Guys who wait until the last minute to get gifts are doomed to be forever alone.
Saturday, February 13th, Royal Woods, Michigan, 11:48 AM
A boy with white hair stands in front of a seasonal display in his local supermarket. He is staring at the shelves with his left hand on his chin, elbow supported by his right, a furrowed brow and pursed lips, moving his eyes from one side to the other every so often. One would think, seeing the deep-seated pensiveness on his face, that this boy was weighing judgment on a verdict of enough difficulty to test the limits of King Solomon's intellect. The gravity of the scene dissipating once one remembers that this mask of complex thought is being worn by an eleven-year-old, staring holes into a sparse pink and red display of chocolates.
A trivial matter to most, but of obvious importance to the lad as he mulled over the pros and cons of two packages of assorted treats. On his left, a row of large one-hundred-piece, red tinfoil wrapped, heart-shaped boxes of mixed chocolates blocked the view of the fluorescent lights from their perch on the top shelf. To his right, on the third shelf from the bottom, sat the last surviving ten-piece pack of luxury brand assorted truffles, each sample within having decadent names such as blueberry almond tart, crème brûlée, strawberry mousse, and other exquisite confectionery flavors that stimulated the boy's own saliva glands.
"It's Valentine's day again, and like any Holiday at the Loud House, or any home for that matter, we like to celebrate it in our own way. Most people reserve this Holiday for romantic interests, special friends, or, in my age group, with schoolmates. You probably have that right? The annual school candy card box popularity poll, or card exchange as the teachers call it. Last year I got three cards! Subtracting Clyde, that means two of them were from girls! My popularity is definitely on the way up."
The boy gives a dashing buck-toothed grin to his metaphysical audience. Everything from his chipped front tooth, his freckled cheeks, his cowlicked hair, to his genuine attempt at being suave all added delightfully to the adorkable nature of his visage. The naiveté and innocence of what he was saying obvious to everyone but himself. Let's remind ourselves that those cards he received from females went through a rigorous cootie decontamination before he accepted them.
But, to be fair, he is eleven now, and he has seen enough romance on television and in his comic book worlds to know this was going to be important to navigate in life. Plus, the idea of holding hands with the girls in class, most starting puberty, did give him a nice feeling in his chest that he wished to understand more about. And kissing, oh boy, that could either make him grin or gag depending on the present company, and was easily what he considered to be the ultimate relationship act. So, of course, his notion of blossoming into a fifth grade Casanova can only be thought of as cute.
"But unlike other families, I have ten siblings, all sisters. All unashamed, self-admitted, chocoholic young girls from daycare to senior year. So, naturally, to maximize their chocolate hoard every year, we have the tradition of getting Valentine's for each other. Other families might do this too, but the scale is clearly different with a big family like mine. This is where the pros and cons of being the only boy among ten girls come into play.
Big con, I'm responsible as the male to show appreciation to all ten of my sisters with a tribute of crushed and melted cocoa and butter. The sisters, however, are only obligated to give them to their roommates. Oh, and we all have the same budget. Unfair? Clearly. But, there is a pro. Being the only boy, I get chocolate from all ten of my sisters; a veritable mountain of candy bags and sampler boxes that, to this day, I'm never able to finish. It's funny, why do they give me so much each year when they know I'm just gonna give most of it ba-"
His face at this moment changed from the normal smile to a dry deadpan 'Oh…' sort of look as realization struck him. Shrugging it off with a 'Meh' he continued.
"Well let's just say I get my fill and I'm satisfied. What bothers me every year though is, are they? I get ten gifts while they get two or three at most, so I'm always worried whether they are fine with the chocolates I can get them with my limited capital of five dollars per sister. Which brings me to the same conundrum every year. Quantity or Quality. That is the eternal question for a large family whenever making a purchasing decision; do you want a lot of something cheap, but not very good? Or do you want something a bit pricey but better than average? Honestly, it's a tough call."
"On the one hand, I do think all my sisters would want this expensive chocolate, Waldorff's. Lori has told the name to Bobby countless times over the phone, and Luna is constantly using it in her Love songs. And Lola has been acting obnoxiously sweet, trying to butter me up to get a box just for her. Fat chance of that happening though; it's thirty-nine ninety-nine for a box of just ten pieces! With the way they talk about them, maybe they'd be happy even getting one, but I just can't shake the feeling that it's not enough to show how much I appreciate them."
