Summary: Valentine's Day is full of surprises. (A season 4 "what if?")
"Lonely Hearts Club"
by Christine Henderson
"Forget it, Denise." Pete Downey, the press secretary at the governor's mansion, pushed his way through the swinging door into the kitchen. "I said I'm not doing it."
"Oh, come on, Pete," his girlfriend, secretary Denise Stevens, said. "It's Valentine's Day! Don't be such a stick-in-the-mud."
"It's better than being a laughingstock."
"Benson, don't you think Pete would look adorable in a Cupid costume?" she asked.
Benson DuBois, the budget director, stared at her from his worktable. "Absolutely stunning."
"Why do you want him to wear a costume?" Gretchen Kraus asked.
"Big Mike—you know, the owner of Big Mike's Miniature Golf and Arcade? He said if Pete wears the costume for just one hour outside the food court, he'll give us a free round of golf. And game tokens."
"I'll just pay to play, thank you," Pete said.
"You dressed up as an elf for that hospital Christmas party," Denise reminded him.
"That was different."
"Because the governor made me do it," Pete replied.
Governor Gene Gatling entered the kitchen with his chief of staff, Clayton Endicott III.
"Made you do what?" the governor asked.
"Uh, finish all my work, so we'd have the evening free," he said, before Denise could say anything.
"Well, I know it's a big night," the governor said, smiling. "I'm sure we're all looking forward to it."
Clayton and Miss Kraus rolled their eyes.
"With all due respect, sir," Clayton said, "Valentine's Day is merely a ploy by retailers and restaurateurs to con people out of their money. It has nothing to do with true romance."
"Says the man without a date," Benson added.
"I hate to say it, but Clayton is right," Miss Kraus admitted. "Why is February 14th such a big deal? You can be romantic any day of the year."
"Says the woman without a date," Benson quipped.
"Oh, stuff it, Benson," Miss Kraus retorted. "What do you know about sweeping a woman off her feet?"
"Enough to make my reservations at Salvatore's two months in advance," he replied.
"Ooh, nice," the governor said. "Helen's taking me to that new Japanese restaurant. You have to take your shoes off at the door."
"Better make sure your socks don't have any holes," Benson said.
"Good point." The governor sat at the table and pulled off his left shoe.
"Who is this Helen, sir?" Miss Kraus asked.
"She's that doctor I met at the hospital's fundraiser gala last month. That's why she wants to go out for seafood." He studied his right sock. "Fish is brain food, you know."
"In that case, eat hearty, sir," Benson teased him.
"I plan to." He put his shoe back on. "Katie sure is excited about the Sweetheart Dance at school."
"Why?" Pete wondered. "I mean, all I remember about junior high dances is that the boys stood on one side of the gym and the girls stood on the other."
"I could go along with that," the governor admitted.
"Well, I'm sure Bradley Rogers will ask Katie to dance," Miss Kraus said. "She says he's the 'nicest cute boy' she knows." She sighed. "Too bad he's not my age."
"Better luck next year, Kraus," Benson said, getting up. "And now, if you'll all excuse me, it's time to go turn on the old charm."
"See you all tomorrow," the governor said.
"Good night, sir," Miss Kraus replied, watching everyone leave. Only Clayton remained at the table.
"So," he said, finishing a cup of coffee, "what do you have planned for tonight?"
"Oh, I don't know. I'll probably just go home and drown my sorrows in leftover goulash, then watch some sappy movie. What about you?"
"I suppose I'll stop for some takeout, and find something to watch on television," he said.
He put his empty cup on the counter. "Well, I might as well be on my way."
"You know…." Miss Kraus began, as he started to leave the room. "There is enough goulash for two people. If you would like to share it with me."
Clayton looked at her, surprised. "You mean…have dinner? At your apartment?"
"It's not a date," she insisted, looking embarrassed. "It's just…."
"Misery loves company?" he suggested.
"Something like that. An anti-Valentine's meal."
He nodded. "No flowers, no candy."
"And no reservations," Miss Kraus added. "Come by around seven—if you want to."
Clayton shrugged. "Why not? I certainly don't have anything better to do."
"And we will not say a word about it to anyone else."
Miss Kraus was setting the table at her apartment when the doorbell rang. She hurried to open the door.
"Hi, come on in," she told Clayton, looking outside. "Did anyone see you?"
"I don't believe so," he replied. "Would you like me to go move my car around the corner?"
She laughed, embarrassed. "No. I'm sorry, I don't know what I'm worried about. Dinner is almost ready."
