Five-year-olds take a far more pragmatic approach to Valentine’s Day than single twentysomethings do…
Thanks for looking after her, Mum,” Leo said gratefully. “Oh, it was no bother. She’s never any trouble – are you, Elise?” replied his mum, Lisa.
Elise shook her head vigorously, her smile reaching the corners of her eyes.
Leo lowered himself to his haunches and held out the bag.
“Nana tells me you’ve been good today, so look what I’ve got us.”
Elise pushed her face close to the opening,
“Yay, Daddy, my favourite!” she said, as her small hands fumbled in the bag and pulled out a packet of Love Hearts.
“You really shouldn’t be giving her them, Leo. They are full of sugar.”
“Says someone who bought us a quarter of sherbet pips every week.”
Lisa nudged his arm and smiled. “I didn’t know any better!”
Elise tilted her head, baring her teeth. “We brush our teeth all the time, don’t we, Daddy? Look how white and shiny mine are, Nana.”
Leo smiled at his daughter’s protectiveness.
“Anyway, there are only four in the packet and it helps with her reading!”
Lisa put her hands on her hips and dipped her chin, her eyebrows nearly meeting in the middle.
“Well, I will say that’s an excuse I’ve not heard before!”
“Can we read them tonight, Daddy? After our story.”
“Of course we can, honey.”
Later that evening, snuggled up on the sofa with clean pyjamas and freshly washed hair, Elise clapped shut the book about the three mice who were always looking for the end of the rainbow.
“Can we read the love hearts now, please, Daddy?”
“You bet,” he said dropping the book into the box at the side of the sofa.
Elise unwrapped the packet and placed the first heart on the coffee table. “What does that one say, Elise?” “Love…you,” she said pointing to the words on the pale pink sweet. She pulled out the next one, lemon yellow. “Sweet…heart. Now it’s your turn, Daddy, go on.”
Leo grappled with the tiny packet and extracted a blue heart shape. “Bemy…Valentine.”
Elise sighed and tilted her head up towards Leo, her large amber-flecked eyes settling on his.
“But I can’t be your Valentine, Daddy, because I’ve made a special card for Joshua Marsdon, and he’s going to be my Valentine this year. You don’t mind, really, do you?”
Leo smiled and hugged her close to his chest. “Of course I don’t. Joshua Marsdon is very lucky.”
“But who’s going to be your
“I haven’t got time for a Valentine, I’m too busy looking after you!”
Leo felt a tinge of sadness stealing over him. It wasn’t far from the truth because for the last three years he’d devoted all his time to caring for Elise, not wanting to think about involvement with anyone else.
“Last one. What does it say?”
Elise slid a peach sweet out of the paper and foil and placed it alongside the line of others.
“Be…happy. Can I eat them now?” “As long as you give your teeth an extra, extra brush tonight.”
“OK, Daddy,” Elise said, scooping the sweets up in her hand and squeezing her fingers tightly around them. She jumped off the sofa and padded in her slippered feet down the hall and into her bedroom.
Two days later was Valentine’s Day and Elise was excited to present her card to Joshua Marsdon at school.
As she and Leo sat at the table together eating hot porridge and buttery toast, Elise wiped her hands on her dressing gown before pulling an envelope from her school bag draped over the back of the chair.
“Look, Daddy,” she said, opening the card to reveal the words inside.
Leo peered at the large uneven letters scrawled inside the card with the extra big cross at the bottom.
“In my day, you never used to write your name to tell the person who it was from,” he observed.
Elise’s eyebrows were raised so high they collided with her fringe.
“That’s just silly – how would they know who sent it?”
“Well, that’s the thing. It made it exciting trying to guess who sent it.” “What if you couldn’t guess?”
“Well, I suppose it would remain forever a mystery.”
“And what if you thought it was from someone, but it wasn’t? What if I didn’t write my name and Joshua Marsdon thought it was from Mia Reynolds?”
“Hmmm. Maybe it’s a good job things are different now,” Leo said, rubbing the top of her head.
“Yes, I think so too, and I’m glad I’m not as old as you!”
Leo put his hand to his chest.
“I’m not that old!”
Elise’s eye brows collided with her fringe .“That’ s silly. How would they know who sen tit?”
Lisa interrupted their conversation when she arrived to walk Elise to school.
“Look, Nana, look at the card I’ve made for Joshua Marsdon.”
“That’s lovely, Elise.”
“He’s giving me a chocolate heart, he told me he was!”
Leo shrugged, holding out his hands, as his mum mouthed, “She’s only five!”
“Be good for Nana. I’ll be picking you up from school today,” he said, kissing the top of Elise’s head.
