Here’s a fun piece by one of our newest authors. Enjoy!
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St. Valentine’s Day
Jason and I were working late, at the Institute of Advanced Thermodynamics. A special project required both of us to be there. In the background, the computers hummed away, burners heated stuff up, refrigeration lasers cooled things down, all was normal. And, for once, Jason and I were getting along.
Then he had to ruin it. “So what are you getting Jennifer for Valentine’s day?”
“What? Is it Valentine’s Day already?” I asked, breaking into a cold sweat.
“Jack, it’s February thirteenth! You’d better think of something and think of it fast!”
“I guess so.”
“Well, good luck, slugger. The stores will all be closed by the time we get out of here.”
He was right. I always forget St. Valentine’s Day. Maybe because it’s a chick holiday. Maybe because guys have to give something, but they don’t get anything. Maybe because giving the same thing every year, flowers and chocolates, seemed so ordinary. And this year Jason was there to remind me of it, making it even worse. Considering the demands of our current project at work, the sudden pressure of finding a suitable gift for Valentines Day was an additional burden I really didn’t need.
“Looks like we’ll both be scrambling at the last minute, as usual, on Valentine’s Day. Want to bet who gets done with it first?”
Jason and I were a lot alike. We weren’t really friends, more like friendly rivals. We were both in our mid-twenties, we both rode mountain bikes and worked out with weights. We were both married to beautiful women, both of us were scientists … we were so evenly matched it was no wonder we were so competitive with each other. Whenever one of us eased off on anything, be it work, weights, or racing on mountain bikes, the other one instantly seized the advantage.
“What are you getting Elaine?” I asked.
“Flowers and chocolates,” Jason said. “Same as every year. Boring and predictable, but what else is there?”
“If only we could think of something different,” I said.
“Something to make it more fun for us, as well as the girls,” Jason said. “If only there was something excitingly work-related that we could give the girls.”
“Dude, we work at the Institute of Advanced Thermodynamics.” This was our dream job. But for once I wished I worked someplace more normal, someplace where a guy could be inspired with regard to a Valentine’s Day gift. “Everything we work with is all just stuff getting hot. And then cooling off and getting hot again. What could we possibly give the girls that’s work related and more interesting than watching paint peel? Refrigeration lasers? Laser heaters? Laser thermometers?”
Just then the timer for the ultra-high pressure oven chimed. Putting our troubles aside for the moment, I opened the door, and there before us was the largest rough diamond I had ever seen. I swear it was as big as a softball.
“It wasn’t supposed to do that,” Jason said. “You must have mixed it wrong.”
“You’re right, it was supposed to be nested spheres of carbon bucky balls. But you’re wrong about what messed our results up. I mixed it right. Your ultra-high pressure oven cooked it wrong.”
“It did not!” For a moment it looked like we’d resume the same argument we always had every time something went wrong. Then Jason shrugged. “Whatever happened, all we got was this stupid huge rough diamond. Definitely not what we were after. And that means it’s back to the drawing board, old chum. We’re both set back to square one now.” He slapped me on the back.
“I guess so. I’ll get back to work on the materials side. And this time you try and get the oven designed correctly.”
“Materials? What materials? All you need is carbon! You can get carbon anywhere. They practically sell the stuff in supermarkets, you know.”
I let it go, and said, “Something different for Valentines Day. Something work-related. Any ideas?”
“Me neither. Maybe we’re looking at the problem the wrong way. What is it that girls like? Besides flowers and chocolates?”
“I dunno,” Jason said, his mind already back on his work. Absent-mindedly, he said, “Cards? Shoes? Nice new kitchen appliances? Jewelry?”
I was only half-listening, focusing on my own work. But still, one of his suggestions caught my attention. “What was that last thing you said?”
“Jewelry?” I asked.
“Yes!” he said, irritated that I kept interrupting his concentration. “Jewelry? Ok? Like gold and diamonds and stuff …” his voice trailed to a stop.
We looked at the softball sized diamond. We looked at each other in . And then the idea hit us both at the same time. We had something incredible right in front of us, something utterly new and unique, the only one of its kind in the world. It would be the ultimate Valentine’s Day gift!
And we both wanted it.
“Well,” I said, as casually as I could, “Guess I’ll just toss this ugly thing in the trash, on my way out.” I began to reach for the diamond …
But Jason grabbed it before I got there. “If you don’t want it, Jack, I think I’ll just hold on to it. Use it as a paper-weight.” He, too, was faking nonchalance, as he was backing up towards the stairs.
I snapped, all attempt at subterfuge erased in a hot flash of anger. “You swine!” I said, “I was going to give it to Jennifer for Valentine’s!”
