He brought her a key, an envelope and a heart-wrenching mystery.
A Pearl in an Oyster
I couldn’t understand why John had been so mysterious. What reason could there be for handing me a key and an envelope and then running off like that?
I shoved the items in my pocket, ran to catch my bus, and just barely made it to work on time. But that didn’t matter to my boss, Charlie, who patted his watch as I walked into the office.
I called out, “Good morning,” gave him a smile, and started coffee. It wasn’t my turn to do so, but the brew hadn’t been started. I pulled out more cups from the cupboard overhead, filled up the empty sugar container and the sweetener basket, and made sure that everything was ready for the stampede.
Charlie, of course, was the first to rush over. “Smells good,” he said. “Thanks for taking over my chore. You know how I hate this taking turns business. Because you’re so sweet, I won’t even mention your tardiness.”
Jerk! I didn’t argue about it. That would have been a waste of time. Charlie was always correct, no matter what foolish statements he uttered.
I cleaned up after his fill-up, poured myself a cup, and went to my desk. My computer messages held nothing important, but I answered a couple and checked the day’s schedule. Then I pulled out my printed correspondence and started working.
I felt Charlie’s eyes on me most of the day. That was normal. He was always looking for someone he could write up. I wondered for the thousandth time how he’d gotten his position. He never did any work; he was too busy spying on the rest of us.
At break I chatted with my two pals, Thelma and Tanya, but I turned down their offer to go out for lunch. I’d brown bagged. Time to start the old diet again.
At lunchtime, I scooped out my yogurt slowly so it would last; then I got excited because I remembered I had breath mints in my pocket. As if they were cookies, I dived in. That’s how I rediscovered the key and the letter.
“Read the letter in three hours if I don’t call you,” John had said. I looked at my watch and calculated. It had been five hours, and there’d been no word from him. I ripped open the envelope, and recognizing the handwriting of my favorite neighbor and elevator buddy, I began to read.
I wanted to get to know you better, but it never happened. I was never able to tell you how much I admired the fall of your hair or your smile -- the way you showed just the briefest tease of teeth. I wanted to tell you about my childhood and hear more about yours, but our rides in the elevator were never long enough, and you were always late for something.
So I let you go each time, never telling you that I loved you. Why didn’t I shut down the elevator and take you in my arms just once? I ask myself, but it’s too late, for you see, if you’re reading this, I didn’t make it.
Use the key to unlock the bus station locker. There’s a present for you there. If I’d lived I would have given it to you in person. It was my mother’s, passed down from countless generations. Now it’s an antique that I hope you’ll cherish.
All the love I felt and never shared with you,
“What’s that?” growled Charlie, pouncing nastily.
I screamed, and the letter fluttered down. “I’m on lunch break,” I said, bending over to pick it up, but Charlie tore it out of my hands.
“Lunch is over. Get busy,” he said.
I stood up and looked him in the eye. “If you take that letter, I’ll report you for theft.”
“Go, girl,” Thelma said, coming up behind us. “I’ll be your witness.”
“You’ve misunderstood,” Charlie said. “I was just handing it back to Charlene.”
“Sure you were,” Tanya drawled sarcastically, coming over to stand behind me. “We’ve had enough of your bullying.”
I won’t go into the rest of it, but it turned out that Charlie was the nephew of somebody important. Around two-thirty, the three of us got walking papers. You want to know how to lose a job and two good friends all at the same time?
Anyway, that meant I had nothing special to do the rest of the afternoon, except maybe find a new job, but I was too worried about John to even think about that, so instead, I went over to the bus station and used the key. The antique he’d written me of turned out to be a cherry-wood box lined with faded red velvet, and sitting inside, like a pearl in an oyster, was a wedding ring set.
I’d been keeping my tears locked inside, but the sight of the ring and the thought that John might be . . . I broke into tears. That’s when John arrived.
“Charlene, I’m so sorry,” he said. “I’m here.”
He met my tears with kisses, and I confessed that I loved him, too.
“I prayed you’d say that," he told me, “but you have to listen to me. I need to tell you the truth. I just testified against Big Henry, and there’s protective agents waiting for me.”
I looked around, blinking through my tears.
“Charlene,” he said to bring my attention back to his words. “They’re going to move me again, but I had to see you first. I don’t know where they’re taking me, and it’s not fair to ask you, but I don’t have any choice. I love you, Charlene. Will you marry me and go with me?”
I could feel eyes all around us, but I ignored them. “Yes, of course I’ll marry you.”
“It’s time to go,” said a gray-suited man reading a newspaper.
John nodded, slipped the ring on my finger, and stood up. “There are two of us now,” he said.
A Writer's Cramp yarn.