Romance Fiction posted April 11, 2019


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Christmas and Daisies

by Y. M. Roger


The numbers on the budget page just could not be correct. There had to be an error in a decimal placement or something.
 
“Aleeex!”
 
My six-foot-one, self-assured, best-dressed-man-at-any-given-moment assistant breezed into the room – Alexander Rousseaux was both a creative and a dramatic force with which to be reckoned on most days.  Today, however, he began speaking before I had a chance to rant further as he held his hand up, palm forward, in that same manner traffic cops used to do.
 
“Talk to the hand, Cheri.” Alex was from Southern Louisiana and still carried quite a bit of his accent with him in private settings. But out there in the public arena and in meetings? You’d never know it. “I knew you’d be all pissy about ‘dos numbas, but dats de budget I was handed and dats – and I quote – all dere is, so make it work.”
 
I felt my blood pressure tick up another notch. Ever since Everett Junior took the reins a few weeks ago, things had gotten way too tight around here. Yeah, I got that he was trying to re-invent our struggling catering and events company, but Occasion Creation Laboratories needed our Public Relations division more than others to make that happen. And that ‘our’ was just me and Alex now with the company reconfiguration. How were we supposed to manage a huge July campaign launch with these numbers?
 
“Make it work?!!!”
 
I slammed the paper down on my desk and made that growly noise that just felt good when I got really frustrated. Alex appeared desperate to suppress a grin as he folded his arms across his chest, and I glared at him in challenge.
 
“And don’t you even try to laugh, mister! Not even a smile, do you hear me?”
 
He raised a single finger to his lips to mock the action of preventing a smile, but it was no use. His eyes danced with laughter that I knew would sound forth sooner rather than later. I stood, paper fisted in my hand.
 
“I’m telling you, Alex, this time GQ-dude is asking too much!”
 
Alex’s cheeks puffed out just in the slightest, and he bit his bottom lip – the stopwatch restraining his snickering was off and running.
 
‘GQ-dude’ was the name Alex and I had somehow settled on in the time since Mr. Donald Francis Everett, Jr., took over from his retiring father. Yes, he was just as gorgeous as his name suggested, but there was this ‘aloofness’ about him that he wore like those GQ suits – an air that kept everyone at arm’s length. Alex said it was a wall – that it was obvious he was just trying to keep things professional. In fact, Alex had commented that the man just did not look comfortable in a suit and tie.
 
No matter, because I still wasn’t convinced that things were ‘professional’ between him and that newly-hired pixie of an executive assistant, Felicity whatever-her-last-name-was. She was glued to him like a side-view mirror on a car. Sure, that ‘car’ was sleek and sexy, but I still didn’t have to like the side mirror!
 
“This is supposed to be the ‘Big Reveal’, Alex. The event to put OCL back on the map!”
 
Alex pressed his finger harder into his lips and a slight snort escaped. I didn’t care. I shook the paper at him as I continued to rant.
 
“Something to make people want to hire us for all of their upcoming holiday needs.”
 
I made a grand flourish with my arms as I walked around to the front of my desk and held the paper out toward him again.
 
“An event with this budget won’t do anything except make them feel sorry for us and, I don’t know, probably offer to buy us a puppy for emotional support!”
 
Alex released one of his censorious chortles as he shook his head and walked toward the compact refrigerator. But, even as I wanted to fault him for his amusement, I could already feel the initial anger-spike wearing off and the overwhelming weight of what was expected of us beginning to set in.
 
“You need to calm down, mon cheri, before I go get Banner to support your emotions.” He opened the refrigerator with quite the nonchalant air considering he’d just threatened his boss with his over-sized German Shepherd.
 
“In your dreams.” I smiled warmly despite my mood. “Trent would never let you use him as a weapon.” I brought the paper to a reading position again and visually perused the numbers again. The tide of ‘Oh, God, what do I do’ rose slowly inside of me. “Banner might belong to both of you, but Trent loves that thing like it was your baby.” I spoke to the paper more than to Alex.
 
Alex snorted again. “Here,” he said and held one of two bottles out to me as he approached. His eyes were still glistening with mirth. Such a pain in my rear end, and, yet, I wouldn’t know what to do without him. I glared at him anyway.
 
