At Jess’s exclamation, Henry looked up from the box he had sitting on the end of his bed, and over to where she was standing in front of his closet. She’d just pulled a shoebox down off the shelf in his closet and popped the lid.
It’d only been a couple of days since the two of them had decided to become roomies, and they were already putting in time at his place, packing up his stuff.
The two of them were wasting no time in taking the first steps towards moving in together. In the last couple of days, he’d already given his super thirty days notice, she’d spoken with her building manager, who’d given her a tenancy agreement for him to sign, and they’d told their circle of friends and family that they were moving in together.
Like the good friends they were, Josh, Laura and Greg had offered to help them move, and he and Jess had taken them up on that offer.
They’d marked off the third Saturday in November as moving day, and though that day was only a few short weeks away, to Henry it seemed a long way off. He was so pumped, the wait felt interminable. He felt like he had when he’d been a kid waiting for Christmas; full of energy and anticipation.
“Look at you.” Jess half crooned, and reached into the shoebox she was holding and pulled out a photo.
Curious what picture she was ‘awwing’ over, Henry left the box he’d been packing and started across the room towards to her. Jess smiled over at him when he reached her side, as he peeked over her shoulder at the photo she held between her fingers.
The picture was of him when he was five, maybe six, years old. A blue baseball hat, a little too big for his head, shielded his eyes from the sun. He was wearing a red T-shirt with a blue truck on the front of it, and dark blue shorts. There was a gap, front and center, in his wide smile where he’d lost a tooth.
Looking on the picture, wispy recollections of the day it had been taken started to come to Henry, vague memories of a fun day at the park.
Something else that came to him as he gazed at his child self was the fact that, at the time this picture had been taken, he wouldn’t have known Josh and Jess yet. That there’d been a time he hadn’t known them, struck him as strange and unreal. Having known them so long, it felt like he’d always known them.
Jess dropped the picture of him back in the box and picked up another, and Henry was struck with an even stronger dose of strangeness.
The picture Jess held now was another of him. In it, he looked to be the same age, was in a blue T-shirt with cartoon characters on it and black shorts. But, unlike the first picture, in this picture he wasn’t alone. He was with his parents... his obviously still happily married parents.
Seeing the three of them together, smiling, the happy family they’d used to be, wasn’t just strange for Henry - it was jarring. He suddenly felt off balance. That moment, captured on camera, felt like it was from a whole other lifetime.
Grief squeezed his heart.
Having lived through his parent’s tumultuous divorce, it pained him to see a snapshot of this happy family that was no longer his, his mom and dad smiling, arms around each other’s waists, their free hands on his little shoulders.
It was one thing to have the dulled memories he had of that happy time, it was another to look on physical proof of it. This photo was a clear reminder, hard evidence, that something good... could turn very bad, and seeing it unsettled him.
He hadn’t looked at these pictures in ages. He very rarely let himself remember the time before his mom and dad had split. He’d willed what memories he had of that part of his childhood to fade. They’d been tainted after their divorce... the pain of their family breaking up throwing a dark shadow back over the happiness they’d had.
But now, here he was, remembering... and suffering a blow to his peace of mind.
Jess put the picture back and placed the lid on the shoebox. Henry blinked, coming back to the present, quickly schooled his features, erasing the frown from his face, not wanting her to see how the photo had affected him.
“We’ll have to go through these later.” she suggested as she went over to the moving box she had on the floor by the closet and placed the shoebox in it.
He smiled and agreed absently, showing the barest token of interest, and crossed the room back to the box he’d been packing. As he and Jess continued packing, he tried to talk himself back to the good mood he’d been in before she’d come across those photos. Unfortunately, he couldn’t manage it. Being confronted with the past sent his mind tripping over unpleasant, familiar thoughts, and he was unable to divert them.
Doubts that had plagued him for years - but hadn’t bothered him since he and Jess got together - resurfaced. The respite he’d had from them was over. The fear mongering voice that had messed with him for years, was back, and quickly setting to work to undermine the decision he’d made to take a chance on him and Jess.
