As we all know, February 14th is Valentine’s Day – and it also happens to be the birthday of Pearl Linford, Finn Blacklin, James Cardigan, and Marie Jessup in the Valentine series.
But according to Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation, February 13th, the day before Valentine’s Day, is Galentine’s Day, a day all about ladies celebrating ladies.
With that in mind, I’ve written a little prequel story to Valentine, called Galentine, that focuses on the friendship between Pearl and Phil (and featuring cameos from a whole host of Valentine-universe faves). It’s set a year and a bit before the beginning of Valentine, right before Pearl, Finn, Cardy and Marie all turn sixteen. Things haven’t gone supernaturally south yet – although if you look out of the corner of your eye, you might spot a few supernatural rumblings in the background – but it doesn’t mean Pearl doesn’t have problems…
Whether you’ve read all three books in the Valentine series or whether this is your first introduction to the world of Pearl: enjoy this story, and happy Galentine’s Day!
(Prefer to read Galentine as a PDF? Here you go: Galentine.)
‘Philllllllllllllll,’ I moan into the phone.
‘What is it?’ she asks.
‘Everything is garbage.’
‘Everything? On a scale of one to ten, how much is garbage?’
‘Nine hundred and forty-three. I just broke up with Dave.’
She doesn’t need to ask any more questions. ‘Mum, can you give me a ride to Pearl’s?’ she calls.
I hear Mrs Kostakidis’s voice in the background, then Phil’s back. ‘I’ll be there in twenty minutes,’ she says. ‘And I’m bringing baklava.’
My older brother Shad is asleep (he runs his own tech company and he mostly does business with people on the other side of the world, so he’s nocturnal) and I don’t want to wake him, so I wait for Phil out on the verandah, even though it’s a million degrees and my school uniform is sticking to my skin. It’s perfect swimming weather, and I fantasise for a second about hurling myself into cold deep water and how good it’d feel to be out of the humidity for a bit, but swimming just makes me think about Dave, and that makes me want to hurl myself into cold deep water from an extremely high cliff.
‘Uggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh,’ I groan aloud.
A black bird takes flight from one of the nearby eucalypts and goes soaring into the distance, scared off by the noise. It’s a mood, honestly. I wouldn’t want to hang out with me right now either.
But some people are better than me and that bird, because nineteen minutes later, Phil’s mum’s car pulls into our driveway. ‘Hey,’ Phil says, jumping out and hugging me even though a) we’re both gross sweat monsters, and b) she’s carrying the biggest Tupperware container that has ever been created. ‘Are you all right?’
‘No,’ I say. ‘I mean, yes, but – no.’
‘Philippa told me what happened, Pearl,’ Mrs Kostakidis says, getting out of the car. ‘I’m so sorry to hear about you and your boyfriend.’
‘Thanks, Mrs K,’ I say.
‘Is there anything I can do?’
I shake my head. ‘Thanks, though.’
‘It gets better,’ she says. ‘I promise. Trust me, I know. When Phil’s dad and I split up, I thought it’d never stop hurting, but it does.’
Privately, I think that she’s being a little OTT – I mean, she and Phil’s dad were married and had, you know, a kid, and Dave and I were dating for all of three weeks – but I still appreciate the sentiment. ‘I hope so,’ I say.
‘Pippa, you call me when you need me to pick you up, okay?’ Mrs Kostakidis says, then gets back in the car and drives away.
Phil sits down beside me on the verandah and pops the lid off the Tupperware. ‘Okay, spill,’ she says. ‘What happened?’
It takes me three pieces of baklava to get through it. ‘I don’t even understand what happened,’ I finish. ‘I mean – I like Dave. I like him heaps. But it was like something snapped in my brain and I freaked out.’
‘How did he react?’ she asks.
‘Well . . . he was confused,’ I say. ‘One minute, we’re making out – like, not just kissing, we were pretty hardcore making out – and then I’m like, “Look, Dave, I’m sorry, you’re really nice, but I can’t do this any more. It doesn’t feel right.” That’d confuse anyone. I’m confused.’
‘Was he bad at it?’
