Emmett pulled up the collar of his jacket against the cool wind as he wound his way through the trailer park. His neighbors waved at him from their porches where they smoked and he waved back, ignoring their curious glances at his early arrival. The park was like a strange family and they all kept an eye on things for each other, which meant they knew he should still be at work. Word would spread he had lost another job and people would start buying him cigarettes and beer more than usual. It was all they could afford. But Emmett had done his fair share of buying things for others, so no one kept tabs around here.
He pushed in the stubborn door of his trailer and ducked inside (the doorway was too short for his tall frame) and collapsed on the weathered old couch with a groan. He wasn't sure how long he laid there, long legs spilling over the arm, when he heard the door open again.
"Get the fuck up, man. It's Thanksgiving." Nigel, the first friend he made after moving here, rounded the couch and pushed Emmett's boot to the floor. "I'm not gonna let you sulk over your job. You're coming over to mine and Barb's."
"Yeah, no. Not really in the mood to watch you guys lick each other's faces off tonight," Emmett grumbled back. He did a double take. "Maybe I'm sick. Maybe I came home because they let me? Why does everyone assume I lost another job?"
"Like a gas station is going to let you go home on Thanksgiving. Besides, everyone knows you're too bored to miss work. You love work. You're a fucking masochist." Emmett tossed the remote to his television at him, but he dodged it. "Come on. Gavin is coming. You'll at least have him to talk to if Barb gets too handsy."
"You're a dick," Emmett said, but he was standing up.
Barb had cooked the entire meal in their tiny kitchen and despite the fact that it tasted awful, Emmett ate three plates full. Nothing turned him off food. Not even overcooked stuffing. He was grateful for Nigel and Gavin. Neither one of them brought up his job until later in the evening after they had all had a few beers and he was in a much better mood to talk about it. Gavin told him about a seasonal security job at the mall he was applying for and told him he should give it a shot, too.
"They literally just want guys to stand around looking intimidating," Gavin said.
"Well, that's easy for you," Emmett said. It wasn't a joke. Gavin was huge. He wasn't as tall as Emmett, but he was twice as wide.
"You're scary, too, man. As long as you don't smile. Your smile ruins the affect. Just stare at people in that creepy way of yours and you'll be fine!"
Emmett furrowed his brow. "What creepy way? I don't stare at people in a creepy way. Do I?"
"Yeah, you kind of do," Nigel finally chimed in. He was tan and thin with stringy blonde hair. It was a good thing he wasn't interested in the job because he definitely wouldn't get a call back.
"I don't," Emmett argued, but he wasn't so sure now.
When he got home that night, he checked the time before calling his parents who lived on opposite ends of the U.S. It was the farthest they could go to get away from each other without flying, which they both hated. His father in New York was alone that Thanksgiving and tried to keep Emmett on the line far longer than he wanted to be. His mother, in California, was still celebrating with her friends, but she made time for him. When he hung up, he could almost physically feel the equal distance between them and himself. It was no wonder he eventually landed himself here. He was the only thing connecting the two of them anymore.
The next day, Emmett filled out the application against his better judgement. He hated Thanksgiving, but he hated Christmas more. If he got the job he would have to be surrounded with red and green nonsense for an entire month. To his surprise, he was emailed back that day and he found himself walking into the local mall the next morning.
He was instantly overwhelmed by the gaudy decor and tried his best to navigate his way to the food court where his interview was supposed to be. There were Christmas trees in the middle of the large aisles and fake presents suspended from the ceiling. Children went screaming past him and he saw them all lining up with their parents to meet Santa Claus. Thanksgiving was barely digested and all these people were already lining up for this shit.
He avoided stepping on more kids and found his way to the food court, looking for the interview plaque they said would be there. Eventually he found it, but he was twenty minutes early, so he paced until a woman approached him. She wore a business suit and her hair was tied back in a bun and he wondered if he should have dressed better before remembering he didn't have any other clothes.
As it turned out, she was one of the owners and she was conducting these interviews herself. She wanted to "guarantee safety this holiday season", and she asked him all kinds of questions about himself. "Really, we just need people to stand there and look intimidating. Shoplifting has been skyrocketing around here and we're trying to figure out why."
"Well, the typical mall is falling out of style and they've become an easy target for anti-capitalist theft," he started to say, but slowly let his words fall away when he realized it had been a rhetorical question.
She cleared her throat. "Well, Mister...," she glanced at his application, "Wright. We would love to have you on." She stood up and held her hand out. When he did the same, she craned her neck back to smile at him. "You'll certainly fit the part."
He took the long way back out of the mall so he could memorize it. He held a black jacket over one arm as well as a hat, both of which said SECURITY in bold white letters. He ignored Santa when he walked past. He ignored the pine trees. He ignored the awful, powerful scents coming out of one of those bath and body and beyond places, or whatever. He remembered Nigel talking to him the other night when Barb was in the bathroom about how she wanted all the seasonal scents and Emmett couldn't help but grimace. Not at Barb, but at the thought of all those smells.
And maybe a little because he wished he had someone to buy the god awful shit for.
Olive had just shut the door to her apartment behind her when she felt the telltale buzz of her phone in her back pocket. She sighed and slumped back against the door as she retrieved the phone, already knowing who it was going to be. Sure enough, as soon as she unlocked the screen, she was met with a barrage of texts from her best friend, Mel. Olive had been ignoring her since earlier that day, when she had left to go have Thanksgiving dinner at her parents' house, but that had apparently not been enough to discourage Mel from continuing to reach out to her.
