He did it again.
Brooke watched Valentine’s Day come and go with not a single mark of special attention coming her way. As per usual, Luke stayed so involved in game development that she was about certain she could disappear for a month without his noticing.
“The algorithm for the twenty-second level is killing me,” he mourned to her over breakfast. He stabbed the heart-shaped pancake with his fork and then reached for the cherry compote, his face settled into gloom. He sighed and twirled his fork into the cake turning it into pink mush.
“How’s your headache?” he asked abruptly.
“Good.” Startled, Brooke turned to meet the concern in his brown eyes. “It’s a lot better today. I didn’t know you noticed.”
“I notice more than you think.” Luke smiled cheerfully. “Good breakfast. Got to go.” He grabbed his bag, checked for his bus pass, and with a peck on her cheek, hurried out the door.
“Right,” Brooke muttered.
In repressed fury, she dumped the pink mess into the sink and went to get ready for her own job in the company’s advertising office. She and her husband never traveled to work together any more – Luke was too likely to get immersed in some knotty programming problem and keep her waiting for hours.
“I might as well be a nun,” she seethed as she pulled out of the driveway. Making special pancakes had taken a bit too long so she was running late.
And Luke hadn’t even noticed.
Typical. She slowed to circle a roundabout…he never noticed…except for the nights when he became fully aware of her, the nights when their sheets were warm and redolent with the joined scents of their two lives.
Brooke wheeled her car into the employee parking lot. If only she could keep his attention on her…at least some of the time.
Luke mostly lived in the seductive action of gaming and the programming that created it. She, on the other hand, mostly lived in a practical world of problems, solutions and the after work reality of getting groceries and paying bills. Sometimes she wished she could join him in his aerial palace of magical tournaments. More often she wished he would join her in the mundane world of hauling shopping bags and folding laundry. Most often, she wished they could have a conversation that didn’t drift into the problems of programming Orc the Troll King or the Master Thief of Metroville.
Her mind still simmered in frustration as she pulled into her parking space. It didn’t help that she saw a delivery van unloading bouquets and balloons for some lucky Valentines. She was about a hundred percent confident they weren’t for her.
And she was right. When she strolled into her office, she saw a cloud of balloons perched above her assistant’s desk.
“What’s going on, Jared?” She knew her smile was thin and forced. Best she could do.
“Meghan sent them…” Jared beamed happily but his smile faltered under her blank look. “…my wife.” He explained. “She never forgets….”
“Nice,” Brooke managed. “When you’re settled I’ll need you to get the paperwork together on phase three of the new game release promotions.”
She shut the door of her office and sat with hands folded in front of her, staring at the blank wall. The slow frisson of anger simmering in her heart from the annual Valentine disappointment, rose to the surface. She refused to cry. Why did she care so much? Luke almost never remembered anniversaries, birthdays or Valentine’s Day. How often had she waited for days in disappointed silence?
What was she missing? She knew Luke loved her. Bitterly she wondered if this annual disappointment was her fault or his.
Maybe no fault. Maybe just a problem she had never actually considered. It took quite a few moments to let go of her anger. Get real, Brooke, she scolded herself. It’s not like he’d stopped making romantic gestures. He had never made them to start with. But face it, no matter what she told herself, she cared – more and more all the time.
Jared knocked and arrived with the stats and layouts she’d requested.
“The VP sent another memo about attracting new gamers…changing their behaviors,” he told her. Really, Brooke thought, her assistant was way too cheerful. Could she put that as a negative in his performance report?
Instead she smiled and took the material. “Thanks, Jared,” she murmured. “I’ll have more for you to do in an hour or so…”
Her promotion plans were all about changing behavior, enticing the hordes of gamers to the company’s shifting targets. She loved the challenge. Her own problems with Luke’s lack of romance surfaced again. She loved him; she just didn’t like his behavior. And be honest, she told herself – if she didn’t encourage gamers to respond with nudges, promotions and direct reminders, she would have been out of a job in about twelve minutes.
Was this mass love affair with interactive fictional characters so very different from her personal love affair with Luke?
“Totally ridiculous,” Brooke fumed.
She busied herself with the reams of details associated with the release of the updated game. She wrote press releases to go to all the gaming magazines; her team prepped the social media onslaught; she double-checked that the frenzied promotional messages that would in fact pop up in all existing games. Bonuses, treasures, leaked secrets, and stoked excitement on the chat rooms…all fully orchestrated.
