“PING-PONG” GOES HIS HEART • by Christa Plunkett

Ask any staff member of the Creative Street Ad Agency and they’ll gladly regale you with the legend of Tim Mulligan. An accomplished ad man, Tim exuded true passion for his role, his company, and its people. He was touted a creative genius who could bounce words and ideas around all day. Back-and-forth he’d go with his lively co-workers for hours on end, challenging them with his dynamic wit and crafty word play.

When the agency invested in a ping-pong table for the break room, Tim monopolized it. He loved a new challenge as much as he loved being center of attention. And now he got to show off a different set of skills. Any opponent got sorely beat. Throughout the game, Tim would ceaselessly bounce words off his counterparts, while bouncing the ball off his paddle.

“Why aren’t you married?” the ladies would ask. With Tim’s movie-star looks and charisma, folks marveled how he remained single.

“Well, no one’s caught me yet because I’m fast,” Tim would joke. “Very fast. The right lady would have to be quick in order to catch me.”

“Do you want to get caught, Tim?” a female coworker once purred, flirtatiously.

“Hell, no!” Tim responded. “Life’s too full of challenges. Every day presents a new obstacle to overcome quickly. I can’t let a woman slow me down.”

But everyone already embraced the unspoken rumor that Tim was gay. It was of no matter, anyway, except to the ladies who found it a disappointment.

One day, a new graphic designer started at the agency. Her name was Annette. Although pretty, blonde, and petite, Annette wore the darkest clothing. She conveyed a sweet demeanor when spoken to, but remained mostly reserved. Even in meetings and working brainstorm sessions, she sat silently.

“She’ll never make it in this business,” Tim often thought, shaking his head. He encouraged others to challenge her — to make or break her. Unlike Tim’s sexuality, however, her talent was beyond question.

A month after Annette’s onboarding, management attended an offsite workshop. The staff celebrated their freedom with an extended lunch outing. Annette, of course, avoided the social gathering. Having the run of the agency, she stepped inside the break room and approached the ping-pong table.

Annette bounced a ball on the tabletop. On the up-bounce, she paddled it against the wall. Back and forth she continued. Engrossed in her game, she didn’t notice some colleagues had returned. Several stood in the doorway, watching the introvert’s odd solo entertainment.

“Does she work here?” asked one woman of another.

“I think so…” The reply sounded more like a question.

Then like a bolt of lightning, Tim materialized. “What’s going on?” he asked, pushing the ladies aside like saloon doors. He was inside before they could answer. His eyes instantly met Annette’s as she turned, astonished she was not alone. She flushed.

“So, you play the noble sport of table tennis?” Tim smirked, making his way over.

Annette stammered, pretty sure that her lone diversion didn’t exactly qualify. Her discomfort didn’t register to Tim, who never found a situation awkward. She was simply quiet, he thought. Getting her to interact might become a new challenge.

“Play you a match?” he asked, snatching a paddle.

Following an awkward pause, Annette nervously surrendered the ball. Tim served it swiftly. Annette tapped it back. He looked his opponent in the eye. Wordlessly, they locked gazes, volleying the ball back and forth, robotically.
The crowd watched, silent.

Annette soon relaxed and gained confidence. She got into the game, unleashing moves her opponent didn’t expect. She giggled as Tim harried side to side to keep the ball in play.

Tim began to twitch. Beads of sweat actually formed on his brow. Nervously, he licked his lips, at a complete loss for words. His eyes never left Annette’s. He admired her skill, her reticent beauty. He baffled at this new wordless interaction that somehow drew him in.

“What’s wrong with Tim?” one lady whispered to the man on her right. “He’s awfully quiet.”

Then Annette pulled a move that put a wild spin on the ball. She twirled elatedly, laughing to find that Tim’s return landed the ball in the net.

Dumbfounded, Tim walked around the table. He extended his hand.

“Congratulations, Sporty Spice!” he said with a charm that would melt any woman. “After that play, I think I owe you a lunch.”

The man turned back to the woman on his left with a delayed response. “I think perhaps Tim has met his match.”

“Yeah,” the woman sighed. “At ping-pong, that is.”

A year later, at the company Christmas party, Tim announced his departure from the company to a shocked audience.

“Seriously?” someone asked. “Is it really game over for Tim Mulligan?”

His response was one folks would never forget: “Love is a lot like ping-pong, see. Once caught by a net, it’s game over.”

Annette then flashed a huge smile and an even huger, shining rock on her left ring finger. “Not exactly. The game may be over for us at Creative Street, but a new one is just beginning.”

Tim then delivered another bit of surprising news — he and his new bride were forming their own family-operated ad agency.

A temporary hush fell over the room before a toast was raised to the happy couple. The audience then reminisced gaily about a story that wouldn’t soon be forgotten at Creative Street. That was the day Tim Mulligan got caught by Annette.

Christa Plunkett is a medical writer with a passion for creative expression. She has published her work in several poetry journals, including River Poets Journal, The Write Room, Tanka Journal, Haiku Journal, and Rewrites. Currently, she resides in South Jersey with her 6 feline muses.

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