Six-year-old Sadie McGinty clutched her mother’s hand and climbed the steps to the schoolhouse. A cold wind stung her freckled cheeks and snowflakes danced in the air, but excitement warmed her heart. Underneath her winter coat, Sadie wore the new jumper her mother had sewn for her – the red one with little red hearts on the blouse. Today was Valentine’s Day, Mrs. Wexhall’s afternoon kindergarten class was having a party, and little Sadie was in love.
Before Sadie could look for Andrew, Mrs. Wexhall was hovering over her, helping her off with her coat and hanging it on the bright purple peg with Sadie’s name on it. Mama was fussing with her, too, tugging off her bonnet. Long curls the color of a new copper penny spilled out.
Sadie’s blue eyes rounded in wonder as she gazed about. Overnight, Mrs. Wexhall’s classroom had been transformed, its walls now adorned with pink, white, and red hearts and lacy bits of frothy paper doilies. Twisted streamers of crepe paper festooned the usually stuffy ceiling, and all around the room hung the Valentine mailboxes.
Yesterday they’d each brought a paper bag to decorate. Sadie colored hers with rainbows and butterflies, because she liked rainbows and butterflies, but she added lots of hearts, too, and a few flowers. She wrote her name in big, bright letters.
Mrs. Wexhall must have worked all night tacking up the mailboxes and decorating the room. Sadie’s mother had worked all night, too, baking fancy little cakes. Petits fours, she called them: small squares of white cake, iced with creamy white frosting, and sprinkled with cinnamon hearts.
Sadie had spent hours carefully choosing valentines for her classmates. Pretty ones for the girls, and mostly silly ones for the boys. Except for Andrew, of course.
She picked a funny-looking frog for Rob, and a grinning turtle for Michael, then hesitated, trying to decide between a friendly lion or a weeping crocodile for Willie. Or maybe it was an alligator. Sadie didn't know much about alligators and crocodiles. She didn't know much about Willie Jenkins either since his family had just moved to town the week before. She chose the crocodile for him, and wondered if anyone else would give him a valentine.
What should she choose for Andrew? One by one, she considered each card in the box, but none seemed to say what was in her heart. She would have to make her own, Sadie decided.
She cut and pasted, and colored and trimmed, and in her neatest hand she labored to spell out the words: BE MY VALENTINE. Her creation looked a little lopsided, and she couldn't fit all the letters on the right lines, but Mama said it would do just fine.
Sadie fell asleep with a smile on her face.
"Children, gather around." Mrs. Wexhall clapped her wrinkled hands together, calling for attention. "It's time for valentines. Just slip them into the mailboxes," she instructed.
Sadie hugged the white envelopes to her chest, her excitement mounting. When she noticed Andrew standing nearby, she smiled. He had dark, curly hair, and dark, dreamy eyes, and Sadie's heart always seemed to beat faster whenever he was close. She watched as he went around the room placing an envelope in every gaily-colored paper bag mailbox.
"Only a few more minutes," Mrs. Wexhall warned. "Hurry up, children."
Sadie realized she still had her valentines in her hands, so she hurried around the room, matching up the names on the envelopes with names on the mailboxes until only one valentine remained.
Her special valentine for Andrew. It had no envelope. She'd purposely made it bigger than all the others. She peered around to see if he was watching, then when Mrs. Wexhall clapped her hands again, Sadie quickly dropped the valentine into the mailbox.
Sadie and her friends gathered around one table, chattering and giggling as the teacher took down the mailboxes and handed them out. They ooh'ed and aah'ed and giggled again as they pulled out their cards.
Sadie pursed her lips, disappointed that Andrew had given her a stupid circus clown. Sadie hated circus clowns.
All the while, she kept an eye on him, waiting for him to find her valentine.
It wasn't there.
Sadie glanced around the room, then watched in horror as Willie Jenkins pulled out a hand-made heart with bold, misshapen letters. He turned it over, then looked at her and grinned.
She'd slipped her valentine into the wrong mailbox. But, it was all Mrs. Wexhall's fault for making her hurry!
Frantic, she turned toward Andrew. Maybe she could explain, tell him about her mistake. She stopped when she saw Ashley Bloom. The girl's blond ponytail bobbed as she and Andrew laughed together. Sadie's heart broke in two when Andrew handed Ashley a foil-covered chocolate kiss.
"Would it be OK if I sit by you?"
Sadie turned at the sound of the voice, and her face heated up when she saw Willie Jenkins standing there. She didn't want him to sit with her, but then she saw the hopeful look in his gray eyes. She knew what hope felt like, and she nodded.
"Thanks for the valentine, Sadie. I didn't get too many, you know."
"Yeah, that's why I made a special one for you," she replied, figuring a little white lie might be all right.
"Can I tell you a secret?"
When Sadie nodded, Willie leaned forward. His warm breath tickled as he whispered in her ear. She giggled and blushed again.
Afterward, when the party was over, and all the petits fours were gone, Sadie put on her coat and bonnet. She clutched her mother's hand as they hurried down the steps.
Maybe she should have been more careful with her heart, she thought. Or maybe not. If she hadn't given it away by accident, she would never have known how much Willie Jenkins liked her freckles.
Sadie pressed a hand to her cheek and smiled.
Bio: Christina Cole has recently returned to writing after being away from her desk for many years. She has been published in confession and inspirational markets, and now plans to devote herself to romance writing. Christina lives in the midwest. She is currently at work on a full-length historical romance.