Andy looked up from his bag. It was Erin. He hadn’t talked to her since he left her at the vending machines in the breakroom.
“Hey,” he said. It was the end of the day, and the office was nearly empty. Phyllis and Stanley had rushed out the door at 5 o’clock with a hurried goodbye, both eager to get a start on their big Valentine’s Day plans, leaving Andy the last one left at that their desk clump. Phyllis had been speculating all week what Bob Vance of Vance Refrigeration had in store for their evening together, and though Andy hadn’t asked, she made one thing painfully clear: it would involve the bedroom. As for Stanley’s plans - well - Andy simply hoped Cynthia was as okay as Stanley was with her not being the only woman participating in his Valentine festivities.
Erin already had her coat and scarf on, and was probably waiting for Gabe. He may have been imagining it, but Andy thought she looked nervous.
“So, today was fun,” she said. It was clear that she was trying to act casual. But casual for Erin would have meant being her chipper, free-flowing self. Instead, her words came out slow and measured, which only made her appear unsure of what she was saying. It would have been a great impression of Kevin, actually, if the circumstances had been different.
“Yeah,” Andy agreed, nodding his head more than was necessary and fumbling with an overstuffed folder that wouldn’t fit into his bag. “Yeah, it was fun.”
He wasn’t quite able to bring himself to look at her directly when he spoke. It wasn’t that he was lying. The day had been fun. Erin made everything fun. Even a meticulously planned office-wide, romantic scavenger hunt put together by her boyfriend, who, much to Andy’s daily disappointment, was not him.
When she had asked him for help, Andy knew it probably wasn’t a good idea. Several times he tried to politely bow out. But Erin was insistent… she was also wearing a very pretty pink blouse that he had never seen on her before. That was as good as any excuse for him to stick around.
But really, he just liked being around her.
She made it so easy to let himself get swept up into the excitement of the scavenger hunt - and somewhere down the line he had forgotten why they were running around the office like born again teens in the first place. It all came back to him in the breakroom when Erin took a meaningful step towards him, her chin tipped up so that he was left to hopelessly stare at her perfect, rosy lips. That is, until he caught sight of Gabe hovering on the other side of the breakroom window and peering through the blinders like a wide-eyed scarecrow. That alone was enough to scare him off. He retreated wordlessly to his desk, and several minutes later, Erin followed through the kitchen door and returned to reception, neither one of them speaking to each other for the rest of the day.
“Thanks for your help,” Erin went on. “I don’t think I ever would have been able to get through it if it hadn’t been for you.”
“Oh, I’m sure you would have figured it out,” Andy assured her hastily, but Erin shook her head.
“No, really. It would have been a complete disaster. I totally would have ruined Gabe’s Valentine’s surprise. You saved the day!”
“Aw, well…” Andy stammered, trailing off. He didn’t really have it in him to take credit for making Gabe’s special Valentine’s Day wishes come true. In fact, he found it a tad irritating that Erin needed to bring it up. And why did she have to say it so sweetly? It was almost like she was trying to hurt him. He shoved the folder he had been struggling with into the side pocket of his bag and zipped it shut with an unnecessary flair of hostility. Next to him, he felt Erin jump slightly, and he bit his tongue. He was fighting the urge to lash out at her, the despair he’d been wallowing in for the latter half of the day now a pool of molten anger.
This isn’t her fault, a quiet voice inside his head tried to reason. Everything… what it is between you two… it isn’t her fault.
Andy bent a little lower over his desk and took a deep breath. He could feel Erin’s eyes on him, trying to catch his gaze. Spoiling her Valentine’s Day by acting like a sour puss wasn’t going to help anything. And it certainly wouldn’t win him any points with her in the future either. She was his friend. Best friend, if he were being honest. He didn’t want to hurt her. He just needed to tap into the ol’ Bernard charm and get through this. So, with a grudging resolve, he drew himself upright, clapping his heels together and tipping his head forward in a gentlemanly bow. With a twirl of his hand, he declared in a thick British accent, “When such damsel’s in distress, Andy doth protest.”
Erin bubbled up with laughter. It had only been there for a moment, but the tension between them seemed to dissolve in an instant, and while Andy didn’t feel good by any means, he was glad to see her smiling. The ache in his chest softened a bit, and he revealed a toothy smile, joining in her laughter.
“Well, I should probably get going,” he said, stepping out from his desk and pushing in his chair. He slung his bag over his shoulder. “Rachel’s supposed to be picking me up at my place.”
“Right,” Erin said, her face sobering up at the mention of Rachel. “That reminds me…” She turned and and wandered away, leaving Andy standing by his desk. He watched her as she strode over to reception and sat down. She began fumbling with something on her desk. Curious, but not asking any questions, Andy took a couple steps towards reception, trying to get a look at what she was doing. But just as soon as Erin had sat down, she was back on her feet and retreating out from behind her desk. As she walked over to him, Andy saw that she had something tucked behind her back. Her lips were pressed in a playful smile and when she stopped in front of him, she flourished her hidden hand between them dramatically.
She was holding a single rose.
“Here,” she said simply, offering the flower to him. Andy blinked at it, surprised.
“Oh,” he breathed. He was suddenly aware that they were the only two left in the office. Well - besides Gabe who was still in the annex. He lifted his eyes to Erin’s face; his heart was beating very fast. Gabe could walk in any minute, but her lips were looking just as lovely as they had in the breakroom...
