Dyer set down the phone again and drained the last of his latte. When he got up to throw away the cup, Myles asked, “Want another?”
Dyer hesitated. He should go to the police station and get that whole mess over with. He couldn’t sit here in the coffee shop all day.
At the same time, he didn’t want to leave. Listening to Myles helped him feel normal. Hearing someone else’s problems and giving them feedback and advice took his focus off his own shit.
It’s okay to need help, he reminded himself, repeating the words his therapists and foster parents had fed to him since he was ten years old. Fifteen years, and sometimes he still couldn’t get it through his head. It’s okay to be upset, too, but you aren’t a child anymore. You’re safe, and you can handle what you need to handle.
“I might come back,” he said to Myles. “I should go take care of the police report while everything’s still fresh, you know?”
“Yeah.” Myles smiled. “Okay, well, if you do come back, latte’s on the house again.”
“Aren’t you going to get in trouble for giving me free drinks?”
Myles shook his head. “First of all, I’m the manager. I get to do stuff. Second, you deserve it for the way you helped that kid.” His face reddened. “And third, I kind of like the company. Valentine’s haters unite, yeah?”
Dyer chuckled. “Yeah. Okay. If I come back, I’ll take you up on the freebie.”
He made sure to zip his jacket and put on his gloves before he walked out the door. The wind had grown even worse, so although the street Officer Cheryl had mentioned was within walking distance, Dyer decided he would take the subway.
As he walked up the street toward the nearest subway station, he realized he’d left his phone in the coffee shop. He started to go back for it, then changed his mind. Forgetting something so one had to go back for it was a complete cliché, but it would give him an excuse to return to the shop and talk to Myles a little longer.
Shaking his head at his own foolishness, Dyer couldn’t help smiling as he walked up the street.