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Shakespeare High: Cordelia wants Dad to start dating

On Valentine's Day, King Lear just wants his daughters to love him—but unlike her older sisters, Cordelia won't pander to Daddy just for a handout. In "Cordelia's Valentine," a modern-day take on Shakespeare's King Lear, young-adult author Catherine Austen gives Cordelia a very different ending.

"Cordelia’s Valentine" by Catherine Austen

1. Morning

Rachel and Gabby curl up beside their father and stroke his graying temples. “We need Valentine boots, Daddy,” Rachel says. “Red ones. So we can look as sharp as you.” 

He tweaks her chin. “You’ll walk over all the boys in them.” 

Gabby giggles and tugs on his tie. “You’re my only Valentine, Daddy. The boots cost three hundred.”

He slides out his wallet. “And you, Pumpkin?”

Cordelia stands by the window watching Jason lock up across the street. “What, Daddy?” 

“What can I give you today, Pumpkin?” 

“Nothing, Daddy.”


She shrugs. “Maybe new guitar strings?” 

He smiles and opens his arms. “Say you’ll be my Valentine.” 

Cordelia rolls her eyes. “Honestly, Dad, I know you love us,” she says. “But that’s just weird.” 

2. School

A crowd gathers around the televised news. A ship has spilled its guts off the coast. Ducks slick with oil struggle and fail to rise. When they squawk in terror, the oil slides down their throats and drowns their cries.

“Let’s do a disaster relief concert!” Rachel shouts. “Half the money can go to costumes.” 

“There’s so much to do now that it’s too late,” Cordelia says, wiping her eyes.

Jason whispers in her ear, “I feel just like those birds.”

Gabby yanks Cordelia’s braid. “Did you hear? Rachel and I are singing back-up in Brian’s video.” 

“But that’s my song,” Cordelia complains. 

“Check out the remix,” Brian says, sticking an earbud in Jason’s ear. The boys stand nodding, shoulder to shoulder, so handsome in the hallway, almost out of reach. 

“Beautiful,” Jason says, staring at Cordelia.  

3. Lunch

The cafeteria is noisy with candygrams and ringtones. Brian takes screen shots of his love letters and posts them proudly. “Check it out,” he says.

Cordelia hunches over her notebook composing a song, ignoring him. 

Jason folds his Valentines into paper airplanes and beans them at passersby, singing, “It’s Raining Men” in sharp falsetto.

“You’re so weird,” Brian tells him. “Right, Cordelia? Isn’t Jason the weirdest guy you ever knew?” 

She nods. “He’s wonderfully weird.” 

Jason puts a hand on his heart and flings back his head, lovestruck.   

Brian whistles at his phone. “Check out Rachel’s selfie.” 

Cordelia’s sister has posted her naked legs in thigh-high boots above the caption, Thanks to dumb desperate Daddy. 

Cordelia comments, You have no sole.

Rachel replies, Learn to spell, biatch.

5. Home

Cordelia’s Valentines tumble onto the dining table like pink receipts. I’d die without you. You’re my all and I’m your nothing. I’ll be waiting for you. She shudders. “I think we should install an alarm.” 

Her father grunts in reply. He’s holding a tablet at arm’s length, grimacing.  

Cordelia moves behind his chair and shares his headphones. They watch her sisters slink around YouTube in their new red boots, singing, “Gimme gimme gimme, I want your love.” 

“They’re murdering my song,” Cordelia moans. “800 likes already?” She leans her head against her father’s and tries not to cry.

He strokes her arm and offers, “Chocolate?” 

6. Love

Jason rings Cordelia’s doorbell. “Want to come over?” 

She stands on the threshold, speechless, looking vaguely ill. 

He holds out a pack of Elixir guitar strings and tilts his head, smiling. “Want to be my Valentine?”

Her heart races in her ribcage, skittish and unreliable, barely contained. 

“Close that door, Pumpkin,” her father says from the couch. “Come snuggle up. Storm’s coming.”

She glances over her shoulder and smiles sweetly. She says, “You should think about dating again, Dad.” 

She turns her face to Jason—his shining eyes, his hopeful grin, his strange familiar beauty—and her hand moves to her heart. She is warm from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet. She’s giggling and blushing and bubbling over, she’s so warm, she barely feels the cold when she steps outside.  


Catherine Austen studied Political Science at Queen’s University and Environmental Studies at York before moving to the Ottawa area to work for environmental NGOs. She has published five books for young readers. Her YA novel All Good Children won the 2012 Canadian Library Association Young Adult Book Award and the 2012 Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Catherine writes from her home in Gatineau, Quebec, where she lives with her husband and two sons. 

Click on each character in the image below to go to his/her story.
Original illustrations: Graham Roumieu


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