~ You Have Mail ~
by D. J. Belt

Copyright: Original story and characters copyright D. J. Belt, February, 2005.

Sex/violence/whatever else: Nope, nope, and yep. It's a love story... or maybe it's a story about love. Either way. You decide.

Comments: dbelt@mindspring.com I'd love to hear from you. I thank all who've written before and, as always, am glad to hear from you again. Thanks, dear friends, for sticking with my stories.

Many, many thanks to my dear friend Wizzy who gave me a cyber-kick in the cyber-pants and made me crank out this story in one day for you. I hope that you like it. She wanted a story about "mail delivery". So, I lay awake in bed this morning thinking about it, then got up, started a coffee IV on myself and wrote it. Good thing I had the day off, huh? Twelve hours later, here it is, for better or worse.

The morning traffic was the usual in the plant's vast parking lot; slow and congested. Charity cursed herself for the umpteenth time that morning as she followed the line of cars through the security guards' gate and into the lot. She hated oversleeping, but had hit the snooze button on her alarm at least five times that morning, causing her to be late and mingle with the "last-minute" folks as she attempted to enter the parking lot. Wheeling her car to the left, she deliberately found an empty area at the far end of the lot and parked there. With a sigh, she shouldered her bag, grasped her coffee travel mug in a white-knuckled death grip and began her morning trek into the cavernous building ahead of her.

With nods to the occasional passers-by in the hallway, she swiped her badge through the time clock, noted with disgust that she was seven minutes late, and wound through the hall to a double door, entering and finding her way down a line of cubicles. Hers was at the end of the aisle; she preferred that, as a corner cubicle gave one more privacy than a mid-aisle one. As she entered her six-foot by six-foot square of office, she paused and noted her name on the wall next to the entrance. 'Charity Jablonski', it read.

"Jeez, what was my mother thinking?" she wondered aloud, as she entered and placed her bag on a counter. She shed her light sweater, kicked off her clogs and plopped down in her worn office chair. After a sip of her coffee, she sighed in resignation and powered up her computer.

It's going to be another thrilling day at the Ordinance Depot, she mused. Hot damn, I've made it. I write instruction manuals for military weapons. Hell, I guess it's better than putting them together. I've seen that assembly line. Charity giggled at the next thought. Yup, I'm a writer. That's what I tell people. When they ask what I write, I tell them that I write the manuals that nobody reads because some sergeant kicks 'em in the ass and tells 'em how to work the damned thing instead.

Charity laughed aloud as she thought, Sounds like a Barry Manilow song. She began softly singing, "I write the manuals that nobody reads..." Yeah, I've been published. Who, they ask? I tell them my Uncle Sam publishes me. Non-readers in the thousands. Oh, yeah. That's me.

She leaned forward and slid her mouse over the pad, clicking open a program. Let's see, today it'll be chapter three: care and cleaning of your M6-A1. Hot damn. I'm all a-tingle. Old girl, this will be some of your best stuff. I can feel a Pulitzer Prize coming out of this shit. She took another sip of her coffee, crossed her sock-covered feet beneath her on the chair, and settled in to begin writing. After a while, a voice interrupted her.

Her boss tapped on the corner of her cubicle and leaned in. He had a humorous, intelligent air about him and wore the uniform of an Army Ordinance Corps major. "Morning, Charity. Can we talk?"

She straightened up, feet still tucked under her, and pushed her glasses up on her nose. "Yeah, sure, boss. What's up?"

"I've just looked over your chapter one copy on the new M6-A1."

Charity raised an expectant eyebrow. "Yeah?"

"It's too complicated."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Too many big words. You're supposed to write this stuff on a sixth-grade level."

"I thought that I was."

"Look, just dummy it down a little more, will ya? After all, this stuff isn't rocket science."

"It's not rocket science?" She waved a hand at the computer screen. "Hell, it's a hand-held, shoulder-fired rocket launcher. Of course it's rocket science." She snickered, took a sip of her coffee, and continued, "It's so technologically advanced that some dumb-ass with a sixth-grade education can put a rocket up a pigeon's butt at a quarter-mile, and I'm supposed to dummy down the instruction book which nobody will read anyway? God, I love working for the government."

