Synopsis: When Missy learns that her world is about to be turned upside-down, she ponders what her future might hold and confides in a mysterious, masked stranger.
I love my job as a charitable grant coordinator, but I work too much. My friends know it. My co-workers know it. Even my dog knows it. So, at the urging of my best friend, I’d taken vacation time the last week of March for a singles’ cruise. Instead of finding true love under the stars though, I’d only found a stomach virus.
By the time I got home on Sunday night, I was feeling better physically but was already dreading going back to work. I fired up my laptop to check email; it would probably be good to know what I’d be walking into Monday morning.
Besides the general work messages I’d expected, I found three announcing sales at my favorite stores, two from Gary in accounting asking me out (No, Gary. The answer is still no), one from a Nigerian prince, one from the office manager announcing that window washers would be on-site on Monday morning, and one from Joan in HR:
Sent: Sunday, April 1, 2018 2:03 PM
To: Melissa Ferkel
From: MUPPET Human Resources
Due to a steady decline in funding, the Board of Directors of Minnesota Under-Privileged: Progress Exists Together, Inc. voted unanimously this afternoon to cease operations at the end of this month.
Although MUPPET will be closing its doors, we remain committed to helping Minnesota’s needy and will be merging operations with Minnesota and Wisconsin People Helping Everyone Thrive, Inc. (MAWPHET).
On Monday, April 2, an executive from MAWPHET will meet with MUPPET employees individually to determine the best fit in the new organization. You are scheduled to meet with K. Theodore Frosch, CEO of MAWPHET, at 4 PM in conference room 2. Please add this meeting to your calendar.
My breath caught in my throat. This couldn’t be happening. True, contributions and donations to MUPPET were down. And, yes, the non-profit did have a stupid name. But, we did a lot of good for a lot of people.
My stomach lurched and I wiped a bead of sweat off my forehead. I mentally calculated how long my savings would last and wondered what the going rate for ramen noodles was these days. Also, whether a dog could survive on ramen.
Then, I remembered what day it was:
April Fool’s Day.
I felt the tension leaving my body and groaned at having been taken in.
I thought it was odd that Joan would prank me like that; a prim and proper woman in her 60s, she didn’t strike me as a practical joker. It would seem there was a side to her I didn’t know about.
Clicking my laptop shut, I made a mental note to tell Joan that jokes about my job were off-limits from now on.
By Monday morning, I’d completely forgotten about Joan’s email. Unfortunately, I’d also forgotten to stock up on coffee at the store, which meant I’d have to stop at the coffee shop next to MUPPET headquarters.
Bleary-eyed, I was making my way to the counter on auto-pilot when I collided with something solid.
“Oops… excuse me… “
That’s all I managed before my brain processed what I’d run into. Apparently, I’d collided with a superhero. Spider-Man, to be exact.
Huh. Well, I guess everyone needs caffeine. Why wouldn’t Spidey want a caramel latte every now and again? Huh. I didn’t know Spider-Man was so fit. How does he drink coffee wearing that mask?
No sooner had this last thought come and gone than Spidey removed his mask. Suddenly, there wasn’t enough air in the room.
Holy good-looking, Batman… er… Spider-Man. Gorgeous, even. Can superheroes be gorgeous?
Spidey held out an arm to steady me and I felt a jolt of electricity when we touched.
“I’m so sorry.” His voice was rich and deep. “I didn’t see you there. In my defense, the mask makes it hard to see very well.”
“No… no problem.”
My voice sounded thin and breathy. Get a grip, Missy.
I’ve never gone for nerdy superhero types, but maybe it was time to change that position.
“Is it Comic-Con this week? Superhero convention? Halloween in April?”
“Nothing that exciting. I’m helping my buddy this morning, washing windows at the building next door and the children’s hospital. He was short a guy and I’m here for meetings this afternoon anyway, so it worked out well.”
Spidey gestured to Batman waiting by the door, coffee drink in hand. The caped crusader waved a gloved hand at me and I found myself grinning as I waved back.
“The kids in the hospital get a kick out of seeing superheroes washing the windows.”
“Office workers do too,”
Oh. My. God. Did I really just say that out loud?
The corner of Spidey’s mouth turned up and his eyes twinkled.
“Well, dirty windows wait for no superhero. Have a good day, miss.”
