Be My Valentine
by Cynthia Gagen
Valentine’s Day. Ugh. It was really just another long Thursday. And after a long day with a classroom of kindergarteners, Katie Wilken just wanted to get home. She wanted to be curled up on her couch in her pajamas, with a book in her hands and her dog Olaf at her feet.
Daydreaming of her evening plans, she kept her eyes on the road in front of her. It wasn’t until she saw the dancing lights behind her and heard the siren that she dropped her gaze to her speed.
Her brother Max had always told her not to buy a red car. He had referred to the color as a “cop magnet.” But her red Chevy Sonic was almost six years old. Completely paid off. And not once had she been pulled over. Until now.
Katie pulled over and took a deep breath. Her luck had run out. It wasn’t appropriate for a 34-year-old, but she considered trying to cry her way out of a ticket.
She watched the police officer pull behind her and then step out.
Is there a problem, officer? She’d play dumb. Dumb was better than crying. Definitely more age-appropriate.
As the officer stopped at her door, she lowered the window. The first thing she noticed was his eyes - beautiful, bright blue. She’d never seen eyes that shade before.
“Well, you’re beautiful.”
“Excuse me?” Leo Carter laughed as he noticed her cheeks blush.
Katie felt the heat in her cheeks when she realized she had voiced her thoughts. “Is there a problem, officer?”
“Do you know how fast you were going?”
“Depends on where you clocked me.” She closed her eyes and wished that thought had stayed in her head. After a day with children, her brain was too tired to stop her thoughts from escaping. And now everything was coming out awkwardly.
He laughed again and she started to hope she’d be able to talk her way out of a ticket.
“Let me guess, you’re rushing home for Valentine’s Day plans.”
“Plans with a pint of Halo Top and my dog…” Katie shook her head when she realized yet one more stupid comment had escaped her.
He smiled and glanced at her left hand. No wedding ring. “No plans with your boyfriend?”
“I currently do not have one.” She turned her head toward him again, realizing she just might be able to flirt her way out of a ticket.
Leo smiled at her. He didn’t know anything about her, but she was attractive… “I need to see your license and…”
“Right. Sorry.” She cut him off. “My purse is in the backseat.”
“Is there anything in your purse I should know about?”
She shook her head. “Good grief, no. I’m a teacher. I may lock up my purse, but I’ve had kids manage to get into it anyway. Can I get out and get it? Or do you want to hand it to me?”
He smiled again. “I think you can get it.”
Katie unbuckled her seatbelt and climbed halfway into the backseat for her purse. It took a few reaches before she had it in her hands. She unzipped her old brown Fossil purse and realized the police officer was laughing at her.
“I thought you were going to step out of the car.”
“Well, I thought I could reach it.” Digging through her purse, she pulled out two small notebooks, her phone, and a small coin purse before finally dumping the remaining contents of her purse onto the seat next to her. Her wallet was gone.
“Is there a problem?”
“I don’t suppose my school ID will work. My wallet seems to be missing.”
“Missing. One of my students must’ve taken it.”
“I suppose now you’d like to file a police report…”
“On a kindergartener? I don’t think so. I just need to call a few parents.”
“You teach kindergarten?”
She nodded. “For the past twelve years.”
He smiled, noticing she had hazel eyes. A crazy idea hit him as he remembered his dinner reservation that he forgot to cancel after becoming single the weekend before. “How about instead of me writing you a ticket, or two, you meet me at The Fig Tree for dinner?”
“Are you going to write me a ticket, or two, if I say no?”
“No. I’ll let you off with a warning this time. You seem like you’ve had a long day. And I bet you could use a night out.”
Katie knew that was true. “What if my answer is maybe?”
Leo smiled at her. “Then, maybe I’ll see you there at seven.”
She took a deep breath and let it out as he walked back to his car. She buckled her seatbelt and continued on her way, finally getting home 15 minutes later.
Once she was in her driveway, she started putting everything back into her purse. She zipped it shut and opened her car door, surprised to find her neighbor Jenna Kelly McBride.
“Happy Valentine’s Day! Want to join us for dinner?”
