Unmerry Christmas, Part One
Karmen watched the clock incessantly. She had finished up her holiday cookie orders. She didn’t usually take bulk orders at the coffee shop, but so many friends, friends of friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors offered to pay her to bake their holiday cookies, she figured it was worth taking orders during November and December.
It was Saturday, the day before Christmas Eve, or as Karmen called it, Christmas Eve Eve. She had closed the coffee shop, but she would be a fool to close the bookstore on the last Christmas shopping day of the year. (She didn’t count Christmas Eve because she always reserved that as a holiday, and a day her employees deserved to spend at home with their families). The day was always a hectic day at the store, so her friends, Miranda and Carmen, Cee for short, helped.
“That’s the third time your phone has chirped, and you look disappointed when you checked it.” Miranda informed Karmen.
“Nice of you to pay such close attention,” Karmen retorted.
“Who is he?” Cee asked.
Karmen giggled, “Bold of you to assume it’s a love interest. Perhaps it’s a writing gig.”
“Did you forget we’re your best friends, and you can’t hide anything from us?” Cee asked
Karmen blushed, “Do you remember three years ago when the bookstore was robbed, and Detective Justin Spade was assigned the case?”
“How could we forget?” Miranda asked sarcastically, “You only talked about him every day.”
“Yeah, well, unlike my ex-husband, I didn’t give in to temptation.” She moved some books around on the shelf until she was happy with the aesthetics before returning her attention to her friends. She raised an eyebrow, “I can’t deny that we had chemistry, though.”
“We still do,” she winked. “I guess you could say we’re dating. I mean, we’re not exclusive, but we’ve been on dates.”
“So, how many dates, exactly?” Miranda asked, “And why am I only just now hearing about this?”
Karmen lowered her head as if she were a child whose mother had just scolded her, “I was kind of embarrassed because it’s only been seven months since the divorce, but I really like him.” She began to grow giddy as she spoke about him. “We’ve been out three times, but we talk almost daily.”
“I’ve been noticing these little connections. It’s hard to explain, but the more I get to know Justin, the more I notice these things that make it seem like everything that has ever happened in my life has led me to him.”
“Aww,” Miranda and Cee replied in unison.
“And he makes me laugh,” Karmen gushed. “He’s so funny.” Karmen’s smile lit up her face before it fell. “The high crime rates have been keeping us from spending time together, though.”
Meanwhile, Justin had just walked into his office when the offer manager came rushing at him.
“But it’s Saturday,” Justin whined before the office manager, Anna, had the chance to speak.
“I’m sorry,” Anna apologized sincerely, but Mrs. Waverly is back.
Justin removed his square black-rimmed glasses and ran a frustrated hand down his face. “Send her in.”
“Here to report another robbery, Mrs. Waverly?” Justin asked, his voice laced with sarcasm.
Mrs. Waverly smiled, “Jessica is coming into town for Christmas. I thought you might want to know.”
“Mrs. Waverly, if you’re not here to report a crime, I’m going to need you to leave. I’m a very busy man.”
“I have reason to believe that Karmen is stealing my Christmas decorations, Justin.”
He rolled his eyes, “Oh?” Justin raised his eyebrows, “Well, unless your Christmas decorations include bloody snowmen and Santa’s evil counterpart, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”
“I should have known you’d take her side,” Mrs. Waverly huffed, “What is your relationship with her anyway?”
“My relationship with Karmen is none of your business, Mrs. Waverly,” Justin had enough of her antics, “I think you’ve wasted enough of my time,” he held the door open for her.
“Did you forget that I’m your mother-in-law?”
“Ex mother-in-law,” Justin corrected her. “Your daughter walked out on me a long time ago. Did you forget?”
“The Security camera showed someone sneaking around the building two nights ago, and the figure looks just like Karmen.”
“It wasn’t Karmen,” Justin stated matter-of-factly.
“How do you know?”
“Cause I was with her two nights ago,” he replied with a smug smirk on his face.
The shopping rush had ended, so Karmen sent her employees home. Miranda and Cee stayed behind to help her close the store.
Karmen had just finished placing the cookies in the large, rectangular tin when Justin walked into Fictional Grounds.
He saw Miranda and Cee and worried that Karmen had already left for the day.
Hi Detective Spade,” Miranda greeted him, reading his expression. She answered his unspoken question, “Karmen is in the back. I’ll let her know you’re here.”
Justin put up his hand to stop her, “No, let her finish what she’s doing. I can wait.” “And please, call me Justin.”
“Any plans for the holiday?” Cee asked him.
“Not really,” he replied, “I usually spend the holiday by myself, but I don’t mind it. I can lie around watching movies in my sweatpants, and I get the entire tray of lasagna to myself.”
Miranda smiled, “You sound like my stubborn friend who won’t come spend Christmas with me!” She shouted.
Karmen walked out of the coffee shop to the adjoining bookstore, holding a beautifully decorated tin of Christmas cookies. “I can lie around watching movies in my thigh-high socks, and no one is around to judge me when I only take one slice of ham and stuff myself on homemade stuffing and cheesy potatoes,” she said as she made her way over to stand next to Justin.
“Just the man I wanted to see,” she looked up at him.
“That’s not something I hear often,” he brushed a strand of her hair behind her ear.
She smiled at him, “I baked these for you.”
Justin flashed her a million-dollar smile as he took the tin from her.
“It doesn’t break my heart that you’re spending Christmas alone,” she paused as she straightened the evergreen and pinecone secured on top of the tin with a black and white buffalo plaid ribbon, “Because I know you’ll make the most out of any situation. But it did break my heart when you informed me it had been years since anyone made you homemade Christmas cookies.”
“You even made it look pretty,” he smiled as he read the tag she had attached.
“She always adds those little extra touches,” Miranda commented.
