Peter Kurtzberg couldn't resist taking a look, just a quick peek over the cubicle wall.
Bobbi Ross was very pretty. She had a heart-shaped face that glowed with warmth and whenever she smiled, which was often, her blue eyes sparkled like precious stones. Her naturally blonde hair was cut short in a cute little bob.
If Kurtzberg was totally sure she wasn't looking he liked to run his gaze along the trim lines of her body, wishing it was his hands rather than his eyes roaming over her perfectly proportioned curves. Despite being dainty, her body was athletic and well-toned. Kurtzberg knew she worked out regularly at the gym.
Bobbi always got plenty of cards and flowers on Valentine's Day. In the middle of the cards and smaller bouquets was a gigantic floral arrangement. Kurtzberg was proud of it. It had cost a lot of money but he didn't mind. It was a small token of gratitude when compared with all the days her sunny presence at the office brightened up his life. It was a display of appreciation he'd never be able to give her in person.
He'd like to. God knows he'd pictured the moment, dreamed about it, fantasised even about telling her just how much he truly loved her.
He could never do it.
In his dreams she said 'yes' and there followed a whirlwind of candlelit dinners, expensive hotels and long lazy nights together in bed.
In his nightmares she laughed in his face and he woke up feeling like a bug smashed under a rock.
No, he knew he'd never be able to withstand that rejection.
It was just a silly dream.
This was better.
He wondered if she fantasised about the identity of her secret admirer. Kurtzberg hoped his gift brought as much joy to her as the sight of her every day in the office gave to him.
"Aw, that's so sweet," Bobbi said as she opened and read the card that came with the large flower arrangement.
"And quite impressive," Greg David said. The single rose he'd bought her made him feel rather ... small in comparison.
"Is that a note of envy I detect there?" Bobbi laughed.
"Nah, I got a card from the tall blonde in the mailroom," Greg said. "You know, the one with the large rack."
He laughed as Bobbi slapped him on the arm.
"Teaser, I should take away your sex privileges for that," Bobbi said.
"So are you going to tell me about your mysterious admirer then?" Greg asked. "Is he some tall, dark and handsome hunk I'll have to battle to the death in order to win back you affections?"
"Hardly," Bobbi smiled. "It's Peter."
They both looked over to the cubicle where the office statistician made his home. A pale round face with spectacles ducked down behind the divider like a mole going down its hole.
"Kurtzberg," Greg laughed.
"It's sweet really. He thinks I don't know. He's had a crush on me ever since I first arrived at the office."
"And he's never said anything?"
"Oh god no. Thank goodness."
"So no desire to succumb to the ardent desires of the moleman then?"
Bobbi pulled a face. "Please."
"Looks like you've got an admirer this year," the mail lady, an old woman who'd been at the office a long time, said as she placed a small package onto the table.
Kurtzberg looked at the small box. It looked suspiciously like a gift.
Kurtzberg didn't get gifts, especially not on Valentine's Day.
Puzzled, he picked up the box. It was wrapped in dark red shiny paper and topped with a little pink bow. Now who could this be from? Bobbi?
Kurtzberg's heart picked up a few beats.
No, surely not.
"Whoa, stop right there."
Kurtzberg inwardly winced when he heard Jacob Pak's voice.
"Is that an actual Valentine's Day gift?" Jacob continued. "Someone actually sent you a Valentine's gift? Hey everyone, look at this. Kurtzberg's got a secret lover."
Just leave me alone, Kurtzberg thought. He put on a forced smile as his co-workers crowded the cubicle wall.
"Now that's someone who knows what a proper Valentine's gift should be," Bettie Lee said, her pasty round face leaning over the cubicle wall. "I'll take yummy chocolates over flowers anytime."
"C'mon, don't keep us in suspense," Greg said.
Reluctantly, Kurtzberg tore away the red paper to reveal a plain black box.
"Not chocolates," Bettie said wistfully.
Kurtzberg took the lid off the box. Inside was a square black stone about the size of his hand. There was an inscription engraved into the surface, but the letters were so worn Kurtzberg couldn't read them.
He turned the stone over. On the other side was a carving of a ferocious looking female demon with horns, wings and a tail. The artist had over-emphasised her breasts and vagina.
What was it, Kurtzberg thought, some kind of fertility fetish?
