A Dartmoor Christmas
“I have no idea what to get Sam,” Aidan admitted, face scrunching up as if he was in pain. “Smart chicks are so much harder to shop for.”
“Plus there’s the fact that you’d never shopped for a woman before Sam,” Mercy pointed out. “You’re basically a rookie at this.”
“Thanks. That really boosts my confidence.”
Mercy clapped him on the shoulder and Aidan braced himself for the inevitable shake that always came after. It came, and he still wasn’t ready, knocking one way and then the other, stumbling over his own feet. Damn, the man was too strong. How he didn’t manage to crush Ava when…
Aaand there was a train of thought Aidan didn’t want to board. Ugh.
“So what are you thinking?” Mercy asked as he let go, thank the Lord. “Any ideas?”
That was the problem: he had several, but none of them seemed right. “Well,” he said, surveying the Christmas-themed chaos of the mall around them. “We got this catalogue in the mail. And there was this outfit…” When he glanced at his brother-in-law, Mercy was giving him this look.
“And by catalogue you mean…”
“And by outfit you mean…”
Mercy chuckled. “Does she go for that kind of thing?”
“Yeah. Maybe.” Aidan shrugged. She had a few outfits at home. She’d bought them all herself, and he’d thought…well, to be honest, there hadn’t been a lot of thought involved in his imaginings. “Okay, look. I didn’t bring you here to make fun of my ass. I’m not real good at this whole husband thing.”
Mercy’s huge arm went around his shoulders and pulled him in close as they ambled. “Okay. All joking aside: lingerie’s great. But you gotta get something in addition to that.”
“Depends on the wife. What does Sam like? What does she talk about wanting?”
“She’s a writer same as your wife. What are you getting Ava?”
“Oh my God, you don’t know, do you?” He laughed. “Shit. Perfect husband isn’t so perfect, is he?”
Mercy’s arm fell away. “Shut up.”
Mercy’s frown could have cut someone. A knot of giggling preteen girls was on a collision course with them, but quickly diverted when they glanced up and caught sight of Mercy’s face. Their laughter stopped and their eyes went wide as they skirted around the two of them. Aidan caught a whispered “hurry!”
“You know how she is,” Mercy said, ignoring the fact that he terrified children simply by existing. He didn’t terrify his own children, and Aidan guessed that was what counted. “She’s not the kind of person who wants stuff.”
“She doesn’t want anything. Not anything major. She won’t give me a list. She isn’t gonna say that she wants jeans, or a jacket, or anything for herself. And whatever I get, it needs to be good, you know? Thoughtful.”
“I’m starting to think you’re just as stupid as I am. Why’d I even bring you if you aren’t gonna be any help?”
“I’m offended,” Mercy said, deadpan. “Deeply offended. Just for that, you owe me a pretzel.”
“Fuck you, get your own pretzel.”
A frazzled-looking mother with two babies in a double stroller lay in their path, and they parted to let her through. “Excuse us,” Mercy told her, smiling down at the babies. They were little girls, in red and white dresses, and they stared up at the giant Cajun with matching looks of awe. Once the mother was past, Aidan heard one of the little girls start hiccupping in that way that meant she was about to burst into tears.
“Damn,” Aidan said when he and Mercy were side-by-side. “It’s like I’m shopping with Frankenstein. All these kids are scared shitless of you.”
“Frankenstein’s monster,” Mercy corrected. “Frankenstein himself was the doctor.”
“Whatever. You just need to be on the lookout for torches.”
Mercy shoved him in the shoulder. Hard. Aidan staggered sideways and crashed into an airbrushed t-shirt kiosk.
Mercy hated shopping.
That seemed counterintuitive, given he’d spent so much of his life flat broke. He’d had the humblest of beginnings, out in the swamp. He’d always thought that when he finally had some cash in his pocket, he’d enjoy browsing through the endless commercial delights offered by every mall in America. Instead, his frugal mindset had been hard to shake. He felt guilty when he bought things. Except when it came to buying things for Ava and the kids – then he feared that his gifts were inadequate. A stupid fear, since Ava loved everything he gave her – or claimed to, anyway. But it was there all the same. He’d long since made peace with the fact that there were some things about himself he’d never be able to change.
So far, the best part of this shopping trip was shoving Aidan through a kiosk and watching him stammer his apologies to the proprietor, picking up t-shirts with both hands.
“Maybe I’m overthinking it,” he said, popping the last of his soft pretzel in his mouth.
“Maybe I’m underthinking it,” Aidan said beside him. Their bench had a view of Bath & Body Works, overflowing with displays of lotions and candles, tinny Michael Bublé Christmas songs floating out of the speakers. “I can’t just get her lotion and underwear, right?”
Mercy didn’t answer right away. The truth was, Christmas gifts didn’t matter at all. He wanted his family happy and healthy, and he knew Ava felt the same way. And he was actually a little embarrassed that he’d put such emphasis on this whole process.
What did a guy get the woman who’d literally killed for him? Nothing. There was no gift available at the mall that could convey his reckless, violent love for her.
“You can,” he said, standing with a sigh. “Let’s get the lotion, the lingerie, and hit the bookstore.”
But then a store sign caught his eye, a chance flash captured across the heads of the crowd.
He smiled. “Wait. Hold on just a sec…”