It was a cold day in the office when Joe arrived at work. The heat had been acting up again as he crossed several technicians working in the hallways trying to get things running before the rest of the office arrived. Normally he would have taken off his coat at the lobby and put it away in his locker but seeing the text message from the front desk bot he decided to keep it with him when he entered the elevator. Joe worked on the 6th floor of a very tall multi office building in the outer rings of the city. He worked for a large data logging center doing basic database maintenance. Coming to work on a normal day he would have been bet by bland white walls, a few bits of inoffensive “soft” artwork on the walls. A coffee machine and snacks in the hallway before his offices started. He took his seat at his screen and began loading up his emails. Joe had brought a coffee from home that morning and it was starting to cool off to an extent even in it’s thermos. Several emails were checked and responded to, along with a few dozen support tickets and edits that needed to be committed. Joe sent a few quick fixes to his manager and went down the hall to the break room to reheat his now very cold coffee.
On his way there he noticed various desks with bouquets of fresh flowers and balloons in the shapes of hearts. Stuffed animals of various types and candies were also featured around the desks of many of the female staff members. Joe wasn’t dating anyone and had no other reason to keep up with romantic holidays like Valentines but couldn’t help but think of what he would buy for his girlfriend if he had one. He thought the balloons and flowers were a bit flashy and even somewhat desperate looking, as though the poor guy who sent it wanted her to make sure he was extra aware that they were dating. To Joe, giving out a real gift would have been more appropriate, given the price of flowers and chocolate these days he would much rather spend a couple hundred dollars on literally anything else the girl would have wanted. In the break room he transferred his cold coffee from his thermos to a communal office logo’d coffee cup and tossed it into the microwave for a few seconds. While he waited for it to cool down enough to actually drink again his friend Jimmy came into the break room in a panic.
“Joe, you gotta help me buddy!” he said grabbing him by the lapel of his jacket.
“Jessica is going to be so mad you forgot.”
“Dude you gotta help me, I signed up for the late shift for the data mergers and I can’t get off in time to get her nothing!”
“Just send her some candy to her office like everyone else.”
“Bro I promised her this orange clown candy she saw on some chicks post and the shop closes at 8!”
“You want me to go buy your girlfriend a valentine's gift and deliver it to her?”
“I’ll pay you for the battery power and the parking, and buy you lunch all next week. Please help me.”
Joe smiled and patted Jimmy on the shoulder, “I’ll go get the candy on my lunch break for you.”
Jimmy thanked him repeatedly and quickly sent him the bits necessary to pay for the candy and battery. Soon hot air rushed into the break room as the now fixed heater began pumping warm air through the building. Joe took off his jacket and brought his coffee back to his desk. He worked quickly to get all of his job tickets handled before noon so he could take a flex lunch and stay a little later to make up for the lost time.
Once lunchtime rolled around Joe shut down his laptop and unplugged it from the large desk screen. He put it in his bag and headed downstairs to get to the parking garage. Many other people were also headed out at lunch to take their sweethearts to a fancy restaurant close to the city center. The line to leave the garage took a few minutes to get through but there were guys flagging traffic down at the exit to help smooth things along. Out of the garage and onto the roads and was met with slow going traffic headed to the restaurant ring of the city. Luckily the candy shop he was headed to was in the opposite direction.
When he arrived at the shopping area he pulled into another parking garage which quickly tagged his vehicle to charge him an hourly fee. The shop was a few blocks down the rounding street but he made it quick enough to get into the line at the front door. Workers were standing outside the doors handing people tickets to get in line for the counter. Much like an old butcher shop, the candy store had a take-a-number plan for busy days such as Valentines and Christmas. Joe stood in the cold wind along with a dozen other people wrapped in coats and scarves. He wondered why so many people would wait till the last minute to buy a gift for someone they supposedly loved so much. How could they forget about Valentines day? There were two dozen delivery companies that could send your sweetheart literally anything they wanted in under an hour. He then realized that many of the people in line were from those delivery places, each wearing a baseball cap with the courier logo on it. GoMo, Gimmie, and InstaSnack were the most common ones in line.
This particular candy store was particularly upscale. Most candy and confectionery shops also doubled or tripled as coffee shops or were part of a larger restaurant. Very few shops this far out from the city center had this type of boutique, as the folks who bought $50 chocolates were typically those that lived in the center. Joe checked his watch as the line was now moving rapidly. Luckily for him most of these delivery folks had ordered their candies in advance and were simply picking up orders making the wait simply appear daunting in size. He quickly made it to the inside of the building, stepping up on old wooden stairs into the somewhat cold building. One couldn’t fully heat a shop that sold such delicate chocolates. The wooden floors creaked as he made his way through the line, watching the delivery guys walk up to one of four cashiers and accepting orders handed over in fine white paper bags.