‘Making out? No. He was okay. I guess, anyway. It’s not like I have anything to compare it to.’
‘Let’s not talk about the Simon Anelli incident. Ever. Please.’
I take another piece of baklava. It’s the most dangerous stuff, I swear. No one makes baklava like Phil and her mum and her yiayia.
‘I’m not sure why you’re so confused,’ Phil says, taking another piece of baklava herself. ‘It all seems pretty obvious to me.’
My mouth is full, so all I can make is a weird garbled sound of exclamation. Pastry crumbs fly out of my lips. I bet if Dave could see me now, he’d wish he’d been the one to do the dumping.
‘You never really liked Dave,’ she finishes.
I swallow. ‘Yes, I did,’ I protest.
‘No, you didn’t.’
‘Yes, I did,’ I insist. ‘What’s not to like? He’s cool, and he has good taste in music, and we always have a great time when we’re on shift together at the pool, and he’s way more mature than most of the dicks in our year, and –’
‘Okay, sure, you liked him,’ she says, ‘and you were flattered that he liked you, but you were never into him the way you’re into –’
‘Cardy,’ I finish, sighing.
‘Like, just say you were on The Bachelorette,’ Phil says, ‘and Cardy and Dave were the last two guys left. There’s not a chance in hell you’d pick Dave, is there?’
I shake my head.
God, me rejecting Dave would have made so much more sense if we were on The Bachelorette. ‘I’m sorry, Dave, you’re really nice, but you’re not the guy for me,’ I’d say, and he’d be all, ‘I understand – I just want you to be happy’, and then go away and cry behind, like, a tree or whatever. And then Cardy would walk up and I’d be all, ‘It’s you, James Cardigan, I love you’, and he’d smile, and then he’d kiss me, and he definitely wouldn’t do that washing machine thing with his tongue that Dave sometimes did, and we’d go on a nationwide tour where everyone told us what a cute couple we were and we’d live happily ever after.
Another boy’s face drifts across my mind. I slap it away. No. Me and Cardy and the Bachelorette victory tour. That’s what I want. That’s why I freaked out and ditched Dave. Definitely no other reasons.
‘So it’s for the best,’ Phil says, nudging me with her elbow then taking another piece of baklava. ‘No point stringing one dude along while you’re pining for someone else.’
‘Yeah, I guess,’ I say. ‘It would have been nice to have a date for the party, though.’
Phil makes a noise in the back of her throat. ‘You don’t need a date to your sixteenth birthday party,’ she says. ‘Stop being ridiculous. We’re not in some American TV show.’
‘Finn has a date,’ I say. ‘Holly’s, like, surgically attached to him right now. Marie has Julian. Cardy could ask basically any girl he wanted and they’d go with him. I don’t want to be the only birthday kid with no date. Plus – Valentine’s Day! I’ve never had a valentine before. It would have been really cool to have one for once.’
‘Pearl Linford, you listen to me,’ Phil says. ‘I guarantee you, one hundred per cent, that you do not need a date to your sixteenth birthday party. Or a valentine.’
‘I know, but . . . sharing your birthday with three other people is weird,’ I say. ‘It’d be nice to have someone who was there just for me.’
I should explain about the birthday party thing, because it’s a bit confusing if you don’t know the backstory.
So, sixteen (almost) years ago, despite the fact that Haylesford is approximately the size of a thumbtack, four of us – me, Cardy, Marie Jessup, and Finn Blacklin – were all born on the same day: Valentine’s Day. This has basically no bearing on our lives, except for two things:
1) The local newspaper is still low-key obsessed by the fact that four! kids! were! all! born! on! the! same! day!, and so almost every year around our birthday, they line us up and take a picture and put a little story on, like, page 9 that’s all ‘Ooooh, what are those four Valentine kids up to now?’ My sister Disey works at the paper and she says that the editor refers to it as ‘Haylesford Seven Up’, which is apparently some old documentary series where they check in on the same bunch of people every seven years. Personally, I can’t imagine why anyone finds it interesting, but . . . eh, there you go.
