Writing - Free Sample

Cupid's Last Arrow
by Janet Miller

It was the silliest thing she’d ever seen. A toy mouse, short, fat, pink – very pink – with long brown whiskers and big black eyes. On its back were a pair of tiny white wings, and it carried a metal bow and a quiver with one arrow, an arrow tipped with a red heart.

Cupid Mouse. Adrinna Brown, who insisted people use her sensible nickname, Andy, stared at the ludicrous object perching on her keyboard with comfortable aplomb, and wondered which of her co-workers had lost his or her mind.

Yes, it was Valentine’s Day. Yes, if ever a gift like this would be appropriate then today would be that day. But why would anyone give her such a thing? It was... ridiculous!

“Hey, Andy... cute. Where’d you get it?”

Andy turned to face Toni, her best friend and code-partner. “Beats me. It was waiting for me right where you see it.” She narrowed her eyes. “This wouldn’t be your idea of a joke, would it?”

“Me?” Toni almost choked on the mouthful of French roast she’d taken from her Java Express promo mug. “Why would I give you a love-offering? I mean, we’re close and all... but you aren’t really my type.” She fluttered her blond eyelashes meaningfully.

A love-offering? No, it couldn’t be. No man in her group could be desperate enough to want chubby, nearly-forty-years-of-age her. “It’s a joke, Toni,” she said flatly.

Toni craned her closely-cropped blond head over the monitor and peered at the back of the toy. “There’s a note on it.”

“There is?” Snatching the pink thing up, Andy turned it over to find a company business card attached to the base of the wings with sticky tape. Anticipation of identifying the culprit faded when she realized the card was one of her own, no doubt snatched from the supply she kept on her desk. On the back was a bit of doggerel written in tiny but legible handwriting:

“This little mousie,
Doesn’t have a housie,
He wants to come home with you,
To make you feel less blue.
- An Admirer”

The last word was underlined and the “i” dotted with a tiny red-sticker heart.

“Wow, that isn’t half bad,” Toni said in admiration. “It even rhymes.”

“Yeah, someone is a poet – and a lunatic. Why would anyone give a Valentine’s gift to me?”

“Because they like you, and like the poem says they wanted to perk you up?”

“I’m not feeling blue,” Andy insisted.

Toni put her cup down and folded her arms. “Andy, you’ve been depressed ever since Jack left you.”

“That goes with the territory. Everyone gets depressed when they get divorced.”

“Jack isn’t,” Toni pointed out.

“No, Jack’s got Crystal to keep him company. He divorced me to be with her.” Why should Jack be depressed? Not only was Crystal ten years younger, she had twenty fewer pounds and bright red hair - a little too red, Andy thought, pushing behind her ear one of her long, naturally-brown locks.

That Crystal’s voice sounded as brittle as her name didn’t seem to bother Jack. She didn’t get the feeling they talked much.

But that didn’t make Andy blue. It had hurt at the time - the dissolution of a ten year marriage should hurt some. But when Jack had broken away from her life, Andy hadn’t really missed him that much. They hadn’t had much in common and it had been almost a relief to see him gone.

Still, she hadn’t been doing much laughing lately. She cast a glance at her present and felt a chuckle rise. It really was a funny little thing.

Toni must have noticed her burgeoning smile. “See, it’s working already. A Cupid with a single arrow, aimed to hit you in the funny bone.”

Andy placed it on top of her monitor, the dour little thing staring at her. “Okay, we both agree it’s a joke.” Sitting down, she entered the password to unlock her machine. “We still have two pages of changes to work through on the sorting application, let’s see if we can get them done before lunch.”

Grinning, Toni grabbed her cup and moved off to her cube across the aisle. “Don’t forget, you and Gloria have a meeting at ten to go over Brad’s stacking changes.”

Andy groaned. A meeting meant they wouldn’t get all the code changes done. Well, it couldn’t be helped. Brad Wilson was head architect and his word was law – meetings with him were not to be missed. She glanced at the little mouse and broke into an unexpected smile. Brad had a wicked sense of humor and she could just see him putting something this silly on her desk. Maybe she’d ask him at the meeting.

~ * ~

“Why would I put a mouse on your desk? Is there something wrong with your old one?” Brad’s look of confusion seemed genuine until she noticed the telltale twinkle in his gorgeous brown eyes.

“Not a computer mouse, Brad, a toy one. A Cupid of all things.”

He shuffled the papers in front of him. “A Cupid mouse? Sounds perfect for a software engineer.”

She laughed. “I hadn’t thought of that. It is kind of appropriate.”

Brad turned a delighted smile on her. “Hey, we’ve missed that laugh around here. Glad to see it’s back.”

Grabbing the chair closest to her, Andy sat down. With his light-brown hair and lean build, Brad was the best-looking guy she knew in spite of his forty-plus years, and his smile always did weird things to her knees. Heart pounding, she considered the possibilities. Could he be her “Admirer”? Maybe, but it seemed odd that he’d write a poem like that and sign it with a heart over the i. That was too much like something...

