Winter Of Love

Entry by: Tauren

25th November 2016
The bell over the door jingled merrily as Sean closed the jewellery shop door, it was a small store which was why he`d chosen it, the larger stores on Patrick street had looked crowded, and as it was his first foray into the terrifying world of gift buying he thought smaller might be better.
Stamping the sludge from his boots, he unwound the scarf from around his neck, grateful for the shops stifling heat. The blonde woman in the white blouse, her hair neatly tied up in a bun, was handing a receipt to a customer when she glanced his way, “I`ll be with you in a moment sir,” she said to him. Sean felt a swell of pride, “Sir” she`d called him sir.

The woman thanked the man she`d been serving and smiled at him, her head cocked slightly to one side, “And what can I do for you today?” she asked.

Conscious of his age and more than a little flustered Sean scanned the glass cases, spied the gold rings and headed for them, “I was looking for a….a ring for my.. um girlfriend,” he said, studying the array of yellow rings that glowed under the perfectly placed spotlights.

“Ah gold,” the woman said, “Always an excellent choice, did you have anything particular in mind?” she asked, producing a set of keys, unlocking the rear of the case as she spoke.

“That one looks nice,” he said pointing to a large signet ring.
The woman made no attempt to retrieve it, “Perhaps something a little more…. Um Feminine,” she said, pulling out a black velvet tray of friendship rings, “Something more suitable for a young lady”
A blushing Sean conceded that perhaps it wasn't, as she said, suitable for a young lady.
“This one is very popular,” the woman said, pulling a slender ring from its velvet bed, “What size is she?”

“Size?” Sean asked.

“Her finger,” the woman said, her smile had turned to one of amusement, “What size is her finger?”
A flummoxed Sean, who until this moment had had no idea that fingers came in sizes, held up the little finger of his right hand, “About this big,” he guessed.

The woman laughed, it was a gentle laugh, devoid of malice, and put the tray of rings back in the case, “perhaps something else,” she suggested, “What about a nice necklace?” she stepped to the next case to her right, “We have some delightful chains here that any young lady would adore.”

At sixteen Sean was pleased that the woman understood that Peggy was, even though she`d never met her, a lady, which was exactly how he thought of her.
The doorbell tinkled to announce the arrival of another customer; the woman glanced up, said, "I`ll be with you momentarily," then returned her attention to Sean.

“How much is that one?” he asked, pointing at a chunky, scroll laden chain.

“That,” the woman produced her ring of keys, easily picked out the correct one, unlocked the case, plucked the chain from its bed and squinted at the small white label, “This is £98.50,” she said.

Sean felt a surge of blood suffuse his face, embarrassment at being embarrassed only worsening his blush, “Tha… tha… that’s a little more tha.. than, than I can….” he managed to stammer.
He had twenty eight pounds and forty eight pence, and he needed twenty pence for the bus home, Douglas was four miles away and it was sleeting pretty badly outside.

“Perhaps something a little less elaborate?” The woman said, “I`m sure this is far too vulgar for your young lady,” and almost threw the chain back onto its silken bed, as if it had offended her.

The new customer cleared his throat noisily; this time Sean looked around. It was a tall man in a suit, a black umbrella hung from his right arm; he was drumming his fingers on the glass case in front of him. “I`ll be with you in a moment sir,” the saleswoman said, “Just as soon as I`ve served this young gentleman,” and turned back to Sean, who was pleased to see the look of outrage on the businessman’s face.

“What you need is something simple,” she said, “understated but elegant,” she stepped two cases further to her right, Sean following her, “Something like….” She scanned the case, “Ah yes.” Once more she produced the array of keys, again unerringly choosing the correct one first time and plucked a silver chain from within, holding it out to him with both hands, “It`s Sterling silver,” she announced.

Sean looked at it doubtfully; it looked so fragile he was almost afraid to touch it, though he had to admit it was pretty, and the Claddagh pendant, the two hands clasping a heart, said exactly what he couldn’t articulate in words. Slowly, with utmost care he took it from her, still terrified it would disintegrate as soon as he touched it, “How much is it?” he asked.

The woman took it back; Sean wincing internally at how carelessly she handled it as she turned it over to read the label. She looked up at him still smiling, “It`s £29.99.”
His face fell, “Oh,” he said, glancing down, desperately rescanning the case, perhaps there was something a little less expensive.

