tagRomanceRoses are Red, Spinach is Green

Roses are Red, Spinach is Green

byronde©

She started to cry, and I thought she was crying because she was happy. I tried to make a joke to get her to stop.

"Gee, if I'd have known you were going to do that, I wouldn't have asked you."

"It's not you. It's me."

"Well?"

"Well, what?"

"Will you marry me?"

Christa wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, then pulled a tissue from the box on the end table and blew her nose. She'd stopped sobbing, but her shoulders still shook and she wouldn't look at me.

"I told you I don't know. I need to think about it?"

"That's it? You need to think about it? Is that all you can say?"

"Stop it! I don't know what's wrong. If I knew, I wouldn't need to think about it."

She started to cry again. I tried to hug her, but she just stood there with tears streaming down her face. She started to sob when I put on my coat and walked toward the door, but she didn't try to stop me.

How the hell could I have read things so wrong? We'd been seeing each other for a little over a year, and I loved her for everything she was. I loved her for the sappy way she talked to kids and dogs and cats. I loved her for the way she could light up a room just by entering it. I loved her just because she was her. Sex had nothing to do with it. We'd hadn't slept together until a couple of months before that night. Christa had wanted it that way, and I didn't need to have her body to love her.

When she went to Atlanta with me just after New Years, the sex was great, but it was even better having her to come back to every night. It was great watching her get ready for dinner. It was great telling her what happened at my business conference and knowing she understood. We'd talked a little about what lay in the future and I thought she'd agreed we would be together. Everything seemed great, so great in fact, that I'd decided to ask her to marry me. Three weeks later, when I did, she said she wasn't sure.

I don't remember much about the drive home. My mind went on autopilot, and I thought more than I watched the road. Funny how you can do that, isn't it? You drive somewhere and don't remember how you got there.

I made it to work the next morning by the skin of my teeth. I felt like crap. I must have looked like crap to Donna, our HR manager, too.

"Walt, you look like death warmed over. You OK?"

"Yeah, Donna, I'm all right. Just didn't sleep much last night. Anything new happening this morning?"

"Our boss is on the rampage about this year's budget. I guess that's not new, is it?"

"Nope. I'm going to get a cup of coffee, and then I'll have another look at the numbers. Maybe if I change some accruals, he'll be happier."

Every year it was like this. The year-end numbers had been good, but the budget for this year wasn't aggressive, at least in Carl's eyes. If profits weren't going to exceed last year's business plan, he was worried. He was worried every year in January, and stayed that way until the year-end numbers showed we'd made it. Then, he was happy and took everybody to lunch. I guess that's his management style, but to me, he seems like a heart attack waiting to happen.

"So, how'd it go?"

"How'd what go?"

"Last Friday, you told me you were going to propose to Christa on the weekend. Did she accept?"

"Oh, that. I wish I hadn't told you."

"Walt, sometimes, I think we're closer than I was to my ex. We've worked together for six years. If you can't tell me, who can you tell? …Oh, my God. She didn't say no, did she?"

"No, she didn't, but she didn't say yes either. She says she has to think about it."

"Walt, I ought to tell you…, that's not good. Women don't usually have to think about things like that. We know if we'd marry a guy after the first couple of dates. That's not to say we'd want to marry him, you understand, but we know if we would or not."

"I don't know what's wrong. I thought everything was going in that direction, and then when I asked her…."

Donna touched my shoulder. "Call her this afternoon and see what she says. She's probably just nervous. Marriage is a big decision for a woman. Christa's thirty-four, like you, right?"

"Thirty-four this month."

"She probably doesn't want to make the mistake of marrying the wrong man. We don't have forever like you men, you know. I'm thirty-six, and I'm starting to worry a lot."

"I know. I would have understood if she'd told me that. We could have talked it out, and I could have told her how much I needed her. She wouldn't even talk about it. I don't know what I'll do if she does say no."

"It'll hurt like hell, but it won't hurt as bad as if she married you and it ended in divorce. Believe me, I know. If she says no, you just have to get on with your life. There's someone out there who's right for you." Donna looked at me and winked. "She might even be closer than you think. Maybe you ought to get your head out of your books and look around once in a while."

