Ben crumpled up the paper he was brainstorming on and tossed it towards the corner wastebasket in despair.
It landed a good foot away.
He quickly glanced out his office glass doors in case any of his copywriters, lined up neatly in their cubicles, had noticed his poor throw.
Instead of any of his colleagues looking back at him, he caught the eye of the office janitor, who gave him a sympathetic look. It was like high school PE all over again.
If the janitor was there, it was a lot later than he had thought. He glanced at his laptop. 6:30 PM.
Lazy staff, already gone for the night.
He scoffed and titled a new page in his notebook. Did no one else in the office care that the Naboo Tech executives were coming in a matter of days to hear their pitch? This was perhaps the biggest client First Order Marketing had ever had, and yet he was alone in the office on a Thursday evening.
The importance of the pitch seemed to be lost on his inner creative juices, however, because his paper remained as blank as ever.
He rescued his previous paper from its pitiful place on the floor. Maybe all the words he had tried to rhyme with “Naboo” like a high school student forced to do an advertising assignment would trigger something.
It wasn’t that long ago that he was promoted to this position, lifted from the copywriting ranks, and given this office. He couldn’t screw it up.
It was time for a mental break. He opened his phone’s news app and was scrolling through the depressing headlines of the day when he was interrupted by a tiny cough. Expecting to see the janitor when he looked up, he was surprised to see a young woman.
“Hi, um, Mr. Solo? I’m so happy you’re still here. I have a package for you.”
Ben took her in more fully. She was pushing a mail cart.
“Sure, come on in.”
She walked in holding a large, flat box with hand drawn hearts all over it. When he looked up from the box to her face, she smiled apologetically.
“I’m so sorry this is late, but we’ve just been so crazy helping with all the deliveries today, you know how it is.”
Ben did not know, but he nodded anyway. He took the package from her and almost rolled his eyes when he saw the return label, tossing it on the table.
Ben looked up at the woman, surprised to see her still there. She was staring at the box.
“What do you mean?”
“The package. I figured it was from your girlfriend. Since you guys aren’t together today.”
She gestured around the empty office.
“Oh, um.” Ben rubbed the back of his neck. “I don’t…have a girlfriend, or anything like that.”
There was no reason for him to tell her that, but it was either that or be forced to face the Empty Scratch Paper of Despair again.
“Ah, a secret admirer then.”
He glanced up to see her waggling her eyebrows at him. For the first time, he really looked at her. She was a bit younger than him, mid-twenties if he had to guess, and pretty. He must have made some kind of expression because her teasing face bloomed into the biggest, brightest smile he had ever seen.
His breath caught.
Swallowing quickly, he said, “Why would I have a secret admirer?”
“Stranger things have happened on Valentine’s Day.”
“Oh, is it that today?” It explained the empty office at least. Everyone must have had plans.
Except him, of course.
She gave him a strange look. “Yeah, that’s why I said I was late with your package. We had a zillion deliveries through this whole building all day long. Plus this one came in the nick of time, last delivery of the day. Your admirer has good timing. I didn’t even expect you to still be here.”
Slightly embarrassed, he didn’t have a response to that.
After a moment of silence, the woman cleared her throat.
“Okay, well, I guess I’ll leave you to it.” She tapped the package on the corner of the desk and started towards the office door.
“It’s not from a secret admirer.”
The woman whipped around and met his eyes.
This was ridiculous. She surely had places to be, probably had someone waiting for her. He imagined her shooting off annoyed texts to some unseen handsome recipient, whining that she was trying to get out, but she had this one last package to give to some employee.
And yet, the way she looked at him encouragingly made him think that maybe she had lingered in his office because she didn’t have anywhere to go either.
“It’s from my mom.”
There was maybe nothing more embarrassing on earth than a 32 year-old professional with no Valentine’s attention other than his mother, but the admission was worth it to see the woman’s face light up and break into another gorgeous smile.
“Your mom still sends you Valentines?”
“Apparently so.” He attempted a wry smile and looked at the silly, decorated box.
“Oh wow, that’s, that’s…” She was laughing.
“I was going to say sweet.”
“It’s okay, you can be honest.”
Her laughing subsided but a small smile remained.
“You should be grateful to have a mom like that, Mr. Solo.”
Her smile widened again.
Rey. It suited her. He tried not to appear too pleased that she had introduced herself. Feeling slightly bolder, and also dying with curiosity, he attempted to ask a question.
“So, do you have…um…”
Her smile faded and her cheeks got a little pink. She held out her hands, fingers spread wide.
“Nope. And it’s never more obvious than today, huh? All day long I’ve been delivering flowers and bears and chocolates to dozens of women all through this building. It may be silly, but I never stopped hoping one of those cards had my name.”
She rolled her eyes and clenched her fingers into fists.
