I stared at the cool metal of the table in front of me and waited for the inevitable. A few minutes had passed since my boss had dragged me from my workstation (Ladies' footwear – blah) and brought me here, into this prison-cell of a room. Muttering to himself something about wanting to do far worse things to me than firing, he'd then left me alone with my thoughts. Thoughts which bordered on psychotic at the moment.
I couldn't get fired. Not this close to Christmas. And goddammit, I shouldn't get fired; I hadn't done anything wrong. Unlike some people. Some drunk, fat-ass people I had the misfortune of working with.
The door opened again and I slowly raised my head, expecting to see my boss, perhaps with a security guard or police officer in tow. However, another sight entirely faced me from the other side of the room: my friend and co-worker, Sebastian Clark. He was staring at me with an expression that hovered somewhere between disbelief, indignation and reluctant amusement.
Yes, I took the time to analyze and name all those emotions.
Finally, as he kept staring, I couldn't take his silence anymore. "What?" I snapped.
"You punched Santa Claus in the face?" he asked.
I scowled at him. "You make it sound like the worst thing in the world."
"Yeah?" Sebastian crossed the room in two quick strides and looked down at me, all disbelief and indignation now. "And how would you make it sound? Please, Elizabeth, do enlighten me."
I raised my eyebrows. "Elizabeth? You really must be mad at me."
"No shit," he muttered.
Taking a few deep breaths, however, he calmed down visibly. He took a seat opposite to me, pulling up one of the chairs that were lining the wall on my left side. Vaguely, I wondered what it was that this room was used for. It brought to mind an interrogation room at a police station – which I'd only ever seen in movies, by the way. All that was missing was one of those one-way mirror thingies.
"What?" I asked again, when all Sebastian did was stare at me, his expression expectant.
"I'm waiting for an explanation."
"What makes you think that I need to explain anything to you?"
"You punched Santa Claus in the face."
"Yes," I said. "And?"
He actually threw his hands up in frustration at this, which made my heart soften a bit; as it always did where Sebastian was concerned. I should just humor him and tell the story, I thought, studying his pained face. He was my most beloved colleague at this godforsaken hellhole of a department store after all.
However, before I could utter another word, Sebastian asked, "How the hell do you expect me to get you out of this if I don't have the facts?"
That startled me. "Get me out of this?"
"Yeah," he said, looking at me like I was an idiot. Which I so wasn't. "I can't work here without you, Lizzie. No way." He shook his head, pretty dark brown hair flying across his face. "Who am I gonna sneak cigarette breaks with? Who's gonna take me drinking on Fridays? And with you gone, who's gonna make Christmas more interesting by fucking punching Santa Claus in the face?"
I laughed. How touching. "You think saying it a lot is gonna make it make sense?"
He waved me off. Then, all traces of amusement leaving his face, he asked, "Are you gonna tell me?"
I sighed, looking away from his pale green eyes. Ever since starting this job a few months ago, I'd been completely and undeniably in love with those eyes. Even before getting to know the man behind them, I'd just wanted to look at those orbs forever. I should be used to this feeling by now, but it still managed to make me blush and stutter.
"Fine," I said, after a pause to make sure I could talk. "I'll tell you. Looks like I'm gonna be in here for a while anyways. Might as well amuse myself. And you."
Sebastian leaned back in his seat, crossed his arms, and got ready to hear my story.
"Well," I started, "I came to work today, just like any other day. I actually felt pretty good, you know, because we're so close to Christmas and all, which means that soon it's gonna be over. The first thing I did was start helping this one really bitchy customer pick out a pair of these insanely ugly pink-and-gold stilettos. She kinda took it out of me, so at around lunch time, I called you for a cigarette break."
Sebastian nodded, remembering.
"You showed up, like the Knight-in-shining-fucking-armor that you are, and together with, um, Sheila, I think, we went outside and spent half our lunch break filling our lungs with nicotine. After that – and I think you were in the men's room and therefore missed it – Sheila and I decided to go and hunt down some actual food. Our route took us through the toy department, which is where I met Santa Claus for the first time.
He's this fat, ugly guy called Steve, and apparently he likes to keep himself jolly all day long by keeping a flask in the pocket of his costume, filled with something a lot stronger than egg nog. Sheila, who works in the toy department this year, was complaining about him getting drunk at work all the time. A real piece of work, apparently.
But, you know, he is Santa and all. So, being the nice girl that you know I am-"
"Excuse me?" Sebastian interrupted, chuckling. "Nice?"