“Wait till you taste her cookies,” Cee chimed in, “She’s going to impress the pants off you.”
Karmen almost lost her balance as she made her way behind the checkout counter to empty the cash register.
Miranda turned her head and buried her mouth in her shoulder so she wouldn’t burst out in laughter.
Cee and Justin both turned fifty shades of red.
“Leave it to Cee to make a situation awkward,” Karmen chuckled to lighten the mood.
“Thanks,” Cee responded, covering her face with her hands.
“Aww,” Karmen said through chuckles as she gave her friend a side hug, “You’re adorable.” She kissed her cheek and resumed her spot at the cash register.
“You’ve been eating raspberries,” Justin observed as he made his way over to Karmen.
Karmen still wasn’t used to his deduction skills, so she simply nodded in the affirmative.
Being the great detective he is, Justin deduced that he had baffled her. He chuckled slightly at her reaction because he found it adorable.
Justin strode next to her, placing the tin of cookies on the checkout counter.
Karmen swallowed thickly at his proximity. He smelled like spice, and his scent was masculine and sexy. It made her head spin.
He gently placed his forefinger under her chin and swiped the corner of her mouth with his thumb.
Goosebumps formed on her skin from his touch, and heat spread through her core.
Justin made a mental note of every reaction she offered.
Miranda and Cee were unable to look away. They were happy for their friend and slightly jealous of the chemistry between her and the handsome detective.
“You had a seed,” he spoke lowly, dropping his deep voice an octave. Karmen found it incredibly sexy.
He showed her the raspberry seed on his thumb before he flicked it in the trash can underneath the checkout counter.
Karmen blushed and touched the corner of her mouth where his thumb had brushed. She turned quickly and smiled widely at Cee.
Cee gave her the thumbs up to let her know no raspberry seeds were stuck in her teeth.
Karmen spun back around to face Justin and flashed him a smile as she brushed a strand of hair behind her ear. “I had just popped a few in my mouth before you walked in.”
The pair locked eyes for a few moments before Justin realized how much time had passed.
Feeling awkward, he cleared his throat, rubbed the back of his neck, and took a step backward.
Once again, Karmen brushed a strand of hair behind her ear as she turned her attention back to the cash register.
“What are you doing tonight?” Justin finally broke the silence.
“Having dinner with you?” She answered his question with her own.
Justin chuckled, “I like that answer.”
“Look,” he sighed, “I know we agreed there is nothing wrong with spending Christmas alone, and I know you’re not feelin’ the Christmas spirit,” he looked down at his feet.
Miranda and Cee moved to the back of the room and pretended to busy themselves to give Justin and Karmen some privacy.
“But why don’t we spend it together?” He suggested. “I mean, we were planning on spending it alone anyway, and I certainly wouldn’t mind spending Christmas with you.”
Karmen went to speak, but Justin kept talking. He seemed nervous.
“We don’t have to celebrate Christmas,” he informed her. “Obviously, it’s too late for presents, and we can make our own rules.”
“We can have an unmerry Christmas,” her eyes lit up as she spoke, and at that moment, Justin knew he would do anything to make her happy.
“If Alice can have an unmerry birthday, we can have an unmerry Christmas,” Karmen continued.
“So, is that a yes?”
Karmen tapped her pointer finger against her cheek and gazed off in the distance, pretending to think it over and torturing Justin for a few seconds.
“Yeah, why not?” She finally answered. “I wouldn’t mind spending Christmas with you, either.”
You might as well spend the weekend with me,” he suggested, hopefully. “You can stay in my guest room,” he held his hands up defensively while wearing a mischievous grin.
Karmen sauntered over to him, invading his personal space. She grabbed his necktie and pulled him down, so his ear was next to her mouth.
She spoke in a soft and seductive whisper, “You and I both know if I spend the weekend with you, I’m not sleeping in your guest room.”
Justin shivered slightly at the feel of her breath on his ear. If he had known her reaction would be so fun, he would have tried to seduce her sooner.
He straightened his posture as Karmen released her grip on his tie, and he ran his palm down to smooth it. “That’s what I was hoping you’d say.” He flashed her a sly smile.
Karmen returned his sly smile with a seductive one. “What time do you get off?”
“I suppose that depends on you.”
Karmen laughed and swatted his arm playfully. “You know I meant work, smartass.”
He chuckled lowly, setting all of her synapses on fire.
“Assuming all I have to finish is some paperwork, and I don’t get called to investigate any crimes, around 5:00.”
“So, I’ll come over around 6:00?”
“That’s perfect,” he concurred. “I was just going to pick up a pizza on the way home. Is that okay?”
“Pepperoni and mushroom?” She asked.
“How are you so perfect?”
“Hardly,” she chuckled.
“Since we’re going to just be hanging out at home, I want you to make yourself comfortable by wearing your go-to lounge outfit,” he raised an eyebrow at her.
“The thigh-highs?” She arched an eyebrow back at him.
He nodded emphatically.
“As long as you wear the sweatpants,” she replied.
He chuckled, “Gray?”
She nodded emphatically.
This earned Karmen a genuine laugh from him, and this pleased her.
“Deal,” he offered his hand for her to shake.
“It was nice seeing you ladies again,” he shouted to Miranda and Cee as he picked up his cookie tin and turned to leave.
“Merry Christmas!`” Cee and Miranda shouted in unison as they made their way back over to the checkout counter.
As soon as he was out of eyesight and earshot, the ladies broke out into a fit of giggles. Suddenly, it was 2003 again, and Karmen was about to lose her virginity, or at least, that’s how it felt.
“He’s a tall drink of water,” Cee commented.
“Yes, he is,” Karmen agreed, “And I’m incredibly thirsty.” She winked and giggled. “Merry friggin’ Christmas!”
To be continued…