About Joynell Schultz

Writer & lover of all types of speculative fiction. I'm shivering in northern Wisconsin. Learn about my novels here: http://Author.to/JoynellSchultz

Created for Christmas: 12/23 – 2 Days ’till Christmas

***Note: This is an unedited FIRST DRAFT of this story. You can also read it on Wattpad HERE.

Get caught up with Chapter 1 HERE:

A Serial Novella (1)

Chapter 12

This week, I sat in Dream Droids waiting room with a heavy heart. I should be happy, knowing that my lifelong humanoid companion was just beyond that door, but I wasn’t. I’d have to see Dayton again, and face how when he told me his feelings, I basically shoved him out the door. He was as shy showing his emotions as I was I was hesitant to let anyone in. When he finally worked up the nerve to let me see his heart, I crushed it.

The gift he had given me still sat on top of my end table. I couldn’t stomach taking it out of the bag and wrapping it for Dad. It wasn’t right.

But I also couldn’t get myself to bring it here today to return it. I liked it on my end table.

“Ms. Weldon?”

I jumped at a voice I wasn’t expecting. A short, pudgy woman stood in the doorway that led back to Dayton’s office.

“Hi, I’m Dr. Serway.” She gave a little wave from the hand that wasn’t holding a clipboard. “I’m taking Dr. Pierce’s place today.”

All I could do is nod and follow her down the hallway.

This was for the best. I didn’t want to see Dayton, anyway.

But why did I feel an emptiness inside? I needed closure, and I’m sure he did, too. “Where’s Dayton…I mean Dr. Pierce?”

She twisted around and showed me one brown eye, but then turned to continue walking forward. “He took the day off today for the holidays and asked me to help you with your humanoid.”

He took off? “Oh.”

Dr. Serway stopped in front of the doorway right across the hall from Dayton’s office. I leaned forward to see beyond his cracked open office door, but it was dark inside.

“You sound disappointed,” she said. “He didn’t tell you he was taking off?”

I didn’t blame him. This is why I stayed away from men. My heart was already breaking, and I only knew him for two months.

As I stepped into the woman’s office, my eyes immediately went to a handsome man sitting at a chair. He had dark hair, was tall and, I bet, muscular underneath his Dream Droid beige polo shirt. I could see his crystal blue eyes from across the room, and when he saw me, a perfect smile appeared on his lips. He stood up and extended his hand, in an almost robotic way.

Dr. Serway stepped between us for introductions. “Ivy, I’d like you to meet…well…what did you name him?”

“What did I name him?” I felt foolish as soon as those words slipped out of my mouth. This man in front of me…beautiful man…was my humanoid. The smile on my face made my cheeks hurt it was so large. “I…I haven’t named him yet.”

I can’t believe I forgot to come up with a name! With all the drama with the missing Christmas gift and with Dayton, it slipped my mind. I looked at his handsome smile, well-shaped nose, and strong jawline, trying to figure out what he should be called…but the only name I could think of was Dayton. “I don’t know.” I must appear like a bumbling fool. “Could you name him for me?” It was a stupid request, but maybe she’d know the perfect name—if she didn’t laugh at my unpreparedness first.

“Of course. All droids are programmed with a backup name for situations like this. Believe it or not, Ms. Weldon, you’re not the only one who needs a little help. About twenty percent of people struggle with this. Sometimes it’s that they put so much pressure on the perfect name, they lock up, while other times it’s that they meet their droid and the name they selected doesn’t quite fit.” Dr. Serway motioned towards my humanoid. “Please tell Ms. Weldon your back-up name?”

His lips parted to show a row straight, white teeth. “My back-up name is Ethan.” His voice was as pleasant as his appearance.

“Ms. Weldon, what do you think of that name?”

I looked him over. “I think it’s a beautiful name. Ethan it is.”

“Good.” Dr. Serway reached over and placed a finger beneath his right ear. “Ethan, set your back-up name as your permanent name, please.”

“Done.”

She pulled her hand away. “His programming button is behind his ear here,” she pointed. “Touch it.”

I was hesitant to reach out, but did as requested, placing my hand against the soft skin below Ethan’s ear, feeling a slight bump.

“It’s beneath the exterior, but it’s there if you feel it. If you need to save a program setting, you touch this bump while giving a voice command.” Dr. Serway reached down and picked up a folded, laminated piece of paper that she unwrapped like a folding map. “Here’s the quick start guide, but anything more in-depth is located on this thumb drive.” She picked up a little flash drive attached to a big rubber Dream Droid Keychain. She then pulled out a little Christmas gift bag with a handle and tucked the guide and the thumb drive inside, then held it out to me. “It was your Christmas present, right?”

I felt my cheeks heat, and I forced my blush away. It was time to be an adult. “It was,” I admitted.

“Of course, he’s also programmed with a full operational manual. All you have to do is ask him whatever questions you have, but some people prefer to look things up more…discretely.”

I tightened my grip on the bag’s handles and nodded. After all this time with Dayton, it appeared I still had a lot to learn.

Almost as if Dr. Serway could read my mind, she looked at me with concern. “Many people are a little overwhelmed, but your humanoid is programmed to take care of you and answer all your questions. If it becomes overwhelming, you can always take some time alone—all you need to do is tell him what you need. Ethan, what’s the command for you to leave someone alone?”

“I can be requested to Hibernate by saying ‘Ethan, hibernate’ and the number of minutes you want me to stay dormant. With this command, I’ll retreat to a chair or bed, if I’m at home, and shut myself off to the world…” his face softened, and he examined me with his blue eyes, “…but, you could just ask me to give you some alone time, and I’d do that too, without a command.”

“We’re just talking about commands right now,” Dr. Serway said. Her words were cold, and I wondered if Ethan noticed.

Whether he did or not, he nodded in a very human way. This was going to be hard—I didn’t expect him to be so…real. Or almost real. Watching him take orders from Dr. Serway made me feel like she was making him do things outside of his own will. Almost as if he was a prisoner.

He was a computer program, nothing more.

He’s not human. He’s not being forced to do anything.

And he’d never love me.

Dayton’s voice echoed in my mind, and now, I heard them as a warning.

I shook it away.

“Is that it?”

“Not quite. He’s full of information, but the first few days with you may take some adjustment—for both of you. It’s best to hang low a little—get to know each other before overwhelming anyone with the outside world.” Dr. Serway spent the next thirty minutes going through the quick start guide with me, and when I finally left with Ethan, I was as giddy as a child with a new toy.

As I walked to the parking lot behind the building with him at my side, he stopped, taking in all the parked vehicles.

“Which car is yours?” he asked.

“The blue one over there.” I pointed and clicked my unlock button on my keys to make the lights flash.

Ethan nodded and hurried up to the driver’s side door, pulling it open for me. I smiled. What a gentleman…maybe that uneasiness I had was for nothing.

Then I realized his actions were all in his programming. As he closed the door for me, I decided I didn’t care. It was still a nice gesture and if I dwelled upon his reasoning, it’d drive me nuts. I reached across the car and opened the passenger door for him.

As he caught it and crawled inside, he said, “Why’d you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Open the door for me.”

“Well, it was only fair. You opened mine.”

“It just was…unexpected…and pleasant. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” I started the car and headed for home. I tried to come up with a conversation, but my thoughts were stuck on Dayton’s dark office. Dr. Serway said he took off for the holidays, but I knew better.

Today was supposed to be one of the most memorable days of my life, taking Ethan home, but instead I felt sick that I had upset Dayton so much that he missed work. It was good that I had a week off of work. Not only to get Ethan adjusted to my life, but for me to figure out a way to make it right with Dayton.

 

Chapter 13

“So…” I stared out the windshield as I drove Ethan to my house…our house. Where do you even start a conversation when you just met your perfectly created soul mate? “So…it’s only a few more days until Christmas.”

“Yes, It’s December 23rd–Christmas is only two days away. I understand your family is very Christmas orientated, and we’ll be spending a lot of time with them.”

I nodded. Dayton must have programmed that information in his head as none of it was anything I put down on a questionnaire. “I’m a triplet. I think it gives us three sisters a special bond that extends to the rest of my family. We’re very close.”

“Did your parents want to have such a large family?”

I laughed. “Triplets were unexpected, but even with five children after the three of us came, they still tried one more time. They wanted a boy.”

Surprisingly, our conversations flowed for the whole ride home and soon, we stood in front of the bushy wreath that hung on my front door. “Can you smell that?”

Ethan took a deep breath. “It’s the scent of pine.”

I smiled. He could smell things, too! “It’s the Christmas wreath. My family makes them right after Thanksgiving, and we all hang matching ones on our doors. It kinda keeps us bonded together throughout the holidays.”

I unlocked my door and before I pushed it open, a deep “woof” sounded from the other side.

“I have to warn you about Sharky. He’s a big dog—a really big dog with an equally big heart. Sometimes, he can be a little pushy, so stand your ground and don’t get whipped by his wagging tail. It can really hurt!”

“I’m sure I’ll manage,” Ethan said. His words caused me to turn and look at his perfect face. He was so human-like, that I was already forgetting he was a machine created just for me. The awkwardness I first felt, unsure of his wishes and uncertain how I should treat him—like a robot, a machine, a man—now slowly slipped away. It didn’t matter how he came to be with me, I’d treat him as if he was a man, and I hoped I never had to use the program button.

Sharky was all excited to see me, but he was a little apprehensive of Ethan. Sharky smelled his hand, and his leg, then backed up, turning towards me, instead. That was a little unusual, usually he enjoyed our guests quite a bit when they arrived, but I imagine Ethan didn’t smell human to a dog.

“Hey, Sharky, say hi to Ethan. He’s going to be living here.”

Ethan flashed us both a white smile.

I put my holiday bag of items from Dream Droids down on an end table, hung my jacket up on a hook, along with a fleece jacket Ethan was supplied with. “I bought you some clothing, like Dream Droids instructed, but now that I’ve met you, I don’t know if you’ll like any of it.”

“I’m sure it’ll be perfect.”

“I didn’t over do it, because I had this part of me that wondered if this would even happen, but now…I wish I would have gone more extravagant.” I led Ethan to the spare bedroom and showed him the array of clothing I put together that hung in the small closet. “I just bought some windbreaker type pants and t-shirts. They didn’t know exactly what size you’d be until we finished all the questionnaires, so they suggested some generic one-size-fits-all clothing.”

“Would you like me to change?” Ethan asked.

“Oh, you don’t need to…I mean, you can if you want to.” Urgh. This whole situation was a little odd again. “I just wanted to point out that all this stuff is yours and we can go shopping for different clothes whenever you’re ready to go on a little adventure.”

Ethan pulled out a generic grey t-shirt. “I think it’ll be just fine.” There was a softness in his blue eyes that I didn’t expect—not the softness I saw in Dayton’s but something similar. “I feel bad you went through all this hassle for me.”

“You feel bad?”

He nodded.

I knew humanoids were sentient, heck, Ethan had mentioned other feelings since we left Dream Droids, but the way he told me his feelings made me wonder what else was going on in his microchips. “Well, why don’t you change out of that stiff polo and throw on that t-shirt while I get something to drink. Did you want anything?”

“I’m programmed to always say yes to that question, as it’s a human trait, but I never need anything to drink.”

“Well, I need some water.” When Ethan lifted his shirt up, giving me a glimpse of the muscles of his abdomen, I spun on my heels to face the bedroom door. “I’ll meet you in the living room when you’re done.”

After filling a glass with water, I pushed Sharky off the sofa, waiting for Ethan, but my doorbell buzzed.

“What’s that?” Ethan asked.

“The doorbell. We have company.” I stood from my spot and headed towards the door, meeting Ethan in the entryway. I have to admit, there were defiantly parts I was already enjoying of not being alone.

