By Matthew Allen Lin
Ugh. I really should have planned this better. I thought the lines back home in California were bad. Looks like everyone in Paris waited until the last minute to do their Christmas shopping.
I checked the time on my phone. 10 a.m. Good thing Melanie was still asleep at our hotel. She wouldn’t be for long and we’d have to make our lunch reservation at noon, so I’d have to make this quick. I pulled up the checklist on my phone:
- Roses – make sure they don’t get crushed in your bag
Macarons – too perishable
- A box of chocolates (?) – ask a local what brand they recommend
Earrings (?) – nah, she’s not the biggest fan Perfume (?) – she smells perfect the way she is
- White cardigan – Taylor Swift approved ❤ She’s gonna love this!
It’s go-time! Chocolate was probably the easiest item to get first, followed by the white cardigan, then the roses. Thankfully, there were signs in English at this Carrefour or else I’d be completely lost. I navigated to the chocolate aisle on the other end of the store. Ah! This lady looks like she works here. She had the blue uniform and all.
“Bonjour,” I said. “Do you have any chocolate brands you recommend?”
“Hm.” She placed her hand under her chin, tapping her foot for a moment. “What do you like?” Her French accent came through strongly, but luckily, I could still understand her. Man, I should have paid more attention in high school French class.
“It’s actually for my wife.” It still feels weird saying it now. Wife. We barely said our vows two weeks ago and in a few days, we’d be flying back to LA. This honeymoon was waaay too short. “She prefers white chocolate but she isn’t picky.”
The Carrefour worker grinned. “Last minute Christmas shopping?”
I nodded sheepishly. Hey, if it’s any excuse, these last few days have been a whirlwind. We went to the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and took a cruise along the Seine. I barely had time to sleep, much less any free time to go shopping.
She pointed over to a set of black chocolate boxes. “You can’t go wrong with Valrhona. Zey should have all ze chocolate she likes.”
Perfect! I smiled, feeling a bit more relaxed. “Thank you. Merry Christmas to you.” I grabbed a box of Valrhona from the shelf. That wasn’t so hard. One item down, two more to go.
Onto the white cardigan. I was walking over to the women’s clothing section when my phone vibrated in my pocket. Melanie. ‘Honey, where are you?’
Welp. My hands shook as I texted back, ‘Just went out for a quick walk. Wanted to check out Roland Garros.’ She knew I was a huge tennis fan, so that would be a good enough alibi.
‘Well, come back soon. Don’t want to be late for our reservation :)’
I breathed a huge sigh of relief. That was a close one. Better make this quick and as discreet as possible. I was just about to slip my phone back in my pocket when I got another text. ‘I’m going to the store real quick. Want anything?’
‘I’m good, babe. Thanks <3’
‘K. Love you, Rich. Don’t be back too late <3’
Phew. Alright. No pressure. I put my phone away and begin working my way through rows and rows of shirts, dresses, and gowns for gals. A lot of them were nice, but none of them were cardigans, much less white cardigans. A sinking feeling began to form in my gut.
What if they were out of stock? Sigh. Why didn’t I do this, like, three days ago?
I tracked down another Carrefour employee, this one a man with a curly afro. “Excuse me,” I said, not even trying to use my embarrassingly novice French. “Do you have cardigans?”
“I’m sorry?” He said in accented English, eyes narrowed.
I repeated myself but slower this time. “Do. You. Have. Car. Di. Gans?”
His eyes narrowed even more. “Parles-tu français?”
Geez, I’m terrible at explaining things, aren’t I? I looked around the store for an example. Everyone here was wearing thick coats and parkas like they were preparing for a blizzard. Nothing like the light sweaters we slapped on in LA during wintertime.
Never mind then. I pulled out my phone and Googled ‘white cardigan’ and showed him the images that popped up. His mouth opened wide, like he finally understood what I meant, but his excitement didn’t last long. “I’m sorry, sir. We are out.”
The air got sucked out of me like a balloon. Like a child, hoping that trying again would yield a different result, I asked, “Are you sure? Can you check your inventory?”
The man shook his head. “We are out. People have been buying so much of zose.” He pursed his lips. “We have zese thicker jackets if you want?”
“No. I’m good. Thank you.” That was not what I wanted to hear, but to be honest, I had to expect it. It was my fault for procrastinating on this.
As I was walking to the cashier, I saw someone out of the corner of my eye. Hold up. Was that Melanie? The woman was wearing thick brown boots and covered her head with a white beanie. As she turned toward me, my heart began to race and I immediately looked away.
Yep, it was her. Why oh why didn’t I do this a few days ago?
