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The Sunday Squirrel: spoon (encore)

Kayla opened the box as soon as she stepped in the door. Brad had written her name, in the bold slashes that passed for handwriting, with a thick green Sharpie marker. Nestled among the wadded newspaper pages was a…spoon?

“What the hell?” She dumped the contents onto the table and smoothed every sheet of print, but that was it. A spoon.

It took every ounce of self-control she had not to call him to ask the question directly, but she’d see him in thirty minutes. She could wait. In the eight months since they’d met at a book signing for motivational guru Ed Godwin, Kayla had grown used to Brad’s little surprises. Like the flowers he’d sent her when she had to work on Christmas Eve, the box of chewing gum for her road trip to North Carolina to see her parents, the tub of ice cream—and some fun ways to use it—when she didn’t get the promotion she wanted.

But he’d never given her a spoon before. Maybe he had a special dessert in mind. She warmed at the thought, and quickly changed into a flirty skirt, matching top, and sandals before freshening her hair and makeup.

When she opened the door to him, he grinned and gave her a long kiss. “You look great. Ready to go?” he asked.

“Yep. Let me grab my purse.”

“Don’t forget the spoon,” he called from the doorway.

She returned and held it out. “What is this for, anyway?”

“Uh-uh.” He shook his head. “You’ll find out later.”

Dinner was torture. Every minute she expected some kind of surprise related to the odd gift burning a hole in her purse, but nothing happened. She ate and chatted distractedly. When they were done, he declined dessert or coffee, paid the bill and squeezed her hand.

“Let’s go,” he said.

“Where?”

“My place.”

Exasperating man. “Is that where I get to use the spoon?” she asked, trying to hide her irritation. Patience had never been her strong suit.

He gave her a quick kiss and smiled. “Yes.”

Jeez, finally.

Ten minutes later, he had her seated at the breakfast bar with her spoon, which had been washed and now lay on a napkin. He set out a bowl and filled it with her favorite ice cream. “There you go.”

She couldn’t help the sense of disappointment that settled over her like a layer of snow. He’d built up the suspense so much that she’d expected something…more. But he watched her expectantly, so she took a bite, the cold lump going down hard.

Brad leaned across the counter, his face serious. “Kayla? You know I love you right?”

Why did that not sound good? She met his gaze, her heart pounding, and nodded. “I love you too,” she said.

“Well, I bought the spoon so we could share it. It’s not from my drawer, and it’s not from yours. It’s something new that’s just for us.”

“O-kay.” What the hell was he talking about? It’s just a freaking eating utensil.

He grinned, probably at the look of consternation she could feel on her face. “I was hoping it would be the start of a whole set of silverware and other things that we could buy,” he took her hands in his, “to fill our new home. That is, if you’ll marry me.” He set a velvet box on the table and opened it to face her. Inside, an ornate gold ring twinkled with diamonds.

He was proposing? Her jaw dropped. He was proposing! She smiled at him, barely able to squeak out an answer. “Yes. Yes, I’ll marry you.”

In a flash, he was around the counter and sliding the ring on her finger before pulling her to her feet and into his arms. “I love you so much.”

In between kisses, she managed to whisper in his ear. “Best surprise ever.”

Originally published 11/21/10.

The Sunday Squirrel: cheated

Kelly Adams sat on the plush couch in the Dean’s outer office and studied the laces of her lime green Chuck Taylors. Not even nine in the morning and she’d already screwed up. Her dad would be furious, livid, apoplectic.

The muted colors and hushed air of the anteroom were a stark contrast to the adrenaline rushing her veins as she waited impatiently for the wiry, old academic whose office she’d visited more than a few times.

Dean Woolerich’s secretary emerged from behind an imposing mahogany desk, patting her peach-tinted gray curls into place as she circled toward Kelly on thick legs. The bitch peered down through her bifocals and smirked. “You won’t get out of this one, young lady.”

Kelly clamped her mouth shut and stared the old bat down.

Finally, the woman harrumphed and strode toward the door to the Dean’s office, cracking it open. “Dr. Woolerich will see you now.”

Standing tall, Kelly marched into the wood-paneled office and shut the heavy carved door in the secretary’s face with a smirk of her own.

“Miss Adams,” the dean said in the tired, thready voice of an aging man. “Have a seat.” He gestured to one of the red leather wingback chairs, perfect for making a person feel as small as possible.

Kelly perched on the edge of the leftmost seat and waited, her eyes roving over the man’s many diplomas and certificates of accomplishment in the worlds of law and academia.

