On the morning of February 12th, Janet peeked out the window. No new snow and the sidewalk was clear. Good. She continued watching until Crystal, a single mother who lived two houses down, passed by. She was walking her daughter to school. After that, she would head to her job at the local supermarket. It must have been tiring to work at the checkout for so many hours each day, but Crystal never complained. When she saw Janet in the window, she smiled and waved. Such a sweet girl. Thoughtful too. She frequently dropped by with a small casserole or an invitation to dinner. In the summertime, she sent Jamie over with flowers from the beds she tended daily. Janet loved receiving them and she loved Jamie even more. The bright and engaging 6 year old regaled her with stories and Janet's refrigerator was covered with her artwork. She looked forward to warm weather when Jamie would visit more frequently.
Janet would be heading to Crystal's house after lunch. Tomorrow was Saturday, too late to accomplish her mission undetected. She went to the kitchen and packed a canister with heart cookies. Placing it inside a plastic grocery bag, she hooked the handle over the knob of the entryway closet. That would save a few extra steps when she was ready to leave. She hoped that she could manage this. Her strength had been declining, hardly unexpected for a woman in her 90's. Kevin would have been glad to help her, but she wanted to do this herself. Just as she had each year since Crystal and Jamie moved to the neighborhood.
After lunch, she went to the closet and retrieved her coat, hat and cane. Unhooking the cookies from the door knob, she headed out. As she made her way down the sidewalk, Janet thought about the last few days. The red valentine had been followed by a pink envelope taped to her door. Inside it was a valentine signed “from someone who loves you.” Each day, Kevin delivered more. The handwriting on each was different. Only one was identifiable. A red construction paper heart glued to a lace doily. “Happy Valentines Day. From your friend, Jamie.” The rest of the cards remained a mystery. Janet enjoyed mystery novels and was good at solving them. But this real life mystery didn't provide a single clue. She tried eliminating possibilities. Relatives were out. She had never married and her only brother had died years before. His daughter followed him a few years later. There was one grandniece. Stella was breathlessly waiting to inherit the house, but had never sent a card for any occasion. Thirty years had passed since her retirement. She'd gradually lost contact with co-workers and students. She couldn't think of anyone else who might be sending a valentine. Now all of these. One card was an unexpected surprise. This many was impossible. But it was happening.
At Crystal's house, she opened the storm door and hung the bag over the inner knob. That should keep them safe until Crystal and Jamie returned. Although it was cold, she sat on a porch bench to catch her breath before heading back. Oh, no. Across the street, a curtain had been pushed aside and Amanda Cook's face appeared in the window. Amanda Cook didn't like Crystal. To be truthful, she didn't seem to like anyone. Although she frequently proclaimed herself to be a good Christian woman, it appeared that Amanda had forgotten a few of the basics. Loving your neighbor, for example.
Janet got up and headed for home. It was too late. As she reached the sidewalk, Amanda scurried across the street.
“What are you doing? Why were you at that woman's house?”
That woman. Amanda didn't like Crystal, but couldn't even remember her name. Janet didn't want to tell her anything. She thought quickly.
“A piece of her mail got mixed in with mine.” She instantly regretted her fabrication.
“What do you expect from a mailman like that? Someone should say something to him, but I'd be too scared. That strange lopsided face. Just like a monster. Probably got a criminal record. You'd think they'd do a background check before hiring. Of course, he could have done something that hasn't been discovered... “
Janet wished she had the youth and strength to run. She mentally conceded that Amanda might have some concern for her well-being. But she would rather walk without assistance than listen to more of those unloving and unfounded speculations. She tried unsuccessfully to block it out.
“Did you know that woman is an unwed mother? Not even a divorcee, although that would be bad enough. If she were divorced, that little girl would get visits from her father. I've watched. That's never happened. The child will probably grow up to be a tramp, just like her mother.”
Janet just kept walking. Crystal was a wonderful mother, regardless of her marital status. She could have told Amanda about Crystal's husband. James had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer shortly after they learned that Crystal was pregnant. He had not lived to see Jamie's birth. Amanda wouldn't believe her anyway. Just as she wouldn't care about the origin of Kevin's injuries. Amanda used her hatred as a shield to protect her insecurities. Nothing Janet said could penetrate that barrier. Finally they reached her door.
“Thanks for your assistance, Amanda. Guess I'd better take a nap now. The walk wore me out.”
She slipped quickly inside before Amanda could say anything more.
She really was tired. She made her way to the rocker and looked at the new valentines Kevin had delivered earlier. She took her time opening them, smiling again and again as she read the messages. They were truly a wonderful surprise, but she didn't need them to know that she was loved. She pitied those, like Amanda, who blocked love from their lives. And the impoverished people who thought that romantic love was the only meaningful kind. Love was abundant. It was in the air. In a child's smile. In a friend's hug. In neighborly kindness and thoughtful deeds. Suddenly Crystal and Kevin came to mind. Together. She'd never been a matchmaker, but thought they'd make a wonderful couple. She was still holding her valentines and thinking of them as she drifted off to sleep.
Check back on Sunday for the conclusion of Love In The Air.
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