"I've really got to concentrate on this memo I'm drafting. I think I'll go into a huddle room so I can focus. I'll be in there if you need me, okay?" Sheila said.
Katherine wanted to slap the saccharine smile off Sheila's face, but nodded instead. "Sure. I think we can hold down the fort without you." Sheila faltered for a moment. "In fact, work usually does go on just fine when you're not here."
Sheila squinted and let her eyes dart around the cubicles. There was no privacy in their small office. She was sure Amy ducked her head to smirk, but maybe she was just looking for a paperclip or something.
"Okay," Sheila continued. "I'll be right around the corner."
Katherine turned back to her computer, but movement outside the window caught her eye. A man in a brown jacket slammed the back door of his van shut and balanced two bouquets of roses in his arms as he walked up the path to the company's main entrance.
Katherine's heart dropped. Valentine's Day. She'd almost forgotten all about it. She hated this day in the office; all the smug smirks from the chosen few whose husbands or boyfriends made a public display of themselves. The corny cards that swooned with sentiment. The self-congratulatory hugs that her co-workers gave themselves and each other as they gushed and teared up over the alleged undying devotion of their significant others. Katherine doubted any of it was sincere. If they were so consumed with love, why did it take a Hallmark holiday for them to show it? She didn't see flowers arriving by the dozens any other time of year.
Her phone rang, and Katherine turned gratefully toward it, away from the spectacle of love outside her window.
"Katherine, this is Jeannie at the front desk. I've got a flower delivery down here for Sheila Anson, but she's not picking up her phone. Could you come down and sign for them?"
Fire rose from the pit of Katherine's stomach, moving up her chest and throat like a cannonball. She whipped her head around toward the huddle room where Sheila had conveniently disappeared. She knew now that it had been planned. Sheila must have seen the van pull up outside and decided to turn her Valentine gift into an office occasion. Katherine was tempted to tell Jeannie no, that she wouldn't come down and get them. But Jeannie would just call someone else.
"Sure. I'll be down in a minute."
A million ideas swirled through Katherine's mind as she slowly trudged down toward the main lobby. She could throw the flowers in the garbage. But she knew she wouldn't. She could hide them somewhere and feign ignorance when Sheila asked her where they were. She could dip them in ink and turn them black. Or vomit on them, like she really wanted to. She could put them in water and knock the whole thing over on Sheila's desk, ruining her computer and all the papers she had stacked there. She kind of liked that tactic. She wouldn't really be messing with the flowers at all.
She continued debating plans as she carried the deep red roses back up to Sheila's desk. The cloying perfume of them assaulted her with each new step. Katherine couldn't wait to put them down. She knew, in the end, she'd do nothing. It was the same thing every year: flowers on half the women's desks, grim pretenses that it didn't matter on the faces of the rest of them. Next year she'd remember to take Valentine's Day off.
Not surprisingly, no sooner had Katherine set the flowers down than Sheila emerged from the huddle room. Guess the memo hadn't taken as much concentration as she'd expected.
"Oh my gosh! Are those for me?" she exclaimed as one hand fluttered to her heart and the other covered her lipsticked mouth in mock modesty. "I can't believe Johnny did this."
She reached for the rose-covered (overkill, Katherine thought) envelope and pulled out the card. Sheila bit her lip to contain her smile, a move Katherine knew was intended to come across as bashful for her audience, because make no mistake: everyone was watching. But what Katherine saw surprised her. Sheila's brow furrowed and her smile went flat for a moment. Her mouth formed the word 'who' before she silently gasped and hurried to stuff the card back into its envelope and plaster a big, bright smile on her face.
"He's so sweet," Sheila concluded and sat back down at her desk. The performance was over. Everyone could go back to work now. But Katherine wasn't fooled. She knew that Sheila usually dragged her performances out. This was much too brief.
After a few minutes, Sheila quietly rose from her chair and plucked the card from her bouquet. She hurried toward the Ladies' room and remained there for at least 15 minutes. When she reappeared. Katherine thought she looked fresher than ever. She'd apparently re-applied her make-up. And she remained unusually quiet. Sheila pushed the bouquet to the edge of her desk and began clacking on her keyboard. Katherine was starting to enjoy this Valentine's Day more and more.
She followed Sheila's footsteps to the Ladies' room and was glad to find it empty. She lifted the top few wadded up paper towels in the trash basket and then spotted the tell-tale rose card. As excited as a treasure hunter, she darted into a stall with her bounty. She was about to find out what secret Sheila had tried to hide. She pulled the small cardboard square out of the envelope and read Johnny's note:
Angie, these flowers pale before your beauty. I can't wait to hold you in my arms tonight.
All my love, Johnny
For a moment, just a moment, Katherine felt sorry for Sheila. But more than that, she felt happy. This was her best Valentine's Day ever.