The dean let out a sigh and opened a thick folder on his immaculate desk. Kelly’s mother could have told her the era and style of the ornate piece of wood and whether it was reproduction or original. All Kelly knew was that it screamed money. Merridine University was nothing if not elite and expensive.

“Dr. Leitner has alleged that you cheated on your Constitutional Litigation exam,” he said, pushing his frameless glasses up his nose as he focused on her. “Do you deny the charge?”

She took a deep breath and held his gaze. “No sir. I did it.”

His mouth opened in surprise before he slowly sat back and studied her, steepling his fingers beneath his pale chin. “You’ll have to sign a statement. You understand that this will go on your permanent academic record?”

“Yes.”

Confusion knitted his brows and painted a frown on his thin lips. “The punishment for cheating is expulsion,” he declared with a hint of exasperation. The poor man was probably calculating the endowments from her fearsome lawyer-turned-politician father that Kelly had just cost the school. “Not even your father can get you out of this one, Miss Adams.”

Exactly. Attempting to look ashamed, she cast her gaze down. “I understand, sir.”

Fifteen minutes later she practically danced out into the sun-dappled courtyard ringed with trees, unable to contain the smile that spread from deep within her soul.

She was finally free.

Photo credit: OLD BOOKS © Alexvalent | Dreamstime.com

The Sunday Squirrel: embarrassment

I pulled into the parking lot of the old McDonald’s where I had worked for six months when I was sixteen, and wondered if anyone I knew still worked there after three years. It was only March, but already warm in the Tucson foothills. With a quick motion, I turned off the engine of the compact rental car and yanked on the key.

It wouldn’t budge. Dumbfounded, I pulled a few more times, turned the car on and off, and tried again. Nothing. I pushed on the key, checked for a release button, beat on the steering wheel… Nothing.

This was the first time I’d ever driven an automatic transmission, but how hard could it be? It was an automatic, for crying out loud. The worst part was how I kept trying to push in a clutch that wasn’t there every time I slowed down. But getting out of the car should have been the easy part.

I looked around the quiet shopping center in desperation. I couldn’t leave to ask for help when the keys were still in the ignition. Nice neighborhood or not, that was just plain idiotic.

Of course, so was getting the key stuck.

I had to be missing something obvious. I took a deep breath and did a survey of the dashboard, steering wheel, and controls. Engine off, key in the off position, no release button. I looked down at the gear shift knob. Hmm…

So, who knew the car needed to be in Park before you could take the key out? 😉

 

The sunday Squirrel: love? (encore)

The premise of today’s squirrel was to write a love scene where the characters do not touch, or say anything similar to “I love you”, and there is no internal dialogue. (Think distant 3rd person.) Here’s my attempt at making it clear that these characters love each other…

He met her gaze. “Stay.”

Her hand slipped from the doorknob, and she stepped toward him, her eyes glistening. “I want to…but I can’t.”

He shoved trembling hands into his pants pockets. “You belong here. With me. The house is empty without you.” He shifted and whispered down to her, close enough for his breath to move wisps of her hair. “It has no soul when you’re gone.”

The tears finally spilled over, leaving black tracks down her cheeks. Her hand came up, palm out, and hung in the air, somewhere between a sign to stop and the beginning of a caress. She held it for a beat and then her face crumpled. “I’m sorry,” she sobbed, turning away and covering her mouth. With a quick twist on the knob, she yanked open the front door and ran to her car.

The door slammed shut with a gust of cold wind, and he watched her blurry form through the frosted glass until she drove away. He sank to his knees on the Oriental carpet runner and rubbed his chest, leaning forward until his forehead rested on the blue and red yarns. He beat the polished wood floor with his fist as a low moan escaped his lips. ”Carrie.”

 

The Sunday Squirrel: Valentine’s Day

My ideal Valentine’s Day. Macie sighed and stared at the keyboard. Hardly anyone even read her pathetic little blog anyway. Just a few anonymous readers who never commented.

But somehow, putting her private thoughts out into the universe—anonymously, of course—made her feel like someone cared.

A long walk on the beach. Then we—she never named the mystery man in the blog, but in her mind it was always her roommate, Hunter—would collect driftwood and build a fire to keep us warm as the ocean breeze chilled and the sun set.

A light picnic, a nice wine, and a warm blanket…

She stopped there. She didn’t write everything she imagined. Her blog was PG after all.

Happy Valentine’s Day. She clicked PUBLISH and sank back against her headboard, not quite ready to face the database project her client wanted by next week.

A sharp knock broke the silence and Hunter opened the door, a grin on his handsome face. “Hey, I gotta run. You have any plans tonight?”