"Now, on the other hand, there's that big heart box, the one I've seen plenty of times in Leni's rom-coms. For the same price, I can give each of my sisters ten (factory) hand-crafted chocolates each! But, I think we all know that more than half of that box will be filled with those gross fruit chews and creams that everyone hates. Even with the wide range of personalities my sisters have, nobody likes that cream nougat gunk that makes your throat all scratchy. Nobody." The last word said more monotonously than Lucy could have done. "But there's the chance that it might be good enough, and could be mostly nuts and caramel, right? Please?" His eyes pleading to Saint Valentine while looking at the shiny red behemoth, wishing his statement to be true. The box did not respond, and the boy's head slumped in a sigh.
Lincoln reached into his jeans, rummaging for assistance to his plight. "Well, I've already spent twenty minutes thinking about this, and I still can't decide. I think it's time for the opinion of an impartial third party. Fate." He said while pulling a clean quarter out of his front pocket. "Okay George, I'm leaving it up to you. Heads my sisters get fleeting brilliance, tails they get long lasting averageness. If they don't talk to me after tomorrow, I'm blaming you."
Lincoln primed the coin for a flick on his right thumb and shot it into the air with a satisfying ping. 'Nice.' He thought to himself as he reached his hand out to catch the descending metal, only to have that moment of competence nullified by his natural clumsiness as he knocked the coin out of the air. The coin landed on its edge and rolled down the aisle to Lincoln's right, and to his dismay. "Hey! Get back here, George! You can't get out of this any more than I can!" Lincoln scolded the minted founding Father as he gave chase.
The quarter made it to the end of the aisle before finally toppling on its side, heads up, at the end display. Lincoln picked the coin off the floor, ignoring the answer it had given him, continuing his one-sided conversation with the inanimate first president took greater precedence for some reason. "Geez, is this how a president should treat accountability?" The irony of Lincoln abdicating his responsibility to the flattened disc of copper-nickel and zinc just moments earlier completely lost on the boy. "Unless you can give me any other ideas on what to get my sisters, could you please-" Lincoln stopped himself after noticing the promotional display his money led him to.
Rows of bags containing raw chocolate lined the shelf, accompanied by various tools, molds, and decorations. Every flavor was there; milk, dark, and white chocolate chips ready to be melted and formed into whatever shape desired. Dipping forks and squeeze bottles of chocolate for decorating were on racks hanging off the display, enticing shoppers with impulse buys. Several molds were on sale, depicting hearts, flowers, and squares waiting to be filled.
An image started to form in Lincoln's mind. A giant furnace was blazing with red-hot embers, one of many in a factory crowded with pipes, chains, and conveyor belts. Ashes rode plumes of black smoke as the air trembled and warped from the heat. A man tipped over a cauldron hanging by a crane, letting molten brown gold slide from the lip into a casting, fire and sparks dancing as the purified cocoa settled into the mold. I crane slowly descended, a block of caramel pierced by the trident like attachment, inching closer and closer to a vat of oil black liquid; 99% cacao, something they said couldn't be done.
It submerged and steam wafted into the ether and disappeared, while the chain retreated from its boiling hell, bringing its prize with it. Conveyor belts lined with men and hoses applied zig-zags of bright white stripes to the top of finished forgings. The foundry was the color of Hell, black as night and red as blood. Ironic, as many of whom that enjoyed its products could swear they were gifts from Heaven. It was alive with the breath of creation, fueled by the energy of man. One such man in his thirties, with white hair and gaunt cheeks, stood on the scaffolding, overseeing his life's work. The creases of his smile filled with soot, his eyes hidden by blast goggles, he thought of how this all began. "All thanks to George Washington." he mused. Lincoln Loud had an idea.
"That's it! If I can't find the right chocolates for my sisters, why don't I make them myself?" With his mind going a mile a minute, the boy got out his cell phone to search for recipes and punch some numbers. "If I use some ingredients from home, I have just enough to make candy for everyone." The lad held his new best friend in reverence. "Thanks, George! This is a great idea." The minted man would have given Lincoln a smile and a wink if he could.
Lincoln wasted no time in grabbing a hand basket and loading it with all the DIY goods he could afford with fifty dollars. After a heartfelt goodbye with his silver compatriot, a sacrifice to the dreaded demon, sales tax. "I'm so sorry I have to lose you to what you fought against. I'll never forget you, and your courage." Lincoln said with a salute, a single tear escaping his left eye, the cashier solemnly returning with his own salute before bagging his items. With a heavy heart, Lincoln spurred his bike on the path to his family home.
