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Christmas Contemporary Romance

Ted knocks his hand on my desk. “Hey Sharon! See you later tonight at the Christmas party!”

I look away from him, hoping he won’t see the blush rising on my cheeks. He’s standing so close. “Yeah see you tonight!” I’d completely forgotten about it with all the deadlines I’d been so focused on. “It’s a white elephant gift exchange, right?”

He laughs, and I turn to see his green eyes and wide, friendly face. “No. You chose your secret Santa person, remember? I’m really excited for mine.”

I nod, nerves taking over my words. “Right, of course. I chose the perfect gift for them.”

“Can’t wait to see it! Bye, Sharon.”

“Wait a minute!” I say.

He pauses at the door. “What’s up?”

“Where’s the party at again?”

He chuckles. “Molly’s Pub of course.”

“Oh yeah. See you later.”

“Later!”

My computer screen taunts me with more documents to fill. I blow a strand of hair out of my face. There’s no time to finish this and still make it in time for the party.

I don’t even remember who I picked from the drawing. That was weeks ago. At first, I think I told myself I would buy the gift later, but as time went on, it escaped my mind! Where is that slip of paper? Markers line along the sides of my keyboard, a small stack of papers sits slightly further back, and tacks on their sides look ready to roll around. I fumble through the stack of papers, looking for the secret Santa name to no avail.

Searching the corners of my mind, I try to remember who it was I was supposed to buy a gift for. Once I figure it out I have to buy them the perfect gift. Otherwise I’ll look like a fool or a liar (even though I am) to Ted now. Ugh. Who was it?

“Bye Sharon. See you at the party later!” Maura says on her way out.

I glance up from my stack of papers, internally scolding myself for somehow being the only one who forgot. Out loud I say, “Bye! See you later!”

Maybe I brought the slip with the name on it home. While there are still some things I could finish up, I exit out of the computer. This secret Santa party is more important now. I pick up my silver purse and dart out of the gray walled office without saying goodbye to anyone else.

My green Kia sits in the same spot it always does in this small parking lot. I can’t help but smile at the beep it makes as I unlock it. Jumping in, I notice a blank slip sitting in the center part where I usually put leftover coins. Lifting it up, relief washes over me when the other side of the paper says, “Jim.”

Okay. This is doable.

I think back to the conversations Jim and I have had in the past. He loves dogs. He always shows photos of his golden labrador retriever, Honey. Maybe I could get him a new cool leash or toys for Honey. The time on my phone says 5:23 p.m. There’s an hour and thirty minutes, which is plenty of time with a plan. The best gift will actually probably be for Honey more than for him, knowing Jim.

Driving to the local pet shop, a long line of cars appears up ahead. The light further on is red. I can feel time slipping away. The light finally turns green, but we only move forward a few feet before the line stops. Some cars up ahead start honking, and someone even closer to the light yells out of their window, “There’s been an accident!”

Great. Just my luck. The time next to the dashboard reads 5:40. I’m probably going to be late for the party. I just hope it’s fashionably late and not so late that I miss the gift exchange. I tap my fingers on the steering wheel and turn the alternative music up, ever so slowly creeping up to the light.

I immediately break into driving the actual speed limit after passing the accident. It’s a little sad to see, but it appears no one’s injured based on the two pedestrian men speaking with the cops. One of them holds his hand to his head. Hopefully they both have insurance.

It’s 6:25, and I’m finally coming up to Paws and Claws. There aren’t many cars in the parking lot for it being the holiday season. I get out, quickly lock the car with the push of a button, and walk up to the entrance.

No. Way.

A white hanging sign on the entrance reads, “Due to the strike today, we had to close early. Please come back tomorrow morning for all of your pet’s needs!” A sign a few feet away from that says, “Now Hiring! All positions. - Ideal entry level candidates will have three years of customer service experience, be bilingual, and preferably have professional experience working with animals. Starting at a competitive rate of $9.00 an hour!” I scoff. Right.

I try to remember if there’s another pet shop nearby, but the closest one’s probably at least another twenty minutes away. Next door, there’s an outdoor sports shop called Kitty’s Sport Supplies; woman-owned and operated. I’m pretty sure the name was chosen as a direct challenge to another major sports store.

In one of the pictures he’d shown me, Jim was smiling and patting Honey on the head at the top of a beautiful hiking spot. Maybe I could get him hiking boots. That would be another seemingly perfect gift for secret Santa. I fast-walk over to the sports store, and mercifully, it’s open.

