Jenny rested her head against the school bus window. This was the first time she had ridden the bus to school, and she felt strange—sort of lonely, despite the greetings by the other children.
When the bus stopped at the corner of Cedar and Oak, she noticed an old man with white hair standing by the curb. He looked at the bus and waited. Just as the bus began to move again, he quickly raised his arm and gave a friendly wave.
“He waved to us,” Jenny blurted out to Billy who had sat down next to her. “Why did he do that?”
“I don’t know. He just does. He’s just some old man.”
One morning before Halloween, Jenny said, “Look, Billy. There’s a cardboard pumpkin on the old man’s door.” When the old man waved, Jenny smiled and waved back. She felt good inside.
By late November, the days grew colder. One morning, as a bitter chill frosted up the windows, Jenny said, “I wonder if the old man will be there today?” She crooked her neck to look up ahead. She saw him tacking up a colorful turkey decoration. “Hurray!” she exclaimed.
In the days that followed, Jenny didn’t wonder anymore if the old man would be there. She knew that he would be. It was as simple as that.
Time drew near for school to let out for the December holidays. Every morning Jenny anxiously glanced at the old man’s door. On a cold and dismal morning just before school let out, Jenny spotted a snowman decoration on the old man’s door. In spite of the cold, she felt sunshine inside when the old man smiled and waved.
A light snow was falling when school started again in January. Bundled up snugly, Jenny bounded up the steps of the bus. It sputtered and shuddered as it neared Cedar and Oak. When everyone began to cheer and shout, Jenny knew that the old man was there.
And then one morning, as a February drizzle fell in a gray and dreary mist, Jenny thought, Valentine Day is almost here. I wonder what the old man will put on his door. Her eyes searched for him. He wasn’t at the curb, or on the sidewalk, or on his porch. As the bus rolled by, she pressed her hands against the window, peered at his house through the streaks of dribbling rain, and felt sad. Where’s the old man? she wondered. She turned to Billy. “Do you know his name?”
“Mr. Brown. He’ll probably be back tomorrow.”
But the next morning he wasn’t there, either. Nor the next morning. Nor the next.
Finally Jenny said, “We have to call and find out where he is.”
Billy rolled his eyes. “There are hundreds of Browns.”
“But we know his address—717 Cedar.”
At lunchtime Jenny and Billy found a telephone book in the office. “Just look at the Browns one at a time,” Jenny said. “Not the name, just the address.”
“OK, but this could take days,” Billy moaned.
Jenny lowered her head. “Just start looking,” she said firmly.
With a steady rain beating against the windows, they read through the listings on the first page, then the next. Just as Billy licked his finger to turn the page, Jenny shouted, “Here it is—717 Cedar! Brown, Quincy. Let’s call.”
“Not me. Maybe he’s not there anymore.”
“But maybe he is.” Jenny picked up the phone and dialed the number.
After two rings, a woman’s voice said, “Hello?”
Jenny gulped. “Mrs. Brown?”
“This is Jenny. A friend of Mr. Brown. Is he there?”
“A friend of his?”
“Sort of. I used to see him from the school bus every morning.”
“Oh, the school bus. He’s been worried about that.”
“Worried? That’s great! I mean, I’m glad to know he still lives on Cedar.”
“Oh, yes, but he’s been in bed with the flu. He’s over the worst of it, but until he gets his strength back, he has to stay inside. Unless the sun is out. Sunshine would do him a world of good.”
Jenny thanked Mrs. Brown and hung up. Sunshine, she thought. She raised an eyebrow and looked at Billy. “You’re thinking,” he said.
“Yes,” she said. “I’m thinking about sunshine. We have a few more days before Valentine Day. And I know just what we can do.”
When Valentine Day finally arrived, the sky was cloudy as they rode to school.
“All set?” Jenny asked.
“All set,” Billy said. “But the sun isn’t out.”
“The bus driver said it will be OK. He checked with Mrs. Brown. She’ll be there if Mr. Brown can’t be.”
As the bus rumbled along, Jenny could hardly breathe. But even though she wished as hard as she could, the sun did not come out.
“It’s not going to work,” Billy said. “Maybe we should wait.”
“We can’t,” Jenny said with a sigh. “Valentine Day is today. I guess we’ll have to give them to Mrs. Brown.”
The brakes whined as the bus slowed to a stop. When Mrs. Brown came outside, Billy and the others rifled through their backpacks and found the valentines they had made, and Jenny reached under the seat and pulled out the huge red heart trimmed in white that they had all signed. They watched silently as the bus driver collected them and gave them with a grin to Mrs. Brown. Mrs. Brown smiled at everyone on the bus, then hurried back to the house.
“We didn’t even get to see him,” Jenny mumbled.
That afternoon as the closing school bell rang, bright rays of sunshine streamed in through the classroom window. “Great!” Jenny grumped as she frowned at the clear blue sky. “Where were you this morning?”
She slumped in her seat as they rode the bus back home. Even though the sun was shining now, inside she felt as if the clouds had not gone away.
When they reached the corner of Cedar and Oak, Billy poked her with his elbow. “Look!”
Jenny turned her head and peered out the window. “Wow! There it is,” she said. “The heart we made is on Mr. Brown’s door.” She bounced up and down and clapped her hands. “And look at that.”
A roar went up, and everyone clambered for the windows on that side of the bus. Valentines filled Mr. Brown’s yard. Red hearts on long skinny sticks poked up all over the place. As they got closer, Jenny squinted her eyes. “They’re ours,” she squealed. “The ones we made for him.”
“Look over there, Jenny,” Billy said, as another cheer came from the bus.
There, standing in the sunshine and waving from the curb, was the old man at Cedar and Oak. Jenny beamed as she waved back.
“Well,” Billy said, “the old man is back, and things are just the way they were.”
Jenny’s eyes sparkled. She felt warm and snug inside. “No,” she said with a smile. “Mr. Brown is back, and things will never be the same old way again.”