Payton Hamilton hurried along the walkway to the elevator bank calling for someone inside to hold the door. Just as she reached it, a guy in a dark brown overcoat dashed into the packed glass lift and the doors slid closed in front of her. “What the…?” She scowled at her reflection in the polished metal doors, turned on her heel and walked over to the next elevator, which had stopped on the top floor of the Manhattan Mall and descended slowly. It was Christmas Eve and everywhere was bustling with last minute shoppers. Giving a heavy sigh, she thought about the fellow who had taken her spot in the lift. Dark wavy hair, cut short, gray eyes, and a handsome face. But no manners!
When the elevator finally arrived, Payton was jostled by people clambering off and onto it, and by the time she was ready to step inside there was no room left. What happened to the Christmas spirit? she thought, and gave another heavy sigh. Leaving the elevator bank, Payton wandered through the ground floor level of the complex, browsing the store windows as she made her way to the escalators, which were just as busy.
She had finished most of her shopping, but still had a couple of last minute gifts to buy, and as she worked all day, this was the only time she could get it done. The stores would be closing early, being Christmas Eve, and she needed to hurry to find what she needed.
Heading to the perfume counter, she tested a few samples, unsure if her mom would like the fragrance, but, in the end, decided to purchase the JLo brand, which had a nice floral scent. She was almost done. What to buy for her dad? Cologne? Cigars? He liked the odd cigar, although he was difficult to buy for because he always said he had everything he needed. Perhaps she could buy him a nice, casual button down shirt. She knew his size so it would be easy to pick something.
Payton headed for the escalator going down into JC Payton’s. After skimming through the shirts, she found one she thought her dad would like, but decided to call her mom on facetime to ask her opinion. “Hey, Mom, can I get your advice on a shirt for dad?” She held up the light blue and white check shirt. “What do you think?”
“I think he’ll love it,” her mom said.
“Great. I’ll go and purchase it now. Thanks, Mom. Love you.”
“Love you, too, honey.”
As she stood in line gazing around at the twinkling lights and other Christmas decorations, she was grateful to be done and would be on her way home in no time. When the customer ahead of her stepped away from the counter, the same man that had taken her spot in the elevator dashed in front of her.
He gave her a gorgeous smile and said, “Sorry, I’m in a hurry.”
Payton scowled at him. “That doesn’t give you the right to be rude. I’ve been waiting in line for almost ten minutes. What makes you think you can jump the queue like this?”
“I have somewhere I have to be in fifteen minutes. I really need to get this and go.”
Payton opened her mouth to reply but before she could, the guy turned away from her and made his purchase, rushing over to the escalator and out of the store in quick time.
“Of all the nerve,” Payton said as she stepped up to the counter.
“Sorry about that. People seem to have forgotten what Christmas is all about,” the saleswoman said.
“Yes, they have.” She smiled. “But you don’t have to apologize, it wasn’t your fault.”
Once back in her small apartment, decorated for the holidays, Payton kicked off her shoes, shrugged out of her wool jacket, hanging it on the coat rail by the door, then crossed the living room to the dining table and set her purchases down. She would shower, change into her pajamas and robe then get to work on wrapping the last two gifts.
Her parents lived twenty minutes from her so the drive over the next morning for breakfast would be relatively quick. She couldn’t wait to spend time with her family. Her brother Patrick would have already flown in from Los Angeles and be there when she arrived Christmas morning. A warm sensation of happiness spread through Payton as she put the finishing touches to the gifts for her mom and dad.
It was time for a Christmas movie.
What could she watch?
Payton grabbed a cup from the overhead cupboard and a carton of eggnog from the refrigerator and snuggled up on the sofa, with a red and green throw blanket over her, to settle in to watch something with a holiday feel. The Hallmark Channel® always had a wonderful selection of Christmas movies so she pressed the button on the remote and scrolled through to find something she’d like.
The guy she’d ran into twice in the mall popped into her mind and a scowl formed on her pretty face. No. She was not going to allow someone who obviously didn’t have the Christmas spirit ruin the holiday for her. She loved Christmas too much to let that happen.
Payton was up bright and early Christmas morning so she could take the gifts down to her car in the basement parking lot and load them into the trunk before heading over to her parents’ house. She couldn’t wait to see her brother. He’d been living in Los Angeles for the past two years and, because of his business getting off the ground, hadn’t been able to make it home for the holidays. She loved her big brother, Patrick, with all her heart and was grateful to be able to spend some quality time with him before he had to head back. Being the CEO of a new company meant he had to be on deck at all times until the business took off, which they all hoped it would.
The drive took a little longer than expected, due to the heavy snow fall and a collision at one of the intersections on her route. It had only been minor and had been cleaned up and moved on within twenty minutes or so, so she was soon on her way again.
