Monday, December 10
ARTHUR stood in front of the bookshelves of the megastore and wondered, yet again, why he was even here. The annual Christmas gift exchange at work had seen him, yet again, draw the name of someone he didn’t even know. What was he supposed to get for some twenty-five-year-old secretary who handed him his messages every day?
He perused the shelves, trying to think like a woman in her twenties. Romance? Mystery? Bubble bath? Arthur moved over to the section with candles, trays, date books, agendas, leather-bound diaries. I need a drink!
Arthur had never really liked Christmas, having always subscribed to the theory that “the holidays” were nothing more than a way for the conglomerates to fatten their pockets. He knew this for a fact since the advertising for Christmas began earlier and earlier each year, and, by the fact that those poor fools who did buy into all of the fuss seemed to get more and more vicious each year. But, Arthur was nothing if not cooperative, so he would smile, blurt the necessary greetings and be on his way, rolling his eyes and counting the days until everything would be back to normal: people walking, working and paying for all of that cheer.
“You look a little lost.”
Arthur snapped out of his sour mood and looked down at the blond man standing beside him, a big, toothy smile showing through pouty lips. “Um, I’m not sure.” Arthur rubbed the back of his neck. “Christmas gift exchange at work.”
“Ahh.” The blond man nodded knowingly. “Well, who did you get?”
“Twenty-five year old secretary.” Arthur felt a sense of relief at the look in the man’s eyes. Maybe a fellow Scrooge? “Arthur.”
“Well.” The blond man rubbed his hands together, as if it helped him to think. “Do you know anything about Arthur, what he likes, what he reads?”
“No, sorry, my fault.” Arthur laughed, noting the blond man’s eyebrows knit in confusion. “The secretary’s name is Chelsea; I’m Arthur. I was introducing myself.”
“Oh, sorry,” the blond man nodded and extended his hand, “Mitchell.”
“Thank you for your help, Mitchell.” Arthur shook the offered hand, noticing how blue Mitchell’s eyes were. “I’m feeling a bit lost here.”
“Well,” Mitchell said as he let go of Arthur’s hand, “it can be a little overwhelming, I’m sure.”
“It just seems to get earlier and earlier every year, doesn’t it?”
“The season or the stress?” Mitchell touched the taller man’s elbow and guided him to the other side of the display. “Or you probably meant both, right?”
“I can handle stress,” Arthur sighed, letting Mitchell guide him, hoping he would not let go. “It’s all of the expectation that tends to get to me.”
“Expectation?” Mitchell picked up a leather-bound diary with a paisley tapestry-type tie closure and handed it to Arthur.
“You know,” Arthur said, turning the diary over in his hands, “be of good cheer, deck the halls, and all that.”
Mitchell took the diary and put it back on its stand, the glass shelf once again full. “Aren’t you a little young to be a cynic?”
“Young?” Arthur raised his eyebrows and wondered where this flirting could go. “I’ll be thirty-six in January.”
“That’s still young.” Mitchell picked up a scented candle, sniffed it, and handed it to Arthur. “Smell this.” Mitchell sniffed it one more time before handing it over. “Lavender, relaxing.”
Arthur sniffed, wrinkled his nose, and put the candle back where Mitchell pointed. “What about you?”
“I like candles.” Mitchell winked, a playful smile crossing his lips. “With bubble bath and Chopin.” Mitchell laughed, right hand finding its way to Arthur’s forearm. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. I’m thirty, last month.”
Arthur blushed and looked into those blue eyes. “So, is there anyone currently sharing your bubble baths?”
“No,” Mitchell pouted, bold as you please, “it’s really hard to find someone who likes Chopin.”
“Would you believe,” Arthur asked as he retrieved the lavender candle from the glass shelf, “that I absolutely love Chopin?”
Mitchell didn’t say anything; he only smiled as he guided Arthur to the next set of shelves, running his hand over a cashmere lap throw. “Does Chelsea read a lot?”
“Did I go too far?” Arthur’s free hand came up, almost touching the smaller man’s shoulder but stopping short. “It’s just….”
“No.” Mitchell offered a smile. “It was nice.” He picked up the throw and handed it to Arthur. “But my life is a little bit of a busy mess right now.”
“I know what you mean.” Arthur laughed nervously, anxious to get shot down and go home to do his workout, eat his microwave dinner, and keep counting the days until everyone had worn themselves out on good cheer. “This time of the year is the worst.”
“Oh, it’s not that. I love this time of year!” Mitchell beamed, smiling with those blue eyes, making Arthur feel even worse. Definitely not a fellow Scrooge.
“Well,” Arthur offered, trying to speed things along, “I’ll take the candle and the throw.”
They walked to the front of the store, Mitchell placing the objects on the counter, the petite brunette girl quickly scanning them and informing Arthur of the damage. “Do you do gift wrapping?”
“I can do that for you.” Mitchell pointed to a small counter near the entrance, smiled back at Arthur, and went to wait for him. Great, Arthur thought, I should have just done it myself and saved myself another fifteen minutes of agony.
As Arthur watched the salesgirl stow the signed credit card receipt, bag his purchases, and wish him a Merry Christmas, he went through the usual list of questions in his head: Why do I always find myself attracted to the unavailable men? Is it my age? Am I too old, too tall, too pushy?
Dismissing all of the questions, he slouched his way over to the counter and watched as Mitchell folded the throw, using strong, sure, steady movements of those long fingers, his tongue sticking out adorably between his full lips as he concentrated. Arthur couldn’t help but notice that Mitchell’s wrapping was perfect, better than he could have done himself. Truth be told, Arthur would be hard-pressed to admit that he wouldn’t have just stuck a signed card on the box and handed it over; no need for formality when he’d already surpassed the thirty-dollar limit for the gift exchange. Spending over the limit was his way of assuaging his guilt for not really caring about finding the perfect gift or caring if Chelsea would even like it.
“It was a pleasure meeting you, Arthur. And I hope Chelsea likes the gifts.” Mitchell extended his hand once again, adding, “And if she doesn’t, I have placed a gift receipt in the box so she can find something more to her taste.”
“Listen, Mitchell,” Arthur sighed, not letting go of the soft hand, “if I said anything to—”
“Merry Christmas, Arthur.” Mitchell tapped the white card placed under one of the ribbons snaking its way from the big red bow in the center of the box and gave Arthur’s hand a squeeze. “For being a good boy this year.”
Arthur’s grin was threatening to split his face when he saw Mitchell’s name and phone number on the small, white card. “Let’s hope I can make it to New Year’s.” Arthur grinned, winked at Mitchell, and walked out of the store backwards, eyes focused squarely on the flush creeping up Mitchell’s face.
Who cares if Chelsea likes her gift? Arthur was thinking as he whistled a tune while walking down the crowded corridor of the mall. I got the best one in the store.