Valentine’s Day was fast approaching and Steve had yet to make his choice of date among the many eligible bachelorettes who had been making doe eyes at him all week long. Each held out high hopes of having the handsome gentleman invite them to share an intimate dinner. Little did they know Steve had eyes for an entrancingly beautiful lady who had been filling in for Callahan while she was on sick leave. Rarely was Steve ever at a lost for words when it came to asking a woman out on a date but for some reason Karen’s stance was exuding a powerful intimidation. What was it about her personality that he found so attractive and at the same time very daunting?
Although Steve had yet to probe deep into Karen’s personal life in their brief conversations, he felt he’d known her all his life. The reason being that his good friend, Agent 35, had provided him with a fountain of information on her background and likes and dislikes. The two ladies had forged a friendship over the last few days and had become bosom buddies. Cassie had refrained from teasing Steve about his obvious infatuation for Karen for fear of ruffling his feathers.
One night as he dropped over Cassie’s apartment for a drink he broached the subject of the Valentine’s Day dinner.
“So I hear you’re going with Charles Nesbitt?”
“Yeah. He’s handsome and highly educated. He and I are never at a lost for conversations. I’m looking forward to it.” She handed Steve his glass and both sat on the sofa facing each other. “So what about you? Have you made your choice yet?”
“I have.” He shyly took a sip of his drink, “Just haven’t got around to asking her yet.”
“What are you waiting for?” She teased with a tap on his knee.
“Me? I don’t understand.” His silence spoke louder than words and it suddenly dawned on her who he was alluding to. “Ohhhhhhhhhh I see. You want me to ask Karen for you, don’t you?” she assumed with a gleam of mischief in her eyes.
He lifted his eyes from his glass and flashed her an embarrassing grin. “Can’t hide anything from you, 35.”
“What’s so different about Karen that you can’t pluck up the courage to ask her yourself?”
He let out a frustrated sigh. “I don’t know. I…I just feel awkward around her.”
“I can’t believe that.”
“It’s true. So I thought that maybe you could…”
“Put in the good word for you?” she finished with a tinge of humor.
“I don’t have too, 34. Karen’s already smitten with you.”
“Does that surprise you?” she chuckled.
“It does. She never let on that she was the least bit interested in me.”
”Maybe you’re reading her wrong.” She leaned close and gave him an emboldening tap him on the shoulder. “ Go on! Ask her. She’s waiting for that invitation.”
Steve broke into a wide grin at the news that his fears were unfounded. He raised his glass and clung it with Cassie’s. “Thanks 35. You’re the best.”
“Yeah, I know,” she sighed very humbly.
At the OSI, a few hours before he was to pick up Karen for their special evening, Steve crossed path with Agent Nesbitt on his way down to the elevators. “Hey Charlie!” he shouted to retain his attention.
“Steve!” he gushed, clasping his hand in a hearty handshake. “Long time no see. How have you been?”
“Can’t complain. Say I hear you’ve got a hot date with Cassandra Miller tonight? Have fun!”
“We’re not going anywhere,” he replied boldly.
“What? How come?”
“She called me early this afternoon saying she wasn’t feeling well.”
“What’s wrong?” Steve asked with a worried frown.
“She felt she was coming down with a nasty cold. At first I thought she was faking; that maybe she had second thoughts about the date and didn’t know how to break it up. But she sounded real terrible on the phone.”
“Of course she’s not faking. She told me she was really looking forward to that dinner.”
“That’s good to know.” He clapped Steve on the back. “You have a nice evening, Lady Killer,” he teased with a wink.
“Thanks. I will,” Steve answered absentmindedly with a strained smile. He hastened the pace down to the elevators, pressed the parking level, stepped into his car and rove straight to Cassie’s apartment building.
He rapped on the door once, and then twice. When no answer came he took out his set of keys and unbolted the door. Quietly he set foot inside and tiptoed to Cassie’s bedroom. He padded up to the bed where she appeared to be sleeping soundly. He sat on the edge of the mattress to run a hand over her forehead to check for any sign of a fever.
