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Kids, Coffee, Christmas

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Beca hates the mall. She hates the mall in general, but she especially hates the mall when it is gearing up for one of the nation’s major holidays. She doesn’t hate the holidays, per se, but she hates how crazy some people get during them. Christmas shopping is, therefore, a nightmare come true.

 

Christmas is still a few days away, but the mall is absolutely crowded with people buying their Christmas gifts. They’re everywhere and it is absolutely terrible, and it makes Beca wish she had done her Christmas shopping earlier. Maybe in July. 

 

There are people everywhere, bright colours everywhere, Christmas lights everywhere, Christmas music everywhere. It’s terrible, and Beca hates it.

 

Anna, of course, loves it by virtue of being a five-year-old who still believes in Santa. Anna is, of course, the only reason Beca is even doing Christmas shopping. She doesn’t need to buy gifts for herself, but the thought of Anna not getting any Christmas gifts wrenches her heart. 

 

Speaking of the little girl, eagerly tugging at her hands to go and see the actual Santa sitting on his grand chair - throne? - she might actually be a bit of a problem. Beca groans, pinching the bridge of her nose as she tries to think of a way to buy Anna’s presents and get them home, wrapped and placed under the tree. All of that, without her seeing any of them.

 

“Hey!” a woman approached her as they passed the Santa area, all curly hair and bright smiles. “Are you looking to leave your daughter?”

 

“Um, excuse me?” Beca frowns, because no of course she doesn’t want to get rid of her daughter.

 

The blonde smiled patiently, pointing at the sign exactly above Beca. Craning her head back, Beca read the sign, advertising free daycare for parents wanting to get their Christmas shopping done, and then looked behind the woman, seeing several women looking after about fifteen kids, playing with wooden blocks, dolls and little cars, or drawing at a large table. “Actually, yes,” Beca nodded. 

 

Kneeling down, she ruffled her daughter’s hair. “Hey, why don’t you go and play with all the other kids for a little bit while I go and get all the boring stuff done, okay?”

 

Anna frowned back at her, looking mightily displeased by the idea. “We’ve got puppies,” the blonde woman smiled in sing-song fashion, and before Beca could so much as blink, her daughter had given her a kiss and dashed by. “Works every time,” the woman grinned with a shake of her head. “I’m Ashley. Don’t worry, she’ll be in good hands. We’re all parents ourselves. Our kids are hanging out with all the others,” she smiled. “Just come pick her up when you’ve got all the you-know-whats packed in your car.”

 

“Thank you,” Beca smiled empathically. “Thank you so much. You don’t know how much of a lifesaver you are.”

 

“Oh, we know,” Ashley smiled. “Good luck with the shopping!”

 

Nodding hastily, Beca expressed her gratitude one more time before turning on her heels and almost literally jumping into the fray of Christmas shopping lunatics. She beelined for the nearest toy store, rolling her eyes at the absolutely crowded aisles. Nevertheless, she saw no other course of action than to join the throngs of shopping moms.

 

Thirty minutes later, she emerged from the store clutching a shopping bag with a new doll, a sketchbook with colored crayons, a stuffed unicorn and several storybooks. The clerks behind the counter had given her wide, manic smiles when she asked if they could wrap the gifts, too, assuring her that, sure, it was no problem . Not at all .

 

Beca would have felt bad about it, had the five middle-aged women ahead of her not done the exact same thing. She had, of course, smiled apologetically, but somehow she’d gotten the feeling that hadn’t done too much to redeem herself in their eyes.

 

She trudged back to the main area, near the food court, peering out into the space where all the city’s kids seemed to be playing. It amazed her that, somehow, the people looking after them weren’t completely frazzled by now. There had to be at least thirty kids in their care, and Beca felt like her head would explode if she had to deal with a second kid.”

 

“Hey,” she smiled as Ashley approached. “I got my shopping done. I’ll take my little demon off your hands again.”

 

“Oh, she’s been no trouble at all,” Ashley smiled, waving over to the coloring table, where Anna was busy creating a messy artwork with a red-haired girl of her own age. She was laughing and giggling, and honestly, it was heart-warming to see. “Anna! Your mom’s here!” she called out.

 

Anna looked up, and Beca snorted when she saw her daughter’s expression turning into a pout. “But we’re not done yet, mom!” she called back.

 

“Come on!” Beca called back with a grin. “I’m sure these people are really busy!”

 

“It’s not trouble, really,” Ashley smiled. “She’s been wonderful. You can go and get a cup of coffee or something and pick her up afterwards, if you’d like.”

