Stevie was working hard. So hard his tongue was peeking out through the corner of his lips. First he had to cut the bright red heart out of the construction paper he was using. His mom had helped drawing the heart. His job was to cut it along the lines. The lines curved, making it harder, but he had to get it perfect. Had to! So he was going slowly, cutting quarter-inch by quarter-inch, edging his way around.
His mom had showed him how to draw figures slightly bigger and slightly smaller than a model figure. He had three hearts to cut and this was the first and largest. There were five altogether, but he couldn’t cut the two that were made from the lacy doilies he was using. He’d tried, but found he kept messing up, and his mom had agreed to cut those. He could cut the construction paper hearts himself. Three of those, and two white doily hearts, each one progressively smaller.
Then he had to glue them all together. But first came the cutting. And that took a lot of time! His mom had cut out her hearts pretty quickly. But then, she was older, and she could do things he couldn’t.
When he had all four shapes done and was happy with how his two red hearts and one pink one looked, he laid them all out. The largest red heart was on the bottom, then a doily one, then the medium red heart, then another doily, then the smallest one which was pink. He had to get them just right, each one centered just so on the one below it.
“Just a minute, Mommy.”
“You’d better come now. Your just-a-minutes sometime turn into half hours.”
Grudgingly, Stevie pushed back from the small worktable in his room and came out to the kitchen where they ate. His dad was already seated. He rumpled Stevie’s hair as he walked by. Stevie giggled.
After dinner was over, Stevie went back to his room. He needed to finish this. It was important! And he needed it done before school tomorrow.
After a bit, his tongue was protruding again. He didn’t notice.
«» «» «»
Walking to school, Stevie saw Ryan up ahead, walking with Vincent. Stevie wasn’t glad to see Vincent. Even though the boy was Ryan’s friend, he wasn’t Stevie’s. Vincent was mean. Stevie’s dad had told Stevie many times that the world was filled with nice people and mean people, and it was best if he figured out how to get along with all of them. Stevie tried, but when you’re eight, it’s sometimes hard. Really hard.
Stevie decided he’d ignore Vincent. He wanted to talk to Ryan, so he started running in his awkward way, and when he was closer, he called out, “Ryan! Ryan!”
The two boys stopped, and Stevie ran up to them, panting. “Ryan, I made you a card. Here.”
Ryan smiled and took the card Stevie was handing him. It was in a large homemade pink envelope with Ryan’s name printed on it. Ryan opened it and found a quite elaborate and pretty half a heart that opened to be a full heart—in fact, five hearts glued together, with the fifth heart in the middle made of pink paper with the words printed in Stevie’s hand: To Ryan, from Steven -- be my valentine.
Suddenly, Vincent grabbed it. He looked at it, then scoffed. “Boys can’t be boys’ valentines! Has to be a girl. And look, it’s pink!” Saying that, he threw the construction onto the ground and stepped on it, wiggling his shoe till the valentine was dirty and torn.
Stevie’s eyes widened, then turned to water. Tears flowed down his face. Hardly able to see, he turned around and started walking back home.
He hadn’t gone far before he heard his name being said—Steven. It was just another of the reasons he so liked Ryan. Ryan never teased him or said mean things to him, and he wouldn’t let other boys do it, either. Not while he was around.
“Steven, stop. You need to go to school. We both do. There’ll be a Valentine’s Day party we don’t want to miss. And this is Wednesday; you have your Down Syndrome special class today. You don’t want to miss that.”
Stevie was trying to stop crying, but it was hard. So many things were hard. “But . . . but . . . your valentine! He ruined it! I made it special, just for you. Now I don’t have one for you.”
Ryan put his arm around his friend. “He was jealous. Tell you what. After school, I’ll come back to your house with you, and we’ll make two of them, just like the one you made. I’ll give one to you, and you can give the other to me, and we’ll both keep them forever. How about that? You can show me how to do it. I’ve never seen a valentine as nice as the one you made. You need to show me how.”
Stevie had stopped crying. Now he looked up at Ryan, and Ryan saw a huge smile form on his face.
“I like it when you call me Steven,” he said. “You’re the only one that does. It makes me feel good, like I’m not a little kid.”
“You’re not. You’re eight, just like me. We’re not little kids any more. Now, let’s go to school. I’ll sit next to you at the party.”
They turned and headed back toward the school. Vincent was nowhere in sight. Ryan glanced down at his friend, his friend who somehow managed to slip his hand into Ryan’s. They walked to school that way.
Stevie, well, Steven. Walking to school. With Ryan.