"Shut up and let me finish, please." I shot him a glare. "So, since I'm nice, I kinda smiled at Santa and said, 'hey'. You know, like a normal person. But Santa sort of read more into it and started flirting with me.
'Hey yourself, pretty girl,' he said. 'Maybe you should come and sit on Santa's lap.'
Understandably, this irritated me. 'Ugh,' I said. 'Not if you paid me, you pent-up old perv.'
I flipped him off and with Sheila cracking up beside me, we continued our way to the cafeteria. We had lunch and by the time I returned to the hell on earth that is Ladies' Footwear, I'd forgotten all about Bad Santa. I carried on with work as usual, counting the minutes that passed until I could go and get beers with you, as we had planned after work.
It happened around closing time. I was totally minding my own business, arranging the shelves and looking around if anyone needed any last-minute assistance with their purchases. I happened to notice this pair of shoes on the lowest shelf that didn't belong there. So, naturally, I bent over to retrieve them and put them back in their rightful place. But as I was bent over – and yes, I'm pretty sure it was quite the sight, what with the skirt I'm wearing – I suddenly felt a hand on my ass.
I swear I didn't pause to think. It was like a built-in reaction. I span around, I made a fist, and then before I knew who it was or what was happening the guy was howling in pain, holding his bloody nose, and I was cradling two broken fingers."
I finished, looking at Sebastian and trying to read his expression. There was something very intense going on behind his eyes, but I couldn't tell what it was. Finally I just had to look away. It was impossible for me to look into those eyes for any amount of time without losing my train of thought.
"So, yeah," I muttered, looking down at my bandaged up hand. It actually really hurt. "That's what happened. There were some kids still around the store and some happened to walk by and see it all go down. They, naturally, were not pleased." I scowled. "And neither were their parents."
As I fell silent I could hear Sebastian's chair squeak against the floor as he dragged it closer to me. My heart jumped, but I didn't look up until his hands were cradling mine.
"Does it hurt?" he asked, studying the bandage with incredible caution.
"A little," I said. For a moment his fingers tracing patterns on mine actually took away the pain. My skin did feel hotter, though, and somewhat tingly.
He was silent until I looked up and met his eyes. "I can't believe he touched you," he said, his voice carefully controlled. "You had every right to hit him. In fact, I can go finish the job, if you want."
I smiled, my heart racing like a humming bird's wings. "That's sweet, Seb. But you shouldn't get yourself fired, too."
He's just a friend, Liz, I told myself. Don't get carried away.
And I pulled my hands free, wincing as it cause some pain. "Seriously, Sebastian. There's nothing you can do. Just let it go."
Sebastian seemed slightly startled by my harsh tone. As I watched, already regretting breaking the moment, he got up and put the chair back where he'd found it.
"Well," he said, avoiding my gaze as he made his way to the door. "If there's nothing I can do, I'll just go then."
"Oh," I said, unable to keep the disappointment out of my voice. "Okay."
"See ya, Liz."
The door slammed shut with a metallic click that seemed to echo around the room for minutes after he'd left. I dropped my head and let it bang against the table.
"Ow," I muttered. It was surprisingly painful to hit your head against a table. And it didn't have the desired effect either; it didn't make me feel any better about Sebastian. Or my job.
Getting fired was one thing. I'd find a new job eventually, I knew this. But losing my friendship with Sebastian? That was a whole other thing, one that made me want to weep. Of course, we'd still see each other, even if we didn't work together. We'd still be friends. But it wouldn't be the same. Not by a long shot.
I sighed, watching the film of fog my breath created on the surface of the metallic table. Why did I have to feel so strongly for him? Why couldn't my heart be content with just being his friend, like his was?
Not only was Sebastian way out of my league – and believe me, he was – but he also happened to have a girlfriend. And if that fact alone didn't make me absolutely certain that I had no chance, meeting said girlfriend certainly did. She was blonde; I was brunette. My hair was bushy and boring and always refused to stay where I wanted it to stay; hers was sleek and long and always seemed to look like a shampoo commercial. She was thin and fit with big boobs, and I was – well, you get the idea.
Sebastian just didn't feel that way about me. And I didn't want to ruin our friendship by trying to make it something it was never going to be.
I'd been waiting for what felt like a year when I finally started hearing voices from outside the door. I immediately straightened in my chair. This was it.
The door opened and my boss walked in. His face was stern, his mouth a set line as he glared at me. I gulped. Just as I'd suspected, I was fired. Or arrested, though I didn't see any cops with him, which was a slight relief.
