CHAPTER 5: Shopping With/For Friends
December flew by quickly after the snow melted the next day. It only took a full twenty four hours or so for all the snow to just drain away. However, it was past that day and closer to the holidays. Christmas was approaching fast, and in a need to get her friends' gifts, Haley was going to head to the mall today.
Getting up early, she started her normal morning routine by fixing herself a healthy breakfast (a bagel and cream cheese) and getting dressed for the day. Throwing on a sweatshirt and some jeans, she was putting on her cute new boots when she heard someone stirring downstairs. Peering down the hallway, she found out it was Skiff.
"Good morning, Haley!" Skiff greeted in an unexpectedly cheery mood.
She eyed him suspiciously. "What's going on here?" she accused.
"I'm just in a good mood!" Skiff said. "I've got some business to take care of today."
"Where exactly are you going?" Haley asked him.
"I can't say. But, it'll be good." He smiled slyly at Haley and went back to rummaging through the pantry and refrigerator to find something to eat.
"Hey Haley!" a voice called from behind, startling the girl. It was Steven.
"What are you doing up?" Haley asked. "You usually don't get up until ten or after."
"I've got some errands to run," Steven replied calmly. It definitely wasn't normal to see him up at this hour, though.
Haley heard the front door shut downstairs. Running to the nearest window, she saw Skiff walking down the sidewalk with a Pop-Tart in his mouth as he pulled his arms through his jacket sleeves.
Haley rushed downstairs before she fell behind. This was an important job she had to pull off, or else she'd have nothing to give her friends and roommates. The only person she hadn't seen or heard from today was Kenny. The door to his room was shut, so it was suspected he was still asleep. No one wanted to wake him up, though, so he would be in for a big surprise when he finally got up. Haley grabbed a granola bar and headed out the door with her beret and jacket before Steven could finish his hot chocolate. But, she had to move fast and furious if she wanted to do anything productive today.
The walk to the mall took nearly an hour, but when she got there, it was well worth it. Many people were out doing to exact same thing she was doing: Christmas shopping. She had seen on the news that some people had even camped out in front of the mall just to get the best deals. Their tents were right in front of the doors. Haley walked past them, some of them just getting up and scrambling to get ready, and went into the main store of the mall. It was go time.
Walking over to the electronic items, she began to shop for Skiff. At the top of his list was some new hand-held video game system. It was advertised in a large display right in front of the aisles of related items, such as video games, movies, electronic devices, televisions, and other things. But, before she could grab a system and two games off the shelf, something, or better yet, someone caught her eye. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw none other than Skiff himself, looking at some sort of box. Haley raced off in an effort to not be seen, panicking when she finally got to her destination: the bathroom.
"What am I going to do!?" Haley thought aloud, frantically. "Skiff's here, and that's exactly who I was shopping for. I'm gonna have to go somewhere else!" As she sat on a chair by customer service, contemplating her options, Skiff continued to shop.
"I wonder if Kenny will like these?" Skiff mumbled to himself. He had picked out a sweet new pair of headphones for his friend, and planned to get him a t-shirt as well. Slipping it into a basket, he strolled over to the Men's Clothing department and began to look on the t-shirt rack. But, before he could pick up a graphic tee in Kenny's style, he saw something familiar out of the corner of his eye. Turning his head just enough to see, he spotted only his friend Kenny, searching through a rack of some sort of clothing item. Skiff rushed off toward the only place safe: the Women's Clothing section.
"I didn't even see Kenny get up this morning!" Skiff said, aloud, attracting much attention from the women in the department. "How did he get here? Now, I can either just go home, or stay and try to stay out of his way."
As Skiff leaned up against a shelving unit, Kenny flipped through some hangers on the rack.
"I bet Steven will like this cool jacket," Kenny said, holding the nice, warm coat up to wear he could see it better. "But, he also wanted this new Stephen King book, too."
Kenny took a walk to the Book department and started to look around the bestsellers table. There was a variety of books there, but no book that Steven wrote down. He went and decided to check around the other shelves. Finally he found it. Flipping through the pages, he noticed someone moving around on the other side of the shelf. Peering around the side, he saw his friend Steven looking at a novel.
"Oh crap!" Kenny yelled aloud, almost getting seen by Steven before he sped away toward his place of refuge, the Music sector. Steven just shrugged and went back to shopping around.
"Oh man oh man oh man oh man oh man!" Kenny said, grasping his head. "What am I supposed to do!? Steven's here, but I'm buying for Steven. Aw man!"
Kenny put on a pair of headphones that was attached to a display case and listened to some music samples as he weighed his options.
Steven, however, kept flipping through a book.
I guess this is the love novel that Haley wanted, he thought. They all looked the same to him. Same giggly girl, same pretty dress, same deserted location, same hot dude on the cover. There was no way to tell the difference. As he blindly walked across the aisle to the jewelry case to look at some earrings for his friend, he saw someone in particular rocking back and forth in a red chair by a drinking fountain. It was Haley.
"Oh sweet goodness!" Steven said loudly, and evacuated the area. There was no telling what Haley would do if she caught Steven shopping for her. But, he had to do something. He quickly went around to the other side of the case and bought the earrings there. Hopefully, she didn't see him. But, Steven was starting to feel a little funny. Then he realized, he had to go to the bathroom. To the restroom he hurried, past Haley when her head was buried in her hands, and sneaked inside the door. When he finished approximately two minutes later, he poked his head out the door to see when he could make his move, but Haley was gone. Breathing a sigh of relief, Steven calmly walked out of the area and to the checkout counter.
