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Shakespeare and Balloons
Ash was in purgatory. She had bought Scribbs' birthday present in June, two months before the blessed event, after overhearing her friend discuss a hitherto unknown love of sixteenth century literature with the boss. The gift was ornate, without being fancy, and although somewhat removed from Scribbs' usual decor, it would make a pleasing addition to anybody's library. Everyone, that is, except Scribbs, her Philistine of a colleague.
Gently tracing the edge of the book through the thick wrapping paper, Ash contemplated giving it to Scribbs anyway, despite what she'd just learned. So what if the Neanderthal detested William Shakespeare, and had actually been discussing his sister - Ash was still a little hazy on the details - it was still a beautiful book. And the story was timeless; murder, madness and storms, it was right up Scribbs' alley.
"She'll hate it," Ash decided, opening her drawer and hiding the gift under the Johanssen file.
"Hate what?" Scribbs asked, scaring her partner half to death and earning a glare of doom in return. "Did I make you jump?"
The question was posed in far too cavalier a manner for Ash's liking, so she decided to ignore it, and Scribbs. Only it was somewhat impossible to ignore a grown woman wearing a fake tiara and carrying balloons. "You do realise you're a work?" she asked, pointing at the largest balloon, which had emblazoned on its side the words 'Birthday Babe'.
Scribbs' smile was pure childish glee. "They were a present from the blokes in Traffic." She pointed to the tiara. "This I got from Mandy and Sasha, and..." Juggling the balloons, she reached inside the waistband of her jeans and began tugging at her underwear. "This was a present from the boss."
Ash took a second, disbelieving, look at the 'Count Dukula' festooned undergarments Scribbs was attempting to display. "He bought you underwear?"
"Boxer shorts and matching socks." Scribbs sounded so enthusiastic it was sickening. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to find 'Count Dukula' undies?"
Ash could honestly say she didn't. "He bought you underwear," she repeated, hoping she could impart the impropriety of the act to her friend.
Scribbs' shrug was as insolent as ever. "It's not as if he bought me a silk teddy and garter belt." She again tugged at her underwear. "Count Dukula!"
And this was the woman who Ash had presumed would appreciate the depth and sophistication of King Lear, she was obviously mad. "If you're quite finished giving yourself a wedgie, I suggest we get back to work."
Scribbs pouted, in-between tying the balloons to her chair and artfully placing the tiara atop her computer monitor, but eventually settled down to work. Ash was relieved, but knew it wouldn't last. Ten minutes later, Scribbs began using her pencil to tap out Happy Birthday to Me on the side of her coffee mug.
"Scribbs," Ash warned. "I'm trying to concentrate."
Fifteen minutes after that, the humming began.
"Sorry." Scribbs started fiddling with the string holding the balloons to her chair. "Do they look straight to you?"
"You didn't even look."
Ash looked up at the garish items in questions, none of which were in the vicinity of straight. "They're fine."
"They're not too much?"
"Not if you're five."
Scribbs' face fell.
"I'm sorry, Scribbs, they look very nice." Her lack of a suitable gift was making Ash churlish, and she didn't want to risk ruining her friend's day because of her bad mood. "I haven't got you a present," she finally admitted. "Sorry."
"No it's not." Ash hated the woebegone look on her friend's face. "But it's all your fault!"
"My fault? How's it my fault that you couldn't be bothered to get me a present?"
"Couldn't be bothered!" Ash reached in her drawer and withdrew the book, before tossing it at Scribbs. "I searched for weeks to find that thing. Weeks! And what sort of thanks do I get?"
Scribbs had stopped listening and started ripping the second the present hit her side of the desk. Ash was right about one thing, when it came to birthdays, she really was no better than a five year old. Once the paper had been shredded, Scribbs was left looking at the ornate cover of King Lear. "A book?"
"I know it's not..."
"You bought me a book?" The smile on Scribbs' face threatened to split it in two. "A real book."
"I realise it's not what you..."
"This is the best present ever!"
Ash waited for the sarcastic comment that was sure to follow Scribbs' last statement, but none materialised. "You really like it?"
"I love it." Scribbs was slowly turning the pages, and marvelling at the craftsmanship of the leather binding. "No one's ever bought me something like this before."
"I thought ... You like Shakespeare?"
"God, no, he's a pompous twat," Scribbs dismissed.
"But..?" Ash was more confused than ever. "It's King Lear."
"I know, I did it for my A-levels." Scribbs cleared a space in the centre of her desk to place the book. "All madness, scheming daughters and hubris; dullest book on the planet."
"It's a classic!" Ash stopped the building tirade, and finally gave voice to her confusion. "If you don't like Shakespeare and think King Lear is dull, why are you so happy about your present?"
"It's a proper grown up book," Scribbs explained, as if it was obvious. "It means you take me seriously."
"Yes." Scribbs ran her hand along the leather. "It's the second best gift you could have given me."
"It is?" Ash felt proud of herself and half inclined to ditch the paperwork and take her friend for a celebratory meal in the canteen. "What would have been the best?"
Scribbs' smile became wistful. "What you gave me last year."
"A subscription to National Geographic?"
"No, the other thing you gave me." Ash looked lost. "After the party..." The confusion hadn't waned. "Up against the coat rack..." A spark of recognition. "Your hands down my -"
"I was drunk."
"Not that drunk."
"It was just a ..." She lowered her voice. "Birthday kiss."
"And the rest."
Ash's entire face had turned purple and she was finding it increasingly difficult to breath. "I didn't think you remembered."
"I'm hardly likely to forget something like that." Scribbs had tried mentioning it on several occasions but whenever it arose, Ash turned pale and changed the subject. "It was the best birthday I'd ever had."
Ash tried desperately to think of a way to return the conversation to talk about books and Shakespeare but her traitorous mind was too busy remembering exactly what she had given Scribbs last year, to offer much in the way of suggestions. It was a losing battle, really, each year they'd come closer and closer to doing something they wouldn't be able to brush under the carpet; a peck on the lips one Christmas, holding hands during the carol service the next, then the accidental meeting under the mistletoe and more birthday kisses than was entirely normal. It really was time they stopped pretending.
Ash cleared her throat. "I never said the book was your only present, did I?" Not waiting for Scribbs to respond, Ash stood up and started moving towards the exit. "Come on, Scribbs, or your present might just unwrap herself."
As Scribbs scrambled out of her chair, she couldn't help but shout, "Happy Birthday to Me!"
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