My head crept slowly back to where she was. She had kept walking and (oh dear God) didn’t notice me. Why was she here? What the heck did she need to buy anyway from here? Hold on now; was she doing last minute Christmas shopping too?
“Sir, are you going to pay for zat or not?” The cashier had a frown on her face.
“Oh yes. Sorry.” Everyone behind me looked annoyed as well. I handed her the box of chocolates to scan and she practically snatched it out of my hand.
I reached into my left pocket but it was empty. Panic took over my body and I let out a nervous chuckle. “It seems I’ve forgotten my wallet at home.”
The cashier’s frown turned into a scowl. “Well zen you are not getting zese chocolates. Next customer please.”
My cheeks were burning as I walked out of the store. How could I be so stupid? I thought I had my wallet when I left our hotel! Granted, it was early and I was pretty hungover from last night. Let’s just say Parisians know how to party.
On the bright side, I still had my phone. I wasn’t about to walk thirty minutes back to our hotel, so I called an Uber. Lyft didn’t operate in Paris and taxis took too long and only accepted euros. My driver, a man named Charles, was on his way.
In the meantime, I searched up places that sold white cardigans. Sold out for the season. Try again next year. Other places had availability, but those sizes were too large for Melanie.
Ugh. Why oh why did I always wait until the last minute?
I turned around. There was my wife, carrying only her purse. She didn’t buy anything.
“Melanie!” I faked a laugh. “What are you, um, doing here?”
“Oh, uh, I was just, um,” she bit her lip, “looking for some clothes to take back home to LA. Seems like they’ve run out of cardigans here.”
“Yeah, I know. I just checked and,” my eyes widened.
Gee, I just shot myself in the foot, didn’t I?
“You’re shopping for cardigans?” She narrowed her eyes. “I thought you said you were going to check out Roland Garros?”
Ai ya. Caught red handed. “Well…” If she found out I forgot to buy her a gift, I’d be a single man again by the time we got back to California. “I was craving something sweet, so I decided to buy some chocolate.”
“Where? I don’t see it.” She looked at my hands. “Did you eat it already?”
If you’re in a hole, Richard, stop digging. “Yeah.” I licked my lips, my heart skipping beats. “Mhm. Best white chocolate I’ve ever had.”
“And you didn’t buy me any?” She raised an eyebrow. “Honey, you know how much I love white chocolate.”
“I’m sorry, babe. I forgot.” Nope. Just stop saying things, Richard.
She merely sighed. “Oh, Rich. Some things never change.” My eyes widened in fear and then her mouth stretched into a half-smile. “Relax, honey. I’m just teasing you. It’s alright.”
I grinned nervously, trying to hide my (obvious) embarrassment.
She checked her phone. “It’s 10:30. Are you heading back to the apartment?”
I couldn’t go to the restaurant empty handed, but I needed to get my wallet somehow. “Yeah,” I said. “Are you?”
“I’m going to try to do a bit more shopping so I’ll just meet you at the restaurant. Don’t be late for that one. Okay?”
I nodded. “I won’t.” I pulled her in for a hug and a kiss. “Love you, babe.”
Her lips tasted like cherry chapstick. “You too, honey. See you in a bit!” She waved goodbye, then crossed the street to the other side of the shopping center.
My chest tightened as she walked away. I had to be the most careless fiancé—husband now, in fact—on the planet. Literally. And look. She wanted to buy the cardigan herself. If I had just bought it a few days earlier, this would have been the perfect surprise for her.
See. Waiting never works.
I had to wait a bit longer for the Uber driver to arrive. Mr. Charles finally got here at 10:35. “Rishard?” he asked, stretching out the second syllable.
I nodded and hopped in the passenger seat. “Thank you for the ride.”
“Of course.” He began driving.
It was just the two of us in the car. Hopefully, there wouldn’t be any detours ‘cause I needed to get back to the hotel fast. “Hey. Is it cool if you take me straight to my hotel? I can tip you extra, no problem.”
He kept his eyes on the road. “Why? You in a rush?”
“Very much so,” I admitted. Even on Christmas Day, there was plenty of traffic on the streets of Paris. Shouldn’t they be celebrating at home with their loved ones? Everyone was probably heading to a fancy restaurant like I’d be doing in an hour and a half.
He turned to me and smiled. “Don’t worry about ze extra tip. It’s Christmas.”
Yeah. I know. Don’t remind me. I half-smiled. “Thank you.”
‘It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ played on the radio while we waited in traffic. Geez, I thought LA traffic was bad. That was nothing compared to here. Seriously, where was everyone heading to? His CarPlay showed my ETA to be 11:15.