Guilt over blowing her off gnawed at Olive's gut, but as she began typing out a vague reply at last, her phone started buzzing anew: Mel was calling her this time.
Figuring she might as well get this over with now, Olive accepted the call and held the phone up to her ear. "I was just getting ready to text you back, I promise," she said before Mel had the chance to speak.
"Oh, so you [i are] alive," Mel said, her tone biting. "Thanks for finally letting me know."
Olive winced. "I'm sorry, Mel. Really. I just—"
"Just couldn't find the time to give me a simple heads up that you're still in the land of the living? I can't imagine you were all [i that] busy; your mom said that basically all you did today was sit around and stare out the window."
"Wait, you talked to my mom? When?"
"I messaged her on Facebook after the first few hours of radio silence. Would you rather I had called the cops and told them to do a wellness check? 'Cause I was about to."
Olive pinched the bridge of her nose in consternation, slowly allowing herself to slide down until she was seated on the floor. She was way too exhausted to deal with Mel's theatrics right now. "Don't you think that would have been a little bit dramatic, even for you?"
"Considering how upset you were last night, I'd say it would have been pretty reasonable."
Olive had nothing to say in response to that, and after a few moments of silence, Mel heaved a sigh that was so long and loud it temporarily blew out the speaker. Cringing at the harsh sound, Olive held the phone away from her ear, then brought it back when Mel began to speak again.
"Look," she said, all the harshness now gone from her voice. "I don't mean to be such a bitch about this, and if you need some time to yourself to work through everything, that's totally fine. But at least [i tell] me that you need space, okay? It's not like you to just completely ignore me, and I was really freaking out."
Instantly, Olive felt tears of shame pricking at her eyes. Mel had spent Thanksgiving truly worrying over her while she had done nothing but sit around feeling sorry for herself. "I'm sorry, Mel," she said again, and this time she truly meant it. "I should have told you I didn't feel like talking today. It's just that every time my phone went off and it wasn't him, I kept feeling worse and worse, until it was all I could do not to lose it in front of my family." Even now, sitting alone on the floor in her dark apartment, Olive felt dangerously close to sobbing.
Mel must have somehow sensed this, for she asked, "Do you want me to come over? I can be there in, like, ten minutes. We can just put on a movie or something—we don't have to talk at all unless you want to." Her previous irritation had now apparently been completely replaced by overwhelming concern, and it brought a smile to Olive's face despite it all.
"Nah, I think I'm just gonna go to bed," she said, reaching up with her free hand to wipe at her nose. "Gotta be at work early for Black Friday tomorrow."
"God, don't remind me," Mel groaned. "Vinnie's not opening the store any earlier than usual, but I'm sure that won't stop people from lining up an hour ahead of time anyway. What time do you have to go in?"
"[i A.M.]?" Even though she had to know that was exactly what Olive had meant, Mel still sounded incredulous. "That shit should be illegal."
Olive shrugged. "It won't be so bad." The truth was, she often woke around four in the morning anyway, as that was when things really started to get loud in the kitchen of the bakery below her apartment. And at this point, she was almost grateful for the excuse work would give her to not wallow around in bed with her feelings.
Mel started to grumble something about "morning people," but Olive interrupted with an offer to meet for lunch. "I'll be off around one, and we won't even have to eat at the mall since I won't be going back in to work. Wherever you wanna go, my treat."
"Oooh, maybe I should get mad at you more often if this is how you make it up to me," Mel replied jokingly. "I'll think on it and let you know tomorrow."
"And hey, Ollie?"
"Text me if you need me, okay? I mean it."
"I will, Mel. Thanks."
The two of them said their goodbyes and after hanging up, Olive spent a few moments still sitting in her apartment's entryway, staring blankly ahead. The light from the street lamps outside illuminated the boxes that covered every available surface in her tiny living room and were starting to spill over into the kitchen. They were all full of Christmas decorations, which Olive had dug out of storage a few days before in giddy anticipation of spending Thanksgiving decorating her apartment with her boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend, now.
[i But maybe I shouldn't even call him that], she thought, reflecting on how surprised Austin had been when she'd expressed excitement at finally being able to introduce him to her parents at Thanksgiving dinner.
[i "I never said I wanted to do the whole boyfriend-girlfriend thing with you, babe,"] he'd told her, which Olive supposed was technically true. Still, she figured she couldn't be blamed [i too] much for having believed the opposite, as they had been seeing each other exclusively (or so Olive had thought, anyway) since March, and Austin had lately been dropping multiple hints that he wanted to move in with her.
That was clearly out the window now, as after that conversation, he had promptly stopped returning all calls and texts and had effectively vanished out of her life as though he had never been in it in the first place. And Olive had spent Thanksgiving surrounded by her family, but still feeling utterly alone. Now it looked like Christmas was shaping up to be the same way.
Olive frowned suddenly and pushed herself to her feet, walking into the living room and flicking on the light so that she could properly survey the disorder in front of her. What was she going to do, shove it all back in storage and mope around for the rest of the year? Christmas was her favorite holiday, and she'd spent more years celebrating it while single than she had in a relationship. Was she really about to let some stupid [i boy] ruin it all for her now?
[i No,] she thought. [i No, I don't think so.] And then she got to work.
By the time her alarm went off at three-thirty the next morning, Olive had had only about a couple of hours of sleep. She'd managed to get about half of the Christmas decorations up before admitting that she needed to have [i some] rest before facing the Black Friday crowds, and planned on wrangling Mel into helping her with the rest that afternoon. The dark circles under her eyes were easily concealed with makeup, and she had a bright smile and a warm greeting ready for each of her coworkers as they trickled into Bath & Body Works, still half-asleep.