“Hi! Welcome to Kitty’s. Is there anything I can help you with?” A young lady with long wavy auburn hair asks.

I smile. “Yes, actually. Could you point where the hiking boots are to me?” I ask.

“Of course. Follow me!” I do and she lifts up a box of women’s hiking boots. “These are waterproof, and so stylish.”

“Oh. They’re actually not for me. They’re going to be a present for a man.”

“Someone special?” She winks.

“No. Nothing like that. Just a secret Santa for a colleague.”

Her eyebrows raise. “Wow. Wish I was your coworker. The most I’ve ever gotten as a present from someone I work with is a gingerbread cookie.”

I wave my hand in front of me. “You know. My company’s like a family to me.” That’s yet another lie, but I don’t exactly have a family to spend Christmas with this year. So it’s basically the truth.

I scan a few boots. “So, what would you recommend?”

“What size shoe is he?”

“Wow. I didn’t even think of that. What are some other gifts for hikers you’d recommend besides boots?”

She has a blank look on her face for a moment and clicks her tongue. “Ah! I know exactly what else you can get for a hiker. Over here.”

We walk over to a wall of backpacks. Not just ordinary backpacks, but tall backpacks with all sorts of things on the sides that I’ve certainly never used. There are quite a few colors to choose from, and I think back to what colors Jim usually wears in the office. Ah yes, green.

I tug on the closest large, green backpack.

“Oh, that’s a great quality bag. It’s sturdy, has a pocket for water, and plenty of space for everything extra he’d carry.”

“Great!” I look at the price tag. “Wow. $110 for a backpack?”

She shrugs. “It’s actually not a bad deal compared to some of the other brands with bags that size.”

I glance at my watch. It’s already 6:49 now. The party starts in ten minutes. Even if I leave now, I’ll get there at least ten minutes late. “Yeah, I’ll take it.” I can already feel the pain in my wallet, but I told Ted that my secret Santa present is perfect. This will certainly be a good present for Jim. Why did I have to get so nervous around Ted? It’s a good thing we don’t work in the same department, otherwise I’d never be able to focus on my work. Then again, maybe if we worked closer together all the time I’d get used to him and wouldn’t feel so nervous anymore.

“Great!” She says. “The cashier may ask you a few questions about your experience here at Kitty’s. My name is Sandra, and it’s been a pleasure to help you!” She gives me the biggest smile. Even though I know she’s just being nice for the sale, her smile seems very genuine.

“Thanks Sandra,” I say and dart to the front of the store with the large backpack in tow.

It’s 7:00 p.m. when I’m in the car again, and I pull out my phone to use GPS. I have a text message notification. My stomach scrunches in excitement when I see it’s from Ted.

“Hi Sharon. A few of us are already here. Hope to see you soon!”

I read it three times. It’s certainly friendly, but it’s not necessarily more than friendly. I mean, if I was already at the party, maybe I would text a few of my friends. Nothing special or anything. I shake my head. No time to dissect a text message now. I have to actually get to the secret Santa party.

The GPS says it will take about twenty minutes to get to Molly’s Pub. Okay, so I’ll be late for sure, but not too late. They probably won’t start the gift exchange until 7:30. I move through town, and now the universe seems to be smiling on me. Each light I get to is staying green as I pass through. Maybe it won’t even take the full twenty minutes.

I pull into the parking lot. It’s pretty full and takes me 5 minutes to find a spot. Everything seems to be taking so much extra time today. I sigh as I finally park into a spot. The backpack sits in a giant Kitty’s Sports Supplies bag. I didn’t have time to buy wrapping paper on top of everything else that’s caused a delay today. I grab the bag, take a deep breath, and walk to the entrance.

I look through the crowded pub until I spot a gaggle of my coworkers seated in the corner of the pub.

“Hey!” I wave just as a few of them also spot me and wave. Beers sit all around the table already.

Ted’s smile hits my heart. I try to calm my breath as I approach him.

“Did I miss anything?” I ask.

“Nothing important. We’re actually just about to start the gift exchange.” He motions to the empty seat next to him, and I slide into the chair, hoping no one sees me blushing.

Maura says, “Okay everyone! Give your secret Santa gifts now!”

I glance over at Jim on the other side of the table and wave. He smiles and waves back.

I hold up the Kitty’s Sporting Goods bag and yell, “I’m your secret Santa!”

