Your heart begins to race.
You nearly knock over a hat stand in your rush to it. Why are you even worrying? It’s not like the store is going anywhere or that there’s anyone else in this store to nab it before you do. Nevertheless, you don’t slow down until you’ve come up it.
It’s even better up close. You reach out your hand and grab the cuff of the sleeve.
So soft. Cotton. Thick and warm. Beyond comfortable.
Just his size.
A blue hoodie.
It’s a wonderful shade of blue, not too dark, not too light. It just screams “Winter.” Dark blue thread runs in detail stitching from each of the two top corners of the pocket to the armpit and down the side seams, forming a semi-distorted rectangle, the top line probably following along the slant of the ribcage when worn. The same is done in symmetry on the back—minus the slant—the two lines meeting towards the center at the edge a little over an inch from each other. The shoelace-like tassels for the hood are thick and round, a slightly darker blue than the rest of the hoodie.
You reach up and take it from its hanging spot on the rack, gingerly folding it over your arm. You walk up to the vacant cashier’s counter towards the front of the store, ready to make your purchase.
You notice a small tabletop bell sitting beside the register. “Ring for Service” a post-it note beneath it reads.
So you do.
As you wait, you admire the trinkets in the glass case that doubles as the counter. Engraved in the metal of the case are delicate swirls. It’s not manufactured. The pattern repeats, but isn’t repeated exactly each time. You can tell that they were hand-done by a master craftsman.
“Hello there,” a deep, jolly voice greets you, making you jump.
You look up and see an abnormally large, middle-aged man standing at the register. He’s dressed in a suit and tie, odd for such a small shack. His skin is sun-kissed, his face jovial. His jet-black hair is short and unkempt, his square jaw dotted with scruff. He has piercing green eyes.
He holds out his hand, indicating the hoodie. His knuckles and joints are cracked, his fingernails short and chipped. The tips of his thick fingers look worn and calloused-over. The hands of an artist.
“Wanting to buy that?” he asks, smiling.
You nod and lay the hoodie on the counter.
“Last-minute Christmas present?” he comments as he rings it up, punching numbers into the old-fashioned register.
You find yourself nodding again. “I was surprised with an unexpected gift, and need a gift in return.”
He tells you your total. You hand him the payment.
“I’ll wrap it for you, free of charge. Christmas special,” he says as he puts a box on the counter, laying the folded hoodie gently into it.
“T-thank you,” you manage to say. “Isn’t it hard, working on the holiday?”
He shakes his head as he puts ribbon around the now-wrapped box. “Have nowhere to go. Besides,” he says as he hands you the finished gift, “This is what I love to do.”
You return his smile, thanking him again as you take up the present. You ask him for directions on how to get back to your own neighborhood, at which he chuckles a little.
“Walk straight and continue onward. You’ll know where you are soon enough,” he instructs. You pull open the door.
“Merry Christmas, sir,” you wish him from over your shoulder.
He lifts up a hand in goodbye. “Merry Christmas to you, as well.”
You leave the store, smiling at the magical experience. You begin to walk, following the man’s directions. You’re going to have to visit the store again soon. Maybe take Jack with you. There was a lot that you didn’t get to look at.
When you’re a bit down the road, you turn around, wanting to see the little shop again before it went out of sight.
But it’s not there anymore. There’s just snow-covered ground where it once stood.
Befuddled, you stare at the empty space for a little longer. You look at the package. It’s real enough. You turn back around.
You’re standing once again in your own street.
You see your own house, perched quietly on the top of its hill. You can just make out the flicker of firelight illuminating your living room.
You smile and walk towards it, forgetting about the transportation oddity.
Jack is going to love his present.
You walk into the room to see Jack pacing, biting on the joint of his index finger. He takes notice of you. He runs up to you, holding onto your shoulders and looking into your eyes, his own riddled with worry.
“Where did you go?” he asks urgently.
He glances at the gift. You can feel his grip loosen as he relaxes slightly. He lifts an inquisitive brown eyebrow.