Out my peephole stood Ivory and Iris. Both had a stocking hat, covering up their very different hairstyles, and I smiled at how similar they looked—only Iris had a slightly crooked nose and Ivory’s chin was more pointed.

I flung my door open. “Hey guys!”

“Hey…wow. Is this him?” Ivory’s jaw almost dropped on the ground as she sized Ethan up. “Does Dream Droids take a payment plan? This confirms I really need to get myself one of him.”

I slapped her with the back of my hand. “Ivory, Iris, this is Ethan, my humanoid. Ethan, meet my sisters Iris and Ivory.”

Ethan looked between my two sisters and then to me, then back at my sisters.

“Remember, I said we were triplets. Identical triplets.”

“Not identical,” Ethan said. “Your voices are different and there are markings that don’t quite match. Like that beauty mark here above your lip.” Ethan touched a spot right above my upper lip to the side of my nose.

“I’m impressed,” Ivory said. “Most people can’t tell us apart.”

“Come in,” I said, stepping away from the door. As soon as the words were out, I cringed. I was so excited to show Ethan off that I invited my sisters inside before I remembered I was supposed to take it easy for Ethan’s first few days with me. “Ethan, are you okay with company?”

“I’m okay if you’re okay,” he said, appearing to catalogue the similarities and differences between my sisters and me.

Iris and Ivory made their way into the living room and sat down across from each other on my two recliners, leaving the sofa for Ethan and I to sit side-by-side. My sisters were being cute.

“Sorry to come over unexpected,” Iris said, “but we couldn’t stay away! Today’s your big day and we had to meet him.” She shook her head. “Honestly, I didn’t think you’d go through with it. I thought for sure that you’d fall in love with Dayton.”

I coughed, then my eyes darted down at the paper bag holding the Spiderman action figure he’d given me on my end table, then up again to my sisters. They didn’t know what was inside the bag, and a sudden urge to keep the gift a secret consumed me—even if I had no intentions of giving the present to Dad and that I’d eventually return it to Dayton. “I didn’t fall in love with Dayton, and I’m not falling in love ever again.” I smiled at Ethan, but I saw a twinge of a frown on his face. I knew he was sentient, but did I hurt his feelings? Sure, he couldn’t love me, but did he want me to love him?

My insides felt hallow. I was sick to my stomach again. Something was wrong and my thoughts were fleeing as fast as I tried to put them back together. All I knew is I needed to avoid the love topic.

I smiled at Ethan and tried to dig myself out of a hole. “I just picked him up this afternoon, and he’s perfect so far!” I picked up Dayton’s bag from my end table and walked it behind the tree, tucking it where nobody could see inside.

“I can see that,” Iris said, with a seductive smile. Ethan’s composure returned and the swirling in my stomach lifted. Iris sat back into the oversized chair and looked between Ethan and me. “It’s just so…different having someone here with you. There’s so much I want to know…like…did you kiss him yet?” She smiled.

“Iris!” Ivory said. She looked between Ethan and me, and her cheeks turned rosy. What could she possibly be thinking about that made her embarrassed…unless…she found Ethan as attractive as she found all the men I picked out.

I couldn’t help smiling.

“You have kissed him!” Iris exclaimed.

“I didn’t.” And I wasn’t planning on doing that, but I didn’t say it out loud. What if Ethan wanted it…or rather, his programming was set to crave that intimacy? I didn’t make a humanoid to be that kind of companion.

“I’d kiss him,” Ivory blurted out, her cheeks turning from rosy to a beet red.

“Enough of this.”

“Come on, Ivy! I’m just as lonely as you. Sure, I have dates—lots of dates—but never more than three with the same guy!”

I picked up a pillow on the couch and threw it at Ivory. “Enough. You can’t have him and Ethan and I barely know each other, right Ethan?”

“I know everything about you.” He smiled. “And you should know everything about me…since I was made to your specifications.”

I guess that was true. Before I could change the subject, the doorbell rang again.

“Doorbell!” Ethan said. “I’ll get it.”

He sprang from the sofa like I had done earlier and headed to the door. I stood, but Ivory pulled me down to squeeze on the chair beside her. “Let him get it. It’s good practice. Besides,” she dropped her voice to a whisper. “When are you going to kiss him?”

“Shh.” I said, watching Ethan disappear into my foyer. “I already said I’m not going to. It’s not why he’s here.”

“I’m just amazed how human-like he is,” Iris said, joining us on the arm of Ivory’s chair. “Someone walking down the street wouldn’t know the difference.”

“Except everything about him is perfect—too perfect. Like, his teeth are aligned and nose is straight. Even his eyes are perfectly symmetrical.”

“Makes him handsome,” Ivory said with a shrug.

“Handsome, but a little unreal.”

Mary cleared her throat from behind me. “Looks like Iris and Ivory had the same idea I did,” she said. Beside her stood Gary, and behind them were Felix and Faye.

Ethan stepped beside them with a huge grin. “It looks like your whole family wants to meet me.”

I looked into his crystal blue eyes that reminded me so much of Dayton. “You okay with that? Is it too overwhelming?”

“No. I’ll be fine. I already know who they all are.” He pointed and named each of them before doorbell rang once again.

“It must be Mom and Dad,” Felix laughed. “They were right behind us.”

I took a deep breath. I was hoping for an uneventful evening getting to know…no, like Ethan said, we already knew each other. Rather, I was hoping for an uneventful evening getting comfortable with Ethan, but instead, I was hosting an unexpected party. Honestly, what better way to get comfortable with Ethan than to see how he reacted to my big family.

About an hour into me playing hostess, Jeannie and Alex showed up, too. Now, we were all gathered in my living room, and I was seated tightly next to Ethan on the sofa. Everyone was in conversation, and Ethan’s fingers interlace with mine. I pulled away.

“You don’t need to do that,” I whispered.

“I’m programmed for human companionship. I want to hold your hand.”

“You want too?” I felt my hand reach out. It could feel nice, right? I hadn’t held a hand in a while.

“At least my programming wants me to.”

Ahh. His programming. Why were there constant reminders of that? “Not yet. Give it a few more days.” I smiled sweetly.

When he returned the smile, I could see how easily it’d be to fall for some—thing like Ethan. It was no wonder Dream Droids was quickly becoming a Fortune 500 company. They knew what they were doing.

By the end of the evening, I had grown to enjoy Ethan by my side. I liked his questions he asked my family, saying he was filling in the gaps in his programming. Questions about our Christmas traditions, about quirks when I was little, and the story about how I ended up with Sharky, even though Jeannie and Alex had purchased the puppy.

It was nice, Ethan fit in. Nobody seemed to judge me, and at eleven PM, when everyone finally went home, I was exhausted. I closed the door behind Iris and leaned against the wall.

“Wow, Ethan, I’m so sorry you had to go through that on your first day here.”

“Did you enjoy it?” Ethan asked.

I thought back to the loud evening of chatter and teasing. “I did.”

“I did, too.” Ethan said. “Anything that makes you happy makes me happy.” He smiled, but there was no dimple to be seen. “Your family is unique, especially your sister, Ivory. She really likes to give you a hard time.”

“That she does. She’s done it her whole life, but she’s also the first person to stick up for me.” I pushed off the wall and flipped off the lights in the house.

Ethan was nice. Sweet even, but it was sickly sweet. A little unreal. I laughed at myself. Of course, my love life was so messed up that I’d even find flaws in a perfect humanoid companion.

“Time for bed,” I said, heading towards my room. When I realized Ethan was right behind me, I pointed to the room next door. “That one’s yours.”

“Of course.” He flashed me one more too-white smile, then nodded. “Good night, Ivy.”

“Night, Ethan. I can’t wait to spend the day with you tomorrow.”

“Likewise,” he said as he turned into his room.

“Ethan, one more thing,” I called after him.

“Yes?”

“Do you need anything?”

“No. I’ll be fine.”

“Well, if you do, don’t hesitate to wake me up.”

“Will do.”

I was so tired, I couldn’t even change into PJ’s. I hit the bead in my t-shirt and leggings, falling asleep only moments later.

 

 

MORE COMING SOON!

THIS SERIAL NOVELLA, CREATED FOR CHRISTMAS, WILL BE PUBLISHED THREE TIMES WEEKLY ON TUESDAY, THURSDAY, SATURDAY. MAKE SURE YOU CHECK BACK OR SUBSCRIBE TO THIS BLOG TO NOT MISS THIS ONGOING SERIES.

Created for Christmas: 12/17 – 8 Days ’till Christmas

***Note: This is an unedited FIRST DRAFT of this story. You can also read it on Wattpad HERE.

Get caught up with Chapter 1 HERE:

A Serial Novella (1)

Chapter 10

My stomach twisted as I sat on my parent’s sofa, waiting for the rest of our family to arrive for our annual caroling event.

Iris and Ivory sat adjacent to me, in Mom and Dad’s big leather recliners, chatting about something, but I was unable to focus. I had so much going on. Tonight, I’d be direct and ask my family if they stole Dad’s gift. Accusing them out loud of this didn’t sit well with me. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

But part of my inability to focus was based on a bit of excitement to put this mystery to an end. Excitement to finally hunt down the culprit…and, excitement for something else I couldn’t place.

When the doorbell rang, and I jumped from my seat, I realized what part of my anxious anticipation was for…I got to see Dayton again.

Mary and Gary stood on the front porch, holding hands. Mary clutched a Tupperware container to her chest that I hoped contained her famous Jimmie covered puppy chow. Gary had a big smile on his oversized lips, and I tried to picture him as the guilty party. Why would he steal something…much less at Christmas time?

“We’re all here,” Dad announced as he led our newest arrivals into the living room.

“Not yet,” I said, settling back into my spot on the sofa before anyone else took it. “I have a guest coming.”

“A guest?” Iris perked up and slyly smiled.

“Not like that.” I waved a dismissing hand. “It’s just Dayton.”

“Dayton again?” Ivory teased. “Mmm mm. I could use some eye candy.”

Eye candy? Dayton was kinda awkward and a bit nerdy…with this little dimple on his cheek and blue eyes that made me look a few moments too long. I took a deep breath. “Yeah, he’s become a friend. Most of you all have someone to bring to these holiday events, so why can’t I bring a friend?”

“Just a friend?” Ivory snickered.

“Yes. Just a friend. On Christmas things will be different. I’ll have my humanoid…” I was going to argue more, but suddenly, things didn’t feel right. The thought of my humanoid left an empty whole inside me.

Was I developing romantic feelings for Dayton?

It couldn’t be.

But the thought of him here with my family made my lip twitch to release a smile.

I was feeling something towards him that was a bit more than just a friendship.

Did he feel the same way? Did it matter?

I had made myself a promise. I had loved once in my life already and didn’t need to do it again. I didn’t need another heartbreak. Didn’t need more years of emptiness and sorrow.

“Ivy, I didn’t mean to push any buttons.” Ivory said.

I smiled. “Nothing’s wrong…and you’re right. He is a nice-looking man.” Saved by the doorbell. I stood, trying not to look too eager. “It’s gotta be him. I’ll be right back.”

As I tried to calm the pins and needles in my stomach as I crossed the foyer, I was certain I was falling for Dayton. I’d have to back off some. He was here to help me with the missing gift, and that was all. He was a friend.

But when I stood beside my Mom who opened the door, and I caught Dayton’s awkward smile, showing off his dimple, I again wondered what his intentions were. Did he feel the same way about me?

“I’m here for some caroling.” He handed a bottle of wine over to my mom, who took it graciously, then leaned down and gave me a little hug. He smelled of wintergreen and fresh air.

“Well, we’re all here. Let’s get this over with,” Felix said from right behind me.

