Patrick's Personal CardbyTimothyM©
Patrick smiled as he unlocked the door of the Personal Cards shop on one of the first days of the New Year. This was his favorite season, even better than Christmas. The single exhibit window of his small shop was already decorated with Valentine's Day cards as well as a multitude of red hearts, white courting birds and homemade silhouettes of couples kissing, dancing or walking hand in hand. Of course the next six weeks until the 14th of February were also very busy, but Patrick didn't mind. After all he had nothing better to do than being in the shop making cards and helping customers.
Since the death of his parents he didn't like to spend much time in the house. It was lonely and too full of memories of his mother's voice as she sang in the kitchen, and the smell of paint and glue in his father's workroom. From the moment Patrick had been able to hold a pair of scissors he'd spent most of his spare time helping his dad create artwork for birthday cards and Christmas cards which were sent out to the extended family and the many friends of his parents. In school he had first used his father's cards then later his own creations for the children in his class, when they had a birthday.
However, Patrick gradually learnt that not everyone appreciated his talents. It wasn't so much the fact that he was artistic, which made the other children wary of him. Rather it was his observation skills, because Patrick very early showed the ability which was now one of the main reasons that his shop was a success. Somehow he was able to see into the hearts of people and discern their innermost desire and dreams, either by talking to them or by observing them. Or rather he was able to see what kind of picture would most accurately represent those wants.
As an innocent child he hadn't always understood that other people don't necessarily like to have their secret dreams and hopes exposed. Of course nobody thought anything of it, when seven-year-old Jason from his class was given a card with picture of a Formula 1 Ferrari cut from a magazine with him standing next to it as the driver, since everyone knew Jason was mad about fast cars. And giving nine-year-old Natasha, the daughter of their neighbors, a card with a photo of the Swan Lake ensemble was even less obvious, since she went to ballet school and had already shown talent.
Neither the children nor their parents gave it any thought that Jason and Natasha hadn't told Patrick (or anyone else) that their secret dreams were to be a race car driver and to dance the dying Swan in the ballet. Most other cards were of a similar kind and easily accepted, but even so some of the children started to ask Patrick how he knew, as they realized that they hadn't told anyone of this particular wish. Usually his standard reply "I don't know, it just seemed right" averted further questions, but the unease remained.
When Patrick gifted thirteen-year-old Melissa in his class with a card showing her pretty face surrounded by pictures of a large house, a fur coat, expensive jewelry and a four year older boy in their school, she immediately accused him of stealing and reading her secret diary. Mainly because it had contained the same picture of the boy taken from a magazine where he'd featured together with his rich parents at a charity event. Patrick denied and could even produce his own copy of magazine from which he'd cut the photo. But the damage was done.
Especially since Melissa happened to share the date of her birthday with two other children in the class, and those boys had also gotten one of Patrick's cards. They didn't show them to anyone or comment on them, but their attitude towards Patrick changed completely, and they more or less ignored him after that. The reaction of Robert hurt the most, as Patrick had felt they shared a desire. He'd very much enjoyed finding pictures of athletes with hot bodies positioned in a way that showed the most skin. But Patrick got the message, and from then on his birthday cards were neutral ones with flowers or cute puppies for the girls and 'manly stuff' for the guys.
Not that there were that many opportunities any more. They were getting too old for the usual birthday parties of children, and somehow Patrick was rarely included in the teenage stuff that replaced them. He didn't care for the dances and other social events at school, and even when he turned eighteen, he saw no point in going out to bars or clubs. In any case he was more focused on his own dream of getting a small shop, where he could sell original art work and gifts. To this end he took business classes at college and worked in WH Smith selling stationary and cards and magazines.
He still lived at home; he loved his parents and had a wonderful relationship with them. Why move out just to prove that he was grown up? But after the car accident that robbed him of their love and support, he sometimes wondered if it would have been easier, had he been less dependent on their company. On the other hand he treasured the memory of every minute spent with them and was grateful not to have wasted his time on other things. But he was desperately lonely. He had no real friends and he found it difficult to get close to people.