When she pulled into the drive, the front door opened and her brother came out to greet her, wrapping her in a tight, warm hug. “Hey, sis, it’s good to see you.”
She smiled up at him. “It’s good to see you, too. Want to help me inside with these gifts?”
“Sure.” He held out his arms. “Just stack them on here and I’ll carry them into the living room.”
Once inside, out of the cold and snow, Patrick helped her place the presents under the Christmas tree, then the pair headed into the kitchen.
“Hi, honey,” her mom said, flipping a pan cake on the griddle. “How was the ride over?”
“Hey, Mom.” Payton wandered across the kitchen and gave her a tight hug. “There was a minor accident on the way. That’s why I’m a little later than I’d intended to be.”
“All good. I’m just finishing up making the pancakes, the bacon’s keeping hot in the oven, and then we can sit down to eat.”
Payton’s gaze roamed the kitchen, doorway to the back yard, and back into the living room. “Where’s dad?”
“He went out to the garage to bring in some more firewood. The weatherman said it’s going to get much colder before night sets in and he wanted to be prepared.”
“That’s dad.” Payton climbed onto a stool at the center island and poured herself a mug of coffee.
Patrick sat next to her. “Thanks for letting Brendan join us for Christmas dinner, Mom. He’s a long way from home and doesn’t have anyone to spend the holidays with.”
“Oh, that’s not a problem, hon. What kind of people would we be if we didn’t spread the love of Christmastime with those less fortunate… or in this instance, someone who’d be spending the holiday alone. It wouldn’t be right.”
Payton’s head turned sharply and she stared at her brother. “Who’s Brendan?”
Patrick took a sip of his coffee and placed the mug down on the countertop. “He was sent over from Australia to do some contracted work for us. He’s a nice guy. You’ll like him.”
“No, he’s not my boyfriend. He’s straight.”
Payton sighed. “You’re sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.” Patrick folded his arms.
Payton shrugged. “Ok. If you say so.”
“I do say so.” He gave her a cheeky wink.
“Now, now, children. No bickering,” their mom chided jokingly.
“It was a legitimate question,” Payton defended. “It’s been ages since Patrick dated anyone. I’m just a concerned sister… that’s all.”
Her mother gave her a stern stare. “He’s a busy guy, hon. His work is his life.”
“Hey!” Patrick faux scowled at his mother. “I make time for romance… when I can.”
“Mm hmm.” His mom smiled. “When was the last time you went out on a date?”
Patrick thought for a moment. “I – I.” He frowned. “I honestly can’t remember.”
“There you go,” his mom said.
At that moment, their dad came through the back door. “Brrr! It’s freezing out there.”
Payton sprang from her stool, rushed up to him and wrapped her arms around him. “Hello, Daddy.” Her cheek pressed against his icy one and she winced. “It is cold out there.”
“You betcha,” her dad said, shrugging out of his padded navy winter jacket, scooping the knit cap off his balding head, and hanging them up on the coat rail beside the door. “Let me look at ya. Still as pretty as ever.”
“Oh, Daddy.” She play slapped his shoulder.
The pair took their stools at the counter and her mom set a fresh mug of coffee down in front of her husband, then sat down too.
“So what time’s… what was his name... arriving?” Payton asked her brother.
Patrick checked his watch. “Brendan. I’m not sure. Sometime this morning he said.” It was already after eight. “I told him breakfast was around nine.” The doorbell jingled and interrupted his conversation. “Looks like he’s here.” He slid off the tall stool and wandered out into the hallway to answer the door.
They heard voices in greeting and a few minutes later Patrick stepped into the kitchen, followed by Brendan. “Everyone, I’d like you to meet Brendan Peterson from ‘Strayla.” He tried to imitate the Australian accent. Badly.
Both Charlene and Ben welcomed Brendan and wished him a Merry Christmas, but not Payton. She recognized him immediately. The rude guy from the store. She slid off her stool and pushed past her brother, heading for the stairs.
“Hey, sis, where’re you going?” He turned and frowned over his shoulder at her as she climbed the staircase.
“Because I realized I’m not hungry.”
“What?” He turned around, walked over to the bottom of the banister and stared up at her with a curious frown. This wasn’t like her at all. “Payton?”
She continued up the stairs without another word.
“Be right back.” Patrick gave Brendan an embarrassed smile and followed his sister upstairs.
Charlene asked Brendan to join her and her husband at the counter and offered him some coffee. As he sat, his gaze moved to the doorway into the hall. He’d recognized her as well and realized how badly he’d behaved at the store. But what were the odds of coming to your boss’s parents’ home and finding the woman was his sister? How was he going to explain?
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© 2022 M. A. Anderson
Bella Luna Books, Australia
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