“How much do you have?” the woman asked softly.
Before he could answer, the entrance bell tinkled once more, followed by the bang of the door slamming. The woman sighed and shook her head, “Christmas makes some people so impatient,” she said, and then as if nothing had happened said, “How much did you say you could afford?”

Sean took the neatly folded notes from the inside pocket of his jacket, which necessitated undoing the safety pin he`d fastened it closed with, he`d never carried so much money around, and everyone knew the city was lousy with pickpockets, particularly at this time of year. “I have twenty eight pounds,” he paused, then pulled the change from his pants pocket, spilling it onto the glass, “And forty eight pence.” Four miles wasn’t so far, he thought, and anyway the sleet looked like it was easing.

The smiling woman pushed the change back towards him, “Let`s call it an even twenty eight,” she said.
A grateful Sean scooped the coins up, four miles was four miles no matter what the weather.
“Would you like me to wrap it up for you?” the woman asked as she placed it in a long black velvet box. Sean told her he`d like that very much, he wasn’t much good at wrapping things.

Two nights later on Christmas eve, a nervous Sean sat on the sofa in Peggy`s parents living room. From the other side of the kitchen door came a whispered, “Come away from there, leave them alone.” Followed by, “You come away then.” Followed by more whispered accusations, too hushed to be understood by the two young sweethearts.

“Sorry about that,” Peggy said, nervously tucking her hair behind her right ear.

“Tha… that’s alright,” he stammered, painfully aware that her knees were so close to his own that they almost touched. “I…. I got you a present.” He pulled the box, wrapped in blue and gold checked paper from his jacket pocket.

“Oh,” she said, her eyes lighting up; she patted his thigh, which sent shockwaves of pleasure through him.
“I got you something too, I`ll be right back.”

He sat alone, the sound of footsteps pounding up the stairs, followed quickly by more as she descended, breathless she burst back into the room, “Here,” she said thrusting the parcel at him. It was thin and square, as obviously an album as his was jewellery.

They exchanged gifts, she, gleefully tearing the wrapping to shreds, he, fastidiously sliding a thumb under the restraining tape.
Peggy got hers open first, “Oh my god,” she said. He looked up, his present still only half unwrapped, unsure if it had been a good “Oh my God,” or a bad one, “Do you like it?” he asked half afraid of the answer.

She had one hand over her mouth, the chain dangling from the other, tiny diamond tears sparkled in the corners of her eyes, “It’s the most beautiful…” she mumbled, then held it out.

“Here, will you put it on for me?” she said, turning her back to him as he took it, lifting her auburn curls clear of the nape of her neck.

It took him a couple of attempts to figure out the clasp, and it was with a grimace of near terror that he hooked his thumbnail through the fastener, forcing it open, then he slipped it around her neck, before, with a sigh of relief, he clipped it shut again.

She turned back to him, “How do I look?” she asked, turning the little pendant so it was the right way around.
“You look beautiful,” he said, blushing at the honesty of his statement, enjoying the way her face lit up when he said it.
“You haven’t opened yours yet,” she said, clasping and unclasping her hands in excitement, a gesture he`d come to know well over the coming years.

Then, “Hurry,” she said, as he continued to carefully unwrap.
It wasn’t an album as he`d thought but two; Off the wall and Breakfast in America.
“I know you`re a Michael Jackson fan,” she said, “And I thought you might like Supertramp.”

He nodded, he`d wanted to buy Michael Jackson`s new album while he was in town, but he`d spent all his money on the chain, and the logical song was one of his favourites. Quickly he did the math in his head, relieved to find he`d spent more than she had; then her arms were around his neck, her lips pressed to his and he forgot all about Michael Jackson and Supertramp.

They said goodnight on her doorstep at eleven, long after the last bus had run. He gave her one last lingering kiss, wished her a Merry Christmas and turned away, half in elation, half in misery; finally understanding what Shakespeare had meant when he`d written that “parting was such sweet sorrow.”

It was six and a half miles from Knocknaheeny to his house that bitterly cold Christmas eve, and it was well after midnight by the time he stamped his way in the back door, but if anyone had chanced to ask, though no-one did, he would have told them he`d floated all the way home.
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