Christa wouldn't answer my call that day, or the three I made on Tuesday. I just kept getting her answering machine. I stopped calling after Wednesday and drove to her apartment after work. If she was home, she wouldn't answer the door. I spent the rest of the week feeling sorry for myself.

On Friday, Carl was at least tolerant when I showed him the revised numbers. He sent me back to my office for a few minor changes and left for lunch with some clients.

I tried to get in touch with Christa all weekend, but didn't have any luck. On Sunday evening, I realized I'd probably seen the last of her. Donna was right. It did hurt like hell.

The alarm woke me in plenty of time to get to the office, but I didn't feel much like hurrying. Donna glanced at her watch when I walked past her office and raised her eyebrows. I shook my head and unlocked my door. When I flipped the switch and lit the room the little envelope caught my eye.

It was sitting in the middle of my desk, and I didn't remember it being there when I left on Friday. I always locked my office when I left for the night, or thought I did, but there it was. Then I realized it must be a note from the cleaning service. The guards open all the offices in the building for the cleaning crew after working hours. It was probably notification of a carpet scrubbing over the next weekend or something like that. I'd have to pile my chair, wastebasket and shredder on top of my desk before I left on Friday. I'd never understood why they couldn't do that. I guess moving wastebaskets and chairs falls outside the scope of their contract.

I hung up my coat and sat down. It was just a small plain envelope like the ones for thank-you notes, but he note inside wasn't from the cleaners. Instead, I found a computer generated Valentine's Day card. It had a heart with an arrow going through it, and to one side was an impish looking Cupid holding his bow. I opened the heart and found a poem written in a bold, script font.

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet
I really love you

There was no name or anything else to tell me who put it on my desk. I took it to Donna. I had confidential company information in my files about salaries and bonus payments. The files were always locked unless I was using them, but it was still a little disturbing that someone could get into my office over the weekend.

"Well, I have no idea who put it there. I got here at eight, and nobody's been near your office since then. You sure it wasn't there on Friday?"

"Yes, I'm sure. I always clean my desk on Friday. You know that. I'd have seen it."

Donna chuckled. "Maybe the cleaning lady's after your body. Ever think of that?"

"I've seen the cleaning lady. She's over sixty and she's married. Besides, she didn't dump my shredder last Thursday, and I left her a note complaining about it. I don't exactly think she'd say she loved me."

"I don't know who else would have a key except Carl." She looked at me and giggled. "You don't suppose…? I mean, he is awfully neat about his clothes and hair and everything, and he's not married. Doesn't even have a girlfriend that I know of."

"Donna, come on. This is a serious breech of security. Security reports to you. Shouldn't we be doing something about it?"

"OK, I'll check with the guard captain to see who came in over the weekend and let you know. Don't worry so much. Remember, I said the woman for you might be right under your nose. Maybe she is, and she's decided to tell you how she feels."

She brought me the list after lunch. Several of our management trainees had checked in on Saturday or Sunday and stayed a few hours. That was nothing odd. I'd done that on more than one occasion when the workload was too much for five days. In light of what Donna had told me, though, some of the names were interesting. Tracy was a few years younger than I, but I'd always liked her and she seemed like she'd be fun to be with. Gwen…, well Gwen was really young, and a lot too racy for me. She wore very short skirts and low-cut sweaters, and seemed to enjoy all the looks she got. Then there was Kimberly. She was about my age, and was very attractive. I'd tried to date Kimberly a couple of times before I met Christa, but she'd always turned me down. Maybe she'd changed her mind.

I wasn't ready to jump back into the dating pool just yet. I had to come to grips with Christa's rejection before I did that. Still, it was nice to know that somebody thought I was worth a Valentine.

On Tuesday morning, I felt a little better about things and made it to my office at seven-thirty. I was surprised by another small envelope in the middle of my desk. The Valentine was the same, but the poem was different.

Roses are red
Marigolds are yellow
I've loved you since we met
You're such a great fellow

Donna checked the after hours list again and brought me the names. Tracy went home at seven, and Kimberly hung around until eight. The other names on the list were new. Both Tracy and Kimberly would have been there when the cleaning lady came by to do my office. They could have put the card on my desk before she locked my door, or they might have seen someone else do it.