The counter, when he arrived, harnessed a long line of other potential holiday shoppers, and so he had to wait in the back. Luckily, all the shopping being done led the mall to open a second checkout counter parallel to the first, therefore in reality, doubling checkout speed and productivity. The system worked wondrously, and Steven had made it up to the counter in five minutes flat. But, there was something strange about the checkout system. There were four lines feeding into it, and the customer next to him looked very familiar. It was Skiff. This time, he was caught.
"Steven?" Skiff said in disbelief when he saw him.
"Yep," Steven laughed nervously. "It's me."
"Were you shopping for me?" Skiff asked.
"Were you shopping for me?" Steven retaliated.
"Noooo?" they said in unison.
"Well, then why were you here?" Skiff accused.
"Why were you here?"
"Touche," Skiff called.
"Steven? Skiff?" a voice called from behind them.
They turned around, only to find Haley.
"What?" they both asked.
"What are you guys doing here?" she asked incredulously.
"Well, what are you doing here?" the boys asked her.
"Hm," Haley said. "Looks like what we have here is a failure to communicate."
"Awkward," one store employee whispered to another, who nodded her head in agreement.
"Well, I'll bet Kenny's here, too." Steven speculated.
"He is!" Skiff affirmed. "I saw him!"
"Aww snap!" Kenny called, when he got to his counter.
"Kenny?" the three asked.
"So, let me get this straight," Kenny said, calming them down. By now, everyone in line and all the checkout employees were staring at them. "We all picked the same day to go to the same place to shop for one another."
"Sounds about right."
"I guess so."
"Let's pretend this never happened," Haley suggested.
"Agreed," the rest said.
They all went home different directions afterward.
Christmas was nearing faster than ever, but that wasn't all. The dawn of a new year, lots of new video games and movies, and of course, the apartment payment was due again. Now, this neighborhood was different than others. If one were planning on staying another year, that person or group of people had to pay only one payment at the end of each year. However, if he or she did not plan on sticking around, the landlord, Rupert Gill, would only charge you for the months you stayed. That being said, Skiff and his friends planned to stay another year. The only bad news was that they didn't exactly have enough money scraped together to keep them in business. So, they prepared for the worst when they walked in to meet with the landlord that December morning.
Now, Mr. Gill was not what you would call a young man. He lost his wife when he was around the age of forty, and now he just lived in one of the apartments, alone, collecting money from people. No one knew exactly what he did all year round, and the only beings that saw him other than around the holidays were long gone to a new place once they had seen him. Years past told the group that Gill wasn't exactly the nicest man out there. Actually, he would have to be classified as being at the lower end of the spectrum. But, nonetheless, the four had to face him anyway.
Haley took a deep breath before she used the old-fashioned door knocker to make their presence known.
"Come in," a raspy voice deep from within the complex alerted them.
"Maybe I could just stay out here," Kenny suggested. "Then we'd all call it a day, hmm?"
But Haley dragged him in before he could finish his explanation on why he should be left outside. They made their way into a living room much like theirs, but with a crackling fire on the hearth. A large desk and some chairs greeted them in the den, as well as a large moose head mounted above the mantle.
"Please," said the old man, who was turned around in a swivel chair. "Take a seat."
The four obeyed, and Skiff sat right in front of the desk to wear he would be the closest one to the landlord once he turned around. The others kept their distance. Finally, the old man's face was visible.
"We brought you some cookies," Skiff offered, holding out a plate of warm, freshly-made Break 'n' Bakes that Haley prepared that morning. "They're tasty."
"Actually, Mr. Gill," Haley stepped in. "The truth is that we don't have the rent money for you right now. We've kind of run low on funds and-"
Mr. Gill shushed the girl. "I understand."
"You do?" Steven asked in disbelief.
"Yes, my boy, I do. Tell you what. I'll cover your rent money for this year. Seem fair?" Rupert asked, nodding his head and smiling.
"Thank you Mr. Gill," Kenny said, the rest of them following along. "But, why?"
"Well you see, young lad, I am finally going to remarry! I found a great gal online, and we've been 'going steady' for about a year now. And I've finally asked to marry me, and she agreed! Isn't that just swell news?"
"It is, Mr. Gill!" Haley exclaimed, sharing in the excitement. "We are all so happy for you!"
"Yeah," Kenny, Skiff, and Steven said, doing whatever Haley did.
"How can we ever repay you, sir?" Skiff asked.
"Repay me? There's no need. I'm so happy right now, I could... well, I'm just very happy."
"Well, thank you again, Mr. Gill," Skiff said, as he pushed in his chair.
"You have a nice day, now," the old man replied. "And leave those cookies on the desk. They look mighty tasty!"
"Wow, what a nice guy!" Kenny said, once they got outside.
"Yeah," Haley agreed. "We ought to be lucky he was getting married or else we would never have lived that one down!"
"We could have been cast out into the street," Skiff said.
"Or worse! Living in a cardboard box!" Steven added.
Things had turned out all right for these guys this time. Good thing too, because with the holidays still coming at a rapid rate, last minute Christmas shopping had to be done before the 25, a mere five days away.