“What is this?” Judy Greene opened the door of her greenhouse to find her husband, Reuben standing there with a sly grin on his face. “You’ve never knocked before.”
“Come out here, please.”
This was different.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” Reuben said as he turned her around to face the front of the greenhouse. “What do you think?”
“You are a nut,” Judy said, putting her arm around his waist. “Happy Valentine’s Day to you.”
He’d gotten up early and was out of the apartment by the time she started moving this morning. When she got to the main house, she saw that the doors to the forge were open, which meant he’d been working. Guests from the weekend were gone and the place was quiet. Neither Mary Francis nor Alison Francisco would be in to work today. The house was clean and Mary would be back on Wednesday to help prepare for the next sets of guests to arrive Thursday evening.
Today and tomorrow were all hers and she was planning to spend as much time as she could find digging in dirt and soil. A friend from California had sent her a bag of lemon seeds that she’d harvested from her own lemon tree. That was on the agenda today. She would love to have a California lemon tree here in the middle of Iowa.
Sometimes she missed the easy weather of California. No snowstorms or hailstorms or tornadoes. She didn’t miss wildfires and water rationing and earthquakes, though. Every region had its issues; you had to decide which you could live with. For now, she was happy back in the Midwest. But a lemon tree would be a wonderful treat.
“Will you leave them up?” Reuben asked her.
“Of course. This is the sweetest thing. I want people to see how much you love me.” Judy stepped forward and touched the metal heart he’d created. He’d put a single heart on each side of the door frame. Not big hearts, small enough to fit. Then, on the door itself, he’d created a double heart with an “R” in one and a “J” in the other.
She turned back to him and stepped into his arms. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. I’ve been thinking on these for days. Last night I finally saw how I wanted to make them.”
“That’s why you were up so early.”
“It was either that or wake you up.” He waggled his eyes.
“You could have done that, too.” She winked at him and tipped her head back.
“Oh my,” Reuben said. He kissed her and said, “We really have no one showing up out here for two days?”
“But no one that needs us to pay attention to them?”
“Two days, Reuben. Two days to ourselves.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day to us.”
“What is this?” Lexi asked.
Gillian had come around the island bearing a large manilla envelope. She handed it to her mother, beaming from ear to ear. “Happy Valtines.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day to you, sweet girl. Where did this come from?”
Gillian pointed down the hallway and Lexi looked up. No one was home except the two of them. At least that’s what she thought. The kids were all in school, Polly was at Sycamore House, Jack and Henry were at work.
“Thank you, sweetheart. Do you know what Valentine’s Day is all about?”
Gillian stood on her tiptoes and Lexi bent down. “Love,” the little girl whispered in her ear.
“That’s right. It’s all about love. Do you know that I love you?”
Lexi squatted and then just sat on the floor. It was easier and who knew how long this would take. “Should I open this?”
“Open it, Mama” Gillian put her hands on the card as if she might help. Lexi let her and the two of them ripped the envelope flap.
Lexi withdrew a piece of paper with hand-drawn hearts, some colored red, others colored purples and pinks. None of them were colored perfectly. Outside the lines that someone much older than Gillian had drawn for her.
“This is beautiful. Did you color it?” Lexi asked.
Gillian nodded and pointed at the card. “Open it.”
Obeying her daughter, Lexi opened the card and found more hand-drawn hearts and then her own heart skipped a beat when she saw the impression of lips and a rough-looking letter G on the right panel of the paper.
“Are these your lips?”
“I kissed it.”
“Who helped you?”
“Cassidy and Mrs. Agnes.” Gillian was so proud.
“Did you make the G letter?”
“G is for Gillian. That’s me.” She pointed at her chest and then her lips. “Lipstick.”
“Mrs. Agnes put lipstick on so you could kiss the card?”
“Because I love my mama.”
“Oh, sweet Gillian,” Lexi said and pulled her daughter into her arms. “Mama loves you, too. Thank you. This is the best Valentine’s Day present.”
Gillian let her mother hug her, then took the card away and solemnly walked over to the refrigerator. She pulled a magnet off and put the card there, covering other pieces of artwork, then set the magnet on it, holding it in place. “Valtine’s.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Gillian.” Lexi stood up. “You are my very favorite daughter.”
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
“What is this?” Eliseo stood in the center aisle of the barn early Valentine’s morning and looked at six heart-shaped boxes on the benches between the stalls. The horses were ready for him. Even Demi had thrown off his feline attachments and stood at the stall door. It was as if they knew something awaited.
He opened the first and smiled. A bright red apple was nestled in the center of the box filled with grain. Three other boxes were identical.
Two boxes, just a little smaller sat at the back of the benches and when he opened them, he discovered grain for the donkeys and baggies filled with carrot chunks.
“Who did this?” he asked Nan as he rubbed her head. She was always the first to ask for his attention. “I’ll be right back.”