Maybe it was just a prank. The life of a management trainee is a pretty stressful, and once in a while, they have to relieve that stress somehow. Harold, the Operations Manager, has a passion for sticky notes, and uses them all over the place. One night during a push to get some reports done, they took a break and papered Harold's entire door with sticky notes. I know they did it, because I worked late that night, too, and I helped them. We thought it was hilarious, and they all thought it was great that I was in on it. Carl didn't have quite the same appreciation for the joke and issued a memo to the effect that any other horseplay would be severely dealt with.

Tracy and Kimberly didn't work for me, so unless one of them was responsible, I thought they might tell me what was going on. I felt like a police detective when I talked to them.

"Uh, Tracy, how're we treating you these days? We keeping you busy?"

"Busy isn't the word I'd use. Terminal overload is more like it. You managers have a life outside of here. I'm lucky to get home before I have to turn around and start back."

"Well, we're just doing our part to keep you out of trouble at night. Uh, many of you stay late?"

"Yeah. At least you guys are fair. You give everybody more than they can do. Several of us stay late, but thankfully, not every night."

"You guys aren't playing anymore tricks, are you? Remember Harold's door? I thought it was funny, but you need to watch it. Carl will only let that stuff go so far."

"Nope, not that I know of. Well, there was this one thing we were going to do." She leaned toward me and giggled. "You know how Jerry's always so finicky about his desk. Well, we talked about filling his cube with those little foam peanuts, but he stays late too, so we never got the chance. You won't tell anybody I told you that, will you, Mr. Hodges?"

I laughed with her. Jerry was fanatical about his cubicle and even dusted it every night before he left. The peanuts would have been funny. Seeing Jerry's face would have been funnier.

"No, I won't say anything. If it should happen, though, don't be surprised if I go back to my office and shut the door. Wouldn't want Carl to see me laughing that much."

Kimberly didn't know anything, either, but she did bat her eyelashes at me. Maybe it was her. That wouldn't be all that bad.

The next morning there was another envelope on my desk. Again the card was the same, and the words were different.

Roses are red
Pine trees are sappy
If you love me too
It would sure make me happy

"OK, Donna. Is security doing anything around here or not? This is the third day somebody's left a card on my desk, and your people don't know anything?"

"Well, we don't pay them just to guard your office, you know. We pay them to watch the doors and patrol for fires and break-ins, stuff like that. I take it you didn't have any luck with Tracy or Kimberly?"

"They don't know anything. I'm getting worried. If somebody can just waltz in here and get into my office, how much else could they do?"

"OK, tell you what I'll do. I'll have security check every hour tonight to see if anybody's been in your office. That make you happy?"

Donna met me at my office door the next morning with the guard report. As I was unlocking my door, she read it to me.

"Eighteen-hundred – no sign of entry. Nineteen hundred – no sign of entry. Twenty hundred – it reads the same for every hour until seven this morning. I couldn't have them check after that. They have to be at the main entrance logging people in."

I didn't have to look to know it was there. I just picked up the envelope and handed it to Donna. She glanced at the card for a second and then laughed.

"Well, you've made an impression on somebody. Believe me, I understand your concern, but I don't know what else to do." She chuckled. "It is a cute poem, though, don't you think?"

I read the familiar script font.

Roses are red
And get darker when dry
If we don't get together soon
I think I will die

"OK, so it's cute. We still don't know who's leaving them."

"Walt, calm down. Whoever it is doesn't seem to be doing anything except getting under your skin. Maybe you ought to just sit back and see what happens. Never know what you might find out." Donna flashed me a big smile. "You might even like it."

Friday's Valentine was a little more to the point than the others.

Roses are red
Pickles are sour
I'd like us to meet
For a few little hours

So, she wanted to meet me. I didn't know what I should do so I went to Donna again.

"There's no company policy about dating between employees unless she works for you. Does she work for you? Oh, I guess you don't know that. Well, you won't know unless you take her up on her offer, now will you?"

I tried calling Christa again on Saturday, but got her machine again. I knew she was gone, but I had to try at least one more time before…. Well, it would have felt like cheating if I hadn't tried to call her.