The day was a grueling one, even with Olive's determination to face it as cheerfully as possible, so she was quite relieved when twelve-thirty rolled around at last and she was able to clock out. The mall was still packed with people taking advantage of the various Black Friday sales, so it took Olive a little longer than usual to wade through them all and make her way to the exit. She found that she didn't really mind, happy to just absorb the sight of twinkling lights in the Christmas displays of myriad stores, the sounds of a thousand conversations going on all around her and over it all, Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You" blasting over the mall's loudspeakers. Most people (Mel, for instance) would likely have torn their hair out from the sensory overload of it all, but to Olive all this chaos served as both a distraction and a pleasant reminder that it was now her favorite time of the year. Surely nothing, not even being ghosted by the man she'd spent most of the last year with, could keep her down for long now.
Skirting around the giant carousel in the middle of the mall, Olive came upon a large group of children and their parents in the line to see Santa Claus. She tried peering around them to see if it was George MacDougal—the mall Santa for the past three years and the best they had ever had, in Olive's opinion—but was unsuccessful, as she stood at least a head shorter than most everyone in the crowd. What she [i did] see, however, was a bright red sign encouraging mall employees to apply for seasonal positions as Santa's helpers.
Olive chewed on her lower lip for a moment, considering, before pulling out her phone and taking a picture of the sign so that she would remember the website she needed to go to in order to apply. Taking on this job would mean she would be even busier than usual during Christmas season, but she could always use the extra income.
More importantly, however, she could think of no better way to truly get into the Christmas spirit and have no time to even think about her failed love life in the process.
Emmett headed to the mall with Gavin the next day. Of course the big guy had also been hired and he was glad they shared the same schedule, at least for the first few days. They had carpooled over in Gavin's tiny sedan that made the both of them look like clowns squished inside. The passenger side door couldn't open anymore, so Emmett had to awkwardly climb across the middle. He offered his own car even though it wasn't much better, but Gavin was a giver and wouldn't take no for an answer and Emmett didn't want to be rude.
"Where's your hat?" Gavin asked, pulling on his security ball cap as they stepped inside the building.
"I'm not wearing that thing. My head gets too hot," he mumbled and straightened out the jacket with the same word on the back.
Together they found the back room they had received their uniforms in down one of the inconspicuous hallways. Along with several others, they were outfitted with walkie-talkies and then given the quickest training session Emmett had ever been through (and he had been through a lot). They must have been desperate because he wasn't sure he would just trust average people to come in off the street and police a place like this, but he wasn't about to overthink it. After all, there were real security officers in charge of them all. Emmett let his intrusive thoughts about inciting a riot with his fellow security guards dissipate as they stepped back out into the mall.
"You know what I'm most excited about?" Gavin asked as they both took a right. Emmett was still awkwardly trying to get his walkie- talkie to stay put on his jacket and just mumbled his response. "Girls, Emmett. Who comes to the mall the most? Hot. Girls."
Emmett paused in his actions and directed his eyes up. He cast a glance around them. There were at least a dozen old people. He said nothing and went back to fiddling with the walkie-talkie.
"Okay, so, maybe not right now. But I bet they'll shop later. Or they all work here. Would you fucking stop that? It's like this!" Gavin reached out for the walkie-talkie and pulled a clip out on the back before fixing it to Emmett's jacket.
"Oh. The fuck? How'd you-"
"I'm just so tired of being single. How the hell does [i Nigel] have a girlfriend and I don't?" Emmett couldn't help but give a sarcastic laugh. "What?"
Emmett was studying the clip on the underside of the walkie-talkie as he spoke. "I'm older than both of you. Don't start complaining to [i me] about this shit," he said and started walking away.
"Aww," Gavin called after in a baby voice, following a few feet behind. "Does poor Emmett have emotions about woove?"
"No," he said in that deep voice of his. He didn't look back so Gavin couldn't detect the lie he felt in himself. "I'm just tired of listening to you bitch and moan. Now go away, we're supposed to split up, remember?"
"You're not very nice. Where's your Christmas cheer?" Gavin hollered as he walked away finally.
Emmett breathed out deeply. The good news is that he could hear his own thoughts again. Gavin was great, but sometimes he just wanted to tell him to shut up. The bad news is that now, without the distraction, he was also taking in everything else around him. The lights, the decorations, the fucking music. He blinked hard as "Santa Baby" echoed through the mall and through his brain. He wondered if he could find a quiet place to park himself and just stay there for his entire shift. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be single place where he wasn't being force-fed Christmas.
People usually noticed him due to his height and he was used to this, but with his security jacket he was getting even more looks than usual. He had to wonder if he was making people nervous. He wanted to assure them that he was actually just really awkward and he only took this job because he needed the money. Then he remembered it [i was] his job to be tall and strong and kind of scary so people wouldn't steal stuff.
He almost laughed to himself because he had, in fact, stolen many, many things when he was younger just to get by. And yet here he was, trying to protect this place from people like himself.
Emmett's lunch break didn't seem long enough and as the day dragged on he had to buy himself several coffees. The servings were so small here so that people had to keep coming back as they shopped and dammit, it worked. Especially for a man Emmett's size. He talked himself out of a fourth, knowing the sun had set hours ago thanks to daylight savings and a glance at his watch told him it was closing time soon. He didn't expect that walking in circles and people-watching all day could be so boring and he was glad it was coming to a close. He just wondered if he had a month of this left in him.
