Milk and Cookies

bySpotInTheSand©

"You'll have plenty of time to do that before and after dinner. Seriously, Kevin. If you don't agree to come, Julia is going to bring dinner to you."

Julia worked for the company, too, but she was in the business office, so I didn't know her very well. Still, I knew from office stories that she could be very, very persistent when she wanted something. When we got talking about the past on our overnight trips, Tim talked about how they wouldn't even be together if not for her persistence. I took a deep breath and decided to come out with the truth.

"Tim, Kira and I used to be a lot like you and Julia are now," I said. "You guys are unbearably happy, and I'm happy for you, man. You deserve all of that. But Christmas was a really special time for us, and I'm never going to have that again. If I have to spend even five minutes watching you two be like that on Christmas Day... seriously, I think I'll get sick."

The silence was deafening, but it didn't last long.

"I understand, Kev. I'm sorry."

"Nothing to apologize for. Like I said, I'm happy for you. It'd just be a little painful to be around all that this soon."

"What if I just come over there to drop off some food? I'll leave Julia here. We can watch a little football and just chat."

"Um, no," I replied. "I can only imagine what tragic things would happen to my paycheck if I took the business manager's fiancee away from her for even a couple hours on Christmas."

"You know," Tim said, sighing. "You're what my mother would call a stubborn pain in the ass."

"Yeah, my mother calls it that, too," I said. "In fact, she just did about 20 minutes ago. She's on your side of this argument."

"Smart woman." We both laughed. "I guess I'll let ya go, man," he said. "But, hey. Try to leave some of that milk and cookies for the fat guy, all right?"

I busted out laughing.

"Don't be getting greedy on him, now," Tim finished, right before he hung up.

Everyone at the office knew all about my milk-and-cookies obsession. That came about because of one of the many unorthodox practices Brad and Tim employed as managers. They wanted all the senior staff members to be more than just co-workers, and part of that was learning more about each other. So, at the conclusion of every staff meeting, they both answered random and usually personal questions about themselves, and we all went around the table answering the same question.

A couple months ago, they wanted us to tell everyone about our first date, and my story had been quite the doozy. I was in eighth grade, living on the west coast of Turkey where my dad was stationed in the Air Force. A couple of my friends had dared me to ask a third-grader to be my girlfriend. I got to pick the girl, so I chose the only third-grader I knew. Her name was Rita. Her older sister was just one year behind me in school and was part of my circle of friends, and she let Rita tag along quite a bit. Plus, our dads worked on the same floor in the base operations building, so I'd seen her at a couple of the office Christmas parties.

Near as my memory could recall, she was plenty cute, but still. I was 13, and she was 9. Just letting her call me her boyfriend wasn't enough; to win the bet, I had to go on a date with her, too. So, I invited her over to our apartment one day and after a couple hours of Duck Hunt on Nintendo, she shared my favorite dessert -- milk and cookies.

I absolutely hated lying about it, even to a 9-year-old, so I told the poor girl the truth the following day. I tried my best to be nice to her every time I saw her after that, but she predictably hated me from then on.

I didn't think of it as my first date at first -- it was at my house, and it involved a Nintendo game. My mom though, partially thinking it was cute and partially knowing she could torture me with it the rest of my life, told anyone who would listen that it was my first date. I didn't like it for a few years, but as I'd gotten older, I'd learned to embrace the story. It gave me something unique to say about my first dating experience, as opposed to what had happened on my real first date -- a hormone-infested gropefest in the back seat of my best friend's dad's car with a girl I realized I didn't really like shortly thereafter.

At any rate, my co-workers had had a huge laugh at my expense. The following morning, there was a package of Oreos and an elementary school-style milk carton on my desk. On the first flight I'd taken after I told my story, the flight attendant told me the plane was out of everything but Chips Ahoy and skim milk. It was part of office legend now.

Just thinking about it fired up my craving, so I went into the kitchen and indulged myself. As I ate, I put the groceries away. The last bag was just the apples. I pulled them from the bag, and that's when I saw them -- the Ice Breakers. I'd forgotten about them. I picked them up and stared intently at the container, but all I could see in my mind was the pretty blonde girl from the store.

I made quick work of the plastic wrapping and popped one of the mints in my mouth.

Soon, I thought.

