Putting the newspaper aside, Ozzy hoped the woman in the advertisement was, indeed, the woman of his dreams. His professional life was so busy that he just didn’t have the time necessary to devote to things of this nature. What he needed was a woman with a strong spirit and an independent mind. He needed someone to take care of his needs without him having to make a big commitment.
Sophia glanced at her watch as she skillfully navigated the side roads into the historic district of town. The area pleased her, always made her smile with its turn-of-the-century homes and its cobblestone streets. A few of the older homes had been turned into antique shops and boutiques and tea rooms.
She pulled her car into one of the tiny spots in back of one of the boutiques and thought about how Mark had given her a hard time about buying a lime green bug. She’d insisted it was what she wanted, and now she had good practical reasons for buying such an impulse car. The car certainly had been with her longer than he had.
The Christmas bells jingled as Sophia opened the door to Heaven’s Hideaway, and Janette Green, the boutique owner, glanced up from the holiday arrangement she was fashioning in the center of the open room.
“Hey, Sophie!” Janette and Sophia had been friends since childhood, and Janette’s boutique was one of Sophia’s favorite stops.
“I’ve got that Christmas ornament you wanted ready for you,” Janette said, moving to the back of the shop and picking up a holiday bag. “You’re sure you don’t want me to wrap it for you?” She laughed as she asked, knowing that the wrapping was one of Sophia’s favorite parts of Christmas.
“No, you silly, girl. I don’t. And thanks for having it ready for me. I’m cutting it short on time. I’ve got to meet my next client downtown in a few. I’ll call you tonight & we’ll compare weeks.”
“Sounds good to me,” Janette called out as Sophia jingled the door bells again.
Ozzy made huge holiday points with his secretary when he sent her home early, an act that came around once a blue moon or so. Ozwald Theodore Derwin had not single-handedly made his fortune by being overly generous with paid time off, but he didn’t want anyone else in the office when his appointment arrived.
What he did with his time and his money was his business, Ozzy thought to himself as he checked the clock again for the fourth time in a few minutes. She wasn’t late yet, he thought, but she better not be if she wants a bonus of any sort.
This wasn’t the kind of thing he usually did, but …
“Mr. Derwin? Excuse me?” Ozzy looked up to see a raven-haired beauty standing in his doorway. “I do apologize for barging in like this, but there wasn’t anyone at the reception desk when I came in the lobby. Do I have the correct office?”
Never at a loss for words, Ozzy was unusually silent. She wasn’t at all what he had expected.
“Mr. Derwin?” She glided into his office, seemingly without moving. Before he knew it, she was standing before him with her hand extended. The scent of pineapples drifted toward him, oddly intriquing him.
“Do you smell pineapples?” he asked, ignoring her outstretched hand. The beauty laughed. “That’s my perfume. I know it’s unusual, but it makes me smile. I do apologize if it’s too strong.”
Something about the absurdity of the conversation jolted Ozzy out of his daze. “Hello, Mrs. Hanson. I apologize for being distracted. I’ve never done this before. Would you please have a seat?” He motioned to the chairs in front of his mahogany desk as he continued to watch her movements.
“It’s Ms. Hanson, sir, but please call me by my given name.”
She wasn’t unaccustomed to men watching her, but Ozzy seemed different somehow, though she couldn’t quite put her finger on how. Her business was pretty straight-forward, she thought. Usually, there wasn’t a lot of preliminary discussion before she and her clients got down to the business at hand.
The owner of the candle shop on the corner of the town square called Sophie to let her know the cinnamon candles she ordered had arrived, and the baker at her favorite bakery in town called to confirm the Christmas cupcake delivery for the next day.
As she worked through her day planner, Sophie felt like her day had been a success. Tomorrow was booked, of course, but that was what happened to personal shoppers this time of year.
Sophie’s late father had always joked that if shopping was a profession, Sophie would be at the top of the game. She smiled a sad smile as she thought of how funny he would think it was that she now shopped for a living.
Snuggled under a blanket on the small sofa in her living room, she watched the fake fire burn in the fireplace and thought about her father and mother. In all of the years they had been married, she could never recall a Christmas when they weren’t happy. There was years when things weren’t fabulous, as in any family, but her parents always kept God at the center of their lives, and there was always love to go around.
