December 20, 1999
"Whoa, sorry," Rick says, his fingers colliding with a set of knuckles as he reaches for the last pair of gloves hanging on the counter display. The small, smooth hand belongs to a woman who blushes, her brunette locks sweeping over her face. She's young—eighteen, maybe twenty—Rick assesses, and her eyes are a gorgeous hazel with flecks of gold. His mouth feels dry all of a sudden.
"Sorry," she murmurs, pulling her hand back.
He chuckles. "Do you want these?"
"No, please," she gestures.
He shrugs. "You go ahead. It's the last one."
The brunette turns to the cashier. "Uh, miss, do you have another pair of these black cashmere gloves?"
"Whatever's out is what we have," the cashier throws over her shoulder as she tends to the busy Christmas crowd pulsing through Bloomingdale's.
"You don't have a stockroom?" the brunette asks.
"Or a basement?" Rick tacks on.
"No, we don't have an attic, either," the cashier deadpans, rolling her eyes as she rings up another customer.
"Um, listen, you take 'em, I don't need 'em," Rick offers.
"No, no, no. You saw them first. I—"
"Please, I insist," Rick says. She smiles and starts to reach for them, but suddenly, a third customer squeezes between them and hurriedly snatches the gloves off the stand.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Excuse me, sir, those are ours," Rick says.
"Oh, your gloves? How come? They're just sort of hanging there, sleeping with their little price tag on," the customer challenges.
"We were just discussing them," Rick says, motioning at the young woman.
"Well, I have news for you. You can go on discussing them long after I've paid for them," the customer says rudely.
"Calm down, alright?" Rick says.
"Calm down? It's five days before Christmas. I'm in the middle of a New York department store and you're asking me to calm down," the customer scoffs.
"Listen, these were meant to be a very special gift to someone," Rick says, glancing at the brunette.
"Yeah, we put quite a lot of thought into those," she adds, smiling at him with a conspiratorial glint in her eye. It sends a thrill through him.
"Who are they for?" the customer asks, unimpressed.
"My boyfriend," the woman says, just as Rick says, "My girlfriend."
"His girlfriend," she corrects at the same time Rick replies, "Her boyfriend."
They both suppress a grin.
"One pair of gloves for two people?" the customer says, askance.
"It's hard to explain," Rick says.
"Try," the customer says, intrigued.
"Alright, go ahead," Rick says, nodding at the brunette. She narrows her eyes at him and he flashes her an encouraging smile.
"They're collectors," she blurts out. "His girlfriend. My boyfriend. They're siblings, you see. Twins. And they collect, um, things that come in pairs," she says. "But each one only keeps half of the pair. It's symbolic."
"Symbolic of what exactly?" the customer asks.
"Being apart but connected by something similar. Two halves to a whole. You know," Rick says matter-of-factly.
The customer shakes his head. "No, I don't," he says, placing the gloves in Rick's hand. "But Merry Christmas, anyway."
"Thank you," Rick says, bowing his head. He grins crookedly at the brunette and passes the gloves to her. "Well, you earned these. That was quick on your feet."
A shy smile lights up her face. "Thanks. It was a team effort."
"Yeah, it was," he says. The cashier rings up the purchase as the brunette passes her credit card over.
"I don't know how to thank you," she says, smirking.
"Do you drink coffee?" he asks.
"This is quite the blend. I can't remember the last time I've been here," Rick says as he sips from his chocolate-infused mochaccino, a Serendipity special.
"It's been a while for me, too," she says, looking around the patisserie wistfully.
"Yeah?" he prompts gently, sensing a story.
"I used to come here with my mom," she says after a moment, stirring her drink and losing herself in thought. "She loved the history of this place and 'serendipity' was one of her favorite words."
"Why's that?" asks Rick.
She glances at him, peeking up from under lashes. "'Cause it's such a nice sound for what it means—a fortunate accident. She thought fate was behind everything."
"Oh, I agree," he says.
"Yeah, of course," he replies.
She shifts in her chair, eyeing him curiously. "Everything's predestined? We don't have any choice at all?"
He wraps his hands around his mug. "I think we make our own decisions. And fate just sends little signs that determines whether we're happy or not." He catches her gaze. "And if you don't even believe in the possibility of fate, you'll never ever find it."
The brunette adjusts the scarf around her throat and tucks a nonexistent strand of hair behind her ear.
"You and my mom would've really gotten along," she says, her voice thick.
"How long has it been?" he asks.
"Since she passed...I'm sorry. I didn't mean to assume."
She stares at a blemish on the table, her jaw hardening. "This past January. She was killed, actually."
"I'm sorry to hear that. I really didn't mean to bring it up. I'm an idiot," he rambles.
She relaxes a little, a melancholy smile wrapping around her mouth.
"No, it's okay. It's just hard, you know?" she says with a sigh. "My dad didn't even bring out the Christmas decorations this year, and I couldn't sit around watching him down another bottle of Jameson."
Rick stays quiet, letting her unspool, fascinated by her.
"And the only reason I'm out here buying a last-minute present is because my boyfriend insisted we exchange gifts," she says on a huff.
"So you do have a boyfriend?"
She laughs, burying her face in her hands.
"I can't believe I'm telling you all this. You're a total stranger."
"Well, not total. Or did you already forget the pair of black cashmere gloves I so graciously relinquished to your care?"
An easy grin splits across her face.
"How could I?"
He walks her to the end of the block after they exit Serendipity. A chilly wind whips across their cheeks, reddening them.
"I should go," she says when they come to a stop at a light.
"You gonna meet your boyfriend, now?" he asks.
"No, I think he's probably doing what you're doing," she says.
"Getting a crush on someone else's girlfriend?" he asks, arching a brow.
Her eyes widen and he grimaces inwardly.
"No, I'm sorry. I just meant to say I had a really great time. You know, maybe you should give me your phone number...just in case," he says.
"In case of what?" she asks, playfully.
"In case I want to see you again." He shrugs.
"Well, if we're meant to meet again, then we'll meet again. Isn't that your whole philosophy? Fate's behind everything," she says, crossing her arms.
"I hate it when people use my own words against me."
She chuckles. "I don't even know your name."
"It's Rick," he says. "Does that make you wanna tell me something?"
"Yeah, it does...Merry Christmas, Rick. And thanks," she says.
"That's it? Not even something to hold onto?"
She considers him as she raises an arm to hail a cab.
"Allison," she decides.
A cab pulls up to the curb and she opens the door, her hand pausing on top of the door frame as she turns to him.
"No. Just something to hold onto."
"Merry Christmas, Not-Allison."
A/N: This story will be 10 chapters (plus Epilogue) and updates will be every two days. Let me know what you think!