"It smells fabulous. I brought a little something to go with it." He handed her a bottle of red wine.
"Ah, the good stuff," Miss Kraus said, reading the label.
"Yes, it should be very nice," he agreed. "Although I know you'd rather be sharing it with someone else."
"I don't mind sharing it with you, Clayton," Miss Kraus told him. "As long as you behave yourself. Just remember, you're on my turf now."
He smiled. "So, what movie have you chosen?"
"Well, you'll probably think it's corny, but it's one of my favorites whenever I need cheering up. The Sound of Music."
"I love that movie," Clayton said.
Miss Kraus stared at him in amazement. "You do?"
"Yes, there's nothing better than a good old-fashioned musical."
"Huh. Now that is something I never expected to hear you say."
"I'm sure there are a lot of things we don't know about each other," Clayton pointed out.
"That's true," Miss Kraus said.
A few minutes later, they sat down to dinner—beef goulash served over rice, with French bread on the side.
"What should we drink to?" Miss Kraus asked, looking thoughtfully at her wine glass.
"Not having to drink alone?" Clayton suggested.
She smiled, raising her glass. "Not having to take our shoes off and sit on the floor, like the governor."
"Yes, that's another advantage," he agreed. He began eating. "I must say, I don't think I could've gotten a better meal at an expensive restaurant. Did you make this?"
She nodded. "Old family recipe."
"I thought goulash was Hungarian," Clayton said.
"This is the German version," Miss Kraus explained.
"And what do they call it in Germany?" he asked.
She smiled. "But they spell it differently."
"Well," he said, "my compliments to the chef."
"Thank you." She took a big sip of wine, feeling more relaxed.
After dinner, Miss Kraus made some popcorn to snack on during the movie. They watched the beginning of the film in a contented silence, finishing off the bottle of wine.
"Such a lovely scenic view," Clayton said at last.
"Ja. " Miss Kraus sighed. "And that captain's not so hard on the eyes, either. Why couldn't my boss look like that?"
"Because you'd never get any work done. You'd spend all your time giving Katie singing lessons."
She laughed. "That's true. I guess I'll just have to wait for my soulmate to come along."
"Mine seems to have hidden herself very well," Clayton remarked. "In fact, most people tend to hide when they see me coming."
"Well, Clayton," Miss Kraus said, "if you want people to like you, then you need to treat them like…people."
"I know, I haven't been very nice," he admitted. "It's my father's fault."
She paused the movie, then looked at him. "What?"
"He always told me you have to be ruthless to get what you want. You can't be too nice, or everyone will take advantage of you. That's why he's been so successful in business."
"No offense, but he sounds like a jerk to me," Miss Kraus commented.
Clayton nodded. "I suppose he is. I've spent my whole life trying to win his approval, but I'm not sure that I ever will."
"Why is that so important to you? Aside from the fact that he's your father?"
"Well, I'm his namesake; the one who was supposed to follow in his footsteps. But as far as he's concerned, I can't do anything right."
"So you are making yourself miserable trying to please a man like that?" Miss Kraus said.
Clayton shrugged. "I know it sounds illogical."
"That's for sure." She took another handful of popcorn. "But then, the captain was a jerk in the beginning of this movie, too. Expecting Maria to appear when he blew that whistle!"
"I'm glad my father never thought of that."
"I would've told him where to stick it," Miss Kraus declared.
"I believe you," Clayton said, smiling.
They went back to watching the movie. The scene where Captain von Trapp began dancing with Maria had Miss Kraus sighing again.
"I wonder if Katie is dancing right now," she mused. "Why do the boys always stand by the wall?"
"Just nervous, I guess," Clayton said.
"Dancing. In front of everyone."
"That's crazy," she said. "Dancing is easy. Did you know how?"
"Well…my mother tried to teach me the waltz, but it seems I have two left feet."
"Nonsense," Miss Kraus scoffed. "That's just an excuse for not practicing." She got to her feet, a bit unsteadily. "Come over here."
"Because I'm going to teach you to dance."
Clayton stood up, also a bit tipsy. "Are you sure we should, in our condition?"
"I'm not asking you to drive, just dance," she replied. They snickered. "First, put your right hand on my waist."
"All right. But don't get mad at me if I step on your toes."
"I'll just step on yours in return," she said.
"Fair enough," Clayton agreed.
"Now, the waltz is just a simple three-beat rhythm." She guided him through the movements, a little awkwardly at first, until they finally got in sync. "See? And you said you couldn't do it."
"Obviously, I've been doing it wrong all this time," he admitted. "Sober."
