Ahhh, 'tis the day of l'amour. And in honor of that I'm re-posting a short story, which was actually my first paid writing gig back in, oh, maybe 10 years ago. That was back when I aspired to be a romance writer, not a mystery writer, so don't expect any dead bodies in this one! But I still like the story, a lot. And hope you do to!
THREE LITTLE WORDS
Carole wasted no time in placing her order. “I’d like a piece of Triple-Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake, please,” she said. “Wait…on second thought…make that a double.”
After the waiter bowed and left, Carole glanced at the handsome man seated across the table from her. “What?” she asked.
“Chocolate first, then we’ll worry about nourishment.” Carole lifted the linen napkin from the table and spread it across her lap.
Carole slumped back against the KIND OF chair. What she really wanted to talk about was the cryptic message he’d left on her voice mail—“Dinner tonight? I’ve got three little words for you…”
Dare she even hope that Brad might, finally, be ready to profess his love? After three years of dating, there was no doubt he cared deeply for her. He showed her that daily by doing thoughtful things or leaving sentimental gifts. But he’d never actually said those three little words that every woman longs to hear.
Carole reached for a dry breadstick from the napkin-lined basket and crunched off the end. Considering her luck today, his three little words would be: Take a hike!
“Carole? Your day?” Brad gently prompted.
“Everything just seemed to go wrong. It started when I burned my toast at breakfast, setting off the smoke alarm, which had Mrs. Grouchypants banging on my wall an yelling for me to turn off that racket or she was going to report me to the building manager. One more noise complaint and I’ll be evicted.” Carole crunched off another bite of breadstick. “Then while reaching for the orange juice, I knocked a jar of picked jalapeños onto the tile floor and it broke. The juice splattered everywhere, including on Punchy, who then ran and wiped it all off on my new bedspread.”
Carole sent a warning glance to Brad, conveying the message that she wasn’t in the mood for any smart comments about jalapeno juice improving her cat’s odor.
Brad reached for a breadstick himself, took a bite and chewed thoughtfully.
Carole continued her day’s tally if mishaps. “Needless to say, after all that, I was running late for work and sort of rolled through a stop sign. Cop saw me. Fifty dollar ticket.”
“Bad things come in threes,” Brad said. “So according to my count, should have been your allotment for the day.”
“If only,” Carole snapped. “At lunch I tried to prevent a lover’s quarrel between two third-graders and ended up with ketchup squirted down the front of my favorite white silk camisole. It’s ruined.”
The waiter arrived with the double order of cheesecake, and Carole wasted no time in forking a large amount into her mouth. “Mmmmm. Heavenly. So where was I? Oh, yeah. Then there was the stapler incident…don’t ask!”
After another big bite of cheesecake, Carole paused long enough to dab a bit of chocolate from the corner of her mouth. “But the highlight, or should I say low-light, of my day happened when I was lecturing a classroom of impressionable young minds about the dangers of surfing the world-wide-web. As if on cue, all of the computers in the lab flipped to screensaver. Only it wasn’t the standard school mascot that appeared.”
Carol brushed at some crumbs on the table cloth before continuing. “Twenty-six images of a Speedo-clad man flashed around the room. He was waving a heart-shaped flag which invited anyone and everyone to ‘Be My Valentine.’” Carole finger-quoted the phrase. “And as luck would have it, Miss. Bellemy walked in at that moment and this is what she did.” Caroline reenacted the seventy-two year old spinster librarian’s reaction, clutching her hands to her chest, then throwing her head backwards as her eyes rolled to the back of her head, then collapsing against the back of the chair. Caroline had to grab the table lest she fall to the floor. Righting herself, she continued, “I thought for sure we were going to have to call the paramedics.”
“But she’s all right?” Brad asked.
“She’s all right, all right. Once we got her back up on her feet, she took off as if those orthopedic shoes were on fire, straight to Principal McMahon’s office. I’m to meet with him tomorrow morning at 7 a.m. to discuss the situation. Apparently she doesn’t think near-nekkid men are appropriate viewing for third graders, and thinks that I do!”
Caroline waited for Brad to offer his usual kind words or sympathetic touch. Instead she heard a snort of laugher. As their eyes met across the table, he gave into a full-blown belly laugh.
This was not the reaction she’d hope for, and she couldn’t help feeling even more dejected. Carole speared another large chunk of cheesecake. What more could possibly go wrong today?
As if in answer, Carole spotted a chubby, middle-aged man dressed as a cherub entering the dining room, tip-toeing straight for their table. Embarrassment flushed Carole’s face as the diaper-clad, arrow-toting, balloon-carrying Cupid paused behind Brad.
“May your lives be filled with love, joy and laughter.” Cupid enounced and projected his statement as if delivering a Shakespearean soliloquy at the Globe theater. With a grand gesture, he offered a bouquet of shimmering Mylar balloons to Carole.
Carole hated being the center of attention. In fact, the last time someone had tried to assemble the servers to sing “Happy Birthday” to her, she’d run screaming for the bathroom. But she couldn’t run now. Not that she didn’t want to, it’s that total mortification had turned her muscles to cement. Including her eyes. She couldn’t even redirect her gaze to Brad.
When Carole didn’t move to take the proffered balloons, Cupid tied them to the back of Brad’s chair. With a quick bow, he turned and skipped back through the dining room, a ripple of amused chuckles following in his wake.
Carole knew by the hushed silence that blanketed the dining room that everyone in the restaurant was watching their little drama. Fire flamed her cheeks as through sheer force of will she lifted her eyes to Brad’s. “Why are you humiliating me in public this way?” she asked.
A look of surprise flashed across his face. Then he pointed up to the balloons dancing above his shoulder.
Carole lifted her gaze. There were three red, heart-shaped balloons dancing on red and white strings. Two for the balloons had words scripted on them On said ME and the other said PLEASE.
“I don’t understand, Brad. Me please?” What does that mean?
Brad looked up, then slowly reached and turned the first balloon around.
Brad looked up, then slowly reached and turned the first balloon around.
Carole read the message again. Marry Me Please.
“Please?” he whispered.
“Oh, Brad…” In a heartbeat they were in each other’s arms.
“I love you, Carole. Please say ‘yes.’”
Before she could speak, Brad’s lips found hers in a soulful kiss that sent tremors of pure joy and desire racing through her body.
“I love you, too, Brad.,” Carol gasped when the finally came up for air. “Yes. Yes. A thousand times, yes.”
Tears streamed unchecked down Carole’s cheeks as thundering applause echoed around them. What had been the worst day of Carole’s life was now the happiest day ever! And all it took was three little words.