And then Sebastian's grinning face appeared behind my boss's. My heart contracted with hope that should be lost. Was there a way to keep my job?
"Well, Miss Garret," my boss said. "You can go."
"You can go. I'll see you on Monday."
"Wait," I said as he turned to walk away. I got up from my seat. "I'm not fired?"
My boss turned back to me, sighing as if saying what he was about to say was particularly hard for him. "No," he said. "You're not."
I frowned. "How come?" I hadn't fully comprehended the situation yet. I couldn't feel the appropriate joy; all I felt was confusion.
"Well," the boss said. He glanced at Sebastian. "It was brought to my attention that the man you hit, um, harassed you prior to the incident. We checked the security cameras. Also, after seeing the footage, Steve – Santa Claus, that is – agreed to drop charges. We found alcohol on him and he was, in fact, fired."
"Oh," I said, because I'd simply run out of things to say.
"Well, I'm off," my boss said, turning to leave. "See you on Monday, Miss Garret."
"Yeah," I muttered. "See you."
My eyes found Sebastian's. He smirked at me. "Told you I'd get you out of this."
I felt a grin tugging on my own lip. "How?" I asked, awed. "How did you manage this?"
"Well," he drawled lazily. "It did help that I saw him make out with one of the cashiers at the Christmas party."
My jaw dropped. "You didn't?"
"I told you. I can't work here without you, Lizzie."
His green eyes seemed to sparkle in the dim light of the holding room. I could not help the way my heart reacted, but I forced myself ignore it.
"Pfft," I scoffed, smirking at him. "You just like acting like the big shot and coming to a lady's rescue. Admit it."
"And you love me for it. Admit it." He grinned, ruffling my hair.
"Hey!" I yelped, attempting to flatten my hair. "This took hours to fix this morning."
"Sure looks like it," Sebastian teased. "Time well spent."
I stuck my tongue out at him. We both laughed. Then Sebastian simply took my hand and lead me out of the room, where we were met by a cheering crowd of our co-workers.
I came to a halt, my eyes widening in surprise. "What the hell?"
My co-workers all laughed at my expression. There was about ten of them, which of course wasn't nearly all of my co-workers, but it was touching all the same. They were cheering for me, happy that I hadn't gotten fired.
"Way to go, Liz!" someone shouted.
Sheila stepped up to me, grinning. "You got that fat bastard fired, Lizzie! We have to go out and celebrate this!"
Sebastian, standing next to me with a huge grin on his face, put his arm around my shoulder and spoke softly in my ear. "We all stood behind you tonight. Everyone here." I looked around at the faces of my friends in amazement. "We all said that if he fired you, we'd quit."
As the cheering quieted down a little, I shouted over the remaining chatter. "Guys!"
I was so touched that it was all I could do not to cry, as I waited for the rest of them to stop talking. I couldn't believe they had done this for me. All of them.
"Thank you so much for supporting me," I said then, looking at everyone but him. "It means the world to me."
They actually clapped their hands at me.
I was blushing like I'd never blushed before. "Now what's this I hear about a celebration?"
And so we all went out to celebrate the fact that I had punched Santa Claus – who no one liked – in the face, and in the process managed to get him fired, while miraculously holding on to my own job. The evening had definitely taken a turn for the better.
"To Lizzie!" Sheila shouted as we all raised our glasses. We were gathered around a small table in a pub near the department store. Sebastian and I, like many of the others, were frequent patrons, and pretty much all of the staff knew us there.
"No, no!" I mumbled, feeling shy and stupid. "To Sebastian!"
He raised his eyebrows at me across the table.
"You're the one who got me off," I explained. The double meaning behind my words was not lost on my gutter brain, and I couldn't help but blush. I ducked my head as the others started giggling. "You know what I mean."
Sebastian was out right laughing at me. "We sure do," he chuckled. "To getting Liz off!"
My face was red as we finally managed to make the toast and down our shots. The bitter liquid burned my throat and I struggled not to let it show on my face. Luckily Sheila actually started coughing and spluttering, which made her the subject of the others' teasing, instead of me. This was always the way it was with this crowd; you couldn't take yourself very seriously if you wanted to hang out with them.
After the toast I struck up a conversation with Sheila and another co-worker called Denise. They wanted to hear a play-by-play of what had happened today, and soon I was telling the story for a second time, while everyone else listened.
