“Don’t send me any more gifts. Let’s just have dinner tomorrow night and plan a romantic Christmas Eve, that’s all I want.”
The first box, containing a frozen partridge, surprised Amber because she wondered why Derek would gift her with a meat-of-the-month membership. The next day two frozen squab arrived, and she realized what he was doing.
“But, Derek the twelve days start on Christmas, and really I don’t think you’ve thought this out. Unless you mean to start sending performers to my house dancing and leaping and whatnot. The neighbors will not appreciate that.”
“Okay, I’ll quit. I thought I was being romantic. Listen, the third gift is already paid for an on the way, but I promise no more song related presents.”
“Thanks. I love the gesture, but let’s just figure out something we’ll both enjoy. I’ll be ready tomorrow at seven. Oh, let’s go to that Thai place with the cozy corners. It’s the perfect place to plan our Christmas.”
The next morning instead of another box of frozen poultry Amber opened the door to a delivery guy holding a box that said, “Caution—live birds.” Inside were three fuzzy greyish blue chicks. One mild panic attack and thirty minutes later and the chicks were happily ensconced in Amber’s bathtub. She resigned herself to showers in the tiny guest bathroom for the duration of the crisis.
Dinner that night was more awkward than usual. Amber found that no matter the topic of conversation Derek found his phone more compelling. He either absentmindedly agreed with or had no opinion at all on every romantic Christmas activity Amber suggested. She turned her attention to her dinner and waited for Derek to notice the silence. After the waiter came by again, and dessert was declined, Amber brought up the baby chicks.
“They can’t live in the bathtub forever, and my landlord will never allow me to build them a house in the yard.”
“Well I can’t take them. You know the penthouse has strict rules about everything.”
Derek always referred to his apartment as a penthouse, the same way he always called his car a beemer. In the orange glare of the restaurant lighting, Amber considered her boyfriend, from his thousand-dollar shoes to his over-gelled hair. Everything was about money and appearances to Derek. She still remembered the odd comment he made when they first met about her being just the right size. Amber was just an accessory, and it had taken her six months to realize it.
She was stalling, and she knew it. After the disastrous pre-Christmas planning dinner, and the tearful breakup that followed, Amber didn’t want to think about giving away the chicks. They were cute and cuddly and had kept her from breaking down for the last couple of days. The food that came with them was almost gone though, and she knew they couldn’t live in her bathtub forever, so she boxed them up and drove out to the feed store she’d found on Google.
“Are you sure you want to part with them? These little ladies are American Bresse Blues, and they’re really expensive. You’ve got the start of a fancy flock here.”
Amber looked at Chet, the clerk who had introduced himself after brushing hay off his clothes and out of his hair, and wondered how he could tell she was doubting her decision.
“I’ve really gotten attached to them, but seriously they can’t live in my bathtub. Wait, there are expensive chickens? Figures…knowing Derek.”
Chet wisely ignored what he suspected was a swipe at an ex, and started his mini lecture on heritage breed livestock. He explained that Bresse chickens are world famous and originated in France. His face lit up and Amber was fascinated by the sparkle in his eyes and laugher in his voice.
Amber pet the soft feathers of the chicks and hummed a nonsense tune while she waited for Chet to talk to the feed store manager. It wasn’t until mysterious wet drops started landing on the bottom of the cardboard box that she realized she was crying.
“Well, the store can’t resell them because we can’t document their source, but we can give them away. Sorry, that means we can’t pay you anything for them.”
When Amber looked up and Chet noticed the tear tracks on her face, he added, “Or you know, you could give them to me and then you’d know exactly where they went and you could come visit any time.”
Amber’s emotional dam burst, and she started to sob. Over cups of bitter black coffee, brewed in the store’s tiny office, she poured her heart out to a man she’d just met. Her annoyance with Derek’s shallow materialistic personality, realizing she was the same as a silk tie or cashmere sweater in Derek’s mind, and her heartbreak over their first, never to happen, romantic Christmas together.
“Wow. That was really embarrassing. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to fall apart. Bet you don’t have many crying customers in a feed store, huh?”
“No worries. I get it. You want to be a partner and not a decoration. Clear as day, and I’m sorry your boyfriend didn’t understand.”
“Thanks. Is this going to make it too weird for me to visit the chicks? I don’t want you to think I’m going to show up and cry all over your farm.”
“No problem. Look, I need to get back to work, so I’ll give you all my contact info and we’ll plan a visit for you to see the girls in their new home.”
As soon as she got home, Amber had a hot shower and a glass of wine. Then she texted a short thank you to Chet. She got ready to face the rest of the holiday season alone but wiser.
The next day, Chet sent her a video of the chicks playing in their new temporary home inside one of his barns. As he narrated their antics he explained they’d get their own hen house and yard when they were bigger. The day after that, Chet texted and asked Amber if she’d like a livestream visit with the chicks. They were ten minutes into a video of scratching and chirping when Derek banged on Amber’s door.
Amber peeked through the peephole to see Derek standing there arms filled with professionally wrapped gifts and a bouquet of red roses.
“I have to go. Derek’s at the door.”
“I understand. I’m sure you two will patch everything up, and then you can both come out to see the girls...I mean if you’re still interested.”
“No, Chet…I mean yes…” Derek knocked again and began ringing the doorbell too.
“Sounds urgent. Let me know how it turns out.” Chet winked into the camera and hung up.
Five minutes. It only took Amber five minutes to realize that Derek thought he could buy his way back into her life, and for her to give him a version of a speech she’d heard once in a movie about being magically no longer in love with him. She glanced out the window to see him slamming the armload of gifts into his trunk, probably destroying a bunch of expensive stuff, but so not her problem now.
As December moved on, Amber and Chet exchanged emails and texts where they delighted in the fast growth of the tiny hens. By unspoken agreement the topic of Derek never came up. Amber started reading about heritage breeds and farming. Chet asked Amber for her opinions on the renovations and projects happening around his farm. She had a great eye for color and design features. Busy schedules and Amber’s still stinging breakup kept delaying an actual visit to the farm.
Christmas Eve dawned with a dusting of snow that gave everything a magical light. After coffee, but before she lost her nerve, Amber texted Chet, “Merry Christmas Eve. I’d love to come see the chicks today, and bring them some treats.”
Amber had ordered some toys designed to keep chickens happy, as well as a treat feeding basket, from a website she’d found while researching “learning to raise chickens.” She also had a gift for Chet, a heated massage wrap just for aching shoulders. He’d mentioned how he ached at the end of a cold day working.
As soon as she hit send, Amber was flooded with doubt. It’s a holiday. What if he has family visiting? How pathetic does this make me look?
Before she could text an excuse or apology, she got a message, “That’s perfect. I was going to give you until noon before I invited you out. Here’s the address and directions.”
Driving down the long drive to Chet’s house, Amber felt like she was entering a painting. The house, barns and fields were dusted with snow, and curls of smoke were coming from a brick chimney on the house. Goats with fluffy brown fur were frolicking next to a dormant garden.
“Hi. Merry Christmas. Before we go out to see the little hens, I have a gift for you.”
After months of someone trying to buy her heart, Amber winced a bit at the announcement. She sighed with relief as she saw the ugly but practical barn boots come out of the plain brown bag that had “Merry Christmas” printed on it with marker. As they walked out to the barn to see the chicks, Chet pointed out the features of his small farm. He kept up a steady narration until he was about to open the barn.
“So, I thought we’d cook supper together. Are you a chop veggies or roll out biscuits type of gal?”
Later as they washed the dishes together, Amber hummed The Twelve Days of Christmas and smiled.