Simon meanders through Charbel Chocolatiers searching for the perfect heart shaped box for Ruby. He remembers she likes dark chocolate; she hates white. He read she once was forced to eat mouthfuls of white chocolate pretzels while filming a commercial as a child and has never been able to take even a nibble ever since. Simon plucks up a large, ruby-red, heart-shaped box with assorted dark caramels and determines this is the perfect box for Ruby. As he carries the present up to the register, he grabs his wallet from his Levi’s and fingers through his cash. He should have just enough money to pay for this gift. Ruby’s worth every penny.
“Good afternoon,” the lady from behind the register greets him as she takes the heart shaped box from Simon and scans the barcode.
“These are delicious, your valentine will love them,” she smiles and then adds, “that’ll be $32.99.”
Simon winces at the price but counts out his bills and hands them over to the lady. “I hope she likes them. I know she likes dark chocolate, and the box is ruby red just like her name.” He smiles proudly as he watches her wrap the box in pink tissue paper.
“What a beautiful name,” the lady says as she places the wrapped box in a fancy Charbel bag and hands it to him. “Just like the actress.”
Simon smiles surreptitiously and takes the bag from her. “Yes, just like the actress,” he murmurs as he walks towards the door. He turns right out of Charbels and heads towards his apartment to pack Ruby’s gift. If he mails it today, she should get it by Valentine’s Day. He wishes he could just drop it off to her house. It seems so silly to mail it since she’s only an Uber drive away from his apartment on La Cienega Boulevard. She lives in Pacific Palisades on Lachman Lane. He could drive there with his eyes closed; he knows the route so well. He’s driven there hundreds of times. Thousands maybe.
When Simon gets into his studio apartment, he rushes to his kitchen table where he already has his packing box, stationary, and magazines set up for Ruby’s surprise Valentine’s gift. He was worried the chocolate box would be too big for the packing box, but it fits perfectly. Perfect just like Ruby. He places the chocolates carefully inside and takes a seat at the table to get to work.
“Alexa, play At Last by Etta James,” he barks as he opens the Vogue magazine and begins to flip through the pages.
“Playing At Last by Etta James,” Alexa says. Simon closes his eyes as the music begins to play. He sways his body back and forth to the melody as he scans the pages for photographs of roses. Roses for Ruby. He discovers in an advertisement for Chanel, a model is holding a red rose. He snips the rose out of the page and puts it aside. He flips through more pages and sees a bouquet of pink roses in a Lexus advertisement. He cuts them out and places them in his pile. “And here we are in heaven, for you are mine at last,” Simon serenely sings along to the music as he cuts more roses out from the magazine. He makes sure not to cut any magazines that Ruby is on the cover of or is in. He saves all of those. Those are his treasures. He’s gotten subscriptions to almost every woman’s magazine on the market: Cosmopolitan, Vogue, Elle, Allure, Vanity Fair…you name it, he has it. Any chance he can get to have Ruby’s face with him. Her body closer to him. Every week when the magazines are delivered, he devours each page, scanning the images for her like a game of Where’s Waldo. A snapshot the paparazzi took of her leaving a club. An advertisement of her wearing a Rolex watch. An interview of her for her next movie. Once he discovers her, he feels like he’s won a little prize. Passed the next level of his game.
Simon takes out his glue stick and begins to glue the cut-out roses onto his stationary paper. Once the paper is framed with flowers, he gets out his calligraphy pen, dips it in his ink, and begins to write. This is his ritual, his weekly love letter to Ruby. His love for her started five years ago when he saw her in her debut movie, Fire in the Storm. She was the helpless daughter of an ax murderer who ended up dying in the end. Simon had wanted to bundle her up and wrap her in his arms and save her. He was living in Illinois at the time and knew right then and there that he needed to be with her. Needed to be where Ruby lived. So, he moved to LA. He couldn’t exactly afford Pacific Palisades; he was an accountant with a mediocre salary. But he could afford to rent a studio apartment close enough to Ruby so that he could be near her. Learn her routine. See where she ate. See where she did yoga. Where she took her pug to get groomed. Where she got Botox and fillers. What drycleaners she went to. A few months after living near Ruby and learning her routine, he finally got up the nerve to sit down at the table next to her at Cornerstone Coffeehouse and ask her for a napkin. She had looked at him strangely and said there were napkins over by the milk and straws. He then asked her if he could have HER napkin and gestured towards the one on her lap covered in her red lipstick and coffee foam from her upper lip. That’s when he knew he had gone too far because she opened her eyes widely and left, bringing the napkin with her. He should have just waited until she finished her coffee and grabbed the napkin from the trashcan like he usually did when she was out. But he just couldn’t help himself. The following week, when he followed her to her gynecologist appointment and she saw him in the lobby, she had security called on him.