"Where did you learn to throw a punch?" Sebastian wondered, his eyes glinting at me as he studied my bandaged hand. Somehow he was standing next to me now, instead of across the table. "You didn't fold your thumb inside the fist, did you?"
"I don't know!" I said with some indignation. I had managed to make him bleed, which I thought was pretty impressive. "I didn't pause to think about it."
"I should give you some fighting lessons."
I snorted. "Sure," I said. "Like you even know how to fight."
"Excuse me," a waitress interrupted us, brushing past our table with a tray of drinks. Sebastian moved to get out of her way, in the process bringing his body practically flush against mine.
I felt the butterflies that always inhabited my stomach in his presence give a mighty flutter. He was too close now. I needed to get away, or I'd give myself a heart attack. I stared up at his face, only to find him looking down at me, his face unusually serious. His hand was on my arm, where he had grabbed me to keep his balance; slowly, it began to slide down towards my waist.
"A bit crowded in here tonight," he said, and I swear his voice had gone huskier.
"Uh-huh," I said, nodding. "It's Friday."
Someone shoot me now. I forced my eyes to leave his face, looking at Sheila for a rescue. I found her smirking at me. She raised her eyebrows when she saw me looking.
"I'll get the next round," I announced, desperate for a way out of the situation. Without another glance at Sebastian or Sheila, I made my escape and walked briskly to the bar.
"Um," I said, looking at the bartender. I glanced towards our table, counting quickly. "Can I get... nine beers, please?" I'd have to use my credit card for this.
Luckily, Sheila appeared by my side to pay for half the drinks. While the bartender took out and opened nine bottles of Budweiser, Sheila turned to me. "So, Liz," she began.
"How come you haven't made your move yet?"
I gaped at her. "What the eff are you talking about?"
"Sebastian!" she hissed, turning to glance at our table. I did the same and found the man in question looking at us. He turned away with a grin when he caught me looking. "You guys are so into each other! It's sickening to watch, really."
I felt myself blush again. If it was even possible to blush any more; I sort of felt like it was a perpetual state for me today. "He's got a girlfriend," I said. "So even if I liked him, which I don't, and even if he liked me, which he doesn't, it could never... work," I finished lamely.
Sheila scoffed. "You know I think of you like a little sister, right?"
I nodded. "Sure. And I think of you like an annoying mother."
She snorted. "Keep telling yourself that. Anyway, I can tell."
"You can tell what?"
"That you're into each other," she repeated. "And just so you know, he broke up with his girlfriend like two weeks ago."
With that, Sheila turned and walked back to the table, carrying four bottles of beer and leaving me with the rest. I struggled to gather my wits.
"Need some help with those?" The bartender asked after a moment of me just standing there.
I nodded, still dazed. "Sure." I took one of the beers. "We're at that table over there."
While the bartender carried the bottles to our table, I took the chance to make my escape and walked straight out of the pub and into the street. The cold night air felt wonderful on my heated face. I took a swig from the long-necked bottle in my hand, hoping it might calm me down. But my heart wouldn't stop it's racing. The butterflies were going crazy.
If what Sheila said was true and Sebastian actually had no girlfriend... well, that changed things. It meant that I actually had a chance. And it made me look into things more. Like the way he'd been acting lately. Flirtatious. Touchy. He never used to be so casual with the way he touched my arm, held my hand, or even just looked at me.
I took a shuddering breath. This also meant that I would have to make a move. And the thought of doing that – it terrified me. But would I ever forgive myself if I let this opportunity slip away?
I turned around and came face to face with Sebastian. He smiled at me. It was a real smile. Not a grin or a smirk – a smile.
"Seb," I said, my voice coming out all raspy and out of breath. "W-what's up?"
Smooth, Liz. You're sure to seduce him with your charms and quick wit.
"Just came out for a smoke." He was pulling on his black leather jacket, a cigarette hanging from his lip. "Want one?"
Mutely, I took a cigarette and allowed him to light it for me, watching the flame from the lighter reflect from his eyes. I inhaled deeply and blew the smoke into the air between us where it began to coalesce with the smoke from his cigarette. I felt entranced by the sight.
"Aren't you cold?" he asked, eying my tank top worriedly. I'd left my jacket at the table.
"I'm fine," I said, but my voice shook, which he took to take as confirmation that I was, indeed, cold.
He shed his jacket and handed it to me, leaving himself in a nice black t-shirt.
"Seriously," I said, not making a move to take it. I was busy admiring his muscled arms and the way the blowing of the wind stuck his shirt to his chest. "I'm fine."