“That’s not what you said. You said you were just going to throw it away.”
“I only said that so you wouldn’t realize I wanted it!”
“Too late,” he said, and ran through the door and down the stairs.
That miserable bum! I ran to other stairwell, the one that opens directly to the parking lot. I ran to my car and started it, pulled out of the parking spot and parked my car directly behind his. What ever his plans were, he wouldn’t be taking his car.
But he must have guessed my intentions, because he was running across the parking lot, running to the bus stop just as a bus was pulling up. He crossed the street to get on the bus.
I took off in hot pursuit, running as fast as I could to get to the bus. I made it at the last second, jumped on, and shouted “Aha! Now I’ve got you!”
Only he wasn’t on the bus. And everyone was looking at me like I was crazy. As the bus pulled away, I saw Jason running across the street, back to the parking lot. He jumped into my car and drove off. In the heat of the moment, I had left my keys in the car. Hell, I even left it running!
Desperate not to let Jason get away, I shouted, “Driver! Follow that car!”
“Mister,” the driver said, “You better just take a seat, or I’ll throw you off this bus and call the cops.”
“But you don’t understand! That jerk stole my diamond, my car, and my Valentine’s Day present!”
The brakes slammed on, and the driver, a very large man, said, “I warned you, pal.” He threw me off the bus and reached for his radio.
As I ran back to the parking lot, I heard him giving a description of me to the police, telling them I was some sort of lunatic.
The parking lot was now two blocks further away and I was running full blast, nearly in a panic, when a burst of inspiration hit me: I didn’t need the diamond. I needed the ultra-high pressure oven! I came to a full stop as the realization hit me. If I had that, I could make all the diamonds I wanted, and Jennifer could have an entire necklace of softball-sized diamonds. I could smother her in softball-sized diamonds, if I wanted! That oven represented the single greatest Valentine’s Day gift ever, and it was about to be all mine! Jennifer would see me as the greatest husband ever!
And best of all, that swine Jason Flanders didn’t even realize what he had over looked! Yes! I could still win this! I started running towards the lab again. I had to go around the front because you couldn’t enter the building from the stairways. I passed up the elevator and ran up the stairs to get there quicker, a run up of only five flights. After all the other running around and getting thrown off the bus, I was starting to feel a little fatigued. Still, I had enough to get up those five flights in a hurry. The thought of victory gave me speed. I charged into the lab at full speed …
Only to see Jason enter the parking lot stairway, with the ultra-high pressure oven tucked under his arm!
“Damn you!” I shouted.
“Nice car you got, Jack, thanks for loaning it to me!” and down the stairs he went. Probably gloating the whole way down, I bet!
“Bastard!” I shouted after him, “I’ll call the cops and say you stole it!” I reached for my cell phone and began dialing 911. I reported my car stolen even as he jumped into it and roared away. With glee I described the vehicle and gave them the license plate number.
The dispatcher asked if I had seen a crazy man running around the area, as they had previously received another call. I said yes, I had, and I gave them Jason’s description and name, and said he was the guy who stole my car.
But I was still in a pinch. No diamond, no diamond-producing ultra-high pressure oven, not even flowers and chocolates. I had zip to give Jennifer for Valentine’s Day. Despondent, I wandered back up the stairs, into the lab. And I couldn’t believe what I saw: Jason’s keys! He must have left them in his haste to steal my diamond and oven. I figured he had to be headed home, so I snatched up his keys, ran down the stairway again, and jumped in his car to give chase.
I only made it a few blocks before I got pulled over by a cop.
“Out of the car with your hands up!” he ordered me. “We have a report that this vehicle has been stolen by a dangerously insane man,” the officer told me.
Jason, that never to be sufficiently damned swine, had set me up by reporting his car as stolen and then leaving his keys for me as a trap!
“You don’t understand,” I said, handcuffed, riding in the back of the police car. “Jason Flanders is the one who stole my car, and then gave a false report saying I stole his car, all of which he did to cover his tracks while he gets away with my diamond and oven!”
“Son,” the police officer said, “Did I find you driving his car, or didn’t I?”
“Yes! But don’t you see? It was a trap! He set me up!”
“Tell it to the judge, sport.” He called in on his radio, and said, “I found the crazy guy, all right. I’m bringing him in.”
They took me to jail and I had to call Jennifer to bail me out. She didn’t sound too happy about it, either. But while I was waiting, they brought Jason in and put him in the cell next to mine.
“Damn you, Jack,” he said, “They got me for stealing your car!”
“Well you did steal it! And now I bet they’ve impounded both our cars, the oven, and the diamond, as evidence. Now neither one of us has a Valentine’s gift for our wives!”
