The ambulance drove down Oakland Street without lights or sirens. There was no need to hurry. Several police cars remained and there seemed to be a steady flow of officers in and out of the house. On the sidewalk, Amanda Cook's vociferous wail could be heard for blocks.
“She was my closest friend. My very dearest friend. Why only yesterday . . .”
Kevin stood on the sidewalk silently berating himself. Earlier that day, he had delivered more valentines for Miss Ward. She hadn't come to the door and he had left them in her mailbox. On any other Saturday, he would have knocked on the door to be sure she was alright. But Valentine's Day had caused his normal mail load to double. He'd continued his route, knowing that he'd be returning later. The thought of his little surprise had brought a smile to his face.
On his return, he found that he had company. Crystal Delwood was standing on the porch. Kevin delivered her mail too, although he rarely saw her except on Saturday. Crystal was balancing a heart-shaped cake in one hand, while knocking on the door with the other. She smiled when she saw the bouquet of roses in his right hand and a bag of Chinese takeout in the left.
“I'm not much of a cook", Kevin confessed. "And Miss Ward once mentioned how much she liked Chinese.”
“Looks like great planning to me. You've brought the decorations and the entree, I've brought the dessert.”
“It does look planned. Don't drop that pretty cake. I'll knock.”
His knock was more forceful then Crystal's. They waited.
“Where's your little girl?”
“Sleepover with a friend. She got a princess sleeping bag for Christmas and she's been waiting for a chance to try it out.”
Kevin knocked again. When there was still no answer, he thought about checking the mailbox. The valentines he'd delivered earlier were still inside.
“I'd better call for help. Could I use your phone?”
At Crystal's house, Kevin made the call to 911 and they quickly headed back. A police car arrived shortly. Kevin was pleased to see that one of the officers was his buddy, Ray Hopkins. Ray also knocked on the door. Still no response. The other officer worked at getting the door open, while Ray checked that an ambulance had been dispatched. It arrived just as Ray's partner succeeded in opening the door. Kevin started to head in, but Ray restrained him.
“You have to stay out here, Kevin. I'll let you know as soon as I can.”
It was only a few minutes before Ray returned. He shook his head.
“I'm sorry, Kevin. You cared about her?”
“She's one of the nicest people I've ever known. Always thinking about others. It's just not right that she died alone.”
“I don't think she felt alone. She must have gone in her sleep. She was sitting in a rocking chair and there was a little smile on her face. There were a bunch of valentines in her lap. And more on the table beside her. Guess a lot of people liked her.”
Kevin smiled, although a tear trickled down one cheek.
“Last year, I noticed that she hadn't received any valentines. It didn't seem right. So this year, I got one for her. Even mailed it, so she wouldn't suspect it was from me. I mentioned it to a few neighbors, hoping they might want to send her one too. They liked the idea. Everyone had a story about the thoughtful things she'd done for them. But I didn't talk to that many people. I don't know where all those valentines came from.”
“Jamie made one for her and I mailed one too”, Crystal said. “I don't know why I hadn't thought of it before. John Miller told me. Said that the winter he lost his job, Miss Ward had knit hats and mittens for each of his six children. Carol Jenkins had told him. Her vision's pretty bad. Miss Ward used to go over and read her mail to her. “
“Looks like you really started something”, Ray commented.
His partner came over. They had to leave.
Kevin and Crystal stood quietly for a few moments. It was cold and there was no reason to keep standing there. But it was hard to go.
“You left the roses and Chinese at my house, Kevin. Would you like to come get them?”
“That's okay. You're welcome to have them, Crystal.”
They stood a few minutes longer.
“I guess I should go now. You should go home too, Crystal. Get out of this cold.”
“You must be cold too. Why don't you come with me? I'll make some hot tea. Warm up that Chinese.”
A hint of color came to his cheeks. He looked down for a second. Then slowly raised his head and looked at her.
“I'd like that. I'd like that a lot.”
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