Kai turned the bottle of Bulleit upside down and shook out the last few drops.
“Not my fault you go through hard liquor like a bar on Mardi Gras,” said Ama with a condescending snort as she nursed a wine tumbler in her palm. She took a sip of the deep red liquid. “Don’t look at me like I just stole your candy.”
Kai glowered her, his eyes trailing to the figure on the bed. After a few shots of tequila, Miya had promptly turned eighty-five and decided it was time for her evening nap. Now, she was out like a rock, the covers raised to her nose as she snuggled into the over-fluffed pillows. She’d curled into a ball on one side of the mattress despite its impressive size—a habit carried over from sharing small spaces on most nights.
But it was mid-February, and the mild winter had turned particularly sour this week. Snow barely dusted the ground, but the wind was bitterly cold, made worse by the city’s tunnelling streets framed by skyscrapers. Kai never had much love for the concrete jungles of America’s major metropolises, but he welcomed the facelessness that came with being one of millions passing through the urban landscape each day. Still, the hotels weren’t exactly cheap, and if not for Ama’s contribution, they would have been shit out of luck. Even with the three of them putting their pocket change together, they could only manage a night at a dingy, run-down hotel on the outskirts of the city. One bed and a couch without a pullout, but at least there was a heater and a bathroom.
It was more than Kai was used to, and he was sure Miya welcomed the warmth of an actual bed.
“Where’d you get this, anyway?” Ama broke into his thoughts and gestured to the crate of wine.
“Won a bet at the bar,” he said without elaboration. He’d gone out earlier while Ama and Miya toiled away with their witchy-woo-woo divination cards, sharing readings and discussing metaphors. After challenging the thoroughly sloshed bar owner to a contest of throwing darts, Kai had managed to win himself enough booze to throw a motel party. “Wish I’d gotten more of the whisky, at least.”
Ama sighed and rolled her eyes. “Well, there’s plenty of wine for the both of us. Though I have to say, I can’t imagine you indulging in fermented grape juice.”
Kai wrinkled his nose. He’d never had wine before—had never been interested—but desperate times…
He strolled over to the crate, dropped into a crouch, and screwed the cap off a fresh bottle. He wrinkled his nose after a cautionary sniff, then took a swig.
“You’re supposed to pour it into a glass,” said Ama. “It may be cheap wine, but it’s not an eighty-cent lager.”
“Whatever,” Kai muttered, taking another gulp as he straightened.
“Suit yourself,” Ama simpered, then sipped smugly at her wine. It would be a long night indeed.
A bottle and a half later, they were trading insults like it was a sport. All the while, Miya hadn’t moved a muscle, oblivious to their rioting.
“You take orders from a bird—a fucking bird!” Kai waved the half-empty bottle around as he hollered.
“And you got mangled by a bus!” she countered.
“How is that my fault!”
Ama went slit-eyed. She leaned forward, braced her elbows on her knees, and hissed at him, “You’re weak!”
Kai jerked his chin towards Miya. “She doesn’t seem to think so.”
“She’s young.” Ama waved him off. “We all make foolish mistakes in our youth.”
Kai gave her a lazy smirk. “You jealous?”
Ama balked at him, her cheeks flushed and her eyes glassy. “Oh, please. No one takes you home to mom. You’re only good for a one-night stand.”
Kai fought back the grimace. Ouch.
Just then, a loud bang jostled the room, followed by the sound of a woman yelling obscenities. Ama and Kai traded glances, their brows raised, when then shouting and stomping passed their door.
“You think chocolates will fix this!” the woman shrieked before something smacked the wall. “You cheated on me! On Valentine’s Day!”
Ama cringed with a sharp inhale, and Kai bit back a strangled laugh. Miya had barely stirred, mumbling in her sleep as she rolled over and squeezed the pillow.
“Well, there’s a Valentine’s Day present she’ll never forget,” Ama chuckled, then sneered viciously at Kai, “At least he remembered for one of his girlfriends.”
