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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Help (02/20/06)

TITLE: Cashmere, Umbrellas, and Gooseberries
By Jan Ackerson


“Is this the Help Desk?” The voice on the phone sounded frantic.

“Yes, it is, sir. How may I help you?”

“I need to know how to spell that Irish thing-a-ma-bob. You know—shuh-LAY-lee? How’s that spelled?”

I sighed. My job at the Help Desk of the Franklin Governmental Complex was not supposed to involve spelling stumpers and trivia bets. Ask me where to get a passport, or how to replace a lost Social Security Card—I’m your girl. But several times a day, I got questions like this one. People seemed to think that since it was called the Help Desk, I could answer anything.

“That word is spelled S-H-I-L-L-E-L-A-G-H.” Luckily, I had always been good at both spelling and trivia. Whenever possible, I answered the ridiculous questions. “Will that be all, sir?”

I was answered by a click, then silence.

I turned back to my computer. I had taken this job to escape from heartbreak at my old office. I was thankful to have discovered Joey’s lies before we married, but then I had set a garrison around my heart and escaped to this new place. Remembering Joey, I scowled at the monitor.

The incoming call light blinked. “Help Desk, how may I be of assistance?”

The voice at the other end was pleasant and masculine. “I was just wondering—is it true that it takes more muscles to frown than to smile?”

Not another one. Why can’t he just ask where to get a parade permit? “Sir, that’s a myth. Frowning and smiling use approximately the same number of facial muscles.”

He chuckled. “Then what would it take to put a smile on your face?”

Oh, great. “Sir, do you have a question about birth certificates or anything like that?”

“Nope—have a great day!”

I looked back at my monitor, feeling slightly as if I’d been spied upon. How did he know I was frowning? My face felt strangely warm, though, and I wondered if I’d hear that voice again.

I didn’t have to wonder for long. The next morning, Pleasant Voice called again.

“What kind of animal gives us cashmere?” It was just a coincidence, I thought, that I was wearing a cashmere sweater that day. Nevertheless, I glanced around the cavernous lobby. Dozens of people lingered there, each jabbering into a cell phone. My mysterious caller could be any of them. He sounds nice, Lord, but… I’m guarding my heart, remember?

A day later. “What’s another word for thesaurus?” Pleasant Voice made me laugh with that one. I was convinced now that he was one of hundreds of workers in the complex—who else would know that I’d brought my well-worn book of synonyms with me that morning? I swallowed the laugh and sent reinforcements to the troops protecting my emotions.

With day three came this question: “What’s the most common color of umbrella in the United States?” This particular call came just as I sloshed in, dripping from having been caught umbrella-less in a morning downpour. I quickly scanned the lobby, answered his question (black) and tried to spot one of the cell phone users hanging up. But I couldn’t watch them all at once—the lobby was just too busy.

Despite my resolve, I was beginning to look forward to Pleasant Voice’s calls. But on the fourth day, only genuine Help Desk questions came in. What time does the passport office close? How do I get a building permit? I answered them listlessly. Between calls, I alternated between prayer and distraction. Help me, Lord! I can’t stop thinking about that caller. What’s going on? I don’t want to hurt again…

I plodded to my desk the next morning. It seemed that no one needed help that day; I was alone with my leaden mood.

Some time around mid-morning, Pleasant Voice was back. “In the language of flowers, what do gooseberries and white violets mean?”

He had me stumped. “Call me back in five minutes.” With trembling fingers, I googled “language of flowers.”

I was studying the flowery website when someone cast a shadow across my monitor. I looked up—there was a smiling man, holding out a quirky arrangement of gooseberries and white violets.

Anticipation,” I said, “and let’s take a chance on happiness.”

He set the flowers on my desk. “I’m Ben.” His voice was pleasant in person, too. “Will you have coffee with me after work?”

I took a chance.

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This article has been read 1628 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Corinne Smelker 02/27/06
Now this was exceptionally clever, and I learnt something while reading it - the most popular colour of brellas, and the meaning of a specific arrangement.

This was well written too - well done.
Debbie Sickler02/28/06
This was really fun to read - who wouldn't like a little romantic mystery in their life? I'm glad she took a chance! :)
Trina Courtenay03/01/06
I loved your story, it not only made me laugh but it made me look up the word thesaurus but it wasn't in my thesaurus. I guess there are no other words for thesaurus. I learned something new today. Thanks! and keep up the great work. I'll keep looking for your entries.
david grant03/01/06
Fun! and it gave me some ideas for a certain person I know...oops...well, that would be my wife, of course.
She loves silly surprises.
thanks for the good story and the ideas!

