With a buoyant stride, Mary-Lou Mirabella set off just after sunrise. Her mind was a jumble of lists and ideas.
She pulled into the car park of the enormous shopping centre. She was early enough to park very close to one of the entrances. Walking inside, she discovered most of the shops were yet to open for business, but she spied a cafe that was serving. Mary-Lou ordered a coffee, sat at a table and pulled out her phone.
Looking at the list, she made a plan in her head of where to go first. She estimated it would take her two hours, unless things went awry. As she sipped her coffee, the clang of roller doors lifting up interrupted her thoughts. She gulped the last dregs in the cup, and walked in the direction of the bargain department store. It was here she planned to knock off most of the items on her list.
Mary-Lou grabbed a basket trolley and made for the home section. Five minutes of searching amongst the shelves revealed her worst nightmare. She’d have to settle for items on the back-up list, which meant a longer period of time in the centre, and probably a good deal more money would be transferred out of her account. Before she left the store, she glanced around the shelves again, hoping that something would materialise in front of her eyes.
At 9.30AM, she walked back to where she’d left her car, opened the boot and placed two enormous shopping bags inside. She shook her head at the man in the car who had sped from the next aisle over to arrogantly claim her spot.
‘Sorry, not leaving,’ she said with a shrug.
He gave her the finger as he skidded off, tyres burning.
‘Where’s the spirit of the season?’ a voice behind her asked.
Mary-Lou turned. Her heart hit the ground when she recognised the face staring back at her. ‘Norman?’
‘Mary-Lou,’ he said. ‘Of all the gin joints…’
‘Um, you’re in my territory, Norman. I should be saying that line to you.’ Mary-Lou smiled softly.
‘How many years has it been?’
‘Don’t know. Maybe twenty-five, or thirty.’
‘Nah,’ Norman said. ‘Can’t be that long. Not by the look of you anyway.’ His eyes drank her in.
Mary-Lou felt her cheeks burn.
‘Got time for a coffee?’ he asked, ignoring what must have been a very obvious pinkish hue to her face.
‘Of course. Always got time for you Norman.’
Together they walked inside the centre where they spent the next two hours catching up on their lives. After a share platter and a glass of crisp white wine for lunch, Mary-Lou glanced at her watch.
‘I’ve gotta go. Still got presents to buy,’ Mary-Lou said sadly. ‘It’s been great to see you Norman.’
‘Go on,’ he said, waving her away with pretend nonchalance. ‘Lunch is on me.’
‘Oh, Norman, that’s kind, but unnec—’
He cut her off. ‘Enough with the protests. I’m buying lunch.’ He rose to kiss her cheek.
‘Thank you,’ she said. The tingle from his kiss charged through her, all the way to her fingertips. ‘Norman, it’s been lovely.’
He held both her hands in his while he whispered, ‘Letting you go is my biggest regret, Mary-Lou.’
She slung her handbag over her shoulder, unsure of what to say, how to respond. She silently walked away.