Authors: Gail Sattler
Todd tried to appear neutral. “I was just wondering how you feel about Gary.”
“I'm not sure yet. Sometimes I have my doubts about his sincerity, but other times, I think he's struggling with something. I know what he's like with the ladies.” She gave a little giggle, suddenly dampening Todd's optimism that she had seen through Gary's ploys. “But I can't help it. He's a lot of fun, and I think that when he decides to settle down, he'll make some woman a wonderful husband.”
Todd's hopes sank. He knew he was lousy husband material. For all his hopes and dreams, his own home was as dysfunctional as they came. Before his father left, he had vivid memories of arguing and shouting. A few times his parents had resorted to throwing things at each other.
His only example on how to be a good husband, and even a good father, was Shannon and Craig's father. He loved and respected their parents immensely, but watching his own family had taught him the outside world rarely saw what went on behind closed doors. When it came down to the intimate
workings of a relationship, he didn't know what to do.
Gary, on the other hand, knew exactly how to treat a woman, because all the women loved him, despite what he said to the other men when no ladies were present. Yet maybe what Gary said to him, Bryan, and Rick was only a macho front. Maybe he really did know how to treat a woman right.
“Yeah,” Todd mumbled, as he stuffed a forkful of vegetables and noodles into his mouth. “Good luck.”
Shannon listened to Todd's laughter, echoing from the dispatch office all the way to her desk. The sound made her smile, without even knowing what was so funny. She peeked over her shoulder, confirming he had the same effect on Brenda and Nanci, who were both grinning for no apparent reason as they worked.
In so many ways, Todd was as big a mystery as her Secret Admirer. She'd known Todd came from a single-parent family, and she'd known something was wrong; but she had no idea his situation was so tragic. When she returned home after having dinner with him a few days ago, she'd buried herself in prayer, first for Todd's mother, then for Todd. The night they'd talked, she'd even shed a few tears for Todd. She'd prayed for him daily since then.
Knowing now what she didn't know before, she had to give Todd credit. Despite his hardships and heartaches, he had a marvelous sense of humorâmaybe that's what had saved his sanity over the years. He sometimes overdid it, but he was honorable and sincere, two traits she valued. She'd always known his heart was in the right place, even before he accepted the sacrifice of Christ in his life.
For all he'd been through, he was remarkably well adjusted. He also handled his money well, if he covered his own living expenses, plus most of his mother's rent nearly every month. His actions also proved a kind and generous spirit. If the same thing had happened to others, most people would have simply left and not looked back. Not only was Todd taking care of his mother as much as she allowed him, he was also covering a large expense knowing he had no chance of repayment or even being appreciated.
This was the problem Craig wouldn't tell her about years before. She suspected Todd's pastor was aware of it, but she doubted anyone else was except her. And she knew only because she'd pried it out of him.
Others would have called him a sucker. Shannon thought he was a saint. She had underestimated him. Previously she thought Gary would have made some woman a wonderful husband, but she had revised that opinion. Gary was too self-centered and full of his own accomplishments and ego to be a good life's partner, at least for her. Todd, on the other hand, was everything she had ever dreamed of in a man. If she wasn't sure before, she was now. She didn't know exactly when it happened, but she'd fallen hopelessly in love with Todd Sanders.
But Todd only wanted to be friends. He'd told her so on more than one occasion. And she couldn't blame him. She was, after all, his best friend's kid sister. Regardless of her age, in his eyes, she would always be Craig's kid sister.
If being friends was the best she could be, then she had to accept that. Although it was only a teenage crush at the time, she had been in love with him before and lived through it. If all Todd wanted to be was friends, then being friends was better than not being friends.
Shannon glanced up at the clock. It was still hours before lunch break, but she could hardly wait. Not that she was hungry. Since Gary had a meeting with a client, she would be staying in the lunchroom and taking her break with Todd today.
At the thought of spending some time with Todd, whether or not anyone else joined them at the table, Shannon began to hum as she picked up her stapler and the statistical report for the graveyard shift's productivity. When she tried to staple the report together, she discovered her stapler was empty. She pulled the drawer open and groped for the box of staples, but instead, her fingers brushed the newest note from the Secret Admirer, which she'd left in her drawer instead of tucking it in the envelope in her filing cabinet.