She held back an unladylike snort. “I have a hot date.” As if.

His face sobered. “You do?” He looked surprised. “With who?”

“The DVD I got in the mail yesterday. What about you?”

Relief flared in his bright green eyes and he smiled. “Yeah. I have big plans.”

Great. Did he expect her to help? She’d never seen him so jumpy, and her gut burned with jealousy. When the lease was up, she needed to move out because living under the same roof with this man was going to kill her. “Good luck,” she managed to choke out as he left.

Two mind-numbing hours of programming later, the front door opened. “Macie?”

She met Hunter in the kitchen where he’d plopped down four canvas grocery bags. “What happened?”

“Nothing. I just needed some stuff for my date.”

Her heart sank. “Are you bringing her here?”

“Yeah. In fact, I have a favor to ask. Can you go check on Old Bob’s dog for me? I promised to feed him tonight.”

“Sure.” She could check on Rex while Hunter prepared for his hot date. In fact, she’d probably end up spending the night with Rex while that inconsiderate jerk romanced his new girlfriend.

When she returned after feeding and loving up the aging German Shepherd, Hunter met her at he door with a sheepish look.

“Now what?” she snapped, no longer caring if he realized how much he hurt her with his indifference.

“I have another favor to ask.”

Of course he did.

“Grab a sweater and come with me.” The gleam in his eye made her nervous. If he tried to set her up with one of his old fraternity brothers again, she’d kick him out.

He took her hand, and her traitorous tummy fluttered as he led her to the stairs.

“Where are we going?” she asked, following him up and out onto the roof. The setting sun painted orange streaks across the indigo sky and reflected off the tall buildings of nearby downtown.

A cool breeze ruffled her hair as Hunter took her hands and faced her. “It’s not the beach…but maybe next year when I have more time to plan.”

Her heart kicked and she stepped back. “What?” She bumped into a chair and turned, noticing for the first time a large blanket spread beside a raised fire pit, a picnic basket and a bottle of wine resting on the fringe.

For a few seconds, she stared in disbelief. Then she spun to face him. “How did you know?”

“I didn’t at first. I saw the blog name over your shoulder when you were working at the dining table a few weeks ago.”

“And you didn’t have a date for tonight so you thought, ‘Hey, let’s find out what happens after wine and a warm blanket. She hasn’t been with a guy in ages, she’s probably desperate.’”

“Macie, it’s not like that.”

Disgusted, she stepped around him toward the stairs. She’d poured her heart out, believing her thoughts were safe and anonymous, and he’d let her continue writing, never letting on that he knew about it.

“I was scared,” he said, as she reached for the door.

She stilled. Hunter was the most confident man she knew. Nothing fazed him.

He moved in behind her, gently holding her shoulders. “I’ve loved you for so long, but I didn’t think you felt the same way. And then I read your blog and finally realized you were talking about me.”

“But you let me keep writing.”

“I’m sorry. I wanted our first date to be perfect, and I didn’t know how to tell you. But when I saw your post today… Well, at the time it seemed like a good idea.”

She faced him. It might have been the red glow from the sun, but she could have sworn he was blushing.

He lifted his hand and gently stroked her cheek. “I’m sorry. I should have told you I knew. I never meant to hurt you.” His voice vibrated with sincerity and his green eyes gazed at her with adoration that she’d never noticed before.

She took a deep breath and smiled. “Did I hear you say something about love?”

The tension eased from his shoulders and he pulled her tight against him. “I love you, Macie. If you want, I’ll announce it on your blog for all the world to see.”

“I’m done putting my thoughts online.”

He gave a mock frown. “Then how will I know what you’re thinking?”

She threaded her fingers through his dark hair as she’d dreamed of doing so many times. “Come here and I’ll show you.”

And she kissed him.

The Sunday Squirrel: vice

Katie stared at the empty carton in horror. How could she be out already? She pawed through the drawer digging out notecards, old pens, a pair of scissors, and a ticket stub. No, no, no.

Today was not the day to go cold turkey. Not when she had a presentation in front of the new CIO and dinner with her sister.

She pulled out her wallet. One quarter. If she went up to the roof would anyone hear her scream?

Her fingers trembled on the mouse and she squeezed the knot at the base of her neck. Two more hours. No sweat. Except for the little drop trickling down her side.

Mindy had left early. Maybe she had a stash in her desk. Katie walked casually into the next cubicle, glanced over the wall to make sure no one was around, and rummaged through Mindy’s desk drawers. Nothing. Of course. Mindy was one of those super health nuts who ate sprouts and only drank water or fresh juice.

