The Surprise

So, how did the break up go? If you read last week’s post, you know that we parted ways with Writer’s Block, or anything that has been holding us back.

This week, I’ve snagged another prompt from Brian Klem and Zachary Petit’s Bootcamp of Writing Prompts. As a way to get the creative juices flowing, I responded to this prompt:

Someone starts leaving little gifts on your desk every day at work. Then one day, instead of a gift, they leave a note.

Here’s the story that evolved from this prompt. Let me know what you think!

“Charlie!”

I could hear the click of high heels tipping down the hallway and I knew I was in trouble.

“Charlie Johnson! Is Charlie in his cube?” I could hear Tonya asking our co-workers as she rounded each corner.

Oh shoot. Ducking out of my chair, I bent low and crept quietly towards the men’s bathroom. Pushing through the door with my shoulder and keeping my head down, I barreled full force into something soft. I heard an “uck” sound. “Oh!” One of my feet crossed the other and I lost my balance . In seconds I and the other man were falling. The doughy mass of human flesh went down with a thud! As I tried to disengage myself I could still hear Tonya yelling in the distance.

On my feet at last, I looked around to find none other than Jacob Jones, CEO sprawled on the floor like a June bug! He was a big man with bad eyesight. As he rolled his large body over on his hands and knees he was also patting his head in search of the horn-rimmed glasses that were set at an odd angle on his forehead. Honestly, he looked ridiculous.

I knew Mr. Jones would be looking for that financial report I had promised on Thursday–it was now Monday. So, before he could situate his glasses and get a good look at who just tackled him, I spun around and darted back out the door. “Sorry!” I called over my shoulder. Then slammed face first into– “Tonya, Hi!” I flashed her my bright whites.

“Don’t you ‘hi’ me.” I could feel her moist breath against my cheek. “What happened to you last night?” She punctuated each word with a hard tap on my chest with her long, sharp fingernail.

Ouch! I pulled back.

“I waited at the restaurant for an HOUR!”

“Yes, about that—”

“Mr. Johnson!”

“Mr. Jones!” He came behind me from the bathroom and suddenly I was the cream sandwiched between two cookies. “Have you met Tonya Cooper?”

“How do you do, Ms. Cooper… Mr. Johnson, why must you barge into the men’s bathroom like a Pamplona bull?  The last time you did that Tom Pinkett filed for workman’s comp from the injury he sustained.”

“Ah, yes, but, really, Mr. Jones, it was a paper cut!”

“In his eye.”

“Well, yeah, but if he hadn’t been holding that file so close to his face—”

“He nearly went blind!”

“He just had to wear a patch for a few days.”

“Three. months.”

“Was it that long? Wow! Time flies, huh?”

“Speaking of time, Mr. Johnson, where is that report?”

“On your desk, sir!”

“Really?”

“Yes sir, I’m going to my desk to get it!”

Johnson—”

“and take it to your desk right now!”

“Mr. Johnson!”

“And did I mention that Ms. Cooper has an extensive background in marketing and public relations? She might be able to advise us on that new product launch. I know you were looking at trying something different this time.”

Tonya cut her eyes at me letting me know I wasn’t off the hook, then turned, smiling towards Mr. Jones. “I’d be happy to put together a proposal if you let me know what you had in mind…”

I eased myself out of the conversation and back to the safety of my cubicle, pretending not to notice Mr. Jones still giving me the evil eye. “Whew! That was close.” I slid my wheeled office chair over to my computer and was surprised to find a tiny, gift-wrapped box. Looking over my shoulder I half-expected to see Tonya standing there, but no.  She’s mad at me. Ohhh…maybe it’s from Rebecca! She and I had a great time last night. But, Rebecca works in another building and wouldn’t have access. She would have had to send it with someone. Wheeling my chair around the half wall, I tilted my head to see if Tom was at his desk.

“Hey buddy!”

“What do you want, Charlie?” Tom didn’t look up.

Raising the little box and giving it a shake I said, “Know anything about this?”

Tom sighed and leaned back, cocking his head to look at the little box I was waving.

“Nope,” he said without interest and returned to his computer.

“Did you see anybody come by here in the last 10 minutes? Tonya? Or anybody else?

