There are two types of Christmas shoppers: those who have a list, on a piece of paper or in their heads, and those who just wander around the packed mall, looking for inspiration.
Jim definitely belonged to the second category, mostly because he rarely knew in advance what could he get for his brothers or his dad. He wasn’t really bothered about it. He had arrived at the mall at the earliest possible hour to avoid the worst of the crowd and, not that he would admit it aloud, he enjoyed the festive decorations and even those same jazzy versions of classic carols he was so used to hearing every year.
Without much effort, he finished shopping for his siblings and their children. His father wouldn’t mind a bottle of whiskey even if that’s what he got the year before, and he knew he could find something for her mother in any store that had a kitchen appliances section.
There was one person, though, for which he had no idea what to get. And he had to get Karen something, right? They've been dating for a while… she’d probably say she was his girlfriend. He… somehow he was not particularly happy with the term but anyway, she would expect a present from him.
Lost in thought, he walked back to his card to leave the bags of stuff he had already bought. Jewelry? No. That would be too formal, too serious, too much. Something to wear? Impossible. He was lost when it came to sizes and styles. A gift card? That would be just lame, and he was sure Karen was the kind of person that would say that to his face.
As he unloaded his bags in the trunk he noticed the scarce flocks of snow from earlier were turning into something much serious. He needed to make up his mind and finish his shopping, before it’ll become a problem.
Deciding to start with what was easier, he found himself browsing shelves of pots, pans and the likes, looking for something that his mother won’t have but could appreciate. Karen could wait, he reasoned.
His eyes rested on a box of cookie cutters. His mother owned dozens of them, but these ones were slightly different. Festive. Maybe she would appreciate the change.
“I didn’t know you baked.”
The soft voice behind him made him jump. Turning around so fast his neck almost snapped, he was met by Pam’s bright eyes, and a small smile that, looking closely, seemed a little bit unsure.
It was stupid, since they both worked together and their desks were placed so near one another, but he felt as if this was the first time he’d seen her in a log while. He recognised the pink long jacket, and the smile was a sight so familiar it sometimes hurt, and yet why did it felt as something new and surprising?
“I… I was a Master Chef front runner, didn’t you know?” Fortunately his recovery was fast, and his voice steady, despite the initial confusion.
“I missed last season, sorry,” she said with a small chuckle, and again Jim had the impression he hadn’t seen her done that in a very long while.
“How very disappointing,” he said.
“Yeah, well,” she said, with another chuckle. “Hi,” she added.
“Hey,” he echoed her. “What are you up to?”
“You know,” she shrugged, “a lazy stroll down the mall, and not at all some last minute Christmas shopping.”
“Not at all. Yeah, me neither.”
“Who are those for?” she asked, pointing at the cutters.
“My mother… maybe. I don’t know. Maybe you can help me. If you had some old cookie cutters, would you appreciate having more?”
“I guess so. It depends on how attached your mom is to her old ones.”
Jim sighed. “That’s not very helpful.”
“May I?” Pam took the box out of his hands and looked at the tin shapes for a moment.
“So, what’s the verdict?” Jim said, feigning an impatience he didn’t have.
“If she likes baking, she will like these ones, I’m sure.” Pam gave him the box back with a smile. “I would.”
“Great, that means I’m almost done.”
“Lucky you,” Pam said, with an exaggerated sigh.
“Ah, so you’re one of those people who come to the mall at the last minute to do all their Christmas shopping, huh?”
“Guilty as charged,” Pam nodded. “I still need to get something for my dad and my sister.”
“And does your dad bake, too?” he said as serious as he could.
“What? No, he doesn’t,” she chuckled, and again it hit Jim how rare it was to hear her chuckle these days. “I just came to look around for a Christmas present from me to me,” she said sheepishly.
“Oh, that’s the spirit of the season,” he said.
“Shut up,” she gently slapped his arm, and he realised then that it was not just her laughter, but the fact that they were talking and bantering as the good old friends they once were.
“So, your dad…?” he said, wondering if he could tag along without making it weird.
“I was thinking of a sweater…” she said doubtfully.
“Is he into ugly Christmas sweaters?”
“Ugh, not at all. Just a boring one, you know?”
He tried to summon up some courage. “Do you want me to help you find one?”
“Really?” she asked, a small smile playing in the corners of her lips.
“Of course.” He shrugged. “I owe you, for helping me decide my mom’s gift so…”
Her eyes darted around, looking at the shoppers and then at the racks, to finally settle on Jim's. “All right, then.”