His touch startled her awake?” Steve?” she mumbled groggily. She rolled onto her back and blinked away the fog in her eyes. “What are you doing here?”
“I was concerned about you. I ran into Charles Nesbitt and he told me you had broken off the date on account that you were feeling under the weather. I knocked on your door and when you didn’t answer I let myself him to check if you were all right. I hope you don’t mind?”
“Of course I don’t mind; otherwise why would I have given you a key?” She tried to sit in bed but was forced back onto her pillow by a powerful dizzy spell. “Oh yes it’s definitely a touch of the flu. God, I feel rotten!”
“Did you take anything?”
“Took two aspirins less than an hour ago.”
Steve brushed his hand against her forehead. “You are running a slight fever. Maybe I should call the doctor.”
“No. Don’t bother.” She clasped his hand and squeezed it reassuringly. “You’re a dear for worrying about me but I’ll be fine. I’ve been there before. I know how to handle the bug. A couple of more aspirins, plenty of liquids and warmth, lost of rest and I’ll nip this in the bud. Go on your date. Really, I’ll be okay.” She closed her eyes and released his hand. However Steve didn’t budge. He remained seated until she drifted off to sleep. In all good conscience he couldn’t leave her alone to fend for herself. He was aware that the next twelve hours would be hell and would require constant care.
He quietly slipped out of the room to call Karen. He explained the delicate situation, hoping she would understand of his need to break off the date.
“I might have known it was her,” she said on a slight accusatory tone that prickled Steve with indignation.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Steve it’s no secret around here that you’re secretly in love with Cassandra Miller and don’t want to admit it.”
“She and I are good friends. Nothing more. I’d like to make it up to you.”
“It’s all right Steve. You don’t have to. Beside I’ll be leaving a day after tomorrow. Peggy called saying that her doctor gave her the go ahead to start work again.”
“I won’t see you again?”
“It’s unlikely.” A silence fell between the two. A brief pause that Karen broke with a sigh.” I really like you, Steve. But it’s obvious your heart belongs to some other lady.”
“Karen I’m really sorry about this.”
“So am I.”
He waited for her to hang up before he put the receiver back into its cradle. He remained seated on the couch to ponder Karen’s words. He shook his head in disbelief, dismissing the crazy notion that he might be in love with his Brown-Eyed Girl. He stood and walked back to the bedroom where he sat by the bed to keep a vigil on his ailing friend.
All through the night he kept busy applying cold compresses onto her forehead, changing the jug of water, cleaning the vomit bowl among other things. Finally at early dawn when the fever subsided and Cassie drifted off into a peaceful sleep, Steve seized the lull in the storm to catch a nap. He aroused minutes before his friend stirred awake. He stretched himself then scooted his chair closer to the bed to greet her.
“Hi,” she whispered smilingly.
“Hi,” she reciprocated.
“How do you feel?”
“Drained. What time is it?”
“A little over ten.”
“In the morning?” Steve did…did you stay here all night?”
“What about your date with Karen?”
“It was a mistake.”
“How do you mean?”
“I mean when I called her to break it off she accused me of...” his voice faltered at the word Karen used.
“Of being in love with you.”
“Ahhhhhhhh!” Cassie shut her eyes in disgust. “Not again!” She ran her hand across her face and stared at the ceiling, wondering. “Steve, do you suppose we’re sending the wrong signals here?”
“People like to make up their own interpretations of the facts. They draw pleasure in making mountains out of mote hills.”
“Maybe I should back out a bit. It’s obvious I’m cramping your love life.”
“Do you want to back out?”
“Not really. I like spending time in your company.”
“And I like spending time in your company. Let people think what they may. I’m sorry if they can’t see past the notion that a man and a woman can just be friends.”
“Yeah, the heck with them!”
They both broke into a laugh.
“I’m yours today, 35. Tell me what you want me to do.”
“Go home and get some sleep. Judging by those dark circles under your eyes you need it.”
“I did catch a few Zs last night. Don’t worry. I’m fine. You’re stuck with me.” He leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead. “Happy belated Valentine’s Day.”