“It’s Missy. Well, I’m officially a Melissa, but my friends call me Missy,” I blurted out, realizing too late that he hadn’t been addressing me by name. I didn’t think it was possible for my cheeks to get any redder.
“Pleasure to meet you, Missy. I’m officially a Kermit, but my friends call me Teddy.” I shook the hand he extended, feeling that zap of electricity again.
“Movin’ right along. Maybe I’ll see you around,” he said cheerily as he and Batman walked through the door.
I was still thinking about Spidey and humming a song about rainbows when my latte and I reached my desk. I’d just powered on my computer when I sensed someone standing behind me.
“Missy. Welcome back. I missed you.”
Gary’s nasal tones were like nails on a chalkboard. Taking a deep breath, I plastered a smile on my face and turned.
Gary was OK as a co-worker, but I had zero interest in dating him. It wasn’t just his nose hair, the fact that he was 40 and still lived in his mother’s basement, or that he wore black knee socks and sandals. Well, maybe the socks and sandals thing.
“Hi Gary. Really busy here,” I gestured to my computer. “Was there something you needed?”
“Uh… I just wanted to see what you thought about what’s going on with MAWPHET. But, uh, I’ll catch you later.”
“Wait! What are you talking about?”
“Didn’t you get an email from Joan in HR? Crappy news, but maybe the new company will be OK. I meet with Mr. Frosch at 3 PM. Maybe you and I can talk about it over drinks later?”
My mind whirling, I realized he was talking about Joan’s email. Joan’s April Fool’s Day email that was definitely not a real email.
“I think that was a joke, Gary.”
“No, I’m not joking. I really want to have drinks with you.”
“The email. From Joan. It was a joke, wasn’t it? It was April 1st, after all…”
By this time, my email program had finished loading. My heart sank as I saw several new messages from HR and from our CEO about a transition timeline for the merger with MAWPHET. So, it was true, then.
“Never mind.” I waved Gary away. “I guess the joke is on me.”
I spent a few minutes searching online for MAWPHET and its leader, K. Theodore Frosch, but didn’t learn much other than that the organization was a 501(c)(3) company and that its mission was similar to MUPPET’s.
Try as I might, I couldn’t find any pictures of the mysterious Mr. Frosch; it was almost as if he didn’t want his identity known. So, I was forced to picture a balding middle-aged tycoon who would cackle like a cartoon villain as he dismantled the charitable organization I’d poured my heart and soul into for the last few years.
Life wasn’t fair, I mused, sipping my latte. I may or may not have also spent a few minutes daydreaming about my run-in with Spidey.
The rest of the morning passed in a flurry of meetings and phone calls with Joan (who, as it turned out, did not have a sense of humor) and my boss.
Twice, I caught sight of Spidey and Batman washing windows, once at our building and again at the children’s hospital across the street. Imagining the joy that sight probably inspired in the facility’s patients brought a hint of a smile to my face.
I mentally congratulated myself for keeping it together all morning. When lunchtime rolled around, though, I wasn’t in the mood to talk to my coworkers. Instead, I took my sandwich outside and claimed a spot on one of the cement planters in the sun.
I closed my eyes, relishing the feel of the warm sunshine on my face. Maybe everything would be OK.
“Mind if I join you, Missy?”
My pulse quickened at the voice. Was I dreaming?
I opened one eye and saw Spidey (Teddy) standing in front of me holding a bag from the deli down the street.
Play it cool, Missy.
“Sure, be my guest.” I patted the spot next to me. At least, I intended to pat the spot next to me. Mesmerized by his eyes, I miscalculated and ended up patting a mound of fresh dirt in the planter.
Red-faced, I reached for a napkin. Only, in my rush to get outside, I hadn’t brought any with me.
Great. Really smooth. No problem. I’ll just wipe my hand on the concrete on my other side.
Too late, I remembered there was standing water in that spot, which is why I hadn’t sat there in the first place. I looked at my now-mud-covered hand in disbelief.
Before I realized what was happening, Teddy was sitting next to me wiping my hand with napkins from his lunch bag. I was mortified, but oddly comforted too. I couldn’t explain it if I had to, but my hand felt safe in his.
“Thanks, Teddy. Does Batman need more helpers? I can be a superhero window washer too. Just call me The Amazing Mud-Woman.”
That earned me a smile and a glimpse of his exquisite dimples.
“It’s volunteer work. Very rewarding, but I’m guessing you have a day job already. Unless you just like hanging around downtown harassing innocent superheroes on their coffee- and lunch breaks.”
