tagRomanceKaren's Tale Ch. 01

Karen's Tale Ch. 01


Many thanks to GentWithHandcuffs, my editor.

(This story has a long build up and we don't get to the hot and sexy part in this chapter, so enter at your own risk.)


It was one of those shitty mornings. I slept through my alarm, the neighbors used all the hot water, I ran down to my car only to realize I'd left my wallet upstairs, and then I was late to work. Standard shitty morning.

Ordinarily my boss Heidi was no slave driver. She didn't mind occasional tardiness. Not that day though. Christmas Eve isn't the best day to be late when you work in retail.

I burst through the back door just as Heidi was unlocking the front door. "Karen, get your ass in here!" yelled Heidi when she heard my entrance. I bundled my thick blonde hair up in a braid and mentally readied myself for the day.

The usual stock room smell of fresh paper and plastics was overlaid with cinnamon and ginger. It smelled delicious... the first three days of the Christmas season. It had become obnoxious after that, lingering in my clothes and hair, even in my coat. It was nerve grating to hear every single customer exclaim "Oh it smells so good in here!" as they entered the store.

And boy were there customers. The tiny toy shop was packed day and night with slow moving clumps of parents, while children darted about and generally wreaked havoc. I was continually re-stacking pyramids of toy boxes, re-folding t-shirts, straightening out piles of books and otherwise trying to keep the place in some kind of order.

Normally, that was my favorite time of year. The crisp weather, happy anticipation of seeing family and friends, parties, exchanging special gifts... But not that year. Justin talked me into moving here, to Shermer, two months before and it had quickly gone very wrong. As in, a trip to the ER for a dislocated shoulder and sundry bruises, and talking to victim's services about domestic violence. I had finally decided to not press charges. Bruce, Heidi's husband, escorted me back to our apartment to collect my things unmolested and we were done. Justin tried to apologize, but I changed my number and Bruce explained to Justin exactly what would happen if he discovered any stalking behavior. No man would ever get a chance to hit me twice.

All that was behind me, but here I was, alone in a strange town for Christmas. Heidi apologized... she wanted to invite me with them to Bruce's grandparent's house, but with his grandfather so sick it was impossible.

I'd decided to pretend it was a normal day off and take advantage of having the apartment complex laundry room to myself. But first I had to make it through Christmas Eve.

We had had a major avalanche of model train cars and it had spilled over into the window display. I had just righted the last Christmas tree in the window and was backing away when I felt something brush my ass. I quickly turned, amazed someone would try to grope me IN A TOY STORE. I knew I had a figure that inspired such attention, but really, this was pushing it too far. I met the eye of an entirely embarrassed young man, holding the offending kite kit that had just rubbed me. His arms were full and it was no surprise he had had trouble managing his bundle of goodies.

"I'm so sorry," he ducked and bowed, almost demolishing the stack of ginger bread cookie tins. I quickly assessed the situation... bull in a china shop came to mind.

"Here, let me," I said as I relieved him of the kite, two stuffed pandas and a slinky. He was as disheveled as he was clumsy, short curly brown hair sprawling above wide blue eyes. His shabby tweed jacket matched his battered jeans and scuffed loafers. We were almost eye to eye, but then, most men are as I am 5'10".

"Come with me, we can stow these behind the counter for you." I led the way to the swamped cash register counter. Tucking the items into a corner, I turned to relieve him of his other boxes and parcels.

"You can keep shopping, we'll have these things right here for you," I assured him. When he hesitated, I asked if I could help him find anything.

"Well," he began, "I need one more gift, for my dad. Some kind of logic puzzle maybe. Could you show me where the adult toys are?"

I looked at him. Had I heard him right? Was this some kind of joke? Adult toys?

No, it wasn't a joke, because he suddenly turned beet red.

"Not that kind... I mean, not like that..." he stammered. I took pity on him.

"I know just the place for you to look," leading him to the 12+ area. "Here you go, all of these items are designed for ages 12 and up." Heidi signaled me urgently and I hustled off to the cash register to assist.

I was rather pleased when he approached the cash register just as I finished up an elderly lady with a doll. I scanned his items into the computer, impressed with the number and variety of his selections. He looked young to have children, but you never can tell.

"Lots of good kids on Santa's list this year?" I inquired.

"For my nephews. My brothers have swamped me with nephews. I'm up to my eyeballs in them."

I bagged his last items. His debit card read: "James McDowell" It suited him. My eyes locked with his intense blue ones as I handed him his receipt. Feeling a bit foolish, I smiled and thanked him.


