As we drew closer to Christmas, things picked up a little at the mall as criminals began to come out of the woodwork and make their presence known. We foiled a couple of purse snatchings, deterred a few potential shoplifters, and prevented one attempted kidnapping with the assistance of one of the mall cops. His name was Kevin, and he seemed like a nice guy. After we turned over the would-be kidnapper to the local police, he suggested we get some coffee, so we agreed.
We stood together just outside the Starbucks, which was located near the entrance to the mall, watching the waves of shoppers ebb and flow past us. Presents to buy and little time to do it in.
“It doesn’t seem much like Christmas,” I commented as I glanced out at the bare—other than vehicles—parking lot. I was from northern Illinois, almost Chicago. Christmas was cold and white. This felt freaky to me.
Kevin laughed. “Who wants snow? Not me, that’s for sure. People here can’t handle it, anyway. Not like it happens very often.”
Ethan threw me a sympathetic glance. “I bet you used to go sledding back home, didn’t you? Built lots of snowmen.”
I shook my head before taking a sip of the rich, warm brew. “No,” I said, “I never did.”
Ethan arched a blond brow but he didn’t press, for which I was grateful. I didn’t like talking about myself very much, especially in front of other people. Didn’t like to dwell on what was.
“I think snowmen are overrated,” Kevin continued. “I wouldn’t mind spending Christmas in Hawaii, with a hot hula girl and a big pig roast. Sounds like hog heaven to me.” He glanced at his wrist. “I’m getting off in a few, gonna take a last look-see before I do. If I don’t see you guys before, you have a merry Christmas.”
We wished him the same, and he melted into the crowd.
“I’m going to check down at the other end,” I spoke up quickly, before Ethan could get out any potentially dangerous questions. Our shift wouldn’t be over for a couple more hours. I could look out for suspicious activity and, at the same time, shop for Ethan. Sounded like a win-win situation to me.
Ethan didn’t press. Well, nothing except his lips against mine. “I’ll start down here, then,” he said, “and we’ll meet up somewhere in the middle, ‘kay?”
“Call me if you need me for anything. I’ll do the same.” With a last lingering wave, he merged with the consumer stream and was lost to sight.
I began to meander down the mallway, watching the people as they went about their business. I tried to focus on what I was doing, but I found myself continuing to think about Ethan. I didn’t know anything about his family, other than he had one. And they lived near Atlanta somewhere. He didn’t talk about them anymore than I discussed my mom.
A sudden thought hit me, and I stopped dead in my tracks, which resulted in my being shoved from behind.
“Hey, stupid, watch out, willya?” a deep voice boomed. I turned in annoyance to find myself face to face with a moose. All right, he wasn’t really a moose, he was just the size of one, and very bulky. He looked rather pissed off, although I doubt his running into me had hurt him in any way. A petite blonde stood beside him. She turned and punched him in the arm.
“Behave yourself, Frankie,” she admonished him in what sounded like a New York accent, “it’s Christmas. Be nice.” She threw me an apologetic smile. I waited to see what her huge escort would do. He scowled and shuffled his big feet, then growled, “Sorry.” Somehow I doubted his sincerity.
I smiled back at the young lady. “Merry Christmas to you,” I said, and maneuvered out of harm’s way as she took her brute in hand and they continued on their merry way.
What if Ethan was going home for Christmas and he hadn’t said anything yet because he assumed I’d figured it out? What would I do then? Same thing I did every year since Mom died—I’d spend a quiet day in my own company. No big deal.
So why did it feel like a tragedy in the making?
I ducked into the nearest store, without looking up to see where I was, and pulled out my phone. I forced my hand not to shake as I punched in Ethan’s number and cleared my throat, just in case. He answered immediately.
“Hey Vin, what’s up?”
I froze at the sound of his voice then took a deep breath. “Are you going home for Christmas?” I got the words out all in a rush. I’d be amazed if he even understood what I was asking.
“Home?” he repeated. “What did you say, Vinnie? I couldn’t catch all that. Do you want to go home?”
I tried again, slower this time. “No, I was just wondering… I mean… do you have plans to go home to see your family for Christmas?” There, I’d gotten the question out and managed to sound fairly cool. At least I hoped so.
“No, honey, I’m not going anywhere. You and me, remember?”
I released the breath I hadn’t known I was holding. “Oh, okay. Just checking.”
“Don’t be silly. I’m not leaving you for Christmas, or any other time. I love you.”
My lips parted, and I felt the words forming, attempting to make themselves heard.
Just say it….
“Hey Vin, I gotta go check something out. I’ll catch up with you later.” He clicked off, the moment was broken, and I was left staring at the silent phone. “I love you, Ethan,” I whispered.
I sighed and slid the phone back into my pocket. When I glanced up, I found myself standing in the middle of a men’s boutique. I was surrounded by male mannequins modeling the latest in pajamas and boxers and robes. Making merry for the holidays.
As I stared at the rather elegant and inviting apparel, an idea began to form. What if I got us matching robes and pajamas? Something we could lounge in on Christmas Day. Something Ethan could remove to get to his real present—me.
I had no doubt in my mind I wanted to be with Ethan, to give myself to him completely. Christmas would be a good time, wouldn’t it?
Would Ethan be happy with such a gift? I had a feeling he would. I’d have to come back when I had more time, a little closer to Christmas, and bring some cash with me. I didn’t like using my bank card, if I could help it. Besides, I only carried the one for business expenses, and this certainly didn’t qualify.
I glanced at the price tags. I wasn’t used to spending such sums on myself, but for Ethan, I would do anything. I figured out how much I’d need, added a little for cushion, even as I decided just which ones I wanted, in which colors.
to be continued