By the time Troy had reached Mrs. Valentine’s house his face resembled that of a lost puppy’s. No matter how much he tried to act as if it didn’t bother him, he couldn’t help but feel hurt after Trina Killings’s very public and very mean rejection of his invitation to next month’s school dance.
For six months he had been doing odd jobs around the neighborhood to earn money for a new pair of pants, a new shirt, and shoes. In fact, he already knew what he was getting from OutBridge Department Store. He just didn’t have enough to pay for it yet, but it didn’t matter anymore. Trina had said no and he certainly wasn’t going to go to the dance by himself.
“Hey there, Troy,” Mrs. Valentine greeted her thirteen-year-old handyman. She had begun calling her young neighbor since her husband had knee replacement surgery early that month. “I’m glad you showed up today. I’ve got a lot of work that needs to be done around the yard. And if you don’t mind, I could also use a little help taking those boxes of junk out of the garage to the curb.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Troy responded half-heartedly. “Where do you want me to start?”
Joy Valentine stopped what she was doing and noticed the look on Troy’s face.
“Troy, honey, what’s the matter?”
“Nothing,” he responded unconvincingly.
“Really? Is that why you’re wearing two different shoes?”
Troy looked down at his feet. On the left foot he was wearing his black Chuck Taylors and on the right his old blue beat up shoes that he only wore when he was doing dirty work.
“And what about that?”
“What?” he asked.
“That look on your face? You look like you just lost your best friend.”
As much as he wanted to pretend there was nothing wrong, he had to talk with someone, and Mrs. Valentine was the only someone around at the moment.
“Do you think I’m ugly?” Troy asked.
Taken aback by the question, Joy began to understand what was going on with her young friend. This had to be about a girl. With a little more prodding she was able to get the whole story. When he finished she sat on the steps of her front porch with him for a second before responding.
“Troy, I am not the best person in the world to be giving anyone advice, but I do think I have something to offer. To answer your question, no, I definitely do not think you’re ugly. I don’t know who Trina Killings is, but I will tell you this much, one day that young lady is going to look back on what she did and said to you and she’s going to be sorry.”
Troy kicked at a rock and shrugged his shoulders. “I doubt it.”
Joy smiled and replied, “I know you don’t see it right now and neither does Trina, but you, my dear friend, are a catch.”
Looking more skeptical than ever, Troy seemed to sink into the concrete steps. Joy continued. “Troy, when I was about your age, I’m sorry to say that I was very much like this Trina girl. I was actually like all of the other girls. You see, I liked the popular boys who had swagger.”
Troy laughed. Mrs. Valentine sounded funny saying “swagger”.
“I was pretty much like that for a long time. But what I learned as I got a little older and once I acquired more sense is that it isn’t always about swagger, or looks, or sweet talk. I learned to appreciate a man for his smile, sense of humor, the way he showed me respect, and how special he made me feel.”
“I appreciate that, Mrs. Valentine, but that doesn’t help me right now.”
Joy nodded. “I know. This is long-term advice, meant to help you eventually. You won’t be thirteen forever, Troy. One day you’re going to be a young man, a fine young man. You’re smart, kind, hardworking, funny, a good listener, excellent handyman, and you’re a cutie pie,” she added with a wink.
“And you have a beautiful smile. Now, I know this is easier said than done, but forget about Trina. Five years from now when you’re getting ready to go out in the world and do you your thang, that young lady is going to be kicking herself for not giving you a chance.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because, fifty years ago I almost made the same mistake as Trina.”
“She wised up,” replied Andrew Valentine as he joined his wife and young neighbor on the porch.
Joy smiled up at her husband and took his hand in hers. Andrew was right. He was then and had always been a good man. It had taken her a while to recognize it, but she was thankful she finally did. Fifty years, three kids, and eight grand-children later along with their fair share of good and bad times, she still loved that man with all her heart. And he loved her.
“My only regret,” she said to Troy, was that I didn’t wise up sooner.”