One by one, my family slipped into their jackets, tightened scarves, and buried their hands in gloves and mittens. As they headed outside, I grabbed Felix’s arm. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Yeah, what’s up? Trying to get the inside scoop of my present picking abilities? Grabbing some last-minute points towards the Spoiling the Fun trophy?” He harassed me with a smile.

“Not quite,” I said, making sure Dayton was close beside me with his attention turned to Felix. We’ll see how great his body-reading ability was. I continued, “You know how my gift for Dad went missing two weeks ago?”

Felix nodded. “Yeah, that’s too bad. Didn’t you find it yet?”

“No. Not yet, but maybe you could help.” I shifted foot to foot. “I wanted to know…” I turned to Dayton for support, and he looked at me with his encouraging eyes. I swallowed, then forced the words out. “I was just wondering if you took that gift from me? I know how much you love winning.”

Felix’s jaw fell open and his eyes widened. Before he could form words, the front door opened and Faye stuck her head inside.

“You three coming? We’re freezing our butts off outside.”

“Be right there,” Felix said.

As soon as Faye went back outside, I turned back to Felix, who was chuckling.

“You really think I’d stoop that low?”

“Come on Felix, you admit to cheating all the time! Monopoly, checkers, even at video games! You hate losing.” I took a deep breath. “I just had to ask. I can’t believe it’s missing.”

Felix took a step towards the door, patting me on the shoulder. “You still have two weeks. It’ll turn up. I’m sure it will.” With that, he disappeared out the front door after his wife.

“Well, that went well,” Dayton muttered.

“It went well? I thought it was a nightmare.”

“Not a nightmare. He at least laughed that you thought it was him.”

“So, he’s innocent?” My chest felt like a huge weight lifted, and I could breathe again.

“It’s hard to say. His initial body language seemed shocked…whether it was because you asked him or that you caught him. Unfortunately, Faye interrupted us, and I didn’t pick up on anything else.”

I sighed. “Neither did I. Let’s check with Gary before we jump to any conclusions.”

With a nod, we left the house and joined the rest of my family outside. Our tradition was to sing eight carols, two per side of the block that surrounded my parent’s house. The neighbors had fun with it, throwing shoes, popcorn, and anything else they could find at us. They’d let out moans, but then we’d all laugh. By the end, many of the neighbor’s joined in.

Like all our traditions, it was quirky and ridiculous…and utterly fun.

Mom always said that for us to pick a spouse, they had to endure our family traditions. I found myself admiring all my in-laws, wondering how they survived my family for so long, then I looked to Dayton, who bellowed out Silent Night like nobody’s business. I looked to Ivory. She was single and looking for companionship. Maybe I needed to set Dayton and her up.

Ivory was usually interested in the same type of man I did, and she did call Dayton eye candy. That way, when I got my Dream Droid, none of my siblings would be still single. We’d all have our companions to bring to the holidays.

As we ended our set with our eight song, Deck the Halls, and everyone began to return to the warmth of my parent’s house, Dayton leaned close, his arm squished against mine. “That was fun,” he whispered. His cheeks were rosy and his blue eyes brightly illuminated by the lights reflecting off the snow.

“Seriously?” I nudged him. “I think it was utterly ridiculous.”

He laughed. “It just nice…that you’re all together.” He seemed to take in each couple as the filed into the house with longing in his eyes. “You just don’t realize how lucky you are to have such a close family. It’s something I miss.”

I admired my family, trying to take them in from an outsider’s perspective. Iris poked Max in the side while he rubbed his son’s shoulders.

Jeannie lifted up on her tippy toes and gave Alex a kiss, Esme and Else were in the middle of the front yard, making snow angels, and Mom and Dad stood arm-in-arm while holding the front door open for this massive family they created. Even Felix and Faye had their arms around each other with smiles on their faces. It was that moment, I realized how truly blessed I was.

Dayton nudged me and nodded towards Gary. We had a mission to complete, and I couldn’t get sentimental. I fell back beside Gary as we filed into my parent’s home.

I shoved my hands in my jacket pocket as I tried to appear innocent. “Hi Gary. Kinda a weird tradition, huh?”

“I guess.” He shrugged.

“How’s your holiday been so far?”

“Nice. You?” His two-word answers would have been frustrating if it wasn’t for his sincere smile.

“Mine’s been…” I looked to Dayton who gave me an encouraging smile. “Mine’s actually been great, except for one thing. At the Parade of Presents a few weeks ago, the present I bought and presented to Dad disappeared. Do you know anything about that?”

“Mary mentioned it. That’s really too bad. It kind of ruins the spirt of Christmas.”

Ensuring Dayton was paying attention, I prodded more. “What did Mary tell you?”

“Just that you were planning on winning the Best Gift trophy with something that was sentimental to you and your father, and you think someone stole your gift.” He tightened his lips and looked forward as he entered the house.

I was careful not to accuse anyone of stealing the gift. “Did Mary say I thought someone stole it?”

Gary stepped into the house, and I followed along with my ears perked up for the answer.

Gary took off his scarf and mittens. “I just know this present game of yours is important to the family. In my opinion, it’s a little odd. Why not just buy yourself what you want instead?”

Was he avoiding my question? Did I need to come out and accuse him, too?

While I contemplated what to do, Dayton came to my rescue. “All that Ivy is trying to do is narrow down where the gift could have gone. Did you see it at all after she presented it at the Parade of Presents?”

Gary shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

Argh!

This was getting nowhere.

“Who’s staying for supper?” Mom’s cheerful question from the entry way made all other conversations in the room silence. Dad stepped inside and closed the big oak door behind him.

Chimes of my siblings stating they wouldn’t miss her hamburger casserole for anything else in the world filled the over-crowded room.

“What about you,” I whispered to Dayton. I had promised him I’d learn more about him after the caroling at my house, but, Mom’s casserole was famous. Her ladies group said so.

“I’d love to stay, if that’s okay with you.” His dimple was back and I couldn’t help returning his smile.

“I’d love it.”

 

Chapter 11

Dinner was quick as Mom already had the casserole in the over and the table set. Esme and Else were the stars of the show, telling stories about how they sneak around the house every year, searching for their Christmas gifts. You could see their parents getting nervous, which only made the rest of us siblings laugh. When my family started excusing themselves a little after seven, Dayton and I soon said our goodbyes and thankyous to Mom and Dad.

When we stepped outside, I tightened my coat and looked up into his clear blue eyes. “I’m sorry that went longer than expected. I’ve had so much on my mind lately that I had forgotten about eating afterwards.”

“No worries,” Dayton said. “I don’t have anywhere else to be…except for your house for that mug of apple cider.”

“I smiled. Perfect! I need to let Sharky out, and I want to hear all your thoughts on Felix and Gary, plus, I have an idea I want to share with you.” Though, I didn’t know how I’d approach asking him if he’d be open to a date with my sister.

He smiled. “Besides, your mom wasn’t the only person I brought a gift for tonight.”

Suddenly my insides jumped. “A gift? For me?”

He playfully shrugged. “You’ll have to see. I’ll follow you to your place.”

I smiled for the whole five-minute drive home. When Dayton’s driver’s door clicked shut, I watched him carry a brown grocery bag to my front step. I took his coat and hung it beside mine on a set of hooks in the entryway. My eyes must have been staring at the package he held.

“Here, just open it.” He handed me the brown paper bag.

I slowly opened the top and peered inside, making out the red box with some yellow letters. I turned it over to read the words The Amazing Spiderman. I quickly pulled out an action figure similar to the one I had purchased for Dad. “You didn’t…”

“No, I didn’t. I just thought that if you couldn’t find your present for your father, this one might be a close second choice. It’s not a big collector’s edition, as it’s much more modern, but it hopefully will still trigger some memories for you and your dad.”

I couldn’t help it, I threw my arms around Dayton and squeezed. “I’m so glad we met!” Suddenly, I felt self-conscious about our closeness—especially if I was going to set him up with Ivory. What if he already had a special someone? I mean, he was smart, funny, and thoughtful. Kind, too. I invited him here to learn more about him, so I let my question roll from my lips.

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

He laughed. “No.”

Why’d he laugh? “Did I miss that you were married?”

Dayton shook his head. “Not married either.”

“Really? You’re like the perfect guy. You’ve been side-by-side, helping me track down my dad’s gift. You’ve also held my hand through the process of creating my Dream Droid.”

“I’m far from perfect.”

“Come on! You have to be perfect if I picked my humanoid to be modeled after you.”

“I have lots of flaws. Like…for one, I can’t talk to women.”

“But you’re talking to me right now.”

“Okay, let me rephrase that. I can’t talk to women outside of work. Also, sometimes I push myself a little too far into other’s personal lives…thinking I can help…like inviting myself to their family gatherings.”

“I found that sweet, and extremely helpful.”

“Yeah, but maybe it’s because I miss my own family.” He took a step closer to me. And…well…I have a hard time admitting how I feel out loud to some people.

“How about to me? Can you tell me how you feel?”

He nodded. “I hope so. Ever since our first conversation on the phone a month and a half ago, I felt comfortable around you.”

“Then tell me how you feel,” I prodded.

He took a deep breath, then focused on my eyes. “Anxious.”

“Come on. More than that. What’s making you anxious.”

He took another step further until I could smell the wintergreen on him again. I knew I should take a step away, but I didn’t.

His voice was soft. “I’m anxious that I’m going to kiss you, and I don’t know if you’ll like it.”

My stomach did a somersault as I processed what he said. If he kissed me, how could I tell Ivory? Would it ruin my chance to play matchmaker?

As soon as his warm lips pressed against mine, my thoughts melted away, one-by-one, until I was left with only the presence of the man standing in front of me. My arms wrapped around his neck, and I pressed my body against his. I couldn’t get close enough. It had been a long time since I kissed a man with so much heat. Heck, maybe I had never felt so much passion.

The last time I had been close was right after Niles proposed…

My body grew rigid, and I pulled my strength from somewhere in my core to push Dayton away. “We can’t do this,” I breathed. I promised myself that I’d never fall in love again. “I can’t…I can’t have my heartbroken, especially since I’m so close. My Dream Droid’s almost done…”

His eyebrows narrowed as he examined my face. He tilted his chin and took a tiny step away. “Ivy…I’m…real, and right here in front of you.”

I found my resolve. “I promised myself, and I can’t go back. I don’t want to fall in love. I won’t let myself be hurt like that again.”

He opened his mouth to say something, but then snapped it shut. His lips tightened as he looked away, but it was too late. I had already seen the hurt in his clear blue eyes.

“Dayton. I made up my mind, but you don’t have to be alone. My sister Ivory…”

He snapped his head up. “Your sister? Don’t even think about setting me up!”

“We’re very similar, and I think you’ll like her. I’m sure she’ll like you.”

“You may be similar, but you’re quite different. Ivy, there’s something about you that I can’t get enough of.”

I laughed, but when the sound escaped my lips, I realized how insensitive it was. “We hardly know each other.”

“Not true. Do you know how many pre-screening phone calls Dream Droids makes to our clients?”

“I don’t know. We talked like a dozen times.”

“Exactly. Dream Droids makes ONE phone call to each client to make arrangements and lay out expectations. We spoke over a dozen times. Do you know why?”

I couldn’t find my words and simply stared at him.

“Because, I loved talking to you, and I think you loved talking to me. I’d make up any excuse to make another phone call to you. You were filled with so much energy and optimism. Even now, with your missing gift, you still think everyone’s innocent, even though all the signs say they’re not. You’re a beautiful human, it’s too bad you can’t get over your past.”

My words were still lost when he turned away, picking up his coat and disappearing out my door.