They laughed, then stopped suddenly, aware of how close they were to each other. Miss Kraus stared at Clayton with a strange look on her face.
"I never noticed your eyes are so blue," she said.
"Like two pools," he replied, looking at hers.
Impulsively, their lips met in a slow kiss. Clayton pulled away first.
"I'm sorry…I don't know what came over me. I—"
She silenced him with another kiss. Then it was her turn to look startled. "I…uh, I think maybe we should go watch the rest of the movie."
"Yes," Clayton said, still feeling somewhat dazed. He went back to the couch, while she returned to her recliner.
By the time the movie was over, they'd each had several cups of strong coffee, but were still trying to figure out what to say.
"Are you okay to drive?" Miss Kraus asked, as Clayton put on his blazer.
"Yes, I think so."
"Well…thank you for dinner, and…the company," he said.
"You're welcome. Thank you for the wine, and the company."
He sighed. "About what happened earlier…."
"Don't worry about it," she interrupted him. "We just got a little carried away, that's all."
"Right. Just caught up in the moment."
"And you know something? It wasn't so bad." She opened the front door. "See you tomorrow."
"So long," he said, stepping outside. "Farewell. Auf Wiedersehen, etc."
"Good night," Miss Kraus told him, smiling.
Yes, he thought, as he walked to his car. It was, indeed.
The next morning, Clayton and Miss Kraus were back at work, bracing themselves for everyone's reports about their romantic evenings. So far, though, Benson had been unusually quiet.
"Well, I'm sorry, honey," Governor Gatling told Katie, as they came into the kitchen. "Sometimes boys are hard to figure out."
"What happened?" Miss Kraus asked, surprised. "Didn't Bradley Rogers dance with you?"
"Once. One fast song," Katie replied. "The rest of the time, he was too busy slow-dancing with Heather Jorgensen."
"But I thought he was a nice boy," Miss Kraus said.
"Nope. He's a creep." Katie grabbed her lunch sack and a breakfast bagel off the table. "'Bye."
"Well, sir," Clayton said, turning to the governor, "how was your evening?"
"Very eventful," he replied.
"Oh?" Benson grinned.
"While we were having dinner, the guy on the mat behind us started choking on his sushi."
"Oh, no," Miss Kraus exclaimed.
"Luckily, Helen's a doctor, so she knows how to do the Heimlich maneuver," the governor continued. "But after he coughed up the fish, he started having chest pains, so they called an ambulance. Helen decided to go with him, to make sure he was all right."
"You mean, she just left you there at the restaurant?" Benson asked.
"Yeah, standing in my socks. But she came back later. She got the hospital to open the gift shop so she could get me something." He held up a small teddy bear dressed in surgical scrubs, holding a heart.
"Oh, that's…very nice," Miss Kraus said politely.
"Well, at least your date was there for the beginning of the meal," Benson commented.
"Yours wasn't?" the governor asked.
"We were supposed to meet at the restaurant, but she got hung up at work, and then stuck in a big traffic jam on the highway," he explained. "Finally, she called me from a pay phone and told me to start without her. Which is hard to do when you have more than just food on your mind."
"Did she finally show up?" the governor asked.
"Yeah, but she wasn't exactly in an amorous mood after all that driving."
Denise entered the kitchen, followed by Pete.
"I said I was sorry," he told her. "What more can I do?"
"I think you've done quite enough," she said.
"You didn't wear that Cupid costume, did you?" Benson asked.
Pete sat at the table. "No."
"Someone else did," Denise said. "And Pete just had to start taunting him."
"Well, you have to admit, he did look ridiculous. How was I supposed to know he's on the college wrestling team?"
"I'm assuming you found out the hard way," Benson said.
"Yeah," Pete replied. "Forget Cupid; they should make him a bouncer."
"Did he hurt you?" Miss Kraus asked.
"Just my pride. I did get one good punch in before he caught me in a headlock."
"Then security came over and asked us to leave," Denise said, shaking her head. "I don't know if I can ever show my face at the miniature golf course again. It was humiliating."
"So what did you do instead?" Benson asked.
"Oh, we had a very romantic dinner," Denise said sarcastically. "Chili dogs at the bowling alley."
"All the restaurants were packed," Pete explained.
"Well, Kraus," Benson remarked, "it sounds like you were one of the lucky ones, after all."
"Ja," she said, surprised. "Just a quiet evening at home."
She and Clayton glanced at each other across the room. And smiled.
Back to Benson fanfic table of contents
Return to René's Page
René's Page (The René Auberjonois Internet Link) is maintained by Marguerite Krause