Looking at her own small Christmas tree, she felt a loneliness that only visited her at this time of year. In these quiet moments at home alone, she missed her parents. In truth, she missed something she’d never really had, if that was possible. Sophie ached for the kind of true love that she’d never really known, the kind of love her parents had shared before her father’s death a few years ago.
But even with the loneliness, Sophie loved everything about Christmas…the tree, the decorations, the spirit. Mostly, though, Sophie loved the shopping. She smiled again as she thought about how blessed she was to have found something she loved to do that also paid the bills.
When she told her friends a year or so ago that she planned to use the money her parents left her in the will to open her own business – a business that would let her shop all the time – she was met with more than a little skepticism.
But as the business had taken off and been wildly successful, she’d proven the naysayers wrong. And she’d had a fabulous time doing it.
Some clients, though, took the fabulous out of her job, like the gentleman she met with that afternoon. Ozwald Derwin was an unusual sort, she thought. But quite handsome, too, she thought to herself. She’d have to think of a friend to set him up with… it would be her own little present to Mr. Derwin.
With only a few days remaining before Christmas, Sophie was rushing all over town finishing up all of her shopping. When she first met with each client, she took a list of people for whom the client wished to make purchases, and she asked an unusual list of questions about each individual.
Her clients often commented about how odd the questions were, and some even balked at giving the answers. But in the end, they were always stunned when she presented them with gifts for each individual that were quite nearly perfect. It was a gift, she often told her clients, laughing at her own joke.
Rarely did she accept new clients this close to Christmas, but Mr. Derwin offered to pay her more than double her usual rate, and she couldn’t pass that up. When she accepted the job, however, she hadn’t factored in how very difficult both he and his list would prove to be.
“Ozzy! What’s up with you today?” Ozzy’s brother, Max, knocked on Ozzy’s forehead as he asked the question. The youngest of five siblings and the only boys, the two had always stuck together.
“Sorry, Max. I’m just distracted.”
“That’s obvious, you numskull. What’s eating at you?”
When Ozzy didn’t answer, a huge grin spread over Max’s face. “It’s a broad! You sneak! You’ve got yourself a girl and you didn’t even tell me! Tell me now.”
Ozzy started to protest and stopped, looking puzzled. “It is a girl, but it isn’t what you think. I met this woman – yesterday! – and I can’t stop thinking about her. I’ve called her half a dozen times just this morning, and I’m sure I’m driving her nuts and she’ll quit the job I hired her to do, but I can’t help it. There’s just something about her.”
“Have you been drinking?” Max laughed. “This woman is an employee of yours that you met yesterday and you’re obsessed with her? This is a woman I’ve got to see.”
“I’m not obsessed!”
“You’ve called six times in less than four hours? I’d call that obsessed. When do I get to meet her?”
At the sound of a woman’s laughter, Max and Ozzy both turned to see a small group of people entering the restaurant, with Sophie in the midst.
“Right now, I’d say,” Ozzy said as he waved at Sophie.
Handing all but one of her packages to one of the other women in the group, Sophie headed to Max and Ozzy’s table with one small package on her arm and a smile on her face.
“How great to meet you here!” she said as she reached out to hug Ozzy. She grinned at Max and said, “You’d better watch it… during the holidays, I hug everyone after the first meeting, so if I run into you in the lobby, I’m going to get you, too.” The sound of her laughter made Ozzy warm inside as if something lost had been returned to him.
She eased into the empty seat at their table and kept talking as if she’d known them both for as long as she could remember. In some ways, she felt like she had. She always felt that way with clients since she knew all about their families and their likes and dislikes, but something about Ozzy’s constant calls this morning made her feel more like old friends than business acquaintances.
Ozzy realized with a start that he was staring at Sophie and that she and Max were talking and laughing. He also noticed that she’d placed the small bag in front of him as a trophy.
“It’s proof of my worth,” she said, noticing him looking at the package. “Go on, open it.”
“What do you mean ‘proof of your worth?’” Max asked as Ozzy hesitantly opened the bag.
“I mean your brother wasn’t completely sold on my abilities, and I wanted to prove that I could, indeed, find close to the perfect present for everyone on his list.”
Ozzy lifted a small crystal elephant from the bag and watched as the light bounced off of it.
“It’s beautiful, I guess, if you like this sort of thing. But who on my list would –?”
A flicker of disappointment shown on Sophie’s face as she looked from brother to brother, hoping one or the other would understand the sentiment. Neither did.