Before long, the shops were closing their gates. Shoppers were slowly leaving the building and Emmett made his way to the entrance to watch, though to be honest, he had no idea what exactly he was supposed to be looking for. He looked back and saw Gavin and a few others making rounds and checking that there were no customers hiding out anywhere. He leaned against the wall near the automatic doors as he waited for his friend.
"You're insane. You realize that, right?" Mel asked dryly as she watched Olive fiddle with her fake elf ears. The two of them were standing in one of the least-frequented restrooms in the mall, where they had retreated so that Olive could get ready for her first shift as one of Santa's elves. There hadn't been time for Olive to go home and change after finishing up at Bath & Body Works for the day, so Mel had begrudgingly agreed to bring the elf outfit and ears to her. She had then proceeded to tell Olive what a bad idea she thought this whole business was.
"They do make those headbands with the giant felt ears on them, you know," Mel went on when Olive didn't answer her. For some reason, the tip of her left elf ear kept going all lopsided, and it was taking all of her concentration to try and get it to stay where she wanted it. "That would probably be a whole lot easier than these dumb things, wouldn't you say?"
This at last prompted Olive to frown and meet Mel's gaze, reflected in the bathroom mirror. "But those are so tacky! Not to mention [i obviously] fake."
Mel rolled her eyes, but couldn't stop herself from grinning. "You do know you're not exactly auditioning for the role of Galadriel, Lady of Lórien, out there, right?" she asked. "The kids are all going to be looking at Santa Claus, and if the parents look at you at all, it'll probably be to yell at you for how long they have to wait in line. No one's gonna give a shit how 'realistic' you look."
"Yeah, well, [i I] give a shit," Olive replied, satisfied at last with her left elf ear and giving her head a small shake to be sure that it stayed in place. "I'm expected to play a part, so I'm gonna play it the best that I can." She rose up on her toes and pivoted so that she was facing Mel now instead of the mirror. She held up her arms. "How do I look?"
Mel made a show of looking her up and down, sipping noisily at her coffee while she pretended to contemplate Olive's appearance. The uniform was the same as that of all the other women who would be playing Santa's elves: a red jumper over a green sweater and green tights, and pointed red elf shoes with bells on the toes. Olive had been given a choice between wearing a Santa hat or fake antlers on her head, and after some deliberation had chosen the antlers, not liking how the Santa hat looked against her red hair. She had gone the extra mile and affixed little bells to a few of the tines, and they jingled as she tilted her head from side to side, awaiting Mel's verdict.
As she expected, the sound drew Mel's attention back to her head. "Well, if you're going for realism, Ollie Oxen Free, I'm afraid I've got to dock you a few points for your choice of headgear," she said, feigning seriousness. "[i Real] elves don't have antlers."
Olive ducked her head and dramatically put a hand over her heart, as though she'd been struck with an arrow, and then abruptly straightened back up. "But apart from that, I look perfect, right?" She raised her eyebrows expectantly.
Mel snorted, her serious facade falling away. "Yeah, apart from that, you look perfect."
Olive clapped her hands and bounced briefly in place, setting every bell on her person to jingling until Mel gently took her by the arm to get her to stop.
"For real, though, are you sure you want to do this?" she asked, concern overtaking the levity in her voice. "From now on, you'll be here fourteen hours a day, every day until Christmas."
"Not [i every] day," Olive patiently reminded her, determined not to let Mel's worry overshadow her excitement for this job. "I'll still have [i some] days off."
Mel still seemed unconvinced. "If this is all just to distract yourself from Austin—"
"It's not." Olive's voice came out sharper than she had intended, and she felt her face heat up at Mel's knowing look. She sighed. "Well, it's not [i just] to distract myself. I love Christmas—you know that. This way, I get to be totally consumed by it for most of my day. Plus, with the extra money I'll have coming in, I'll be able to get you something [i really] nice this year."
Mel continued to stare her down for a moment before slumping in defeat. "I swear, there will come a day when your bribery will not work on me."
Olive felt her lips start to quirk upward in a smile. "But it is not this day?" she asked hopefully.
"It is not this day," Mel confirmed, then slung an arm around Olive's shoulders. "Well, come on, elf girl. I guess the least I can do is walk you back before abandoning you to the ravening hordes."
Although Olive wouldn't have quite described the general public that way, by the end of the night, she was starting to feel that perhaps Mel had been right. Until that day, the only customers she had dealt with were those looking to buy good-smelling soaps or lotions. Some could be cranky or downright rude, but she had never known true evil in the form of a customer until she was attempting to placate irate mothers while their children ran around unsupervised, knocking over displays and Christmas decorations. Despite the repeated demands on her patience, however, she managed to maintain her cheerful, helpful elf persona the entire night, even after the last customers were being ushered out of the mall.
Most of her fellow elves quickly scattered, but a few stayed behind with her and Santa (who had turned out to be George MacDougal after all, much to Olive's delight) to help straighten things up and get them in order for the next day. It wasn't until she was gathering her things and finally preparing to leave herself that Olive realized how late it was. She had only ever worked opening shifts at Bath & Body Works, at first because she had been taking night classes at the local community college and then because the powers that be hadn't bothered to adjust her schedule. As a consequence, she had never been at the mall after closing.
Now, as she stood just inside the mall's main entrance and contemplated the dark and nearly deserted parking lot in front of her, she kicked herself for not having taken George up on his offer to walk her back to her car. She'd needed to use the restroom and hadn't wanted to make him wait on her. And it wasn't like it was usually any big thing for her to walk by herself. Usually, however, it was light outside.
