I sit next to Ainsley, watching her out of the corner of my eye as the movie plays. About halfway through, I reach over and take her hand in mine. I feel her tense, but she doesn’t pull away. I wonder how she is feeling right now? She looks to be enjoying the movie but struggling to remain awake. Squeezing her hand gently, her eyes pop open and I smile at her. Moving the middle armrest, I tug her into my arms and whisper,
“I won’t be offended if you fall asleep.”
“I am so sorry, it is nice to sit where I am not constantly having to answer questions of a three-year-old,” she admits and I smile.
“I am glad you don’t have to answer questions just yet with me,” I reply, pulling her closer to me. She lays her head onto my shoulder and I keep her close. For the rest of the movie, we stay close together, not saying anything, just enjoying the movie. The movie ends and I help her up and into her coat before going back out to the car.
“I don’t remember the last time I watched a whole movie,” she tells me with a massive smile on her face. I chuckle and pull her close to kiss her temple.
“I am glad you could watch the movie. Now on to dinner where you don’t have to clean up after,” I say pulling her outside and to my car. I open her passenger door, waiting until she is settled to close the door and go around to my side. I pull out and reach over to take her hand, holding it as we drive to dinner. I picked out a place that I thought she might feel comfortable but is a step up from the basic places around our city. I pull to the valet stand and help Ainsley out. I keep her arm in mine and let her look around. I can see her taking in everything around us. The restaurant is called The Christmas Inn. They have a special two person meal based on Christmas food traditions. All servers wear elf outfits and jingle bells.
“What is this place?” she asks with a smile on her face.
“The Christmas Inn. I’ve noticed you like Christmas.” I tell her. I remember her apartment covered in holiday decorations and her Christmas tree up. She wears holiday colors regularly and sometimes Christmas sweaters.
“It is my favorite holiday. Everyone is bustling around trying to find the right gift for their special someone. I love how I can watch Callum open his gifts on Christmas morning and eat cinnamon buns. We spend our day in our pajamas watching Christmas movies, decorating cookies, and playing with his toys.” She tells me this as we follow the host to our booth.
“You are at the two turtle doves’ table. Your server will be with you momentarily.” The host hands us the menus and walks off.
“What kinds of cookies do you make for Christmas?” I ask looking over the menu deciding on the mulled wine.
“We do sugar cookies that he will be able to try to frost this year. Last year I frosted and held his hand to put sprinkles on the cookies. I like to make magic cookie bars and these dainty tea cookies. They are perfect with a cup of tea.” I can see her eyes light up and wonder if she might have a passion for baking.
“Do you enjoy baking?”
“It is a nice stress reliever. I wouldn’t want it to become a job,” she answers, closing her menu.
“What about you? What do you do for Christmas?” she asks me, giving me her full attention.
“Usually attend my mother’s Christmas party. We send gifts to each other on Christmas day. I spend it sometimes with Leo, or on my own. It is one of the few days I don’t need to work.” She frowns and pats my hand, sending shocks down my spine.
“That sounds sad. Don’t you want to see your family on Christmas?” I shrug.
“I don’t know. Christmas day in our house stopped being a family affair as soon as I went away to college.”
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?” I can see the concern in her eyes.
“One brother. What about you?”
“Youngest of three.”
“Where are they now?” I ask and she shrugs.
“Henry is in Vermont running a professional business retreat center and Luther is in Australia as a marine biologist. I didn’t have a good relationship with my mother.”
“You don’t have to tell me everything on the first date,” I tell her sensing this conversation will be a hard one to have.
“Maybe on the second,” she jokes with a wink. I laugh and nod.
“What about your dad?” I ask, and she shakes her head.
“He is married to a model living in Paris. I haven’t seen him since I was five and my parents got divorced.”
“Same dad for all three of you?” I ask and she shakes her head.
“No, each of us is from a different relationship. I have two older brothers, Henry and Luther, each of us are five years apart.”
“Wow.” She shrugs and shakes her head.
“So you are spending this Christmas on your own or with Leo?” she asks, turning the conversation back to me.
“Probably on my own. Leo has a new girlfriend and is spending it with her and her family.”
“Right, Poppy Turnsdale, the model.” I look at her in surprise.
“You know her?”
“No. She calls a lot and I send her calls to Vivianne, who then transfers them to Leo.”
“Do you take all calls into the office?” I ask, wondering what exactly her job was before coming to be my temporary secretary.
“Yes, I direct them where they need to go. I check in visitors, give them badges that will get them to where they need to go. I also keep unwanted people out,” she explains, and I nod my understanding.
“I appreciate you keeping ex-girlfriends and paparazzi out.” I reach across the table and take her hand.
“It is my job after all,” she answers and I shake my head.
“You did more than your job. I heard about how Priya caused a scene and you took the brunt of her attack.”
“Again, doing my job.”
“Either way, I appreciate your help.” I pick her hand up and kiss her knuckles. She blushes and takes her hand away.
“So tell me what types of things you like to do,” I say, turning the topic to be about her.
“I read after Callum goes down for bed. I bake, take Callum to the park when the weather is nice. I work at Young and Long’s on the weekend.”
“That last one, do you like that?” I ask and she nods her head back and forth.
“I like the people I work with, but I wish I could spend more time with Callum. He hates sitting at the restaurant while I have to work. After work, I usually take him to the park when the weather is warm enough for him to play.”
“Is he an active child?” I know nothing about kids other than what I’ve seen on television and what I remember from growing up.
“He is a normal three-year-old boy. Obsessed with dinosaurs, construction equipment, and running around like a crazy person.” I see the love for her son in her eyes.
“I know nothing about kids.”
“Be kind to them and be honest. You’d be surprised how perceptive they are.” I laugh and ask,
“Did he catch you in a lie?”
“The other day, we were talking about Santa and then Vivianne asked me if I had Callum’s gifts, thinking he wasn’t around. He asked me why I was getting him a gift. I had to quick tell him I wanted to get him a gift too.” I laugh and look up to see our server finally coming to us.
“So sorry for the wait. We are very busy tonight.” She looks flustered and pulls out her pad to write our order.
“Ainsley,” I say, motioning for her to go first.
“I’ll get a diet coke and do you want an appetizer?” she asks me and I nod.
“Can we get the cranberry brie bites?” she asks, looking at me first.
“Sounds good to me. We will get those and I’d like the mulled wine.” The server nods and hurries off, jingling as she goes.
“Do you mind sharing the meal for two?” I ask opening my menu and point it out to her. She looks it over and nods.
“Sounds delicious.” I smile and we go back to talking about Callum and eventually, our conversation turns to Percy.
“Do you think he might be embezzling?” she asks me, sipping her soda.
“I don’t want to think the worst of him, but after learning that people are not getting their first raise worries me. On Monday, I would like your help to go through the information I take from Percy’s computer. Your background in human resources should help me navigate some information,” I say, and she nods.
“I’ll help where I can. The last job I worked on the payroll part, not actually anything with the money, just the step increases and leave balances.”
“I’ll check on Monday to see if there are any positions like that in HR. I think you should be using your degree,” I say, thinking about what I can do to help make her life easier.
Let me know what you think!