I wandered the mall trying to find that elusive unique gift. You know that one that no one thought they really needed, but after they have it they can’t live without it? That unique I know you better than you know yourself type of gift. I roamed Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, Kohl’s, and several little boutiques. Every time something called out to me, at the last second it just didn’t seem to fit. I knew Charlee loved colors. Especially colors that made her think of spring. Fresh flowers and that sort of thing.
I was thinking maybe scarf, you can’t have too many of those and you didn’t have to worry about sizes. Or maybe a hat, or a belt. Or maybe a perfume? But, then maybe that is too personal. I could be way off on the scent and then I would experience that awkward, “You really shouldn’t have…” With the expression that says, yeah, like, you really shouldn’t have…” Literally, not tongue in cheek.
Same with dresses. So much could go wrong. I would save the receipt, no matter what I decided. No repeats of last year. The silence was deafening as she looked at the egg plant colored rain coat. Yeah, you shouldn’t have…thought I would ever, ever wear that. Lesson learned. Don’t go too quirky, don’t go too boring. Remember the beige sweater? Who could not like a neutral sweater? Apparently Charlee. Another year I got her a coffee mug. Problem was, so did her best friend. The year of the coffee cups taught me to try to find something no one else would think of. But at the same time not to go too far off in left field. Remember the rain coat became my new mantra.
Finally I settle on this tiny shop next to the perfume store. It looked like As-Seen-On-TV mixed with random nick-knacks like hello kitty clocks and waving animal solar powered dealies. You’ve seen them in windows and on car windows. Dancing daisies and stuff like that. I see one of the Felix the cat clocks give me the side eye as it was ticking reminding me I was running out of time. I went to a corner that had fortune stuff, lucky bamboo shoots in little porcelain jars next to banzai plant kits. Hmm. She would probably kill that poor plant before the month was out. I couldn’t have that death on my conscious.
My eyes went to a little book shelf. One book stood out. It was a dark purple color, kind of a velveteen material. In gold lettering it said Be What You Want to Be. Hmm. Sounds self-help-like. But she likes that sort of thing. It looks good to have a few books like that lying around. Makes you seem like you are working on yourself. It was risky though. What if the purple is too much like egg plant? What if she reads it and hates it, and then decides she hates me? I am terrible at this. So I decide to open the book and see what it says inside. I flip through it. To my amazement, it is empty. So, it is a journal maybe? The future is unwritten sort of thing? I decide she would like the soft velvet cover; maybe it would inspire her to journal.
I pick it up and take it to the counter which was a long glass affair with random porcelain figurines inside. Future thrift shop memorabilia I think. Isn’t that where all this stuff ends up in the end? If it doesn’t go straight to some giant land fill somewhere of forgotten treasures. I briefly am reminded of the land of forgotten toys from the old clay-mation holiday cartoon. Was it Rudolph or one of the others? The thought is gone as quickly as it came. Dancing Jack-in –the-Box and all the other misfit toys. Gone. Half remembered but not important enough to keep in the movie, or my memory.
I hand the cashier, a grey haired lady with thick glasses, a twenty dollar bill. She opens the register with a bell ring and gives me the change, a ten, a five, and two ones plus miscellaneous change. She reminds me of the old lady on the packages of Grandma’s cookies. She just seems like that sort of old lady. I take my change and notice one of the ones has something written on it. I figure it is one of those “Follow George” from this website and don’t think much of it. I put them hurriedly in my pocket and leave the store. I go to my car, place the little lavender bag with the book on the passenger seat as I start the car up. I sigh, just enough time to get to the party. Charlee all ready hates it when I am late, and I am late most of the time. Time management is not my strength.
I pull up to the nice three bedroom house with perfectly manicured landscaping. A house I helped pay for but rarely spent time in. I could see the balloons from here and the other cars lining the drive way. Last but not least I hope. Purple is still her favorite color isn’t it? Kids grow up way too fast these days. It used to be so easy, My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake or something like that. Maybe it was Carebears and Rainbow Brite? The years tend to run together now, and now I am unsure of my present.
I get out of the car, clutching the bag, oh crap. I didn’t wrap it. I’m an idiot. I rummage in my glove compartment, find a gift bag for just such emergencies and at the last second, maybe I should put money in the card I all ready bought and signed. I get out my change, and look at the one dollar bill again. The words on the bill gave me a chill. I looked out my open car door uncertainly. The bill said in carefully boxed letters, “I am watching you. If you want Charlee to get her present meet me at 4th and Pine. “It didn’t say when. The party was about to begin. I couldn’t help but wonder how this ended up on this bill. Charlee was a fairly unique name for a girl with an uncommon spelling. What would be the chances and how would the person know about the present?
I wrapped the present, and left it on the door step. I had to figure out what this was about. I looked around suspiciously. Was I being watched? How was this possible? I shakily got back in my car, a beat up old Honda Civic from the nineties and backed out of the drive way. Charlee will hate me. But if there is a psycho following me I can’t have them around her. I should go to the police. There has to be a logical explanation. I drive to 4th and Pine Street. It is quiet. There is a small park there with a few derelict swing sets and playground equipment. It looks creepy empty. Like the pictures of the Chernobyl Ferris wheel years after the nuclear meltdown but not in such bad shape. Just frozen in time, waiting for the ghosts of children to come and play.
I had missed my share of birthday parties but never for such a bizarre reason. Usually I missed them because of work, or stupidity. Yes, stupidity. I always regretted it. I sighed. I got out slowly looking around. I walked to the fence, checking my cell phone. I saw the missed call and text messages. ‘Where are you? Don’t you know how important this is to her?!?! Whats wrong with you???’ It was a valid question. I kept one hand on it, so I could hit the emergency button. I didn’t know what I was walking into, but I had the uneasy feeling it was like Alice in Wonderland. And I had no idea how deep this rabbit hole was going to be.