Olive glanced around and suddenly spotted a very tall security guard lounging against the wall nearby. She was honestly surprised she hadn't noticed him when she had first walked up, but then again the thought of walking alone in the dark [i had] been an all-consuming one. The man seemed to be waiting on another security guard to finish conversing with some others, so Olive felt fairly comfortable in studying him for a moment without worrying about being caught.
She knew at once that she had never seen him before in all the time that she had been working at this mall, but she supposed he might have been hired on in a seasonal capacity. He was certainly one of the more intimidating security guards she'd ever seen, between his imposing height and broad shoulders and the intensity on his face even as he was ostensibly relaxing.
[i I sure wouldn't want to come across] him [i in a dark parking lot,] she thought, and then it hit her. Of course. She could ask him to escort her out to her car. That was surely one of a security guard's duties, wasn't it?
Before she could talk herself out of it, Olive squared her shoulders and jingled her way over to the guard, somewhat surprised when the racket she made didn't immediately draw his attention. She stopped when she was just a few feet away and put on her best polite and apologetic smile.
"Excuse me, do you think you could help me?" she asked.
It was at this moment that Emmett was starting to wish he had driven himself. Gavin was too keen on making friends to worry about getting out of the building on time. He watched his friend mingle with the other new security guards, no doubt getting names and numbers so he could throw some kind of rager in a week. Emmett wasn’t the greatest at making friends. In fact, anyone he could call a friend usually just adopted him into their lives and forced him into plans after they figured out he was never going to actually call them back.
He leaned his head against the wall and looked up at the ceiling. He used to feel like a loser because of the way he interacted with the world, but he found his confidence growing as he moved from place to place the last few years. He was odd, sure. But there were always one or two people that found him genuinely funny. There were a couple girls in his past that actually wanted to date him. It was all very affirming once he dropped the act of normalcy and found out he was still likeable. Maybe not by as many people, but he didn’t care.
For the first time that day, Emmett was so caught up in his thoughts that he managed to shut out everything else. The music, which was still going for the cleaning crew. The lights. The smells. The jingle bells.
[i The jingle bells?]
He blinked and looked down. And down. And down. And he met eyes with a redheaded elf with cheeks like apples and a gap between her two front teeth. The bells he heard were dangling from her antlers and the tips of her shoes.
“Huh?” he asked before her words finally ungarbled themselves in his brain. “Oh, yeah. Yeah, that’s what I’m here for,” he said dumbly. “To help.”
Olive arched her eyebrows, but still kept the smile on her face. This guy sure wasn't acting like any of the security guards she'd interacted with in the past. He was definitely new, alright; she doubted he had even been here a week. On top of that, she had clearly caught him unawares while he'd been spacing out.
[i Poor guy,] she thought. [i If anyone has a job tougher than a Santa's helper, it's a mall security guard at Christmastime. He's probably exhausted, and here I am demanding help right at the end of his shift.]
There was nothing for it, however. She still wasn't about to walk out to her car by herself, and her only other recourse was to have Mel drive all the way over here just to escort her—something she also wasn't about to make her friend do. That left just this odd security guard, and he [i had] just said he was here to help.
[i All the more reason to ask and get this over with so that] both [i of you can go home, Olive.] She craned her neck to better meet the security guard's eyes and was suddenly grateful she hadn't come any closer; he was so tall that she almost had to lean backward in order to make eye contact with him just standing where she was. The bells on her antlers jingled merrily with her movement, and it struck her all at once that she probably looked more than a little ridiculous to him.
[i "Sometimes you can be a little...much, babe,"] Austin had once told her, and she felt her face heat up as she recalled his words now. [i "With your outfits and the makeup, and all. Mel's bad enough with all her goth shit, but you just look like a damn clown sometimes. No offense, I'm not trying to make you feel bad or anything, I just wish you'd think about how embarrassing it can be for me to be seen with you."]
As if to drown out both his voice and his memory, Olive suddenly found herself speaking all in a rush to the security guard. "Would you please walk me out to my car? I don't want to go alone."
Her voice had come out much louder than she'd intended, and she winced as she realized the other security guards had stopped talking and were now looking over at her curiously. [i There you go, being an embarrassment again.] She hoped they didn't think she was shouting at their companion.
"I mean, if it's not too much trouble," she continued in a much softer voice. She dropped her gaze to the walkie-talkie on the tall security guard's jacket, unable to look him in the face anymore. "It's just really dark outside."
The girl seemed to go somewhere for a moment, her expression far away. And then it came back and her freckled cheeks turned a bit red. Emmett tried hard not to stare, remembering what Gavin and Nigel had said about his tendency to be rather off-putting when he did. But she wasn’t looking directly at him to notice, at least. It occurred to him that she was nervous and as if to prove the fact, her voice rang out as she asked her favor, well above normal speaking volume.
The chatter down the hall died away and both Emmett and the girl looked over at the others whose attention had been drawn. Emmett knew what it was like to have eyes on you when you didn’t want them to be, especially after having just done something a little embarrassing.
But he didn’t find her embarrassing. Not when he had himself to compare her to. He looked back at her and she returned her eyes to his chest. The others resumed talking, a few of them laughed.
Her next words were softer. Her face was redder. And he nodded, unable to take his eyes away from hers this time, even if she wasn’t looking back.