The major was listening with a wide grin of amusement, his eyes twinkling merrily, and he actually guffawed out loud when somebody in the next cubicle started applauding and shouted, "Go get 'em, Charity."

He took off his glasses, wiped his eyes, and then folded his arms across his chest. "You know, I love having you in my office, Miss Jablonski. You actually make this job fun." He switched his look to one laced with frustrated amusement. "You know what I mean. Dummy it down some more. That's an order."

"Aye, aye, boss. Will do." She offered him a mock salute, and he laughed again. His head shook pleasantly, then he disappeared from her cubicle. She returned her attention to the screen. Her fingers found the keyboard, and she thought, Okay, boys and girls. Let's see how simple we can make this. One: don't drop-kick the friggin' thing. It costs two thousand dollars. Two: keep the end caps on in the rain so it doesn't short-circuit, you numb-nuts. Three: point, aim and squeeze the trigger. Make sure you point it toward the bad guys first. Duh. Is it dumb enough yet?

She was almost relieved to be interrupted again when the mail clerk shuffled into her cubicle. Charity looked up, smiled, and nodded a silent greeting as the young woman placed a handful of "distribution", official-looking Department of Defense brown envelopes, on the desk near her.

"Um, Charity, here's your mail."

"Thanks." She paused, pushed her glasses up on her nose again, and studied the mail clerk. The young woman stood uncomfortably in the cubicle door, her eyes flickering up from behind thick glasses to meet Charity's gaze and then returning to some spot on the floor as she shuffled her feet on the ugly office carpet. She was a slight, fragile figure with a painfully shy aura about her, wrapped in loose-fitting, baggy jeans and a sweater which seemed two sizes too big for her slender frame. Charity asked, "Say, did you do something to your hair? It looks different today."

"Um, yeah. Got it cut." Her eyes widened a little behind her glasses. "Shaggy."

Charity smiled. "I like it. It's cute."

The mail clerk blushed, then smiled. "Thanks. I ah, um,... got to go. Thanks." With that, she ducked out of the cubicle and pushed her rolling basket down the aisle. Charity leaned over slightly, watching her go, and chuckled. She's actually kind of cute. Pleasant. Can't be more than a couple of years younger than me. Man, she's a shy one, though. Scared of her own shadow, I'll bet. After a moment's contemplation, she returned her attention to her work.

An hour later, she groaned and leaned back in her chair. Shit, this is awful. I am so bored. She sat up, clicked her mouse and brought up the internet, looking at the 'What's New' page of her favorite fan-fiction site. Let's see if there's anything which looks interesting today. As she perused the page, she noted a new story. Hm. Who's this? Solitude? Never heard of her. What the hell, let's give it a try. She clicked on the story link, and in a moment, the story flashed before her. Sipping at her lukewarm coffee, Charity began reading.

An hour had passed before she noted the time. Almost from the first moment, the story had captivated her. The writing was exquisite, full of emotion and ripe with exciting plot. Charity was impressed. As she sniffed and dabbed at her eyes with a tissue, she thought, Man, this is a great love story. It's got me blubbering like an idiot. I've never heard of this gal before. I've got to respond to this one. She called up her personal e-mail and fired off a quick note.

To: Solitude

From: C-girl

Subject: Re: your story

Just wanted to tell you how I loved your story. Beautiful stuff. I actually cried. Keep up the good work, Solitude. You're great.

With another sniffle, she clicked off the website and returned to her tardy efforts to describe the care and cleaning of the M6-A1 rocket launcher. She labored through the chapter, revising until she began feeling a dull ache in her stomach, and looked at her watch. Thank God. Lunchtime. I've got to put this thing down before I go insane. She rose from her chair, stretched, slipped on her clogs and shuffled down the hallway toward the cafeteria.

Forty-five minutes later, she was back at her desk when the mail clerk again entered. "Um, mail." She gently placed a couple of inter-department envelopes on her counter, atop the ones which she had delivered that morning.

Charity looked up and smiled. "Thanks."