“He’s stalking me!” she had shouted to the guard as Simon sat innocently on the wooden bench, baffled by her accusations. He was purely trying to make sure she got to where she was going safely. If anything, she should be thanking him for making sure she was safe. But the security guard called the police, who then gave him a restraining order against her. No matter how hard he tried to explain to the police that they had the facts wrong, they told him he must stay one hundred yards away from her and he was not allowed to contact her in person, by mail, by phone, by text, by email, or by social media.
That’s when Simon had to start sending her presents instead of following her. And since he couldn’t say they were from him because of the restraining order, he had to sign them anonymously. He’s certain that if she only just got to know him, she would understand that they are meant to be together. So until he can be near her again, he sends her little pieces of himself. Little reminders that she is loved by her soulmate. The first present he ever sent her was a poem and a locket of his hair; a true act of love. The second package he sent her was a small glass bottle that he filled with his tears to prove to her he cries for her every night. Even Nicholas Sparks can’t write up the romantic gestures he’s done for Ruby.
He has two more years until he can be near her again. Two more years until the order is lifted and he can finally show her his face and say that it was he, Simon, who sent the gifts. He can already envision her smile as she envelopes herself into his arms in the realization that her true love was actually the man she filed a restraining order against. He can hear her sweet voice as she apologizes for the confusion. He can feel her sweet kisses on his lips as he tastes her for the first time.
Simon finishes his Valentine’s poem. It’s simple, but sweet. Roses are Red. Ruby’s are too. You are my Valentine. And I love you. He takes the knife from the table and runs the blade along the tip of his finger. Watching the blood ooze out, he presses firmly on the paper, rubbing the ruby red into a heart shape. He folds the paper in half and places it in the packing box. Taking out the packing tape, Simon closes the box and seals it shut. “Let’s go get you mailed off to my sweetheart,” he says to the box as he places it on his hip and heads back to the door.
When Simon arrives at the post office, he carries the box up to the gentleman who normally helps him.
“Big box this week,” the man says observingly as he takes the box from Simon and places it on the scale. “Do you need this to arrive by a specific date?”
“By Valentine’s Day,” Simon boasts as he takes out his wallet. “I’ll pay extra.”
“Will do,” the man says with a smile as he punches something into the computer. “This girlfriend of yours sure is lucky getting all these gifts you’re always sending her.”
Simon smiles at the recognition he rarely gets. Ruby is lucky, isn’t she? What woman wouldn’t die to have a man flourishing her with weekly gifts?
“She’s the love of my life, what can I say?” Simon vaunts to the man as he pays for the postage, putting it on his credit card since he has no more cash. “These women sure do cost a lot though, don’t they?” he laughs.
“Happy wife, happy life is what I always say,” the man says with a snicker, handing Simon his receipt. Simon likes that. Happy wife, happy life. Someday Ruby will be his wife. He takes a left out of the post office, back towards his home. He has about two hours of tax returns to do and then he’s going to watch a rerun of Ruby’s movie, Out of Time, during his microwave dinner. Ruby shows her right breast one hour and fifteen minutes into it. He likes to pause it at that scene for a little while. Think about her soft skin on his.
It begins to flurry and Simon looks up at the sky curiously, as if he will be able to find the source of the snowflakes. It doesn’t usually snow in LA, does it? He wonders if Ruby has looked out whatever window she’s near and has seen the snow yet. He wonders if she likes the snow. He wonders if she’ll like the caramel chocolates.