“Christ, kid” he breathed finally. If he didn’t stop her she might just keep talking out of sheer nerves. “My eyes are up here,” he finally said, a small smile took over his previously unsure face. He knew his crooked teeth were showing but it had been a long time since he had cared about that. When she finally met his eyes, Emmett gestured for the door with his head before holding out an arm to direct her. “Let’s get you to your car.”
The doors groaned as they walked through them and Emmett didn’t even spare a glance back at Gavin or the others. If he was ready to go, he could wait this time. Emmett buried his hands in the pockets of his jacket and hunched his shoulders to ward off the wind as they crossed the parking lot. An awkward silence came over them, only worsened by the weight of the heavy clouds that threatened snow. The only thing that broke it was the jingling of her antlers with every step she took.
“Doesn’t that annoy you?” he asked. Emmett had a way of asking questions that might come off rude when asked by someone else, but coming from him it just sounded like he was genuinely curious. Not that it hadn’t gotten him into trouble in the past. Many times he opened his mouth and realized only after the fact that he had been impolite.
Olive wrinkled her nose instinctively when the security guard called her "kid." While it was plain that he was obviously older than she was, she doubted he was old enough to be her father. And she was short, sure—who [i wouldn't] be, next to him?—but she thought it obvious from her face alone that she had to be in her mid-twenties, at least.
Then again, she [i was] dressed as an elf and was wearing bell-adorned antlers on her head. She supposed anyone would consider that pretty juvenile.
In any event, she didn't have very much time to be annoyed, as the security guard followed up with a cheeky, "My eyes are up here," which sent her careening right back into embarrassment. Immediately she jerked her head up so that she could look at his face again, hoping her own didn't currently look [i too] much like a tomato. This encounter was quickly turning into humiliation after humiliation for her.
The security guard was indeed smiling when her eyes met his, but she was somewhat surprised to find nothing malicious in the expression. True, she had never been the best at reading people (her entire relationship with Austin was a testament to that fact), but she nevertheless got the strong impression that this man wasn't making fun of her or intent on giving her a hard time. His brown eyes were warm as they looked into her own green ones and the smile that quirked his lips, while small, was still nothing but reassuring. He indicated that they should walk together out to her car, and Olive exhaled in relief. She hadn't blown it after all.
Still, she didn't trust herself not to do something embarrassing yet again, so remained uncharacteristically quiet as the security guard walked with her across the dark expanse of the parking lot. She shivered as a particularly chilly breeze ruffled her hair, and buried her mouth and nose into her knitted scarf. There was a decent chance of snow tonight, she remembered, and hoped that it would hold off until she made it back home, at least.
Her yellowish-green Datsun B210—the Green Goblin, as Mel affectionately liked to call it—sat alone under a street light about twenty feet away. Since it was the only car in the immediate vicinity and she was angling her steps in that direction, Olive figured she didn't need to break her self-imposed silence to inform the security guard that it was hers. He loped along easily beside her, taking one long stride for three or four of her own jingling steps.
They were nearly to the car when he suddenly asked, "Doesn't that annoy you?" It caught Olive so off guard that she paused mid-step to look up at him in confusion.
"Huh?" she asked, her mind blanking as she tried to figure out what he was talking about. He hadn't said anything since agreeing to walk her out to her car, had he? Then another sharp breeze blew by, making all of her bells chime again, and it hit her. Duh, Olive.
"Oh! The bells, you mean?" She laughed awkwardly and reached up to remove the antlers from her head, regarding them once she held them in her hand and unable to resist shaking them a little as she did so. "Well, after a few hours I kind of forget I'm even wearing them, to be honest. But when I [i do] hear them, they never annoy me. I've always liked the sound of bells, especially little jingle bells like these. They make me think of this old nursery rhyme—"
Olive cut herself off abruptly as she realized she was rambling on like an idiot to this complete stranger, who probably hadn't meant for her to go on a monologue in response to his simple question. In fact...
Her heart dropped as she realized why he might have asked her that question. Hesitantly, she looked back up at him. "Oh shit, are the bells annoying [i you]? I'm so sorry, I didn't even think before we started walking; I should have taken them all off inside!"
It took Emmett a step or two to realize that the girl had stopped, so he turned to face her. The wind blew his hair in his eyes, but he knew it would be hopeless to try to fix it, so he waited for her to say something with a worried brow. Perhaps he had said something wrong.
Relief flooded over him when he realized she was just as bad at putting two and two together as he was. Realization came over her features and she began to talk again, explaining her connection to the silver and gold bells hanging from the antlers now in her small hands. And then she was quiet and Emmett wanted nothing more than to hear about the nursery rhyme, but she had moved on to worrying about him.
He held up his hands and waved them a little with a shake of his head. "No! I mean, yes, but no." When he saw this wasn't helping, he elaborated. "I don't find them any more annoying than any of the other Christmas shit," he said, feeling the awkwardness pool over them. "You- you can keep wearing them, I really don't mind. I just couldn't wear bells all day without going mad. That's all I was saying."
[i Well, this is going just peachy,] he thought to himself and brought a hand up to scratch at the hair on his chin. He looked around him for something to draw the attention away from the miscommunication at hand and found what had to be her car considering it was the only one out this way. He pointed and looked back at her.
"Is that your car?" He took a few long strides to get a closer look. Other than its odd color, it was still in decent condition. "My next door neighbor growing up had one of these. Well, his dad did. He took us to get ice cream in it sometimes." Now [i he] was oversharing, but maybe that was a good thing so she wouldn't be so embarrassed. "I mean, I'm sure they used it all the time. The only time I was ever in it was to get... ice cream." She had closed the distance between them now and it was her turn to say something, but he couldn't help himself.