"Sure." With that, the mail clerk beat a hasty retreat out of her cubicle and padded down the hallway, her mail cart squeaking rhythmically. Charity glanced back at her computer and thought, This shit is making me crazy. Hell, I'll check my email. When she brought up her personal email, her expression brightened.

To: C-girl

From: Solitude

Subject: Re: your story

Thank you so much. I'm glad you liked the story. It's not much, but it's from the heart.

Charity mused over the email, then sent a reply.

To: Solitude

From: C-girl

Subject: Your story

Not much? Not much? It was GREAT. Don't sell yourself short. Count me a new fan.

She sent it, then noted the next email.

To: C-girl

From: Kat-house01

Subject: Got to work late

Be in late tonight. Don't wait up. Work deadlines, you know. Sorry.

Love, Kathy

Charity sighed, then typed in a quick, affirmative response and sent it off, thinking, Just my luck to be involved with a workaholic. I was hoping for a dinner date tonight. Oh, well. She closed her personal email and returned to her half-hearted attempts to describe the technical delights of the M6-A1, slogging through the steps of disassembly and re-assembly until her head began to pound and her eyes watered. Finally, she slid her chair back and placed her sock-covered feet up on her counter, rubbing her temples. A timid voice roused her from her suffering.

"Uh, Charity?"


"You don't... feel well?"



Charity opened one eye and looked toward the cubicle door, expecting to see the mail clerk there. She was gone. With a groan, she closed her eyes and pulled her glasses from her face, placing a hand over her eyes. After a long, painful moment, a pair of feet shuffled into her cubicle. Charity's voice was gruff. "Look, boss, if this is about chapter two, can we talk later?"

A timid voice replied, "Oh. Um..."

She opened her eyes and looked up. The mail clerk was standing nearby, her eyes wide behind her thick glasses. Charity smiled apologetically. "Sorry."

"Um, s'okay." She leaned forward and set a cup of water and a small bottle of Advil on the counter next to Charity, then smiled shyly. "Headache, huh?"

"Yeah, a real banger." She glanced at the Advil, then up at the clerk. "Thanks. You're a sweetheart."

"Um." The clerk blushed, then smiled and disappeared back into the hallway. Charity watched her go, then thought, Man, she's as quiet as a church mouse. How does she do that? With another glance at the Advil, she opened the plastic bottle, dumped out two into her hand, popped them into her mouth and chased them with a swallow of water. She settled back to allow the medicine time to work on her pounding head, but the pain did not leave her. It lessened, though, and finally Charity gave up in disgust. She shut off her computer, slipped her clogs onto her feet, gathered her bag and sweater, and headed for the door, leaving the Advil bottle on top of the mail so that the mail clerk would see it. Before she left, she stuck her head into her boss's office door and mumbled that she was leaving early, taking half a day sick time.

"You under the weather, Charity?"

"Yeah. Got the mother of all headaches. Feel like shit. Goin' home early."

"Take care and get some sleep. Call me if you can't get in tomorrow."


"And call me if you need anything."

"Thanks, boss." With that, she left, trudged out of the building and hiked the distance to her car, flipping open her sunglasses to protect her sensitive eyes from the overcast glare of the mid-day sun.

The next morning, the mail clerk began her rounds, quietly padding through the aisle and stopping at each cubicle to drop off the "distribution". When she neared Charity's cubicle, she halted just in time to avoid a picture frame hurtling through the cubicle door and smashing against the aisle's opposite wall. Muffled cursing came from within the cubicle. The clerk looked down at her feet, noted the frame, bent and with cracked glass, and picked it up. From it, a pretty face smiled.

She timidly looked around the cubicle entrance, then stepped inside, holding the picture frame. "Um..." Charity stood with her back to the door, muttering stormily. At the interruption, she growled.

"What d'you want?"

The clerk's eyes widened behind her glasses, and she lowered her head and backed up a pace. Charity's eyes, deep with anger, focused on her and then, only after a moment, relented. "Oh. Sorry. I didn't know it was you."

"Um, what's wrong?"

Charity shook her head. "Personal shit."

"Ah, you dropped this."

"No, I didn't. I threw the fucker across the hall. See, when something hits the floor, it's accidental. When it hits the wall, it's on purpose."