Lisa gave him a gentle push in the small of his back, as she ushered him out
of the door. “Off you go. Elise and I have things to do.”
“I hope you have a nice Valentine’s day, Daddy,” Elise shouted as he made his way to his car parked on the steep driveway.
As Leo drove to work he smiled, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, remembering past
Valentine’s days and thinking how close Elise had been with her assumptions.
He remembered how he’d placed his Valentine’s card for Laura Richardson in her grey school tray. He’d sat back and watched as she declared her undying love for Steve Pearce after assuming he’d given her the card.
Another time he had penned a rhyme on a card for Josie James and he’d gone undetected until someone found the scrunched-up piece of paper he’d practised on in his PE bag and he’d endured months of chants of his rhyme down every corridor he ventured. Perhaps things had changed for the better, he thought, grinning to himself.
He had a meeting at the office first thing, but planned to work from home for the rest of the day. With images of targets, figures and projected outcomes whirling in his head, all thoughts of Valentine’s Day were eradicated from his mind.
Arriving home, he swung his car into the driveway and grabbed his coat from the back seat before pressing the black pad on his keyring.
As he approached the porch, his eyes narrowed as he spotted a small package placed on his Welcome mat. He bent to retrieve it. His hand curled around a small cardboard box with a clear Cellophane top, containing a chocolate cupcake and a red heart clearly inscribed with his name.
He spun on his heel, turning from side to side, scouring the empty road in front of him. With no one about and no clue who had left it, he put the key in the lock and let himself in.
Leo flicked on the kettle and perched himself on a stool next to the breakfast bar. He stared at the unopened package. He hadn’t been out in months, let alone spoken to anyone who might have been inclined to send him a Valentine’s gift.
If it weren’t for his name jumping out at him in bright pink, bold letters, he would have assumed that the cupcake had been left on the wrong doorstep.
As he sipped at his coffee, debating all the possible scenarios of how the mysterious cupcake had ended up outside his house, the chime of the doorbell interrupted his thoughts. He slid off the stool, wiped his mouth on his sleeve and made his way down the hallway. He pulled open the door and greeted his visitor.
“Hello… Sorry, I don’t think we’ve met properly. I’m Mae, I moved in next door a few months ago, and… well, I just wanted to say thank you for the card.”
Leo leaned his muscular body against the door frame, folding his arms in front of him. He’d seen his new neighbour fleetingly as she headed out most mornings and he felt a stab of guilt that he’d made no effort to introduce himself.
Mae looked a similar age to him. Her dark auburn hair cascaded around her face, the curls bouncing as they collided with her shoulders. Her lips pulled into a small smile.
“Oh, hi. Sorry I haven’t called over to introduce myself. Been so hectic lately,” he said lamely. He rubbed his hands down the front of his jeans before holding one out in Mae’s direction. “I’m Leo.” He paused, remembering what she had just said. “Sorry… the card?”
“The Valentine’s card,” she said, her face taking on a crimson shade as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other, and she nervously tucked a stray curl behind her ear.
Leo swallowed, a groan making its way up his oesophagus. He could only surmise that his new neighbour had thought he had sent her a card, and left the cupcake for him in return. “Umm, and thank you for the cake,” he said, a smile tugging at his mouth. “What cake?”
It was Leo’s turn to develop a scarlet tinge. He shifted his weight from the door frame and ran one hand distractedly through his floppy fringe.
“The cupcake that was left on my porch just now.”
Mae looked startled.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what you mean. I just wanted to say thank you for the kind gesture. It’s been a long time since I’ve been sent a Valentine’s card. It was very cute.”
Before he could conjure up any useful words, Mae brought out her hand from behind her back and held out a red envelope.
“The card you left on my back patio this morning.”
“On your patio?”
“It could only have come from your side of the fence –”
She faltered, with unmistakable embarrassment sweeping through her whole being.
Leo took the envelope and pulled out the card. He opened it and let out a loud chuckle before covering his mouth with his hand. Attached to the inside of the card with a piece of sticky tape was the blue Love Heart inscribed with the words, BeMyValentine.
Leo’s hand rubbed at his chin,
“You didn’t leave a cake, did you?” “I’m afraid not, no,” she said, smiling up at his quizzical expression.
“Well, in that case, I think I have some explaining to do – or rather, I think my five-year-old daughter does.
“Would you like to share a cupcake over coffee while I try to sort out what happened here?”
Mae’s eyes brightened as the smile took over her face.
“I’m intrigued! I think an explanation would be most welcome.”
BY CHRISTINA COLLINS