“Did you guys get any new valentines?” The words tumbled from my mouth as I skidded to a stop at the counter in Sal’s Gift Shoppe.
13-year-old Sally Kingston shook her head. “Pop ordered the right ones, but the boxes got mixed up.” She pointed to a large brown box sitting behind the stockroom door. “Easter cards.”
I swallowed, digesting that bit of information and the fact that I simply should have purchased my cards earlier. “Any from last year?” Sally pointed down the aisle and I followed her finger.
A large empty shelf space stared back at me. I took another deep breath. “Okay um, drat! I really needed valentines. Okay...uh, how’s your pop doing?”
Sally shrugged. “Headache, coffee, I think. I’m watching the counter so he can rest.”
“Oh. That’s nice.” I turned to go.
“I can make some valentines for you.” Sally’s quiet offer made me freeze.
“Make some?” I repeated.
She nodded quickly, motioning for me to come to the side of the counter. I did and saw stacks of construction paper, bottles of glue, glitter, 3D-paint, stickers, scissors and lace doilies. A cardboard sign read “Custom Handmade Valentines $2.00”.
I stifled the urge to run, chewing my lower lip at the sight of her expectant face. “I’ll take one.”
Sally smiled, relief showing plainly on her face. “Who’s it for?”
My exhausted college-student brain scrambled for a suitable name. “Dad!”
I managed. “It’s for my dad.”
A flicker of puzzlement flitted over Sally’s face, but she turned to the scissors. “Straight edge, zigzag, scalloped or curved?”
I stared at the jumble of scissors. “Any one, it doesn’t matter.”
Sally frowned but selected the scalloped edge. “What’s his favorite color?”
“Blue.” I answered automatically. Sally chose a blue sheet, scissors poised. “Wait!” I protested. “You can’t make a blue valentine?”
Her eyebrows went up. “You want a traditional one or a unique one?” The question posed with professional accuracy, I blushed.
“Unique.” I muttered.
Sally straightened. “Square, round, rectangle, heart or triangle?”
“Triangle?” The question popped out as Sally expertly cut the shape. “Wait! I didn’t-never mind.”
“Lace, stickers or glitter?” She pushed a square of paper towards me. “And pick your lettering.”
“Lace please.” I mumbled, staring stupidly at the paper. Elegant scrolls of calligraphy danced across its length. I pointed to one with loops and curves. “That one.”
Sally glanced up briefly from gluing the lace. She grunted. “What’d you want it to say?”
“Love dad, Denise.” I recited quickly. The blond ponytail wagged in disapproval, but she picked up a pen and began to write. “Wait-you’re doing that yourself?”
Sally rolled her eyes in typical preteen fashion. “Do you want to do it yourself?” I shook my head quickly and she bent over the valentine, hands busy.
A moment later, she handed me a lovely blue triangle, edged with white lace, a heart sticker inside with the words “I love you dad!” written around it, my name signed at the bottom.
My shattered spirits revived the sight of the finished product. “Thanks.” I whispered, staring at it in disbelief.
A thought flashed through my head and I pounced on it. “Could you make one for my mom too? She likes purple, make it a heart with glitter and I want to say the same thing in that swirly writing.”
Sally’s familiar smile rested faintly on her face as she reached for her tools and went to work.
I was there for about half and hour, ordering valentines for my brother and sisters as well as my boyfriend Joey, best friend, Alexa, and adopted grandmother. I forked over a nice chunk of my hard-earned paycheck, knowing it was well worth every cent.
Sally slipped them all inside a black plastic bag as another customer entered the shop. “Thanks, Sal!” I grinned, turning to go and colliding right into a very familiar someone. “Joey?”
Joey grinned as the door opened and several of his friends entered, laughing and joking. “Dinner at 8?” I nodded his face aglow as he turned to Sally. “I brought you more customers..."
I smiled, stepping out onto the curb; my cell phone rang and I paused to answer it. “Alexa? What’s up? No, actually, I just got some, custom-made for only two bucks apiece. Where? Sal’s Gift Shoppe..."
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