The Christmas Gift

By Lenise Lee

The excited laughter of children echoed in Alex’s ears.  Their chaotic and joyful noises filtered in from somewhere behind him and snapped the young chauffeur’s attention into the present.

In a swift rush of action, the busy metro scene sparked back to life at full speed all around him.  From beneath his dark limousine driver’s cap, Alex flicked his sea green eyes from side to side as he watched the never-ending stream of blank-faced pedestrians pushing on toward urgent and unknown destinations.  Black sedans with blue and white New York license plates and taxies the color of ripe banana peels zipped back and forth along the wide asphalt street lining the park he was seated in.  The young man, who was barely touching his mid-twenties, adjusted his frameless prescription lenses and took in an eyeful of the same drudging scenario that had been repeated to him dozens of times since he migrated to the vast metropolis.  With one quick motion, he flipped off the black hard-beaked cap and tossed it beside him on the bench then dropped his eyes down to the gray concrete beneath his feet.  He raised two big hands and smoothed his dirty blond hair forward then made fast work of ruffling up the short cut into a spiky mess.  Loose and wild was his usual hairstyle when he was off duty; he loved to feel the cool November air running across his scalp.

A sudden impulse hit Alex and he pushed up the sleeve of his black uniform jacket to check his watch again.  Only twenty minutes had passed since Alex dropped off his agency’s new client, an Italian investor named Rossi, at the towering skyscraper on the other side of the jammed boulevard.  Depending on how he viewed the situation, time was either ticking away much too fast or inching by at an extremely slow pace.  The businessman wouldn’t be exiting his meeting for another hour and a half, which would give Alex plenty of time to mow through midtown traffic and reach his destination on the opposite end of the city.   However, the reverse side of the scenario was that he wouldn’t be able to drive back to this location without getting stuck in the middle of the evening rush hour.  If Alex became held up in a signature New York traffic jam, he might as well consider today his very last day of employment with the shuttle company.   Once his bosses found out he was late picking up an international and very wealthy client, they wouldn’t hesitate to fire him on the spot.  Why?  Because in this roller coaster economy there were already ten more eager guys lined up and ready to take his spot in less than a moment’s notice.

Was he really willing to risk a steady income just to chase after a fifty-fifty childhood dream?  Alex sat up straight and stretched his long arms across the top of the green park bench while he considered his dilemma.  This was the event that was supposed to change his entire life.  The opportunity he had spent years of working overtime and planning for was waiting for him less than ten miles away, and all he had to do was to decide his next move.  Finding an affordable piece of real estate within the crammed borders of this massive urban city should have been impossible for someone with Alex’s tight pockets but fortune had dealt him a double dose of good luck.  He was able to convince the realtor to wave the finder’s fee and talked her into leasing the tiny art studio space for half price, with only one condition – a full year’s rent was due in one lump sum by the end of this month.  It was a once in a lifetime deal for a starving artist such as himself, and Alex couldn’t simply sit here and let it fall through.

Out of habit, he tapped the top of his charcoal black uniform jacket.  The sound of the paper check crumpling inside his pocket calmed the man’s nerves by a few degrees.  He had the full payment folded inside of his jacket and the signed and notarized lease agreement to the studio was in the glove compartment of the limo.  Now, all Alex had to do was to find a way of getting across town and back with enough time to close the deal before the real estate agent backed out and without being late for his scheduled pickup.

Another round of giggles flew through the air and drew Alex’s eyes toward the source of the playful sounds.  As he turned his head, a splash of hot pink shuffled across the corner of his vision.  A little girl with flapping pink shoelaces ran toward a woman in a belted cream-colored wool coat sitting on the other end of the bench.

“Ms. Jasmine, they came untied again,” a tiny girl with a puffy white coat and two braided ponytails breathlessly huffed out.

When she pushed her small foot forward to seek help with her wayward laces, a pair of feminine hands reached down to rescue the frustrated child.  A young woman, close to his age, was the owner of the silky brown hands.   Before she dipped forward to tie up the girl’s sneakers, Alex caught a glimpse of her side profile and found a muse for his newest painting.  He silently wondered how he had neglected to notice such a beautiful face sitting so near to him until now.   As Alex imagined the brilliant earth tone mixture of tan, brown, and bronze he would use to capture the stunning woman’s image on a fresh canvas, his artistic vision switched on and temporarily blocked out the impasse he had been struggling with a moment ago.

His sensitive eyes snapped a mental photo of the female’s elegant outline while she smiled at the little child.  Afterward, the highly skilled sketchpad embedded in his mind immediately went to work etching out a rough draft of her captivating profile.  Even the weakened autumn daylight could not mask the soft glow hovering on the woman’s cocoa shaded cheek.  If he touched her face right now, would his fingers glide effortlessly over her flawless skin?   His imaginary pencil strokes were careful to trace out every curve and loop of her full and natural hairdo, which she secured with a cream-colored cloth headband placed perfectly around the crown of her curly head.  Glints of sunlight that streaked between the cramped towers surrounding them caused the twisting strands at the extreme edges of the dark Afro hairstyle to shimmer like blazing amber.

The man was helpless to pull his sights away from his mocha-shaded beauty.  A small smile lifted the corners of Alex’s rosy lips while the woman finished her task.  Once the tiny sneaks were taken care of, she popped up and zipped the girl’s open coat.

“Samantha, sweetie, what have you been doing over there, playing war?”

She laughed low and, without realizing it, Alex laughed in sync with her.  He followed her smooth motions as she carefully straightened the child’s twisted denim skirt and tugged her crooked white leggings back into shape.  Once the woman had rearranged the little girl into a neat and tidy condition, she cupped the child’s miniature hands and beamed a gentle grin at her.

“What are we going to do about these laces of yours?  If I keep tying them for you, you’ll never learn how to do it yourself.”

With each softly spoken word, the young woman’s velvety voice wrapped itself around Alex’s senses.   An enchanting stranger unknowingly commanded his full attention and, at least for these few intriguing moments, all of his worries were lost to the four winds.

“I know, but I can’t cross them as good as you.”  The small girl pouted then peeped glumly down at her bright shoestrings.  “I only make knots.”

Purchase This Ebook to Continue Alex & Jasmine’s first meeting and then Catch-Up with them again in Giovanni, My Love by Lenise Lee

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