Puppy Love

by Angie

My boys are all much older than Vin and JD but I remember doing Valentine’s day cards a few years ago.

A sigh went unnoticed and Vin turned his gaze to the window. The sun was shining brightly and the trees, denuded of their foliage, were waving in the slight breeze. From the warmth of the classroom, he could almost image it was warm enough to be outside. Any place would be better than here, now.

Mr. Beidler glanced up the table and noticed that Vin was staring out the window, again. He had been quietly redirecting the boy to his work for the past two days. Checking that the child he was working with could handle the assignment, he moved to the other end of the table and knelt down next to the little Texan. “Vin? You need to work on your math sheet right now. Okay?”

Startled blue eyes swung around and Vin snatched up his pencil again. He was still struggling with the subtraction when he had to borrow from the hundreds column. Checking the example at the top of the page, he carefully marked through the seven and added the numbers to the tens and ones columns. He managed to finish two of the problems before he was distracted again.

At the next table, three girls were working on the next group of math papers. One of the girls put her pencil down and explained a problem to the girl to her left. The bright light shining from outside reflected in her eyes, which were so very blue like his own, when she glanced at the clock. When she licked her lips, they shone, just like they did when she put on her Chapstick. A loose strand of her fine blonde hair curled down along her cheek and she tucked it behind her ear.

“Eyes on your own paper, Vin,” the aide prompted softly as she tapped her finger on his worksheet. Clenching his hand on his pencil, he again attacked the row of problems.

The day seemed to stretch into infinity for the little Texan. He couldn’t keep his mind on his tasks and the hands on the clock seemed to be frozen. It was a little better when they changed activities. Music class was fun and the teacher made them laugh. In lieu of recess, they were given time to run and play in the gym. The boys were kept to one end and the girls to the other. Several of the boys began shooting basketballs at the three baskets on their end. Vin was good at shooting baskets and several of the boys clamored for him to be on their side. In a corner, some of the littler kids were playing duck-duck-goose. He could see JD’s dark head as he ran around the circle squealing with glee. He tried to ignore the girls on the other side of the gym. Several of them had the jump ropes and were jumping while others had hoola hoops to play with.

The basketball hit his arm, startling him. “Hey Vin, your turn!”

Back in the classroom, Vin moved to his next group of assignments. Pulling the worksheets from the folder, he read the directions. His heart sank. ‘Draw a line from each word to its correct antonym.’ It was hard enough to read the words, let alone keep all of them in his head until he found another one with the opposite meaning. He put that page aside and turned to the next one. It was even worse. ‘Write the correct plural on the line.’ Vin’s writing was improving but it was still a struggle for him. Shoving the papers back in the folder, he folded his arms and laid his head down.

“Are you okay, Vin?”

The voice was soft, so as not to alert the teachers or the aide. Vin lifted his head. Standing across the table from him was Kelly, the person who had made it so difficult for him to concentrate. She was new, recently moved from Amarillo when her dad was transferred. The teacher had assigned Vin to show her around on her first day.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he replied softly.

“You need some help with your worksheets? I’m finished with mine, I could help you,” she offered. He couldn’t help but notice her missing front tooth. The new one was just peeking through her gums.

“I’d like that,” he said as he opened the folder and drew out the sheets. “If you could help me with this one. The other one’s writing.”

Seated around the corner of the table - it wouldn’t do to be seen sitting next to a girl even one as pretty as Kelly - he read the directions again. Using his laminated card to cover the other words, he read the first one.

“O – q – no, that’s a p, e – n, open,” Vin said confidently. He slid the card down and started on the next word.

“Wait Vin, what is the opposite of open?” Kelly asked.


“Then try to find that on the other list, that way you don’t have to keep going over them again and again. That way, if you don’t know what a word means, you won’t have as many to figure out when you get to the end.”

He quickly found the word on the other side and drew a line using the edge of the card. After the first few, he was smiling. It was easier Kelly’s way. He skipped over a couple when he couldn’t figure out their opposites right away. By the time he made it to the bottom of the page, he had only six words left. From there, it was easy to match them up. Vin was practically shaking with excitement as he finished the sheet and replaced it in his folder.