Saturday, February 13th, 1216 Franklin Ave, Royal Woods, Michigan, 12:09 PM
The squeak of a screen door broke any sense of stealth the over-imaginative boy tried to maintain as he surreptitiously made his way to the kitchen from the back door. One can imagine it's difficult to go unnoticed when your tactical wear consists of a bright orange shirt and snow-white hair. It's hard to pretend you're a spy or a ninja making a break-in when you look like an anthropomorphized traffic cone. Luckily for Lincoln, the kitchen was empty now, so he could at least get the space set up for his confectionery endeavor before the dinner rush. With thirteen people in one house, Lincoln knew that there was no chance he could keep the plan of making homemade chocolates secret, but he could at least take measures to keep the end results under wraps for tomorrow. He wanted to maintain some element of surprise after all.
Lincoln set up a barrier of keep out and do not cross signs the family kept around for quarantine situations, blocking the entrances to the kitchen. He then laid out all his ingredients on the countertop and started searching for the needed pots and pans and other assorted utensils. He also rummaged through the refrigerator and cabinets looking for the necessary items to make the fillings for his creations. He came up short on some but managed to improvise based on his knowledge of his sisters' tastes with other things. The kitchen was set, and as he started to boil water on the stove, a moment he was hoping to avoid for a little while longer manifested itself. One of the many sisters was trying to make her way to the fridge before being stopped by the makeshift roadblocks.
"Hey, what gives?" Said a short, blonde child with silky smooth hair wearing a pink gown. Lola saw her older brother and, putting on a slightly sweeter façade, tried to get his attention. "Oh, Lincoln! What are you working on in there? And why do you need police tape?" Lincoln responded with a placating "It's a secret for tomorrow Lola. I want to surprise everyone with it, so I need you guys to stay out until I'm done, okay?" Lola's eyebrow arched at the mention of 'secret', making her unable to hold herself back from peering inside. Which was easy since Lincoln's stopgap did not provide any real visual resistance. Or physical resistance for that matter. The barrier was more like a suggestion than an actual obstacle. Lola saw the bags of chocolate circles and the mixing bowls and was easily able to put the evidence together. She was not getting any Waldorff's from her brother.
Knowing that the prospect of brand name nuggets of pure designer chocolatey goodness was off the table, Lola easily tossed aside the mask of cuteness she had been using for the past two weeks. Gone was her sugar-coated, high-pitched manner of speaking, replaced by the lower toned voice that was a cross between bored noblewoman and sarcastic teenager. "Ugh. Are you going to make the chocolate this year? Why didn't you just get us a big box like you do every year? Seems like a waste of time to me." Lincoln was setting the steel mixing bowls on the hot water. "Well, I couldn't find anything good enough, so I went with this instead." Lola's thoughts hung on 'good enough' for a moment before remembering what she came downstairs for. "Whatever. I'll start lowering my expectations later, but if you don't want me to tear down this cheap barricade, get me an all-natural peanut butter and concord grape jelly sandwich. Toasted honey wheat, no crusts, triangle cut. Chop-chop." The diva ordered with punctuating claps.
Lincoln rolled his eyes with a slight smile, "Right away, your highness." He knew getting things for his sisters was going to be the necessary tradeoff for annexing the kitchen. In a few minutes, Lincoln had his princess's order plated and ready to go when he thought of adding just a touch of his melted chocolate as a plate decoration. He'd seen it before on TV and thought Lola would appreciate his attempt at making her meal haute cuisine. "Bon appétit, Madame." He said in a French accent as he handed the dish off. Lola chuckled as she took her food "Merci." Her eyes lit up a little at the pleasant addition her brother made to her snack and she let loose a delighted gasp. "Oh! Oh, my. Thank you, Lincoln. You know, sometimes you do have really good ideas. Good luck with your project." Lola said as she sashayed back to her room in a better mood.
Shortly after Lola's departure, another sibling made her way to the kitchen. Slipping under the tape due to both her short stature and general disregard for arbitrary limits, the family genius strolled to the fridge, unfettered. "Greetings, sibling." Lincoln yelped as soon as he heard Lisa's droll voice behind him and scrambled to hide his project with his body. "Don't mind me, just procuring nourishment to continue my research. I have no interest in whatever scheme you are figuratively, and literally, cooking up in here." Lincoln sighed in relief and went back to his work.
"Afternoon Lis. Watcha working on this week?" The bespectacled girl perked up at the chance to talk about her work. "Oh, just some experiments on extreme temperature changes in organic materials. So far I've found several ways of preserving edibles using chemicals that produce high heat or below freezing effects." Lisa explained while digging for her synthetic drink hidden in the back of the fridge, her usually clinical voice showing subtle hints of giddiness over the opportunity to gush about her interests. "That sounds really cool, Lisa. Are you able to eat any of your experiments after they're done?" Taking a slurp of her vitamin shake, Lisa gives her brother a deadpan look, closing the fridge door. "I wouldn't be down here ingesting this if my results were palatable, so no. But, I should have a breakthrough any moment now."