It was probably for the best. If he stayed any longer, I might have lost my resolve. I scooped up the gift Dayton gave me from where I must have dropped it on the floor during our minute of passion and set it down on an end table in my living room. I flopped back into the sofa, besides Sharky. My pup laid his head on my lap and let out a whine.

“I know.” I ran my hand down the top of his head. “Alone again. It’s for the best. Trust me.”

Another whine, but he settled down—unlike me.

My hand ran down Sharky’s head over and over, taking comfort in his soft fur.

What if Dayton would never break my heart?

How could I trust that?

How could he say I was optimistic when I was so pessimistic on love?

 

Read the next part HERE!

THIS SERIAL NOVELLA, CREATED FOR CHRISTMAS, WILL BE PUBLISHED THREE TIMES WEEKLY ON TUESDAY, THURSDAY, SATURDAY. MAKE SURE YOU CHECK BACK OR SUBSCRIBE TO THIS BLOG TO NOT MISS THIS ONGOING SERIES.

Created for Christmas: 12/16 – 9 Days ’till Christmas

***Note: This is an unedited FIRST DRAFT of this story. You can also read it on Wattpad HERE.

Get caught up with Chapter 1 HERE:

A Serial Novella (1)

Chapter 9

Another week had passed, and I kept mulling over what Dayton and I had discovered. We had two good suspects in the missing present escapade: Felix and Gary.

For one, I didn’t know Gary well. He hadn’t seemed very friendly, only giving me two-word answers to my attempt at a conversation, but that was up to the point where Mary had given away his hobby of collecting toys. After that point, he told me his life story, about his brother dying. Were his two-word answers because he felt guilty? Or was he shy like Mary had told me? Maybe he told me all about his brother to make my sympathetic.

Then there was Felix, who was the most competitive member of my family. Ever since he was a little kid, he was set to win. He’d cheat if he had too. Like when we’d have family game night and played monopoly. I caught him taking money when nobody was looking. He had also been quite sneaky, not pointing out other’s opportunities for rent collection, or hoping nobody would notice when he moved his piece forward an extra space to avoid paying a tax.

Was this no different?

If Gary took Dad’s gift, I’d probably never see it again…and Felix? He was my brother. I’m sure the gift would show up—right after he took home the trophies. And wasn’t that all that mattered? That Dad got the present, no matter if it was a little late.

My leg bounced uncontrollably today in Dream Droid’s waiting room. I needed to change my focus. This week was the most important in creating the perfect companion. Personality was everything to me. I needed to forget about the missing gift for a little while and give my Dream Droid my entire focus otherwise I’d be stuck with someone I didn’t love. No, not love. I’d be stuck with someone I wasn’t compatible with for the rest of my life.

There were a few things I knew I wanted with a long-term companion: Kindness, a good sense of humor, thoughtfulness, and a good listener—aren’t those things what every girl wants?

But it felt different to me. I didn’t just want kindness with the world, I wanted kindness to my family and kindness in showing genuine interest in me…like I would give in return. A sense of humor–but not just telling jokes. Someone that could take crap from Dad or Alex and give it back, but in a kind way. Thoughtfulness—like anticipating my problems and solving them before I even realize they are problems. And a good listener, not just listening when I talk, but asking questions to pull a story out of me.

I laughed to myself. No wonder I was here, at Dream Droids. A man like that didn’t exist, but I refused to compromise…

Or I set my standards so high so they’d never me met, so my heart couldn’t be broken again.

A Christmas memory from three years ago filled my head. I had been so excited for my first Christmas living with Niles—our first Christmas together since being engaged. I had a mountain of perfectly wrapped gifts beneath the tree and the house was expertly decorated, with my sisters help.

We were getting ready for my family’s annual caroling event, which happens a handful of days before Christmas. I was putting earrings in in front of the mirror over my dresser when Niles walked up behind me. The look on his face is one I’d never forget: flat, emotionless, and distant.

“Ivy, this isn’t working,” he had said.

I had been confused. I knew he didn’t like my family traditions, but the situation seemed so much direr than his disinterest in serenading my parent’s neighbors.

I went to argue, but he stopped me.

“It’s Liz. You know, my secretary. She’s pregnant, and I have a duty to care for my child.”

All the words filtered slowly through my mind as I put two and two together.

He lifted a bag he had already packed and walked out of the bedroom. I heard the door close seconds later, and I never saw him again.

“Ivy?” Dayton stood right in front of me. “You okay?”

I wiped my eyes, hoping I hadn’t been crying. When my finger came away dry, I smiled, trying to look presentable. “Yeah, just fine.” I scooted around him and stood. “Shall we? We have a personality to develop.”

“Are you sure you’re okay? You looked…” Dayton followed me down the hall and dropped his voice. “You looked like you were going to cry.”

I sucked in my bottom lip and didn’t say anything for fear I might relive the emotions I had been experiencing. I kept silent until we were in Dayton’s office and the door was securely closed. When I turned around and saw compassion on his face, one tear escaped.

“Hey, what happened?” He took my hand and sat beside me on a padded bench near the door.

I wiped away the tear and centered myself. “Nothing happened. Not recently. I was just reliving a sad memory. Thanks for pulling me out of it before it got too bad.”

“I hadn’t mentioned this before, but building a humanoid companion can be very emotionally draining…especially this part. There are so many facets to a human personality. Having to identify what you like and what you don’t forces a person to relive all the good and bad memories in one’s life.”

I nodded. What I was going through was completely normal. “Thanks. I needed that. I feel much better.”

Dayton gave me a bit, then when I smiled, he looked me in the eye, making me forget everything I had just experienced. A joy filled him as he returned my sentiment. “Are you ready to let me take a look inside your head?”

“What do you mean?” Did they have some type of cutting edge, mind reading contraption?

Dayton nodded towards the main computer we had been working with. “Time to do some data entry. All you need to do is sit here and describe things you like about people and things you dislike.”

“So, you want me to whine to you?”

Dayton laughed. “When you put it that way, it doesn’t sound as glamourous. I like to describe it as taking your sensory observations and manipulating the thoughts to create a single personality that would be the most compatible…but whining works.” When Dayton stood up, I hadn’t realized he had held my hand. I had been so lost in my thoughts that I had sought his comfort a little beyond what was probably appropriate for our business relationship. But heck, it wasn’t the first time I had held his hand.

“So,” Dayton said as he clicked through some computer screens. “It helps to get started by telling me what you don’t like.”

“What I don’t like?” I laughed. “That’s easy. I don’t like egos. I don’t like sports jocks. I don’t like…jerks. I don’t like unfaithfulness.”

“Okay…” Dayton typed in the computer. “No jerks.”

“You’re humoring me. Okay…more details… I don’t like people that always have to win and that will cheat to get there. I don’t someone that would steal a Christmas present in order to win a game.”

Dayton dropped his hands from the keyboard and turned my way. “You still haven’t found it?”

I shook my head. “The culprit has to be either my brother or Mary’s boyfriend Gary. I don’t know who else it would be. Do you have any ideas for me on how to narrow it down further?”

“Maybe you should just ask them both point blank. Give them a chance to come clean. At least, you can watch their body language. There are lots of ways to tell if someone is telling the truth. I mean, I studied body language a little in college and use it here for building droids. If they don’t look at you, or they fidget, they could be lying.”

“Dayton, you’re brilliant. So, all I have to do is ask them the question, then watch for signs of lying.”

“Well, it’s not that easy. There are many subtle signs, and sometimes, your emotions are so tied up into the question, you miss some clues.”

“Like what?”

“A subtle shift of their weight. A change in the pitch of their voice.” Dayton went on to describe a long list of body signals and physical changes that happen when a person is withholding the truth. From pupil size, to sweating, to how they structure their answer to a question.

“Do you think I can do it?” I asked, suddenly overwhelmed.

“I have complete faith in you, but if you’d like me to be along…”

All of a sudden, hope filled me. “Yes! I do. Please come and help me. That is if you have time.”

Dayton smiled. “I’ll make time…but…” he glanced at the digital clock on a bookshelf along the wall. “But half our session is already gone and we haven’t accomplished anything yet. I’m so sorry I didn’t keep us more on track. Thirty minutes isn’t enough. We need to get focused as we only have fifteen minutes more to create your humanoid’s personality.

I held up a hand. “It’s okay. I know exactly what I want—I was thinking about it while in the waiting room. I’d like him to be kind and thoughtful with a good sense of humor. Oh, and he’s got to be a good listener, too. I imagine that’s the same personality you give all the humanoids.”

“Actually, it’s not,” Dayton said. “Everyone is different. Most girls think they want an alpha male, but when we run the personality simulator, they’re actually quite turned off.” Dayton glanced at the clock. “We’re not going to have time for that, either. I have another appointment immediately after this one—in fact, my whole day is booked, but I’d be happy to stay late tonight, if you want to come back.”

“Tonight? I can’t. I need to put in some overtime at work.”

“Tomorrow? It’ll have to be late, as I’m all booked up before Christmas.”

“I can’t then either! Tomorrow is the fifth Weldon Family Christmas tradition of a little neighborhood caroling…maybe the next day?”

Dayton shook his head. “I need to send in the personality specs by Wednesday morning to get your humanoid completed by next week.”

“Then, create someone special for me. I’m sure you can do it. Just make him…like you.” I smiled, trying to cheer him up. “I think we’ve been getting along fabulously. If my lifelong companion turns out like you…well…I’ll be happy.”

“That’s very kind, but there’s more to it than that.”

“Then come along caroling. You can interview me on personality traits, and we can ask Felix and Gary about my missing gift. You did say you’re the expert on reading body language.”

“I didn’t say I was an expert.” Dayton shook his head, cheeks a little pink. “I’m sorry. I’m still stuck on your last statement. You’d want your droid to have my personality?”

“Sure,” I said with a shrug. “Why not? I mean…you’re kind and thoughtful…you have a sense of humor, not in a funny joke way, but in a way that you can tolerate my family…and you’re a good listener. I mean, I’ve been talking about myself all this time and I don’t know much about you at all.” Suddenly, I felt guilty for monopolizing his time. It was true. I didn’t know anything about Dayton other than he loved superheroes, lived in Northern Minnesota, and his parents had died when he was still in high school.

“You know a lot about me already. Maybe there’s just not that much to learn.”

“Well, come along caroling tomorrow and after we ask Gary and Felix if they stole the present, you can come over to my place. We’ll let Sharky out and narrow down the culprits over a mug of my famous apple cider. Then, I want to hear all about you.”

Dayton glanced at the time.

“I know, times up. Just come tomorrow. Meet me at my folks at five-thirty?”

As soon as Dayton nodded, I sprung out of my seat and headed towards the door. For some reason, I was happy. Happier than I’ve been in a long time, despite someone in my family being a thief. I felt like we’d find Dad’s gift soon, I’d get my humanoid by Christmas, and while doing all of this, I had made a new friend this holiday season.

 

CONTINUE READING HERE!

THIS SERIAL NOVELLA, CREATED FOR CHRISTMAS, WILL BE PUBLISHED THREE TIMES WEEKLY ON TUESDAY, THURSDAY, SATURDAY. MAKE SURE YOU CHECK BACK OR SUBSCRIBE TO THIS BLOG TO NOT MISS THIS ONGOING SERIES.

Created for Christmas: 12/13 – 12 Days ’till Christmas

***Note: This is an unedited FIRST DRAFT of this story. You can also read it on Wattpad HERE.

Get caught up with Chapter 1 HERE:

A Serial Novella (1)

Chapter 7

The week passed slowly, waiting for our family ice skating. My gift for Dad still didn’t turn up, but all I could think about was my non-date with Dayton. I needed to set it straight right away that it wasn’t a date. He was a friend helping me find my dad’s gift…

But what if that’s all he thought this was? Would I offend him that I even thought he had thought it was a date?

These scenarios were driving me crazy!