2) It makes organising birthday parties incredibly difficult. Despite the whole Haylesford Seven Up thing – and despite the fact that I’ve been in love with Cardy since we were, like, twelve – the four of us aren’t BFFs or anything, but we’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that unless we want to tear our year group asunder and force them to make big political decisions about whose birthday party to attend, we have to combine forces and have a joint event.
There are positives and negatives to this. A positive is this that people always come to my birthday party. A negative is that every year I have to share said birthday party with Finn Blacklin, who is possibly the most trash human on the face of the planet.
They put us next to each other in the newspaper photo this year. He didn’t say anything to me, but you know when you can just, like, feel someone there? And then they’ll do something totally innocuous – like, in this case, he got a message so he checked his phone – and somehow no one in the world has ever done anything so annoying, ever? And the fact that you know you can’t tell them how annoying they’re being because objectively they’re being completely normal only makes you more annoyed? That’s my relationship with Finn in a nutshell.
It didn’t help that the night before that I had a dream about him where – no no no no. Not thinking about that.
Anyway. The party. Our actual birthday is on a Sunday this year, so we’re having the party tonight, on February 13, at Marie’s place. Except I might not go because I have nothing to wear.
Okay, that’s a lie. There’s a dress that I planned to wear. But in the dream that I’m not thinking about, I was wearing it, and if I wear it, I’ll think about the dream, and I am not thinking about the dream.
I pick up my phone. Normally, when I have fashion questions, I call my friend Tillie, but she’s with her family in Vietnam right now. I could call Phil – and she’d do her best – but fashion isn’t her wheelhouse.
I run down the list in my mind. Marie’d help, but she’s busy doing party prep, and –
‘What’s up, Pearlie?’ Disey asks from my doorway. ‘You look like you’re about to cry.’
‘Nothing,’ I reply automatically.
She raises her eyebrows.
I crack almost immediately. ‘I don’t know what to wear to the party. Everything I own has turned into hideous monster clothes.’
I expect her to laugh at me, but she doesn’t. ‘I hate it when that happens,’ she says. ‘It’s always at the most inconvenient times, too. Like right before a job interview, or when you need to see an ex again.’
‘So it’s not something you grow out of, then?’
‘If it isn’t, I haven’t grown out of it yet,’ she says. ‘But maybe I can help.’
I eye her dubiously. Theoretically, I could borrow her clothes, but Disey’s style is pretty butch, and while it suits her I like different stuff, and –
She bursts out laughing. ‘Stop looking at me like I’m about to force you to become my mini-me,’ she says. ‘I bought you something.’
‘Oh,’ I say, surprised.
‘I was going to wrap it and make it part of your birthday present, but it looks like you could use it now,’ she says, handing me a shopping bag. ‘Call it a Galentine’s Day gift.’
‘February thirteenth, the day before Valentine’s Day,’ she says. ‘All about ladies supporting ladies. It’s from Parks and Recreation, I think. And if there’s one job I can do as a sister, it’s to make sure you don’t go to your sixteenth birthday party wearing hideous monster clothes.’
I open the bag. ‘Oh my god, Disey, this is gorgeous!’
It really is. The dress is green and knee-length, a little bit floaty, but summery and casual enough that it doesn’t look like something you’d wear to the Year Ten formal.
‘I’m glad you like it,’ she says. ‘I saw it in the shop window, and I thought of you straight away. I just hope it fits.’
I’m already tearing the dress I’m wearing off and stepping into the new one. ‘Can you zip it up?’ I ask, holding my long hair off my neck.
She does. ‘What do you think?’ I ask.
‘Well, you need a different bra,’ she says, ‘but it fits.’
I look at myself in the mirror. She’s right. Once I change out my black T-shirt bra for a strapless one, add a bit of jewellery, and do something to my hair, the dress is going to be perfect.
Disey smiles at me in the mirror. ‘You’re going to look like a fairy princess,’ she says.
The party’s already been going for about half an hour by the time I get there. ‘Pearl!’ Marie exclaims, opening the door and hugging me. ‘Happy birthday for tomorrow!’
‘Happy birthday to you too,’ I say, hugging her back.
