“If I had a penny, I would buy one of those flowers.” His voice was full of pride and his eyes sparkled with satisfaction, because he was in the first grade now and he could read. Well, at least sometimes. The hurriedly lettered sign taped over the basket indicated that the contents were 1¢ each and that’s the part he could read—l¢.
“What would you do with it after you bought it?” I asked, watching his face as the plans began to grow.
“I would put it in my room,” he said firmly, his positive tone suggesting wonder at why I would ask such an obvious question.
“Okay,” I said, rummaging through my purse. “It’s better than bubble gum.” I handed him the small copper coin, which he eagerly slid across the counter. In return—and properly packaged—the clerk handed him a tiny pink plastic blossom with a silly long wire for a stem. I thought about his choice—pale pink—for his red and white room, but then remembered that first-graders weren’t usually too concerned about color coordination.
We chattered about nothing on the way to the car, me with my bag of groceries and he carefully holding a small brown sack, crumpled around the wire stem. The heavy blossom protruded several inches above the package and bounced merrily back and forth as he walked.
“I could give it to Julie for her birthday.”
“Give what to Julie for her birthday?” I absently asked.
“The flower,” he said, somewhat annoyed that I had already forgotten about his special purchase.
“Besides,” he went on, “it’s pink, and it would go nice in her room. Maybe she would even put it on her shelf.”
“That’s right, you could, but her birthday is a long time from now.”
Julie is his big sister, seventeen and very pretty. Sometimes she’s awfully busy, but there are times when she is very, very quiet.
“Then could I just give it to her?” he asked, now that he had finally decided. “You know—give it to her for no reason?”
“Of course,” I assured him, swallowing quickly to hide the catch in my voice. “As a matter of fact, that’s the very best present there is—the one you can give to someone for no special reason.”
We whispered and planned while I put away groceries, and he watched as Julie sat quietly by the fire warming herself.
I finally knelt to put away the last cans of soup on the bottom shelf of the cupboard. My eyes were level with his as he asked, “How should I give it to her? What’ll I say?” He was excited and yet shy; eager and yet reluctant; courageous and yet afraid.
“Just give it to her, darling, and say something like this: ‘Here, Julie, this is for you, just ’cause I love you.’ Then give her a big kiss.”
“Oh, no!” His arm shot straight out in front, palm flattened against the air, like a traffic cop stopping cars. “No kissing!”
He turned slightly and walked into the other room, trying so hard to make his face look serious for the occasion. The corners of his mouth turned up in spite of himself, and his eyes danced as he stood in front of her, holding his gift.
I didn’t hear the words: they were hers along with the flower. But I could see. Her face brightened, and the melancholy mouth erupted into a glowing, spontaneous smile. She threw her arms around his small shoulders and planted a noisy kiss right on his cheek. She held the flower in one hand while she embraced her little brother, and I watched as a pink plastic blossom bounced merrily at the end of a silly wire stem.