 

“Caffeine does sound really good right now,” Beca grinned. “I won’t be long.”

 

“Take your time, we’ll be fine here. Even moms need a little time off now and again.”

 

“Damn right we do,” Beca agreed, giving Anna a little wave before heading into the food court.

 

Which was about as packed as the toy store had been.

 

She stood at the edge of the coffee shop nearest to the kids’ playspace, scanning for a table that wasn’t occupied yet. And not finding a single one.

 

“This seat’s free, if you don’t mind sharing.”

 

Beca turned her head to the sudden voice. She found a red-haired woman with two shopping bags at her feet and a cup of coffee on the table in front of her, smiling up at her. 

 

Beca’s first thought went out to the startling blue-ness of this woman’s eyes, her second one to the flawlessness of her face. Only around thought number five did she realize she should probably respond. “Oh, um… Sure, thanks,” she nodded. “I’ll just go and… um… Get a drink.”

 

“I’ll be here,” the woman smiled. 

 

“Can I get you a refill?” 

 

“Sure,” the woman smiled. “Regular cappuccino, please.”

 

“Coming right up,” Beca nodded, dashing off to order the coffees. There were three people in line ahead of her, so Beca used the time to get her head on straight again. That woman was absolutely gorgeous, yes, and Beca was definitely attracted to her, yes, and she’d known she wasn’t straight for a long time now, yes. But she didn’t want to make a fool of herself, so she had to function like a regular, normal human being.

 

“Hi, what can we get you, ma’am?”

 

“One black coffee and one cappuccino, please,” Beca smiled. She paid the outrageous sum of money, took the beverages and turned back to the woman. She felt like she had gotten her head on right again, but as soon as she laid eyes on the woman again - making eye contact, because the woman had apparently been watching her - that feeling was gone again.

 

No wedding ring, Beca noticed. Which didn’t mean anything, obviously.

 

“Thanks,” she smiled as Beca placed the coffees down. “How much do I owe you?”

 

“It’s on the house,” Beca smiled. “You’re letting me crash at your table, so we’ll say we’re even.”

 

“I feel like I’m getting the better end of the deal, then,” the redhead smiled with a wink. “My name’s Chloe.”

 

“I’m Beca,” she introduced herself, shaking Chloe’s hand when she held it out. “Christmas shopping?” she asked, giving an obvious glance at the bags under the table.

 

“Yeah,” the woman grinned. “Should’ve done it ages ago, but you know how it goes.”

 

“Do I?” Beca smiled, arching an eyebrow.

 

“Obviously,” Chloe smiled, her foot softly tapping against the bag Beca had placed next to her seat. “You have the look of a mother who was late getting her Christmas gifts. I know the look well. Saw it in the mirror this morning.”

 

“You’re a mother?” Beca asked, trying to keep a lid on any disappointment she might be feeling right now.

 

“Yep,” Chloe nodded, pointing over at the coloring table, within clear view of their current seats. “That’s my little girl, coloring with yours.”

 

“How do you know she’s mine?” Beca smiled.

 

“You were literally yelling back and forth just now,” Chloe laughed softly. “I was watching my daughter. It was hard to miss.”

 

“Fair enough,” Beca nodded. “Subtlety has never been my strong suit.”

 

“You have plenty to make up for it, I’m sure,” Chloe smiled, hiding her face behind her cup as she took a sip from her coffee. “How old is she?”

 

“Five,” Beca smiled, looking out at the two girls, sharing crayons and drawing wildly, like their life depended on it, while giggling the whole time. “God, time flies. Yours?”

 

“Britt’s six,” Chloe smiled. “They do grow up so quick, don’t they?”

 

“That they do,” Beca nodded wistfully, looking at the two girls as they played together.

 

“Husband unable to get time off from work to watch her?” 

 

“Hm?” Beca hummed, turning her attention back to Chloe. “Oh, um. Not married, actually.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“He… wasn’t ready to be a father,” Beca grimaced. “He never met her. Aaand, I have no idea why I’m telling you that.”

 

“It’s fine,” Chloe shrugged. “I asked.”

 

“What about yours?”

 

“Divorced, two years ago,” Chloe responded without missing a beat. “And we’re better off for it.”

 

Beca just sat there, awkwardly nodding, not knowing how to respond to that. 

 

“They seem to get along well,” Chloe continued smoothly, apparently immune to social awkwardness. 

 

“Sure looks like it,” Beca nodded. “Anna’s not usually quick to warm up to other kids. She’s a bit of a loner.”

