The school bell rang, sending its clanging call echoing up and down the long hallway as students hurried toward their assigned classrooms.
Tony sat down heavily at his desk and began fishing through his backpack, searching for the term paper he’d finished the night before. He smiled to himself as he read the title printed neatly across the top. “Molecular Fission: Is It All It’s Cracked Up To Be?”
This ought to make his teachers happy. Not that they hadn’t been satisfied with what he’d written before. His last report, “Black Holes: A Space Traveler’s Guide,” had brought rave reviews, at least he thought that’s what they were.
His English teacher had scrawled across the top of his paper, “I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about, but your sentence structure is terrific.”
Another had written, “Good work . . . I think!”
Even the school principal had gotten into the act. At the bottom of Tony’s paper, “Solar Flares: The Untold Story,” he’d written, “Does this student attend our facility?”
Tony didn’t write to impress, although he liked it when people enjoyed reading the results of his long, hard studies.
He wrote in order to express himself. Inside his busy mind, facts and figures wandered about in crowded masses. Writing served to put facts in order, clarify ideas, and bring about decisions. Tony liked to watch his thoughts appear in neatly worded rows on his computer screen. Writing was his way of communicating to the world the things he couldn’t say out loud.
A small white object landed on top of Tony’s desk and slid into his lap. The boy wasn’t sure where it had come from; classmates were swarming by his desk on their way to their seats. Maybe it was something important. Maybe someone dropped it by mistake.
He was about to get up and take the mystery object to his teacher when a word written on the tightly folded piece of paper caught his eye. His mouth dropped open. There, written in small, perfectly formed letters, was his name. Tony.
He looked around the room. No eyes met his. No one seemed to be aware that he had received the note.
He wasn’t quite sure what to do. No one had ever written him a note in school before. Well, once Tie Li had sent him a letter. It was an assignment from her English teacher and had come with a pretend stamp and everything. Tie Li had placed it on his desk during recess.
But this was not his sister’s handwriting. The boy squirmed in his seat. Someone in this very classroom had written him a real note, the kind he’d seen others pass around during boring lectures.
Tony stared at the object in his hand. Who would write him a note? Who would–
“Tony?” The teacher’s voice jolted him to attention.
“I don’t know . . .” Tony stammered.
“I beg your pardon?” The teacher looked up from her attendance record. “You don’t know if you’re here?”
Tony felt his face redden. Classmates began to snicker. “Come on, Tony,” the teacher urged. “I need to know if you’re here. If you’re not here, then what are you doing in Tony Parks’ desk, whoever you are?”
Waves of laughter washed over the classroom. Tony slid down in his chair until his knees jammed up against the underside of his desk. This was the most embarrassing moment of his life.
“Here,” he said meekly.
“You’re sure?” the teacher encouraged.
“Yes,” Tony nodded, “I’m sure I’m here.”
It took some time before order was restored again in the classroom. Tony held the note tightly in his fist, wondering how something so little could cause such a big problem. Whatever was written inside its tight folds had better be good. He’d paid a high price for it.
Tony kept the note safely tucked away in his backpack all afternoon. It wasn’t until he was safely on the school bus, bumping and grinding along the country roads outside of town, that he dared look at it again.
“What that?” Tie Li asked, swaying with the movement of the bus and pointing toward the small wad of paper in her brother’s hand.
Tony looked up and down the aisle, checking to make sure Kim was occupied with the passing scenery, then scrunched down in his seat. Tie Li scrunched down too.
“I got it today. Someone dropped it on my desk.”
“Oh!” Tie Li’s eyes filled with wonder. “A love letter! You lucky. I never got one.”
Tony looked over at his little sister. “What makes you think it’s a love letter?”
Tie Li lifted the folded paper and examined it closely. “See how it’s bent this way, then that way? Only love letters look like that.”
Tony grabbed the note and quickly brought it down to his lap again. “I don’t love anybody at school.”
“Well, someone love you.” Tie Li nodded in agreement with herself. “Look like that person love you a lot! The more bending, the more love. Everybody know that.”
Tony studied the object in his hand.
“Well, aren’t you going to open it?” Kim’s voice sounded over the roar of the bus.
Tony glanced up to see his brother’s smiling face bending close to his. “Who knows? Maybe the future Mrs. Tony Parks signed it.”