Lincoln chuckled at his sister's optimism knowing that it was completely founded. He was confident she would have one of her 'Eureka!' moments any day now. All she needed was some inspiration to go with her perspiration from her long hours of hypothesis testing. Inspiration must be in surplus today for Lincoln, as his mind latched onto a few keywords from Lisa's summary. 'Extreme temperature; chemicals; Freezing.' Again, an image took shape in Lincoln's brain.
A team of men with sleds being pulled by antlered beasts of burden had reached the summit of a snow peak. One of many lining the horizon, all different colors from white, to brown, pink, green, and even orange. The men unloaded their tools, various drills and saws, and installed them on the mountainside. After hours of grueling labor, they excavated their quarry, a huge cube of the range's opaque ice was loaded onto the waiting toboggans. Securing his prize with rope, the leader of the expedition removed his face mask, revealing a month's worth of facial hair, white as the tundra the explorers risked their lives to cross. The man took his survival knife and chipped a corner off the frozen block, bringing the white flake to his chapped lips. 'The purest vanilla you won't find anywhere else. And it's mine.' The man thought as he swallowed the iced treat.
Lincoln snapped back to reality, just in time to catch his intellectual sibling leaving. "Hey, Lisa. Do you have any spare Liquid Nitrogen I could borrow?" Lisa almost choked on her drink as she spun her head back at the question. Her brow arched as she was impressed by how Lincoln could deduce what chemical she was using for her experiments, and simultaneously puzzled by what he could need it for. "I do, brother. But what, pray tell, could you possibly do with it?" Hoping to goad him into revealing his plans, unfortunately, she was shot down when Lincoln simply replied with a smile, "It's a surprise for tomorrow." Foiled but nonetheless intrigued, Lisa makes her way to the makeshift lab to lend a spare tank to her brother. "This I've gotta see."
A few hours passed and Lincoln had managed to finish four of his sisters' gifts for tomorrow. He was getting some new filling prepared when the front door opened, signaling the arrival of more of his siblings. Naturally, some made their way to the kitchen to grab an evening meal, only to be stopped by the telltale signs of Midwestern road construction; A bunch of road closed signs and tape with no thru lane and only one guy working.
"Hey, what's with the signs? They're blocking all the scenery and breaking my mind!" The lyrical sister, Luna, said in mild annoyance. The jokester sister, Luan, not far behind noticed her brother tending the stove. "What's cookin', funny-lookin'?" She chirped. "It's a surprise." Lincoln said not taking his eyes away for a moment. "If you need something, I can get it for you, but right now the kitchen is off limits." Luna didn't like her freedom of movement being limited, but seeing how serious Lincoln was made her relax and just roll with it. "Whatev's, I guess. As long as you're cooking, can you reheat some of Dad's leftovers? I'm starved after my jam session." The rocker rubbed her stomach to emphasize her hunger pains. "Coming right up!"
Lincoln went to the fridge to get some of his Dad's Spanish-Szechuan lettuce wrap filling from last night. "That's a lot of sweets you got there; who's the lucky sweet you've got your eye on?" Luan prodded in jest. "They're for more than one girl, but-" Lincoln slapped his hand over his mouth and cringed at his Freudian slip. "No way! Lincoln's trying to be a lady-killer! This is hilarious!" Luna exclaimed through laughter. "Yeah, and the weapon of choice is death by chocolate!" Luan delivered the punchline to her sister's setup.
Lincoln opened his mouth ready to tell the truth, but an idea on how to salvage this mess of his own making came to him. "Ok, you got me. I'm trying to impress a lot of lovely ladies this year. Now please don't meddle like you always do, and let me get back to my creations in peace." He said while handing the girls their dinner and shooing them with his hands. "Ok, ok, we'll get out of your hair, Don Juan." Said Luna, as she gave a patronizing hair tussle while leaving. "Don't worry Lincoln, I'm sure those girls will go cacao-ver you. Ha! Get it?"
The rest of the evening passed with no more interruptions as Lincoln put the finishing touches on his creations. The Loud sisters were gathering in the living room for movie night, the theme being romance in the spirit of the season and the overwhelming presence of estrogen. "Lincoln, we're about to start the movie. Are you joining us?" The eldest daughter called out in the direction of the dining room. "Almost finished, but go ahead and start without me." The middle child's voice reverberated back.