 

“Britt is the opposite,” Chloe chuckled. “Everyone loves her, and I’m not just saying that because I’m her mom.”

 

“No, I can see that,” Beca smiled, watching their girls together. 

 

“I almost feel guilty about pulling them apart,” Chloe smiled, also watching them now. 

 

“I know what you mean,” Beca nodded in agreement. It was rare for Anna to make friends this easily. She really did seem like she was enjoying herself an awful lot. 

 

“So, you’re from around here?” Chloe asked, seemingly jumping from one subject to the other without any difficulty. 

 

“Yeah, we live a few blocks away,” Beca nodded. “Close to the park.”

 

“Huh,” Chloe hummed. “So do we.”

 

“That’s cool,” Beca nodded, drinking from her coffee to avert the awkwardness a little. She feverishly tried to think of something to talk about, something that would make her seem interesting to this annoyingly good-looking woman who didn’t have a husband, but might still not be interested in Beca at all.

 

She was about to ask Chloe what she did for a living - a lame question, but at least it was something - when the redhead’s phone buzzed on the table. Beca automatically looked down, seeing the word MOM lighting up the screen. 

 

“Oops, better take that,” Chloe grinned. “Hey, mom… Hm-m… No, that’s fine… Sure thing… We’ll be right over… okay, see you in a few… bye, mom!”

 

Pocketing the phone, Chloe gave her an apologetic grin. “Guess that’s my cue. It was nice meeting you, Beca.”

 

“Likewise,” Beca smiled, getting to her feet as well. 

 

“We should do this again, sometime,” Chloe smiled as they made polite small-talk, both of them walking towards the pick-up area to retrieve their daughters.

 

“Well, apparently we live close together,” Beca nodded. “I’m sure we’ll run into each other again sometime.”

 

“Right,” Chloe nodded with a peculiar sigh. She waved over at her daughter, who immediately started tidying up their mess, Anna helping put all the crayons away again. Hand-in-hand, the two came bounding towards them, Ashley looking on with a small grin of her own. “Mom! I made a friend!” Anna squealed as they stopped in front of them.

 

“I can see that,” Beca grinned. “But it’s time to say goodbye now. Britt and her mom need to go, and so do we.”

 

The girls grinned at each other, prattling on for a while about how much fun it had been and how they had made the most bestest drawing ever, before parting ways. As they made their way to the car, Beca couldn’t help lamenting the fact she hadn’t made any actual plans to see Chloe again.

 

It would have been so easy to ask for a playdate to be set up. A perfect opportunity to see her again, really, and Beca thought of it five minutes after parting ways.

 

Typical.

 

 

Christmas at the Mitchell household was a pretty quiet affair. Honestly, it wasn’t that different from a regular day off for Beca, with the exception of the Christmas presents underneath the tree, which Anna happily tore into, squealing and giggling at every present she unwrapped. 

 

The fact that it had been snowing all night, covering the world in a white blanket, made it a little special, of course, and even Beca wasn’t entirely immune to the charms of a white Christmas. “Hey, Anna? Want to head out to the park? We could build a snowman.”

 

“Yeah!” Anna giggled, already on her way to grab her shoes. 

 

“No running,” Beca chuckled. “Come on, let’s get bundled up.”

 

She made sure to wrap Anna up in her warmest clothes, her bright yellow coat, scarf and mittens, as well as her hideous and ridiculous pink unicorn hat. Hand in hand, they made their way to the park, Anna excitedly chattering about the snowman she wanted to make.

 

Beca almost face-planted when Anna suddenly dashed forward with a squeal. “Mom, look! It’s Britt!” 

 

It took Beca a moment before she remembered Britt was Chloe’s daughter. Looking in the direction Anna pointed, she did indeed see two red-haired figures walking the path towards them. Anna pulled free from her hand at the same time her red-haired friend tore away from her own mother, both of them meeting a few seconds before Beca and Chloe actually joined them. 

 

“Ma, can we play?” Britt asked, giving her mother a perfect rendition of puppy-eyes. 

 

“If Anna’s mother says you can, yes.”

 

“Sure, have at it,” Beca grinned, watching the girls toddling off into the snow, beginning to build a snowman on their own. “I guess we’re not on snowman duty, huh?”

 

“It seems so,” Chloe smiled. “Don’t worry, we won’t take up much of your time. I had planned for a quick stroll before going home for a nice warm lunch.”