Very soon.

*************

"Watch where you're going, young man!!"

It was a little old lady, wearing thick glasses and barely tall enough to see over her shopping cart -- the same cart that, despite her scolding, she'd just steered directly into mine.

I was standing in the frozen food section, in front of the pies. I'd been attempting to make the agonizing decision between cherry and lemon meringue for about a minute when the handle on my shopping cart had pushed back into my stomach.

A line about hoping she didn't drive the way she pushed a cart came to mind, but I squelched it. Cussing out an old lady on Christmas Eve would probably come with a heavy price tag in the next life. After all, this was somebody's Grandma, and they were probably looking forward to spending tomorrow with her.

"Merry Christmas to you, too," I said, attempting to be cordial. She gave me a stern glare and started to say something, but I quickly snatched both pies from the freezer and moved on before she could.

"Fucking Christmas Eve," I muttered under my breath as I headed down the aisle. I'd woken up pretty late that morning, and at halftime of an early afternoon bowl game, I'd been flipping channels. The Food Network was running a show with some top chefs making different things for Christmas dinner, and it looked damn good to me. It had drudged up happy memories of dozens of holiday feasts from years gone by. Those recollections, combined with the pretty blonde girl making fun of my ghetto Hamburger Helper, convinced me to give it a shot.

Bobby Flay could go to hell right about now, though. Mother Nature had dumped 12 more inches of snow on the Metroplex overnight, making yesterday's sleet and ice storm seem like a vacation in Tahiti. The nasty roads and bone-chilling temperatures didn't stop the Christmas Eve bumrush on Wal-Mart, though, and after driving around for five minutes looking for a parking spot and getting cut off twice, I'd finally fought my way into the store. I was then afforded the opportunity to navigate thick traffic in the aisles and dodge shopping carts, though the old lady's had been the first to actually make contact.

"Stupid old lady," I said as I pulled up in front of the large, open cold case with all the ham. They'd just restocked, apparently, because it was surprisingly full. "What a stupid idea, coming out in public on Christmas Eve."

I said it louder than I thought, apparently.

"I told you yesterday," a voice said behind me. "Your next line needs to be 'Bah humbug."

I spun around and came face to face with the striking blonde who'd dominated my thoughts since yesterday. She wore a dark leather jacket over a blood red, low-cut blouse that was tasteful, yet revealing enough to spark the imagination. Picasso might as well have manufactured her blue jeans, and her loose blonde curls dangled over her shoulders enticingly.

No ring today, either.

"Yesterday, I argued with you," I said. "Today, I think you might be right."

"What are you grumbling about, huh?" she asked, grinning from ear to ear.

I looked back down the frozen aisle. "Some old lady," I started, motioning over my shoulder before trailing off. "You know what? It doesn't even matter. I'm instantly happier now."

She blushed and looked down for a moment. "Thank you. You're very kind."

"And honest," I added.

"You have a name, or should I just call you Mr. Honest?"

"No, Mr. Honest works, though not as well as your Mr. Hamburger and Noodles from yesterday," I said. "But I understand if those are a little awkward for you, so you can call me Kevin." I stuck out my hand.

"I'm Brittany," she said. When she put her hand in mine, I forgot about the mad mass of humanity in the store. The globe didn't exactly go hurtling off its axis, but I wasn't thinking about anything else. The way her eyes were locked on to our hands, neither was she. Her hand was very soft, and we didn't so much shake hands as I simply held her hand in mine.

"What are you doing back here?" she asked, reluctantly breaking the handshake.

"You inspired me to cook a real Christmas dinner." I motioned to the cart, where I had sweet potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and the pies, along with a few other things I'd forgotten to get the day before.

"So," she said, gesturing at the case we stood in front of, "I guess all that's left is a ham."

I grinned and quickly tossed one into the cart, declaring, "Done." She laughed as I asked, "So what are you doing back here today? Just couldn't get enough of the Christmas Eve crowds, huh?"

"Oh yeah, I'm thrilled," she said. "Just had some things I forgot to get yesterday." I looked into her cart. Baking soda, salsa and ketchup were all she had managed to get thus far.

"You're a ketchup addict, too, huh? So important you just couldn't wait till Saturday?"

