Two dozen long-stemmed red roses fragrantly filled the pristine white box lined with filmy tissue paper. The beribboned box had been delivered only moments before to the girls’ dormitory on a small Christian campus in middle-America.
Linda, a sophomore on the work-study program, was a secretary in the Administration Annex, struggling to maintain good balance between her job, classes and studies; not to mention a fledgling social life.
“I brought it right over,” her breathless suitemate, Cindy, explained.
Linda admired her name written in calligraphy on the box top. Awed by such an impressive present, she delicately stroked the velvety petals of a single bud, absently searching for an enclosure card in the process.
“It just says, ‘Happy Birthday’,” the shop’s gaily designed card peeking out beneath the moistened stems, “but—there’s no signature on it.”
“Ben knows it’s your birthday, doesn’t he—who else could they be from? Wow, wait until the rest of the gang sees them! You should call and thank him right away. Oh, Lin, they’re SO gorgeous!”
Professor Elliot opened his office door to see his blushing secretary smiling through mist-filled eyes.
“What’s all the excitement about?” glancing from the roses to Linda’s trembling hands to Cindy’s dreamy expression.
“I’ll have those letters ready for you to sign in a moment, sir. Cindy was keeping me company on my break and is just leaving,” with a pointed warning side glance.
“I am? Oh, I mean, yes, I’ll just take these flowers back to the dorm and put them in water,” hastily exiting.
“Who’s the lucky fellow?” the professor searching her downcast face.
“That’s just it, sir. There’s no name attached, and that puts me in an extremely awkward position.”
“Oh, I see—don’t know who to thank, huh? I guess it’s safe to assume there is more than one possibility?” the kind boss having been raised alongside three sisters and having two grown daughters of his own being no stranger to the dilemmas of young ladies being courted by aspiring boyfriends, “would you like me to call the florist and find out who sent them?”
Unfortunately, the sender demanded anonymity, even Dr. Elliot’s authoritative request refused. Consequently, Linda’s attention span was constantly impaired the rest of the week. She had a niggling pervasive suspicion that the floral offering was from her ex-boyfriend “back home,” but what if they were from Ben and she didn’t acknowledge the generous gift? It might jeopardize their budding relationship. Should she ask him or should she risk making contact with her ex when they had agreed to give her freedom to date others? Like a ping-pong ball bouncing back and forth, her mind sailed from one possibility to the other. Should she just stay silent and wonder for the rest of her life, or should she pursue the issue? She prayed, she fretted, she conferred with her friends.
All too soon, it was Friday evening and her date with Ben.
“You seem awfully preoccupied tonight, Linda. Is something wrong?”
The perfect opening having presented itself, Linda would not be denied. Not wanting to consider the consequences any longer, she blurted,
“Ben, did you, or did you not, send me two dozen roses for my birthday?”
A very long silence pervaded the atmosphere as forbidding as a tornado preamble.
“No-o-o, I did not. I take it, someone else did,” carefully, “apparently, some other guy deeply cares for you, and you don’t have an inkling who that may be?” his deep blue eyes that usually cast a spell over sought-after girls now were clouded over like a bride’s veil.
“If it wasn’t you, then I know it’s a guy back home and I’ll take care of it. There’s nothing for you to be concerned about, Ben.”
Relieved to have her quandary resolved, Linda sent a terse, short thank-you note to her ex-boyfriend, asking him not to pursue her anymore.
Regrettably, Ben never asked her out again.
“I thought this mystery man was very serious about her and I would never be able to compete. Or, that she made the whole thing up to finagle a present from me when I didn’t even know it was her birthday,” he would explain to his pals.
A year and a few dates later, Linda happily quit college to get her MRS. Degree by marrying her hometown sweetheart. Years later, she would tell her children how their father (innocently?) sabotaged her relationship with a “college man” with two dozen roses.
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