I took the bottle and allowed my frustrations to aid in a quick wrenching removal of the top so that I could take a big swallow. I absolutely loved Blackberry Izze – there was just no comparison to it anywhere. Alex continued speaking as I downed a good half of the wonderful stuff, my mind still focused on the small numbers on the pages versus the huge expectations that had been bandied about at that last staff meeting.
 
Even that little twit Felicity had made it sound like Alex and I could make it rain daisies from the sky. Votes of confidence had echoed around the conference room table, and it had felt satisfying to say the least. Alex and I were damn good at our job, so it was reassuring that folks noticed.
 
But the look in GQ-dude’s eyes – the almost shining belief there that he just knew those daisies were possible as he had focused on me while the conversations continued around the table – that was the look I’d carried with me to bed every night for the past week. Okay, perhaps it was my personal fantasy, but it had seemed as though the others in the room hadn’t mattered at the time – like it was just GQ and me and the daisies.
 
But, right after the meeting, he’d left with little Miss Felicity in her side-view mirror post occupying all of his attention again. Oh, and she was not wearing a wedding ring; I had checked this time. Sigh.
 
I had it bad, I guess, and I hadn’t even admitted it to Alex. GQ just had a way about him that just drew me in – had since the day he took over that corner office upstairs. And that ‘draw’ was not in a good or productive or even professional manner.
 
“Now,” Alex began, snapping me out of my lustful thoughts. He stopped to take a sip of his own drink before continuing. “We’ll just have to get more creative with—”
 
Get creative? I tried, but I couldn’t stop myself. I spewed my Izze in Alex’s direction, decorating what I’m quite sure was thousands of dollars of suit and tie.
 
“What the hell, Cheri?!”
 
All pretense of his usual patience with my impatience was gone – the fiery Alex had appeared. His precious threads had been spat upon, and the look on that usually unflappable face had me choking back a laugh of my own. He narrowed his eyes at me.
 
“Woman, I—”
 
Alex and his clothes. You’d swear I had just shot him instead of applying a simple blackberry baptismal sprinkle to his tailored Tom Ford O’Connor suit. I had already put my bottle on the desk behind me and grabbed a bunch of tissues to help – giggling the whole time – when Alex, eyes even wider than before if such were possible, grabbed my wrists. Of course, he dropped his Izze on the carpet in the process.
 
“No, Cheri! No cheap tissues on—” I fell forward as I tried to stop abruptly on my heels. Alex managed to catch me but just barely. We both stumbled, trying not to fall over, our arms and even legs tangling as we attempted to remain upright.
 
“Ahhhhh-hemm.”
 
We both froze at the insistent sound, breaths held. It was a testament to Alex’s strength and daily workouts that we did not topple onto the floor because our pose was awkward at best. Our attentions turned in the direction of the throat clearing as Alex managed to step back, my wrists still firmly shackled by those insistent hands. I know he did it to assure that I wasn’t going to faceplant into the carpet, but I still yanked them away in frustration and, yeah, a bit of embarrassment.
 
There, in his black pinstripe suit, stood GQ-dude and his life-size Barbie doll, Felicity. This particular suit had become my instant favorite the first time he’d worn it last Tuesday (yes, I knew the day, so sue me!). As I took in the sight of the two of them, I had a second thought: the little twit was more the size of Barbie’s little sister, Skipper. Either doll was perfect, of course. Ugh.
 
I internally chastised myself and painted on my professional face, tossing the tissues at Alex.
 
“What could we do for you, Mr. Everett?"
 
If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear he actually stopped himself from laughing, but that would not be like the stoic GQ to whom we’d all become accustomed. Oh, but how I wished he would…just once…
 
Instead, there was this long, drawn-out pause as he and I locked eyes again. Alex unceremoniously set about gathering up the tissues he had not managed to catch from my toss, and he mumbled Cajun obscenities under his breath as he used them to wipe up the Izze he’d spilled.
 
But, honestly, none of that really registered on anything except an very superficial level. No, all was lost in the room except GQ-dude and that intense stare of his – the one focused on me. And this one seemed to have more than just those daisies behind it…
 
Until the mini-devil twit in Prada known as Felicity broke the silence.
 
“When you are finished here, Ms. Stryker and Mr. Rousseaux,” she began.
 
Did her voice just get more annoying? Yeah, I’m pretty sure it did as she motioned between Alex and me – who was now standing and dabbing his suit with his fancy handkerchief. He eyed the petit woman through narrowed lids – that was not a good look to get from Alex, no matter who you were.
 
