This year was going to be a good Christmas.
Dave leaned back and took another sip of latte, watching the Food Court crowds scurry. This corner table served a calm oasis amongst the bustle, giving him time to reflect.
Of course, last year's Christmas wouldn't be tough to beat. Getting asked for a divorce Thanksgiving Day. Claire out of the house with half the furniture by the 10th. Christmas Eve alone in the empty rooms watching the cat scamper across the floor. Then far too many questions from cousins and parents and second cousins and aunts and cousins once removed and more cousins. Forget the season of giving, the season of joy, it was the season of nosy questions! And all "What happened?" with none being "How can I help?"
This year would be different. This year was going to be a good Christmas.
The sense of someone approaching tugged Dave from his scattered memories and back to the present. He glanced up into smiling emerald eyes and a devilish grin. Jen. With Will right beside her, of course, also smirking. His friends were irrepressible that way. Will slid his arm around Jen's waist and then straightened up into mock self-righteousness.
"See, I told you we'd find him here."
"Well, duh," Dave replied. "I told you I was going shopping at the mall today."
"Ah yes," Will retorted, "but I said you'd not only be at the mall, but you'd be sitting in the food court, drinking a latte, wallowing in self-pity."
Dave rolled his eyes. "That predictable?"
"Of course. I have known you for nearly 20 years, after all." Will turned to Jen. "Dave's post-rejection pout has followed the same pattern since junior high. Dave goes to a public place, drinks caffeine, and wallows in the corner hoping no one will notice. When you emailed to say you wouldn't be bringing Kim to the party Saturday night, I knew where to find you."
"Kim was three dates and out," Dave said. "I was never sure she was really interested, and on the third date she decided to use her cell phone to check her messages while I was driving us to dinner. Which wouldn't have been so bad if she hadn't then spent the rest of the drive returning calls."
Will visibly winced.
"So I figured there was no point in bringing her to the party. It wasn't so much that I was rejected as I got smart." Yeah right, this bluff was going nowhere. "I'm not pouting. I'm just not feeling very much in a holiday mood."
Jen leaned forward, nearly resting her elbows on the table. "Ah, what's wrong, Dave, not feeling very merry?"
Dave barely heard her. Her low cut and loose blouse had fallen away, revealing an expanse of smooth, pale curvaceous skin. She was definitely a healthy C-cup and was that a bit of areola peeking out above the lace? Dave let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding and then caught himself. He'd been staring. Feeling the flush beginning to rise in his cheeks, he quickly diverted his gaze to Jen's face. She was smiling too smugly to break into laughter and he knew he'd been caught.
"Feeling a little merrier now, Dave?"
He swore he could hear Mae West from the back of her drawl. Jen arched her back slightly, pushing her nipples forward and Dave was sure he could see them hardening behind the fabric. He could hear Will chuckling.
"Not my fault, my man," Dave said past Jen to Will. "You're the one dating the damn exhibitionist."
Jen laughed before Will could speak up.
"Well of course," Will said, "I'm a voyeur. Who better for me to date than an exhibitionist like Jen?"
Jen rolled her shoulders, creating slow waves across her chest, drawing Dave's eyes back to her cleavage. She leaned forward further, deepening his view.
God what a beautiful sight.
"Besides," she uttered in a stage whisper, "He likes it when other guys look. As much as I do." Jen stood back up, the devilish grin firmly in place. The show was over.
"Come shopping with us," Will cajoled. "It'll be fun. I promise."
"Yeah Dave," Jen added, still grinning. "I guarantee you'll enjoy it."
With a guarantee like that from Jen, how could he lose?