There wasn’t one facet of the promotion ignored or forgotten.
At the end of the day, Brooke felt like her eyes had been sandpapered, but her brief meeting with the VP was highly complimentary with bonuses hinted at. All good.
Except her personal life stayed dull, dreary, and without romance.
Not surprisingly, Luke would be working late. Very late. There would be no thoughtful token from him on this Valentine’s Day.
Brooke sat alone in the living room, slowly swirling the wine in her glass. Thinking. Tired. Mind drifting into unusual channels. Dodging the sense that she’d done it wrong some how.
“Damn him,” she muttered. “It’s not up to me.”
But being inherently honest had always been part of her make-up. Changing behavior was her specialty. If she wanted something to happen, she had to first bring it to the person’s attention; she had to map out the action she wanted taken…she had to reward that action with something that gave everyone satisfaction.
The absolute basics of her job.
Reluctantly, Brooke reached for her laptop. Her fingers moved slowly across the keyboard. With a flash of wry humor she wondered if this was the modern equivalent of dragging her feet….
By the time Luke crept in at two a.m., it was done and she was drowsing, half asleep in their bed. She’d taken care with her appearance, even styled her freshly washed hair and chosen her second sexiest nightgown. When his tired eyes lit up, she kissed him gently, murmured that she knew how exhausted he was, and then flicked off the light, turning her back to him.
“Maybe tomorrow…when the game is released finally,” she whispered, “we can spend some quality time together.”
She smiled in the dark, listening to his heavy breathing that before too long smoothed into the rhythms of sleep. He really was beyond weary.
The next morning, Brooke ensured that Luke had his favorite breakfast available before she shot off to work. No way would she be there to serve it to him. “Coffee’s made!” she called as she went out the door. Maybe she was breathing a bit fast, but she loved the prickly excitement of a well-orchestrated campaign.
During the day, she managed to slip past Luke’s work station but stay out of his line of sight. The balloons – hearts and congratulations – arrived as scheduled. The flowers holding a bouquet of man-treats were handed off at noon. Brooke smiled as she heard the envy in the voices of her husband’s co-workers. From the distance, she could see the puzzled frown on his face and the flush in his cheeks. He had never been stupid – one of the reasons she loved him.
The piece de resistance appeared five minutes before his official end of the work day. Brooke wondered if Luke even knew his cut off time. She loved the way he loved his work. It was just time that he make time for the other love of his life.
Spying from a careful distance, she watched him open the elegant invitation delivered by the chauffeur of the limo she had hired to convey him home. She didn’t wait long enough to see the envelope dangling in his hand or hear the jealous ribbing from his work buddies. Brooke tore out of the building, picked up the take-out they loved (pre-ordered, hot, and ready). She skidded into the driveway, raced into the house and uncorked the wine she’d hidden in the cupboard. Flipping the white linen cloth over the table, she listened for the sound of the limo. Not yet. Wine glasses set, cutlery laid out…herself in the shower getting steamed and scented…all in fast forward. Timing is everything. She slipped into her sexiest nightgown and pulled on the ridiculously expensive robe she’d worn on their honeymoon. Luke’s eyes had glistened and his smile had brightened when he’d first seen it.
The limo seemed to be taking way too long. Brooke had only peeked out the window twice though before she saw it turning into their street. She had a moment of panic, debating whether to greet Luke at the door or lounge like a vamp. Indecision made the decision as the front door swung open.
Luke stood there, smiling, eyes bright, cheeks red – a bouquet of orchids and a massive box of cherry chocolates in his hands. His eyes took in her outfit, clearly appreciating the promise offered.
He leaned over and kissed her lightly. Then he put down his offerings and took her into his arms; she stood on tiptoes and wound her arms around his neck, breathing in his scent. The kisses were hot and thorough.
When they finally broke apart, Luke smiled down at her. “Like I said, I do notice more than you think. I love you so much, Brooke.”
“More than the Orc King?” she teased.
He rolled his eyes. “You’re the one I always come home to…and always will. And I get it. I spent my lunch programming all our important dates into my phone, calendar and work log. They won’t slip by again. Promise.”
“Geek!” she laughed.
He grinned. “Only during the day. At home, I’ll be whatever superhero you need.”
“Just keep the chocolate coming.” She glanced up at him from under her lashes. “So let’s get started, superman….”
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