“I thought you might want something to give to Rachel,” she went on, gazing back at him.
“Oh,” Andy said again, rocking back on his heels, the courage that had seized him taking an immediate nosedive. His heart sank. “That’s, uh…” he stumbled, “that’s really thoughtful of you. Thanks.” He plucked the rose from her hand, and gave it a quick sniff. “Mmm fragrant,” he quipped, raising his eyebrow in a worldly sort of manner. Erin let out another laugh, looking pleased.
There was an awkward pause where they just stared at each other. Andy bounced on the spot not sure what else to say. “Well…” he finally began, “enjoy your evening with Gabe.”
Erin’s eyes lit up. “Oh - you too!” she chirped a little too enthusiastically. “I mean - enjoy your evening with Rachel - not Gabe. You should have fun with your girlfriend.”
“Right,” Andy laughed awkwardly, slowly starting to walk towards the door. “‘Night,” he said over his shoulder.
“Goodnight,” Erin said, watching him leave and giving a small wave to his turned back.
The door to the office closed with a light thud as Andy stepped outside into the hallway. He shuffled over to the elevator and pushed the button. There was a soft rumble indicating that the elevator was traveling upwards and Andy planted himself in front of the doors, waiting.
That morning he had been looking forward for his date with Rachel. Excited, even, for the chance to court a pretty, young lady on the most romantic day of the year. It had been such a long time since he had hit it off with someone. He had spent months pining for Erin and even longer trying to get over her. Sure, maybe he hadn’t always tackled that mountain with the level of enthusiasm it probably required, but he was trying to move on, and asking Rachel out was a big step in the right direction. Or so he had thought. Now he could only think about how desperately he wished he was taking Erin home with him.
A bell chimed and the elevator doors slid open. Andy let out a sigh, and with his head hung low and dejected, crossed through the entryway into the elevator. He hit the button for the ground floor hard, a pang of resentment nipping at the sadness taking over him.
“Come on, come on,” he muttered impatiently at the doors, which were stubbornly standing open. He punched the button again. After a couple seconds, they started to close.
Andy’s arm flew up to stop the elevator door as though on command. There was a rattling sound, like the office door closing, and then Erin appeared in the doorway of the elevator. She looked like she had ran to catch him. Brushing her hair out of her face, she said slightly out of breath, “This was the best Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had.”
A sort of brazen exhilaration sparkled in her eyes as she gazed at Andy from across the elevator’s threshold. He could only stare at her, mouth hanging slightly open, his arm glued to the door. She smiled at him, and saying nothing else, she pushed the button for the elevator and dashed off, leaving Andy standing dumbstruck. As the doors began to close, he let his arm fall limply by his side.
The elevator groaned as it began to descend. A rush of new emotions surged through Andy as he tried to process what had just happened.
It wasn’t long before the elevator came to a halt and Andy was walking out into the parking lot. He stopped outside the entrance and inhaled deeply, breathing in the cold, night air. A satisfied grin spread across his face as he exhaled and a cloud of frost hovered at the tip of his mouth before fading away. He looked down at the rose in his hand and after a moment of deliberation, he broke the stem off and gingerly placed the blossom into the lapel of his jacket.
Andy's talking head
“Am I still going out with Rachel tonight? Yes. Why? Because according to Miss Manners, cancelling plans less than a week in advance is not only rude, but regarded by those of proper breeding as a callous offense in the highest degree and grounds for having your pearls taken away. Well, Andy Bernard has no intention of handing over his pearls. They belonged to my grandmother, and Judith Martin will have to pry them from my cold dead hands before I ever give those puppies up.” Andy paused. “I would also have to reschedule and next Valentine’s Day is, like, a year away so that could be awkward.”
Andy bit his bottom lip, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “Today, I helped Erin with Gabe’s Valentine’s Day scavenger hunt and made all her Valentine’s Day wishes come true. And I know what you’re thinking. “Andy, didn’t you also help make Gabe’s Valentine’s Day wishes come true by lending a hand to find his clues and in doing so make his romantic surprise a huge success?” Well, yes. But what Gabe doesn’t know is that he threw the Nard Dog a bone today. See, his little scavenger hunt helped me out too - helped me find my way back into Erin’s heart.” Andy bared his teeth down into the biggest, silliest grin, unable to contain himself. He let out a relieved laugh. “It’s kind of romantic if you think about it. I mean, if I can steal the show on Valentine’s Day, it makes you wonder about the other 364 days of the year.” He shrugged his shoulders, shaking his head and looking excited.
“I am going to enjoy my evening out tonight and not worry about what’s in store for me and Erin because Gabe,” Andy paused, thinking, “Gabe is like a benign tumor. An annoying, twitchy, tall, unwanted disease, but completely ineffectual and harmless. I’m not worried. Erin won’t need a clues to find her way back to me. I’ll just be there.”
With an assured smile, Andy turned away and started off towards his car. Half-way across the parking lot, he stopped and looked back around as though just thinking of something.
“You know, maybe Stanley is onto something,” he ventured. “Maybe it’s ok to have two, consenting adult Valentines. I’ll have to check with Miss Manners. Or my Grandma. She’ll know.”