He had to know. "Hey, what was the nursery rhyme? About the bells?"
Olive was at once both relieved to learn that the security guard didn't find her in [i particular] annoying, and dismayed that he was apparently one of those people that just didn't like Christmas all that much. She supposed everyone had their least favorite holidays and that was all well and good, but in her experience, people who didn't like Christmas sometimes tended to be a bit...[i hostile] about it. At least toward her, but then again, Olive was one of those people that started listening to Christmas music as soon as Halloween was over. Thankfully, however, the security guard seemed to feel awkward about the whole situation more than anything else, and rather than lay into her for being so enthusiastic about playing her part in the over-commercialization of the biggest holiday in the United States, he instead changed the subject to Olive's car.
She couldn't stop herself from grinning when he offered up a personal anecdote about a neighbor who'd had the same model while he was growing up. It was clear to Olive now that he was going out of his way to put her at ease after they'd just narrowly managed to sidestep a potential miscommunication, and that alone made her beyond grateful to him. She'd never met another security guard—or even that many people in general, come to think of it—who would take such pains to be mindful of her feelings. She made a mental note to find this man's supervisor the next day and inform them of how good a job he was doing. Maybe it would even net him a bonus or a raise or something, which Olive felt was the least she could do.
A brief silence fell after the security guard finished his story, and Olive found to her surprise that she had moved in closer to him while he had been talking. She tilted her head back to keep looking at his face and very nearly opened her mouth to explain how she'd gotten the Datsun and why it was so special to her. But then she reminded herself that she'd done enough babbling for one night. The security guard was probably eager to get home at this point; she had already kept him quite long enough.
In any event, he hadn't yet finished saying all that he'd wanted to, for he suddenly asked her about the nursery rhyme she'd mentioned earlier. Olive blinked, dumbfounded. He'd actually been paying attention to that and now wanted to know [i more]? She would have been less surprised if he'd suddenly broken into a rendition of "Jingle Bells" instead.
She did her best to recover from this unexpected turn in their conversation and smiled up at him. It wouldn't do for him to think she was such a loser that she was completely bowled over by basic courtesy.
"Oh, yeah, it's just an old nursery rhyme, like I said. My parents used to recite it to me all the time. I'm sure you've heard it, too, or a version of it, anyway." She cleared her throat, wondering why she suddenly felt so nervous at the thought of reciting the simple rhyme for this stranger. It wasn't as if she was getting ready to perform it onstage in front of thousands, or anything.
[i It's probably the way he's looking at me,] she thought. The security guard had his dark eyes trained completely on her, barely blinking. He stood a little stooped, as if he didn't want to straighten to his full height and therefore potentially miss what the much shorter person in front of him was about to say.
Olive didn't think she had ever been the subject of such intense focus before, and it felt more than a little intimidating. However, there was also no denying the small rush of excitement that warmed her despite the chill in the air, and she felt her grin grow even wider as she began reciting the rhyme.
[i "Ride a cockhorse to Banbury Cross, To see a fine lady upon a white horse; Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, She shall have music wherever she goes."]
When she'd finished, Olive couldn't stop herself from ducking her head again, suddenly nervous her recitation wouldn't meet with his approval. Which was [i stupid]—since when did she care what a total stranger thought of her? Since now, apparently, and she found herself babbling once again in order to cover her anxiousness.
"As a kid, I always loved the idea of having music wherever I went. And of being a fine lady on a white horse, too, I guess." She huffed a brief, self-deprecating laugh and watched as her breath formed a large, silvery cloud that was immediately taken away by the wind. She rocked back on her heels so that she could wiggle her toes and shook her head gently from side to side. As the bells all sang out, she finally chanced a glance back up at the security guard. "Now at least I can have one of those things."
Emmett found this girl intriguing in every way. Of course it helped that she was willing to hold a conversation with him for longer than a minute and didn't seem to be rushing to escape his curiosity like others seemed to at times. In fact, he got the feeling she wasn't used to being asked about herself.
Her bashfulness shone through the blush on her cheeks. Her nose was also red from the cold. A different red from her hair. The clashing of it all made him stare like one might study a piece of artwork: with wide and curious eyes trying to understand if the colors meant anything.
For a long moment she didn't speak. Then, when it seemed she mustered the courage, it was not to recite any poem or nursery rhyme, but to explain herself, stalling. And he had been so looking forward to learning something new.
"No, I don't think I know any rhymes about bells," he told her, hoping to perhaps move her in some way to tell it to him.
Emmett wasn't the best at reading people. He could tell how someone was feeling by their words or how they spoke them, but he hated trying to understand someone's facial cue's. Especially those of someone he didn't know. And this girl was like a whole foreign language to him. She seemed nervous, but she was smiling. That didn't line up, surely.
And then little puffs of cold air came from her mouth as she spoke the four simple lines. He watched her the whole time, his smile growing to mirror hers as the poem came to a close. He opened his mouth to tell her he liked it, but she beat him to speaking, so he closed it again and listened. He found he liked listening to her. Her voice sounded a lot like the bells she wore, but much more pleasant. He had the brief thought he wouldn't mind having bells around all day if they sounded like her.
Her toes jingled again. For the first time in what felt like millennia, he dropped his gaze to look at the little elf shoes on her feet before returning it back to her face. He had to wonder why her laugh seemed so strained.
"I've never heard that before," he said. "I like it." He offered her a smile again. Really he was rather indifferent about the poem, but he also knew he was a man and riding a white horse and being a fine lady was far, far down on his list of wants. But he could see it meant a lot to her. And that in itself made him like it. He liked when people shared the things they liked with him.