“I take it your husband is at work.” Us at least included her neighbor’s kids - a high school freshman daughter and a sixth-grade son.
“Maybe.” She shrugged. “But if I know you, your plans are on the couch after grading assignments.”
“I actually don’t have anything to grade tonight.” Katie considered that, realizing she could meet the police officer for dinner. “And I could have a date if I wanted one.”
“Really? What’s his name?”
“I’m not sure.” She tried to remember if he had identified himself. Then, she remembered his name tag. “His last name is Carter.”
Jenna smiled. “I want details.”
She laughed at her neighbor as she opened her backseat for her bag. “He’s a police officer. I was apparently speeding on the way home and he stopped me.”
With her bag and purse on her shoulder, she closed the door and locked the car before heading toward the front door of her little house.
“Caitlin Marcie Wilken, where do you think you’re going?”
Katie laughed as she unlocked her front door. “Inside. I’m tired.”
“Was he cute? Officer Carter?”
She turned around and smiled. “He has beautiful eyes. Bright blue…” She caught herself smiling and stopped. Setting her keys in the small red glass bowl on the table just inside her door, she flipped on the light so she could see.
Her neighbor followed her in. “You have to go.”
“I don’t know…”
“He could be your soulmate.”
She laughed, shaking her head at her friend. “Just because your sister-in-law is a romance novelist, it doesn’t mean that exists for most people.”
Jenna sighed, following her friend further into the house. “He could be The One. What’s the worst that could happen?”
She raised her hand to count the reasons with her fingers. “He could rape me, kill me, cut up my body into pieces, and scatter the pieces all over Charlotte.”
Her friend laughed, pointing her finger at her. “You need to stop reading those James Patterson novels.”
“Lately I’ve been re-reading Agatha Christie. Murder on the Orient Express.” Her Cocker Spaniel/Poodle mix, Olaf, interrupted their conversation when his paws landed on her knees. “There’s my boy who loves warm hugs. You probably need outside, don’t you?” She scratched his head and he jumped down. She followed her dog to the back of the house where she could let him out into her relatively small yard.
“Jenna, I’m 34. I gave up on the idea of finding someone. I was planning on a night on the couch with a good book and a pint of Halo Top, with Olaf at my feet.”
"And maybe Officer Carter was meant to pull you over today, to change those plans. Give it one last chance.”
She bit her lip, starting to consider the idea of going. “Can I go wearing this?”
“Khakis and a navy sweater? Absolutely not.” She shook her head. “You’ll take a quick shower to wash the little monsters off you and you can wear…that cute red dress you bought last year that you never wore.”
She knew the dress her friend was referring to. “It probably doesn’t fit.”
Leo noticed his neighbor Ian Walker arriving home seconds after him. They both locked their cars at the same time.
Leo laughed. “We simply must stop meeting like this.”
His neighbor laughed in return, crossing the street to him. “Ilsa said she was able to get a babysitter in case you forgot to cancel those reservations at The Fig Tree.”
“I did forget. But I think I’ll be using them.”
“Oh, did you get back together with…”
He shook his head, stopping the question. “I’d rather die alone than get back together with her.”
“The way you were talking earlier this week…”
“I know. But I’m moving on.”
“Who is the lucky girl?”
“I forgot to get her name.”
Ian laughed. “I’m sorry. You need to explain that.”
“Well, I pulled her over for speeding just before the end of my shift. She’s a kindergarten teacher. When I asked for her license, she didn’t have her wallet. She claimed a student took it from her purse, but…”
“Is she about five-three, light brown hair?”
Leo nodded. “How do you know that?”
“I think my daughter Zoey is the thief. Ilsa called me after finding her teacher’s wallet in her backpack.”
“She was telling the truth?”
“Maybe. I’ll go get it and you can see if the license belongs to your date.”
A few minutes later, Leo was looking at the driver’s license. It belonged to his maybe date.
“That’s her. Caitlin Marcie Wilken.”
“She goes by Katie. Zoey loves her.”
Leo started to hand it back to him and stopped. “Can I take this to give to her, if she shows up?”
