He was a quiet boy with dark hair and thick, black-framed glasses who spent more time reading than chasing girls on the playground.
I was one of those popular girls with a new boyfriend each week.
This quiet boy and I inhabited different planets, sharing a sixth grade teacher but not much more. Until our class Valentine’s Day party.
While the midwest winter frosted our classroom windows, the air inside heated up with preteen energy. The main party event was exchanging store-bought Valentine cards (following the required “one for everybody” rule.) We achieved this with efficiency by depositing our 25 valentines in personalized shoeboxes sitting on each kid’s desk.
The best valentines went to the cool kids. If you really liked someone, you’d write a special message inside, or maybe decorate the envelope. If you were lucky, an admirer attached a few NECCO Sweetheart candies imprinted with sayings like Hot Grl, Call Me, or XOXO.
In the midst of the party, I stood chatting with two other girls in my solar system when the quiet boy stealthily entered our domain.
“Excuse me, Evelyn?”
I turned to look at the questioner.
Poker faced, the quiet boy blinked a few times. Then, like a magician, he pulled from behind his back a large, heart shaped box adorned with lace and roses.
“This is for you. Happy Valentine’s Day.”
I remember utter shock. Then…delight.
My girlfriends’ jaws dropped. I’m pretty sure the rest of the room quieted, too.
For the first time, I noticed the boy’s smile. Then he returned to his desk.
When I got home that day, I showed my mother the red satin candy box, a first of its kind for me.
“Wow, he must sure like you,” she said.
“But he’s never said a word to me!”
This was the first of many lessons I needed to learn about love. And boys.
His name was Michael.
For the next two weeks, I relished those delectable chocolates, allowing myself a single one each day.
Then came an invitation to visit Michael’s house. I accepted.
He seemed to have planned out the afternoon which began with him making me a vanilla milkshake. I don’t think I’d ever had a boy prepare food for me. I sat on the bar stool as he garnished the drink with whipped cream and sprinkles.
He then played us a Bill Cosby record. Michael laughed at the stand-up routine. I didn’t know who Bill Cosby was, nor did I fully get his jokes. After that, Michael asked me things about myself. What did I like to do? To read? We talked for a while. Then, would I like play Stratego or chess?
This boy was twelve going on twenty.
I can’t remember if I shared his romantic feelings. Certainly it felt nothing like the intense crushes I’d experienced before. Perhaps we held hands at some point.
I don’t remember much happening between us at school. Maybe it was summer when we went to the movies (his nice mom sitting a few rows behind us).
Another time we went bowling. Of course he had his own bowling ball. I could barely lift the thing. He taught me how to keep score. Afterwards, he bought me Cracker Jacks and a Coke. While we snacked, Michael told me he especially loved my smile and long shiny hair. I felt both embarrassed and flattered.
I moved away at the end of the summer and never saw Michael again. But I held on to that empty red box for a long time.
And, every February since then, when the stores fill with heart-shaped candy boxes, I’m reminded of that brave boy who made the first move toward a girl from another planet.
Postscript: Decades later, Michael tracked me down online.
But that’s another story. ~