Even if they were complete strangers in a dark parking lot at eleven at night.
"Fuck, shit," he said suddenly, as if coming out of a pleasant dream into reality. "I'm sorry. I was supposed to walk you to your car not talk your ear off." He turned his head to see that Gavin was waiting by the door smoking a cigarette, tapping his foot impatiently. "And my ride is getting impatient with me." He gestured for her car. "I'll watch you get in and drive away to make sure there's no serial killers in your back seat or anything," he said with a dorky grin that was supposed to put her at ease, but he instantly regretted speaking at all. "Not that I think- I mean it's highly unlikely that- I'm just gonna stop talking." His low voice faltered and he pressed his mouth into a line. And just like that, the strange magic of the moment they had been sharing was broken.
Olive observed the security guard as closely as was possible in the dimly lit parking lot, searching for any trace of mockery in his expression or tone after he claimed to enjoy the silly rhyme. She quickly determined that unless he was a master at concealing his true feelings, he was being sincere with her. She had to tamp down very hard on the urge to bounce up and down in delight. From the way he was smiling down at her, though, she didn't think the security guard would have minded such a display of relief and giddiness, anyway.
And then, as though he'd been doused with ice water, he seemed to suddenly rouse himself from the dreamlike warmth of the moment. Olive started to protest when he apologized for talking her ear off—if anyone had been doing too much talking, it was certainly [i her]—then she followed his gaze to see another security guard standing some distance away, clearly waiting on them. His ride, the man in front of her explained.
"Oh, right! Yeah, I'm sorry," she murmured, as flustered now as he apparently was to have taken up so much of his time when he wasn't even on the clock anymore. She took a few steps toward her car, her gloved hands fumbling with the keys so that she could get it unlocked and get out of this poor guy's hair as quickly as possible. What had she been thinking, going on for so long and keeping him as she had?
She had just managed to get her driver's side door unlocked and open when the security guard mentioned watching for serial killers in the backseat. Immediately, Olive jerked away from the car, anxiously peering through the back windows for any dark, unfamiliar shapes. True, she didn't have much of a backseat to speak of, but she doubted that would stop any determined would-be killer from wedging themselves in behind the driver's seat anyway, waiting for the perfect opportunity to garrote her with piano wire.
After her initial scan turned up nothing, she looked back at the security guard to see him grinning at her, clearly having meant his comment as a joke. Olive slumped in relief, then managed to give him a weak glare for nearly giving her a heart attack. When this prompted him to immediately start backpedaling, she felt guilty for making him think that he had truly upset her. He hadn't, really, she'd just been a bit startled.
"It's okay," she said with a small smile after the security guard said that he was finished talking. "I, uh, don't usually get in my car much after dark, so you at least reminded me that I need to be a little more careful and check things out before I get in." She could tell at once that her attempt to lighten things up had done nothing to dislodge the awkwardness that now blanketed the both of them, so it would probably be for the best if she [i also] stopped talking and just got in her car and went home. Maybe if she saw him tomorrow, she could try this whole conversing-like-a-normal-human thing again, only hopefully do a much better job of it.
She was seated behind the wheel and had nearly pulled the door closed behind her when she suddenly remembered something.
"Hey, wait!" she called out, frantically throwing the door back open and stepping out of the car. She realized at once that the security guard hadn't even moved, and felt her face burn in mortification for what had to be the fiftieth time that night. He [i had] said he as going to wait and make sure she drove off safely, hadn't he?
Olive did her best to shove her embarrassment to the side so that she could ask him the question she'd very nearly forgotten to. "What's your name?"
Emmett might have laughed at just how bad this whole interaction was going if it hadn't also been going extremely well. Despite the awkward moments and silly missteps on both their parts, they were doing remarkable for a first meeting. Especially since Emmett had no idea how to actually make friends.
However, he couldn't tell if his dance partner was finding it endearing that they kept stepping on each others feet or just down right embarrassing. Either way, he was keen to let her go lest [i he] turn into the creep in the dark parking lot. So he only nodded when she tried to lighten the most recent load for him and watched her climb into the old car.
One time Emmett had seen the most amazing lunar eclipse by complete accident. He hadn't heard a thing about it, woke up at two in the morning for a piss, and when he stepped outside for a short smoke he looked up at a huge, red moon. He remembered thinking about how lucky he was to have woken up. And when it was over he felt so small compared to the world and the moon and the whole grand scheme. That was how he felt when he watched her climb into her car. Lucky. And a little sad.
He stuck his hands in his jacket pockets, expecting the car to come to life any second. To watch her drive away and completely forget about their imperfect conversation. Instead, the door swung open again and her head popped into view with a too-loud outburst asking him to wait. He hadn't moved, of course. He hadn't planned on it, nor had she given him the time to even if he had. The only thing that changed was his heart rate.
His brows rose and he could have sworn he saw her cheeks glowing red from where he stood. The corner of his mouth twitched up, but he controlled it and waited for her to speak. "What's your name?"
He felt so foolish for not having exchanged this information earlier. That's one of the first things people did when they met, right?
"I'm Emmett," he replied. "Emmett Wright." He never knew when he was supposed to provide his full name, so he just made a habit of always giving it. Perhaps it was a little formal, but at least whoever he was introducing himself to would have the information if they wanted it. "What's yours?"
Continue reading this role play by signing up to Roleplay.cloud Roleplay Now ! No email required!