Especially since most of them seemed to seek his company for his wealth rather than for himself. Because that was the other unexpected consequence of his parents' untimely demise. It turned out that they were both surprisingly rich, not so much in cash but in money tied up in various ways. Somehow, because Patrick had turned twenty-five scant days before the accident, a huge sum of money became immediately available to him, and the interests of the invested capital of the main part would be doled out as monthly income for the rest of his life.
The young man had been too devastated from grief to grasp all the things the tight-lipped old lawyer had told him. And afterwards he didn't care to find out all the details about his maternal grandfather's fortune or his paternal grandparents' legacies. Because the funeral of his parents was also the moment the vultures on both sides of the family descended. Patrick refused to think about that awful day, but the outcome was that he cut all ties with his kin. He also had an answer for why his parents had sent so many cards yet never invited or visited any relatives.
In the past five years Patrick had pursued his own dream. The lump sum of money enabled him to buy and outfit a small shop in one of the art districts of London. During the year he spent searching for the right place and waiting for the deal to go through, he kept busy with designing and creating enough stock to start out with. As well as planning how to advertise, what his shop hours should be and hundred other details. He'd opened Personal Cards almost exactly four years ago today, and by now he was well known, if not exactly famous, for the unusual concept of unique and specific cards for all occasions.
The back third of the shop was his work area with hundreds of drawers, boxes, and shelves with folders containing the material for the creation of cards. The middle of the shop had an area with comfortable chairs, a sofa, and small tables. Here customers could sit and use tablets to go through pictures of every card Patrick (and his father) had ever made. His dad had long ago made a habit of taking a photo of each piece of art he'd created. Patrick had paid a local digital design and software company to create a system where each photo was catalogued according to theme and a few other characteristics.
So he had catalogues of Christmas cards, birthday cards, get-well cards, good-luck cards, cards to express congratulations and condolences, for Mother's Day and anniversaries, and of course Valentine cards. Patrick didn't sell mass produced cards with standard illustrations for general distribution. People who bought his cards wanted to give a special and unique gift. Especially the gift of time they spent looking through his production and then describing in detail who the card was for, what the occasion was and - most difficult of all - what they wanted to convey to the recipient.
The last part was where Patrick's special gift proved invaluable, and never more so than with Valentine cards. A man - or more rarely a woman - who came to Personal Cards to shop for Valentine's Day would only do so, if the gesture had real meaning. Not actual proposal, even though some of the cards he made did actually insinuate that the sender would probably be on his knee at some point during the coming date. But by now a lot of women in Britain were certainly aware that to receive a Valentine card with the distinctive P signature in the bottom right corner of the art work meant that she'd won the heart of a special man.
Indeed, it wasn't every customer who left with a card, no matter the occasion. It happened less frequently now, than when he'd first opened his shop, and rarely with any other occasion than Valentine's Day. Though Patrick still cringed at the memory of the time when three teenage girls came with their mother to get a card for Father's Day. The wishes he'd read in the girls' hearts (death, prison and torture) had so shocked him that he'd almost been physically ill.
Thankfully, so far that had been his only experience of such awful hate, and for once his wealth had been a blessing apart from making the shop possible. Armed with the name and address of the family, Patrick had hired a private investigator. Less than a month later a successful local business man was suddenly arrested and to the surprise and horror of most people found guilty of having sexually abused his three daughters for years. No one knew where the evidence came from, but the information delivered anonymously to the police had been explicit and convincing.
Most of the times where Patrick refused to create a card - or as he'd say: "I regret to tell you that I'm not able to make a card that will honestly express your intentions", the reasons were less dramatic, if still important. If the customer who wanted to buy a card for Valentine's Day, didn't really love the woman or man for whom it was intended, Patrick gently expressed his regrets. Over the years he'd gotten better at engaging the prospective buyer in a conversation that led to him (or her) coming to the same conclusion. For Patrick it was a victory when the person in front of him realized that it wasn't love which prompted the purchase of a card, and that it would be better to leave or buy a different card.
