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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Shari Held: Christmas Shopping Spree

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Art by Bernice Holtzman 2022

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 thought I’d get him a nice pair of leather gloves. The kind he can use with his iPhone.”

She spied the perfect pair on a 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 these on.”

Scott tried them on, and the fit was perfect.

Alice Anne smiled. One down, one to go. “Those look great. Frank will love them.”

“Not so fast, now.” Scott 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 of 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 winner.”

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 perfect. 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, you’d 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 at 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. Later, 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 of 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.

“Merry Christmas,” 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 open presents?”

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 to look surprised. “What? You don’t like the gloves?”

“Of course I don’t like the gloves. Only an eight-year-old would like these gloves.” He slapped them back into the box.

“But you picked them out. You 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 this way out of proportion. I was selecting what I thought Frank would like. That’s all.”

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 like 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 the 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 smiling. 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 left.

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.”

THE END

Shari Held is an Indianapolis-based fiction writer who spins tales of mystery, horror, and romance. Her short stories have been published in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Yellow Mama, Hoosier Noir, Asinine Assassins, Homicide for the Holidays, and Between the Covers. When not writing, she cares for feral cats and other wildlife, reads, and strategizes imaginative ways for characters and trouble to collide! 


Bernice Holtzman’s paintings and collages have appeared in shows at various venues in Manhattan, including the Back Fence in Greenwich Village, the Producer’s Club, the Black Door Gallery on W. 26th St., and one other place she can’t remember, but it was in a basement, and she was well received.



In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2022