“But who would it be from, anyway?” Her voice sounded sad.
“So I take it your mom respects your adulthood and doesn’t send care packages anymore?”
Ben’s weak attempt at lightening the mood had the exact opposite reaction he was going for when Rey’s shoulders drooped.
“I never had a mom to send me packages in the first place, so no.”
“Oh Rey, I’m sorry, I didn’t even think.”
“It’s whatever,” she said, waving her hand impatiently, but her eyes stayed sad. “But it’s what I said. You should be grateful your mom took the time to do this for you.”
There was another silence. Ben had no idea how to fill it as he watched Rey look around his office mindlessly. He tapped his fingers against his desk a few times.
“Maybe we could share it?”
At the sound of his voice, small and nervous, Rey looked back down at him sharply.
“You mean, like, open it right now?”
“Yeah,” said Ben. “Why not? I have no idea what’s in it, so be prepared for anything. I mean, it could be candy, it could be socks, but with my mom, I don’t know, it could be anthrax.”
She giggled. “You’re sweet. But I couldn’t take any more of your time or your stuff."
“Does it look like I have plans?” He gazed out to the empty cubicles and felt her eyes following. “But, I mean, if you do, don’t feel stuck here.”
“No! I mean, no, I don’t have plans, not unless you count eating Chinese takeout alone while I sob over whatever chick flick I can find on my roommate’s Netflix account.” She scrunched her nose adorably. “Sorry, TMI, huh?”
“Not when you’re talking to the guy who only found out it was Valentine’s Day from his mom."
Almost as if something had snapped in her, she grabbed one of the plushy chairs opposite of Ben’s desk and dragged it confidently toward him.
“Go on, then,” she said, nodding towards the package. “I gotta say, you’ve got me intrigued by the whole anthrax thing. It’s an occupational hazard as a professional mailroom clerk, but so far, nothing. It’s boring, really.”
Ben was enjoying watching her ease up. It was the opposite of how most people were around him. Usually if they spent more than a couple minutes together, Ben’s nerves were able to wear down even the most loquacious of companions.
“Do you have a mask or anything on your mail cart?”
“No, but that’s not a bad idea for the future. Maybe I should send it up the chain.”
“How long have you been in the mailroom?”
Two years, and this was the first time he had ever really looked at her. She was someone who usually existed in his peripheral vision, someone he’d nod to absently if she came in with mail. He felt a bit ashamed that he had no idea what her name was until right then.
“How does one enter the exciting world of office mail delivery?”
She snorted a bit. “This? This is just my day job. It’s expensive in this city. My real passion is sculpting.”
“Yeah, I like to repurpose old materials into works of art. I grew u– I mean, there was a junkyard near me where I grew up, and found early on that I had a knack for seeing beauty in the stuff people threw away.”
“Do you do it often?”
“Yeah, I actually have a teeny little business selling my work online. Some are originals, some are commissions.”
“Can you show me?”
He opened his laptop, and her eyes widened.
“Show you? My shop? Right now?”
“Yeah.” He felt embarrassed. This was why he chose not to talk to people. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pressure you. That was invasive.”
“No, no, I’m just surprised. Most people don’t care that much when I tell them about it.”
After a moment, she leaned over him. He had to actively attempt to not breathe her in as she leaned over him towards his computer, sliding it closer to her.
An Etsy shop showed up on his screen, displaying all sorts of creations in varying sizes. She plopped back in her chair, clearly feeling awkward as he scrolled through her artwork.
“These are incredible, Rey. I can’t believe what you’re able to do.” He turned his chair in her direction. “It must be hard trying to have a side business while you’re working here.”
“That’s for sure. If I had more time and space, I’d love to expand, make bigger sculptures, have my own website so I could focus on SEO, find more clients. It’s my dream to do this fulltime, but I need this job to pay the bills, taking time away from me making this into something that could pay the bills. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Ben was impressed. She was sharp, on top of being beautiful. He’d have never guessed that their mailroom clerk was a budding, talented entrepreneur who could talk about search engine optimization like it was nothing.
“You know,” he began cautiously, “I’d be happy to give you a hand. I can certainly help you with setting up your website, improving your SEO, marketing materials, whatever you need.”
He couldn’t look at her as the room grew silent again for a moment.
“That’s a really nice offer,” she finally said. “But I couldn’t ask you to do that for me.”
“Marketing is the only thing I’m good at, so why not?”
“There’s no way that’s true.” Her voice was soft and kind.
He coughed a little and picked up his package. “So, um, should we find out if we’re about to face our untimely death?”
“Does anthrax kill you?”
“Would it be such a threat if it didn’t?”
She laid her hand on his shoulder.
“Well, Ben, if this is the end, I’m glad I’m with you.”
