“Hey, look where you’re going.”
“I’m so sorry. Here, let me help you.”
“I can get this stuff myself.”
I bent down, wanting to help him pick up his groceries, now scattered all over the sidewalk. I noticed he ate healthy. Not a snack food anywhere.
“I told you, I’m fine.”
Reluctantly, I got up, upending my own tote bag in the process and dumping its contents next to his produce.
“What’s that thing?” He pointed to the red lumpish doll lying next to his mangoes.
I felt my face redden as I gently scooped him up. “Oh, him. That’s…Santa.”
“Huh. He’s weird. Did you make him?”
Our attentions were now rivetted on a misshapen, wizened up Santa, with his beat-up red suit darkened with age, the once pristine snowy beard now gray and tattered, and his clay face cracked.
“I believed in Santa Claus when I was young, but I think if I’d seen this guy, I don’t think I would have. This Santa could give kids nightmares.”
“I know. But he has a sentimental value to me.”
“He’d have to for you to keep him. Unless you’re weird too. I mean, obviously you have eyesight issues, but…”
“I do not have eyesight issues. My vision is perfect.”
“So how come you bumped into me?”
“I was preoccupied.” I felt my eyes tear up but I didn’t want this total stranger to see me cry. Why, I’ve no idea. I’ll never see him again. Too bad. He was very cute.
“Hey, I’m sorry. I didn’t want to make you cry. I think I have tissues somewhere. There they are, down by your right foot.”
I looked down and sure enough. A box of boutique tissues. I picked up the box, handing it to him.
“By the way, I’m Jessica.” I held out my hand.
He took it and held on a bit. His deep blue eyes seemed to be searching mine. “I’m Ben. So, was it Santa that brought tears to your eyes?”
“No. I just broke up with my boyfriend, well…more than a boyfriend. We were planning on getting married. At least I thought we were. I moved out a month ago, but left some stuff. My Santa was in our Christmas box. Ted called me to come over and get it or he was going to toss it. As much as I didn’t want to go back, I didn’t want Santa thrown out.” I stopped. My throat felt like it was closing up. I swallowed.
“So, this Santa means a lot to you, huh?”
“Yeah. When I was five, my dad built a fake fireplace so Santa would have a chimney to come down. Mom made me a Santa doll and dad used clay to make the head, then he painted it and Mom put on the beard and made a cap. It would break my heart to lose him. It would be like losing a part of my family.”
“He’s still creepy looking.”
“I know. As a matter of fact, I call him Creepy Santa.”
I looked down at his groceries he was now putting back in his tote bags. “Your wife must cook really healthy. There’s not an unhealthy snack food here.”
He laughed. “My wife doesn’t cook anything because she doesn’t exist. I figure if I’m going to be single, I better eat well or I’ll turn into my chubby friends who scarf up cheese doodles like they were a basic food group. I’m more likely to eat an apple or a bunch of grapes.”
“Do you live around here?” he asked.
“Just around the corner. I sometimes pretend I’m in France so I try to get my produce and bread every day, if I can. And I like to walk.”
He looked at me in a strange way. “Funny. I’m a real Francophile myself, especially when it comes to cooking. The problem is that French cooking is wasted on one person.”
“You’re right.” I agreed.
‘I know this may seem strange, but would you like to have dinner with me?”
“How about lunch first.”
“Lunch it is then. Ever been to Café Normandie?”
“No, but I’ve wanted to for some time. A bit too pricy but it’s on my bucket list.”
“Looks like you’re going to be crossing one item off that list. But now I need to grab those oranges under that car.”
“Can I help?”
“Sure,” he said as he smiled.