She blushed, and it made her cheeks glow. "The salsa, actually. My family will do chips and salsa all day tomorrow, right up until dinner. That doesn't work without the salsa."

"I could see how that would be an issue, yeah," I said. We pushed our carts together for a couple more minutes, and for two people who'd had no trouble making small talk, the ensuing silence was a little strange. I got a feeling that she was waiting on me to make a move.

I stopped in front of the bacon, and she kept rolling toward the orange juice, so the moment was on hold, anyway. I never chose the cheapest brand with important things such as bacon, so it took me a minute. When I looked back to the juices, she was gone. I started looking around, half-panicked that I'd missed my chance again. I didn't spot her immediately, but I figured she couldn't have gone too far, so I moved on to grab some cheese, the last thing I needed. I took my time there, too, glancing all around me every few seconds to try and find her. Finally, I tossed something in the cart and pushed forward.

With the crazy ass crowd, there was no way she'd have been able to check out yet. My plan was to head toward the front of the store and see if I could spot her in a check-out line. As I pushed past the baking aisle, though, I had my second shopping-cart collision of the day.

"You did that on purpose, didn't you?" Brittany asked me, the huge grin on her face making it very obvious that she, in fact, had done it on purpose.

"You caught me," I said. "I hate being here on Christmas Eve so much that I just decided, to hell with it... the next person to pull their cart out of this aisle is getting T-boned."

She giggled. "I saw you taking your time with the cheese, so I figured I would run down here and get some more flour, just in case mi abuela runs out today or tomorrow."

I caught the Spanish she'd thrown in, but that was really the first hint that her heritage matched up with the faint Hispanic features of her face.

"Probably not a bad idea," I said, and the silence descended on us again. I pushed forward toward the check-out lines and she joined me. Finally, right about the time we reached the produce, I got tired of it. I stopped pushing my cart, and she did the same. She looked at me inquisitively, and I didn't wait long to satisfy her curiosity.

"Listen," I said. "After all this craziness is over and the holidays have settled down for you, I'd love to see you again."

There. I'd said it.

"That was quite forward," she said, a smile playing on her lips.

"Yeah, well, I walked out of here yesterday without your number, and I've been kicking myself in the ass for it ever since," I said, matching her grin. "But yeah, I suppose I could have eased into it a little more."

"No, no," she said. "I like a man who isn't afraid to ask for what he wants. It's an attractive quality."

"It may have taken me a day, but yeah," I agreed. "I wasn't about to let this happen again."

She just laughed, and as sexy a sound as that was, it didn't really answer my question.

"So..." I said, trailing off, and a concerned look crossed her face.

"You remember that I told you I have a daughter, right?" she asked.

"Yeah," I said, kicking myself for even asking now. "I'm sorry. We just seemed to kind of, I don't know, click, I guess. I should have guessed her father would still be around."

She was confused for a second, but she figured it out quickly. "Oh, no, that's not what I meant. He's not."

My spirits immediately lifted.

"I just wanted to make sure you were okay with my having a daughter," she said. "Alicia is my whole world."

"Sure," I said. "We can pick a place she can come with us."

I think her smile actually touched the parking lot.

"Then definitely," she said, immediately digging into her handbag for her phone. "I'd love to see you again."

We exchanged numbers and pushed our carts forward. This time, I let her go first.

"So where is Alicia today?" I asked.

"At home with my parents," she explained. "There is so much family in town right now, and a lot of them haven't seen her since she was a tiny baby. They begged me to let her stay with them while I went out, so I did."

"How old is she now?"

"She turned 2 in October," Brittany said. "Hopefully, tomorrow will be the first Christmas morning that is more about the presents and less about the wrapping paper."

I chuckled. I remembered my youngest niece's first Christmas. She'd been so fascinated by the pink bows on her gifts, she'd hardly noticed she had new toys to play with.

"So, what do you do for a living, Kevin?" she asked.

"Right to the point, huh?" I asked, and she blushed. "I'm just kidding. I'm a senior pilot for a private air charter company based here in Dallas. We fly out of a couple of the general aviation airports in town, to locations all over the world."

"That sounds exciting!" Her eyes were locked on mine, and I could see her enthusiasm was genuine.

"It beats working for a living, for sure," I agreed. "What about you?"