Charles lowered the volume. “So where are you from?”
“Los Angeles,” I said. “I’m on my honeymoon.”
He shot me a quick glance, beaming. “Congrats!”
“Thank you!” Inside, my heart got a bit warmer.
“Is zis your first time in Paris?”
“Yeah. This city is amazing.” Seriously, Paris lived up to its reputation. So much history. So much culture. Ten out of ten. Would come again. “Have you lived here your whole life?”
“Yes. I love it here.” He nodded, like he was reminiscing about all his memories here. “Zere is no other place I’d want to live. I have everything I could ever need. Great arts. Great cuisine.” He paused, his smile widening. “My amazing wife.”
Oh? “That’s great! Did you get her something for Christmas?”
“Oui.” His eyes gleamed with pride. “I wrote her a love letter.”
“Oh.” That’s it? “That’s cool,” I said. “Just a love letter?”
“Not just a love letter. A symbol for our devotion to each other.” He put his hand on his cheek. “We’ve been together for twenty-six years. Can you believe zat?”
“That’s amazing!” Honestly, I couldn’t imagine it quite yet. I’m twenty-six; this man has been married for my entire lifetime.
He licked his lip as he passed a car on the road. “It hasn’t always been easy, but even after all we’ve been through, zere is nothing I cherish more than my wife and two kids.”
The warmth in his voice made that very clear. I could use some of that life knowledge. “Any recommendations for me? To have a long, healthy marriage like that?”
“Rule number one. Ze wife is always right.” My eyes widened before he smirked. “I’m kidding. Zere will be ups and downs, but as long as you are zere for her when she needs you, you two will be fine.”
That made sense. Simple advice, but a mantra to live by for sure. I thanked Charles for his words of wisdom and mulled over them for the rest of the ride. I made my vows to Melanie on our wedding day. I’d make sure to keep them.
The traffic cleared up a bit and I got to the hotel around 11:20. My wallet was in my backpack, just as expected. The restaurant was a three minute drive away but also a reasonable fifteen minute walk, so if time was a concern, I had a fallback plan. Of the three gifts, the white cardigan was out of the question now. Most places would’ve been sold out. Chocolate would’ve been nice, but roses were probably the most reasonable option. Definitely the most romantic.
I looked up the nearest florist and walked over. 11:25. The store was filled with flowers that ran the full spectrum of colors. Of course, Melanie’s favorite color was red, so I had to get her a bouquet of roses. I grabbed the healthiest looking bouquet and walked over to the cashier.
“How much?” I asked him.
“One hundred euros.”
I pulled out my wallet. Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty, a hundred. I handed him the cash and he handed me the bouquet. Yay!
“Have a good day,” I told him. I had just stuffed my bouquet in my backpack when something occurred to me. Do I have enough money to pay for lunch? Running to an ATM would take time that I wasn’t sure I had. Melanie would be pissed if I was late.
I checked my wallet again. Sure enough, I spent all my euros on that bouquet. The cashier was busy helping out the next customer, but this was urgent. “Excuse me. Do you have any cheaper bouquets?”
The other customer walked away with her bouquet and the cashier scoffed. “No. All roses cost one hundred euros.”
“Okay.” My heart sank. As beautiful as this bouquet was, it was either these flowers or lunch, and I wasn’t going to make Melanie pay for our meal. I took the bouquet out of my backpack, some of the petals already falling out. “Can I return this?”
“No refunds.” He stared at me incredulously. “And it’s already been damaged.”
I bit my lip. “Please, sir. It’s Christmas.”
“Do you think I care? I have to work today when I should be spending time with my family, just so I can make enough to buy my daughter ze Elsa doll she asked for.”
I pursed my lips. “Fine. Keep the bouquet and take fifty euros, but I need the rest.”
“All sales are final!” His glare pierced into my eyes. “You spoiled American tourists always think you can get everything you want.”
“Move it. There are people waiting,” the woman behind me added.
“Please.” I clasped my hands together, practically begging at this point. “I need the money for lunch. My wife and I are here on our honeymoon and I—”
“Get out of my store or I will call ze police.”
Easy there, cowboy. I hung my head in shame and turned around, accepting defeat. But then, Charles’ words rang in my head. I turned back around. “You being there would be the best gift for her.”
Now he really must’ve thought that I was crazy. “What?”
“You being with your daughter. With your family.” I bit my lip. “I know your daughter wants a gift, but I think she’d trade any toy she has for the chance to spend Christmas with you.”