“Hi all, Happy Valentine’s Day!” Auburn curls bouncing down her back, Gloria, their technical writer, took her place at the table, putting a coffee mug covered in big red hearts in front of her.

Andy let her smile hide her disappointment. It couldn’t be Brad. The heart over the “i” was something Gloria would do. “Did you see my Cupid mouse this morning?”

Gloria seemed to be suppressing a giggle. “No, sounds cute. You have a secret admirer?”

“Maybe.” Andy wanted to say more, but with a wry grin Brad called the meeting to order. Reluctantly she pulled out her pencil to take notes.

~ * ~

Andy stared at her desk. Her “Admirer” had struck again - a mug filled with foil-wrapped tea bags sat next to the Cupid on top of her monitor. Andy put down her meeting notes and examined the mug carefully. On the side was a cartoon of a bear dressed in robe and slippers sitting in a recliner, a mug of his own in hand. The caption read, “Hibernation is over-rated.” The tea was her favorite brand and stuck inside with the bags was another one of her business cards.

On the back was another note, “It’s time to wake up and smell the tea”, written in the same tiny script with the heart sticker over the “i”.

She considered the handwriting. It was so precise it looked nothing like either Gloria or Toni’s script, or Brad’s open scrawl. She glanced over at the list of server names she kept pinned to her wall, with the addresses added in careful picked out numbers by Charlie, their IT liaison. He could’ve written those notes... but she couldn’t see why he would. They were friends, just like she was with the rest of the group.

She reread the note and grinned. If ever there was truth in a saying this was it. It was time she stopped feeling sorry for herself over Jack. She was better off without him. Emptying the teabags from the mug, she grabbed one and took off for the kitchen for hot water. This was turning out to be quite a day.

~ * ~

The morning saw no further gifts at her desk, but when she went to the restroom, a plastic bag with her card had been left on the counter next to the sink. It held a collection of dinosaur-shaped soaps. The back of the card read, “You aren’t extinct so get on with life” and was again signed with the heart decorated “Admirer” signature.

Andy collected the soap with a grin. She’d put them in her guest bathroom. Her nephew would get a kick out of them.

Toni went with her to lunch at the nearby deli and when they returned, a heart-shaped helium balloon was tied to her chair, together with a card from her admirer reading “Laughter == hot air == buoyancy. Laugh your way above adversity”.

Andy laughed over the note, more than she had in months. It was just the sort of thing a programmer would write.

When she went for hot water for more tea, she found a plastic bag with another card on the kitchen counter. It held a collection of candy hearts with little slogans and the note read “Sweet hearts for a real Sweetheart.” She made a point of taking them up and down the aisles of cubes in the office area and offering them to her co-workers, all of who feigned innocence at what was happening.

Andy chuckled at their over-wide eyes and unconvincing protestations. None of these folks could tell a believable lie.

Even Brad pled ignorance as he picked out a pastel green heart with the message “U R tops”. “Now why would we do something like that, Andy?” He popped the candy into his mouth and gave her one of his sexy grins. Andy leaned against the cube wall for support.

“Of course, you’ve been there for us every time. You’re the first one to help out when there is a problem, staying late when others need to go home.”

“Well, since Jack left I haven’t had much need to go home.”

Anger flashed through Brad’s brown eyes. “Jack didn’t deserve you, Andy. I just hope you don’t continue to keep everyone else at a distance because of him.”

His vehemence caught her off-guard, and she backed out of his office before either of them could say more. On her way back to her desk, she realized this was the first time Brad had ever commented on the breakup of her marriage, although the rest of the team had offered their support. He was divorced too, she remembered. Maybe her situation brought forth bad memories for him.

When she got to her desk, she found that her admirer had struck again. A necklace consisting of a thin chain and a delicate gold heart was looped around the neck of the Cupid Mouse, another of her cards attached.

Holding the necklace in one hand, she studied the message on the back of the card. “With Cupid’s last arrow, he captured a heart. He gives it to you hoping for a good start.” Unlike the other cards this one was unsigned.

The jewelry was dainty and looked expensive. Andy wondered at it given the light-hearted nature of the rest of the gifts.

Toni came by as she was fastening it around her neck. Her eyes widened in surprise. “Where did you get that?”

“Just another gift from my admirer.”

Her friend grabbed the card and read the message, her lips twitching. “Hmm. So I see. Interesting.” Toni’s eyes glittered as she handed the card back. “I came to tell you, there’s a meeting in the conference room at five.”

Andy subdued her desire to groan. It was nearly four-thirty and she still had a few changes to make before she was finished for the day. Still, it didn’t really matter. She could stay late – she didn’t have a date, and no one was at home to celebrate Valentine’s Day with her.

The work took less time than she expected. Andy tested the last change and checked in the code with minutes to spare. At five she walked into the conference room to find the rest of her group waiting, Toni, Gloria, Charlie, Swami, their interface expert, and Shi, the administrative assistant. Even Brad was there, standing on the opposite side of the room. No one smiled or spoke as she came through the door, and for a moment she wondered what had gone wrong.