“Uh-uh.” Tom wasn’t being very helpful. I can’t imagine why. Eh, I opened the box and found a single key inside. It looked like a key to a file cabinet. “That’s a weird gift.”

“Hey Tom! Does this look familiar?” I popped my head over the half wall and held up the key.

“No,” Tom said barely glancing up at me. Tom won’t win any congeniality awards, that’s for sure. Just then I heard the distinct click of Tonya’s heels on the linoleum. “Shoot!” I grabbed a file folder off my desk and tripped over my briefcase as I headed towards the main hallway. I made it to the elevator just in time to squeeze in between a little old lady holding a huge dog carrier and a monstrous-looking biker dude with some major biceps. As the heavy doors slid shut I smiled as Tonya lunged, too late, for the call button.

Somehow, I managed to avoid her the rest of the day, but I knew I’d have to explain myself eventually.  Tonya and I had been going out for a couple of months, but she was starting to get a little clingy. I came to work the next day with my speech prepared. I would tell Tonya that I got sick over the weekend and I didn’t know if I was contagious. And, by the way, maybe we should see other people.  Peeking my head around every corner, I expected to hear her shrill voice at any moment, but the office was surprisingly quiet.

“Morning Fred! Still working on that finance report? Yeah, I gave mine to Jones yesterday, he says it was the best report he’s ever seen! Ha! Hey there Margaret, how’s that rash? Still itchin’? I’m tellin’ you, corn starch and water, that’ll do the trick!  Betty! I heard your husband died, bummer!”

I’m a friendly guy, but my co-workers are always so grumpy. “Hey Lily? What’s got your panties in a bunch?”

When I get to my desk I find another gift box waiting. I smile. Somebody is definitely into me!

“Hey Tom!” I pop up over the half wall.

“What, Charlie” Tom replies sipping his coffee and staring at his computer screen.

“Any idea what this is?” I wave the little box again.

“The key to my heart.” Tom says dryly, still not looking at me.

“Ha, ha! That’s a good one! Do you think that key that I got yesterday was for a treasure box somewhere? Maybe it’s a game someone’s playing and these are clues!”

“Mmhmmm.”

I tear off the ribbon and lift the lid. Inside is a gold ring—a man’s wedding band. I slide it on my finger, too big.  I let it slip off and hold it to the light of my desk lamp. Engraved on the under side of the band are the words To My Love. A smile spreads across my face.

“Hey Tom! Look at this!”

I spend the rest of the day showing the ring and the key to my co-workers, asking their opinion, trying to see if any of them give off a hint that they know where these items are coming from, but no one has any info. In fact, most of them tell me to “get lost” or “go back to work.”

Sheesh! Grumpy.

I return to my cubicle and unwrap my tuna sandwich. I haven’t seen Tonya today. These gifts must be from her!

When I come to work and find yet another gift on my desk for the third day in a row, my curiosity is more than a little piqued.

“Tom! Can you believe—” I wheel my chair over to Tom’s cubicle, but he isn’t there. Bummer.

I look at the box. This one is different. Rather than a cube, it is a rectangle and tucked under the bow is a little card. I open it and in a loopy cursive handwriting there’s one word: Surprise!

I look around and peek over the half wall again to see if Tom is there. Nope. I turn the box over in my hand, thinking. My birthday isn’t for another couple of months. What is this about? Slowly, I slide the bow off and lift the lid. Inside, on a piece of soft white cotton, is a leather luggage tag. On the name card showing through the clear plastic, in the same cursive font is: Aloha!

“Aloha?”

All day I’m frustrated, but no one cares. When I show them the luggage tag they just shrug, “Who knows?”

Mr. Jones sent back the report I submitted. Apparently it was “incomplete” and I better get it right this time, “or else!”

Lily yelled at me for eating the chicken salad sandwich she had in the break room fridge. How was I to know it wasn’t my tuna? They look the same!

Betty from HR sent a stinging email that she’s been getting “complaints” about me—me? What did I do? “I’m the nicest guy in this office,” I told her.

“Well, stop being nice. Just keep your opinions and your hands to yourself!” With that she slammed the phone in my ear. Now that was not nice!