"Hey, when you're done in there, can you bring some snacks? Lana and I won't be able to handle this without junk food." The sporty sibling bellowed back. "You got it." Said Lincoln as he finished tying the last bag of Valentines for tomorrow. The boy took another look at his work and felt satisfied with the results. 'I can't wait to see what they think!' He thought as he stored the goods in his hidden spot in the vegetable drawer, beneath the rutabaga, hoping Dad wouldn't come across them in his midnight fridge raids.
Lincoln retrieved the potato chips from the pantry before cleaning up so he wouldn't forget them on his way out, and risk a cobra twist from Lynn. While scrubbing the molds and utensils, he pondered what he would do with the leftover melted chocolate remaining from his little project. It seemed like a waste to throw it out, or perhaps a sin in this household. 'But there's barely enough for a snack-' The muses were really fawning over Lincoln today. Apparently, buck teeth and freckles really drive them wild. This makes, what, five? Yep, five flashes of inspiration hit the kid in half a day. It's a new record.
"Ugh! This movie's soOOo boOoring! When's the car chase?" Bemoaned the tomboyish half of the family twins. "Shush! It's getting to the good part, and there are no car chases." Chided Lori. "It'd be a truly great film if this romance ends in tragedy. I'm betting terminal illness." Spoke a pale, black-haired child in monotone. "I meet your deadly disease, and raise industrial accident." Called Lisa. "Double or nothing on skydiving malfunction! 'Cause falling in love comes with a lot of risks. Get it?" Luan giggled out, before receiving another shush from Lori and the baby imitating her older sister.
"Like, how long has Lincoln been in the kitchen anyway?" Innocently asked the blond beauty in a green dress. "Well, I saw him get started at around lunchtime." Lola answered. "Wait, what? Lincoln's been making chocolates for over 8 hours! The little dude's serious." Luna said, impressed by her brother's perseverance. "Those girls better choc-a-lot of points up on his potential boyfriend card when they get them." Luan let loose another pun informing the other girls of the false pretense of what Lincoln had been up to. The idea of their brother giving out Valentines to multiple girls caused a collection of feminine giggles and 'oohs' to fill the sitting area.
"He's making homemade chocolates? That is literally the sweetest thing." Lori squealed, having found something more entertaining than the current film. "I gotta hand it to him, that's pretty smooth." Lynn said with a hint of pride in her brother's ambition. "Showing his love through suffering the harsh trials of creation. That's what every girl wants." Lucy stated, using her romance novels as reference. "Oh my gosh, this is totes adorbs! What do you think the first date will be like? When's the wedding? Will I have to wear purple as a bridesmaid? I hope not 'cause, ew, purple doesn't work with indoor ceremonies! They totally need to go with pink or red, especially if it's in an old brick church with stained glass. And-" Leni prattled on while Lily, the baby giggled at the happy energy in the room. Lola refrained from revealing the truth about the recipients of the hand-crafted sweets, out of respect for Lincoln and out of anticipation seeing the looks on her sisters' faces. She sat there, listening to them gush with a knowing smile on her face.
The cacophony of girl talk was interrupted by Lincoln strolling in with a covered tray in his hands. "Hey, guys. What'd I miss?" After he set the tray on the table, the boy was instantly pulled into a vortex of hugs by the waist, showered with head rubs, arm punches, back pats, and other jovial forms of physical shows of approval and compliments.
"You're starting to grow up, aren'tcha bro!" "You can be too cute for your own good, you know that." "Your bittersweet youth is just starting, buck-o." "I predict good things during your courtship years, brother." "So, who's my new big sister?" "If you want some poetry with your chocolate, you can always ask me." "And like, the bride's dress has to have a floral pattern. And-" "Hey, did you remember the snacks?"
"Ok, ok!" Said Lincoln as he managed to wrangle out of their grasp. "Let's not make this a big deal until after I give them out, alright?" Lincoln sauntered to the covered snack tray amid the chorus of 'fine' and 'sure Lincoln' performed in b minor. "Now, who wants snacks?" He announced as he lifted the lid off the tray. The girls' eyes widened and they let out a shriek of delight at the sight. On the snack tray was an assortment of potato chips, dipped in milk, dark, and white chocolate. It didn't last five seconds before the cocoa addicts snatched their portions and began munching the savory treat between moans of pleasure. Lincoln took his seat as absent-minded 'thank you's escaped his sisters' full mouths and spent the rest of the night enjoying the company of his family.
9/30/2018: Updated again. Fixed more spelling and grammar errors, added some new lines here and there, and made the writing style more consistent.
10/7/2018: More fixes, more punctuation, more small additions.
Luna Song Reference:
Signs - Five Man Electrical Band