Now in view of the wooden display counters, he could start to see the extravagant confections waiting behind the vintage glass. The opposite side of the room contained a long marble topped bar with chrome rimmed stools. Multiple milkshake machines and soda fountain equipment lined the mirrored wall behind it. Most of the interior of the building was antique or refurbished from real vintage drug stores and candy shops. Joe hoped Jimmy had given him enough money for this candy he was about to buy, now that he was close enough to see the little paper price tags at the front of the trays of candy. Little chocolate peanut butter cups were $50 each, but were made of some sort of naturally grown chocolate from South America. Most cocoa was hydroponically grown in precise conditions to maintain quality, but the difference in the outdoor grown chocolate was a world of difference.
Joe made it through the line and up to the counter where he could finally see the tiny chocolate petit fours that he was supposed to buy. An entire case was dedicated to their bite sized candies and most were themed for the holiday. If one were in the market for red, pink, or purple colored chocolates they would be in luck. Little red heart shapes were the most popular that day as Joe watched several orders of them go out with the couriers. A young woman dressed in a white button up shirt with the candy shops logo embroidered in red on the pocket called out for his attention. He looked up and asked if they still had any of the clown fish chocolates left. The girl gave him a worrying look, “I’ll have to check the kitchen to see, we’ve been selling out of lot’s of stuff today.”
He thanked her as she walked back behind a wooden door with a round porthole window to the brightly lit kitchen in the back. After a minute or two Joe began to worry as she hadn’t come back yet and others were moving around him to the other cashiers. He looked over the rest of the display case, texting Jimmy what his second choice would be if they were sold out.
“If they don’t have the fish get the little cat head ones, she liked those too.” Jimmy texted him back. Looking in the display case there were two sets of the grey and brown cat head chocolates. Joe wondered how on earth they managed grey chocolate, or how grey chocolate would taste. He knew it was just food coloring in white chocolate or something but he couldn’t shake the disgust of the colorless candy. Joe checked his watch, he had been gone from the office for over half an hour and was now going to run into staying late to finish work. As he was looking over the rest of the display cases the girl came back up to the counter with a small cardboard package in her hands.
“We had three sets left in the cooler, we had to make more this morning and they weren’t set up enough for the case.” She said.
“That’s great, I’ll take one set please.”
The girl walked Joe down to the end of the counter where the cash registers were and handed the package to the old woman handling the payments. This place took cash as well, and the owner didn’t trust the auto pay sensors most places had by their doorways. Plus, it seemed fitting to have a old timey candy shop actually use cash registers and have you pay in person. The woman placed the little box of fish shaped candy into their signature white paper bag and turned to him.
“Anything else today?”
“No just the chocolates, thank you.”
“Alright that will be $221.82”
Joe winced at the price of the candy but Jimmy had tossed him $350 for his trouble. He quickly paid the woman by tapping his watch to the register sensor, it gave off it’s signature “approved” chime and he was on his way. As he left the line outside seemed even longer than it was before, this time with more worried looking guys and gals who were getting last minute gifts. Back at the parking garage he climbed into his Civic and gently placed the white paper bag in the passenger seat. He even opted to not turn the heat on for the ride back to the office, not knowing how delicate these fresh candies really were. Handing Jimmy $200 worth of melted chocolate would be devastating given all the effort involved. He drove slowly through the traffic back to the office and quickly headed back up to the sixth floor.
Jimmy had been texting him frantically for the last twenty minutes but Joe hadn’t been checking his phone. He walked into the office with the white bag in hand. Jimmy met him in the lobby, “Man you didn’t get my text?”
“Jessica came by to get her candy I told her I had her present with me at work.”
Joe shook his head, “You lied to her on Valentines day?”
“She is over at my desk I’ve been trying to stall for the last fifteen minutes.”
“Well I did have to eat lunch, Jimmy.” Joe said handing him the white paper bag.
“Oh man these things are tiny! They look so much bigger in the pictures.” Jimmy said looking into the package.
Joe patted Jimmy on the shoulder, “You guys have fun man. I’ve got to get back to work.” Jimmy thanked him repeatedly before heading to his office where Jessica was patiently waiting. Sitting back down to his desk Joe could hear the squeal of excitement from Jimmy’s office behind him as Jessica opened the box of candies.
The rest of the day went smoothly, more flowers and candy arrived throughout the day. Even their office manager at some point came by and gave everyone a little container of conversation hearts with a heart shaped “Happy Valentines” note from corporate attached to it. Joe tossed them into his jacket pocket before leaving for the day a half hour later than normal. The only people left in the office were those hanging around for the late night sever mergers and one or two folks who took long lunches as well. He headed back down to his car and remotely turned it on to warm it up. Sitting in his nice warm car he checked his bank account on his phone. A few taps on the screen later and he ordered himself a fun heart-shaped pizza to be delivered to his apartment, hopefully after he arrived there himself. Joe put the Civic in reverse and headed out, racing the pizza guy home.