"I work in marketing at an advertising agency in Richland Hills," she said. "I'm a year away from finishing up my MBA at TCU."

Richland Hills and TCU, I thought. Way on the other side of the Metroplex from Garland, where we were.

"You work in marketing... for an advertising agency," I said, choosing not to ask my question. "How does that work?"

"Advertising agencies compete for business, too," she said, giggling at the question. "I'm hoping to move into actual content once I get my MBA."

"You don't look anywhere near old enough to have an MBA," I said.

"My Bachelor's degree only took three years," she explained, "and even just going part-time, the MBA is only going to take two. I turn 24 next month."

"That's a lot to accomplish in such a short amount of time," I said, and she blushed again. "And having a daughter, too? Wow."

"Thank you."

That was as far as we got before the people in front of her finished, and she started loading her things onto the counter. I went to help her, but got distracted by the wall of breath mints over the counter. She saw where I was looking and grinned at me. Without missing a beat, I pulled the container from the day before out of my pocket.

"I'm good," I said, popping one into my mouth. "Thanks to someone yesterday telling me my breath was a little rank."

She rolled her eyes. "That's not what I meant, and you know it." She giggled, and all I could think about was that I wanted her to do it again. Soon.

Brittany focused on the clerk for a few moments while she ran her card, and when she was finished, we said a proper goodbye. I fought off the temptation to put the breath mints to good use -- I didn't want our first kiss to be in a packed Wal-Mart checkout line.

"So you will call me?" she asked.

"Of course," I said. "I asked for your number, didn't I?"

"Yeah, because that means soooo much," she replied, her sarcasm soaking the dirty tile floors.

"Fair enough," I agreed. "But I'm not like other people. If I asked for your number, I plan on using it. Maybe not today and probably not tomorrow, to let you be with your family. But I make no promises about December 26th."

She laughed. "You can call me in five minutes if you want."

"Ya know, I would, but I thought men were supposed to play hard to get these days," I answered back, making her roll her eyes again.

"Goodbye, Kevin," she said, wheeling her cart away. I wished she wouldn't. "Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas to you, too, Brittany." I liked the way her name rolled off my tongue, and as she smiled at me, I couldn't help but imagine how her tongue might roll off my tongue.

I thought that would be it. I paid for my groceries and zipped up my heavy jacket to prepare for the onslaught of the weather. When I got outside, however, I saw Brittany standing with her cart in a group of four or five other people, two of whom were uniformed Garland police officers. I was concerned briefly until she beckoned me over.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"Sir," one of the policemen said as he approached. "Do you have to get on I-30 to go home?"

"No," I answered. "Just have to drive under it."

"Good," the cop answered. "We're closing I-30 in about two minutes. We have about 15 accidents from here all the way to Fort Worth. We're closing 635 too. I'm about to go inside and break the bad news over the intercom."

"Good luck with that," I said, and got a grim nod in response.

I turned to Brittany. "I'm guessing you do have to get on I-30."

"Yeah," she said. "I take 30 all the way to 820."

"Jesus," I said. "That's like 40 miles from here. Where do you live?"

"In Keller."

Keller was a far northern suburb of Fort Worth, and Garland was on the southeastern side of Dallas. That was more than an hour commute.

"What the hell are you doing all the way over here?" I shouted, mostly just to be heard over the winds that were whipping our faces with snow. She blushed and started shivering.

"You know what? It doesn't matter," I said. "You think you can follow me for a mile or so on these icy roads?"

She nodded and smiled.

"You thought I was being forward before," I said. "I think it might be best if you come back to my house for now. It'll get you out of the storm and keep you off these roads. Are you OK with that?"

"Yeah," she said. "Thanks. Taking side streets all the way home would suck."

I smiled. "Where are you parked?"

She pointed, and just as we stepped off the curb into the parking lot, we heard a loud crash. Our heads snapped to the right, where two trucks had slid into one another a few hundred feet away near the other entrance to the store.

"On second thought," she said, "do you mind if I just ride with you?"

*********************

The ride home was mostly quiet. Brittany called her mom to let her know she wouldn't be home until later and to check on Alicia, but other than that, neither of us said much. I was mostly concentrating on not sliding off roads that had worsened considerably since I'd driven to the store, and the rest of my brain was thanking God for creating trucks with four-wheel drives.

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