Kai shot her a look made of daggers, but he couldn’t deny the prickle of shame crawling up the back of his neck. “Fuck off. I don’t keep track of these bullshit holidays.”
“Like I said,” Ama wagged a finger at him as she drained her glass, “only good for a one-night stand.”
“Sure,” he flashed her a roguish grin, “a one-night stand three hundred times in a row.”
Ama scrunched up her face like he’d dropped a bag of vomit under her nose. “Yet you forgot about Valentine’s Day?”
Kai flopped back in the armchair with an exasperated huff. “Who gives a shit about Valentine’s Day? It’s just a way for companies to make money off a bunch of sad, desperate sacks.”
“God, you’re really the worst, aren’t you? At least get her a chocolate bar or something! No one asked you to mine a diamond!”
“I got a whole crate of wine and three bottles of top-notch liquor!”
“For yourself!” she rebuked.
Kai groaned and glanced at the giant lump under the blankets. Still sound asleep. “Hey,” he called to Ama, “that store across the street’s open late, right?”
From the corner of his eye, he could see Ama batting away the surprise. “I think it’s 24/7,” she replied.
“Good.” He jumped to his feet, then beamed like he’d just gotten away with murder. “Wanna shower the bed in candy with me?”
She blinked once, then twice, and her lips split open into a Cheshire smile. “So, he does have a conscience!”
“Don’t test it,” Kai threatened as he slipped into his leather jacket and pulled the fabric hood over his head.
Ama followed suit, clapping on her cobalt blue earmuffs, then grabbed the matching mitts. “Any reason you want me along for this escapade?”
Kai ran his tongue along the inside of his teeth, contemplative, then confessed, “She’ll appreciate it more if it’s from the both of us.”
Ama gasped. “Was that…vulnerability just now?”
Kai shot her menacing look, softened only by the warmth of the wine spreading through his veins. “Your grape juice is rotten.”
Ama blinked, then threw her head back and cackled like a witch. “Kai Donovan—made sentimental by a bottle of three-dollar wine!”
Kai gritted his teeth as he swung open the door and strode into the hallway, trying his best to ignore Ama as she howled at his expense. Someone poked their head out of their room to complain about the noise only to earn themselves a feral snarl from Kai. The door promptly shut, and Kai thumped down the dark stairwell at the end of the corridor.
The grocery store across the street was mercifully empty, populated only by a handful of employees who were busy re-stocking the shelves. Kai surveyed the aisles until he spotted the one with the most pink, red, and white.
“Why the fuck is there so much?” he groaned as he and Ama perused the endless packs of seasonal sweets. Then, his jaw dropped at the prices. “Am I supposed to sell a kidney for a bunch of sugary shit packed into heart-shaped boxes?”
Ama began humming the Nirvana song of the same name, bobbing her head next to him. “It’s not my fault you’re broke,” she sang to the song’s chorus.
Kai ignored her as he squinted angrily at the numbers next to the dollar signs. Then, he glanced up at a clock on the wall, his gaze fixed on the minute hand before he sneered triumphantly. Without a word, he grabbed everything that looked passable—Hershey’s kisses, candy hearts, Lindt truffles, and a pair of giant milk chocolate hearts wrapped in shiny red foil with the phrase Sweet on You stamped across the middle. Kai gagged as he read the words, but shoved the massive hearts under his arm nonetheless.
“Let’s go,” he told Ama, then headed for the register.
Dropping everything on the counter, Kai slapped his hand down before the cashier could grab the first item. “It’s 12:05 a.m.,” he said.
The cashier—a lanky, youngish-looking dude with a floppy comb over—frowned. “Sir?” he asked nervously, unsure of Kai’s meaning.
“It’s 12:05 a.m.,” Kai repeated, “which means it’s no longer February fourteenth.”
Behind him, Ama snorted as if catching on to his game.
