“You forgot a step.”
“But I got the right answer,” Jack said.
“Yes…. But part of the grade on the test comes from showing your work. So even if you get the right answer—”
“— you won’t get full credit,” Beth explained, her tone similar to the one Jack used when wrangling an idea into Ellie’s head.
“That’s just stupid,” Jack said, sitting back and crossing his arms.
“Do you paint straight from acrylics right onto the canvas, Jack?”
“Of course not. You know that. You have to—” He sighed. “You always do that.”
“What?” she asked, batting her lashes at him.
“Mix up things I like with math.”
“But you understand, now, don’t you?”
“Well, yeah,” Jack admitted. “But—”
Beth smiled. “Then my work here is done.” She spun Jack’s worksheet around. “Now redo number three.”
He grumbled, but showed every step, and managed to get to the right answer.
Beth looked over the work, and then glanced at the top corner of his worksheet. “What’s that?”
“Just something I was thinking about.”
“You were thinking about cows?”
“It’s not a cow. Look, you know how you keep saying that ‘veil’ thing is broken? Well, what if it’s like this?” He tapped at the doodle in the corner.
Beth frowned. “How is it like a cow?”
“It’s not a cow! It’s a sock.”
Beth tilted the page then tilted her head. “Oh. Yeah. I see now. That’s a patch, not a nose.”
Jack nodded. “What if… it’s not broken, so much as just… not mended right? Like when you have a little hole in your sock. It never stays little for long, does it?”
Beth stared at the doodle, chewing at her bottom lip.
“Forget it,” Jack said. “It was just something random I thought of.”
Beth put her hand on Jack’s when he tried to spin his worksheet back around.
“No, I won’t just forget it, Jack. I’ve been thinking about this for… weeks. And here’s the best explanation I’ve seen, and you came up with it in just a few minutes. Why didn’t I see this sooner?”
“Well, maybe you kept seeing cows when you were looking for socks.”
“Cows and socks,” she said, and giggled.
She kept giggling, off and on, up until she left when Jack’s dad got home.
* * * * *
“So, what are you going to do next week?” Charlotte asked, passing the basket of rolls across the table to Jack.
He blinked. “Next week…? Am I supposed to do something?” He took two rolls, putting one on Ellie’s plate, and then passed the basket to his mother.
She tried not to smile too broadly. “Jack, next Wednesday? The fourteenth?”
“Valley-tines day!” Ellie said. “I like it even more than Christmas, because it has lots and lots of pink!”
“So… am I supposed to be doing something?” Jack asked.
Charlotte drew a sharp breath, but Hannah elbowed her in the ribs. “Valentine’s Day? Who do you know, that’s a girl, that you like, that you might want to do something special for?”
Ellie bounced up and down in her chair. “I know! I know!”
“Even Ellie figured it out, Jack,” Charlotte said.
“Okay, okay, I get it. But… something special? Like what?” He glanced towards the head of the table. “Dad? Little help here?”
“Your mother was always partial to chocolate and flowers,” he said. “A little more for the chocolates.” He leaned out of the way as Margaret took a playful swipe at his arm.
“Beth isn’t allowed to have chocolate after the full moon, though,” Jack said.
“Chocolates are so cliched, anyway,” Charlotte said.
“And there aren’t a whole lot of flowers out and about,” Jack said, thinking of the still-brown grasses in the meadow.
“Write her a poem!” Ellie suggested. “‘Roses are red, violence is blue….” She frowned, tongue poking from the corner of her mouth.
“Violets,” Hannah corrected. “‘Violets are blue.’”
“Violence is black and blue,” Charlotte said with a snicker.
“Beth is the one that’s good with words,” Jack grumbled. “She’d just laugh at anything I came up with.”
“Maybe you could get Charlotte to help you with it,” his mother said.
A grin spread across Charlotte’s face.
Charlotte stuck her tongue out. “Fine. I didn’t want to help you, anyway. It’ll be more fun helping Beth.”
* * * * *
Jack rubbed his eyes, then flexed his stiff fingers. He’d been working on a sketch — from memory — of Beth. He’d had some trouble with her nose, but finally managed the slim-but-rounded look it had.
He had warmed up by doodling along the border of the page. All the talk of chocolates and flowers over dinner had him sketching tulips and daisies and roses. He was about to close his sketch book when an idea struck him. He carefully tore along the top border of the page, then laid the strip over the top of sketch-Beth’s head. He shifted the strip of doodled-flowers up and down, back and forth, all the while, measuring and calculating angles in the back of his mind. If he’d saved the scraps, it just might work….