“Mr. Everett would like to discuss the budget for the July campaign aaat, perhaaaps–” She had her tablet out touching through different screens. “–aahhh, yes, at fifteen hundred tomorrow?”
 
Well, between the twitty voice and the mention of the practically non-existent budget, whatever spell had been happening between GQ and me was dispersed and buried. All the stress and frustration I’d been feeling before the GQ muscle car and his side-view mirror wandered into my territory returned with a vengeance.
 
“To discuss–” I grabbed the page I had dropped near the tissue box on my desk and turned back as I continued, my annoyance rising to the surface once again “–this list of numbers that we ar–”
 
I raised the page to hold it out toward GQ when Alex yanked the paper out of my hand and continued my sentence in a much calmer tone than the one with which I had begun.
 
“That we are just now beginning to sift through and allocate, yes? Hmmmm.” He held the paper up as if to examine the paltry numbers again and then drew it to his chest with a sensational air. He made that signature Alex ‘honey, you ain’t  seen nothin’ yet’ expression – bobbing eyebrows and all. “Oh, I am sure a number of these ideas we’ve got going will work, but what about a meeting next week instead? That way, Ms. Stryker and I will be sure to have something concrete. That should work, yes?”
 
All I could do was narrow my eyes at him and play along. But I had to hand it to my Alex, he was good. No wonder he handled most of the people matters. 
 
Both GQ and Skipper frowned, she more so than he. Then, Skipper made to speak, but, surprisingly, GQ spoke up over her.
 
“I have to be out of town most of next week, but perhaps we could discuss everything over lunch when I return at the end of the week?”
 
Felicity looked none too happy about that suggestion as she fingered through screen after screen on her tablet. “I don’t see where you coul–”
 
Alex raised the paper to just cover his lips and half-warned, half-pleaded under his breath. “Play nice, cheri, and say yes. Please.”
 
I took a few steps toward GQ to close the distance between us, my hand held out in offer. “Sounds like a plan, Gee-er-Mr. Everett.”
 
If he noticed my slip, it didn’t register on his face. He gripped my hand tighter than I was used to, although it wasn’t uncomfortable, and, once again, our eyes met.
 
“This launch is gonna be awesome.” With those few words, he almost sounded like a normal person…..you know, a normal person dressed up like a god in black pinstripes. And I’m pretty sure everything except his mouth – especially those eyes – smiled at me. It was the same ‘yeah, I know you can make it rain daisies’ smile from the meeting the other day. “I look forward to hearing all of your ideas at lunch next Friday, then?”
 
He released my hand and I couldn’t help but chuckle just a bit. I let the chuckle translate to the genuine smile that I could feel warm my face. When GQ smiled back, I hate to say it, but I almost swooned. Almost.
 
“Oh, most certainly, Mr. Everett. I, too, look forward to that.” I really meant those words since I had no freaking clue what those ideas were going to be on this shoestring budget. “It’s a date.”
 
Before I could swallow the words back or the ground could swallow me – I would have taken either one at this point – GQ simply nodded and exhaled a long breath. It was like he’d been holding it for a while, but there was no time to ponder the how or the why because he then turned and left, his side-view mirror at her usual post. She really was a twit. Sigh.
 
When I was sure GQ and Felicitwit were gone, I turned and glared at Alex, my gaze following his fixed position as I walked around to the back of my desk to grab my set of warehouse keys.
 
“Let’s go, Mr. Sift-and-Allocate.”
 
Alex snorted at my reference to his little play-acting earlier and tossed the budget page back toward my desk as he followed on my heels.
 
“Where are we headed now, mon cheri?”
 
“To the warehouses, Alex. I have an idea. Cross your fingers that cheapskate Everett Senior saved everything like I think he did because we might just be able to meet that ridiculous decoration line item.”
 
Alex laughed beside me as we stepped into the elevator.
 
“You mean there was an allocation for decorations in that number?”
 
I couldn’t decide if he was serious or joking so I just went with my default.
 
“Stow it, Rousseaux.”
 
He chuckled and then added, humming in his off-handed Alex sort of way, “You know, Cheri, if I didn’t know any better, I’d swear you two just made an actual date for next Friday, no?”
 