“Yes,” the cashier said slowly. “That is correct.” He tried reaching for the bag of candy hearts to begin scanning, but Kai swiped it out of reach.
“Doesn’t all your seasonal shit go on sale the day after?” He smiled like a poison-coated knife, daring the man at the register to contradict him.
“Well, yes, but we haven’t put the sale prices up on the shelves yet.”
“No, but you’ve got the stickers already printer, yeah?”
Ama remained quiet, watching the exchange with a coy expression.
The cashier’s gaze flitted between the two imposing figures, his hairline now slick with nervous sweat. “I-I suppose, but they aren’t up yet.”
“If they’re printed, you can scan them,” said Kai, drumming his fingers on the counter.
“Listen,” Kai interrupted, “you don’t get paid enough to deal with assholes like me, and I can’t afford this overpriced shit anyway.”
“S-sir, I never said you’re an a…a—”
“No, but I did,” Kai’s wolfish smile widened, his teeth gleaming. “So, how about this: you cut me a discount, keep the change, and I’ll never show my face here again.”
“Think of it this way,” Ama chimed in, hooking her arm with Kai’s, “the asshole here gets to save his relationship, you get a few extra bucks, and you get to stick it to the suits.”
The cashier raked over them in silent evaluation, his mouth clamped shut as he no doubt assessed his options—piss off Kai, or get in trouble with a corporate crony. Finally, he gave them a terse nod. “Cash only,” he mumbled as he scanned for his supervisor.
Kai reached into his back pocket and counted out the money. He’d already done the math in his head. “Should be about three quarters of the full price,” he offered, unceremoniously tossing the money onto the counter before snatching a plastic bag. Ama helped him pack up before anything was scanned, and neither of them bothered to wait for the cashier to double-check the amount they’d offered him. At some point, the poor bastard must have realized there was no discount; they were flat out bribing him now.
Not that Kai gave a damn. Once he’d finished, he swung the bag over his shoulder and winked at the cashier. “Thanks, man.”
The cashier gave a wobbly smile back but said nothing more as he collected the stray bills and shoved them into his pocket.
“Loosen up,” Ama patted him on the arm in passing, then followed Kai out of the store and into the dead of night.
Miya awoke to the sound of crinkling. Blinking away the dregs of sleep, she stretched her limbs and sat up only to find the entire mattress littered with candy wrappers. Some were empty, others were not, and plenty had been flattened onto the bed, melted chocolate now smeared over the sheets.
“What the hell!” she raised both hands to find her fingers stained brown.
Next to her, Kai was chewing on a candy heart. “About time.” He licked his fingers, then reached into a bag on the nightstand and showered her in Hershey’s kisses.
A few of them knocked her on the head despite her attempts to evade the fallout. “What—what did you do?” She eyed him suspiciously, but found her treacherous hands reaching for a Lindt truffle by her knee.
Ama pounced onto the bed—seemingly out of nowhere—but she’d been lurking quietly on the sofa. “Happy Discounted Chocolate Day!” she beamed, grabbing fistfuls of candy and tossing them up like confetti. More of the sweets bounced off of Miya and tumbled around the bed.
“Discounted…” Miya trailed off, then asked carefully, “…or stolen?”
Ama pouted as if realizing she’d just been clumped in with the likes of Kai, who straightened up and proudly declared, “Nope. Paid for it my damn self.”
Miya narrowed her eyes at him. “Yeah? Where’d you get the money?”
He shrugged, scrunching up a wrapper and flicking it at Ama’s nose. “Stole it.”
Ama snarled and swatted it out of the air, but she was quickly placated by a squishy bag of pink marshmallows.
Miya whined like a squeaky hinge and stared at the truffle her fingers had twisted open against her say-so.
“Hey,” Kai prodded her sides. “Cheer up, Lambchop.” He leaned in and left a chocolate smear across her lips, then whispered in her ear, “Happy Discounted Chocolate Day.”