The cashier’s expression began to soften, the look of distrust giving way to one of understanding. Maybe even regret. “Maybe you have a point, American boy.” He looked down at the cash register, nodding slowly. “Elise looked so sad zis morning when I went to work.”
“Then go home and be there for her.” I smiled wistfully. “And if you really need the money, keep it. I’ll figure out how to pay for lunch.”
“No. It’s okay.” He took the one hundred euros I gave him and handed it back to me.
I handed him the bouquet of half-ripped roses when the customer from behind me said, “Jacques, I will pay for zis boy.”
I turned around, shocked at her sudden change of heart. “Really?”
She nodded. “Like you said, being zere for your loved ones is most important.” A slight smile formed on her lips. “Merry Christmas.”
God bless this woman’s soul. It was truly lovely to see the holiday spirit alive and well. I thanked her, then made my way over to the restaurant. I was only able to get one item out of the list—okay, I guess this was technically half an item now—but hopefully Melanie wouldn’t mind.
I ran as fast as I could to the restaurant and arrived at noon sharp, the crumpled bouquet clinging on for dear life. Melanie was there and I wrapped my hands behind my back when she turned to me. “About time you got here! I was getting kinda worried.”
I smirked. “Oh please, dear. When am I ever late?” More often than not, but come on, Melanie! Gimme a break; it’s Christmas.
She rolled her eyes playfully. “You really want me to answer that?”
“Melanie Tsui. Table for two,” the waitress said.
Melanie said we were present and the waitress led us to our table. Without looking, I shoved the bouquet back in my backpack as we walked. The waitress handed us our menus and gave us time to look over what we wanted. A lit candle sat at the center of the table, separating me and my wife.
“Craving anything?” she asked. Before I could answer, she said, “Just no more escargot, please. I already threw up enough last night from all that wine.”
I suppressed a chuckle, smiling instead. “Whatever you want, dear.” My stomach growled. All that running around today made me hungry.
Melanie ordered us some cheese tarts to start off with. The waitress took our menus, giving me the opening I needed. “Hey.”
“Yes?” My wife leaned in closer.
I grinned, bringing my backpack up to my knees from under the table. “I know things have been busy these last few days, but since it’s Christmas, I figured I’d get you something.”
“Ooh.” Melanie’s eyes widened.
I reached into my backpack. “I got you some roses.” I lifted up the bouquet and stared into my wife’s eyes. Her beautiful brown eyes.
She bit her lip. “Um, Rich. Those aren’t roses… or at least, those aren’t roses anymore.”
Her words hung over me for a second before I looked down, my heart sinking. Indeed, only the stem and leaves remained. RIP. All the petals must’ve fallen off on the way here.
I didn’t know what to say at first, mentally kicking myself for how badly I screwed up this whole holiday. “Look, Mel. I’m so sorry. I had this whole Christmas gift list planned out, and I messed it all up. Like I always do.” I bit my lip. “I’m sorry.”
There was a sad gray in her eyes, making me feel even more guilty. She was silent for a moment too, looking down at her hands. “I should be the one apologizing.”
I tilted my head. “Wait, what? Why?”
She twisted her lip. “I also put off my Christmas shopping till today, and when I went to Carrefour earlier, I was looking for that video game you always wanted, but they were sold out.”
“Wait. Pokemon Shining Pearl?”
“Yeah. That one.” She closed her eyes. “Things have just been so hectic these last two weeks. Today was the first day I felt like I could just…”
She opened her eyes. “Make time for you. And only you.”
The waitress came by with our cheese tarts and drinks: two orange mimosas. We thanked her, and after she left, I stared at my wife, thinking about the last two weeks. We had spent it traveling through all of France, from the south in Nice until we finally arrived in Paris.
Our honeymoon didn’t need to be that fancy. All we needed was each other. I moved the mimosa glasses and our cheese tart plates to the side. The Eiffel Tower formed a nice backdrop, but all I wanted was a view of her.
I beamed. “Well, here’s our chance. What are we waiting for?”
She smiled, the biggest I’d seen since our wedding day, and leaned forward. I followed suit and our lips met in the center of the table, right over the candle. This moment was perfect, the Parisian dream I always wanted to experience.
And now, I was living it.
Who needed presents when the greatest gift had been right in front of me all along ❤
Matthew Allen Lin’s main job is as a software engineer at Roblox. On the side, he is pursuing fiction writing in the Contemporary genre and looking for an agent right now. He also acts part-time and is represented by Peter Scott of Torque Entertainment.
2 thoughts on “Achat de Noël”
most beautiful narration of a simple theme. We all need to look at our lives in this way.