“Surprise!” They all shouted.

With a grin, Toni pulled a cake box from the cabinet behind her, while Shi picked up paper plates and Charlie got plastic forks from a drawer.

“What’s this all about?” Andy asked as she admired the strawberry laden cream cake Toni pulled from the box. A big red heart decorated the top.

“We,” Toni began, nodding to the rest of the grinning faces around her, “decided you needed a party, something to jazz things up. You’ve always been the one to make us feel better when things were down, but since your divorce was final you’ve been the one needing cheering up.”

“So that’s why the gifts...”

“Yeah, just our way of telling you how much we care. We all helped.”

“I did the notes,” Charlie said, his smile bright in his dark-skinned face.

Gloria nudged him with her elbow. “I told you what to put down and added the hearts to them.”

“I did the one on the balloon,” Swami interjected. Given the use of the equivalency symbol in the message, Andy didn’t doubt it for a moment.

“Shi and I went out and picked out the presents,” Toni told her, Shi nodding happy agreement.

“It was so fun! Cute stuff. I especially liked the winged mouse,” the Chinese woman told her.

Andy turned to Brad, now stuffing a big chunk of cake in his mouth. “What did you do?”

He chewed and swallowed. “It was kind of my idea.”

“It was not!” Toni insisted good-naturedly.

His face flushed. “It was my idea to give presents. You were just going to do a cake.” Brad took another bite and his eyebrows rose in pleasure. “Not that it isn’t good cake.”

“Well, I really appreciate it. I haven’t had this good a time in years,” Andy told them to head off any further arguing. She helped herself to a plate and took a big bite of the creamy, sinfully rich dessert. She closed her eyes in ecstasy. “Oh, yum.”

The crew worked through the bulk of the cake then headed back to their desks to finish things off before going home. Toni and Brad stayed behind to clean up, Andy helping over their objections.

Toni tossed the last of the plates into the trash then put a friendly arm around Andy’s shoulders. “Feeling better?”

Andy grinned back. “Yeah, this was great. I loved every minute of it.”

“Like the necklace?”

She’d almost forgotten she was wearing it. Andy ran a finger over the heart, felt the smooth metal. “It’s lovely. Thank you so much.”

Toni turned Andy so she was facing Brad, who watched them with an uncertain look.

She squeezed Andy’s shoulders and leaned over to whisper loudly in her ear. “Don’t thank me, because it wasn’t one of the things Shi and I bought. The necklace wasn’t from the group.”

“Then who...” Andy let her voice trail off as Brad’s eyes widened in panic.

Toni released her and took off for the door. “Have a nice night you two.” The door closed firmly behind her.

The silence grew uncomfortably. Neither of them seemed to know what to say.

“Brad?” “Andy...”

They broke the quiet in unison. Brad scrubbed the back of his neck. “I’m not real good at this sort of thing.”

She took a step toward him. “Neither am I.” She played with the heart pendant, the one present that came without the group’s trademark “Admirer” signature, the romantic words expressing more than friendship. A thrill passed through her. “This was from you? And the note?”

“Yeah, I wrote the note.” He grimaced. “Took forever to find a word that rhymed with heart.”

“‘a good start’” she repeated the line from the note. “A start to what, Brad?”

“The start of a relationship, I hope. Andy, I don’t want to be just friends with you.” He stepped closer until he was just a couple feet away.

“I haven’t felt like this since my wife and I split up two years ago. Watching you be so miserable these last few months has been torture. It’s been all I could do not to get you alone in a conference room and -”

The warmth from his eyes caught her in the pit of her stomach and headed for parts more intimate. She felt a blush start across her cheeks. “And do what? We’re in a conference room now. Alone.”

A muscle jumped in his jaw, then he closed the gap between them, hands seizing her upper arms with gentle strength. “And do this.” His mouth descended on hers.

Kissing Brad was the best present of the day, better than dinosaur soaps, better than candy, even better than the bow-and-arrow armed mouse. She put her arms around his waist and pulled him closer. His mouth gentled as she responded and they were both breathless when they finally broke apart. Pure joy was on his face, echoing the delight she was sure broadcasted from hers.

“Andy?” “Brad...”

Again they spoke at the same time. Brad’s laugh was shaky. “Would you like to have dinner with me? Maybe talk more about this?”

“I’d love to. Just let me collect my stuff.”

She stepped through the door he held and smiled as he followed her to her desk. He even found a box to hold her presents so she could take them home.

Who would’ve thought that handsome Brad Wilson was harboring feelings for her, not to mention that he’d write poetry to win her? She picked up the card he’d enclosed with the necklace.

One thing about his poem intrigued her. “Why Cupid’s last arrow, Brad?”

He gave her one of his knee-weakening smiles. “You and I have been in love before, with other people. I want this time to be different, it’s going to last.” With a flourish he picked up the Mouse Cupid and glared at it. “It’ll be the last arrow because no further arrows will be needed!”

(Cupid’s Last Arrow, Copyright © 2003 by Janet Miller)