On Monday, I had three Valentines. The first was about like the others.

Roses make perfume
Long grass makes hay
Just wanted you to know
I'm thinking about you today

The second made me wonder again about who was giving them to me. If she really liked me that much, why was she trying so hard to keep her identity a secret?

Roses are solid
Pansies have spots
I might as well tell you,
You give me the hots

My jaw dropped when I read the third. Christa had been pretty open about things after we started sleeping together, but she had never said anything to me like this poem.

Roses have petals
Cowbells have ringers
When I think of you
I get wandering fingers

I didn't show them to Donna. Whoever my secret love was, she had, so far, avoided detection. There was no reason to believe security had any better idea now than last week. I spent the entire day thinking about that last poem. I was becoming interested, not necessarily in pursuing the relationship, but in just finding out who she was.

Tuesday's Valentine made me think I might be able to do just that.

Roses are flashy
Violets are meek
I'll make some arrangements
For later this week

Wednesday's made the possibility almost certain, at least if I decided to go through with it.

Roses are fat
Violets are thin
Please meet me on Friday
At the Paradise Inn

I'd heard of the Paradise Inn, although I'd never been there. Some of our most afluent clients stayed at the Paradise when they visited our office. It was the most expensive hotel in the city, and the rooms were supposed to be pretty luxurious. By the end of the day, I was looking forward to Friday.

My Thursday Valentine only heightened my anticipation. I wasn't sure what "something special" meant, but I was going to find out.

Roses are beautiful
Carnations are great
I'll wear something special
Please be there at eight

I arrived at the office on Friday morning and grabbed the envelope from my desk.

Roses don't have teeth
But thistles can bite
I'll be waiting there for you
Tonight is the night

Those words, "Tonight is the night", reminded me of an old joke, and I had to chuckle. I was as happy as the guy in that joke, and I didn't even know who I was meeting.

"You're in good spirits this morning. What's so funny?"

"Oh, hi, Donna. Well, I guess I'm going to find out who my secret admirer is. I'm supposed to meet her at the Paradise, tonight."

Donna whistled.

"I love that place. My ex took me there once and I'd give anything to spend another night there. The suites on the top floor are fabulous. The bedroom's separate from the living area and each suite has a jacuzzi. It's really romantic. Just one little question, though. Since you don't know who she is, how in the world are you going to find her?"

"I don't know. I suppose she'll find me."

Donna chuckled. "I guess you could wear a big heart that says 'I'm your Valentine. Come get me.'"

"Now, that would look really cute, wouldn't it? No, I think I'll just go hang out in the lobby until she shows. Want to come with me?"

"I really wish I had time. It'd be fun watching, but I have to leave early today."

"Oh…. You never leave early on Friday. Hot date or something?"

"Don't I wish. No, I'm just taking some time off for me. Tomorrow is Valentine's Day and I'm uh, I'm going to go out tonight and have a drink to the valentine I won't get. Speaking of going out, you doing anything for lunch? I need a couple of minutes to talk with you about the salary plan."

"Afraid not. Today's my command performance with Carl. We're going to the Belmont for lunch and his monthly inquisition about the balance sheet."

Lunch with Carl wasn't something I considered fun, because he used it as an opportunity to question me and I couldn't enjoy the meal. Thankfully, he got an urgent call and I got to finish by myself. I was too nervous to talk about finances anyway. When I got back to my desk, there was another envelope.

Roses cost money
Violets are free
Say your name at the desk
They'll give you a key.

At four, I gave up trying to find the six thousand dollars and change in the supply accounts and went home. After dinner, and then a shower and a fresh shave, I drove to the Paradise and walked up to the desk a little before eight.

"May I help you, Sir?"

"Yes, I was told to give you my name and you'd have a key for me. I'm Walt Hodges."

"Ah, yes. Here's the note. Um, Sir, would you have some identification? Security for our guests, you understand."

I gave him my driver's license. After a careful inspection, he handed it back to me along with the credit card type room key. "It's suite eleven-ten. Just put the card in the slot on the elevator panel and it'll let you go up. The refrigerator is stocked, but if you need anything else, just call room service or the desk. Have an enjoyable stay with us."

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