Brandi Roberts03/01/06
This entry had my heart! Oh I love a good romance, and THIS, my dear, was a good romance! Well done!
Marilyn Schnepp 03/02/06
What an interesting job - and what a creative Challenge! Very nicely done...and interesting, to boot!
Dara Sorensen03/02/06
Awww! I loved it! Very creative! You have an amazing talent at weaving an incredible story together. :-)
janet rubin03/02/06
Go Jan! Go Jan! Woo hoo. This is a winner! By the way, in the 1930's my grandma was a single telephone operator whose first husband had run off. My grandfather was a single guy living across the water in Long Island. Apparently he "liked her voice," asked for a date and the romance bloomed.
Carla Feagans03/02/06
I loved this! Wonderful job with a fun, lighthearted story that put a smile on my face throughout. Loved all the details and the questions.

Hard to believe it was only 750 words (or less), I'd love to read more like this!
Linda Watson Owen03/02/06
Perfectly delightful!! Loved it!!
Pat Guy 03/02/06
Ahhh Jan! Such a believable romance! It leaves you with a sigh. Great ending. Is there a part two? Or is part of the romance to 'assume?' No lame stuff here!
Cheryl Harrison03/02/06
How sweet! I was right there in that lobby with her, looking at all the people and trying to figure out who he was. I can't wait to read the rest of the story! Bravo.
Teri Wilson03/03/06
Absolutely loved it!
Joanne Malley03/03/06
I just love the story line! Romance and fun always make a great mix. Wonderful job!
Kenn Allan03/03/06
This is wonderful! I could almost see Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan between the lines. I enjoyed it very much.
James Clem 03/03/06
Wow - the run continues! Maybe we do need a Level 4.
Jessica Schmit03/03/06
Looks like you might make it your 5 week in the EC. You have so much talent! Awesome story Jan. (ever think of expanding it for the rest of us to read waht happens?)
Maxx .03/03/06
Very nicely done and highly polished! It's no wonder she gets hurt in relationships since she falls in love after only two sentences with a complete stranger over the phone! lol! So, in my mind just the tiniest flaw in the premise. None of that changes the great impact and heart tugging of the story. The reader roots for the lady and she wins in the end. Great job!
Crista Darr03/03/06
Bravo! What a fun read. I needed a light-hearted story today. I liked your message too. There are lots of walls around broken hearts that need to come down. Great work, Jan!
Suzanne R03/04/06
Just gorgeous! Wow.
Jeffrey Snell03/05/06
Well, even though this was SUCH a GIRL story, it was very cute! ;-) lol And I learned something new as well--that there is a "flower language!"
Karen Rice03/05/06
What a great story!

Oh...if it doesn't work out between her and Ben, feel free to give him my phone number. I'm close to the library and can look up anything unfound via the net.

Viva Romance and good writing!
Kate Wells03/05/06
Oh, I just loved this!...sigh
Pleeeeze, pleeeeze continue it. I just have to know what happened next! Favorite line-
" I swallowed the laugh and sent reinforcements to the troops protecting my emotions"
Wonderful story!!
Shari Armstrong 03/05/06
Ok I just had to see what the title was all about. What a neat story! well done!!!
T. F. Chezum03/05/06
Very good. Well written. I really enjoyed this.
Cassie Memmer03/06/06
This is wonderful, Jan! I didn't get a chance to read much last week, but I'm certainly glad I had opportunity to read this now. It's light, tight, and a wonderfully pleasing read. Congratulations!
Trina Courtenay03/07/06
Well Jan, I found out who the awesome author is to this story. I've added you to my favorite author list and can't wait to read more of your wonderfully, delightful work.
Congratulations on your placement....it should've been #1 if you ask me.
Caitlynn Lowe03/07/06
Aww...that's a sweet ending. :) I liked that story a lot!
Betsy Tacchella03/07/06
Very entertaining story. Well written with peaked interest all the way through. Nice ending too.
Beth Muehlhausen03/10/06
Fun, clever, different, creative, well-done! You're a master when it comes to making a story personal, Jan!!!

And all those questions...whew...made my head spin.

Loved your ending - what a punch. :-)
Rachel Rudd 03/13/06
I just wanted to say that this story is so sweet and being the sentimental romantic that I am...I loved it!! I hope you write more like it!