Barry. Katie snapped her fingers. Surely, he’d have some.

Using every bit of willpower not to race down the hall, she glanced into Barry’s cubby as she strolled by. Damn. He was meeting with someone.

Defeated, Katie passed through the lobby and out the side door. A group of smokers huddled around the ash can, and she sighed with relief at the sight of Ron.

“Hey,” he said with a smile as he exhaled. “You look stressed.”

“I’m dying.”

“I have just the thing.” He reached into his coat pocket.

She held out her hand for the miniature chocolate bars. “Thank you,” she said almost on a whisper, rapidly unwrapping a piece of candy and popping it into her mouth. So good. “I owe you one.”

Ron chuckled.

Katie ate another piece of chocolate and sighed with pleasure.

I just might get through this day after all.

 

The Sunday Squirrel: lie

Lynne watched her sister walk in the front door and groaned. Already her promise to tell nothing but the truth for the next seven days would be put to the test.

“What do you think of my new haircut?” Dory twirled in the foyer and gave her a goofy grin.

Okay, Lynne couldn’t lie, but she didn’t have to be mean either. “It looks easy to take care of.” Never mind that it made her look like a Q-tip. “Is it what you wanted?”

“It’s exactly what I asked for. And I think after I wash out all of this goop, it’ll be more natural.”

That was easy.

Her encounter with Harry the next day, not so much.

“Hey, want to get a drink after work?”

How many times did he have to ask before he got the hint? Lynne took a deep breath. “No, thanks.”

“Oh, you have plans already, huh?”

Excuses automatically raced through her mind. I have a lot of work to do. I have to meet my sister later. I already have a date. I have to wash my hair. “Um, no.” She faced him, her palms sweating. They worked together. Life could get awkward. But she’d promised. No lies. “Look, Harry. I like working with you, but I’m not interested in anything more than that.”

He pulled his head back in surprise. “Oh.” Then he smiled. “Well, I appreciate you telling me. I might have wasted a lot of energy thinking I had a chance.”

That hadn’t gone as expected at all. She was almost disappointed at how well he took it. Had her little white lies in the past only made things worse? In her attempt to protect the feelings of others, had she been doing more harm than good? Or maybe she’d been selfish, protecting herself from the potential discomfort and confrontation?

Maybe her professor was right. Maybe total honesty was the best policy. Or at least the avoidance of outright lies.

Two hours later, her coworker Marian poked her head into the office, her face bright with excitement. “Guess what?”

Lynne smiled. The woman’s mood was infectious. “What?”

“Todd and I are getting married.” She waved her diamond-laden hand in front of Lynne’s face.

Oh crap. Todd was the biggest a-hole on the planet as far as Lynne was concerned. Selfish, elitist, and shallow. She never did understand what Marian saw in him.

The woman looked at her expectantly. “Isn’t it exciting?”

Lynne chose her words carefully. “You’re positively beaming.”

“I know! I have to go show Carole,” she said and bounced out again.

Another close call that had ended well. The experiment was easier than she’d expected. She didn’t always disclose her thoughts, but she never lied. Not even a little bit. It was actually invigorating and freeing. When she was late, she took responsibility. No excuses. If she didn’t want to do something, she just said so.

Two days in, and her life was simpler already.

Later that evening, she ran into her hot neighbor, Darren, in the corridor of her apartment building.

“Hey, Lynne.” He gave her a blinding smile. “How’s your experiment going?”

“Not bad actually, though I’m sure I could get into trouble if I were asked for my opinion on gay marriage while in Mrs. Prokiev’s apartment.”

He laughed and crossed his arms. “Easy, huh? Then maybe it’s time you were tested.”

Was it her imagination, or were his hazel eyes twinkling?

“Do you like my haircut?”

“Oh come on.” Why did everyone always ask that? She swallowed and met his gaze. “No.”

He frowned. “Why not?”

It’s too short. “Because I like your hair better when it curls at the ends.” Heat flooded her face, but she stood her ground. How many times had she imagined running her hands through his curls?

A surprised grin flashed across his face, and he took a step toward her. “If I’d known, I wouldn’t have gone so short. I should have asked a long time ago.”

“I wouldn’t have told you the truth back then.”

His face turned serious and he placed his hand on the wall above her head, leaning in close enough that she could smell his peppermint gum. “Can I kiss you?”

Her heart thumped against her chest. “Only if you mean it.”

He bent low to press his lips to hers, and she melted into his arms with one fleeting thought: Forget telling the truth for a week. She was never going to lie again.