The love his parents had for each other was his ideal; it had been deep, selfless, caring, and full of happiness. Oh they'd argued and disagreed at times, but their marriage and life had been built on a strong foundation of love. He wasn't so naïve that he expected such devotion from every buyer of a card for Valentine's Day. But at least some kind of genuine love had to be present for him to create a Personal Card. And the stronger the feeling, the truer was the message in the art Patrick created.
As tribute to this he had his own favorite book, a printed version of the catalogue with Valentine cards. Unlike the digital catalogue which only showed not-quite-finished versions, this book had the completed cards, in some cases with the personal messages that the buyer had asked to be inscribed. On the opposite page, Patrick would gather anything he later came to know of the people involved. He was proud that more than 80 percent actually became long term couples and usually went on to be married. To his delight many of them wrote or came in to tell him about the effect of the card, and most of those sent him a photo from their wedding.
Patrick knew he was a lucky man in many ways. He had no financial problems and he owned a shop where he could do what he liked best. He enjoyed talking with his customers (with a few exceptions) and helping them select just the right Personal Card. But he knew something was missing in his life, and even though he liked the present time of year leading up to Valentine's Day, it also reminded him of this lack. He so much wanted someone to love, to share his life with. Someone who would love him back, hold him at night, laugh and joke with him, cook and clean and shop with him. And most of all, someone who'd make love to him.
At the age of thirty it's not really cool to be a virgin and totally inexperienced with sex. Not if you're living in London, are fairly good looking and a nice guy. It's ridiculous even if you're so deep in the closet, that you're not sure where the door is. Oh, Patrick knew he was gay, and he wasn't ashamed of this fact. He didn't hide on purpose, and he spent a normal amount of time on porn (written and visual) and the related activities. He knew what kind of guys he was attracted to, and he'd met gay men via his business and before that through his parents, as a fair amount of their friends were gay.
But none of the men he'd encountered had evoked any feelings in him, and to Patrick sex without love was just not possible. He wasn't a prude, and sometime he actually wished he could just go out and get laid. But by now he'd have felt embarrassed to admit to a casual lover that he was untouched, at his age. So he'd resigned himself to waiting for Mr. Right - even if it made him feel hopelessly old fashioned and out of date. The most frustrating part was that there was no lack of interest and offers from both men and women, only this was where his ability became a curse rather than a gift.
Patrick could sense exactly what was felt by every person who approached him. Some were attracted by his looks, the dark brown shoulder-length hair framing a heart-shaped face with a cute button nose, soft brown eyes and a sensual mouth. Others desired the slim body which was kept in shape by early morning runs and healthy food. Patrick wasn't short, but not very tall either. He'd never cared for sports, but he enjoyed running and swimming. His mum liked to dance, and since his dad had a knee injury which prevented him from participating, Patrick accompanied her to various activities. He'd enjoyed it, but didn't continue after she died.
The worst was when people tried to befriend him for the sake of his money. Unfortunately his wealth was no secret, another bad consequence of the horrible family debacles following the funeral. No matter that Patrick would gladly give up every penny for just another year with his parents, or that he'd rather have been poor, if he had love. The fact was that he was rich, lonely and an obvious target for every greedy man and woman he came across. His defense was to keep people at arm's length, mentally and physically, and the consequence was that he'd never met someone for whom he could become 'officially' gay. However, Patrick was still hoping.
But right now he had no time for feeling sorry for himself. He had a business to take care of and he'd already gotten the first order for a Valentine card. Patrick went through his usual routine of opening the shop, turning on the lights, getting the tablet PCs out of the safe and attached to the chargers and security wires at the tables. After all they were expensive and too easy to conceal in a bag, and he didn't have time to watch them constantly. He put on the kettle for tea and got his can of biscuits; then he switched on the CD player with Mozart, some nice romantic music to get him in the right mood.
