Calendula, My Partner by Charles C Cole

Calendula, My Partner
Charles C Cole

I returned from a brisk walk around the block to clear my head. Weird things were happening. I watched a cat giving a tongue-bath to a squirrel! I saw a centaur prancing in circles in traffic to get the attention of a mounted policewoman, like he didn’t realize she was a human riding the horse, not part-horse! The city had somehow tapped into Cupid’s gift and was going a little nuts, myself included.

Calendula, my half-rosebush receptionist, was getting under my skin, in a way hard to ignore. She was my second in command and liaison to the faery world. So, why was I suddenly daydreaming of her as a love interest? Humans, even me, periodically make irrational decisions. They’re rarely justified, often impulsive, often regretted immediately afterward.

My theory: these actions were dictated by a primal force we thought we’d left behind in the jungles and the caves, before becoming civilized. The primitive instinct was just biding its time, waiting until we were at our most vulnerable, when we had the most to lose.

Back at the office, after hours, Calendula was industriously finishing up paperwork. Sometimes she was more machine than plant. She didn’t get frustrated, didn’t sweat, almost glowed. I leaned my back against the closed office door, thinking: I’m so lucky!

Calendula glanced up like she could hear my thoughts.

I removed my hat and fidgeted with it in my sweaty paws. “Calendula, can I speak to you a minute?” I asked.

She stopped what she was doing immediately, a stack of documents in her hands, and looked me right in the eyes: all attention. Behind her, the photocopier was grinding away like a printer’s press, lights flashing against the wall. Her personal-sized desk fan was busy oscillating and, in the corner of the room, our little sink was filling with watery soap bubbles as she prepared to wash the day’s cups and saucers.

Of course, Joe,” she said. “Did I do something wrong?” There was a brief wet glint of vulnerability to her eyes.

Don’t be absurd. You’re perfect.”

I’m many things, Joe, but nobody’s ever accused me of being perfect. This must be real bad.”

Do you want to go to my chambers, away from the noise?” I asked, like I was somehow doing her a favor.

Would that make you more comfortable? Or I can pause the corporate mayhem, if you like.” She jumped to the sink, turned off the water and paused the copier. The fan hummed, unabated. “There.”

You care too much,” I groaned.

I think we care about the same.”

I took a quick breath. “You need to have more of a life outside the office.” I felt a weight on my chest, like I was breaking up with her, blindsiding her.

Is that an order?” She wasn’t offended, which she should have been. You could see her eyes flit about the room, looking for tools to help her be more accommodating. I felt bad.

It’s me,” I finally blurted. “Something’s going on between us that wasn’t there before. I’m pretty sure Cupid’s got a chubby finger in it.”

He likes you!” she protested, as if reason was going to save the day.

Someone has him over a barrel. No way he’s doing it willingly.”

Calendula melted into her chair, giving it a quick dizzying spin. “I’m so relieved!”

I’m being manipulated like a marionette!”

Not you, Joe Avery. You saw something out of place and you handled it, like you always do. You keep your work and personal life separate, so when you started gawking at me –”

That didn’t strike you as odd?” I asked.

I thought you were drunk. I’ve overwatered before, so I know the experience. It was sweet. I knew you didn’t mean it. What did you once tell Cupid? You don’t think we’re ready for human-faeryfolk relationships.”

My jaw dropped. Cupid and I had been alone for that conversation. I hadn’t shared the details with Calendula.

Again, as if reading my mind, wrinkling her forehead sympathetically: “It was in your case notes. I type them up, so I kind of have to read them.”

I’m too detailed for my own good,” I confessed.

Then again, I wouldn’t exist if people didn’t sometimes cross the lines.”

And the world would be less without you. You see things, hear things, I miss. In many ways, you’re a second me but with more empathy and more patience. What I’m trying to say is: So long as I’m breathing, there will always be a place here for you. And your Tupperware full of water under your desk to soak your roots.”

I like you, too!” said Calendula, smiling recklessly.

This is worse than I thought!”

As a friend and a colleague,” she specified. “Don’t worry: you’re safe.”

So, we’re better? Can we talk about cases? Because I’m too exhausted to discuss other things.”

There is one item,” she said, “that’s been on my mind, since we’re getting personal.”

Now what?!

You may have noticed I haven’t been clipping my palm thorns.”

Ouch: noticed more than once! But I’d kept my cool.

I was feeling overpruned. I need to be true to my roots. If that means getting fire, so be it.”

Calendula,” I began, as earnest as a marriage proposal, “I accept you exactly as you are. I will never again insist you trim your thorns. That was wrong of me.”

If we ever have to hold hands, maybe as a metaphor of unity for our clients, say, I’m pretty sure you can slide your fingers safely in the spaces between my thorns, though we may have to practice.”

This is sounding intimate,” I joked.

Don’t flirt,” she insisted.

Let’s try!” I said. She held a hand across the desk. I extended my hand in kind. We touched. I slid my fingers delicately into place, blindly, guided by instinct.

Thorns! Pain! We both sensed it, me more.

We’ll get there,” I assured her.

Calendula, My Partner by Charles C Cole 1

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