Monday, April 11, 2016

Awkward/Adorable and Blind Date, Katy Comber

By Katy Comber

Ralphina Hayes needed a date to her co-workers’ dreaded wedding. Fiona and Phillip were getting hitched and it was all the office could buzz about--tulips vs calla lilies, bridesmaids matching vs bridesmaids somewhat coordinated, sit-down dinner vs. light buffet, mid-afternoon vs. night, professional photog vs Fiona's cousin who could do it for free as long as it helped get her name out there. Ralphina liked Phillip and could occasionally stand Fiona’s odd personality during after work drinks when she wasn’t so cool and the sex on the beach Fiona would order with a wink would loosen her tongue. Phillip was much more likable than his bride. Phillip was tall and quiet. He liked to read. He bonded with Ralphina as the only other office-worker to prefer tea from home to the generic Lipton.
Ralphina’s fondness for Phillip only really came to her attention the day Fiona came in with a sparkling left hand and a simple story told with much elaboration. Her? Ralphina asked herself several times that day. Her? The word floated on the QC forms and on her computer screen. The word bounced off her cubicle walls and reverberated in her mind. Her?
Now, weeks later, the shock had worn off and Fiona and Philip began to make sense: they both worked in the same department, rode the same commuter train, lived in similar posh suburban neighborhoods, looked good in autumn shades, and both preferred cats over dogs. Ralphina lived in a five floor walk-up, looked her best in spring hues, and drove her light blue moped to work; she also had two dachshunds, Max and Maxine, and a beta fish, Lord Tellyweather, she considered family. All she had in common with Phillip was an affinity for Earl Grey tea and suspense novels. So. Ralphina needed a date. Everyone else was pairing up. Fiona and Phillip generously provided “Plus One” on every single person’s invitation in light of their “the more the merrier!” sentiment.         
“Earl Grey, Ralphina?” The voice belonged to the twitching eyebrows and curly mop of gray hair sweeping over her cube wall. The top of Phillip’s head did not wait for Ralphina to reply. It kept going toward the water cooler that had an option for heated water out of the bright red spigot next to the cool blue one. Before she could save her work and double check her blouse for any embarrassing breakfast stains, Phillip was standing in the entrance of her cube with two steaming mugs in his large, well-manicured hands.
“May I have a minute, Ralphie?” Phillip gestured to the chair next to Ralphina’s desk, and Ralphina hurried to free the seat from its organized chaotic piles of collected articles and assignments that were toppling over in her inbox earlier that morning. Ralphina did not have a minute. But. But, this was Phillip, and Phillip had made her tea. Philip waited to sit down until the mass of paper landed in a basket next to a homemade calendar featuring two dachshunds in dressed formalwear, and he heard Ralphina Hayes chuckle to herself about reorganization.
Ralphina Hayes was beautiful. Her bright hazel eyes sparkled behind her heavy dark framed glasses and her hair hung past her shoulders in neat dreads. She was short and plump in figure, and she radiated joy. Ralphina Hayes was one of the two people that made working in the corporate hell Phillip had fought all his postgraduate writing life to never work for… until.
Well, until life. Life and bad timing. It had been a genius idea. He’d spent his savings to write that novel. Then he hung on to it, refused to discuss the idea with anyone, and then on the day he decided to submit the book to an agency, Phillip went to a bookstore to browse, and saw a book that made his heart leap into his throat. It wasn’t his book. It was his idea. A small witch who didn’t know she possessed powers until her mysterious admittance into a school for magic. The book on the shelf went on to sell millions. The name of its main character made Phillip react in a way that was similar to the reactions of several of the book’s characters to the name of its villain. Phillip cleared his throat as he noticed Ralphina eyeing him over his favorite “I am silently correcting your grammar” mug. Waiting. This was going to be difficult, but Fiona had insisted.
“I see you’re very busy today, so I’m going to cut straight to it. Fiona and I have this friend.”
“Oh. Oh, no. Phillip. Really? You too?”
“Everyone in this office has tried to set me up. Ever since those invitations came out. That plus one has everyone feeling the need to supply me a date. I thought you of all people wouldn’t. But, I guess I was wrong.” Ralphina’s eyes narrowed slightly and the room felt a bit colder.
“Sorry. Well. No. Not sorry. I can not apologize for wanting to see you happy, Ralphie.”
“I am. I am happy. I’m not lonely. I have a full life.” Ralphie gestured to her cube wall decorated top to bottom with pictures of friends and travel and concert ticket stubs and theater programs. Phillip grinned at the picture of him and his two favorite girls, Ralphina and Fiona, making crazy faces at one of their weekly happy hour adventures.
“I get that. But, really, it would be a favor to me. This guy is one of our out of town guests, he just broke off his engagement, and the ‘plus one’ is a bit daunting for him at the moment. He’s one of my best friends, but Fiona insisted on a family-only bridal party…which is really just her family considering mine doesn't seem to exsi…” Phillip trailed off; he had started to whine. The nasal tone of his complaint had not been flattering and Ralphina was staring at him.
“He sounds like a winner.” Ralphina looked at Phillip’s crestfallen expression. How could she say no? “Alright. I’ll do it. What’s his name?”
“Brilliant!” Phillip grinned. “His name’s Charlie.”
“Augh. Charlie?”
“What’s wrong with Charlie?”
“I knew a Charlie. He pretty much destroyed the name for me. Would he let me call him Charles? Chuck?”
“Possibly. I think as long as he has someone to sit next to him so Fiona’s family doesn’t ask a million questions about his failed engagement, he’ll let you call him anything.”