And he did have fun, Dave mused later. First they'd hit the bookstore, taking time between searching for gifts for Will's numerous relatives to point out favorite titles to each other. Dave's taste ran to sci-fi and fantasy, but he was pleasantly surprised by the number of "classic" novels that he'd actually read when Jen or Will pointed out some they'd enjoyed. He'd thoroughly enjoyed browsing the history section, noting new titles by familiar authors, but realizing he'd better wait until after the holidays to purchase them, lest he potentially step on any gift giver's toes. And of course, Jen just had to drag them over to the human sexuality section where after a few minutes she declared, loudly enough to draw the startled look of another patron, that it was hopeless because there wasn't a single book in the section that she could get for Will, since he already knew more than any of the authors. Will had the decency to blush above his shit eating grin and Dave just rolled his eyes as they ambled to the register to ring up their loot.
Jen's antics continued when they hit the clothing stores. She insisted Will try on every hat she found, from cowboy hats to stocking caps to ball caps with stupid slogans. Will took it in good humor, even when he looked so patently ridiculous that Dave couldn't help chuckling. The only time his mood dropped was when they were in Hallmark. He'd seen a particularly sappy romantic card, thought that Claire would like it, and then remembered.
Jen must have seen his face fall. She walked up, gently took the card from his hand, glanced at it, and then put it back.
"It can be hard being single for the holidays," she said, her sympathy clearly sincere. "I had a few rough Christmases before I met Will." She slid her arm around him in a gentle hug.
"Claire and I were together for five years," Dave said, the hollowness ringing in his own ears. "I had thought it would be forever. And yeah, I got my hopes up for Kim way too early. I guess I just didn't want to be alone."
"You're not alone," Jen said, giving him a friendly squeeze.
Dave smiled. They rested in a quiet pause, before Jen spoke again.
"What about Jennifer?"
Will and Jen had introduced Dave to Jennifer last May. She was uncanningly like Jen. Both gorgeous curvaceous redheads with great athletic legs. Jennifer was an inch or two shorter with hazel eyes instead of green, but they could easily pass as sisters, if not twins.
Jennifer had shown up at Will's birthday party but Dave had been too lost in his own thoughts to notice her until Will gently steered him into the conversation circle by the fireplace. She'd been funny and quick witted—teasing Will about being the first to hit the big 3-0, then sliding some bad puns into a conversation about food. Dave had really relaxed and enjoyed the broad flirting that occurred as the party wound down, though he took it as just fun with no real interest behind it. Will emailed him Jennifer's phone number the next day and harangued him until he agreed to ask her out.
Their first date had evolved from "just coffee" into dinner and then late night drinks with lots of laughter. He'd felt relaxed and enjoyed the glimmer in her eyes during the silences between topics. She'd taken his hand, walking back to their cars, and, after unlocking her car door and throwing her purse on the passenger seat, wrapped her arms around his neck. The kiss had been sweet and hot, tender and passionate, and his blood had roared in his ears all the way home.
Running more on autopilot than anything, he'd arranged a second date to the theatre. She'd looked stunning in her version of the little black dress, her copper curls cascading over her shoulders, black hose highlighting those legs, and just a hint of naughtiness in her smile. They'd started kissing at the car, and then on her porch. She was incredibly passionate and soon he was kissing her earlobes, her neck, and her lips again. He was running his hands across her back, stealing more kisses, feeling her grab his ass. Sliding his hands down to cup her ass cheeks in return. Then freezing.
His right hand had passed over a garter belt strap. She'd worn a garter belt on a date with him. He could feel the panic rising up the back of his spine. He'd slowed down, letting the passion cool, and then made some lame excuse and escaped to his car. Ran away, really. The next day he'd been too embarrassed to call her, or return her call the day after that.
He brought himself back from his memories.
"I just wasn't ready," he said to Jen. "I really liked her, but it was obvious that it was going to get serious awfully soon, and I wasn't ready. It was still too soon after Claire."
"And you're ready now?"
Dave let out a deep breath. "Yeah, I'm ready now. Except that Jennifer won't want to talk to me, the way I ended our last date. So I'm stuck going out with women like Kim."
"You never know," Jen commented. "Jennifer might understand. She got divorced herself two years ago. Besides, she might've had friends who could explain it to her."
The last comment sounded too intentionally innocent to Dave's ears, but he decided he really didn't want to ask.
"You should call her," Jen continued. "I bet she'd love to go out with you again."