The time passed quickly, he had the occasional customer, most of them actually not for Valentine cards, but then it was still early January. And birthdays and many of his other card types were not seasonal after all. Patrick closed the shop for half an hour for lunch at two and went home for his evening meal at eight thirty. If he was busy, he got a meal from one of the many local restaurants around seven and stayed at the shop till ten. But then he never opened his shop before ten thirty in the morning. The schedule meant that people could come by in their lunch hour and on the way home from work.
Weekends were busy of course, and he often spent twelve hours at the shop both Saturday and Sunday. Those days were mainly spent talking with customers and getting the information he needed for cards. He would design and create the cards during the week, and his normal production time from order to delivery was usually two-three days. Depending on the current work load and how complicated the wishes of the customers were. Patrick slid easily into the familiar flow of work, and days and weeks passed almost effortlessly. As the 14th of February approached he had little time to contemplate the lack of love in his own life, he was too busy helping others express their love.
Finally, Valentine's Day arrived, it was a Friday and Patrick had decided to take most of the weekend off. He always opened early on the 14th, mainly so the last customers could collect their cards, if they hadn't done so the day before. Some cards were picked up by messengers who'd deliver them with flowers or chocolate, as arranged by the buyer. The afternoon he would spend tidying the work area and preparing the window display to be put up late Sunday afternoon or Monday morning. Even if he was sad to say goodbye to the Valentine season until next year, he always felt cheered by the spring and Easter theme which displaced it.
Around midday Patrick was outside checking the sign saying Happy Valentine's Day, which he had put in the window that morning. It had tilted sideways a bit, and he'd just corrected it. The sun was shining and he was enjoying the light and the almost warm rays on his back. He hadn't seen much of the sun these past weeks. Even if it was still winter, the sunshine was a promise of thaw and spring. Patrick decided to get a cup of tea and a chair and sit on the doorstep for a while. When he returned a few minutes later, a man and his young son were looking at the window and talking in low voices.
They were both blond, the boy's hair was almost white, the father's a darker gold. He was tall and muscular with broad shoulders, and when he looked at Patrick, the blue eyes and rugged features of a Viking descendant were unmistakable. As if to confirm his guess the boy spoke and pointed at the window, and Patrick recognized the flat accents of the language from the acclaimed Danish crime thriller that had been shown on BBC a couple of years ago. "Men du kan jo få et Valentinskort her, far." The boy was maybe five or six years old, he looked a bit pale and sickly and was bundled up in a thick coat and a scarf which covered his ears.
The man answered something and gestured at Patrick, and his son turned to look. Similar bright blue eyes regarded him for a moment, before the boy nodded and pulled his dad towards the door. "Hello," the boy said, then looked up at his dad. He smiled at his son and then at Patrick, who almost recoiled in shock at the warmth of those blue eyes and sincere but somehow sad smile. "Michael was asking about Valentine's Day. It's not so common in Denmark. I tried to explain, and he wanted me to get a card. He ... he doesn't understand that I haven't got anyone to buy it for."
"Would you like to come inside and see the shop? I can make some tea and there's orange juice and biscuits." Patrick was surprised at himself, but the two Danes didn't seem to find it strange. They followed him into the shop, and while Patrick made more tea, Michael and his dad looked at the displays of art work, mobiles, and cards which decorated the front third of the shop. When the refreshments were ready, the boy shed his coat, scarf and boots and curled up in one of the seats. He drank some juice and ate one biscuit, as the two men chatted with him and each other, but soon he was nodding and falling asleep.
His dad moved him to the sofa and Patrick got a blanket. "Thank you. Michael tires quickly, and we'd already walked quite a bit." The blue eyes were sad again. "He has a heart problem. That's why we're over here, to see a specialist, who may be able to help." He sat down in the chair Michael had vacated and was now next to Patrick. "It's a school holiday in Denmark right now, so he doesn't miss out on any lessons. Though he was a bit annoyed with spending his holiday having tests and talking to doctors."