He went into the feed room and found four more boxes. One had his name on it, one had Jason’s name on it, one was filled with cat treats and toys, and the last was for his dogs. Eliseo sat in his chair and opened the box with his name, then smiled. He’d mentioned once long ago, to Noah that he really liked chocolate covered caramels and the boy had found some.
Eliseo opened the card and felt his lips pull against the scars on his face as he smiled even bigger.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Eliseo. We made presents for everyone. Thanks for letting us hang out with the big boys and the crazy kids. Miles, Graham, and Noah.”
Those boys. He’d had fun with Jason and his friends while they were in high school and now, here he was with another set of kids who enjoyed time with him and the animals. He couldn’t imagine a time in his life when he’d been happier.
Tonight, he was taking Sylvie to dinner in Webster City. He’d pick up flowers later in the day. She’d become everything to him, but his days working with the horses and the boys here were more fun than he could express.
He brushed a tear from his cheek, surprised that he even felt it drop.
Plastic covered the caramels. Maybe he’d take those home tonight and share them with Sylvie. She wasn’t a big fan of receiving chocolate for Valentine’s Day. The woman spent enough time around sweet treats all day. But she’d certainly share his.
Scuffing at a door reminded him that the animals wanted his attention. They’d been inside all night and the sun was up. It was time to get moving. He might as well let the donkeys into the barn from their stall. In a few minutes, they’d make more noise than he wanted to hear if he didn’t. First, though, the gifts in here needed to be put up out of reach. Those donkey-noses found everything. He’d let them eat their carrots and grain for breakfast while he fed the horses and gave them their own Valentine’s Day treats.
He took out his phone and sent a text. Since it was Monday, Polly would be in her office today. Maybe she’d come down and he could show her what a wonderful kid she was raising. His two friends were pretty wonderful, too.
Eliseo opened the boxes for the donkeys and set them on the floor, unbagging the carrots. He tucked the bags into his pocket and opened their stall door. “Good morning, Tom and Huck,” he said when they pushed at him for attention. It only took a minute for them to realize that food was available.
“I love you, too,” he said. “You can thank your young friends for the Valentine’s Day treat. Those are good boys.”
One by one, he opened the horses’ boxes and then their stalls. What a great way to start the day.
“What is this?” Adam walked into the kitchen and sniffed.
Jeff Lyndsay laughed. “Breakfast.”
“I’m sorry, what?” Adam laughed out loud. “Since when do you cook breakfast?”
“Since it’s Valentine’s Day and I don’t have to work.”
“You don’t work on a lot of Mondays and you’ve never made breakfast before,” Adam said. “You’ve never gotten up this early either. You’re making me a little nervous. Are you feeling okay?” He crossed the room and put his hand on Jeff’s forehead.
Jeff brushed his hand away. “If you aren’t good, I’ll burn your pancakes.”
“Pancakes,” Adam said. “You’re making pancakes.”
“Look. Heart-shaped even.”
“You’re making heart-shaped pancakes.” Adam put his hand to his own forehead as if swooning and dropped onto a chair at the table. “Be still my heart.”
“You’re being awfully dramatic.”
“Seriously. I love you, but you have never cooked breakfast in all the years we’ve been together. What in the world? How do you even know what you’re doing?”
“I watch the Food Network.”
“I know you watch it, but I figured you were trying to decide which of Guy’s Diners or Dives we would look for the next time we went on a trip.”
“There are other shows.”
“Uh huh.” Adam put his hand on top of Luna’s head. “Did he make breakfast for you, too?”
She wagged her tail and sat so she could take all the attention he might offer.
“I fed her and took her outside,” Jeff said.
“Who are you and what did you do with the love of my life?” Adam asked. He glanced around the kitchen. “Are there cameras? Am I about to be surprised with the real Jeff? No, you’re a robot all done up to look like my Jeff. The real Jeff is going to beam back in from a spaceship and I’ll wake up from the dream I’m having.”
Jeff set two plates on the table. He opened the refrigerator and took out two bowls of strawberries and two glasses of orange juice. Then he brought the coffee pot to the table, filled a mug for Adam and another for himself. “Butter, syrup, fruit, juice, coffee. Do you need anything else?”
“This is, wow,” Adam said.
“That’s right, wow. It may never happen again, but this morning I thought I’d show you that I love you enough to try something new. Try the pancakes.”
Adam took a small bite.
“Oh, come on,” Jeff said. “They aren’t terrible. You can do better than that.”
“If it was awful, I wanted to be prepared.”
“Very good. I’m impressed.”
Jeff brushed flour dust off his apron. “There has to be a mix that is easier to make than this.”
“Pancakes are easy,” Adam said.
“How come you never made them for me?”
“You’re always on a diet. I figured you’d kill me.”
“I probably would. Are you sure you have to work today?”
Adam put his hand on top of Jeff’s. “Not all day. I have two accounts that need some babysitting. I’ll be home early and then we can go out for dinner. I made reservations.”
“Just us. Happy Valentine’s Day, Jeff. I’m glad we found each other.”
Luna put her head on Jeff’s knee.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” Jeff said. “We have a pretty wonderful family, don’t we?”