"Oh. Um, yeah. That's the fourth law of physics, isn't it?" The clerk looked down at the picture, then held it out. "She's, um, pretty."

Charity looked down at the frame, then snorted, "Yeah. My ex-best friend thought so, too." She waved a hand and muttered, "Went home early yesterday and caught 'em together. They were tryin' out my new sheets."

"Oh." The clerk shuffled, then said, "I'm... sorry." She looked down at the frame in her hand, then asked, "Then you, uh, don't want it back, I guess?"

Charity reached out and lifted the frame from her hand, dropping it in her trash can. "It's not your problem. I'll get rid of it."

"You know, it helps to talk."

"No, it doesn't."

The clerk backed up toward the hall. "Um, if you want to... I usually eat lunch alone."

Charity's manner softened considerably at that. I noticed. "Yeah, well... thanks. Maybe."


She turned to retreat into the hallway, and Charity called out, "Wait."

She froze, then turned around. Charity sighed deeply, then rubbed her temples. Her voice became softer when she spoke next. "Thanks. Really, I mean it. You're sweet."

The clerk shrugged shyly. "It's nothing."

Charity approached her, studying the eyes behind the glasses. "You know, I don't even know your name."


Charity actually smiled at that. "Jennifer. Well, glad to meet you. I'm Charity."

"I know."

Charity actually found herself grinning. "Of course you do. You're the mail clerk. You know everybody."

"Um, yeah."

She shuffled nervously, then turned to go. Charity called after her, "Thanks for being so understanding, Jennifer."

"Sure." She smiled shyly, then disappeared, her mail cart squeaking off down the hallway.

Charity sat down at her computer, attempting to lose herself in the nomenclature of the parts of the M6-A1, but found that she could not concentrate. She clicked to her favorite web site, then looked down the new postings. Shit, I feel like reading a real tear-jerker today. What's here? More PWP's? Damn sure don't need that just now. She snickered dryly, then mentally added, Maybe tonight. Looks like I'll be sleeping alone from now on. On impulse, she scrolled down to the author's search window and typed, "Solitude". After a moment, a page appeared with several stories on it. Oh, cool. She's written something else. Why not? At random, she chose a story, opened it and began reading.

Half an hour later, she pushed her chair back and grabbed her tissue box, wiping at the tears which filled her eyes and ran down her face. She kept her weeping to herself, however, as she didn't want to attract attention to her cubicle. Sniffing loudly, she wiped at her face, blew her nose and threw the tissue into the waste can, pulling out another handful of tissue. Jeez, this story is the most beautiful thing I've ever read. Cry therapy; just what I needed.

She clicked on her personal email and rapidly tapped out a note.

To: Solitude

From: C-girl

Subject: Your story

This is incredible. I'm crying like a fool at work. How you can write so beautifully, I'll never understand. I really want to know, though: do you really believe that love can be like this, or is it wishful thinking on your part? I mean, you write it like you've been there. Can it really be like you describe?

She sent the mail, then kept her personal email account active so that she'd hear if a reply came to her as she returned to her work, eyes red and tissue clutched in her hand. After about twenty minutes, a bell sounded. She brought up her email screen, and thrilled as she saw a note from Solitude. She opened it.

To: C-girl

From: Solitude

Subject: Story

Thanks so much for your wonderful words about my story. It means a lot to me and yes, love can be like this. Never lose heart, dear.

To: Solitude

From: C-girl

Subject: Love

I've found my heart this morning, and it's under somebody's heel. I tried so hard, and it all went to shit. Sorry, but I just don't believe in it anymore. Your stories are beautiful, but reality isn't.

To: C-girl

From: Solitude

Subject: Love

You hurt. I can feel it in your words. I ache for you, and I've been where you are now. Just don't lose hope, C. If you can't believe in someone else, then believe in yourself. You said that you wept at my stories. How could you do that if you aren't really a hopeless romantic, if you don't really believe that such love is possible?

To: Solitude

From: C-girl

Subject: Love

I guess that I just can't believe right now, although I really, really want to. Maybe that's why I love your stories so much... they give me hope.

p.s. Wish I could talk to you about this. I could use a friend right now (God, I sound needy, don't I? I'm not really a nut, I promise!)