In the end, I decided to not say anything at all. We’d focus on the finding the gift…and then I’d go back to making my humanoid. Dayton would go back to…whatever it was he did.

What did he do? I laughed to myself. Maybe he spent all his free time with a girlfriend. I hadn’t thought about that, but I did glance down for a wedding ring and found none—not that that meant anything.

Dayton arrived promptly at four PM on Friday night. Sharky greeting him with his nose pressed in places it shouldn’t be. I laughed as I pulled my giant dog away.

“Wow,” Dayton said. “He’s a friendly guy.” He squatted down, allowing my dog to apply a coat of slobber to his cheek.

“He’s great,” I said, running my hand down his spine. “A little over friendly at times, but a really great dog. Do you have a pet?”

Dayton shook his head. “I had a hedgehog a few years ago that I really liked, but they don’t live long. When he died, I couldn’t see getting another pet.” Dayton shrugged. “I guess, now that I’m over it, I still haven’t replaced him. I got used to being alone.” He flashed me his crystal blue eyes, and I felt like he was giving me a message about my relationship with men.

“You’re smooth. Real smooth.” I said, turning towards my closet in the foyer.

“What do you mean?”

“Ahh, never mind. Did you pack gloves and a hat?” I asked, digging through a basket full of random hats and mittens. “The wind’s blowing pretty good today.”

“I’m from Northern Minnesota. We can handle anything.” He shoved his hands in his coat pockets while I shot him a come-on, tell-me-the-truth glance. He gave in. “My glove and hat are in my truck. Are you ready to get going?”

“We have time to kill. Ice skating doesn’t start until five.”

“I came early on purpose. I have a surprise to show you. Have you ever been to Bluff Overlook in winter?”

“I’ve been up there, but only in fall to see the colors.”

“Well, you’re in for a treat, then.”

I laughed. “But what if I had been there in winter?”

“I came prepared with a backup plan. I’d take you to the place that has the best hot cocoa in the city.”

“And if I’d been there before, too?”

“You wouldn’t have been.” He flashed that awkward smile I hadn’t seen since Comic-Con. “The best cup of hot cocoa in the city is only available at my house.”

* * * * *

As Dayton drove us up a windy road up a cliff on the outskirts of town, he pointed to some holiday decorations along the side of the road, such as plastic statues of a herd of reindeer, a life-size gingerbread house made out of wood, and the most magical of them all, an ice castle lit up with multi-colored flood lights.

“I can’t believe I didn’t know they decorated this trail.” I twisted in the seat to get the last view of the castle.

“I only know because I stumbled upon it. When I first moved here, it was about this time of year. I didn’t know anyone and was quite lonely. It was just me and my hedgehog for Christmas. A week before Christmas or so, I climbed this hill and overlooked the city.” Dayton pulled his car into one of three parking spots in a small scenic overlook near the top. “Take a look down there. You can see the entire city and the ocean, too. It was up here that I had a revelation about life. Even if I didn’t have someone to spend Christmas with that year, I wasn’t alone. There was me and nearly a million people in this city within viewing distance. Many of them felt as alone as I was. I just needed to go out and connect with some of those people.”

I looked at the lights coming alive at the onset of dusk. There were headlights, but the more you looked, the more you noticed all the businesses and homes that were lit up with Christmas lights. I watched the elevated train disappear into downtown. “It’s weird that with all the hustle and bustle, one could feel alone in a city this size. Even with my huge family, I still feel alone.” That’s why I was making a companion. “I guess, I haven’t connected with anyone down there.”

Dayton and I shared a few moments of silence before he spoke. “I wanted to show this to you as just a reminder that you’re not alone. There’s a ton of people like you and me out there. You just need to open yourself up to find them.”

I sucked in my bottom lip, holding back an argument and took in his words instead. It was odd, I hadn’t felt alone for the past few weeks. Maybe it was seeing more of my family, or the promise of my new droid companion…or these few instances of friendship with Dayton.

We watched the city as the lights became more prevalent in the setting sun.

“We better get going. Skating starts in fifteen minutes.” Dayton started the trucks engine, but before he put it in drive, I placed my hand on top of his on the shifter.

“Thank you. This was a really nice surprise.” I pulled my hand away.

As Dayton shifted his truck into reverse and backed out of our parking spot, he smiled, revealing a small dimple on his cheek and I couldn’t help but think it was cute.

Chapter 8

Mom and Dad were already at Crescent Lake when we arrived. Mom had a suspicious smile on her face as her eyes scanned Dayton from head to toe.

I intervened before she could make any judgement. “Mom, this is my friend Dayton.”

“Oh, I didn’t know you were bringing a friend.” She winked at me.

“It’s not like that. He’s just a friend. Promise. He’s the engineer making my humanoid at Dream Droids.”

She shrugged and shook Dayton’s hand. “I bet meeting your client’s family helps in creating a perfect companion. Do you do that with everyone you work with?”

Dayton smiled. “No, not everyone. Just the special clients, like Ivy.”

Dad shook his hand next.

After pleasantries were exchanged, A new silver mini-van pulled up, and I had to do a double take. Jeanine was driving it with her husband, Alex, at her side. Esme and Else were in the back.

“How do you like our new wheels?” Alex said as he exited the door, patting his hand on the vehicles hood.

“Nice.” I wrapped my arms around Esme and Else as soon as they got out of the van. “Look at all that room inside!”

“How’d you swing it?” Dad asked. “Last time we talked, you said you were stuck with the old beater until Esme could drive.”

My ears perked up. Jeannine had spent an hour at Thanksgiving complaining about how they didn’t know how they’d swing Christmas gifts this year.

“The dealership was having a great Christmas sale, and we ended up with a little extra money for a down payment this season.” Alex pulled a black stocking hat over his mop of dark-brown hair.

A little extra money? Like by selling a limited-edition, collectors-series Spiderman worth $1500? I looked over at Dayton who was looking at me like he could read my mind.

I didn’t have to say anything as Dad took over. “What happened? Did you get a bonus at work or something?”

Alex laughed and turned away from Dad to open the back of the van. “That’s exactly what happened, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.” He pulled out ice skates and began handing them to each of his girls. “Our old SUV started leaking coolant this week.”

Dad’s mouth opened, but he shut it as his words were drowned out by the engine of an old orange mustang that Iris’s boyfriend, Max drove. Mary and Gary were crammed in the backseat.

“Where’s Trevor?” I asked, seeing that Max’s son wasn’t along.

“He’s with his mom today.” Max went around the car and helped Iris out. “Their family’s celebrating Christmas a little early. It’s a shame they both ended up on the same weekend. I remember how much fun he had here last year. This is probably the most fun Weldon family tradition.”

“Oh, come on. All our traditions are fun,” I said with a playful smile. Iris was lucky to have a man like Max. He was thoughtful and present and seemed to make her happy. Over the two years they dated, we spent quite a bit of time together, and I always had a blast, but today, Max and Iris weren’t on my agenda. I needed to get to know Gary more.

As I told Dayton, I didn’t know much about him. “Hi Mary. Hi Gary, glad you could come.” I smiled. It was then I realized all my siblings and siblings-in-laws were staring at me. I looked around, and that’s when I caught Dayton’s blue gaze.

“Oh, you’re probably wondering who this is. Everyone, this is my friend, Dayton.”

Dayton shook each one of their hands while I did the introductions. While he was making some small talk with Mom, Iris whispered to me, “I thought you weren’t getting him for a few more weeks?”

“Get him?” I choked on my own saliva. “Dayton isn’t my droid. He’s my droid’s creator. He just came along today to…get a sense of my family.” It wasn’t a lie, but it might have been a little misleading.

“Oh,” Iris said.

Before she could say more, Ivory flagged us down the hill to where a little shack was set up on the shore of the frozen lake. “The rest of us are down here,” she yelled as she bounded up the hill. Once she was close enough to notice Dayton, she stopped. “Oh, who is that hottie?”

I turned to his reddened cheeks that I knew wasn’t from the chilly air. “I’m so sorry,” I said.

“It’s fine. I haven’t had this much attention in quite a while.”

After finishing putting our warm clothing on, we trudged down the hill to the ice skate rental shack. I quickened my steps so Dayton and I walked side-by-side with Gary.

“So, Gary. We didn’t have much time to chat last week. Mary tells me you’re a computer engineer.”

“That’s right,” he said.

When no more elaboration came, I kept the chit-chat. “That sounds like a fascinating career. Do you enjoy what you do?”

“It’s okay,” he said.

There was a bit of silence, and I tried again. “You’ve ice skated before?”

“Not recently.”

Now, his two-word answers were getting quite fun. “What do you like to do in your free time?”

“Not much,” he said with a shrug.

I was starting to wonder what Mary saw in him, but she came to his rescue.

“Gary is a collector of old toys. You should see his basement! He has nostalgic toys—in their original boxes—lining his elaborate shelving system. It feels like you walked into a toy story in ‘60’s!”

“Hmm,” I said. “I didn’t get that out of you.”

“Not many people do.”

My jaw dropped. Gary said four words! I sucked in my lip when he continued. “My brother was a big collector. When he passed away five years ago, I inherited his entire collection.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said, looking away and walking forward. I didn’t want to make him uncomfortable.

“It’s okay. It was a long process. He had a tumor on his spinal cord that gave him a lot of pain. He’s in a better place now. Having his collection makes me still feel connected with him. I never thought I’d be passionate about collecting toys, but I’ve been slowly adding to it.”

What if I lost a sibling…like Iris or Ivory? The two I was closest to. “I don’t know if I’d be brave enough to look at their things. I think I’d burst out in tears every time.” Just thinking about losing one of them brought tears to my eyes even though they both were standing a few feet ahead of me.

Dayton spoke up. “When I lost my parents, I kept my dad’s coin collection. At first, I never opened the box they were stored in. But after some time, I found myself sitting in front of them, thinking that his hands touched each one. I don’t add to the collection, but when I’m feeling particularly lonely, it helps me feel…well…connected to someone, even if they are long gone.”

I said nothing more. This conversation had gone so melancholy, I couldn’t bring up the missing Spiderman. The whole thing felt so trivial at this point.

Soon, we had all ordered our skate size, and Dayton and I were alone on a bench, lacing up.

“So,” Dayton began. “You have a few suspects…Like Jeanine and Alex who just came into a little cash and bought a car, Felix, as you tell me is a little competitive about winning, and now Gary, who collects old toys.”

“I hadn’t thought of that! I was so caught up with his story about his brother…and your story…”

Dayton smiled, then nudged me with his shoulder. “Remember, that’s why you took me along!” He stood up in his skates.

“Do you even know to use those things?” I asked, nodding towards his feet.

He laughed. “Did you already forget that I’m from Northern Minnesota? The land of ten-thousand lakes—and they all freeze in winter. Of course, I know how.” He squatted down and helped me tighten my laces around my ankles. We hit the ice first, doing a lap around the plowed part of the lake.

When we were out of earshot of the rest of my family, I asked, “What’s our next step to solve our Christmas Mystery?”

“We have our suspects. They have a motivation, I think. Felix wants to win. Alex needed some cash, and Gary has a collection to upkeep. Is there anyone to add to our list?”

“Like I said, I think Iris, Ivory, and Faye are innocent…Dad, too, since he’d get the present on Christmas, anyway. Mary, Mom, my nieces, and Max…I don’t see any reason for them to do it.”

“Okay, let’s stick to the three suspects.” Dayton spun around and now skated backwards in front of me. “Next, we need to look for clues and narrow down our suspect list…or check for an alibi and confirm their stories. Alex may be the easiest one. Did he really get a bonus from work?”

“How do we prove that? I can’t call his boss.”

“True. But perhaps your nieces can confirm it. You seem pretty close to them.”

