As an American, 1776 was supposed to be a lucky number for you. In terms of history, it was practically the most American number there was. It boasted independence, patriotism, and freedom swallowed up by a bald eagle and spat back up again in red, white, and blue all over North America, Canada included.
But, for you… 1776 was the unluckiest number you knew of. Because, according to an incredible precise physician, that was how tall you were in millimeters. A few conversions later told you that you were way, way too tall, but then again, you already knew that. You had figured that out when you were the tallest girl in your class in school, and again when you realized that boys wouldn’t dance with you because you were often taller than them. You were a freak to both sexes, and as a result you received twice the animosity, the girls laughing at you when you sat nearby and the boys constantly testing to see if your strength was also equal to a boy’s.
It didn’t take you long to realize that you weren’t alone. There was another in your class who faced the same tribulations, but in the opposite direction. While you were big and vigorous and booming, your legs long and graceful and your stride as big as a man’s, Steve Rogers was a runt in his own litter. The poor man seemed to get smaller every time you saw him, as if God’s adoration was the only thing holding him together, yet even then divine mercy could barely quiet biology’s mocking laughter at his stature.
You thought of Steve Rogers on happenstance during work, as you sat behind the counter of the flower shop on a slow work day. Whenever you thought critically of your own height, remembrance of tiny Steve Rogers often followed. You two would have been quite the odd couple, if you ever stood close together. In truth you knew that you frightened Rogers more than anything; you were at least four inches taller than him and as a result you had a stature not unlike the men who enjoyed pushing him around. Whereas they could only really inflict physical violence on him, you had an additional threat: you were a woman, and thus your laughs of rejection stung worse than jabs.
As if you would ever do that! Grumpy, you slumped against the counter and you folded your arms. Would someone like Steve ever expect that someone like you had once drawn his name and yours in a heart in the back of old diaries, writing your name and “ROGERS” over and over again in big, loopy calligraphy with fawning adoration?
Why should he? Oh, you had treated him too roughly in your school years… In the beginning, before you’d gotten to know him, you’d been contemptuous of his slender and petite frame, wishing that you’d been the lucky one to get the tiny and cute stature instead of the incongruous form you’d been born into instead. Of course, you’d been filled with sympathy once you realized that a slight breeze could threaten him, but it came too late… In your last year of school with him, Rogers had come up behind you to ask you if you needed help with your bicycle, which you had ridden to class but which was also notorious for breaking down. Having just been yowled at by some of the older boys, you whirled around with venom in your eyes and an intent to kill, and of course that was enough to make even Steve Rogers shy away… (Oh! To impose that image of you, years later, on a HYDRA banner… Maybe they would have won the war that way!)
It was only the third day of July, but the heat was already so oppressive that you had to leave for a minute to tend to the flowers. You returned when you heard the bell at the door announcing a customer, but when you looked around from your vantage point at the counter, you couldn’t see anyone at the counter. Bemused, you were about to write it off as an accident when you heard shuffling at the far end of the store, you knew it could only be a ghost or a person so small that they were hidden from your view.
“Hullo?” you called out into the unknown, not sure if ghosts replied to that sort of thing. If they did– Hey! It’d be the most interesting thing to happen to you all week.
But no ghost replied to your greeting. From behind the tiered shelves of bouquets poked a head that was entirely flesh and blood, and so immediately recognizable that you nearly hopped the counter at the sight of it.
“Steve!” you exclaimed, feeling exuberant. “It’s good to see you.”
“Hey,” he replied, sounding a little sheepish. “I didn’t think you were here.”
You tensed. Did he also hope that you wouldn’t be there? It had been years since you’d towered over him. Well… Naturally, you still towered over him, but you would never do it in an intimidating way or anything.
“It’s good to see you,” you repeated, hoping that the repetition would convince him that you didn’t want to shove him down in the mud or anything. You just hoped that the flowers sitting on the windowsill behind you were enjoying the breeze from the force of your wagging tail. “How have you been, Steve?”
The earnest familiarity made him redden, and he passed a sleeve over his face and studied the roses as hard as he possibly could. “I’ve been doing all right. How about you?”
“Me? Why, just fantastic! Never been better! You know me…”
In truth, it was contradictory: Steve knowing you meant that he knew what kind of a furor you could create over your tribulations. You hoped that you had softened up over the years and calmed down a little bit, but apparently not enough to convince Steve Rogers, who had always been sensitive to those plights of others.
But… It wasn’t all so bad. You thought back to the time you’d broken your ankle falling from a tree, which meant that it was the first time you couldn’t outpace a bully in running after them. One of the schoolboys, sensing your weakness, stole your lunch money (how clichéd!) and ran off with it after one of his buddies had pushed you down. You could have handled it like an adult, maybe stuck your nose up and told a responsible adult, but instead you threw a tantrum in the street, wailing and spitting and letting everyone know of the injustice. But it was more than you just being a baby over some bullying. It had been too much for you! You had hated your body, but you had at least managed to weaponize it, refining it so that it could be used as a defensive and offensive mechanism in the case of cruelty. That had been taken away from you and you didn’t quite feel like dealing with the outcome.
Mostly friendless, you had assumed that no one had listened to your wails, but apparently someone had. Steve Rogers, brave soul he is/was, had seen the whole thing happen and had refused to let the injustice go unanswered. He chased after them, though “chased” in the context of Steve Rogers wasn’t quite the romantic heroism that others might think of. Knowing that his asthma would get to him sooner or later, he calculated the best shortcut to cut off your tormenters and accosted them there. …Which meant, naturally, that he was kicked around into the dirt for a loser like him even thinking of helping a freak like you, but he kept getting up, and it probably would have gone on for several hours, had Bucky Barnes not teleported in as usual to throw them all around.