“No, I stashed them both in a bus station locker before they picked me up,” he said. “I knew you would turn me in, so I got rid of it first. Look, I’ll make you a deal: when Jennifer gets here, bail me out, too, and I’ll let you have either the diamond or the oven, whichever you prefer. But Elaine must never know about this.”
I refused to speak to him, but he wasn’t finished yet.
“Jack, we have been a pair of idiots.”
“You sure have been an idiot.”
“No, both of us have. We both had a gift we could’ve given our wives, but we both had to have it all. If we had compromised, we would both be sitting pretty for Valentine’s Day.”
“You stole them both first,” I said.
“Only because I thought you would steal them first, leaving me with nothing for Valentine’s Day.”
“Damn that St. Valentine,” we both said at once, and laughed.
“So what do you say?” Jason said. “Do we have a deal?”
“Deal.” We shook on it between the bars.
Unfortunately, Jason’s hopes of keeping this episode from Elaine vanished when she showed up with Jennifer. Our wives were best friends, and when Jennifer told Elaine I was in jail, Elaine came with her for moral support. Imagine her surprise at finding Jason in the neighboring cell.
We both got a good telling off, I must say. We thought we had both sunk as far down as we could go, but the more we tried to explain to our wives how the events of this evening came to pass, the further into a hole we dug ourselves.
“And you won’t even tell us why you both stole each other’s cars?” Jennifer demanded. “It’s bad enough we have to bail you two morons out of jail, now you won’t even tell us why you were acting like complete idiots?”
At least Jennifer was talking to me. Elaine had not said one single word after the initial shock of discovering Jason in jail. Things only got worse when we said we needed to go to the bus station, instead of going home, and we couldn’t even tell them why. They flatly refused, and took us straight home. Ice would not have melted in the car, the mood was so cold.
When we got home, Jennifer started giving me the silent treatment. In an attempt to begin digging myself out of the hole I was in, I took out the trash, something I never do voluntarily. I was going to have to take out the trash for a long time before Jennifer forgave me for this evening.
As I reached the curb, Jason pulled up in Elaine’s car.
“Dude! Get in! And hurry!”
“What the hell?” I said, as I got in the car.
“We need to make this fast,” he said. “I already had to wait five minutes for you to come outside. Great cover, by the way, taking out the trash. I told Elaine I was going to clean the gutters.”
“It’s three in the morning, and you said you were going to clean the gutters?”
“Clever, huh? I think she bought it, I dunno, she still hasn’t said one word to me.”
“What’re we doing?” I said.
“We’re going to the bus station. A deal is a deal. Look, we can still pull this off, the greatest Valentine’s Day presents ever, and we’ll be back in our wives good graces!”
I had to admit he was right. After everything else this evening, this was anticlimactic. We went to the bus station, got the diamond and the oven out of the locker, and went back home. We agreed I would keep the diamond, Jason would keep the oven. We looked forward to the new day with great anticipation. I didn’t even care that I had to sleep on the couch, even though my back hurt the next morning.
With glee, I told Jennifer I had the greatest Valentine’s Day present ever for her.
“This is what last night was all about,” I said. “We couldn’t tell you and Elaine why we were in such trouble last night because it would’ve spoiled the surprise. But now it’s Valentine’s Day, and I give you …” I pulled the cover off the diamond, “… the greatest Valentine’s Day gift ever!”
“What is this?” Jennifer demanded. “Is this some sort of joke?”
“No! Honey, it’s a diamond! One of the biggest ones ever, if not the biggest one of all!”
But I had made a classic mistake. I was thinking of St. Valentine’s Day, and diamonds, like a guy: bigger is better. Jennifer was thinking of it like a girl: a pretty ring or some earrings or a necklace, something already cut and polished that she could wear in public.
“It’s ugly and I can’t wear that in public! Even if you did mount it on a chain, it would break my neck! How could you be so thoughtless?”
And then it was no longer the silent treatment, it was tears.
I went in to work. I had a lot of explaining to do there, as well. Like telling them why an expensive ultra-high pressure oven was missing, and why didn’t I see who stole it, since I was supposed to have been working here when it happened?
I didn’t have to explain for too long, because Jason showed up with the oven, and claimed he had taken it home to work on.
Later he said, “My suitcases are in the car. Can I stay with you for a few days?”
“What?” I said, “She didn’t like the idea of having all the diamonds she ever wanted?”
“Elaine thought it was a microwave oven,” Jason said. “She thought I got her a microwave oven for Valentine’s Day and she threw me out!”
Damn that St. Valentine!