To: C-Girl

From: Solitude

Subject: Love

Call me tonight. My number is 256-555-1950. Let's talk, C. I'd love to hear from you, and I mean it.

To: Solitude

From: C-girl

Subject: Love

OMG!!!!!!! That's MY area code and prefix. Where do you live? I live in H'ville.

To: C-girl

From: Solitude

Subject: Small world, ain't it?

Me, too!!! H'ville. This is great! Hee, hee, it'll be a local call and we can chat all night if you want.

To: Solitude

From: C-girl

Subject: Small world, ain't it?

Solitude, I'd love to talk with you. Anyone who can write stories as beautiful as you can has got to be one hell of a girl. Somebody out there is very lucky to have you.

To: C-girl

From: Solitude

Subject: Small world, ain't it?

Sorry to disappoint, but I'm totally single. So, I've got plenty of time to talk. Call me tonight?

To: Solitude

From: C-girl

Subject: We've got something in common!

Yeah, since last night, I'm totally single, too. Hey, it's a crazy thought, but listen: I've just got to meet you. I want to find out who can write such beautiful stuff. Meet me for a drink this evening? Please? Just friends? I don't bite, really, and I'd so love the company. My treat.

Charity sent the email, then returned to her work, making a half-hearted attempt to re-edit her work on "care and cleaning", but all the while, anxiously awaiting the sound of the telltale bell indicating a new email in her in-box. Half an hour passed, then an hour, and no bell sounded. She began to worry that she had overstepped the bounds of etiquette or been too brash, when the call of nature suddenly screamed at her. She rose, left her cubicle, and found the women's bathroom. As she pushed the door open, she felt it thump soundly into something and heard a squeak. She peeked around the door and saw Jennifer, back against the wall, holding her hands over her nose.

"Oh, God. Jennifer, I'm so sorry. Are you okay?"

The girl stood against the wall, her eyes shut, her hands still over her nose. "Um... um..."

"Let me see. Come over to the sink." She led the mail clerk to the sink, gently prying her hands away from her face and lifting her chin. Behind her thick glasses, her eyes were watering and her nose began trickling a thin ribbon of blood. "God, I'm sorry. I didn't know you were back there. Look, hold this tissue to your nose. Look up toward the ceiling."

Jennifer did as she was told, sniffing repeatedly as Charity pressed a tissue against her upper lip. After a few minutes, she gently pulled the tissue away and examined the damage. "Well, you don't look any the worse for wear. Let me clean you up."

"Um... no, it's okay."

"Hush, now. Let me help." Charity dabbed a tissue under the water faucet and began wiping the dried blood away from her upper lip, offering an embarrassed smile when she was done. "There. You look as good as new."

"Um, is my nose okay?"

Charity looked at her face, then looked again, as if really seeing her for the first time. After a moment, she nodded slowly. "It's very okay. That's one cute nose you have there, if you don't mind my saying so."

The face behind the glasses blushed. "You... um, really think so?"

"Yeah. I think so. Listen, you want to go to the infirmary?"

Jennifer shook her head. "No, I've got to get back to work. Um, thanks."

"Hey, it's the least I could do after trying to knock you down." She smiled, then attempted a joke. "You want some Advil? I got some."

Jennifer smiled. "That's funny."

Charity allowed her eyes to trail down from the nose to the oversized sweater, then pointed. "Aw, Jeez. You got blood on your sweater. Look, I'll have it cleaned. Bring it to me."

"No, really. It's okay."


"Um, really." She smiled at Charity, then turned and headed to the door. "Got to, um, go to work."

"Stop by later? Let me check on you?"

"Um." With that, she disappeared out the door. As Charity watched it swing closed, she mentally chastised herself for being so clumsy, then headed into a stall.

When she returned to her computer, she opened her personal email program. There was a new mail, and her heart thumped in anticipation as she opened it. It was from Solitude. A sudden fear enveloped her. What if she doesn't want to meet me? I hope I haven't offended her or something. I seem to be screwing up everything today. Slowly, she perused the email.