I walk over to him, and strangely feel someone’s eyes following me. I glance back and find Ted watching me. It makes me feel nervous, and now I don’t want Ted to see Jim’s gift for some reason.

I hold out the bag and smile. “Hope you like it.”

He takes the backpack out, and his mouth gapes open. “This is… wow.” He’s speechless for a few moments. “I certainly wasn’t expecting something this thoughtful.”

I look around at the other presents and feel self-conscious. Scents, small trinkets, and cookie gift baskets all around. Mine is probably the only one-hundred dollar and nearly tailored to the personality gift.

Maura and some of my other coworkers smirk at me knowingly. My cheeks turn red. Jim is attractive, sure, but I’ve never seen him in that light. I glance at Ted, and he quickly looks away.

Looking back at Jim, I smile, trying to mitigate the awkwardness. “Well, I hope you like it. I remembered you like hiking, and I got a great deal on this backpack.” The tag sticks out to me. “It wasn’t actually that price.” I internally kick myself for not tearing off the tag. “Anyhow…” I turn away and walk to my seat quicker than a cat running away from its litter box.

I fidget next to Ted and say, “Told you my secret Santa present was really good.”

“You don’t say,” he says, giving one slow nod.

“So, who’s the person you’re giving a present to?” I ask.

He looks down. “You were, actually.”

I glance at him, feeling the mortification of the extravagant present I got for Jim melting into the background. “Oh?”

“Yeah. Well, here you go.”

It’s perfectly wrapped in silver, much like the tone of my purse. A red bow sits pretty on the top corner as well. I almost don’t even want to unwrap it.

“It’s just something I saw that made me think of you, I guess.” He says.

I touch one of the edges open for unwrapping and rip it; though it still feels almost wrong with how pristine it looks. My mouth opens slightly and I look up at him when the present is visible. “Wow, I love it.” It’s a high quality brand of watercolor paints. I’d told Ted once in passing that art was a hobby of mine, and he remembered. Of course, that still doesn’t say anything about his feelings for me. Jim didn’t talk much about hiking, but I got him something related to his hobby.

Before either of us can say any more, Cassidy pulls me aside and starts excitedly talking about her plans for vacation. I give her my full attention and also order a beer when the waitress comes around. Ted breaks into his own conversation at the party and time passes by.

After a few others have left for the night, I decide it’s time for me to go. I’d only had that one beer at least an hour and a half ago and don’t even feel tipsy. I swing my purse around my shoulder and hold my new paint.

Jim gives me a charming smile and says, “Bye Sharon.”

“Bye,” I reply, happy that things at least don’t appear too awkward between us.

Ted seems ready to go now too. He walks over to me and says, “So, did you have a good night?”

“Yeah,” I reply.

“Cool.” His hands fold in front of him, and it seems like he’s searching for something to say.

“Yep. Cool.”

We’re silent as we walk outside.

The lights from the restaurant subtly shine on him under the soft night. He stops walking. “Sharon?”

I turn to him. “Yes?”

“Do you, um,” he searches for the right words to say. “Have feelings for Jim?”

Laughter escapes my mouth. “What? No.” I close my eyes for a moment. “I know it may seem like that with the gift I got Jim today, but…”

“But what?” He asks.

I shake my head. “The truth is, I lied to you earlier.” My stomach sinks. It’s a small lie I told him, but a lie nonetheless. I should come clean.

“What do you mean?” He asks.

“I told you that I chose the perfect gift for my secret Santa, but the truth is that I forgot all about this party until the end of work today.”

“Why would you lie about that?” He laughs a little.

“I, you…” Oh no, this might be too much truth. “You make me nervous. I was nervous earlier and just,” I bite my lip. “I don’t know.”

He smirks and walks closer to me. “I make you nervous?”

I nod.

“Why?”

“Because I like you.” It comes out as a whisper.

“What was that?” He has a full blown smile now.

“Oh, you heard me.” My face is probably pinker than my lipstick now.

He motions to my new watercolors. “Well, I like you too. Obviously.”

I look down, feeling heat in this chilly weather as he moves closer.

“Can I kiss you?” He asks.

“Definitely,” I reply. It’s short and sweet. The kiss is like a candy cane during the holidays.

November 22, 2022 06:48

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1 comment

Wendy Kaminski
05:41 Nov 27, 2022

I could totally empathize with the main character's fluster on this - nicely conveyed! :)

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