‘Come on in,’ she says. ‘Everyone’s outside.’
Marie lives on the beach side of town, where the houses (and the yards) are bigger, but even so, the place looks packed. ‘Wow!’ I say, raising my voice so she can hear me over the music. ‘Good turnout!’
‘Well, we are the fanciest birthday bitches around,’ she says, grinning. ‘Want a drink?’
She hands me a vodka cruiser. I don’t really drink much, but I take it. ‘Anything you need me to do?’ I ask.
‘Nope,’ she says. ‘I’ve got it all sorted.’
Marie clinks the neck of her bottle against mine. ‘Happy sweet sixteen,’ she says.
For a moment, we’re silent, and even though the music is blaring and people are talking and the world is loud around us, it feels like we’re the only two people in the world.
‘Do you think we’ll still be doing this in another sixteen years?’ she asks. ‘You, me, Finn, Cardy, all sharing the same birthday party?’
‘I hope not,’ I say. ‘Something about that sounds really sad.’
‘I don’t know,’ she says. ‘Part of me agrees with you – because, like, if all four of us end up in this town for the long term something’s gone horribly wrong – but part of me thinks it’d be nice.’
‘How about this,’ I say. ‘How about we forget Finn and Cardy, and we promise that in sixteen years, you and I will spend our thirty-second birthday together, just like old times?’
‘It’s a date,’ Marie says. ‘But let’s hope we’re drinking something fancier than cruisers then.’
‘Did someone say date?’ Julian – Marie’s boyfriend – says, materialising out of nowhere. ‘Hands off my girlfriend, Pearl. Find your own date.’
I know he doesn’t mean anything by it, but man, I would really like to kick Julian in the face.
I go off looking for Phil. I know she must be here somewhere – if there’s one thing I know about Philippa Kostakidis, it’s that she’s never, ever late – but the place is so packed I can’t see her.
Elbowing my way through the crowd, I see Simon Anelli heading in my direction. I’m not sure if he’s coming for me or he’s just generally moving my way, but he already looks hammered. I have absolutely no desire for a repeat performance of the last time we were at a party together (the only reason why Dave, and not Simon, was my first kiss was because when Simon lunged for my face he missed and got my ear instead), so I duck around a corner.
And run straight into Finn.
‘Hi,’ I say blankly.
‘Hey, Linford,’ he says, putting his phone in his back pocket. He’s wearing black jeans and a white shirt, and with his dark hair pulled back from his face something about all that monochrome makes his eyes look even brighter green than normal. ‘Happy birthday.’
‘You too,’ I reply automatically.
He smiles at me, that tiny quirk of the mouth that always makes it look like he’s making fun of me. ‘I like your dress,’ he says. ‘You look pretty.’
Oh no no no Finn Blacklin, you’re not ruining another dress for me. No chance in hell. ‘Shouldn’t you be saying that to your girlfriend, instead of hitting on me?’ I snap.
‘Whoa, calm down,’ he says, raising his hands. ‘I’m not hitting on you. You look pretty. That’s all I meant.’
As if I would hit on you, I hear underneath it. That’s hilarious, Linford.
‘And Holly’s not here,’ he says. ‘She’s grounded.’
I try to imagine what Holly could have done to get grounded, and every single answer involves Finn.
‘So you and I are both flying solo,’ he says. ‘Marie’s got Julian. Cardy’s brought some girl from Derrigong High.’
My heart falls into my stomach and disintegrates.
‘Want to dance?’ he asks.
For a moment, I think about what it would be like if I said yes. Okay, but only because tomorrow’s our birthday, I’d say, and, Sure, Linford, sure, that’s the only reason, he’d reply, and he’d take my hand, and he’d lead me out to where everyone was dancing, and suddenly it’d be just like it is in the movies and a slow song would come on, and he’d put his arms around me, and I’d look up into his eyes, so bright green tonight, and he’d look down, and I’d feel him tense up, ever so slightly, and I’d stand up on my tiptoes, and –
‘No,’ I say abruptly, and leave.