He met her eyes, and her face broke into a teasing grin. “But I have to admit,” she added, “My final meal was disappointing. It was a Snickers bar I grabbed for lunch from the vending machine. Guys on Death Row have it better.”
“You must be starving.”
“Oh I am. You think there’s food in there?” She gestured at the box.
He wanted to chuck the box to the side and offer to buy her the best dinner available in the city, but he didn’t dare. It was enough that she was sitting there waiting for him to tear into his ridiculous care package.
He pulled the tab on the box that allowed him to open the top.
First thing that fell out was a bag of heart shaped Reese’s peanut butter cups.
“My favorite!” cried Rey, practically leaping from her chair. “Holiday Reese’s are amazing. They’re even better than the regular ones, and that’s quite a feat."
“Have at it.”
“Are you sure? I could eat this whole bag, right here, right now."
He chuckled. “Go for it. I’m not big on sugar.”
“You’re crazy,” she said, tearing into the bag. “To think that if I hadn’t come in here, these sweet babies may have gone to waste.” She popped a whole heart into her mouth, and gestured for him to continue.
Next thing he pulled out was a pair of Darth Vader socks. Before he could hide them, hoping that Rey was sufficiently distracted by her treats, she grabbed them out of his hand.
“These are so cute! Are you a Star Wars fan?”
“Um, yeah. I get that they’re a little juvenile, though.”
“No way. These are awesome. It’s so cute that your mom knows you well. I’m going to swing by tomorrow on my deliveries and you better be wearing them.”
He’d wear a potato sack if she asked.
Thankfully, he didn’t accidentally vocalize that thought, and instead, asked, “Do you like Star Wars too?”
“I mean, I’ve seen them, and I like them. Do you want to hear a secret?” She leaned in closer. “I have a bit of a crush on Kylo Ren.”
“You, you do? But we’ve never even seen his face.” Her voice in his ear was disconcerting, but he attempted an unaffected vocal tone.
“I know, but his stature, and his outfit, and his voice. It’s just so sexy. My friends think I’m ridiculous.” She leaned back. “And now I’m sure you do, too.”
“You have a nice voice, too.” Her voice was earnest. Was she flirting? He had no idea.
“Uh, thanks,” he said, rubbing his neck. “It’s natural.”
It wasn’t very funny, but Rey laughed like it was the best thing she ever heard and slapped him on the arm.
“I’m serious about the socks tomorrow,” she said. “But keep going.”
“All right.” He reached into his box and pulled out his favorite shampoo and conditioner.
Rey picked them up. “Dang. I don’t think they even sell these at Target. These are swank.” She held them out to him. “Are these what you usually use?”
“Yeah. My mom gets them for me from time to time.”
“Maybe I need to invest, instead of just getting whatever is on sale. You have amazing hair.” She lifted her hand like she was going to touch his hair, but dropped it and twisted it into her lap.
He didn’t know the last time he had felt so disappointed.
He wanted to compliment her back, but didn’t really know how. Her hair was in a bun so it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to comment on it, but he could mention her lovely eyes, her freckles, her adorable nose.
There were so many things he could say, but instead, he reached back into the box.
He should have looked before he pulled out the next item. He nearly dropped it when he saw what it was.
This was why he should never have opened this stupid box with this stupidly pretty girl.
“Oh,” she said. “Well, I mean, Hanes is a good brand, I guess.”
He wanted to disappear right into the leather into his swivel chair as he quickly dropped the package of boxer briefs into his desk drawer. The silence was physically painful as he imagined what must be going through her mind at the idea of a fully grown man whose mom sends underwear in care packages.
“In the spirit of St. Valentine,” she said finally, “I promise to never speak of this again.”
He laughed in spite of himself. “I guess it could have been worse. It could have been, uh…”
He felt his blush get a shade darker.
“Chlamydia testing kit? Jock itch ointment?” She was clearly enjoying herself.
“Uh, yeah, I guess any of those.”
“Well now I’m dying to see the rest of the package.”
Ben turned on the flashlight on his phone. “Not without me looking first.”
She laughed as he looked deep into the box. There were only a couple items left, and nothing looked suspicious.
First he pulled out a box of brownie baking mix with a picture of a mug and a microwave on the front, framed by the words “Perfect Size for One” in large letters.
Gee thanks, Mom.
“You can have this if you want,” he told Rey.
He handed it off and looked back into his box. He recognized the label on a smaller box at the bottom and pulled it out.
“Ooh, cologne,” said Rey. “You sure this box isn’t from an admirer?”
“Haha. Like the hair stuff, my mom knows some of my favorite brands. I think it’s time she get a hobby.”
“Can I smell it?”
He handed it to her wordlessly. She opened it, gave a spritz, and took a whiff of the air.
