Holiday Romance Fiction

What a joy to work in customer service after Christmas, I thought.

It wasn't close to noon yet, but all the sales staff were overwhelmed and ready for a break. My line was moving fairly quickly, when a difficult customer I knew too well started a commotion. The elderly matron held up Marla's line, making sure everyone heard the drama unfold.

"That's 'Mrs. Buford' to you, young lady! And these towels weren't used. Can't you see they still have the tags attached?"

"No, ma'am. I wasn't implying that --" Marla tried to calm her.

"Every year my friends buy towels and blankets for my two poodles, Joy and Noel. So easy! Anyone can find towels embroidered with 'Joy' and 'Noel,' " Mrs. Buford ranted on. "But I've asked them to quit buying me any with silly wreaths and candy canes I can only use once a year. I have too many! Every year I have to return them, and explain over and over!"

"I'm happy to take these back," said Marla politely. "But without the gift receipt, we can only exchange them for store credit, or for different items of the same price."

Mrs. Buford threw her hands up, grabbed the towels and moved over to my line. Boldly she asked the woman standing at my register, "Would you mind trading places with me? I know Cathy has handled my returns before. But that girl! Do you mind?" She rolled her eyes at Marla. My customer kindly moved to the other line, not wanting to cause further trouble.

"My apologies, Mrs. Buford." I wasn’t surprised she remembered my name, as often as she'd returned merchandise before. "If you can’t use these wreath designs, we still have a few lovely hand towels embroidered in gold or silver thread. Would you like to take a quick look?"

Her face lit up, as I pointed over her shoulder. "Nicer gift sets are displayed up front, with the seasonal items marked down. If you find towels you like, I’ll give you our best discount, two for the price of one."

"Thank you, Cathy," she said, cheerfully. "Could you please hold my place in line? I'll be right back."

"No problem," I nodded. "Take your time." I knew that Mrs. Buford would return hours later with a full cart. As annoying as she could be at times, she remained one of our store’s most loyal shoppers.

I turned to the next customer, a young woman around my age who seemed quite distraught.

"I-I'd like to return these items, please. If the receipts aren't outdated. Do I have thirty days, or sixty?" She seemed exhausted, as if she had been up all night, crying.

I checked the dates on her receipts. The gilded champagne glasses were bought first, then the tablecloth and napkins were purchased later. Both purchases were within the three-month window for returns.

"I picked these out for my engagement party on New Year's," she said through tears, "but it's been called off."

"I'm so sorry.” I tried to focus on something nice to say. “This is a gorgeous set you found. Are you a professional designer? You did an amazing job of coordinating these!" I couldn't help but admire the gold flourishes and accents. Even though the items were sold by different companies, they matched perfectly.

"I hate to let these go. But can't bear to look at them. Not after the huge fight we had --" Her voice trailed off, as she broke down crying.

"There's no rush to return these," I offered sympathetically. "Not while you're still upset. Maybe you two can work it out! Look, you've got another month to return this purchase, and a little longer on the other. Why not wait and come back later?"

"I can't. I'll smash these glasses. I caught him cheating, and he wouldn't admit it!" She was beyond consolation.

Before I could react, Mrs. Buford burst through the line to reclaim her spot, excited about the bargains she found.

"Look!" she announced to the crowd. "I found the cutest matching towels with 'Joy' and 'Noel' in silver. And a pair in gold! At half off, I get both -- in place of that awful set I couldn't stand. Aren't these precious?"

She looked around, and spotted the young woman crying at the counter. "What's wrong, sweetheart?" Mrs. Buford put her arm around this complete stranger, with sincere concern I didn't expect to see.

"I can't believe it," the young customer wept. "I was going to marry this man, the love of my life. But I caught him texting some girl!” She spilled her heart out. “And when I confronted him about it, he called me paranoid and made me the bad guy. In front of my family and friends!"

Mrs. Buford hugged her, and patted her back. "Now, dear, are you sure there wasn't some error? My husband and I have been married for twenty years, and we still have the worst fights over the smallest mistakes."

The customer bawled into Mrs. Buford’s fur coat. "But why would he get so defensive and blame me? What else was he hiding? This 'Marla' woman texting him! Saying how much she loved what he bought, and how he was the greatest guy in the world."

She was completely heartbroken. Marla and I exchanged glances.

"Marla?” I asked, “Did you, by any chance, have a customer who called in a special order?"

