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Fiction: A Draw of the Cards

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a little longer than my usual Three Word Wednesday fare, and it went in a direction I didn't anticipate. Be sure to drop by Three Word Wednesday for more fun.
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Gerald shuffled the deck, cut it twice, and flipped over the top card. In neat ball-point above the spades was the name, "Penny." Gerald tried to remember who she was, but had only a vague impression of a frowsy-haired woman in suite 412, crunching numbers with those other humorless ladies in Budget. He considered putting the card back and trying again. Maybe he would draw Kari in Accounts Payable, his selection for the week of June 12, who always returned his advances with a giggle.

Gerald's game had rules, though. Desperate to alleviate the boredom of his job, he selected a new romantic interest each week. As the only straight man on his floor, it was a way to keep things lively. So what if it was contrived - a woman chosen at random from his cards?

He slipped Penny's card back in the deck and opened the desk drawer where he kept a stash of small gifts so he could pander to all tastes: chocolates for the chubby girls who couldn't stay away from sweets, pens and note pads for the down-to-earth types, and herbal tea for the sporty health-conscious women who brought salads to work and stashed running shoes under their desks.

What would Penny like? Gerald tried again to remember something about her, but came up empty. Luckily he had a backup plan for times like this.

Ten minutes later, he stood outside her cubicle, gazing at the flicker of the computer screen and Penny's cloud of taffy hair. Her fingers flew across the ten-key pad and she muttered numbers under her breath.

Gerald cleared his throat, and Penny turned and gazed at him with serious gray eyes. Before she could speak, Gerald drew the rose from behind his back. "I grew this in my garden." Actually, he had stolen it from one of the manicured rose bushes in front of the office building. "The loveliest rose in the Budget Office ought to have it."

He held his breath. Penny's reaction would set the tone for the rest of his week. If she was a cynical sort, she would look at him as if he were mad. He would give her office supplies from here forward and pretend to seek her advice on business matters. If she was the flirtatious type, she would laugh and respond with something witty, and he could count on a week of clever banter until he drew next Monday's card and moved on.

Penny took the rose reverently. "No one's ever done this before."

"The first of many, I hope."

Penny cast her eyes down and fell silent. Gerald, flustered, said he'd see her around and escaped to his office.

For the rest of the morning, he wondered what Penny's reaction meant, and what kind of woman she was. Her cubicle decorations, which often said volumes about a person, were unmemorable, and all that came to mind was a confused jumble of frilly things and pictures of doe-eyed kittens.

He went to lunch in a pensive mood, but didn't forget to bring back a deli cookie for Penny. When he got to his office, he found a shiny new coffee cup on his desk, tied with a red satin bow. Surely this couldn't be from Penny. More likely it was from Roxanne, the laughing, raven-haired girl from last week, who appreciated a good flirtation. Gerald worked steadily on his computer for an hour, then went to Penny's cubicle with the cookie. Finding her absent, he attached a sticky note to the paper sack and left it on her desk.

At five o'clock, he rode the elevator to the parking garage with Teresa, the cool blonde he had flirted with two months ago. She had never been convinced of his affections and now whenever she saw him, she rolled her eyes.

In the parking garage, he waved at Margaret from Receivables, who had reacted to his attentions with so many pointed mentions of her husband that Gerald had pulled her card from his deck as unsuitable for future crushes.

When he got to his car, he found a red envelope stuck to his window, and inside, a card covered in red and pink hearts, but with no signature. Gerald drove home uneasily and arrived at his house to find a bouquet of roses outside his door, but no note. That night his phone rang twice, but the number was untraceable, and in the morning there were footprints in the dew and flower petals scattered across the hood of his car.

At the office, he found a bag of fresh croissants on his desk, and at lunchtime, a courier dropped off a roast beef sandwich, but couldn't say who had ordered it. He was so confused he almost forgot to flirt with Penny, but toward the end of the day, he took her some post-it pads printed with flowers. She accepted them in unreadable silence while Jane, his flirtation from the week of March 5th, glared from the cubicle across the aisle.

For the rest of the week, gifts arrived at Gerald's desk: a homemade cake, gourmet coffee, a pen and pencil set, and gift cards for everywhere from Starbuck's to Home Depot. Although they all denied it, he was sure some of the women knew what was up. They giggled in their cubicles, gave him sly looks in the hallway, and whispered as they passed his door. Someone was having a fine time at his expense, and in the meantime he was stuck doling out gifts to silent, sullen Penny, who never met his gaze and seemed always to be thinking about numbers.

He was relieved when the weekend came and there were no more gifts. On Monday, he found no notes or rose petals on his car, and he drove to work certain that whatever joke had been played on him was over.

He poured a cup of coffee and sat down with his deck of cards. As always, he shuffled, cut twice, and drew, only to find no name - just an ordinary playing card. Puzzled, he drew again, but this one was blank too, except for the vacant gaze of the queen of hearts.

He spread the cards across his desk, then took a few breaths to calm his racing mind. Who had found out? Who had sneaked in here, replaced the special cards and tried to put a stop to the one thing that made coming to the office worthwhile?

At a tap on the door, he spun around. There stood Penny in a red dress, her frizzy hair in wisps around her face like a halo. "Don't you love me?"

Gerald looked away from the earnestness in her eyes. Did he love her? Of course not, but his mind flashed back to the titterings and snide looks of the past week - those mocking females who thought it was a joke. Here was one woman who took him seriously, and he realized with a start that it was a nice change.

He motioned Penny into the room and put his hands on her shoulders. "Not yet," he said, "But I'm willing to try."

7 comments:

Jay Thurston said...

Hi Ann,

The smooth talking player-protagonist came across very well, the ending left me hoping he had a revelation but wondering if he really was still working his charisma.

Thanks for the comment on my Cortez Case piece as well, good to read your work again and have a great Thanksgiving!

November 25, 2010 at 2:37 PM
Alice Audrey said...

I don't know. Women who come across as that needy tend to be scary when they are crossed.

November 25, 2010 at 7:22 PM
aldersprig said...

Oh, I like that last line. Good boy, willing to learn. Let's hope she can take it without taking the crazies too far.

November 25, 2010 at 7:23 PM
Dee Martin said...

well I have to admit, I was all primed for Penny to be a serial killer/stalker chic. You surprised me completely. I like :)

November 27, 2010 at 8:57 AM
Donna Hole said...

I had no clue where this would end. I really loved the ending.

An intriguing romantic suspense. Vividly drawn and portrayed characters with a complete, satisfying plot.

.......dhole

November 28, 2010 at 8:49 PM
Thomma Lyn said...

Awww. This was awesome. Pulled me right along until the very rewarding ending. :)

December 6, 2010 at 1:57 AM
Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Oh, Ann, I loved this! It SO didn't go the way I expected, either, and that's what makes it. There's no ugliness here, nothing malicious. And it's sweet, with a wonderful, hopeful ending.

Even if poor Gerald has his heart broken in the end. But who knows? Maybe he won't.

December 7, 2010 at 1:49 PM