Shannon glanced from side to side to make sure no one was watching. Ignoring her empty stapler, she picked up the note and read it for probably the fifth time that day.
Of all the things that make life worthwhile
Nothing makes me happier than your lovely smile.
You're bonded to my heart, as steadfast as with glue,
And that's why I write these words of love to you.
Your Secret Admirer
Usually, she didn't reread the notes until she got home, but this one she did. Not that it was better than the others; in fact this one seemed worse. The theme was still sweet and the message touching, but in this one, the pentameter seemed more off than usual, which made her think of all the notes and how they were constructed.
Gary had hinted he was the Secret Admirer, but he was a gifted speaker. His vocabulary was better than the words used in the notes, which she'd been studying at home. She had also discovered a pattern. The most elaborate words were those at the ends of the sentences, the words that rhymed, which didn't make sense. In today's note, however, she'd found an exception.
The word “steadfast” was a word she'd never heard anyone use in normal conversation. In fact, the only place she'd heard the word was at church.
Gary didn't go to church. Or rather he did, but that had only been for the past month. If Shannon were honest with herself, she wasn't sure how much he paid attention. She certainly didn't think he paid attention enough to make a word like “steadfast” part of his everyday vocabulary, especially in what was supposed to be a love sonnet.
After a month, she was starting to have some serious doubts about Gary's alleged interest in Christianity. She'd given him a Bible and pointed out some key verses for him to read, but every time she questioned him, he avoided answering or made an excuse about why he hadn't read that section. She now suspected he hadn't read a single passage she'd suggested.
At the sound of a chair scraping behind her, Shannon stuck the note in her pocket and picked up the box of staples from the drawer. She had almost finished tucking the row of staples into the slot when Rick walked through the doorway from the dispatch office and handed her an envelope.
“Kyle said to give this to you.”
As she always did when she received something handwritten, she studied the writing, especially when the person wrote her name. She could easily compare the letter
to the signature
Kyle on the north city route was not the Secret Admirer.
She quickly read the letter, which was Kyle's request to take a few days off and get his vacation pay. Even though he'd done it correctly by making his request in writing, he'd missed a step. Before she paid him, Kyle had to get permission from the department head to take the time off.
Letter in hand, she walked into Gary's office.
Gary read the letter quickly, called up the staffing schedule on the computer, then nodded. “Sure. He can have those days. I have a couple of guys on the casual list who aren't working and would be happy to get some hours.”
Shannon started to turn around, but Gary spoke again.
“Shannon, do you have a minute? I'd like to talk to you about something.”
She turned around and sank into one of the plush chairs in front of Gary's desk. “Yes?”
“I was wondering if you'd like to join me for dinner tonight.” He quickly held up his hands to stop her from turning him down instantly. “I know what you're going to say, but this is different. I just received an e-mail from the customer I'm going to be joining for lunch, and he's given me a couple of tickets to the theater. They're for tonight, which doesn't give me a lot of time to ask someone properly. I know it's not much notice, but you'd be doing me a favor. I have to go because it's a business obligation rather than something I want to do, and you'd save me from going alone.” Gary paused and flashed her a heart-stopping smile. “If you want to justify this, you can call it work-related.”
“I don't know. May I think about it before I give you my answer?”
“Of course. But I'd appreciate it if you let me know as soon as possible. And while we're out, I think it would be a good time to tell you about a little”âGary dropped his voice to an alluring whisperâ“secret.”
Shannon's heart began to pound. She gulped, trying to make her voice sound normal. “What kind of secret?”
He leaned forward over the desk, not losing the smile Shannon knew melted women's hearts by the dozen. “If I told you now, then it wouldn't be a secret, would it?”
“I suppose not,” she choked out.
Shannon forced herself to breathe. She sprang to her feet. “I'll let you know about dinner after lunch.” Before Gary could pressure her, Shannon left his office and returned to her desk.
A million thoughts zinged through her head. She didn't know what Gary was going to say, but she wasn't stupid. She could tell he was alluding to the Secret Admirer. Just because he knew, though, didn't mean he was the Secret Admirer. Faye knew, Todd knew, and she suspected Nanci did, too. She also had the impression Rick knew, because he worked closely with Todd and might have overheard them talking about it a couple of times.