To: C-girl

From: Solitude

Subject: Tonight

I'd very much like to meet you for a drink. I think you have a lot to talk about, and I'm told that I'm a good listener, so it'll be fun. Where? When?

To: Solitude

From: C-girl

Subject: Tonight

Do you know where Gino's Italian Restaurant is? Meet me there, in the bar, at 6:30 pm. If you're hungry, we can get a bite.

p.s. How will I recognize you?

To: C-girl

From: Solitude

Subject: Tonight

Love to meet you there. 6:30 pm it is. I'll be wearing a white jacket with a red rose in the lapel. (I love red roses, and everybody says I dress like a dork anyway, so I embrace my dorkiness.) See you then.

Charity stood. Her chair scooted away from her legs as she waved a fist in the air. "Yes!" She danced around the cubicle, chanting, "Yes, yes, yes. Finally, something right." As she turned, still in mid-celebration, she stopped in her tracks, her fist still poised triumphantly in mid-air. Her boss was regarding her with a quizzical expression, and he raised an eyebrow.

"Got over your writer's block?"

"Huh? Oh, just, ah, celebrating."

"Nice. Anything job-related?"


He sighed melodramatically. "Too bad. I could use some good news." He turned to go, then eyed her critically from the entrance to her cubicle. "Or, I could use a re-edited chapter one. Any chance of my getting that in the next year or so?"

"Huh? Yeah, sure. Almost done with it."

"Good, good." He leaned in, peered down at her trash can, and noted the bent picture frame in it. "Heard you had a, ah, personal situation this morning." At her questioning expression, he explained, "Nothing's secret in an office, especially when pictures of 'significant others' go flying around."

She shrugged, then corrected him. "Former 'significant others'."

"Oh. Are condolences or congratulations in order here?"

She thought about the question, then responded, "Not sure yet. I'll let you know."

He nodded. "If you need a personal day off, you've got one coming to you."

"Thanks, but I think I'll be okay."

"Glad to hear it. My office door is open if you need to talk." He turned and headed down the hall. Charity found her purse, extracted some money from it, and headed to the soda machine. When she returned, her can of soda in hand, she kicked off her clogs, settled into her chair, and tried to return her thoughts to the field maintenance of the M6-A1 rocket launcher. The afternoon progressed with a painful slowness and finally, she saved her work, clicked her computer off, slipped her clogs on and picked up her bag. She was out the door in record time.

Two hours later, she pulled into the parking lot of Gino's Restaurant. As she exited the car and walked into the front door, she looked around, scanning the entrance for a white jacket. She saw none. Well, maybe she's in the bar, or maybe she's a little late. Traffic sucks, after all. She headed to the bar, slowly walking into the relaxed, wood-paneled atmosphere and scanning the bar. About halfway down, her eyes stopped, fastened upon the back of a white blazer-type jacket, a mop of brown hair above it. Oh, yeah. That's got to be her. Well, time to be sociable, I guess.

Charity eased up behind her, taking the empty stool just behind the white-jacketed woman. The bartender approached her and she said, "Bloody Mary, please." He nodded, left, and returned in a moment with her drink. She placed a five-dollar bill on the counter, took a sip to fortify herself, and then asked, "Solitude, I presume?"

The figure in the white jacket turned and faced her. The eyes, peering at her from over thick glasses and from underneath a shaggy hairstyle, widened in exclamation. "Um... um... gosh. Oh, my. Charity? You're C-girl?"

Charity's mouth dropped open. She stood, frozen for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah. " She looked Jennifer over, then pointed to the red rose on her lapel. "You're Solitude?"

"Um, yeah."

For a moment, they stood, blinking at each other, then Charity lifted her glass and held it in front of her. "Here's to red roses."

Jennifer raised her own glass and clinked them together. "And to, um, love stories that make you cry."

"Yeah. I got one of those to tell you. Think you can write me a happy ending for it?"

"Well..." They both sipped at their drinks, then left the bar to seek out a table. As they did, Jennifer blushed, then looked up from behind her glasses. "If we both work really hard at it, I think that maybe I can."

