Zara let out a sigh of relief when they stepped inside the store and the door closed behind them, shutting out the cool breeze that had begun to blow along with the light drizzle of rain. With less than a month till Christmas arrived, Susan had already begun with the shopping of gifts for everyone.
After depositing their jackets at the counter, they made their way into the store.
“What are you buying for Nathaniel?“, Susan chirped brightly, looking all around the place, her eyes shining with excitement. It was hard for Zara not to be caught up in her festive spirit. She laughed at her and then shrugged.
“I honestly have no idea. I’m considering asking him what he’d like to have.”
Susan stopped in her tracks and made a face at her. “What the heck is wrong with you?”
Zara raised her eyebrows at the incredulous look on her face. “What? Won’t it be better than me just buying something that he doesn’t want and then he returning it?”
Susan shook her head and turned her back to Zara. “You are not doing that.”
Hurrying to catch up with her, Zara prodded, “What should I do then? I’m not really sure I absolutely know all his choices or favorites.” Susan grabbed her arm and pulled her along. “You think. You think about all the times you’ve been with him and if you remember the stuff he prefers. Like maybe a favorite character from a movie or something. What does he wear? What type of jeans does he like? What kind of a belt would he prefer? Stuff like that.”
Zara threw her head back with a groan, “And they say girls are complicated.”
Susan laughed, putting her arm around Zara’s neck. “We are. Now come on, let’s get some awe-fucking-some gifts.”
For Matt, Susan purchased a Batman themed fidget spinner along with a leather jacket that he had been admiring one time they had gone shopping together. While she went about purchasing gardening tools for her dad and a sweater for her mom, Zara left her to it and began walking down the aisles hoping something would catch her eye that would be appropriate for Nathaniel. Something that he’d love. This was their first Christmas together after all and she wanted it to be special.
Their relationship was new and she was aware that it wasn’t all that strong. Yet. It was too fragile and their level of trust in each other had to build more. Given what had happened with Danielle, even thought Zara had moved past it, she still couldn’t bring herself to open up to Nathaniel completely. And if she was correct, it bothered him. She had noticed it a few times now. When they had gone to her mom’s place for Thanksgiving, Nathaniel hadn’t questioned her about her dad. And she had found it a bit odd at first but had dismissed it thinking that maybe he was trying to give her space and not pry into her life too much. But every day, when he held her, when he kissed her, it felt a bit like he was holding back. Like he was scared of pushing her into something she didn’t want. Like he was unsure.
She knew that she was partly the reason for it. Aside from physical affection, she doubted she was very forthcoming, emotionally. She was just too scared of being hurt. In some corner of her brain, she still expected him to wake up some day and realize that she wasn’t what he wanted or desired.
Zara sighed and ran her fingers along the line of shirts displayed on the stand in the men’s clothing department. She remembered the day she saw Nathaniel in the classroom wearing a Captain America tshirt. Maybe he liked Marvel characters a lot? She paused and picked out a V-necked sky blue tshirt that she thought might look good on him. It was simple yet when she pictured it on Nathaniel she knew it would look really good given his lean physique.
What did she know about him really? She didn’t know his favorite color. Or his favorite food. Nothing other than the basics of his family. They’d been on just one official date till now. And while they had had dinner and gone back to the apartment, they hadn’t really talked a lot.
They had made out. A lot.
Well, more than that. The memory made a wave of heat pass through her and her lower abdomen pulsed. She would never forget the feel of his hands on her. The words he had said to her right before. He had been so...intense.. but vulnerable at the same time.
She placed the shirt back, deciding to browse a bit more. She could buy him a wallet. Or a tie. She looked around in the leather belt section for a while but couldn’t pick out a good one.
She was running out of ideas when it struck her. She could buy him his favorite cologne! It was a useful gift, right? She just had to ask Matt. He’d know the one Nathaniel used.
Since that was settled, she turned around and went in search of Susan. She found her at the entrance of the lingerie department.
“Hey, I know what to give Nathaniel. His favorite cologne.”
Susan pursed her lips. “Cologne is good.”
Zara smiled, “See, I’m not that bad a girlfriend.”
Susan laughed softly before her grin turned mischievous. “Oh you’ll be the best girlfriend once we’re done here.” Grabbing her hand, she pulled Zara into the lingerie section.
“We’re going to get us some really sexy stuff.“, she whispered. “And when the guys see us in these, it will be better than any Christmas gift.”
Zara laughed, already running her hands over the variety of lace pieces that had been placed on display on the shelves and tables. There were so many different styles in every color of the rainbow and in black. She picked up one that was in a shade of lavender. It was a set of a bra and sheer panties. Her cheeks already felt hot just imagining Nathaniel seeing her in them. The straps of the bra would be wound around her neck and it had a butterfly printed in a darker shade of lavender at the edge of one cup. She decided to try it.
Susan had picked up a few of her choices in bright colors. She looked over at Zara and grinned, holding them up to show them to her. “What do you think?”
Zara looked at the piece and then at Susan. “I think Matt’s going to have a tough time keeping his hands off you knowing that you’re wearing these underneath your clothes.”
Susan giggled. “That’s exactly what I want. Show me what you’ve picked up.”
Zara held out her find to her. “I liked this one. Look at the butterfly over here.” She pointed it out.
Susan’s mouth formed an O as she took the piece from her hands. “This is so pretty! It will look perfect on you!”
Zara eyed her skeptically, “You think?”
Susan only rolled her eyes and pushed her toward the trial room. “I know. Go on, try it.”
The rest of the hour flew by. They were a giggling mess by the time they were done, imagining endless scenarios they’d get into with the guys.
Zara had picked up the lavender set along with a few other good ones that made her feel really pretty. Sexy even. And very sensual. The way the fabric hugged her curves and highlighted her assets- she hoped Nathaniel liked it too.
They left the store with more than a handful of bags. But before they could hail a cab, Zara sighted one last stop that had to be made.
The ice cream parlor.
Grabbing Susan’s hand, they made their way across the street, barely managing to keep the bags from spilling over the floor. This stop was important. Before leaving the apartment, Zara had made Amy a promise that she’d get her her favorite chocolate and hazelnut flavored ice cream as a treat for staying away from her for almost the entire day.
They entered the store and Susan took all the bags over to a table while Zara went ahead to purchase a pack of the ice cream.
When she reached the counter, she smiled at the teenage boy behind it. “The biggest pack of chocolate and hazelnut, please.”
He nodded and went in to get it.
Zara looked around the place, noting that it wasn’t really crowded that day because it had been raining for the past few hours. She was looking through the window when she caught sight of the vehicle parked right outside the store.
It was unusual because it stood right before the steps that led to the door of the parlor. She hadn’t seen it when they had come in. As she looked on, she saw the tinted window roll down and then she froze.
The man who appeared in the window was staring right at her.
Sure that she was imagining it, Zara looked away. The next moment the teenage boy appeared and handed over her order. A bit flustered now, Zara paid him the money and took the bill that he gave her. When she turned back to the door, her pulse quickened. He was still staring at her!
Frozen in place, Zara felt the hair on the back of her neck stand and her skin broke out in goosebumps. Was that... hatred that she saw on his face?
He looked average. Blond and stocky- by the build of his arms.
She gave an involuntary shiver and turned around, breaking the eye contact. She made her way to where Susan was seated, talking to Matt over the phone, and took a deep breath.
When they had picked up the bags and had begun toward the door, Zara looked up again.
The van was gone.
But the chill that had settled at the base of her spine remained.