CHRISTMAS SHOPPING SPREE
By Shari Held
It was the third week in
December and Alice Anne Pritchard had marked off all the names on her Christmas
shopping list—except for one. Her boyfriend Scott. They’d been together for two
Christmases now and her presents had never pleased him. He’d politely gifted
her with a little half-smile and bussed her cheek, then put her present away
never to be seen again.
She’d uncovered the sweater
she’d given him their first Christmas together in the bottom of his Goodwill
donation box. Still in the box. At least he’d kept the hand-cut, Baccaret
tumblers from their second Christmas, although he'd stashed them in the back of
the cabinet above his Sub Zero.
Obviously, she was the worst
Christmas gifter ever. This year she wanted nothing more than to come up with
the best present ever for Scott. Because this year, she was expecting her gift from
him to be a sparkling diamond engagement ring.
Late that Friday evening, after
her second margarita, she came up with the perfect solution. She’d ask Scott to
help her select presents for a couple guys from the office, while, in reality,
he’d be picking out his own presents. That way she’d be sure to give him
exactly what he wanted. She was so proud of her no-fail solution she celebrated
with another margarita.
It hadn’t been easy convincing
Scott to accompany her to Nordstrom’s. She’d wheedled and cajoled and finally
he’d consented—after she agreed to pick up the tab at Maggiano’s afterwards.
He stood at the front of the
Men’s Department, his foot tapping the shiny porcelain floor. “So, let’s get
this show on the road. Who’s first?”
“Frank, my cube mate. I
I’d get him a nice pair of leather gloves. The kind he can use with his
She spied the perfect pair on
table display in the middle of the aisle and picked them up. The gloves were
buttery soft and would complement Scott’s Matrix-style faux leather coat. She
held them out to him. “Here, you and Frank probably wear the same size. Try
Scott tried them on, and the fit
Alice Anne smiled. One down,
to go. “Those look great. Frank will love them.”
“Not so fast, now.”
rummaged through the sales bin and pulled out a pair of red-and-black
lumberjack-check knit gloves and tried them on. “Here, these fit and they’ll be
just the thing for Frank. Too bad they’re the last pair. I wouldn’t mind having
a pair of these myself.” He took them off and held them out to her.
Alice Anne frowned. This pair
gloves didn’t look anything like what she’d seen Scott wear. Clearly, she
didn’t have a bead on Scott’s tastes. “Well, if you say so. I would never have
thought of these. It’s a good thing I have you here to help me.” She took the
gloves from him, purchased them, and put them in the Santa Claus shopping bag
she’d knitted for the holiday season.
Next stop was the sweater
displays. “This is for my boss, Kevin. I think a classy, plush sweater would be
appropriate for him.” Alice Anne held up a striking argyle-print cashmere
sweater in shades of plum, green, and navy. “It’s a tad outside my budget, but
isn’t it gorgeous?” She stroked the sweater enjoying its softness.
Scott took the sweater and held
it out in front of him. He studied it as if it were a piece of art and he, a
connoisseur. “You know, I don’t think Kevin’s an argyle kind of guy. Men wear
argyle to placate their mothers, girlfriends, or wives. Secretly most guys
abhor it. I know I do.”
Scott headed to the Clearance
bin and scrounged through the cut-price collection of sweaters. He grabbed a
misshapen, turquoise cotton sweater, with a neon lime green stripe around the
midsection, from the bottom of the pile. “Here you go. I think we have a
Alice Anne shuddered. She
wouldn’t give that sweater to Joe, the guy who’d stood her up on Valentine’s
Day years ago. “Are you sure? It’s a clearance item and can’t be returned.”
“Are you kidding? It’s
He’ll stand out wherever he goes. What leader wouldn’t want a sweater like
this? Besides, it’s the latest sweater trend for men.” He raised his eyebrows
and stared at her as if she were the poorest excuse for a shopper ever.
In the Women’s Department,
never find trendy, on-fashion items in the Clearance bin unless they were maybe
a size two. But what did she know about men’s fashions? She shrugged. “Okay,
then. The turquoise sweater it is.” She paid for the sweater and deposited it
in her Santa Claus bag.
Scott has the items he wants, so
why don’t I feel good about it? Alice Anne thought on the way to the restaurant.
After dropping Alice Anne off
her apartment, Scott poured a Scotch and sat in his zero-gravity recliner, a
smug look on his face. He’d been perusing ideas to get Alice Anne to leave her
job at the ad agency. She was becoming entirely too chummy with pretty boy Frank.
On the few occasions when he’d picked her up at work, he’d seen the way Frank
looked at her when he thought no one was paying attention. Scott believed in heading
off competition before it could bite him in the butt. Alice Anne was his. The
sooner Frank realized that, the better.
He took another sip of Scotch.
He’d give his faux Rolex to be there when Frank opened his Christmas package
and saw those lumberjack gloves. Only a kid would be caught dead in them. All
Frank’s thoughts of Alice Anne seeing him as a romantic interest would die. He
smirked. That would be the death knell for that one-sided budding romance.
And that horrible turquoise
sweater. What a hoot. He could barely stand to pick it out of the bin. Kevin
was no slouch. He’d realize Alice Anne had gone all cut-rate on his present,
and that wouldn’t set well with him. Kevin would think twice about promoting
Alice Anne to the job she’d been pining for since the first of the year. In
fact, that sweater would pretty much guarantee she’d be passed over.
