A Christmas for Oscar

By: Alex Whitehall

CHAPTER ONE

“Come on, Oscar, don’t be such a grouch.”

He glared at Marie. “That is so original.”

She shrugged, merry as ever.

He grumbled as they were forced to swerve around another mother with two shopping carts. “If you didn’t want me grumpy, then maybe you shouldn’t have dragged me out shopping on Black Friday.”

“You’re my best friend—”

“Which means you shouldn’t torture me like this.”

“Who else am I going to take?”

“Your mother?”

Eye roll.

“Your sister-in-law?”

Eye roll.

“Cindy?”

“I love the girl, but she doesn’t really know my family. And she can’t spot a sale to save her life.”

“I can’t spot sales!”

“But you know my family. Oh! I wanna hit this one.”

He sighed as he was dragged—yes, dragged—into Another Store. Under his breath, he muttered, “You could go alone.”

She continued on, oblivious. Or at least very good at faking it. He hoped this earned him some major points.

“What do you think of this?” She held up a cashmere-blend sweater in baby blue.

“For who?”

Her lips puckered in moue. “Me.”

“I thought we were shopping for your friends and family.” He mock glared. Well, mostly mock.

Marie flapped her hand at him. “Just tell me.”

He sighed and glanced over to the picked-through selection. “It’s gorgeous, but is it even in your size?”

She bounced—like she hadn’t even considered that, somehow—and twirled back to the rack, furiously searching through the remaining sweaters. She chirped and pulled out a much larger size in what Oscar could only call puce, folded it over her arm, and returned to the baby-blue ones. “I’ll have to ask if they have more in the bac— Oh my god, look at that sale!” She tossed the blue sweater to him. “Can you find a salesperson, and ask if they have a small? I need to be over there!”

And she was gone. Which left him with two options: say no and be a horrible friend, or say yes and tear through the crowds to find an overworked, overstressed salesperson. Joy.

With a sigh, he searched for someone in the store’s dress-coded uniform, and wasn’t sure if it was a blessing or a curse when he spotted the cute guy smiling winsomely, surrounded by a mob of people. The most attractive thing was that his mob was smaller than the mob surrounding all the other salespeople.

Gritting his teeth, he clenched the sweater and elbowed his way over through arguing women, grumbling men, and a few screaming children. And that was only across six feet.

When he finally arrived at his destination, he noticed his salesperson was six inches shorter than him, with curly blond hair, and wearing an elf hat. He had shimmering blue eyes and apple-round cheeks. He couldn’t possibly be real.

The bright-blue eyes flashed up to Oscar with a literal sparkle in his eye, although that had to be the overhead lights. “Hello! How can I help you?”

Despite his elfish appearance, the dude’s voice wasn’t high-pitched. In fact, to keep with the ridiculous metaphor developing in Oscar’s mind, it was more like caramel or hot chocolate. It was almost enough to make him forget where he was.

And then some jackass elbowed him in the back, hard, and he was shoved forward. He growled and pushed back, not taking his eyes off his little elf helper. “Hi. I was wondering if you have more sizes of this in the back? I need a small.” He held up the sweater in question.

The little elf’s lips puckered in thought. “I can check, sir, but I think what we have out is all we have. Wait right here.”

He was gone in a flash, and Oscar was left standing there, blinking at the space where the man had been.

“Ex-scuse me,” a woman lashed out. “Can we not stand in the middle of the aisle, puh-lease?”

He heaved a sigh and stepped back—the six inches he could—to let the woman pass. She scrunched her nose at him and hurried on to the next big sale. Restraining another sigh, he wished he could close his eyes and sink into the floor, or vanish, or at least run the hell out of here. But no, he waited, like a good friend, for the salesperson to return. And it seemed to be taking forever, but he was sure that was his imagination—and frustration—playing tricks on him.