We skated some more as my family joined us, one by one, along with a pile of other people here to watch the tree light up. Soon, my ankles ached, and the lake grew so crowded, I skated Dayton off to the shore to sit beside my nieces on a line of hay bales. This was my opportunity.

“Hey girls!”

“Hi Ivy,” they said, nearly in unison. Then they shyly waved to Dayton.

“Can we join you?” Dayton asked.

They nodded and scooted over.

“That’s a pretty sweet mini-van,” Dayton said.

The girls giggled, then Esme spoke up. “I don’t think there’s anything about a mini-van that’s sweet.”

“I don’t know,” Dayton said. “I bet you have a TV in the back.”

“We do,” Esme said.

“Then it’s pretty sweet,” Dayton said with a smile that showed off his charming dimple again. The girls seemed to notice, too, as they looked to each other and giggled again.

“What would you rather have, Else?”

The littlest of the sisters spoke with her toothless smile. “When Dad showed us his bonus check, I tried to convince him to buy a convertible. I didn’t get my way.”

“Maybe you didn’t try hard enough,” I said. “Maybe they didn’t give you enough time to convince them.”

Else laughed. “We’ve been arguing over what car to get for weeks already! Mom and Dad could have bought it a lot earlier, but they couldn’t decide. Mom wanted the mini-van and Dad wanted another SUV with four-wheel drive.”

“You should know, Mom’s always win,” Dayton said. “At least they did when I was growing up.”

“So…” I said, trying to be sneaky. “Your dad got his bonus a while ago already?”

“He got it right after Thanksgiving. We’ve been going to the car dealership nearly every other day!” Esme said.

“I’m glad it’s over with, even if Mom won with the mini-van,” Else said.

Dayton threw me a look telling me to move on to our next suspect.

“Are you all tired out already?” I stood up, reaching out for their hand. “How about we go around a few times, together? Maybe we can even have a race?”

The girls looked at each other, then got up on their skates. Soon, we were off, doing laps and chasing each other. Dayton stayed on the hay bales, but as I passed, I couldn’t help but admire the smile on his face.

To get that enjoyment out of life, when it sounds like he had quite a tragic past, was something I admired.

GO TO THE NEXT CHAPTER HERE

THIS SERIAL NOVELLA, CREATED FOR CHRISTMAS, WILL BE PUBLISHED THREE TIMES WEEKLY ON TUESDAY, THURSDAY, SATURDAY. MAKE SURE YOU CHECK BACK OR SUBSCRIBE TO THIS BLOG TO NOT MISS THIS ONGOING SERIES.

Created for Christmas: 12/9 – 16 Days ’till Christmas

***Note: This is an unedited FIRST DRAFT of this story. You can also read it on Wattpad HERE.

Get caught up with Chapter 1 HERE:

A Serial Novella (1)

Chapter 6

As I sat in the waiting room of Dream Droids, I couldn’t believe a week had passed. I’d been so busy with Christmas, hunting down my dad’s missing gift, and my surprisingly enjoyable trip to Comic-Con, that my Christmas countdown ticked to almost two weeks before Christmas in a blink of they eye.

Dayton stuck his head out the door and waved me back. He looked so much more professional in his white lab coat over his Captain America t-shirt. As soon as I was seated behind his computer, he looked at me with icy blue eyes. “Did you find Spiderman yet?”

I took a deep breath. “Not yet.” It had to show up. I was running out of time.

“You really think someone in your family took it?”

I nodded. “I’m hoping it wasn’t intentional, but yeah. I don’t know where else it could have gone. It was there one minute, then gone the next.”

An almost-too-big smile formed on Dayton’s lips. “Well, it looks like you have a mystery to solve.”

“A mystery?” For some reason that word stirred something inside me. “A Christmas Mystery?”

Dayton nodded and leaned closer to me. “Hunting down the gift sounds like a perfect adventure. I’d love to help you find it.”

“Really? I don’t want to trouble you with it.”

“It’s no trouble at all! I’ve been thinking about you…and your dilemma since bumping into you on Friday night. I want to help. In fact, the whole idea of solving a mystery has me all excited.”

I examined his face for sincerity. His cheeks were slightly blushed, his blue eyes wide, and the smile on his face made him look five years younger—not that he needed to look younger, he was probably only a few years older than me. “Okay. If you want to help, who am I to deny you your Christmas wish,” I teased.

I told Dayton all the details of the Parade of Presents, including how my dad examined the gift for ten seconds, how I tucked it behind the tree, about the threats from Felix, and how I had spent a little time away from watching the tree, chatting with my sisters in the kitchen and other hostess duties. I then explained how I visited Faye and Felix’s house for Christmas cookie baking and snooped around some. “Everyone denies knowing what happened to the gift. I don’t know what to do next. I really want to trust them all.”

“Well, don’t worry. I’m going to help you out,” Dayton said. “Who are your suspects?”

I rattled off everyone that was at my house the night Dad’s gift went missing. “I don’t think it was Iris, Ivory…or Faye. I’m not sure about Felix or Alex…and I don’t know much about Gary, Mary’s new boyfriend.”

“So, you ruled out Iris, Ivory, and Faye because…?”

“Because I trust them?” I shrugged with a laugh. “I guess it’s hard to be impartial when you’re dealing with family. I’m glad you’re helping. I need someone who doesn’t know anything about them to look at the situation objectively.” All of a sudden, I lit up. “This is our ice-skating week! We’re all meeting out at Crescent Lake for our holiday skating event along with them lighting up the big tree at the lodge. Maybe you could come along and help me interview my family? Maybe you’ll pick up some subtle clues I miss because my feelings get in the way.”

The smile disappeared from Dayton’s face and he turned towards the computer monitor hanging on the wall. He lifted the keyboard off the table and clicked some keys, bringing the screen to life.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” I watched his flat expression and dug back to what I said. “Was that too forward? I just thought that you…forget I asked. Let’s get to work.”

“No,” Dayton said. “It’s a good idea and I’m happy to help. It’s just that our time is passing quickly here and I have a job to do. You hired me to create you a Dream Droid and I have another appointment in fifteen minutes…”

I smiled. “Well, I really appreciate your help—both with the missing present and with my humanoid.” I sat back in my chair and pointed to the monitor. “What’s our goal this week?”

“Physical description,” Dayton said. “We’ll be taking your preferences and building your humanoid shell…so…this week is pretty easy. All you have to do is tell me what you’d like him to look like.”

I searched my mind for that image I had of my droid, but it seemed lost. As I stared at Dayton’s blue eyes, I remembered the words I had told my sisters: blue eyes and dark blond hair. I opened my mouth to repeat them, but nothing came out. Was I creating a man that didn’t look a thing like Niles on purpose? Did it even matter what my companion looked like? After all, it was all about personality.

Apparently, Dayton found my lack of words funny. I must have looked like an idiot.

“Here,” he said between chuckles. “I can show you some pictures of other droids and you can let me know if you like them or not. Simple enough?”

“Honestly, I’m actually quite intelligent,” I said. “I shouldn’t struggle with this, especially with all the time you spent on the phone with me, preparing me for these types of decisions. I just feel a little put on the spot and can’t make up my mind.” My shoulders sagged.

“You’re not alone. That’s why we developed software to help.” Dayton clicked around on the wireless keyboard resting on his lap. Soon, the monitor was populated with all types of men…from teenagers to grey-haired gentlemen old enough to be my grandpa.

“So, what do you think?” Dayton asked, nodding towards the screen.

I examined each face, from the youthful to the aged, from a few wrinkles and grey hair to both ends of the spectrum. When I went to form words, I don’t know why I suddenly felt shy. I tucked my hands under my thighs and sat forward. “Well, I don’t want to rob the cradle…or have a grandpa at home, so I’d go with the three men in the middle.”

“What about ethnicity?”

I took a deep breath. “None of this matters. I’m just looking for companionship.”

“But you should have someone that appeals to you. Everyone is drawn to certain looks more than the other. Like me, I’m drawn to smart blonds with green eyes.”

My jaw must have fallen open. Dayton was describing me.

He laughed. “I’m just putting you at ease. Go on, pick one.” He motioned to the screen again.

I tightened my lips, searching for the image of the perfect man. “I guess I like dark-haired men.” There, I just said it. I was on a roll—might as well push the rest out. “With blue eyes and tall and thin.”

Dayton cleared his throat, and I saw his cheeks turn pink. “It’s not fair to describe me. I only described you to help you move forward.”

I arched an eyebrow at him. “So, you’re not attracted to smart blonds?” He went to dig himself out of the hole, but I didn’t let him. “I wasn’t describing you. You may fit the description, but—”

He finally managed to interrupt. “Don’t worry. Many women like the tall, dark-haired type.”

I shook my head. He was having a good time harassing me.

“Now, I’m going to show you a series of faces. Pick the first one or the second one. At the end, the computer will have formulated your perfect match.”

I nodded and sat back, waiting for Dayton to bring it up. The monitor was soon filled with two different men’s faces, both with dark hair and blue eyes, but one had full eyebrows and a square cheekbone, while the other had a more baby face and a dimple on the bottom of his chin.

“Okay. The first or second one.”

“Oh, I don’t know. It depends on their personality.”

“Neither of these men have personalities yet. It’s all purely physical. Man 1 or Man 2.”

“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “They’re both very…handsome.”

“You need to make a decision. Which would you rather bring home to Mom and Dad?”

I tilted my head, scrutinizing the men.

“Which would you rather parade around in front of all your sisters?”

“Man 2,” I said without a thought. Man 2 was more Ivory’s type, she’d be a little jealous.

“Good,” Dayton said. “Onto the next set of photos.”

After the first one, the decision got easier and easier each time until we finished with the last set of men. Dayton clicked off the computer.

“Don’t I get to see what I picked?” I asked.

He shook his head. “Unfortunately, I need to do some data manipulation first to blend all the components together. It’ll be a surprise. You did tell me this was your Christmas present to yourself. Don’t you like surprises?”

“Not really. That’s why we have the Parade of Presents at my house. I want to guess all the gifts well before Christmas.”

“Then, you’re going to have to guess what he’s going to look like.” Dayton was starting to ease up around me and his personality was showing. Had he been nervous around me previous, or did he see me as a friend like I saw him?

Dayton interrupted my thoughts. “So, when is your family ice skating thing?”

I had forgotten I invited him. Suddenly, an excitement swirled in my stomach. “Friday from five to seven.”

“Sounds good. I’ll pick you up at four.”

“I only live fifteen minutes from there.”

“Then four is perfect.” That sweet smile had me nodding in agreement.

“I’ll see you Friday then,” I said as I walked to his office door. As I walked down the hallway, I turned around to see him still watching me from his doorway. I gave him a quick wave and headed back to my car.

It wasn’t until I was behind the steering wheel that I realized that the details of our little Christmas-Gift-Napping-Investigation seemed awfully like a date.

He was picking me up at my house…one hour early…

It wasn’t a date, I assured myself. He’s helping me make my lifelong companion. He knew I didn’t date and that I’d sworn off men. He knew I paid top dollar for a forever droid.

A Dream Droid.

Then why did my insides feel all tickly, like they used to get when I was a teenager?

I took a deep breath and started my car with a smile on my face.

I needed to forget about Friday, otherwise I’d never make it through the week.

I needed to focus on work. On my family. On my Dream Droid.

But right now, I just needed to get back to work.

READ THE NEXT CHAPTER HERE!

THIS SERIAL NOVELLA, CREATED FOR CHRISTMAS, WILL BE PUBLISHED THREE TIMES WEEKLY ON TUES, THURS, SATURDAY. MAKE SURE YOU CHECK BACK OR SUBSCRIBE TO THIS BLOG TO NOT MISS THIS ONGOING SERIES.