As they sat, Charity searched the face in front of her. She really is a cutie. I just never noticed before. She hides herself really well behind those baggy clothes and thick glasses. "Solitude, you read my mind."

Jennifer blushed, then smiled shyly. "Does this mean that I won't be eating lunch alone anymore?"

"Or dinner. You hungry? My treat."

"Oh. Um... is this a date?"

"Would you like it to be?"

Jennifer nodded. "Yeah. I think, um... yeah."

Charity grinned. "Then it's a date. Let's go."

She stood, motioned toward the dining room, and Jennifer joined her. As they walked toward the front of the restaurant, she squeezed Charity's arm and whispered, "So, you wanted to tell me about your break-up?"

"What? Break-up? Nah." She glanced over at Jennifer's inquisitive eyes. "Nah. I'd rather talk about your next love story. Tell me, how does it end?"

Jennifer cocked her head, considering the question, then replied softly, "I don't know. We're just writing the first lines now." She paused, then added, "I hope that it doesn't eventually make you cry."

"Tears of joy, perhaps?"

"See? You really do still believe, don't you?"

Charity had to laugh. "Yeah. Guess I do, in spite of it all." She paused, then added, "How could I not after reading your stories?"

The ensuing hour was the most enjoyable that Charity could remember. After dinner, a shared dessert, and coffee, the waiter deftly deposited the bill next to her elbow, then left. Jennifer reached for her wallet, but was stopped with a wave of Charity's hand. "Mine, remember? No argument, now."

"Thank you."

"No. Thank you. I've had a blast." She checked the bill, did some mental calculations, and then left two twenties and a ten in the faux-leather folder. "Guess we'd better scram. The waiter is giving us the evil eye."

They left the restaurant, walked out into the darkened parking lot and sought out their cars, parked just a few spaces apart. As they stood in companionable silence, Charity observed, "You know, you haven't said 'um' for the last hour."

Jennifer smiled shyly at that. "I feel comfortable with you."

"You really are shy, aren't you?"

"Yeah. I've always been that way, ever since I was little." She shrugged. "It's just me."

Another moment of silence reigned and Charity searched for something, anything to say to prolong the moment. Finally, she said, "Your nose is bruised where I hit you with the door. I'm really sorry for that."

"Wasn't your fault. It'll heal."

"I'd like to make it better."

Jennifer's eyes widened. "How?"

"Well..." She raised an eyebrow and thought, Go for broke, kiddo. "I could kiss it and make it better."

"Um,... um..."

"Oh, gosh. Don't go getting all shy on me again."

Jennifer slowly reached up and removed her glasses. "Um,... would you?"

"I'd love to." She leaned forward and placed a gentle, lingering kiss on Jennifer's nose. When she finished, she studied the face in front of her. "Better now?"

"Yeah, but..." Jennifer placed a finger on her lips. "I think I'm bruised here, too."

"Well then, come here." Charity held out her arms and Jennifer fell into them. After several minutes of silence, she whispered huskily, "All better?"

"Well, I'm not sure. I think I might need another treatment really soon."

"For you, my office is always open."

"That's nice." Jennifer looked around, then sighed and replaced her glasses. "Guess I'd better go, huh?"

"Guess it's that time. I'll see you tomorrow at work."

Reluctantly, they parted. Jennifer turned and walked toward her car. She stopped halfway, turned and asked, "Lunch tomorrow?"

Charity nodded. "Wouldn't miss it for the world. Come and get me when you're ready."

She nodded brightly, then turned and headed toward her car. Charity watched her go, then saw her stop as she opened the door. Very softly, Jennifer said, "G'night."

Charity smiled as she thought, What a gentle soul she is. A fragile treasure. "Good-night, honey."

Jennifer beamed at that, then waved shyly and disappeared inside her car. As she walked to her own car, Charity began humming a song, then stopped and looked up at the starlit sky. To no one in particular, she said, "I really don't feel sleepy." She pondered the empty apartment which would face her when she arrived home, and shrugged. "Maybe I'll just do a little late reading. I think that I'm in the mood for a love story tonight."

The End.

-djb, February, 2005

D. J. Belt Scrolls
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