“Mmm.” She closed her eyes. “That’s good. But I think I need to smell it in its natural habitat.”
She couldn’t mean…
Okay, she was definitely flirting now, right? Like, before, she was maybe, sorta flirting, but now it seemed she was full on coming onto him. Wasn’t she? If Ben were the sort of guy to have a wingman, these are the things he would ask him.
But for now, he had to trust his gut. He couldn’t imagine why a girl like her would be remotely interested in a guy like him, but if she was, he wasn’t going to complain about it. He pushed up the sleeve of his black sweater and undid the buttons on the oxford shirt underneath. If he were misreading this situation, he would never live it down.
Thankfully, she acted like he had done what she was looking for. She took his exposed forearm and sprayed a little bit before leaning in and breathing in deeply. Rendered absolutely frozen, he could only watch her, wide-eyed.
“That’s even better,” she said after a couple breaths. She released him gently and settled back in her chair, smiling and seemingly unaware that that was the most intimate moment he’d shared with a woman in far too many years.
Before Ben could spontaneously combust, Rey reached out and dumped out the box. There was only bubble wrap and a package of sour gummy worms left. She went to grab the candy, but Ben swiped it before she could.
“Ah ah ah,” he scolded gently, waggling his finger. “I actually really like sour candy.”
She grinned back at him, a big, wide happy look that made his heart beat faster.
“Unbelievable that you’d choose that over Reese’s and brownies, but it works for me.” She winked. “But can I have that bubble wrap for my cart? Sometimes it comes in handy.”
Ben laughed. “It is all yours.”
“Well, I guess that’s it then.” Rey looked at the now-empty box. “That was really fun. Your mom must be really special. Make sure you thank her. And thank you for sharing with me. It really meant a lot.”
“It was nothing,” said Ben. “I mean, that is, it was fun. I enjoyed going through it with you, way more than I would have on my own.”
Rey gave him a little smile, before standing up, moving her chair and adjusting her pink cardigan.
“I should probably let you get back to your work. It was lovely to meet you, Ben, officially. And I better see those socks tomorrow.” She began to collect the items that Ben had given her.
“Yeah?” She looked down at him in a flash, dropping the box she was holding.
“I, uh, don’t know if you’re set on the whole Netflix thing tonight, but if you wanted…”
His voice wavered as he struggled to ask what he wanted.
“If I wanted what, Ben?”
“I mean, if you’re still hungry after that candy, maybe you’d want to grab some dinner with me?”
The smile he was already ridiculously fond of returned in full force to her face.
“I would love to.”
“Great. There’s this amazing place…” His voice dropped as he realized something. “Oh, but it’s Valentine’s Day. I bet everywhere good is already booked up.”
“I’m not picky.”
“I’d really like to take you somewhere nice, though.”
“That’s sweet, but maybe you could save it for next time.”
Her casual words nearly sent him into shock. He couldn’t mess up tonight, he couldn’t. He needed there to be a next time.
“Well, if this doesn’t weird you out, I could make something. My place isn’t too far from here, but we’d have to stop at the grocery store first.”
Her eyes lit up. “You would cook for me?”
He would do a whole lot more than that, but he settled with nodding. “I get it if you’re uncomfortable with coming over, so you can say so. I swear I’m not a serial killer, though.”
She laughed. “I don’t think you’re a serial killer, Ben. But if you don’t mind, could I send your address to my roommate? Don’t take it personally. We have a little policy if we ever go to a new guy’s apartment.”
He didn’t love the image of her with other guys, but he had to admit it was smart. He rattled off his info while she typed it in a text. She locked her phone and grinned at him.
“Thanks. I’m just going to grab my things and close up the mailroom. Meet me in the lobby in like five?”
“See you then.” Naboo Tech could wait. Naboo Tech could go out of business for all he cared right then.
Once he had waved her off, grinning madly that that gorgeous girl was going to be his date for the night, he grabbed his phone, opened his text messages, and quickly composed a message.
To Mom: Thank you for the package. It came just in time. You may be interested to know that you also sent me a real Valentine. I’m getting dinner with the girl who delivered the package. She’s beautiful, smart, and funny. I’ve got a really good feeling about her. Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you.
Maybe other men didn’t text their moms before a first date, but other moms probably didn’t know their sons’ underwear preferences.
Almost immediately after he pushed send, three little dots appeared to indicate that his mom was typing back, but he put his phone in airplane mode. It would drive her insane when her replies didn’t go through, but he had more important things to worry about.
After a quick perusal to make sure no one was around, Ben added a touch of his new cologne to his other wrist and a bit around the collar. He popped a mint Lifesavers from his briefcase into his mouth and pocketed a few more.
He couldn’t discount the chance that he’d need them tonight.
After all, stranger things have happened on Valentine’s Day.