“If she shows up?”
He nodded. “I asked her and she said maybe. There was something about her adorable awkwardness that made me want to get to know her more.” He caught himself smiling. “Katie.”
“What?” After looking at her license, he knew that she was a few years older than him. He didn’t care. Should he have asked her out instead of writing the ticket? Probably not. But his gut told him it was worth the risk.
“Your first date is going to be Valentine’s Day. You think that’s a good idea?”
He laughed. “You’re only hoping I’ll give you the reservation. Tell Ilsa I’m sorry. Who knows? Maybe this will all be a great story to tell our kids and grandkids.”
“So, now you’re telling me she could be The One?”
“All I know for sure is that she could be The One I have dinner with tonight. If she shows up, I can return her wallet. If she doesn’t, Ilsa can take it in when she drops Zoey off for school tomorrow morning.”
An hour later, Leo arrived early and checked in for his reservation. The restaurant was busy. It was a small restaurant, made out of an old house. He made sure that the wallet was still in the small red gift bag he had found.
He checked his watch, noting it was five minutes until seven. There was a chance, a very good chance, that he would be dining alone. But there was also a chance…
The door opened and Katie walked in. Her long light brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail. She took off her red trench coat to reveal a red dress with short sleeves and a straight skirt that came to her knees.
She held her breath when she saw him. He was no longer in his uniform. He had changed to black pants and a button-down shirt. It was a white shirt with two different colors of stripes she couldn’t quite make out. But it fit him well.
She noticed a red gift bag in his hand. Is that for me?
“I have something for you.”
Shaking her head, she tried to turn it down. “I think it’s a little soon for a gift.”
“I think you should see what’s in the bag first before you turn it down.”
Curious, she took it from him and saw a well-worn Vera Bradley wallet in the bag. “Is that mine?” She pulled it out to look at it. Her license was in it, as were her insurance cards and her emergency credit card. “How did you…”
“It turns out that my little neighbor is one of your students.” He smiled. “I take it you like your gift.”
“I do. Thank you.” Shaking her head, she took the wallet and slipped it into her purse. “I don’t have anything for you.”
“Not having to spend Valentine’s Day alone is my gift, believe me.”
“How did you get a reservation at the last minute?”
Leo forced a smile to his face. “I might have had the reservation for a romantic night out with someone who recently became my ex. And I might have not cancelled the reservation because I forgot about it until my neighbor reminded me.”
“I might have had no intention of coming until my neighbor talked me into it.”
“George, party of two.”
Leo winced as he heard his given name being called. That was what happens when you ask your sister to make your Valentine’s Day reservation for you.
George. Katie headed to their table, happy to finally have a name. She took her seat and then he sat across from her. Once they were alone, she picked up her menu. “George…”
“Let me stop you right there.” He picked up his menu. “My name may be George, but my friends call me Leo.”
He nodded. “It’s my middle name. George Leonardo.”
“Leo.” She smiled. “I’m Caitlin Marcie. My friends call me Katie.”
“Katie.” He smiled at her and then glanced at his menu, settling quickly on the salmon.
She glanced at the menu, surprised at the prices. It was all more than she was used to. “Were you planning to propose to your recent ex tonight?”
He was surprised at the question. “No. It was just supposed to be a romantic night.” It did suddenly occur to him that his ex might’ve believed that when she ended their relationship.
“I think I’ll just have a salad.”
“After a day with kindergarteners, I would think you might want more than just a salad.”
“But the prices…I can’t afford…”
“Hey, tonight you’re my Valentine. Don’t worry about it. I was here for my sister’s birthday last year. I can tell you the salmon is fantastic.”
“I’m your Valentine?”
He nodded. “You’re my date tonight, aren’t you? That makes you my Valentine.”
She smiled, liking the feeling that came over her with his words. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been someone’s Valentine.”
Leo smiled in return. His gut was telling him that she could be The One.
“Thank you, Leo. Happy Valentine’s Day.” Katie took a deep breath and let it out. For the first time in seven years, she was someone’s Valentine.