Tie Li giggled as Tony’s face reddened again.
“Will you guys mind your own business? I’ll read it when I’m good and ready!”
Kim leaned away in mock apology. “So sorry, Mr. Parks,” he grinned, “but you’d better hurry. You’re not getting any younger, you know.”
Tony jammed the note deep into his backpack and stared at the seat back in front of him. He tried to ignore Tie Li, who sat blowing kisses in his direction. Her innocent fun finally got the best of his sense of humor. Wrestling her arms to her side, he held her firmly, trying not to laugh the rest of the way home.
That night after supper Tony went to the barn, where his dad was busy cleaning the cow pen. The boy grabbed a shovel. They worked in silence for a few minutes.
“Your studies all done?” Mr. Parks asked, stopping to rest against the tall wooden handle of his pitchfork.
Tony threw a load of manure into the large wheelbarrow standing in the comer of the pen. “Almost.” The boy sat down on a feeding trough. “Dad, can I ask you something?”
Mr. Parks sat down beside his son. “What’s on your mind, Tony? I noticed you were a little quiet at supper.”
The boy shuffled his feet in the fresh straw lining the stall. “Dad, what would you do if you received a–a love letter?”
The man studied his son’s face for a moment, then spoke quietly. “I guess I’d be happy someone cared for me enough to write down her feelings.”
“You would?” Tony looked up in surprise. “You wouldn’t be embarrassed or anything?”
“Well, maybe a little,” the man said thoughtfully. “But love letters are very special. They’re an expression of the heart.”
“But,” Tony hesitated, “is it OK for kids to write them to each other? I mean, isn’t love just for people who get married and stuff like that?”
Mr. Parks smiled. “There are many different kinds of love, Tony. Sure, there’s adult love that makes people want to get married and raise a family. That’s the type of love your mother and I share.
“Then there’s another kind of love that kids have for their parents, like you have for mother and me, and like I feel for Grandma.”
“But when you’re young, there’s a kind of love that makes the world a beautiful place to be. As long as someone doesn’t confuse this love with another kind, it can be very special.”
Tony nodded. “You mean the way I love my computer?”
“Not exactly.” Mr. Parks scratched his head and thought for a moment. He looked down at his son. Then with a twinkle in his eye he spoke. “Let’s pretend there’s a girl at your school who admired a certain boy at your school.”
Tony stopped shuffling his feet and listened intently.
“She thinks he’s very smart and kind and helpful. As a matter of fact, let’s say she thinks he’s the smartest, kindest, and most helpful boy in the entire class.”
“One day she decides to tell him so. She doesn’t want to embarrass him or herself by just standing up and saying, ‘Hey, kid, I think you’re smart, kind, and helpful, so I love you.'” Tony laughed out loud at the thought.
Mr. Parks continued. “Instead, she decides to write him a note and tell him what she thinks. That’s a love letter.”
“I see.” Tony hesitated. “She writes him a note so he’ll know how she feels?”
“And he should feel happy that she did that?”
A broad smile spread across the young boy’s face. Mr. Parks got up to resume his work. “There have been lots of love letters written in this world. Some are very mushy, filled with kisses and hugs and promises of undying affection. Some are more serious.” The man threw a load of straw on the floor. “Even God wrote a love letter.”
Tony’s eyes opened wide. “God?”
“Sure. The Bible. It’s a love letter too. It’s filled with promises and words of affection, as well as stories of kings and prophets. It’s the oldest love letter in all of history.”
Tony sat for a moment, thinking of what his dad had said. If God had written a love letter, they can’t be all bad. And now someone at school had cared enough to write him one this very day. That was neat!
The boy waved to his father as he headed out of the barn. “Thanks, Dad,” he called over his shoulder. “I think I’ll get back to my studies now.”
The man watched his son disappear into the night. A smile creased his face. His little boy was growing up so fast.
Tony took the stairs to his room two at a time. Closing the door behind him, he jumped onto his bed and dug out the note from a dark corner of his backpack.
Slowly he unfolded it, being careful not to tear the soft paper. When it was open all the way, he discovered neatly formed words written in gently curving lines across the white creases. I think you are a very nice boy. May I eat dinner with you tomorrow? Meet me at the fruit cooler at 12 o’clock. See you (I hope)! L.B.
“L.B.” Tony spoke quietly. “Who is L.B.?”