I went to the shiny mall, complete with skating rink, to shop for Christmas. I was going to have fun. Nothing prepared me for the challenge I was about to face.
Swags of colored lights draped from ceilings. Christmas music saturated the atmosphere. In the rink, skaters glided by. Wherever I looked – sparkle, twinkle, glimmer, glow.
Santa’s workshop was staged near the rink complete with sleigh and plastic reindeer where a human Santa sat. Several elves stood by in stripped leggings, pointed caps and shoes with bells. Parents, iPhones in hand to snap their cute youngster, stood in line with excited children waiting to sit on Santa’s lap.
I briefly considered having my photo taken with Santa to give to Max. I shook my head. “Sylvia, get a grip.”
I walked by brightly lit store windows halting a few feet away from an expensive watch store. A tall, thin, dapper, elderly gentleman, leaning on a silver handled walking stick, pink cashmere sweater tied over his shoulders, perused the Cartier display.
I knew that figure. Mr. Francis! – snobby owner of Francis Gallery where I had shown my watercolor paintings. He was an unpredictable tough nut who never smiled. But he had power. I hoped for another show and was not above a bit of schmoozing. Could I make him smile, too?
I sidled up to him. “Mr. Francis! What a delightful surprise! I was just thinking about you.”
He turned to me, nose pinched, a permanent expression, like he smelled something rotten. “How odd,” he said, “I wasn’t thinking about you. But I was thinking about a new watch.”
Dear Mr. Francis!
I kept my smile pasted in place. The stakes were high. “We haven’t talked in a while. May I invite you for coffee?”
He raised an eyebrow and leaned toward me, his ropey hands clutched like claws around his walking stick. “Would that include dessert?”
In a flash of brilliance, I said, “Let’s gild the lily. We’ll have sherry, too!”
His eyes brightened, just a trace of smile cracking his makeup. It didn’t count. I wanted a grin.
Pointing to the second floor, I said, “We’ll go to that elegant new bar overlooking the rink.”
We walked to the escalator, his walking stick keeping the beat.
In the bar, tasteful small Italian lights twinkled on swags of pine. The aroma of rich coffee perfumed the air. We sat at a table for two. Through the plate glass window, we watched the skaters in the rink below.
We ordered capuchinos, a tiramisu each, and two sherries.
Mr. Francis warmed to his sherry.
“Let’s toast,” I said.
A weensy smile. Not there yet. We touched glasses.
Mr. Francis frowned, elbow on table, tapping his forehead with his finger. “Whatever was the name of that young sculptor with the tattooed body and piercings who showed with you? It was the name of a bug. Hmmmmmm…. Spider? Silver Fish? Fly?”
“Scorpion,” I said. Had he forgotten my name, too?
“Ah, …. yes. Is he still sculpting?” He sipped his sherry and folded his hands.
“No, he’s doing drugs.”
Mr. Francis blinked. “I beg your pardon?”
I laughed. “Just kidding. He’s made a complete change and is now a rep for his mama’s pharmaceutical company. Tattoos gone, he’s a clean cut executive.”
“Sounds like the fellow came to his senses.”
I winced. I wanted my sexy Scorpion back.
We finished the coffee, ate the velvety tiramisu. Mr. Francis ordered another sherry. I nursed my first.
He asked between sips, “Well, I suppose since you’re buying, I should ask, how are you?”
Another sip. “Do you still paint?” His cheeks were turning pink.
He was going to be putty in my hands in a short while.
I nodded, twirling my sherry glass. “Unfortunately, there are so few good galleries here.” I waved my hand dismissively. “Too commercial.”
He glanced heavenward. “Mine is the best.”
“Of course!” My fingers crossed under the table. “Maybe we could work together again?”
He flicked a finger over his eyebrow. “I don’t know…….. I’d have to consult my schedule. There might be an opening in the spring. Maybe I could squeeze you in.”
Yippee! My heart did flips. “Have another sherry?”
“Well …… I really shouldn’t, but since it’s the Christmas season …” He threw his hands up. “Oh, just another dram!” His cheeks had turned fuchsia. His eyes glowed as the waiter set another glass in front of him. He slurped instead of sipped. Settling back in his chair, his sweater creeping off one shoulder, he said, “Enchanting running into you again, Sylvia!”
He remembered my name!
Mr. Francis started to hum along with “Jingle Bells.” Uh, oh. Time to get him home.
I paid the bill and asked, “Shall we find you a taxi?”
“I’ll just call Uber,” he said pulling out his iPhone. He looked at the screen. “Twenty minutes.” He had a faint smile (didn’t count) and clasped his hands. “Let’s go to Santa’s workshop.”
Mr. Francis at Santa’s Workshop??????
“I’ve been watching the children and their parents. So sweet!”
He jumped up, left the bar and started for the escalator, walking stick pumping furiously. I hurried after him.
Descending ahead of me, he turned. Tears brimmed in his eyes. “Mother never let me sit on Santa’s lap.”
This was a glimpse of a whole new Mr. Francis. Was he planning to sit on Santa’s lap?
I trotted behind him but he sprinted like a reindeer to Santa’s Workshop and climbed the platform stairs.
One of the elves blocked him from sitting on Santa’s lap. He put his arm around him and handed Mr. Francis’s iPhone to another elf who took the photo of the three of them. A security guard led Mr. Francis off the platform.
Mr. Francis waved his iPhone flinging his arms wide. “Merry Christmas, Sylvia! Merry Christmas, Everyone!”
The security guard, the Uber driver and I tucked Mr. Francis into the car. He waved to me as they drove off, a big grin on his face. Bingo!
Ho, ho, ho!