I shook my head, focused on the lighted numbers on the elevator display, and didn’t respond. It was better that way. Especially since the lights kept bringing back little flashes of heat and daisies in GQ’s eyes.
 
The warehouses had popped into my mind when GQ had said the ‘launch would be awesome’ – it had been a similar phrase used by Alex when we had worked on the last OCL Christmas promotion a few years ago. You see, the past years had seen an up-tick in the number of people that claimed to be offended by the traditional company parties that OCL had always hosted for its employees. These included the big Memorial Day Picnic, the Halloween Ball and Bazaar, and the huge Christmas Celebration.
 
Not wanting to deal with the headaches and the trouble of bending over backwards to satisfy everyone’s individual holiday demands, Everett Senior’s way of dealing with the turmoil was to simply cancel everything and give everyone a small bonus at the end of the year. Our company get-togethers – probably the only time everyone from all of the divisions was at one gathering – had been no more. Instead, we got a decent ‘bonus’ check with the words Thanks for a Great Year written on the memo line placed in our individual copy of the annual report. It was kind of sad, really, but it was what it was.
 
But Everett Senior never threw anything away – I was sure of that – and all of those hundreds of pounds of decorations and such were most likely stored neatly in the oldest warehouse on our lot behind the main headquarters. Sure enough, as soon as Alex and I walked through those doors and took a few moments to realize the enormity of the decoration supplies that were now at our fingertips, we turned to each other and high-fived. No words were necessary. We knew exactly how this July celebration would be the re-launch of Occasion Creation Laboratories into the ‘big time’.
 
It was going to be a whole heck of a lot of work and would take even more ‘getting creative’, but Alex and I had faced challenges before. Okay, maybe not with this much stress involved – like the whole company thinking we were gonna make it rain daisies from the sky – but we could do this…..right?
 
**********
 
The next few weeks flew by in a blur that only sometimes included sleep for Alex and me.  And, although I really did not have the time to be properly disappointed, that lunch with GQ never actually materialized for one reason or another. He had financial fires to put out that Everett Senior had left burning both here and overseas. Felicitwit would stop by occasionally – either in my office or onsite where I felt I was living these days – just to relay GQ’s input and encouragement and, I’m quite sure, to report back to him.
 
We enlisted the help of practically everyone that remained at OCL since the downsizing and reorganization. That included the two bucket trucks that I had to get my cousin to come and get running again since they had sat idle for too long. I took careful note of everyone’s hours so they could at least use them for tax purposes since they weren’t getting paid, but the whole thing proved to be loads of fun. Sure, it was work, but it had been too long since we’d all had common, over-arching activities rather than just our own divisions’ segregated/designated tasks as part of some larger contract.
 
When the expense numbers kept showing up in the black, I was reassured. When the invitations and full page/screen ads were released from publishing, I was excited. But when the huge custom banner arrived from the printers and was being hoisted across the venue building that last week in July, I almost cried. Alex chortled and handed his handkerchief to me – after using it to dab his own eyes, of course.  I batted it away.
 
“I’m fine.” I surreptitiously wiped an eye on my sleeve. “I’m just exhausted, that’s all.”
 
“Come on, mon cheri.” Alex took my arm and tugged me inside. “Let’s experience the almost complete Occasion Creation Laboratories’ Wonderland of Fantasy that can be personalized for any occasion and any budget.”
 
He recited parts of the theme of tomorrow’s huge event as he tucked my hand under his elbow in escort. I laughed at him more than with him, but I went along because it was good to look at the whole thing before the event itself.
 
Word on the rumor mill was that GQ may not even be back for the event itself, but I found that hard to believe. This was extremely important to the future of the company, and I just knew he’d want to be here. Okay, so I may also have been missing our shared staring times – I couldn’t seem to help myself with respect to that gorgeous man…especially when he smiled.
 
Because, yeah, that smile made me believe I could make it rain daisies from the sky.
 
I had asked Skipper Twit about the rumor during one of her drop-by’s, but her response had been that ‘he was making every effort to be present’ – whatever that meant – and she would let us know of any updates. I hadn’t asked again as I did not want to appear to be too eager. Because I wasn’t.  Not really.
 
**********
 
I was the last one in the building at almost midnight the night before the event. As soon as Alex and Trent left, I did my usual ‘one last look by myself’. I turned on all the lights, the snow machine, the ‘phantom’ wind machines, and the gentle breeze fans for the flags. I took a deep breath as Christmas music began playing at a very soft volume throughout the room. The venue was gorgeous.
 
