“Looks like you’ve got a valentine, Ms. Burns.” Nadia, the mail woman, says with a smile, plopping something softly on my desk, beside the coffee cup I never use.
I smirk. “I’m sure it’s just some stupid prank. Maybe from Jeremy or something.”
Nadia laugh. “That’s one way to look at it. Anyway, enjoy.” She walks off and I glance at the gift she had put on my desk. A box of candy hearts.
I shrug, opening the box and tossing one into my mouth. Immediately my lips pucker. “Aah, sour.”
Jeremy, my officemate, walks into the office. “Hey Iris.” He sees the box in my lap. “What’re those?”
“Oh please, like you don’t know.” I scoff playfully, looking at the message on the next heart. I [heart emoji] you. I put it on my tongue and chew it, enjoying the sweet flavor much more than the last one.
“I… Don’t. Why would you expect me to know?” Jeremy asks as he sits down in his desk chair.
I tilt my head. “You gave them to me… Didn’t you?” He shakes his head in response. “Then who did?”
I pick another out of the box, reading the words on it. I watch you every day.
“What the… Jeremy, do you see this?” He scoots closer, looking over my shoulder to glance at the message.
“That’s… Pretty creepy. And definitely not a pre-written message. Whoever gave you these must be trying to tell you something.” Jeremy says, reaching over me to fish a candy heart from the box. I swat his hand, but he just sets it in my palm. “Read that one.”
“But you never notice me.” I read, before popping it into my mouth.
“This person sounds desperate.” He laughs, snatching the box from me. “This one next.” He hands me another heart.
I sigh before reciting the words printed onto it. “I doubt you know I exist.”
“Okay then. We just need to find someone who works here that you don’t know.”
“Easier said than done.” I mutter as I grab the box back from him and take out another piece of the candy. “And yet I can’t stop staring.”
“This is just getting scarier and scarier. Why don’t we throw these out, drug test all of the employees, and forget this ever happened?” Jeremy says, knocking the box out of my hand, making it fall onto the floor, spilling the candy across the office.
“Stop it!” I yelp, jumping out of my chair and kneeling to pick them all up.
Jeremy laughs. “Someone’s got a crush on Mystery Dude, huh?”
“More like I want to know who they are.” I reply, reading the hearts aloud as I collect them. “You probably have no clue who I am.” “But I know who you are.” “Iris Burns, the most beautiful girl at Everest Publications” My eyes widen at the last one.
Jeremy, at this point, is on the ground laughing, tears streaming down his face. I fight the urge to smack him. “Seriously? You think this is funny?”
“Nah.” He snorts between laughs. “Nah, it’s just strange.”
I grit my teeth and continue reading through them. “I got you these because I want to meet you” “Name a time and a place”
Jeremy snorts again. “And how is that supposed to work? If you don’t know where to find this guy?”
“Did I already tell you to shut up? If not, please do.” I growl, searching through them. But I’ve already read all of them. There are no more.
He sidles up next to me. “What are you going to do now?”
“Do what the note says. Duh.” I take a deep breath, closing my eyes. This is gonna be really stupid if it doesn’t work.
“The South Park at six.” I call into the air. “Meet me there.”
I sit on a park bench, hands surprisingly sweaty. Jeremy sits beside me, after insisting on coming a couple thousand times.
“I still really have no clue why you need to be here for this.” I say again through a sigh.
He chuckles a little. “I don’t want my officemate to be catfished by an unknown stalker person.”
“This isn’t catfishing.” I feel suddenly uncomfortable. If this is a trick, it could be both embarrassing and dangerous. I could only hope for the best.
Soon we aren’t the only ones in the park. A figure strolls down the sidewalk, not looking up. They wear black leather boots that glint in the setting sun, with black jeans to match. The knees, I notice, are torn. The figure wears a blue sweatshirt, so it’s hard to see their face under the hood.
“That must be them.” I murmur, more to myself than Jeremy. He nods absently, watching the figure.
The figure stops by the bench, pulling something out of their jacket. A.. bouquet?
“These are for you.” The figure pulls their hood down, and I notice that it’s a young woman my age. She hands me the flowers, a shy smile on her face. I see that her cheeks are reddened with blush.
“Um.. Thank you.” I take the bouquet in one hand while stuffing my other hand into my jacket pocket.
The woman looks at the ground, fidgeting with her sweatshirt strings. “I work in the office next to you.” She blurts. “I’m not a stalker, I just overhear things and see things.”
Jeremy bursts into laughter. “Overhearing and seeing things is still stalker-level creepy.” I glare at him, raising my arm as a threat. He holds up his hands and takes a step back.
I sidle up to the stranger. “What’s your name, anyway?”
“Amanda Stringer. But call me Mandy.” With the lanterns of the park starting to turn on, I get a good look at her face and can finally see her features. Her hair is flaming red, cut in a curly bob a little longer than her ears. Her face itself is pale and dotted with freckles. Her eyes… Are aquamarine like the ocean. And she calls me beautiful?
“And.. Iris Burns. Right?” Mandy asks, pointing at me. I nod.
She smiles. “It’s good to know that I can remember a name.” She runs a hand along my hair, cautiously, tentatively, at first, like she’s afraid of how I’ll react to the touch. I smile and laugh a little.
“I won’t bite, you know.”
Mandy laughs as she puts an arm across my shoulders. “We’ll be good friends, huh?”
“Or maybe more. We’ll see.”