Before he had a chance to begin another paper, the teacher announced that they should begin putting their things away to get ready for the Valentine’s party. An explosion of raised voices filled the room as the kids rushed to put their things away and straighten the room. Chris and Buck had helped him and JD to decorate the boxes for their valentine cards from their classmates. Vin had labored over the cards, carefully writing his name and then his classmates’ names on the cards and envelopes. Chris sat with him patiently, offering his silent encouragement to his son as he struggled with the letters.

As soon as the room was restored to order, each child went to their cubby to get their box. The boxes were placed on top the shelves that lined the windows. The teacher’s aide was setting out the cupcakes and punch on one of the tables while the teachers prepared their gifts for the kids. Starting with the younger ones, each child deposited their cards in the appropriate boxes. Some of them lingered, struggling to match up the names on the cards with the names on the boxes, the adults helped those children. JD needed no help with his cards, he was busy sorting them alphabetically while waiting for his turn. When the younger ones were finished, the older children were allowed to go in a group. Ordered pandemonium ruled the room as the rest of the class surged forward to put in their cards. Several of the boys decided to just write their own name on the cards and went quickly down the row dropping a card in each box as they passed.

Vin waited for the worst of the rush of kids to go by before he began to put his cards in the boxes. He carefully matched up the names before dropping the envelopes in the holes. One envelope was a little thicker that the others and he quickly stuffed it into the box, hoping no one noticed. He breathed a sigh of relief when he finished.

The teachers allowed the children to hand out the bags of candy, putting one piece or packet in each box. Cries of excitement filled the room as the kids saw their favorites. The rest of the class day was spent eating and playing games in the classroom. Most of the girls took their boxes and sat along the wall, opening the cards and comparing them. When Vin saw that, he felt ill. He tried to avoid looking as they giggled over the sentiments on the cards. The boys chose to ignore the cards and concentrated on trading their candy.

When the day was finally over, Vin stuffed his valentine box into his book bag and waited for JD to get ready. Mr. Biedler walked a group out to the driveway where their rides picked them up. While JD happily chatted with some of the others, Vin stood silently. When Kelly’s mom pulled up, the little girl ran to the car. She excitedly told her mother about all the candy and the cards as she tossed in her book bag and climbed into the car. Before the car left the curb, she turned and waved. At Vin.

On the ride home, JD opened every envelope and read them aloud to Mrs. Potter. Out of the corner of his eye, Vin noticed the card JD said was from Kelly. The housekeeper asked Vin about his cards and he shrugged his shoulder.

“Vin don’t feel good, Mrs. Potter. He had his head down on the table today,” JD informed.

As soon as they were in the house, Gloria checked Vin’s temperature and grilled him on how much candy he had eaten at school. When he said that he only ate the cupcake, she was a little worried. It just wasn’t like Vin to miss out on chocolate and there was plenty of it in the small packets in the valentine box.

“You want to go lay down for a while, sweetie?” She cupped his cheeks and brushed through his long curly hair. “Why don’t you take your valentines in your room and rest for a while. I’ll make you some soup and a grilled cheese sandwich for supper.”

Laying on his bed, Vin agonized over the slip of paper he had tucked into Kelly’s valentine card. He had worked really hard to make the letters neatly and correctly without having to erase any. It wasn’t much, just a few words, but it was a heartfelt sentiment.
I’m really glad you’re here,
Vin Tanner.’

That evening, when Chris and Buck arrived home, Gloria informed them that she was worried about Vin. As soon as the men had put away their briefcases and guns, Chris headed for the boys room. He found Vin curled on his side, asleep. The blond gently removed the valentine box from the bed and set it aside before feeling to see if the child had a fever. When he didn’t feel any warmer than normal, Chris was relieved. As he was tucking Vin under a blanket, he noticed something clutched in the boy’s hand under the pillow. Pulling his hand from under the pillow, he smiled. Clutched tightly in Vin’s hand was a valentine card covered with glitter and decorated with lace. Printed neatly on the back of the handmade card was a single sentence.

‘To Vin,
thank you for being my friend, I like you,