VALENTINE’S DAY AT THE OFFICE • by Jeff Switt

“Learn to do something with those fat fingers, Marcia,” my mother urged. “Go to business school. Learn typing. Accounting.”

My older sister, Laura, had studied piano. Impromptu recitals for family and friends the norm.

“Such a talent, your sister Laura.”

That was 30 years ago.

***

Marcia, now pushing fifty and never married, entered the office. Bradley Thompson, a couple years younger and still single, watched her walk toward her desk, remove her coat, and give her hair a toss. “Good morning, Marcia,” Bradley said, trying to contain his excitement. Marcia gave a finger wave and smiled. “Morning, Mr. Thompson.”

Bradley’s fingers tapped his desktop as Marcia booted her computer. His eyes followed her walk to the break room for her morning tea. She seemed different this morning. Bradley felt the moisture building in the palms of his hands, his underarms sticky. Marcia returned, her Earl Grey steaming. Bradley cracked his knuckles one at a time.

Bradley started to speak, but the words wouldn’t come. Marcia focused on her monitor, her fingers flittering across the keyboard, typing. Touching. Bradley loved the sight of her hands. Their roundness. Their warmth. He remembered six months ago when they first shook hands, her a new-hire in his accounting department. Bradley adjusted his new red tie. The others at home, comfortable browns and grays.

***

Bradley had awakened at four, his stomach churning. An Alka-Seltzer had done nothing to calm his anxiety. A cold shower offered no relief. He felt like throwing up.

***

Bradley debated, not sure of his timing. His fingers curled under the lip of the top drawer of his desk. Marcia’s movement caught his eye. She was removing her sweater. Her heavy profile, usually conservative beneath loose tops, now pushed against a white silky blouse. Bradley sat stunned. Today she looked much younger. Hair pulled smartly back, not hanging. Her facial features enhanced. A hint of eye shadow. Her usually pale lips now red.

His hands pushed back against the drawer.

Around ten, a delivery boy dressed as a 1940s bellhop walked into the office, calling, “Delivery for Marcia Evans.”

Marcia turned toward the commotion, looking surprised at a long white floral box wrapped with red ribbon and bow. She accepted the delivery with a blush and returned to her desk. Bradley watched her open the card, savoring every word. She sighed and tucked the card in her purse. From the box, Marcia pulled a bouquet of roses. Their fragrance filled the room. She arranged them in a vase and inhaled their sweetness. Della and Bettie fawned over Marcia and her surprise bouquet. Bradley remained silent. His eyes darted across random figures on his monitor.

The noon hour approached. A voice called, “Marcia Evans?”

Eyes turned as a delivery man dressed as Fred Astaire — top hat to tails — entered. He carried the largest heart-shaped box of candy Bradley had ever seen. Marcia gushed. She opened the card tucked beneath the ribbon. Her lips moved in silence as her eyes read. She cut the ribbon and pulled the top. Candies, some wrapped in silver and gold and red foils, nestled in their cups. Marcia’s eyes scanned each one and settled on a plump chocolate.

Bradley watched her place it to her lips. Her teeth sliced it in half. Her tongue licked the cherry syrup from her lips. Her eyes closed as the flavors mixed in the warmth of her mouth. Bradley wondered. Was it the candy she was thinking about? Or the person who sent it.

Marcia swiveled her chair to face Bradley. Her open heart resting on the tops of her thighs.

“Chocolate, Bradley?”

Bradley looked at her. Her lap. Her knees. She was wearing a skirt instead of her usual office slacks. Modest heels, not flats. “Got to get some lunch,” he blurted. He rushed to the door.

Marcia sat crestfallen.

***

When Bradley returned from lunch, his thoughts turned to Marcia and the contents of the box in his drawer. He and Marcia had gone to lunch together a few times. But no drinks after work. No dates. That fine line bosses aren’t supposed to cross.

He had agonized over the purchase for two weeks, roaming from store to store at lunchtime. After work. Questioning salespeople.

“Is it too much?”

“Is it too little?”

“Is it appropriate?”

The answer was now evident.

“Too late.”

***

Sitting during the bus ride home, Marcia balanced the box of candy and bouquet roses on her lap. She tried to ignore the smiles of her fellow passengers which made her uncomfortable, but not as bad as Bradley’s lack of interest in her throughout the day. Her apartment was a two-block walk from the bus stop, and with each step home a feeling of guilt began overtaking her. Valentine’s Day. A day of love, not deceit.

On impulse, Marcia fumbled with the bouquet, pulled a rose, and offered it to the first person coming her way. Then the second. The third. She began to smile at the surprised looks she received until all twelve had been given away. She picked up her pace.

At her building, she took the elevator to the third floor, apartment 324. The single mother answered the door with her twin girls peeking from behind. “Happy Valentine’s day to your girls,” she said, as the twins looked at the candy box in giddy awe.

***

Marcia took off her new office outfit and put on her familiar flannels. She thought about the peculiar way Bradley had avoided her all day. No corny jokes. No clumsy conversation. Marcia booted her computer and viewed her recent activities: Florist. Candy shop. Department store. Delivery services.

Over thirty years, Marcia’s life had become a never-ending balance sheet. She gave each day a personal audit. Assets and liabilities. Debits and credits. The bottom line for this day became evident: Even a talented accountant like Marcia shouldn’t try to “cook the books” when it comes to romance.


Jeff Switt is a retired advertising agency guy who loves writing flash fiction. Some days to quench his angst. Other days to fuel it. This is his ninth story at Every Day Fiction.


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