Scott chuckled at that thought.
when she cried on his shoulder, he’d tell her she was too good for the agency.
He’d lay it on thick about how much he valued her and that she shouldn’t sell
herself short. He’d offer to hire her to come work for him three days a week.
He threw back the rest of his
scotch. Alice Anne had no inkling she was a keeper and Scott was going to keep
it that way. No way was he going to let her stay at the agency. But would she
bite on a part-time job offer?
Hey, it was Christmas. The
season to be merry and all that jazz. He should sweeten the pot. He knew she
was expecting an engagement ring. He’d been savoring that moment on Christmas
Eve when she realized she wouldn’t be getting it. The disappointment in her
eyes would be fun to watch. But he knew it was only a matter of time before
he’d marry her. She was a looker and sweet-natured, to boot. More importantly
she thought he was perfect and did anything to please him. What more could a
man want? Might as well tie the knot now.
That ring was his ticket. Tomorrow,
he’d visit a jeweler and pick out something suitable. Something big and flashy
that said ‘My guy’s successful.’ The ring was a reflection on him, after all.
It was the evening before Christmas
Eve and Scott was soon due at Alice Anne’s apartment for their private Christmas
celebration. Tomorrow they’d dine with his parents at an expensive restaurant
overlooking the city’s Christmas tree. Christmas Day Scott was going skiing and
she would attend her family get-together.
The standing rib roast was
resting, the scalloped potatoes and Brussel sprouts were in the warming oven,
the salad was chilling in the refrigerator, and Scott’s favorite Cheesecake
Factory dessert was in a box on the kitchen counter. All was ready.
Alice Anne primped in front of
the hall mirror, smoothing hairs that weren’t out of place and checking her
teeth for lipstick for the third time in the last five minutes. The two
presents she’d bought for Scott were under her tree. Despite his praise of the
items, she had serious misgivings. In fact, she was beginning to have
misgivings about their entire relationship. She was tired of working so hard to
prove herself, and for what? The proverbial pat on the back. She’d always known
she wasn’t exactly a perfect fit for Scott’s lifestyle, that she didn’t measure
up to his standards. But she’d given it her best shot. Now she wasn’t sure why.
Her mind conjured up an image
Frank. He always had a smile on his face and was easy to talk to. With Frank, she
didn’t have to avoid certain topics. He didn’t get offended if she didn’t
accept what he said as gospel. She didn’t have to second guess her every action
based on his reaction. And it wasn’t just Frank, although he was the one she
spent the most time with. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an uncomplicated
relationship where she could be herself—where she could smile, scowl, or giggle
without recrimination instead of trying, and usually failing, to be the person
Scott wanted her to be?
Her doorbell chimed and she
scurried to let Scott in.
he said as he
entered, a bottle of Moet & Chandon champagne in one hand, a small gift bag
in the other.
“Merry Christmas, Scott.”
He placed the gift bag under the
tree and handed her the bottle. “I thought we’d have a drink before we eat. Maybe
Alice Anne’s heart fluttered.
The moment of truth. Would she find the ring she had been hoping for in the
small gift bag under the tree? Did she still want it?
She placed both packages for
Scott on the couch between them. “Sure. Why don’t you open yours first?”
He opened the smaller box first.
His eyes opened wide and he looked at her as if he’d been bitten by a snapping
turtle. “What the heck? Is this some kind of sick joke?”
It was Alice Anne’s turn
surprised. “What? You don’t like the gloves?”
“Of course I don’t
gloves. Only an eight-year-old would like these gloves.” He slapped them back
into the box.
“But you picked them out.
said you liked them.”
“I thought you were getting
these for Frank.”
Something in Alice Anne snapped.
“So they were good enough for Frank but not for you? And when you said you’d
like a pair just like them, you lied?”
“Whoa. You’re taking
out of proportion. I was selecting what I thought Frank would like. That’s
Alice Anne’s burst of defiance
fizzled out and she dropped her head to her chest. “You know I was doing this
because you’ve never been happy with the presents I’ve given you. I wanted you
to enjoy what I bought for you for a change.”
She sighed. “Did you even
the sweater you thought was for Kevin? Or was all that talk about it being a
trendy sweater, fit for a leader, so much bunk?”
Scott’s eyes focused on
large box between them. “The turquoise sweater?”
Alice Anne smiled. Then she
started laughing so hard tears streamed down her face.
Scott wasn’t laughing. Or
He picked up the small bag from under the tree and opened it to reveal a
one-karat diamond surrounded by tiny stones of every color of the rainbow. He
plucked it from the box and held it under her nose. “This is what I had for
you. Then you had to spoil it all with your bargain-basement gifts and your
insubordinate behavior.” He pushed the ring back inside the box, dropped the
box in the bag, grabbed the half-empty bottle of champagne and his coat, and
Alice Anne was still laughing
when she called Frank. “Frank, I know it’s totally last minute, but I have a
terrific meal that I don’t want to go to waste. Think you can be here in half-an-hour?”
Scott returned to the jewelry
store as soon as the stores opened on December 26th. He dropped the
ring box on the counter and shoved it toward the jeweler as if it burned to the
touch. “I want my money back.” He placed
his receipt on the counter next to it.
The jeweler examined the ring
and the receipt, then pushed them back toward Scott. “Sorry, I can’t refund
your money. It was on sale, and all sales are final.”