Chocolate Can Kill (Emily Harris Mysteries) by Annie Acorn
Okay, I admit it. I’m a holiday junkie. I have been known to layer my home with what my family laughingly refers to as Christmas World. I am addicted to Cadbury Easter eggs, and I’m first in line at the family Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day cookouts. I welcome, indeed relish, New Year’s Day as a time to work on getting my ducks in a row. [A Tired Older Woman Plans for Success] and [A Tired Older Woman Wishes on a Star]
But Valentine’s Day? Not so much, which is strange when you understand that I am addicted to chocolate. [Roses and Chocolates]
My dislike of this holiday started early on – in a place far, far away, back before time. I was in the Fourth Grade, and my nemesis was a blond-haired, freckled-faced boy named Tom. Tom was smart, neat and clean, and except for one thing, there was nothing wrong with him. Unfortunately, Tom had developed a HUGE crush on me, and I mean a real whopper.
Everywhere I went, he was there. Rain, snow, sleet or hail, he waited each morning at the end of our street to walk with me to school, and each afternoon, no matter how much I dallied, he trudged along beside me on my way home. If I was going home to a friend’s house or bringing a friend home with me, he was still there, like a sticky sheet of flypaper that I couldn’t shake off.
Looking back on it, I now realize that he was probably lonely. His mother and father both worked, and he was an only child. I imagine he spent many hours by himself, because most of the boys in our class lived further away, but at the time, I felt no sympathy. He was ruining my pleasure.
I tried to discuss the situation with my mother – a disaster. I was her eldest, and I had proven myself eligible. She was delighted. Besides, Tom was a “nice” boy, and his mother belonged to my mother’s church circle. Garnering her support of my rejection of his shy, totally appropriate advances was a non-starter.
“I could expect,” she told me, “to have many similar experiences over the coming years.”
Having skipped the Second Grade, I was only the age of a Third Grader, and this was a much more innocent time. I was appalled.
And then, our spinster Fourth Grade teacher announced with stars in her eyes that Valentine’s Day was around the corner. Each of us was to bring a shoe box to school, which we would then decorate.
Too young to connect the dots, I looked forward to the arts and crafts activity. My girlfriends and I spent a happy hour spreading Mucilage on fragile white dollies and red and pink construction paper hearts, which we then applied in decorative patterns on our shoe boxes. How decorative they had become. Innocently, I lined mine up on the deep window sill along the back of our schoolroom along with the others.
“Don’t forget to bring your valentine’s on Monday for the exchange,” our teacher reminded us as we hurried home Friday afternoon.
After Sunday dinner, Mother and I worked together, separating the tiny store-bought valentines from their sheets. With great care, I signed each one of them in the new cursive script my classmates and I had practiced each day after lunch in our classroom, although I distinctly recall having done so in pencil instead of with a fountain pen that might blot one and spoil it.
Monday arrived bright and sunny with a chill in the air, but there was no hint whatsoever of the disaster to come. Clutching my small paper bag of sealed envelopes, I headed for school, pleased when I realized that for once Tom wasn’t waiting to walk beside me.
Halfway there I was joined by two of my friends, and we chatted quite gaily. Then we arrived at the school’s entrance, where some of my classmates were standing and whispering, punctuated by occasional giggles. As we approached the doorway, one of the boys known for his merciless teasing stepped forward.
“Aren’t you in for a surprise?” He let out a laugh and pointed at me.
Having been there before, my girlfriends and I merely ignored him, continuing on to our classroom.
“Take a few minutes before class and put your valentines in the recipient’s boxes,” our teacher greeted us, obviously in a holiday mood.
“Oh, look!” One of my friends pointed out that a cupcake wrapper filled with hard candy “message” hearts and heart-shaped red hots awaited each of us on our desks.
“What’s that?” my other friend asked and pointed at my beautifully decorated box.
I stood frozen in place completely speechless – possibly for the one and only time in my life, I don’t remember another. Propped against the window pane behind my box was a large heart-shaped box of chocolates and an oversized valentine, next to which stood my nemesis, Tom – a huge grin on his face.
“I’ll carry it home for you,” he promised.
Thank goodness that I had been well schooled in good manners. In my innocence I could’ve ruined the poor boy’s self-confidence for life. Instead, I murmured a “thank you” and tried to look nonchalant.
“I told my mother you weren’t allergic,” he continued – not the most suave or debonair of suitors, but then, who was I to criticize?
Somehow I got through the day – the whispers and giggles, the teasing and taunting. I even managed to stay embedded in a circle of my girlfriends, thus managing to avoid Tom.
Left to himself, he struck up a conversation with a shy, quiet girl, who told him how wonderful he was to have thought of such a lovely gift. From then on, he waited at the end of her street to walk to school each and every morning, joined her at the state university and, afterward graduation, they were married. Tom went on to start a highly successful Dot Com, many years later, and I understand that they have been blessed with many grandchildren.
There’s a lesson in there somewhere, although my lack of appreciation for Tom’s puppy love did not preclude my finding the love of my life many years later – perhaps the result of my having remembered to say, “Thank you.”
Still, the whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth. After all, it was the only time in my life that a box of chocolates let me down.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
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