I find Phil talking with a bunch of other girls from school. They all wish me happy birthday, and we migrate out to the dance floor (well, ‘floor’ is a bit of an overstatement – the lawn where everyone is dancing) and dance till we’re all sweaty, until Marie cuts the music and announces it’s time for cake.
‘Hey,’ Cardy says to me as I make my way over to where he’s standing with Marie and Finn. ‘Happy birthday, Pearl. I haven’t seen you all night.’
‘Happy birthday to you too,’ I say. ‘You having a good time?’
‘Definitely,’ he says.
Something about the fact that he’s definitely having a good time when he hasn’t seen me all night feels incredibly insulting.
The four of put our hands on the knife together to make the first cut in the cake. My hand is sandwiched between Cardy’s and Finn’s, and I can’t help but look at their wrists, watch the muscles in their forearms working. We’ve done this basically every year since we can all remember, and somewhere along the line, their hands stopped looking like kids’ hands, and started looking like men’s.
I liked that about Dave. He was two years older than me, and when I looked at his hand resting on my knee when we went to the movies, it made me feel so adult.
God, I wish he were here.
Marie takes the knife and starts cutting up the rest of the cake by herself. ‘Here,’ she says, passing a slice to me. ‘Birthday ladies first.’
‘In that case, let me cut the cake,’ Cardy says. ‘You’ve done so much of the work for the party already, Marie – let me take over.’
‘If you want to, sure,’ Marie says, handing him the knife and taking the second piece of cake for herself. ‘Happy birthday, Finn.’
‘Happy birthday to you too,’ he says absently, looking at something over our heads. ‘Sorry – I’ll be back in a sec.’
He disappears into the crowd. I look after him.
‘Oh, Holly must have snuck out of house jail,’ Marie says, through a mouthful of cake. ‘She got grounded for some, like, super weird reason.’
‘Hmmm?’ I say, watching Finn kiss Holly.
‘Yeah, something to do with her aunt or – oh, hello,’ she says, as Julian comes up behind her and puts his arms around her waist.
Julian pulls her away. The line for cake is long and snaking, even though Cardy’s serving it as fast as he can. Over near the front door, Holly has her arms around Finn’s neck and has buried her face in his shoulder. One of his hands is resting gently against the back of her head.
. . . and I’m standing alone, watching them, like a weirdo stalker.
I look away, but I don’t know where else to put my eyes.
Maybe I should offer to take over from Cardy with the cake, so he can go and make out with whoever his Derrigong girl is. Or maybe I should call Dave, and be like, ‘So, I made a terrible mistake, can you come to this party right now and hold my hand so I’m not this awkward odd man out? Sure, I’m pretty sure I did the right thing when I dumped you, but it doesn’t mean I’m not regretting it right now.’
‘Pearl!’ Phil says, grabbing my elbow. ‘Come with me.’
‘You haven’t got cake yet,’ I protest, as she pulls me toward the kitchen.
‘Don’t worry about that,’ she says. ‘This is more important.’
‘More important than cake? I know how you feel about baked goods, Phil. I know –’
‘Pearl,’ she says, ‘shut up.’
I obey – but it’s only because my eyes have filled with tears.
She takes the slice of cake from my hand and puts it down on the kitchen bench. ‘You don’t need that cake,’ she says. ‘This one’s better.’
Inside the same Tupperware container she uses for baklava, Phil’s brought cupcakes. Happy bday Pearl, she’s iced on them.
‘You didn’t need to do this,’ I say. ‘I mean . . .’
I gesture at the piece of birthday cake.
‘I wanted you to know that at least one person was here just for you,’ Phil says. ‘Plus, I know my baking is definitely better than wherever Marie got that cake, and friends don’t let friends eat inferior baked goods.’
I laugh, but it comes out weird and choked, because I am definitely about to cry.
‘Happy sweet sixteen, Pearl,’ Phil says.
‘Not quite yet,’ I say, taking a cupcake out of the container. ‘It’s still only February thirteenth.’
Enjoyed Galentine? Make sure you check out Valentine, the first book in the Valentine series, out now from Penguin Teen Australia.