 

“It’s cool,” Beca smiled. “I think Anna’s really happy to see you guys again.”

 

“She isn’t the only one,” Chloe winked. 

 

“Yeah, Britt looks pretty stoked too, huh?” Beca grinned.

 

“I bet she is, yes,” Chloe nodded, her smile turning a little more subdued. 

 

They watched in awkward silence as the girls built their snowman a little distance away, placing the balls of snow atop one another haphazardly, giggling when they toppled over and starting again.

 

By some miracle, they managed to finish their project before Beca’s toes were beginning to turn black from frostbite. Happy with the result, both girls came running back towards them.

 

“Ma!” Britt giggled excitedly. “Can Anna come home with us? I want to show her my unicorns!”

 

“Can we, mom?” Anna added in, blinking up at Beca with her long lashes. 

 

“I’m sure Anna and her mother have other plans, sweetie,” Chloe smiled.

 

“No we don’t!” Anna quipped immediately. “Mom said we were going to be lazy all day!”

 

“I… may have said that, yes,” Beca admitted feebly. At Chloe’s questioning glance, Beca gave a casual shrug. 

 

“Well, if Anna’s mother says it’s okay…” Chloe sighed softly.

 

“Can we please, Miss Anna’s mom?” Britt pouted.

 

“Please, please, pretty please mom!” Anna added her vote.

 

“Laying it on a little thick there,” Beca grinned at her daughter. “But sure, I guess we can.”

 

“Yay!”

 

 

Chloe and her daughter only lived a few minutes away from the park, in the opposite direction from Beca’s apartment, and the girls chattered the entire walk there, leaving barely enough time to breathe, let alone for their parents to get a word in edgewise. 

 

Chloe led them into a comfortable, warm and homey townhouse, everyone leaving their winter clothes and boots near the front door. Britt and Anna immediately rushed off to go play with unicorns, leaving their mothers standing in the hallway. 

 

“Coffee?” Chloe smiled.

 

“Yes, please,” Beca nodded in response, following the other woman into the kitchen.

 

“I’m sorry you got dragged into this… whole situation,” Chloe sighed as she made coffee. 

 

“Don’t be,” Beca shook her head. “I really don’t mind. I had nothing planned for today, and… Well, I’m actually sort of glad we ran into you guys.”

 

“You are?”

 

“M-hm,” Beca nodded. “I’m a bit slow, sometimes,” she grinned, pointing at her head. “I only realized we should’ve exchanged numbers.”

 

“Oh really?” Chloe grinned, handing Beca her coffee with a small grin tugging at her lips.

 

“Yeah. I figured it’d be nice for Anna and Britt to have a playdate sometime, and I had no way of arranging that.”

 

“Oh,” Chloe nodded, her expression shifting again as she rubbed at her forehead. “Yeah, that makes sense.”

 

“Did I say something wrong?”

 

“No, no,” Chloe shook her head. “It’s fine.”

 

“Wait,” Beca practically gasped, eyes widening as she finally put the pieces together. “Why did you think I wanted to exchange numbers?”

 

“Nothing,” Chloe shook her head again. “Let’s talk about something else.”

 

“Chloe,” Beca inquired carefully. “Were you implying…”

 

“Maybe,” Chloe shrugged. “It’s fine. Doesn’t matter.”

 

“Oh, but it does,” Beca nodded. “It matters a lot. Listen. I’m a little slow sometimes,” she repeated. “And I might end up putting my foot in mouth right now, too, but I think you’re really attractive, and I’m very attracted to you. Have been since I saw you at the mall.”

 

“You certainly didn’t show it,” Chloe hummed. “I flirted, I winked, I asked if you were single… I even implied wanting to see you again, and you basically brushed me off the entire time.”

 

“Can I tell you a secret?” Beca smiled awkwardly. “I was sitting there the entire time, trying to think of something to say that would make you like me.”

 

“Well,” Chloe nodded, smiling faintly now. “Maybe think a little less?”

 

“Happily. You make thinking really hard. Your eyes are… really blue. Distractingly pretty, too.”

 

“See?” Chloe grinned fully now. “Not thinking is already working out for you. How’s your babysitter situation?”

 

“Depends on the day and time.”

 

“Twenty-eight? Around dinnertime, perhaps?”

 

“I can definitely arrange something,” Beca nodded hastily. “I think.”

 

“If not, my mom will be more than happy to watch Anna and Britt both,” Chloe chuckled, stepping up to Beca, closer than anyone had been in a long time.

 

“And for the record, I’m very attracted to you as well.”