He tried to ignore that voice, hoped it would go away... but, it didn’t. It stuck with him the rest of the evening, and when he woke up the next morning, it was still there, muddying up his mind.
He kept hoping it would go away but, as moving day got closer, it only got louder.
It was a relief to him that he managed to hide that something was bothering him from Jess. Outwardly he smiled along with her as they packed and planned and went about their regular day to day lives - while privately, he nursed a bad case of cold feet about moving in together.
By the time moving day arrived, his feet were like ice.
For being so late in November, the weather really wasn’t too bad. It was chilly - but not uncomfortably cold, overcast - but with only thirty percent chance of precipitation. Normally they’d have a couple of inches of snow by this time of the year, but they had yet to get any this season.
Laura and Greg showed up at Henry’s place shortly after nine, and the two of them, along with Henry and Jess stacked some boxes and items in the elevator that had been reserved for their use today. That done, they had nothing to do but hang out in his living room and wait for Josh to arrive with their trailer from work.
They didn’t have to wait long - after only a few minutes a text chime sounded, indicating one of them had received a message. They all pulled their phones out, checked their screens. It was Henry that had gotten a text.
I’m here with the trailer.
“Josh is here.” he announced and texted a message back to his friend.
We’ll be right down.
He got back a thumbs up emoji.
“Alright.” he said, returning his phone to his jeans back pocket, and looking up at the others. “Let’s get this show on the road.”
The four of them headed to the front hall, put on their coats and shoes and headed out of the apartment and to the elevator. They got on, squeezing in among the boxes and items they’d already filled it with and rode it down to the lobby where the doors opened, revealing Josh lingering a few feet away. He turned when he heard the ding of their arrival.
“Hey, guys.” he smiled, receiving greetings in return. “Is this stuff going to your place, or storage?” he asked, taking a box Jess handed off to him.
Henry had rented a storage space for the things that weren’t going over to Jess’s. Things that weren’t going because they weren’t needed... like his dishes, most of his furniture and a few appliances. One thing that was coming over was his TV. His TV was bigger than Jess’s, so hers was getting the boot into the bedroom and his was going in the living room.
“Storage.” Jess replied, taking another box and heading off the elevator with it and towards the lobby exit.
Carrying a box marked, ‘bedroom’, Henry was last off the elevator, but he could hear Jess up ahead telling Josh that they’d take everything going over to storage first, then they’d take the rest to her place.
Outside, Henry saw his friend had already opened the back of the trailer, and lowered the ramp, so they were able to walk right up and into the compartment and set down their boxes. Retracing their steps, they went back inside, got more boxes and lugged them into the trailer as well.
Once the elevator was empty, they took it back up to his floor.
On the ride up, Henry felt Jess’s eyes on him. Bracing himself to meet her gaze, he looked over at her. She shot a smile at him, and he smiled back. It was a small interaction, but it made him wince inwardly, the exchange feeling strained to him.
Everything between him and Jess the last month had felt strained to him. He was just glad she hadn’t picked up on his struggle.
He wished he could shake off his anxiety once and for all. He wished he could trust himself, could trust in him and Jess and that they’d have a bright future, but his doubts were like acid, eating away at him.
The elevator reached his floor, the doors opened and the five of them filed out and down the hallway to his apartment.
Back and forth the lot of them went, between his apartment and the elevator, moving boxes from the former to the latter, until they couldn’t fit any more in the six foot by six foot space and another trip down to unload into the trailer was made.
The physical task, and being with his friends, gradually distracted Henry as the day went on, pulling him out of his head and the anxiety that had reclaimed his mind.
It was a nice break... while it lasted.
“Anyone want the last piece of pepperoni?” Jess asked, lifting the lid on the pizza box marked with ‘pep’ in black marker for pepperoni.
She and the others had finished bringing the last of Henry’s things upstairs an hour ago, and the five of them had ordered in a couple of pizzas and were now kicking back in her living room.
“All yours.” Laura replied in answer to her question, while the guys just shook their head, passing on the slice.
