SECRET VALENTINE • by Laura Besley

From: Millie
To: All Staff
Date: 07/02/20, 11:32
Subject: Secret Valentine’s

Hello everyone!

After the success of Secret Santa (thanks for my box of scrumptious chocolates!), I’ve decided to launch a Secret Valentine. It’s just for fun. Names out of a hat. Come by my desk at some point today, please. Max spend £10. Get creative, peeps!

Thanks,
Millie

Millie writes out the names of the ten members of staff onto Post-it notes, carefully folding them in half and using the sticky side to seal them shut. Not having a single hat in the house (she hates how her hair always ends up flat after wearing one), she brought in a small wicker basket to put them all in. 

The first person to come over is Harrison, the I.T. Manager.

She holds out the basket and he takes one out, looks at the name and smiles.

“Don’t tell,” she says.

“Nope.”

“Have you got anything planned for the weekend? I’m going to my mum and dad’s because it’s my mum’s birthday. She loves having her birthday just before Valentine’s Day. Says getting lots of cards in the post makes her look very popular.”

“Right. I’m not up to much.”

Harrison is a man of few words.

By the end of the day there is only one piece of paper left. Millie unfolds it and has to hide her excitement. This time, unlike at Christmas, she gets who she wants: Mark. Millie has a crush on him the size of a cosy thatched-roof cottage. He’s the new Sales Manager and she felt the spark between them from day one. Despite her efforts to impress him, highlighting her hair, wearing full make-up and spending more than she should on work clothes, he’s yet to ask her out. She has a funny feeling the chocolates at Christmas were from him.

At the weekend, under the ruse of getting her mum a cake from that bakery she likes, Millie goes into town and spends too long looking for the perfect present for Mark. She settles on a pair of cufflinks that are well over budget, but reasons that it will be worth it when he sees them. He’ll insist on knowing who they’re from and she’ll blush and he’ll work it out and they’ll have “a moment” that lasts and lasts.

From: Millie
To: All Staff
Date: 10/02/20, 13:43
Re: Re: Secret Valentine

Hello everyone!

Good news: Jerry has said because Valentine’s Day is on a Friday, there will be snacks and fizz in the kitchen at 4pm. We can open pressies then.

Please sneak them into the kitchen before 4pm.

Thanks,
Millie

By 4 o’clock everyone is in the kitchen and Jerry is pouring fizz. Millie is pleased with the festive atmosphere and that she’s managed to make this Valentine’s Day about everyone, not just couples. There is a small pile of presents on the table. Hers is wrapped in newspaper and tied up with a piece of string, admittedly dyed red. There’s only one person in the office who’d wrap a present in newspaper: Harrison.

She taps her glass. “I’d like to thank you all for coming and making the effort. Without further ado, it’s present time.”

Mark tears the wrapping paper from his cufflinks. “Cheers!” he says, putting them into his pocket.

Another cork pops and Millie realises she’s been staring at Mark. She scans the room and sees Harrison looking at her, his present unopened. He knows, she thinks, and to divert attention, she says to him, “Aren’t you going to open your present?”

He shrugs. “Sure.” Using the blade of a pocketknife, Harrison unwraps a book: I.T. for Dummies.

Mark slaps him on the shoulder, laughing loudly. “Thought you might appreciate it, mate.” He empties his glass. “Gotta dash. Cheers Jerry.”

Millie keeps the smile plastered on her face until people start to drift away.

She is washing up when Harrison comes back in and says, “Here, let me help you.” He takes a tea towel and starts drying.

“I thought you’d gone.”

“And leave you with all this to tidy up?” He shakes his head. “I was just checking something was running properly. It’s easier to do when no one else is using the system.”

“You’ve been working?”

“No rest for the wicked.” He wiggles his eyebrows independently. “Or a dummy like me.”

She opens her mouth.

“Don’t.” He holds up a hand. “It’s a joke.”

“Not particularly funny,” she mutters, placing another glass in the drying rack.

“Have you opened your present?”

“No, not yet. Is it from you?”

“Off the record?”

She smiles. “Off the record.”

“Yes, but don’t tell anyone.”

She mimes zipping her lips and unties the string noticing the paper he’s used has an article about the new David Attenborough programme on it. “Ooh, I’ll read that later,” she says, and then looks down at the small, carved elephant in her hand. 

“Wow! Elephants are my favourite animals.”

“I know.”

To cover her embarrassment she says, “I hope you didn’t go over budget.”

“I didn’t spend a penny.”

“You… you made this?”

“Actually, this is Edward the third. The first two attempts are, shall we say, a little malformed.”

“Do you still have them?”

“Yes. Can’t quite bring myself to throw them away.”

“Can I see them some time?”

“Of course.” Redness creeps up over his beard. 

“Well, thank you. It’s beautiful.”

“You’re very welcome.”

She stands up. He follows suit.

“I’m sorry,” he says, looking at his feet. “Today didn’t turn out quite how you’d planned, did it?” 

She smiles. “It didn’t really. Best laid plans and all that. Look everywhere will be packed, but I’ve got a frozen pizza and a bottle of wine at home if you fancy dinner?”

“Pizza sounds nice.”

“Great.”

They leave together, both thinking that the day turned out better than either of them could’ve imagined.


Laura Besley writes short fiction in the precious moments that her children are asleep. Her fiction has appeared online (Fictive Dream, Spelk, EllipsisZine) as well as in print (Flash: The International Short Story Magazine, vol.9 No.1) and in various anthologies (Adverbially Challenged, Another Hong Kong, Story Cities). She tweets @laurabesley.


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