I couldn’t stop the sigh that escaped.
“I know it’s none of my business, but is everything OK?” His voice softened, and there was concern in his eyes.
“Well, how can I put this? I might have a lot of free time on my hands soon.”
I wiped a tear from the corner of my eye. Taking a deep breath, I continued:
“My company is this amazing charitable organization that helps some of the most vulnerable people in the area. But, I learned this morning that we’re being absorbed by another company run by a Lex Luthor or Dr. Evil-type. I’m probably going to be homeless. My dog, too. Do you know if dogs can eat ramen?”
Almost choking on a drink of water, Teddy gave me an odd look.
“Do you work at MUPPET?”
“For now, anyway. You’ve heard of it?”
“Yeah. You’re right, it’s a fantastic company.”
Just then, Teddy’s cell phone buzzed. Glancing at it, he leapt to his feet.
“I’m so sorry, Missy, but I’m running late. I have meetings all afternoon and need to change out of my costume. I’d like to continue this conversation though. Can I buy you dinner sometime?”
“I’d like that.”
“Great! I’ll see you later.”
Spidey wants to have dinner with ME? With the amazing, blubbering Mud-Woman?!
My heart did somersaults. It wasn’t until he’d disappeared around the corner that I realized we hadn’t traded contact information.
The minutes ticked by and my sense of impending doom grew as my 4:00 PM meeting with the mysterious Mr. K. Theodore Frosch neared.
How would my contributions to the company be measured and evaluated? Would there be room for me at MAWPHET? Would I even want to work there for a villainous boss? And, could dogs eat ramen? I’d forgotten to look that up.
At 3:58 PM, I steeled myself and walked downstairs to the conference room. I imagined I could hear faint strains of a bugle playing Taps somewhere in the distance.
I knocked on the open door and walked in, but what I saw didn’t make sense
Spidey (Teddy) sat at the end of the table. Only, he wasn’t Spidey. He was wearing a suit – a businessman’s costume – instead of the crime-fighting outfit he’d worn earlier. A bespectacled older man sat next to him. They stood as I entered the room.
Ignoring Teddy, I extended my shaking hand to the older man.
”Mr. Frosch? I’m Missy Ferkel. I have a 4:00 PM meeting.”
He took my hand, and smiled gently as Teddy spoke.
“Missy, I’m Teddy Frosch. Kermit Theodore Frosch, actually. This is my operations manager, Don.”
“I don’t understand…” I looked from Teddy to Don and back again. “I thought you were a window washer.”
“I was just helping my friend this morning. I’m actually the CEO of MAWPHET. While I intended to meet with all of the MUPPET employees, I explained to Don that you and I may have a conflict of interest. I’d like Don to meet with you this afternoon instead of me. Is that OK?”
Nodding, I sat in the chair across from Don and tried to control my racing heart.
Teddy handed me something.
“Here’s my card. That’s my cell phone number. I know the fact that I’m the head of MAWPHET may complicate things, but I’d still like to have dinner if you’re interested. Call me if you want to; don’t if you aren’t comfortable with it. I promise your decision will have zero bearing on your place with MAWPHET.”
I didn’t trust myself to speak, so I just nodded again.
The door shut behind him and I turned my attention to Don, feeling excited and yet calmer than I had all day.
13 months later
I squeegeed off the last of the cleaner on my side and glanced at Teddy, dressed in his full Spider-Man costume. This was the third time I’d donned my Wonder-Woman costume to help Teddy and his friend wash windows at the children’s hospital. It turns out it was surprisingly hard to find a Mud-Woman costume.
“Yeah. Looks like we’ve got some admirers!”
I gestured to the room inside, waving at the grinning patient and his smiling parents.
Adjusting my cape, I reflected on the last year.
When Teddy and I had started dating, I’d found a job with another non-profit in town. The merger I’d thought would be career-ending actually helped propel me into a more fulfilling role.
Best of all, Teddy still made my heart race – even when we weren’t suspended twelve stories above the ground.
Author’s Note: This was my entry for round one of the 2018 NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. I was charged with writing a story using no more than 2,500 words using the following prompts:
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Subject: A Charitable Organization
Character: A Window Washer
I won’t learn whether the judges deemed this good enough to move on to round two until late March, but I’m happy with what I came up with. Thanks for reading – I hope you enjoyed it!