Created for Christmas: 12/6 – 19 Days ’till Christmas

***Note: This is an unedited FIRST DRAFT of this story. You can also read it on Wattpad HERE.

Get caught up with Chapter 1 HERE:

A Serial Novella (1)

Chapter 5

I don’t know what I had expected at Comic-Con, but and endless sea of vendors and people dressed up as superheroes, TV characters, and other famous personalities wasn’t it. Sure, Dayton had warned me, but this was more than I expected and was a little intimidating. It was like the first time I went to Vegas. My mom had referred to it as Disney World for adults, and she hadn’t been wrong. Vegas was larger than life and I had a hard time grasping everything going on.

Comic-Con felt the same way to me. As I pushed my way through the entrance, my eyes had to be wide, and I knew my jaw fell open a time or two as I was swept away into a fantasy world, far, far away. The hum of voices and the smell of stale book pages filled the large arena that held the convention. To my left were the whole team from The Incredibles. Mom, Dad, and the kids, too. To my right stood Superman and Supergirl. I couldn’t help smiling at the sweet looks on their faces as they stood arm-in-arm. Up ahead, down the first aisle walked many more characters I didn’t recognize.

I wasn’t a big fantasy or comic book person, but I loved Spiderman. Ever since I was super little, I remembered looking forward to Saturday mornings with Dad. It was always impossible to get alone time with either of my parent, since they both worked full time and had to split their time between six of us children in the house. For me, Iris, and Ivory, alone time was tougher, being triplets, we were always together – except Saturday mornings.

I was born with two left feet, so Mom would take Iris and Ivory to dance classes while Dad and I would sit in front of the TV, watching Spiderman and eating a bowl of Peanut Butter Captain Crunch together. Dad had seen them all before, but he never spoiled the plot twist for me. Those days were some of my favorite childhood memories.

Pushing my way through the crowd, I turned down an aisle of authors displaying various fantasy books when a giant banner of Spiderman caught my attention over a few rows. I pushed my way in that direction, maneuvering around a bare-chested man covered in green body paint. I made it over a row, but then got stuck behind a row of at least six people dressed as some multi-color space rangers. This was impossible! I spun around, jetting forward, but plowed smack into someone else. My heart raced, but when I looked up to see a familiar face, the world around me slowed down.

“Dayton?”

“Ivy. I saw you from over there,” He pointed many aisles away. “I’m happy you came.” The smile on his face was awkwardly large, compared to his slender frame, yet charming in its own way.

“I’m glad I bumped into you. I thought I’d be able to stop in, find what I wanted, and leave, but it appears that I’m a little overwhelmed.” My eyes focused on the large star printed on Dayton’s t-shirt. “Captain America fan?”

He laughed. “Here I thought the only superhero you knew was Spiderman.”

“Okay, you got me. I might have watched a few Marvel movies from time to time.”

“I’m impressed you knew they both were Marvel.” His smile reappeared, but it was much less awkward this time. “Are you here to check out the Spiderman items?” Dayton motioned to where I had eyed the giant banner.

“Yeah, but I can’t seem to get there. I didn’t expect it to be so crowded.”

“You came on opening night. Everyone has to get here before all the good stuff is gone. Here, follow me.”

After giving a grateful nod, Dayton began to weave through the crowd. He kept checking over his shoulder to make sure I was following and I stayed close—but not close enough. A woman dressed up as a character from an X-men movie cut me off, separating Dayton and I.

It was like Dayton could tell we were separated, because before I could call his name, he reached a hand around the woman for me to take. As someone else bumped into me, I stopped any sort of hesitation and took his hand. He pulled me through a gap and kept me close beside him as we transversed the maze of people to the giant Spiderman banner. Holding his hand was odd, I knew he only took mine as a friendly gesture, but I felt an odd tingling sensation in my core like I had in middle-school when I would accidentally bump hands with my crush while grabbing a piece of chalk or lunch tray.

When we stopped in a less crowded area, I let go of Dayton’s hand and he immediately shoved his in his jeans pockets. “So what brought you here?” I asked, feeling the need to make small talk.

“Nothing in particular…just the whole environment.” He looked around with wide, blue eyes. “When I’m here, I feel…happy. It brings back memories of my childhood when life was much simpler. Plus, I was hoping to run into a few people I knew.” He nodded towards me.

I laughed. “With this many people around, you’re bound to know someone.”

We stepped in front of a large table filled with various superhero memorabilia, Dayton pointed to a glass display cabinet behind the exhibitor where a Spiderman action figure sat. From where I stood, it seemed to match the one I got my father exactly.

“Looks just like the one you showed me earlier this week,” Dayton said.

“Yeah, and I need another one. That’s why I’m here.”

“Another one? Why?”

“It’s a long story.” I flagged over the exhibitor who was dressed as Spiderman. When I was sure he saw me, I shoved my hand in my pocket.

“So…” Dayton said. “Want to start with that long story now?”

“I guess it’s not long. It’s just that the one I have went missing.”

“Went missing? Like stolen or just misplaced?”

I stared at the Spiderman in the case. “Yeah, one of them. I’m not sure. I had it one moment, and the next it was gone. My entire family was at my house when it disappeared, and I don’t want to believe someone took it, but I’m out of choices.”

Spiderman approached us from behind the counter. “What can I help you with?”

“Could you tell us how much that costs?” Dayton motioned to the action figure.

“It’s a steal.” Spiderman said from beneath his mask. “Only fifteen hundred.”

Fifteen hundred dollars?

I choked on my saliva. Dayton looked my way, and I’m sure my eyes were bulging out. “Um…thanks, but it’s not in my price range.” I turned away, almost embarrassed I even asked the price. I should have known.

Dayton was right besides me. “We can negotiate We may get twenty percent or more off.”

“Even if we get it for fifty-percent off, that’s not enough.” I began to push myself through the crowd, getting as far away from that table as possible.

“There might be more here for a better price,” Dayton said from right behind me.

“No, that’s about what they cost. I was lucky with the one I found. I think I’m going to head home.” My chest felt like it was constricting with the crowd of people around me. It seemed like I couldn’t get enough air.

“Already?” Dayton asked. “Have you seen the Disney section yet? The tribute to Star Wars?”

I shook my head, trying to locate the door, but it was too far away. “This was only going to be a quick stop before dinner.”

“Well, they have dinner here, too. Wanna share an enormous donut from the Simpson’s stand? I have one every year.”

“Is the food area less crowded than this?” Another costumed woman stepped in front of me, making me trapped in the center of an aisle. “If you get me out of here, I’ll share a giant donut.” I spun around to see Dayton’s smile. “I mean, I’d be foolish to pass up a donut.”

“Deal.” Dayton held out his hand for me to take.

I hesitated a moment, then turned back towards the crowd. My lungs seemed paralyzed. I needed to get out of here. As I slipped my hand into Dayton’s I could breathe once again.

“Great.” Dayton’s warms fingers wrapped around mine, and he led me towards one of the walls of the arena. “Some tricks I learned are it’s easier to get around on the path around the perimeter. The aisles get crowded.”

“I can see that,” I said, holding tightly onto his hand.

“One of my favorite things to do here is to have a snack and simply watch who passes by. I start tallying who the favorite superhero is for the year. I think Wonder Woman may win this year, which is sad because it’s mostly men at this show.”

I laughed as I looked around. “There sure are a lot of men dressed up as the Princess of the Amazon.”

Dayton stopped and looked over his shoulder at me. “I thought you just watched Marvel movies?”

“What? Wonder Woman’s not Marvel?”

Dayton laughed and shook his head.

“That wasn’t a joke,” I teased.

That awkward smile reappeared on Dayton’s mouth as turned and led me to the back of the building where there appeared to be some snacks. Right before the Simpson’s Donut Stand appeared, Dayton stopped, waiting for a small parade of superheroes to pass. I bumped into him, then righted myself by putting my free hand against his bicep.

His eyes glanced down at my hand on his arm, and it was that moment I felt my cheeks heat. I had overstepped my boundaries, feeling the muscle beneath his shirt.

I had been alone for too long. My Dream Droid couldn’t come fast enough. “Oh, sorry.” I dropped both hands and took a half-step back.

“Of what?” He asked with a knowing smile before taking my hand again and leading me to an empty table of the food court.

The rest of the evening was quite fun, when I wasn’t depressed about the cost of a replacement gift for my dad. I found myself smiling and talking all about our Christmas traditions with Dayton. He told me about some of the traditions his family used to have, which made my family’s Parade of Presents seem mild. Like their long-line of gag gifts. One year, his aunt got a vase from his cousin…and it was filled with rabbit beaners! My family didn’t go that far.

“So, why’d you stop with the gag gifts?” I asked after laughing at some of his examples. “It sounds like a lot of fun.”

“It stopped after Mom and Dad passed away.”

All of a sudden, all the fun I was having came crashing down. I had forgotten about that he said his parents were gone. “I’m sorry,” I said.

“You don’t have to be. It was twenty years ago or so already. They died in a car crash when I was still a teenager. My aunt and uncle took me in, but they ended up getting a divorce a few years before I graduated college. All the Christmas festivities stopped at that point.”

“Well, I have enough stories to keep you busy all night!” And just like that, the fun we were having returned.

After our second pink-frosted donut, Dayton led me easily across the arena. It appeared the crowds were already thinning. It must have taken us quite a while to eat our donuts, but we did a lot of chatting. We said our goodbyes in the parking lot.

“Well, I’ll see you in a few days. We have another meeting on Monday.” Dayton said.

Yes. Monday. One more step to my perfect companion. “I can hardly wait.”

Dayton gave me an excited smile that quickly disappeared when he oddly shook my hand in a business like fashion.

Laying in bed that night with Sharky’s head across my stomach, thoughts of my day replayed in my head. Of the giant donuts Dayton and I shared, of us giving up on counting all the Wonder Women at the convention and switching to only tallying cross-dressing Wonder Women, and of the feeling of happiness that consumed me.

Maybe I was missing a friend in my life. Sure, I had my siblings and the rest of my family, but a friend was something a little different. Someone with different interests that opened your eyes up to new experiences. It was nice…

Then my thoughts switched to the fifteen-hundred dollars they wanted for the Spiderman toy. That was a lot of money. What if whoever took my gift figured out what it was worth and sold it? Or, even worse, what if the comic book store realized they made a mistake and took it back?

I was exhausted and those thoughts were absurd, but perhaps they weren’t that far-fetched. I read about such thing in the newspaper from time to time.

But I didn’t want to think about that—at least not so near to Christmas. It was appalling if someone did those things.

I pushed Sharky off my stomach, rolled on my side, and fell fast asleep.

READ THE NEXT CHAPTER HERE!

THIS SERIAL NOVELLA, CREATED FOR CHRISTMAS, WILL BE PUBLISHED THREE TIMES WEEKLY ON TUES, THURS, SATURDAY. MAKE SURE YOU CHECK BACK OR SUBSCRIBE TO THIS BLOG TO NOT MISS THIS ONGOING SERIES.

Created for Christmas: 12/5 – 20 Days ’till Christmas

***Note: This is an unedited FIRST DRAFT of this story. You can also read it on Wattpad HERE.

Get caught up with Chapter 1 HERE:

A Serial Novella (1)

Chapter 3

I woke early the next morning from a mixture of holiday excitement and Sharky’s usual hogging of the bed, making me squish up into a tiny ball in the corner despite it being queen sized. On the way to the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea, I stopped to admire my Christmas tree, still twinkling in the darkness. The glow from the white LED lights strung on the branches brought a warm glow to my living room despite the feeling of emptiness. Maybe it felt that way because my family was gone, I lived alone, or simply because the room looked bare without all the gifts from last night beneath it. All that was left beneath the tree were four gifts…

I rubbed my eyes and looked again. Only four gifts…. My heart raced as I flicked on the lights and dashed across the living room. There was one gift for Mary, one for Felix (I couldn’t believe I got his name this year), one for Sharky, and the last one was a big box for my humanoid.