Still fuming from my day of insults I almost don’t notice that my cell phone is buzzing. Swiping the screen, I see a message from an unknown number, “Check your email.”

Betty again? She already read me the riot act! I click on the envelop icon and  see a new message from Tonya. “Finally!” I have been calling this girl for two days. Where has she been?

Her message is empty but there is a photo attached. Is that Tonya and…Tom!? What in the world is Tom doing with my woman? Then I look more closely. The two of them are wearing Hawaiian shirts and floral leis. Tom is holding up a glass of—something with an umbrella in it—but what catches my eye is the gold band on the ring finger of his left hand. Tom isn’t married.

My phone buzzes again. A message from the same number says, “Use your key to unlock my heart.”

Who is this? I text back.

No answer.

I look again at the picture of Tom and Tonya. Weird.

Setting the box down I look at the key, then walk around the half wall to Tom’s filing cabinet. I yank on the handle to see if it’s open, locked. So, I fit the key into the tiny opening above the top drawer and turn. I hear a click, pull the drawer and scream!

What do you think happens next?  Leave a comment!

Did you like the story? Why not try your hand at the prompt and see what evolves. Happy writing and Happy Monday!

Cover artwork courtesy of Johnson Wang on Unsplash

Mayhem Monday: Get Back in the Game!

I slump onto the step out of breath, sweat drips off of my chin. My heart pounds like a bass drum.

“You okay?” It’s a familiar question.

“I’m fine,” my usual reply. I just need a minute.

A pause.

A few seconds to catch my breath then I’ll begin again. I’m not much of a long distance runner. You won’t see any selfies of me on social media from the Boston marathon. But I do believe in the hard push, even if it’s short bursts. I recognize the health benefits of interval training which involves high level intense activity for short periods of time followed by short recovery periods. This kind of exercise works for me. I get bored with doing one type of exercise for an extended time, so I like knowing that in 5 or 10 minutes I’ll get to do something else.  It’s also motivating to know that even if this exercise that I’m doing right now is difficult, I only have to endure it for a little while, then I’ll get to rest or switch to something else.

As I consider this rhythm with my exercise routine, I can see how this also works with other aspects of my life and work.

There are times when every day is a push. I’m running from one thing to the next, hardly able to catch my breath, and I feel as though my heart is going to jump out of my chest from all the stress!  But then there’s that blessed rest at the end of the week, when I can collapse on the sofa and do absolutely nothing for hours. Hallelujah!

The problem comes when I pause too long. The rest has to be long enough for me to recover from the work, but not for my muscles to get cold. Although the weekend rest is relaxing, if I sleep too long on Sunday, it will be that much harder to move on Monday.

If I’m being honest, I’d have to say this Monday blog has suffered because I’ve overslept.

I use that term ironically, because I’ve hardly been asleep, though.  It’s just that this creative work has been pushed to the side by the day-to-day grind. So much so that every time I’ve come to the writer’s desk I’ve stared at a blank computer screen that merely stared back at me! Sometimes there are no words even when the words are there. They float around, but refuse to settle down. There’s so much to say, yet nothing to be said. I’m stumped by second-guesses, muted by mobs of doubt and distracted by distant deadlines. So, it has been easier to let the Mondays go by.

A pause? A few seconds to catch my breath?

That’s what I tell myself. I need to re-group. Think about what I’m doing, and what’s my plan moving forward? But, long breaks are detrimental to progress. If the creative muscles aren’t exercised they will weaken.  The difficulty I’m having now won’t last, but neither can I avoid the difficulty too long. 

I know this as I claw my way back to the writing desk! My head is still as empty as it was a week ago, my fingers still crooked on these keys, but I can’t quit! Creative work is work–it’s not easy. But nothing that is worth having ever is. If I am ever going to perfect this craft I must continue to work at it, and the only way to work at it is to work it. It’s like exercise. You don’t do it ‘cause you feel like it, you do it until you feel like it, and once you feel like it, you’ll keep doing it!

After a moment or two, I wipe the sweat with my sleeve as I begin another round. Rest time is over. Time to get back to work!