Jess claimed the pizza, and sat back. Beside her, Laura reached forward, grabbed her drink off the coffee table. The two of them were sitting next to each other on the sofa, Henry beside them, while Greg and Josh were parked on chairs they’d pulled over from her dining table.
One of the guys had turned on the TV when they’d sat down and found a hockey game and left it on that channel muted. Jess wasn’t really paying attention to it because she didn’t care about either team playing.
“What do you and Greg have going on tomorrow?” she asked Laura between bites.
“Nothing.” her friend replied. “Was thinking about doing some Christmas shopping. I’m almost done, just need to get something for my dad. He’s so tough to buy for.”
“So’s this one.” Jess gestured at Henry. He didn’t notice because just then the guys erupted with protests, griping at the screen over a ref’s incompetence.
Laura and Jess chuckled at their boys.
“Let’s you and me go shopping together, then.” Laura suggested.
“Alright.” Jess readily agreed. “Maybe you can help me with gift ideas for Henry.”
Henry apparently tuned into their conversation because he weighed in on the subject of his gift.
“I told you, Jess, just get me a gift card. Amazon. Visa. That sports store in the mall.”
She’d rather not go the gift card route, but if she didn’t find anything for Henry, she’d have to.
There was one gift idea she had for him, but she wasn’t sure if it was a good one. She shared that idea with Laura the next day when they got to the mall.
The two of them entered near the food court, headed straight for the smoothie place. When shopping, they liked to take care of first things first - and the first thing they always did when shopping was get sustenance.
After sipping some of her pina colada smoothie, Jess mentioned her gift idea.
“I was thinking,” she began, as she and Laura walked towards the line of stores. “... something I could get for Henry is a couple of nice photo albums. When we were packing up his place, I saw that he had all his photos just loose in shoeboxes.”
She thought photo albums were a good idea, they were something he obviously needed, but she didn’t want the practical gift to be the only thing she gave him. She wanted to get him something else, something that was either fun or meaningful.
“That sounds like a good idea.” Laura replied. “We can check out that camera store up ahead.” she pointed towards the store across the way on the left side of the hall, a couple of stores up.
“What else could I get him, though?” Jess asked as they redirected their steps, heading left and navigating around other shoppers to get where they wanted to go. “What’d you get for Greg?”
Laura took a sip of her smoothie before replying.
“Greg likes to read, especially sports biographies.” she said. “I got him a couple of books that recently came out on players he likes. And I got him some of the cologne he likes. And a couple of kitchen utensils he’s been talking about getting.”
Jess thought those were all great gifts, but not helpful in her search for something for Henry.
She and Laura reached the camera store and perused the photo albums they had. There weren’t that many to choose from but Jess found a really nice one. It was dark blue with silver trimmings and held 250 pictures. She bought two of them.
Laura led the way back out of the store and the two of them meandered by the next few stores, until they came upon another they wanted to check out. Neither of them saw anything that caught their eye in there, and they moved on.
The two of them finished their smoothies as they strolled through the mall, as they hemmed and hawed over possible purchases. Almost two hours went by, and neither of them bought anything.
At one of the last stores they went into, though, Laura saw a dark green sweater she thought her dad would like.
“I can see my dad wearing this.”
Jess agreed. It was a very nice sweater and definitely looked like something Laura’s dad would wear.
Laura went through the rack, found the right size and took it over for the cashier to ring up. After a quick tap of her VISA card over the payment machine, the cashier handed over the bag she’d slipped the sweater and receipt into.
“Now, we just gotta find something for Henry.” Laura remarked as they left the store.
“Mmm.” Jess hummed. “I think I’m just going to get him one of the gift cards he asked for.”
After going through the mall, and with only a few weeks left before Christmas, she didn’t have much faith she’d come up with a gift idea for him. She’d keep looking but she was going to go ahead and get a gift card now. If she found a special gift for Henry... bonus. If she didn’t... she’d have the gift card.
Jess smiled to herself, thinking ahead to Christmas, and New Year’s.
The holidays were going to be special this year, no matter what she and Henry bought for one another. They were celebrating the season together as a couple for the first time.
That put the magic in the season for her this year.