an unwanted gift
“…and here you go!”
Rune blinks as brightly-colored somethings are shoved in their field of view. Their eyes flick up from the desk and the book they were reading to the gifter – Natsuki Akiyama, tanuki, in the gardening club – and her wide, cheerful grin.
Rune feels their mouth go on autopilot. “Thank you,” they say, trying to nudge the items towards her, “but I cannot accept –“
Akiyama nudges them back. “Oh, don’t worry about it, I’m giving this stuff to everybody.” She pulls another few boxes out of her tiny, tiny bag (how did she fit all of them in there?) as she says “Happy Valentine’s Day!” and scampers off. Rune waits until Akiyama is a few desks away, engrossed in giving away another box, before inspecting the intrusions on their desk.
The card is first, in all of its eye-searing glory. An over-saturated picture of a blushing apple surrounded by hearts decorate the front, with the words You’re the apple of my eye! scrawled around the apple. Rune flips it open only to be greeted with the groan-worthy We’d make quite a pear ;) inside. Under the terrible pun is Akiyama’s terrible handwriting reading Happy Valentine’s Day! and a crude doodle of Akiyama herself, holding up a peace sign.
The package is slightly more tasteful, being a standard red box plastered with giant pink hearts.Rune gently pries it open and is instantly hit with the overpowering smell of chocolate. There’s several squares of it, each a different variety – milk, white, dark – and all nestled neatly in their packaging. Rune is pleasantly surprised for a split second before suspicion settles in. Why give me this?
Rune knows, vaguely, why the school has slowly been taken over by cutout hearts and fake roses; the cloying sentimentality and romantic desperation hanging in the air has been impossible to miss. Rune spots Akiyama out of the corner of their eye, still on their box-giving quest. She’s giving a box to Kelisade, and Rune watches their partner accept it with a grin as their own chest gives an odd twist. Surely Akiyama wasn’t that desperate for an intimate relationship to try giving courting requests to every student in homeroom…
And doesn’t that thought make their stomach turn with less-than-pleasant memories. Rune remembers who gave them their first official courting gift – a woman from a neighboring kingdom, Rune’s senior several times over. She had come to the family estate when Rune was barely nine, all smiles and sweetness, but with the countenance of a dog that had sniffed out a steak. A Rune with less self-control had picked up on it and kicked the creepy lady in the knee, content to run and hide and face their parents’ disappointment after she left.
That didn’t even compare to the flood of gifts they had gotten when Dovendale’s Key chose them and leeched away what was left of their agency. Perfect parcels wrapped in pretty paper filled their parents’ foyer and crushed them with the weight of the expectations they carried. More courting gifts from strangers oceans away, embarrassing bids to curry their favor, unabashed attempts on their life – they clearly remember the overly sugary confections that had them running to the nearest bathroom as the Key’s power made them expel the single bite they’d taken. The treats were quickly revealed to have been laced with poison, and the cousin that sent them had been dragged to prison.
Rune makes sure Akiyama’s back is to them, then derisively drops the card and the box in their own bag next to their seat, the vivid colors and blushing apple mocking them as they zip the bag up. There’s a dumpster close to the cafeteria, Rune thinks. It should be easy enough to get to after homeroom’s dismissed...