With your precious lunch funds recovered, the heroic Steve limped back to you and pressed the coins into your hand. “Sorry about the wait,” he said, not asking for so much as a simple thank you in return. “No one should have to go through something like that.”
You had been too dumbfounded to say anything back; your praise and thanks and adoration had all attempted to leave your mouth at the same time, and as a result the serious backup was causing a lump in your throat. How could someone be just so good? It would be easy for someone like him to turn into someone like you, hardened by the world and turned into a cynical creature, but his heart still seemed so soft and strong. And you, at a loss for words, had stooped (yes, stooped!) down to the level of that noodle-thin, featherweight boy and dropped your crutches to wrap your arms around his neck and smooch his cheek.
Ah, poor Steve Rogers! He couldn’t escape the teasing after that day. No one had been around when you kissed (and thus paralyzed) him, but they knew that he’d chased down your tormentors for your sake, so therefore he suddenly become your boyfriend. He’d been forced to go through those days with a perpetually reddened face. You yourself shook your head when you heard the gossip: poor Steve Rogers! If he were to have a girlfriend, even a not-girlfriend like you, he still deserved someone much better than you… Maybe someone who would make him look tall in comparison!
“Steve,” you said into open air as he was shuffling around the store, “Steve, do you remember…?”
He jerked around to face you, and his sheepishness told you that he already knew what you were going to reference. “W-What?”
Oh! He could heroically go after your bullies, but he still had trouble being casual around a woman like you. Not wanting to make him uncomfortable when he was still so close to you, you changed the subject to lighten the mood. “Who are you buying flowers for, Steve?”
That seemed to make him less comfortable. “Well… I haven’t bought any for Mom and Dad recently, so…”
“But your parents are…” You stopped, your mind whirring with effort. When it came to a conclusion, it was your turn to redden, and you wondered how long it would take you to atone for the question if you repeatedly smashed your face against the countertop. “Oh! Well! That’s thoughtful of you, Steve…”
He had made his selection, and as he brought it over to place it on the counter you felt obsessed with the way a simple bouquet made him look even tinier in comparison. He was rustling through his pocket for change when you grabbed for your own purse. “Never mind that, Steve. It’s on me.”
He looked appalled. Couldn’t you ever say the right thing?! “You don’t have to do that!”
“I insist,” you bullied, turning on your authoritative, pushy aura. No matter how noble Steve was, he was still shorter than you, and you had your heroic build at 1776 patriotic millimeters. “It’s on me, Steve! Forget about it!”
“Look; it’s no trouble to me…”
“It’s no trouble to me either!” Jesus! Couldn’t he tell that you were trying to be nice to him? That you were trying to thank him and get his attention and make up for all the times you were too terrified to give him the daisies you found as you walked on your way to school?! “If you don’t just take them, I’ll… be forced to do something drastic!”
He was frozen like an animal waiting for a predator to make the first move. With a person like you, what could drastic possibly mean? “I…”
“That’s it!” You whirled around to where some festive bouquets were lying behind you. Taking the biggest, most patriotic one — red, white, and blue carnations wrapped in matching foil and ribbons with a Goddamned American flag trapped in the middle — you turned back to him and pressed it to his easily-bruised chest. “There you go, Steve! Happy birthday!”
It was such a simple thing to say to someone, especially someone whose birthday was days away, but to you the spontaneity and ardor and earnestness of the two words sounded more like a love confession than anything. And as a result you stood there, stricken with terror at the exaggerated implication of these words, waiting for his reply to what was merely a celebration of the anniversary of his birth.
After a long time, long enough or you to stew in your own humiliation, he dragged his eyes up from his dual gifts and said, “Thanks.” And he said your name, your first name, a startling degree of familiarity from someone who had usually been too anxious to even look you in the eye.
“W-Well…” You were caught off-guard, as if his thanking you for the gesture could be interpreted as a reciprocation of your feelings for him, and for once you were glad for your own heart; if Steve had yours, it would probably blow a hole in his chest, what with the way yours was thumping. “It’s nothing, Steve! I was just thinking about you. Don’t worry about paying me back or anything; I have disposable income…”
He smiled at you — not a smile of a ladykiller or an arrogant man, but a little smile of discreet happiness — and thanked you again before departing. As he did so he made an effort to carry both of his bouquets in one arm so that he could wave goodbye to you. Again you found something touching in it, something subtly precious, like the way you’d seen a man reach out to steady his lover when she climbed up to walk on a narrow garden wall. Perhaps your words didn’t capture the feelings that you’d wanted to show to him, and perhaps he would never truly know your affection for him unless you told him straightaway. The language of flowers was a subtle one, one that even you couldn’t understand without looking at a manual, and it would be impossible to ask him to figure it out when he had so much to worry about already.
But you were feeling too proud of yourself to be forlorn. Maybe another woman would be upset that Steve would basically remain unchanged forever, but you were happy about it. Once you had been jealous that he had gotten the delicate body instead of you, but you found yourself glad at how you both were created. You two didn’t look all that strange together. Maybe, perhaps, one day, when your resolve was up…
The hot breeze was tousling your hair so you patted it down flat, busily planning for a thousand alternate futures. You heard someone say once that all the great books had already been written, and that therefore all thoughts in the human race were repeating the same few ideas. In that case, you refused to feel guilty over daydreams, such as the thought of you going to Steve’s house on Valentine’s day, on a day where the roles were usually reversed, with a dozen roses in your hand. Weren’t there stranger complexes in the world than that illogical warmth in your chest? In truth, the way you saw it, you were thinking nothing more than of something that had gone through the minds of millions of men and women the world over, untempered by the realities of mankind, rolling over and over again unchanged like the waves of the sea…