My gift for dad—the best gift ever—was missing!

Frantically, I searched the living room for any signs of the red wrapping paper and silver bow. When I finished up empty handed, I moved on to the kitchen and my bedroom with no success.

Somebody must have taken it home last night. There was no other explanation. I knew I hadn’t touched it since putting it back underneath the tree.

I crossed into the kitchen and put a kettle of water on the stove before opening up my sliding door to let Sharky out into my fenced back yard. I sat down at the table and composed a group text to my family.

Ivy: I’m missing a red gift with a silver ribbon. The one for Dad. Did anyone take it home by mistake?

 Mary: No.

Dad: Nope.

Ivory: Oh no! Not me.

Felix: No.

After a long string of No, Nope, and Not me’s, along with the whistling of my tea kettle, I set my phone down and poured myself a cup. How could the present just disappear?

Unless it wasn’t an accident.

Perhaps I was being sabotaged.

I tried to remember everything that happened last night, and I kept coming back to one person. My brother who loved to win.

Felix.

It had to be him.

I scrolled through the long list of replies from my family, confirming Felix had denied taking the gift. My stomach tingled. I didn’t believe him. He was determined to win this year and he’d cheat if he had too, just like last year!

But what if he was innocent? I didn’t want to falsely accuse him, either. It was the holiday season and a time for family, love, and forgiveness. I needed to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Even if I knew he did it.

Luckily, I had a trip to Felix’s house planned for tonight. His wife, Faye, invited me over after work today to bake some holiday cookies. I’d search their entire house if I had to. I needed that gift. Not only was it a Spiderman action figure, it was a limited edition Spiderman from the 1967 TV series. They usually went for over a thousand dollars on eBay, and I got it for a steal. For me, it was irreplaceable. Plus, the Parade of Presents already happened, and I couldn’t switch gifts.

If that gift didn’t turn up, I was out of the running. My gifts for Felix and Mary were not strong enough to win the trophy. I rubbed a hand down my face and relooked at my text messages, identifying I hadn’t heard from Iris or my oldest sister Jeanine’s family yet. I needed to think positive. Maybe they were still sleeping and had accidentally taken my gift home. Before I did anything drastic, I needed a little patience.

But as my nieces said, waiting was so hard!

I let Sharky back in and hit the shower. I had a full day of data-entry at work today to take my mind off the missing gift.

 

Chapter 4

By that evening, Iris had replied that she didn’t know where my gift went and Jeanine still didn’t respond, so I sent another text. Eventually, she got back to me saying she’d been busy and didn’t know what happened to Dad’s present. I was back to being suspicious of Felix. So much for being positive. I had no more leads. Would my family lie to me? Steal from me?

If I was going to blame Felix, I needed to be certain. I needed to make sure it wasn’t anyone else and some cookie making at Felix and Faye’s house was a good place to start. Mary, Iris, Ivy, and Jeannie were coming, too.

After a quick stop at home to take Sharky for a walk around the block, I soon found myself at Felix and Faye’s house, lifting a large wreath to knock on the door. Tucked beneath my arm were a few pieces of empty Tupperware. I didn’t eat many Christmas cookies, but my coworkers at the office devoured them like they’d grant all their Christmas wishes.

Faye opened the door with a big smile and a hug. “Thanks for coming! Iris and Ivy are already here, but Mary and Jeannie are not coming. Jeannie had to run Esme to swim team practice and Else had to get her dance outfit fitted. And Mary came down with a stomach virus!”

I swallowed. Hopefully she didn’t pick it up or spread it at my house last night. I had way too much to do than to deal with a sickness right before Christmas…unless…she was avoiding me. I had to stop my suspicious mind. These thoughts were not me—especially not around Christmas time. I had a lot going for me this year. It could turn out to be the best Christmas ever as soon as I found my perfect gift for Dad. I’d wind the Best Gift trophy back, PLUS, I’d do it all with my new humanoid companion at my side.

Almost as if Faye could read my mind as she led me back to the kitchen, she glanced over her shoulder. “Iris and Ivory were just filling me in on the details of your robot…excuse me, I mean droid.”

I was glad Dayton had prepped me for this scrutiny from my family about my decision. “He’s humanoid, actually. Designed to function very much like a human. While you and I were born, he was created. He still expresses feelings and emotions.” Sentient was the term, but I stopped myself. Dayton had prepped me that education was the key, but sometimes, less information was better than more.

Faye seemed satisfied with that explanation. “Does he have a name yet?”

“No name yet. I want something that matches his personality.”

“Personality? Don’t you pick that ahead of time?”

By now, we had joined Ivory and Iris in the kitchen. “Yes, I pick a personality, but when his personality is paired with the knowledge I give him, little nuances can happen. Nothing largly different, but enough that I’m not sure what name he should have.”

“It’s just so…different of an idea,” Faye said.

“I still think it’s brilliant,” Ivory said.

“Maybe you should get one, too,” Iris teased.

Ivory burst out in laughter. “They’re way too expensive for me! I only work part-time.”

“There’s so many single people out there. So many lonely people. All you have to do is meet the right one.”

She didn’t approve of my choice in a humanoid companion either, and it wouldn’t make anyone feel better if I argued. Iris may join in, and a too-honest sister/sister-in-law debate may ruin my eveing. Both Iris and Faye would have to meet my humanoid and form their opinions of him then. The humanoid robots I encountered when deciding to go this route were quite human like. You couldn’t tell the difference except for the glow of their eyes in the dark…and, as Dayton told me, it was against their programming to ever say I love you.

“Great party last night.” Ivory knew to change the subject. She threw her arms around me. “Thanks for always hosting the Parade of Presents. There’s no way everyone would fit in my apartment.”

“I don’t mind. The whole thing was my idea, anyway.”

Ivory smiled in a way that made me almost feel like I was looking in a mirror. “There seems to be good competition this year for the Best Gift and some easy points for all of us towards the Spoiler award.”

My stomach sank. “Unless I don’t find my gift for Dad.”

“That still didn’t turn up?” Iris’s lips twitched, then she tightened them. “How odd.” I knew that expression well—she was keeping something from me.

“Iris, what do you know?”

Her eyes darted to Faye, then back at me. “Nothing.”

“Iris. I know that look on your face. It’s the same one you had when you dated Evan McNougherty in seventh grade and didn’t tell me.”

She looked back at Faye. “It’s just that…I overheard Felix and Alex talking about secretly unwrapping your present and replacing it with something funny—liked those snakes that jump out of a can.”

I sat forward. “Do you think they took my gift?” I turned my eyes to Faye, trying to put her under a stare that’d make her tell the truth.

“I would have noticed,” Faye said. “I carried all our gifts back inside last night and only noticed the ones we came to your house with.”

“This isn’t good.” My shoulders tensed. “It went somewhere, and I need to find it.”

“Maybe you can just buy another one and return it when the other gift shows up,” Ivory suggested.

“It’s not that easy. It was one of a kind…” My voice trailed off. It wasn’t one of a kind, just rare and expensive. My mind reached back to a thought planted there a few days ago at Dream Droids. Dayton had said Comic-Con had lots of items like the Spiderman action figure. He said some of them were cheap, too. Maybe I could replace Dad’s gift. I hated to spend the money, but with Comic-Con only in town this weekend, that was my best choice.

Sure, if I was lucky enough to find another 1967 Spiderman action figure, I wouldn’t be able to return it, but I could resell it…for more than I paid for it, I’m sure. At least I’d have something…and whoever took Dad’s gift would be shocked that I pulled through, anyway. All of a sudden, the gray cloud that lingered over my head disappeared.

“So…” Ivory pulled a large mixing bowl covered in plastic wrap out of the refrigerator. “Tell us about your humanoid. You have to know something about him. Did you design how he looks yet?”

I shook my head, but dug through the image I had created in my mind. “Not quite, but I have a pretty good idea of what I’d like. He’ll have beautiful blue eyes and dark blond hair.”

“Dark blond?” Iris said. “That’s more Ivory’s type. I thought you liked the tall, dark, and handsome type.”

“I like tall, but dark and handsome are not necessary. In fact, I kinda like the nerdy guy…” I raised my eyebrow at her. “Why?”

She continued, “It’s just that Niles had nearly black hair.”

It’d been three years, why did his name keep coming up? Probably because I wasn’t quite over it—nobody was. He was the man who broke my heart. Not just broke it, but cut it into tiny pieces and stomped on it, washing each piece away until they were irretrievable. “Niles wasn’t perfect.” At least I knew he wasn’t anymore. At the time, I worshipped him. I gave all of me into our relationship.

“Sorry,” Iris said, handing me a big pile of cut-out cookie dough. “I didn’t mean to bring him up. Tell me more about your humanoid.”

The moment was ruined. Every time I looked into my mind for the image of the man I created, a picture of Niles replaced it. It wasn’t even the good times I remembered, it was that cold look on his face when I confronted him about the affair he had with his secretary. Of the way he twisted it, telling me it was my fault he cheated.

“I think I’m going to keep it a surprise.” I tried to brighten my eyes. “You’ll get to meet him in a few weeks. He’ll be done by Christmas.”

“Really?” Faye asked, rolling out her dough. “By Christmas? I can’t wait.”

“I’m so happy for you,” Iris said.

“What?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Maybe she wasn’t judging me.

“I know this is a hard thing to do, but you’ve been alone for three years. I doubt he’s just a rebound guy after so long, but even if he is, he’ll get you back on your feet.”

“He’s not a rebound guy!” I snapped. Maybe it was the missing gift, the hope Iris understood, or maybe the constant battle I felt with my family about this decision, but I couldn’t hold back anymore. “It’s true Niles broke my heart, but I did love him. I loved him for nearly ten years. He’s been out of my life for three now, and I’m over it. I just don’t ever want to experience that pain again. If it wasn’t for the option of a humanoid, I’d be happy to live alone the rest of my life. Just me and Sharky.”

Ivory placed a hand on my upper arm and gave it a rub. Iris and Faye exchanged glances, then went back to rolling out their cookie dough. I focused on my own lump of flour, sugar, and butter, beating it flat and rolling it out with a little more force than what was needed.

Once it was an overly thin mess stuck to the table, Iris looked to me. “Feel better now?”

I looked down at the dough and laughed. I followed my chuckle with a deep breath. “Much better. Thank you.”

She smiled at me, and I scrapped the dough off the table and reformed it into a ball.

The next few hours flew by as we baked and decorated six dozen or more cut-out cookies. When I left, I was quite certain that Iris, Ivory, and Faye were not my gift napping culprits, but I hadn’t ruled out Felix. When I had made a bathroom break, my eyes wandered their house the best I could for any signs of the red wrapping paper or silver ribbon, but I only came back empty-handed.

Sharky greeted me at the door.

“Wanna go outside?”

He jumped up and down, which for a massive, one-hundred-thirty pound Great Dane is a sight to see. I opened up my kitchen’s sliding back door and let him out. After placing the cookies on the counter, I walked around my house searching for my dad’s gift while waiting for Sharky to bark to come back in.

As I wondered through the spare bedroom that I had set up for my humanoid, relooked under the tree, and even dug in my kitchen cabinets. I would feel foolish if it was my fault I couldn’t find the gift. As soon as I finished checking under my bathroom sink, Sharky barked to come back inside and we headed off to bed.

Tomorrow, I’d head to Comic-Con and try to find another gift for Dad. I was more determined than ever to win the trophy back this year, no matter who was setting me up for failure.

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