Scarlet Fever

I won. Miss Mastrantonio’s kindergarten class had a champion, the Clifford the Big Red Dog certificate said so. The contest, thrown in honor of the holiday, was over. I was the reddest.
It was my shoes that’d edged me out in front of the competition. They were still wet on the walk to school, a trail of red prints snaking back the five blocks to my house. I’d stayed up late the night before spray-painting my grey New Balance sneakers fire engine red.
Pants were a no-brainer, the faded maroon corduroys I’d worn almost every day the previous fall worked perfectly. My shirt was a different shade of red, but the whole outfit, once together was a force to be reckoned with.
Under my arm I had carried with me a box of Spiderman valentines, one for every kid in my kindergarten class.
My sister had convinced me that I should sign off on all of the cards, ‘Love, Miles’.
“It’s Valentines Day! You have to write ‘love’.”
Now, standing by the chalkboard underneath an accordion streamer of pink hearts, I was less sure. The high of my recent win in the costume competition was beginning to ebb. My slipping confidence was the result of whispers ushering from the back of the class. Matt McCafferty and Sam Holden snickered behind the notes now handed out to the class.
“Love?! Eww!”
Surely they must know that I’d written the word out of obligation, a sense of tradition. The ritual of the holiday was to be respected. Of course any love expressed in their cards was purely the love of one’s fellow man.
My eyes darted around the room. I’m a laughing stock. Everyone is pointing at their card and making faces. I’m such an idiot! What was I thinking, ‘Love’?! I should have written ‘sincerely’! Or even safer, ‘from’.
Yep: Happy Valentines Day. From, Miles.

It was so clear, now that it was too late.

…I’ll never live this down.

My gaze rested on Eloise Majidian. She hadn’t opened her card yet. Maybe it wasn’t too late, ultimate embarrassment could still be avoided. If I could just get to her desk… I could grab the evidence, run to the bathroom and rip it to shreds, before she could realize I was a fool. Just needed a distraction…
She was already opening the envelope, peeling the adhesive with her index finger. Not even looking, laughing at something Julianna had said. The card was in her hands. Oh my god. Oh my god. I’m done for.
Will she know that ‘love’ was intentional in her card? I had spent extra time writing it on hers, even practicing a few times on some newspaper. When I wrote it, I’d pressed too hard, afraid she might not think it was casual. …Oh no, she might think it IS casual!
Now in her hand, card open, her eyes came to rest on the words inside. I saw her scan down. She stopped. At first nothing, then slowly a small smile crossed her lips. My heart just about popped out of my chest. From across the classroom Eloise’s eyes turned upwards to meet mine.
Skin hot, I felt the blush rush through my cheeks to my ears and down my neck. My face, crimson, matched the paint on my sneakers.

Best Valentine’s Day ever.