Cover photo by Jacob Postuma on Unsplash

Wait for It…

They say patience is a virtue. But, it’s not a virtue that I naturally possess. When I want it, I want it now!  Yet, immediacy and present action has been more of a wish than a reality for me over the years. For example, my plans to move immediately after I graduated from college dissolved into a settlement in my present location.  My intentions to launch directly from school to a shining career have dragged through a meandering road of unexpected detours and traffic delays.

Yet, I’m told by the wise man that “for everything there is a season” …so I should not see these digressions as stumbling blocks but stepping stones. It’s just that when you’re a person who struggles with that patience virtue, it’s hard to conceive that the extended delay at the stop light is in any way a benefit to reaching the destination.

So, what is it with waiting? What is it about that pause, that is so helpful for the future?

And what about you creatives out there? Do you struggle with waiting?

When you sit at the canvas…

at the piano…

at the keyboard and wait…

for something:  an image, an inspiration, a melody? a breakthrough?

Waiting can be hard.  Yet, waiting does something…

It allows for preparation. If you’ve ever been in that weird space in between, you may remember what you learned. Just think back to middle school—that awkward educational, emotional and developmental space after elementary and just before high school. For some of us it may bring back nightmares of embarrassing moments, bad hair days and acne, but it was also a time of discovery. When the world was opening up, when we began to recognize ourselves as individuals and to establish our own sense of self. Granted, it was the beginning, but that safe space in between allowed us to prepare for the subsequent steps which would be more demanding.

Each phase of our lives is really a space between the previous one and the next which allows us time to learn from the past and anticipate the future. While it can be awkward, it is also comforting because we can take advantage of what we know while enjoying the freedom from what we don’t know.  Let’s face it, sometimes the best part about middle management is passing the buck! (“Sorry, I’m not authorized to make that decision, you’ll have to ask my supervisor!”) Yet, watching what happens at the next level, keeping our eyes and ears open to what goes on at the front of the line allows us time to think about what works and what doesn’t.

While you’re waiting for inspiration to come, what can you learn from what you already know?

It facilitates maturation.  You may not like being in middle school or “middle management” because, the other reality is that you’re often reminded of what you “can’t” do! You’re old enough to “know better” not old enough to have the keys.  You have just enough power (knowledge or skill) to do lots of work, but not enough to get much credit for it. Those around you call the shots, make the decisions and hold your future in their hands. Waiting for your day is like watching grass grow!  Yet, as those of us who survived middle school know, the years in between mark a period of significant change, growth and development. Our bodies and minds matured so much during that time that family and friends hardly recognized us by the end of it! The time of waiting may feel long, but it is necessary to facilitate this maturity. If our parents gave us the keys when we were 12, disaster would have certainly followed. But, within 4-6 years, we matured from those awkward middle stages into more mature (though still maturing) teenagers capable of greater responsibilities and independence.

As adults, moving from middle to upper management–or from novices to masters in our fields–may feel like a work of futility, but the work that we’re doing, the small steps we are taking, every task we complete is part of our maturation. We don’t notice it while it’s happening because the changes are imperceptible, but over time, the accumulation of every small effort—even unintentional ones—is contributing to our development until one day we’ll look up and, perhaps, not even recognize ourselves!

It builds anticipation. Then, when you’ve been in that middle zone long enough to see how it works, long enough to watch what’s next, long enough to study and prepare, you’ll feel that preparation welling up. What may have started out as fear will transform into energy.  When you were a middle-school kid, you may have felt out of sorts–uncomfortable in your own skin. Maybe you worried what other people thought about you and cared what others said.  But during the waiting you’ve had time to settle in. You’ve had time to observe the cycles, to see that people talk about what they admire and camouflage their jealousy with disdain. You understand leadership—that blind ambition clouds judgement, but humility covers a multitude of sins.

You’ve grown and matured.  Now you’re ready for your shot.

You’re ready to take your place at the front of the line–to step out onto center stage.  The time spent waiting is like wood stacked for a fire and the anticipation is a simmering cauldron on an open flame ready to explode!

This is your moment. When preparation meets opportunity, you’ll know it, you’ll feel it and you’ll be ready. “Despise not the day of small beginnings”. Be patient…it’s coming…just wait for it!

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Special thanks to Anaya Katlego on Unsplash for cover photo