He sighed. "You're so stubborn sometimes."
"You love me for it," I smirked. It was what we did; we made fun of each other. And any other night my statement would have been nothing, just another jab. But tonight it made me blush and look away, which in turn made him clear his throat.
"Of course I do," he said. His voice was so low I could barely hear him.
I had no idea what to say. I didn't know how to do this. He broke up with her, was all I could think. We smoked in silence for a while; then he threw the cigarette away and crushed it with his foot. I did the same after a few more drags.
He stepped closer to me then. My heart contracted painfully in my chest as he moved to drape his jacket across my shoulders, his hands lingering on my arms for a moment before he leaned back again. He didn't step away from my bubble. I could smell his cologne all around me, on account of his jacket. It was delicious.
I bit my lip and forced myself to meet his eyes bravely. "So," I said. "Sheila told me an interesting rumor."
I decided to just come out and say it. "You broke up with... your girlfriend?"
His lips twitched. "Why do you always call her that?" he asked, his voice merely curious. "You never say her name."
"I don't?" I averted my gaze, my bravado slipping away.
"No," he said. "You don't. I was wondering... Why is that?"
I looked up. His eyes seemed darker somehow, and intense, like they could pierce right through me and see into my soul. "Why do you think that is?"
He was leaning forward. He was so close, it was getting hard to breath. "It's true," he said suddenly. "I did break up with her."
I swallowed, happiness swelling inside me like a balloon. "How come you didn't tell me?"
I was terrified he's say something that would cause the balloon to burst. It was a delicate thing, that happiness. But I couldn't walk away now. I was in too deep.
Sebastian looked thoughtful. "I wasn't sure," he said slowly, deliberating every word. "I wasn't sure what to say. And I wanted to wait for the perfect moment."
"Are you sure now?" I asked.
His eyes glowed. He was even closer now, mere inches away. I'd only have to lean a little to touch his lips with mine. I licked my suddenly dry lips. His eyes seemed to follow the movement of my tongue.
"So?" I asked coyly. "What would you say? If I hadn't heard it from someone else?"
He leaned towards me. For a moment I was sure he'd kiss me. My eyes fluttered closed, my grip on the beer bottle became painfully tight. But his mouth didn't touch mine; instead, he was now breathing into my ear, his dark, shaggy hair tickling my cheek.
"I broke up with my girlfriend because I have feelings for someone else," he whispered. "And tonight when I thought you might get fired for punching Santa Claus in the face-" He still sounded exasperated when he said it; it made me chuckle. "I was afraid that if we didn't work together I'd never get the chance to tell you."
I knew he could feel my body shudder against his as I took in a breath. "I won't believe you until you actually say it," I mumbled. I was gripping onto him now; we were locked in an embrace. "You have no idea how long I've wanted this."
"I think I'm – No, I don't think. I know." He paused to run his nose along my skin, from cheek to ear. "I'm in love with you, Liz."
I wanted to look him in the eyes to make sure he was telling the truth, that this wasn't all just a beautiful dream, but then it was too late because he was kissing me and I was kissing him back and every doubt I'd had vanished into thecold December air around us.
He came up for air first, holding me tightly, but somehow managing to look into my eyes. I actually gasped at the sight of those green orbs, smoldering into mine. That gaze seemed to ignite a fire in my chest, a fire that I never wanted quenched. But there was something else there, in that look, and it was a question. It occurred to me then that he didn't know how I felt. Was that even possible?
"You know how I feel, right?" I mumbled, resting my forehead against his.
"How could I?" he asked, breathless.
"I've always wanted more than friendship from you," I declared.
His face broke into a grin so bright, I felt the need to avert my eyes. Before I could do that, however, he kissed me again. This kiss was longer, even more intense, and definitely hinting at other things to come, perhaps later that night. The way his hands moved across the bare skin under my top, the way his tongue explored my mouth, it left very little to be doubted.
This time I broke the kiss first. At the sight of his puzzled, almost frustrated expression, I burst into laughter.
"I guess," I chuckled, "it's a good thing that I punched Santa Claus in the face, huh?"
He groaned and shut me up with another kiss.
Well. I wanted to give you a little something, since Roommate is taking forever to update, again. I hope you enjoyed this bit of fluff instead. It was supposed to be light-hearted – a Christmas gift, as it were – but I didn't intend the ending to be quite that fluffy. Sometimes shit happens.
The review button is right there. See it? Good.