Posted by Lois NeilsonFrom the PTA Mystery SeriesBy Laura Alden
This is about Valentine's Day. And yes, I know February 14 was three days ago, and a story about Valentine’s Day three days late is worse than hearing Christmas carols after Christmas, but it’ll never happen again. I hope.
Anyway, I’m not the most sentimental person on the planet – just ask any of my kids, grandkids, siblings, nieces, nephews, or cousins. Valentine’s Day is a case in point. I figure we’ve been given so many hours to live, so why waste any of them sighing over candy our hips don’t need and jewelry we only wanted after seeing a commercial featuring actors chosen for their youth and good looks. Much better, if you ask me, to find a way to laugh at it all
Then came this last Valentine’s Day.
I’m manager of a children’s bookstore. Beth Kennedy is my boss and long-time friend. She’s smart, pretty, and though she has this weird thing about investigating murders, she’s a good person from top to bottom.
“So why,” I asked her on Valentine’s Day, “are you moping around like a puppy dog home alone for the first time?”
Her smile came and went faster than a Wisconsin summer. “It’s silly, I suppose.”
“Silly is in the eye of the beholder. Who is, in this case, me. Spill.”
Her mouth twisted in the way it did when she was trying to translate her feelings into words. Our Beth is good at many, many things, but talking about herself isn’t one of them.
“It’s just … Valentine’s Day,” she said lamely.
“The greeting card holiday? This day marketed by candy and chocolate companies, florists and restaurant owners, hotels and B & B’s, but meaning basically nothing?”
She hung her head and nodded.
“What’s the problem?” I asked. “No, wait, let me guess. You’re bummed out because the love interest in your life is out of town for the week vacationing with his daughters, and won’t be in town to wine and dine and chocolate you?”
“Told you it was silly.” Her mouth twisted again. “I know it’s not important. And I’m sure by tomorrow I’ll have forgotten all about it.”
As I watched her walk to her teensy tiny office, shoulders drooping, that single particle of sentiment that lived in me swelled up a dozen sizes. Beth shouldn’t be this sad over something like Valentine’s Day. There had to be … I snapped my fingers. Yes. There was a way.
I grabbed the phone book, then started dialing.
That afternoon, Paoze, our part-time college student help was helping me put “50% Off!” stickers on all the Valentine’s products. Paoze had been born on the far side of the Pacific Ocean and was an ideal target for practical jokes. Today, though, I had other plans.
“Hey, Paoze,” I whispered.
“Shhhh.” I made shushing motions. “At four o’clock, make sure Beth is in her office, okay?”
He looked at me with cold calculation in his eyes. “Why should I do this?”
“Ah, don’t be a spoilsport. I’m planning something for her. Something nice,” I added. “She’ll like it. Honest.”
He eventually agreed, and at four he got Beth back to her office with some questions about the return policy for stuffed animals.
On cue, the front door opened, and Beth’s children, Jenna and Oliver, ran in, followed by Marina, their day care provider and Beth’s best friend.
Before any of them could say a word, I held my finger to my lips. “Did you have time?” I asked Marina quietly.
She grinned and held up a large construction paper heart that said, “Mom, Please Be Our Valentine!”
I nodded and the four of us tiptoed to the back of the store. We stood just outside the door to Beth’s office. “Paoze?” I called. “I have something for Beth, but I’m busy out here. Can you give this to her?”
The kids had their hands over their mouths to keep from giggling out loud. Paoze poked his head out and took the heart. “Mrs. Kennedy?” we heard him say. “This is for you.”
He came out and the kids ran in. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Mom!” they shouted. “Be our Valentine!”
Paoze, Marina and I looked inside. Beth’s arms were around her children, hugging them tight. She was laughing, she was crying, she was grinning, and she was bawling her head off all at the same time.
It was awesome.
“You do not believe in this day,” Paoze said. “Correct?”
“Nope,” I said. “But Beth does.”
Paoze studied me. “You are a nice lady.”
I made a rude noise in the back of my throat. “You must be confusing me with someone else. Say, have you finished restocking the picture books?”
Paoze touched my arm. “You are a nice lady,” he said softly. “But I will not tell.”
I watched him walk away, thinking that maybe, just maybe, being a little sentimental wasn’t so bad.