Her face turned bright red. "It was supposed to be a surprise," Marla said. "Should we show her?"

Sitting on the shelf behind us was a crystal swan centerpiece, with "Allison and Mark" etched in gold to match the rest of the set the lucky bride had handpicked herself.

"Oh, it's absolutely beautiful!" cried Allison. She was filled with relief and horror at the same time.

"But how can I ever face him? After I accused him of -- Oh, no! What have I done?"

Mrs. Buford assured her everything would be fine.

"Are you a good actress?" she asked Allison, who looked at her, puzzled.

"Just stay mad at him. Act like this is all his fault he made you think there was another girl! Don't go running back to him, begging. Do you understand?"

Mrs. Buford lifted Allison's chin and gently explained.

"Wait for him come to you, darling. Let him be the hero, to sweep you off your feet all over again."

The poor girl was lost in confusion and embarrassment.

"But it was all my fault. He was right! He's so wonderful, and I don't deserve him."

"No, honey. Don't think that way!” the older woman scoffed. “Any man who goes out of his way to surprise you with a special gift this thoughtful is crazy about you! Let him take charge of the situation.”

Allison stopped weeping.

“Trust me,” said Mrs. Buford, hugging her. “If I'm wrong, you can blame me. Just say you didn't know what to do, so you listened to some silly old lady in the returns line. I've only been married for twenty years. What do I know?" She winked at Allison, who finally managed to smile.

The hopeful bride-to-be nodded and wiped her tears.

"Okay, I won't say anything. You're right. I'll just act surprised."

She thanked Mrs. Buford, Marla and me, gathered her boxes and ran along.

I was so impressed with Mrs. Buford’s advice, I gave her an additional discount on her exchanged purchase. "This extra bonus rebate is for being a valued customer. That's for saving us the return of champagne glasses and matching linens. And a personalized crystal bowl that has love written all over it."

“This towel set is perfect, Cathy. Thank you! It’s just what I wanted.” Mrs. Buford grinned, as I handed her the bag and receipt. “And if that young man comes back for the swan during your shift, tell him to add an arrangement of flowers for a nice surprise. May I suggest gold roses? Perhaps candles or rings to fit the wedding theme?"

"That's a wonderful suggestion. I'll pass that on to the floral designer. Enjoy the rest of your holidays, Mrs. Buford. And Happy New Year!"

She walked away, another happy customer.

"Next?" I called out. "May I help the next guest in line?"

As I continued serving customers, I began to worry perhaps Mrs. Buford’s advice could backfire. Shouldn't Allison apologize first? What if her fiance' Mark truly thought she was wrong not to trust him?

The answer came later that afternoon, when a very nice young man showed up at the counter, asking for Marla.

Mark was frantic. Just as Mrs. Buford predicted, he was eager to make things right with Allison, ready to jump through every hoop for her.

He explained his side of the story, worried Allison might not take him back after what he'd said to her in haste!

"Don't worry," Marla assured him. "Anyone who gets that crushed, at the thought of another girl stealing you away, must think the world of you!"

Marked stared at the surprise present, still anxious.

"Here," I said, writing out a ticket. "This is on me. Just go to the floral department, and present this slip. The designer will add gold roses and candles to make an elegant bouquet."

Mark's face perked up with hope.

"Look into her eyes. Tell her she's the love of your life," I continued. "Ask her to forgive you for the misunderstanding. You'll have this girl wrapped around your finger! Trust me."

Marked thanked us, and walked off with confidence.

What a lovely couple, I thought. I could see them enjoying a wonderful New Year's celebration, and a happy life together, looking back and laughing.

Sharing a toast at their wedding, and a charming story that took place in the customer service line, right after they almost broke up. And before they got married.

November 20, 2022 12:10

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22:20 Nov 30, 2022

Nice story, well told. So commonplace yet very compelling. A couple of typos, "Marked stared at the surprise present, still anxious." And a couple of lines later. Nice work.


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Helen Smith
06:59 Nov 28, 2022

Mrs Buford is quite a character Emily. It makes it more interesting that you show she has a kind, as well as a demanding side to her character. She clearly understands psychology and gives sound advice to Alison. An enjoyable story. For me, it has a traditional department store kind of feel about it which I like


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Wendy Kaminski
05:57 Nov 27, 2022

The twists and turns in this were really well-conceived and carried out! I loved that it was a happy ending. :)


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