A Valentine for Carla

By Polly Oliver

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    Lucy took the box of valentines out of the sack. Tomorrow was Valentine Day, and she still hadn’t decided whether to give a card to Carla, the girl next door.

    Lucy sighed. Nothing had been the same since Carla had moved in at the first of the year. Lucy and her mother had taken homemade cookies over to Carla and her family, but Carla hadn’t even said hello.

    “She’s just shy,” Carla’s mother had explained.

    Lucy quickly decided that Carla wasn’t shy—she was just a bad-tempered girl who loved to make life miserable for everybody around her. The first week after Carla had moved in, she had thrown rocks at Lucy’s dog, Jumper, and now he was afraid to go outside.

    At school Carla bullied the smaller children on the playground. She was in the principal’s office at least twice a week. Lucy and her friends were embarrassed to be around her because she was loud and rough.

    And now Lucy’s mother had said that she should give Carla a valentine.

    “But, Mom,” Lucy argued, “valentines are supposed to be for people you like. And I don’t like Carla Bentley!”

    “Carla has a lot of problems, Lucy. Maybe if she had some friends, she wouldn’t be the way she is,” Mother explained. “Sometimes people need attention so badly that they’ll do anything to get it, even things that they shouldn’t.”

    Lucy sat on the floor of her room, her valentines spread out before her. She was putting two candy hearts in each one. As she wrote each name on an envelope, she checked it off her list. In class they had passed out a list with all the students’ names on it so that no one would be missed. Lucy popped a candy heart into her mouth. Only seven more, and she still hadn’t decided about Carla.

    Finally Lucy checked the last name off the list. She stacked the cards carefully and put them into a bag. Then she realized that all her valentines were used up! “Mom!” she called, running into the kitchen. “Guess what! I can’t give Carla a valentine.”

    “Why not?” Mother asked.

    “Because I don’t have any more. Remember, we bought a box of thirty cards? Well, that was just enough for my class, so now they’re all gone.”

    “Oh, that doesn’t matter,” her mother said. “If you decide to give a valentine to Carla, we have lots of things you can make a card with.”

    Make a card?”

    “Sure. Lots of people make cards instead of buying them. It’s fun to do,” Mother said, going over to her desk and pulling out a drawer. “See, we have pink and red construction paper, and I remember some white doilies in with the napkins.”

    Lucy shifted uncomfortably. “I’m not sure that I want to, though.”

    “Well, I’ll just leave the things here in case you need them. I’ll be back in a while. I have to pick up your brother at soccer practice.”

    Lucy thought, If I give Carla a valentine, maybe she won’t be so mean. I could make a really cute one with some of the stickers I have.

    Lucy went to her bedroom to get her sticker collection. Some stickers were funny, others were pretty, and some smelled like root beer or peanut butter or strawberry when she rubbed them. She picked out three: a heart in different shades of pink, a furry kitten, and a cluster of sweet-smelling strawberries.

    Hurrying down to the kitchen table, Lucy folded a sheet of white paper in half, drew half a heart along the fold, and cut it out. When she unfolded it, she had a pattern to trace around on the construction paper.

    Lucy folded a sheet of pale pink construction paper in half, then cut out two red hearts and placed them and the strawberry sticker on the front of the card. She put the kitten and heart stickers on the inside. Then she signed her name at the bottom.

    Holding the card up, Lucy thought, It’s pretty, but it’s not really a valentine if there aren’t any words except my name. But I can’t write a fancy poem to a girl I don’t even like. Finally, after trying out a number of ideas on scratch paper, Lucy wrote in red ink:

    “Roses are red,

    Violets are blue.

    I’d rather be friends

    Than fight with you.”

    The sun was shining on Valentine Day morning. Lucy got up early and dressed quickly so that she could run over to Carla’s without being seen. As she hurried around Carla’s front porch, the Bentley house was quiet. Lucy propped the card up against the front door, rang the doorbell, and ran. She hid behind the bushes separating the yards and watched for someone to answer the door.

    Mr. Bentley opened it and looked first to the left and then to the right. Lucy could see him smile when he finally looked down and saw the card. He picked it up and closed the door.

    Lucy let her breath out. That’s that, she thought. She hurried home to eat so that she could meet Kim, her best friend, before school.

    The morning passed quickly. After Lucy’s class exchanged their valentines, the room mothers came in and they had a party. For treats they had red punch and cupcakes with white frosting and red gumdrop hearts on them.

    Lucy didn’t see Carla until lunchtime. Carla was walking toward Lucy and Kim with a funny look on her face.

    “I don’t believe it,” Kim whispered. “Why is she coming over?”

    “I gave her a valentine,” Lucy whispered back.

    Kim looked at her quickly. “You did? Maybe she’s going to beat you up.”

    “I don’t think so,” Lucy said, smiling shyly at Carla.

    “Hi,” Carla said.

    “Hi,” said Lucy and Kim together.

    Carla looked down at her tennis shoes. “I—I want to thank you for the valentine, Lucy.” She held out a card to Lucy.

    “You’re welcome,” Lucy said, taking the card. “Thank you.

    “I didn’t have time to make one.” Carla stood awkwardly.

    “Oh, that’s OK. Would you like to eat lunch with us?” She heard Kim’s sharp gasp but ignored her.

    Carla’s face lit up. “OK!” Then Carla looked at Kim and added, “If you don’t mind.”

    Kim looked from Carla to Lucy then back again. “Of course not. Come on, let’s get over to the tree before somebody else does.”

    As the girls sat on the bench beneath the old cottonwood tree, four boys walked past.

    “Hey! Happy Valentine Day!” Carla yelled happily at them.

    Illustrated by Robyn S. Officer