Ralphina reluctantly agreed, and Philip set up the date with a heavy heart. He was sure the pair would hit it off. No one disliked Charlie.
The next Friday, the night before Philip and Fiona’s nuptials, Ralphina walked into a pub known for its organic brews and ironic names. A tall man with gray flecked hair and a neatly trimmed beard stood at the entrance with an already wilting lily that looked similar to the lilies in the planters at the door. Charlie Lewis was the most handsome man Ralphina had ever seen and the most dangerous.
“Ralphina? Ralphina Hayes?” As Charlie's eyes lit up in recognition, Ralphina knew it was too late to hide. “When Philip said your name I thought it was too good to be true, yet here you are. I’ve missed you, Ralphina. Everyone does.”
“Oh. I'm sure.” Ralphina muttered as she allowed Charlie to escort her to the bar and order a couple pints of Hoppy Ending Pale Ale. She laughed at his order and rolled her eyes at the irony. The tension had lifted, and the two sat silently together until Ralphina spoke up again.
“I wasn't very important there, Charlie. I felt like an extra on a movie set in my own life. Only Cedric seemed to notice me as I walked in the shop once in awhile.” Ralphina felt a twinge of guilt. She had left. She knew that she disappointed everyone by doing so, but leaving had been the best thing she’d ever done.
“I’m sorry you felt that way. You were the one who reminded Cedric of joy. That was incredibly essential.” Charlie’s voice was low and defeated. He obviously cared for her. Ralphina was touched, but she had left for a reason.
“Isn't there anything I can do to bring you back?” Charlie's green eyes were pleading and hypnotic. Ralphina had always struggled saying no to him.
“I have a life here. I'm a major character in my own story. I have--”
“I know what you have. Philip could not stop talking about you when he set this up. But, I also know what you don't have. Your eyes lit up when I mentioned his name just now, you know.”
Ralphina’s throat felt dry and tears began to well up in her eyes. Ralphina looked down at the pitiful flower next to Charlie's beer in order to avoid looking into his eyes. She’d known Charlie all her life. He knew her heart, her mind, her soul better than anyone in this world. She was sure that he could even read her mind, but she said the words out loud anyway.
“I love him.”
“I wrote a story about him once.”
“Really?” Ralphina’s head jerked up. The sob that collected inside of her let out with the word. What was Charlie saying? What was he offering?
“If you come back, I’ll let you have it.”
“That’s not quite enough. You know that.”
“I think I know of something that will be. Here,” Charlie drained his pint, slammed a twenty on the bar, and hopped down from his seat. Then he picked up the lily. Its damp petals drooped in his hands. Charlie threw the lily up in the air, and Ralphina caught it. The lily bloomed and straightened at Ralphina’s touch, and Charlie laughed. “Come with me.”
A long train ride later, the pair were in Charlie’s study. The whir of the typewriter in the corner attracted Ralphina immediately. Sounds like home, she thought to herself. Charlie chuckled as though she'd said it aloud. He can read my mind!
“Of course I can. You are mine after all.” Ralphina bristled at Charlie’s statement. She knew he meant it to be endearing, but here she was her own.
“I haven't been for nearly a year now.”
“And what you’ve done in such little time has been truly impressive. I knew you were resourceful.”
“Thank you for not saying you made me that way.”
“You're welcome. Now, this is what I’m prepared to offer you upon your return.” Charlie sat down at the electric typewriter that began to clack and click away. As he did so, Ralphina eyed the shelf of manuscripts and published works by Charlie Lewis. The one manuscript that caught her eye made her blush and turn away. Cedric and Rosline had not been published due to missing pages. Pages she had stolen a little less than a year ago. Pages apparently Charlie did not have the heart to replace.
“Here. That’s it! Here you go!” Charlie bolted from his chair with three freshly typed pages. Ralphina jerked away as he tried to hand them to her.
“Oh. Right. Sorry. Forgot.” Charlie held up the pages for Ralphina to read. The story was short and breathtakingly beautiful. The moment the two lovers stepped into the shop to greet a downcast Cedric made Ralphina weep with joy.
“It’s perfect,” Ralphina whispered. Her fingers lifted to the page and she beamed at Charlie as she touched the page and melted away.
The following morning, Charlie took a long car ride and picked up three essentials from Ralphina Hayes’ apartment. It was then that Charlie decided to skip Philip’s wedding. After what he had written the previous night, it just didn't feel right to attend. He would go home and spend his time polishing his work instead.

Cedric and Rosline, pg 42, paragraph 2, line 1:
Philip and Ralphina Hayes-Ford were out of tea. And that was the only thing wrong in their happy lives. There could be a end-of-the-world catastrophe, they could lose everything they owned, but as long as they had each other and a decent cup of tea they knew bliss...

Charlie read the new pages over and over again as two dachshunds played on the study floor, and a beta fish swam in a large aquarium by the desk. The book was nearly done. Only one thing needed to happen before he could let it go.

Then, as though the thoughts that reigned over the small worlds shelved in his study controlled the universe in which he was just a speck of mortal dust, the doorbell rang. Charlie could hear the loud, booming thoughts on the other side of his front door. Another character had returned. This character was not one had escaped but one who Charlie decided to let go. He had been so miserable living in that world as a failing writer with keen ideas and terrible luck. Charlie opened the door, and there he was-- an out of breath groom in a disheveled tuxedo with one word swirling around in his mind: Ralphina.


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