Of course, the over-arching theme was Christmas – the ever-so-lightly falling snow throughout and the group of magnificently decorated trees that were concentrated in the front and slowly dispersed throughout. The Christmas tree lights continued throughout the entire room, even after the last tree, transitioning from reds and greens to oranges and yellows (in the Halloween/Fall areas on both sides with phantoms and candy) and then to reds, blues, and whites (Memorial Day/Fourth of July areas across the back). There were also Christmas-like ‘present props’ whose wrapping papers transitioned for the different holiday settings but that were carried throughout the whole venue, including the centerpiece flower holders. And every ‘present prop’ contained a framed highlight of an event OCL had hosted in the past … the goal being to display the ability of the company to accommodate whatever and whenever for whomever…
 
Yep, guests would enter the front doors of the venue through a tunnel of almost pitch blackness with only thin trailing lights on both sides…. The darkness was their mind’s transition from reality to whatever Wonderland of Fantasy they could dream up. I hummed and smiled as I took it all in until my private little world was interrupted with the closing of the front door on the other side of the tunnel.
 
I whirled around, the word “Alex?” falling from my mouth before I completed the turn.
 
But it wasn’t Alex stepping out of that crazy tunnel.
 
It was GQ. And, oh my word, did he look good. My first reaction was to glance down at my awful sweats and t-shirt and back up to his tight black jeans and fitted button-up, sleeves rolled to just above the elbow. But he wasn’t looking at me. He was looking all around at everything. The trees, the ‘flying phantoms’, the waving flags, and the snow…. And, well, just all of it.
 
I stood still, as if I were a child awaiting their father’s approval. That wasn’t it, really. I just wanted him to say something – anything – as he stood in awe, taking it all in. Because there was a lot to take in.
 
Finally, he swallowed hard, and turned his gaze toward me. I half smiled, almost as if in question to see if he’d answer with one of his own.  Instead, he raised an eyebrow and held out a large bag in one hand and a cup-carrier in the other, and our eyes locked once again.
 
“I believe I owe you a lunch date.”
 
I pulled my gaze from his and looked at the bag and the drinks and then at my watch. When I returned my eyes to his face, he did grin, if only in the slightest.
 
“It’s only a few hours late.”
 
I couldn’t help the snort that preceded my echoing chuckle. As I turned to walk toward the breaker panel, I said, “Let me just tu–”
 
“No!”
 
I stopped and turned with a frown, but he continued speaking as he walked toward me.
 
“Leave it all on for now.” He looked around at everything again. “It’s stunning.”
 
He stepped up next to me, our eyes once again falling into that now-familiar stance. Then, those eyes got the look of true laughter in them as he glanced forward at the Christmas forest up front.
 
“Would you join me for Midnight Christmas Lunch, Ms. Stryker?”
 
He turned back to me, a big grin on his face. My face answered with probably the biggest smile it could make without cracking in half.
 
“Sounds wonderful, Mr. Everett.”
 
His laugh that echoed above the wind machines and the Christmas tunes was rich and wonderful. He handed me the bag and offered his hand to help me up onto the stage.
 
“Tell you what.” He spoke as I stepped up. “My friends call me Duck.”
 
I hummed and nodded, but, as we found a comfortable spot amidst the elf statuettes and Christmas locomotives running through the grove of lighted and decorated trees, I looked at him, knowing the mischief was written all over my face.
 
“That what Felicity calls you? Duck?” And, yes, I did pronounce her name correctly.
 
He frowned just a bit and angled his head in thought, his elbow resting on one of the ‘present props’.  “No, she calls me ‘Mr. Everett.’”
 
I relaxed against a sturdy, wooden candy cane and let a sly grin spread across my face as I watched him intently.
 
“Well, then I guess ‘Duck’ will do for a start then.”
 
I winked at him and reached into the food bag, enjoying the way his responding laughter echoed from here. We talked about anything and everything under the Christmas trees that night, just taking the time to get to know each other.
 
And, as we ate our gourmet burgers and enjoyed our old-fashioned milkshakes, I noticed that an awful lot of those fake snowflakes were shaped just like daisies.

 



A romantic christmas contest entry


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