On Valentine’s Day, Melinda sees various displays of affection, and remembers the different phases of Valentine’s Day (from elementary school to middle school to high school). At school, she finds a valentine on her locker; at first she believes that it’s a prank; then she worries that it’s from Andy; last, she wonders if it’s from David Petrakis. Unable to even open the envelope because she’s so confused and nervous, she walks away from her locker.
It is understandable that Valentine’s Day—a holiday all about connection and companionship—is deeply anxiety-inducing for Melinda. The valentine on her locker, rather than cheering her up, only makes her more upset. As usual, Melinda is unable to react to seemingly positive events, since she is convinced that good things don’t happen to her.
As Ms. Keen teaches a class about the literal birds and bees, Melinda frantically wonders whether David has sent her the card. She chews her thumbnail so hard that she begins bleeding. As David passes her a tissue to blot the blood, Melinda notes that it doesn’t even hurt. All that hurts is seeing other people flirting in the classroom, their “small smiles and blushes” flashing “like tiny sparrows.”
The symbol of blood returns to the novel once more, as Melinda hurts herself in response to the mysterious valentine. Melinda knows, however, that the emotional pain of having no one to spend Valentine’s Day with is far worse than the physical pain from her thumb.
Melinda writes a note that says “‘Thanks!’” to David. “‘You are welcome,’” he writes back. It is unclear if these notes refer to the valentine or to the tissue. As class continues, David and Melinda begin to draw a picture of Ms. Keen as a bird (a robin) together. Melinda tries to make a tree for the bird, and is pleased with the results. When David’s hand brushes hers at the end of class, however, Melinda rushes out of the room, terrified about the card.
Melinda makes a tiny effort to reach out to David, having convinced herself that he has written her the valentine. Rather than communicating verbally, however, the two connect over a drawing. The tiniest bit of physical contact, however, immediately makes Melinda terrified and skittish.
At last mustering up her courage, Melinda opens the card, calling it “a white patch of hope”; it is from Heather to thank her for understanding their friendship breakup. She has included in the envelope the friendship necklace that Melinda decided to get for her for Christmas. Melinda begins to have a panic attack; she hears “a cracking inside me,” rushing to her closet, biting her own wrist, hitting her head against the wall, and sobbing. She has no friends, “not even a silly, geeky boy who would like the inside girl I think I am.”
For Melinda, the valentine has come to symbolize a hope for connection. She is devastated, therefore, to find that it is just the opposite—a well-meaning but cruel note from Heather. Melinda also reveals that she has indeed bought a friendship necklace for Heather; a clear but now pathetic attempt to reach out to the other girl. Completely overcome by her emotions, Melinda physically hurts herself in order to deal with her emotional pain.