Christmas day I managed to launder every single item of clothing and piece of linen in the entire apartment. I'd also polished the furniture, cleaned out the fridge and vacuumed under the bed and couch. Feeling quite pleased with myself, I showered off the dust and sweat and got into comfy pjs. I popped in "It's a Wonderful Life," and settled down for a cozy evening.

But I found myself restless and moody, unable to concentrate. I had instructed myself that moping was not allowed, that I would just have to keep busy and plan a special treat for myself for the evening. Finally I gave up on the movie. I got dressed and decided to find an open restaurant. Seeing other people, even strangers, would be better than being at home with thoughts of Justin.

Denny's was the only place open at 9 o'clock on Christmas night. I was mulling over the menu when I was surprised by none other than James McDowell, appearing to take my order. I felt my face blossom into a smile. A friendly, familiar person, even if only a customer, was very welcome on what had been quickly becoming a dismal evening.

"How are your nephews?" I asked.

"Little savages, one and all. They are in bed, exhausted from being naughty all day long."

"Oh, you don't fool me. You love them, don't you?" Feeling suddenly mischievous, I added, "And how did your father enjoy his adult toy?"

He blushed again, but took my ribbing in a friendly way. "He likes his puzzle cube quite well, thank you."

I tucked into my pancakes, feeling much happier. But when a waitress brought me my check, I was disappointed. I had expected James to bring it to me.

"Where's James?" I asked.

"He's off at ten." It was ten past ten. Damn, I had hoped to see his blue eyes and his smile one last time.

I finished my meal and paid up. In the parking lot I jumped back in surprise as someone approached me from the side of the building. It was James. Clutching my chest, I panted "Oh my god, you scared me!" He was holding a poinsettia. Well, actually, he wasn't just holding it... he was presenting it to me.

"I hope you don't mind... I thought you might like... It's not nice being alone on Christmas," came tumbling out. He steadied himself, slowed down and said, "Would you like to have a drink? At Molly's?"

I thought of my clean, empty apartment. I didn't want to go back there. Going off with a strange man? Well, but a bar was safe, a public place.

"Sure." I smiled into those deep blue eyes.


At Molly's, we settled into creaking leather chairs at a table lit by a green shaded reading lamp. It was warm and cozy, quite the Irish pub. The walls were covered with photos of famous Irishmen and famous Irish pubs. The long wooden bar gleamed darkly, with the traditional mirror and range of bottles behind. There was a convivial crowd; we were lucky to get a table.

I asked James to order me a Bohemia.

"That's utter blasphemy! I can't let you drink Mexican beer in an Irish bar!"

"You're Irish?" I asked James.

"Not me... I'm Scottish. But you must respect your hosts. I'll tell you what, try a Harp and if you don't like it, we'll get you a Bohemia."

Our pints came and the Harp lager wasn't bad at all.

"Made the mistake of asking for a glass of beer in Scotland... that gets you an Imperial pint of beer, which is quite a bit larger. Being manly, of course I had to finish it."

This reference to Scotland brought about a wealth of amusing stories about his stay in Scotland with his family, including a comical description of trying to wear a kilt properly. ("The shoes alone took a half hour to lace, god help us.") He kept me laughing until the bartender announced last call.

"I'll walk you to your car," he insisted. I was glad. I'd had to park several blocks away in the middle of downtown. Lucky for me he was a true gentleman and stayed on the pavement long enough for me to start the car and pull away, because I couldn't start the car. It wouldn't even turn over. His jumper cables didn't work either. By the time we determined that, it was 2:30 am and bitterly cold.

"I'll call a cab."

I got out my cell phone, but James stopped me. It didn't take much convincing to get me to accept a ride. We set off in his 20 year old Subaru. Our easy conversation continued the few miles to my apartment. I turned to thank him for the poinsettia, the drinks, the company, and met those bright blue eyes.

"You've saved me a lot of money, Karen," James said confidentially.

"How's that? You wiped us out yesterday, buying up the store for your nephews."

"If you hadn't come into the restaurant on Christmas night, I would have been reduced to buying toy after toy just to get a glimpse of you... and work my way up to asking you out."

"Hey, I'm easy... just poke me in the ass and ask for the adult toys. That'll win my heart every time."

I couldn't see him blushing but I knew he was. I relented. "James, I'm very glad we met up again, I had a good time." I turned to face him more directly. "The poinsettia was sweet." I had it in my lap, the top leaves were tickling my chin.

"Can I call you?" he asked. "Maybe we could do it again?"

I gave him my number, and then impulsively gave his cheek a quick kiss.

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