Regardless of who knew, since the time she started receiving the notes, she was no closer to discovering the man's identity. The only thing that had happened was that she had gained three pounds. She attributed part of that to going out with Todd for coffee and dessert twice a week, but part of it also had to be a steady diet of a chocolate kiss every morning.
Shannon glanced at the clock. Little time had passed since she'd last checked, but now she wanted it to be the lunch hour more than ever. She hadn't talked much about the Secret Admirer with anyone, but this time, she had to. She had to know if it was Gary, and if it took going out with him in the evening to get an answer, then that was what she would have to do.
But first, she had to discuss it with Todd.
To make sure Todd didn't forget she was remaining in the building for lunch, Shannon returned to the dispatch area, staying clear of Gary's office door.
She found Todd alone in the room, not working, standing and staring out the window.
“Hey, Todd. Working hard, I see.” She couldn't help but grin. “What's so interesting out there?”
He smiled. “I was just looking at the spring sunshine. See how it sparkles?”
Shannon grinned wider. Sunshine may be bright, but she'd never seen sunshine sparkle. Only Todd would think of something so strange.
She stepped beside him, so she was looking out the same window. “It's bright and sunny out there, a nice spring day. But I don't see any sparkles.”
He wrapped his hands around her shoulders and turned her in the direction of the trees in the corner of the parking lot. “I'm not talking about the glitter type of sparkles that kids use for their arts and crafts projects. Look.” He pointed directly at the trees. “It stopped raining, and the sun came out right away. Everything is still wet. See how the sunshine catches the raindrops on the leaves? And see how the droplets of water shine on that big spider web? Do you see it? It's kind of like dew on the grass early in the morning, but the sun isn't bright enough at sunrise to make the dew sparkle. It's well past sunrise now, though, so the rain is drying fast. The sparkling spring sunshine happens only early in the day, when the weather is cool but not too cold, for that few minutes while everything is wet after a quick rain. Like today. It lasts a minute or two, if the angle of the sunlight is right, and then it's gone. Kind of like the commercial for those chocolate Easter eggs. They last only a short time, and then they're gone until next year. That's what makes it so special. It fascinates me every time, because it's unique and pretty. And now, I better get back to work.”
Shannon looked outside at the tree, but she didn't see anything. Her mind was elsewhere.
Sparkling spring sunshine
. She'd heard the phrase before.
One of the Secret Admirer's poems had used that phrase. She didn't memorize the poems, or even parts of them, but that one phrase had caught her attention at the time because it was so odd.
Todd had just said the same phrase.
It was Todd. Todd Sanders was the Secret Admirer. She pressed her hand over the top of her pocket with the Secret Admirer's latest note in it.
Todd's latest note.
Todd Sanders was the man who had been writing words of love to her, as today's poem had professed.
She turned to watch Todd busily typing at the computer, hard at work.
He turned around, smiling. His eyes sparkled, just like his spring sunshine. “Yes?”
Behind her, footsteps approached, meaning either Bryan or Rick or both were returning. Gary's phone was ringing in his office. One of the dispatch phones started ringing, and a beeping and flashing light signaled that one of the drivers was calling in. It was payback time for the three minutes of silence.
This was not the time to tell him she knew.
Shannon cleared her throat, hoping she could make her voice sound normal. “I just wanted to see if we're on for lunch together, since I'm not going out.”
He picked up the phone. “You betcha.” He pushed the button to get the caller. “Dispatch. This is Todd.”
Bryan appeared and reached for the radio. Rick started walking into Gary's office with a folder, but Gary met him halfway, and they both stepped into the dispatch area.
Without a word Shannon turned and returned to her desk, but she didn't sit down. Immediately, she removed the key to her filing cabinet from her pocket. Her hands shook so badly she didn't know how she got the key into the lock. She reached for Todd's personnel file. For all the years she'd known him, she'd never seen his handwriting. When the Secret Admirer notes started appearing, she'd checked the handwriting of a few of the men, but it never occurred to her to look at Todd's.