"What an ugly thing," Bobbi said. "Why would anyone send that as a Valentine's gift?"
"Kurtzberg mate, I know you're desperate, but try to steer clear of the nut jobs," Jacob said.
Kurtzberg ignored him. There was a card on the bottom of the box. On the cover was a picture of a sexy cartoon devil. She was smiling as she pulled an overweight and balding man towards her by his tie.
"What does it say?" Bobbi asked.
Kurtzberg opened it and read the card aloud.
"The stone is a succubus tablet. According to myth it bestows erotic dreams on whoever owns it. Sweet dreams."
The handwriting was elaborate and feminine. Kurtzberg didn't recognise it. Underneath it was the red lipstick imprint of a full pair of lips.
"Sounds like the perfect present for Kurtzberg," Jacob said. "As the only place he's ever going to get any..." He tossed it up.
"Is in his dreams." Greg delivered the smash.
"Bada-boom," Jacob said, high-fiving Greg.
Fucking jerks, Kurtzberg thought, his face burning.
Kurtzberg had a backlog of data to work through, so he didn't get round to leaving the office until after seven. The bars he drove past were already filling up with happy couples.
Kurtzberg went home to his cold, dark flat. The terms of his lease meant he couldn't even keep a pet. There was nothing and no one to greet him as he opened the front door and walked through into his living room. He slumped down in his armchair.
He wasn't going to wallow in self pity.
It never achieved anything. He'd figured out years ago the world wasn't fair. People weren't all the same. Not everyone could be athletic, good looking or smart. You could waste your life moping over what fate had failed to bestow on you, or you could make the best of what you had and get on with it.
Days like Valentine's Day were tough though. Out there he knew happy couples were staring lovingly into each other's eyes at romantic, candlelit dinners. All he had to look forward to was a microwave dinner in front of the TV.
He wasn't going to wallow in self-pity.
Kurtzberg looked down at the succubus tablet, his 'gift'.
Kurtzberg had accepted his own limitations and learned to live with them long ago. He didn't need to be reminded of them by people who took their own genetic good fortune for granted. They'd already been blessed with good looks and everything else. Why feel the need to fucking rub it in?
He wasn't going to...
Fucking Valentine's Day.
Kurtzberg threw the tablet across the room.
It didn't strike the far wall.
"Hey! Be careful. That's my calling card."
The table hadn't hit the wall because a petite girl had stepped out of the shadows and caught it. She was wearing an old fashioned telegram delivery girl's costume. Her long red hair spilled out from beneath a little peaked cap. The face beneath was pale and delicate, elfin almost. While her face looked delicate, Kurtzberg couldn't fail to notice how her uniform strained to cover her ample chest.
"Who are you?" Kurtzberg asked. "What are you doing here?"
How had she got into his flat?
The elfin-faced girl smiled.
"I'm here to deliver your Valentine's Day present," she said. "Me."
She started to unbutton her uniform, revealing the inviting chasm of her cleavage beneath.
Was this a continuation of Jacob and Greg's practical joke? Kurtzberg thought. Had they hired a tart to inflict further humiliation on him? Were they outside right now, waiting for the most incriminating moment to burst in, camera phones at the ready?
Then the girl stepped forward and Kurtzberg knew immediately that Jacob and Greg — or any other human agency for that matter — weren't responsible.
The horns, little red nubs protruding from her forehead, were noticeable, but it was her eyes that truly gave her away as not of this world. They were perfect black orbs. Staring at them was like staring through two peepholes into the abyss.
Kurtzberg gasped and crawled back into his chair.
"No, please don't be afraid," she pleaded, holding out her hands in an attempt to show she meant no harm. She looked so vulnerable something plucked at Kurtzberg's heartstrings.
"Are you a demon?" Kurtzberg asked. He couldn't believe he was asking the question.
The girl nodded coyly. She raised the folded points of two bat wings up above her shoulder and reached behind to present him the end of a slender red tail.
He couldn't be seeing this. She couldn't be real.
There was a long pause. Kurtzberg stared at the demon, every muscle tense with fear. She stood there with her tail in her hand, looking strangely pure and innocent, like a shy schoolgirl.
"Are you going to kill me?" Kurtzberg asked.
.... There is more of this story ...