With a deep sigh, Sophie said, “It’s for your sister, Margaret. She always wanted to take a trip to Africa but hasn’t been able to yet, right? You said she loved Eeyore as a child, too, right? This is a reminder of gentler times and a hope of adventures to come.”
She looked from one empty gaze to the other and realized that neither brother understood the sentiment. If she couldn’t sell Max on this simple gift, she’d never be able to convince him to let her do the rest of his shopping.
“I’m sorry. I understand that you’re not pleased. You can keep that gift, and you don’t have to pay me for the services.”
“No, no. It’s not like that,” Ozzy hurriedly assured her. “I just…”
“…didn’t’ think of it like that,” Max finished for him, giving his brother a helpful shrug. “Maggie will probably love it.”
“Well, don’t feel obligated. I do have a unique style, and it doesn’t work for everyone,” Sophie said. “I need to get back to my friends. You think about it and call me later. I’m pretty sure you have my cell number,” she said with a grin as she left the table and headed for the group of laughing women across the room.
“That went well,” Max said with a smirk. “You’re smooth, big brother. She’ll be yours by Christmas Eve.”
The two were still arguing in that brotherly way boys do when their sister, Margaret, arrived to join them for their weekly lunch. The elephant had been replaced in the bag, but the bag was still on the table.
After Margaret gave her order to the waiter, she began eyeing the bag. “So? Are you going to tell me who that’s for? The wrapping is beautiful.”
Neither Max nor Ozzy had even noticed the stylish bag the gift was wrapped in when Sophie had presented Ozzy with it earlier.
Ozzy slid the bag toward Maggie. “Merry Christmas a little early, sis. I hope you like it. Max picked it out himself,” Ozzy said as Max shook his head in disbelief.
Maggie gently slid the crystal figurine out of the bag and into the palm of her hand. For a moment, she didn’t say a word. She just held the elephant up to the light and rubbed it with her thumb. Tears glistened in her eyes as she looked up to thank Max.
“This is perfect,” she whispered. “How did you know?”
An astonished Max murmured something as Ozzy left the table and walked over to where Sophie and her friends were seated.
“Sophia? You’re hired.”
Sophie sipped her chai latte and looked at the man sitting across the small table from her. Sophie shopped by herself, with her girlfriends, with family, with strangers sometimes but never with clients. Never, that is, until today.
While she and her girlfriends were eating, she could feel her new client watching her from across the room. Whenever she turned toward his table, she caught him staring. And uncharacteristically, she stared back. There was an electricity between them that was undeniable.
As she was leaving the restaurant after the lunch with her girlfriends, Ozwald Derwin slipped over to her and offered to carry her packages to her car. Without even realizing it, she invited him to join her as she ran a few more late afternoon errands, and he accepted.
The two spent the afternoon buzzing around town in Sophie’s little green car, and the very masculine presence beside her reminded her of just how small her car was. Every time she shifted gears, her arm grazed his and little sparks caught her off guard.
Sitting in the coffee shop, she fidgeted with her cup and napkin, feeling torn between the comfortable familiarity she shared with Ozzy and the knowledge that he was a client.
“I think I should explain something, Mr. Derwin,” she began hesitantly.
“Ozzy. You should call me Ozzy,” he said with a slight smile playing on his face. “What is bothering you Sophia?”
“I want you to understand that I don’t typically take clients shopping with me. In fact, you’re the first. I don’t want you to think this is the way I usually work. I’m very good at what I do, very dedicated to providing my clients with gifts beyond their expectations. And I never mix business with pleasure.”
“Then I should tell you something as well,” he said leaning in closer. “I don’t typically take the afternoon off to go shopping with beautiful women. In fact, you’re my first. I didn’t build a very successful business by slacking off, and I know from watching you that you are dedicated to your work. I never mix business with pleasure, either. I assure you that this afternoon has been nothing but pleasure.”
The aging home Sophia had turned into her office space was lushly decorated for the season. With only three days left until Christmas, the back rooms looked less lush and more like an explosion of wrapping paper and ribbon.
As a rule, Sophie was always finished with all of her holiday business by Dec. 23, and she was right on track. She was standing in her red holiday jammies and fuzzy socks busily matching gifts and lists with the perfect wrappings. Holiday CDs played softly in the background, and Sophie hummed along as she wrapped a custom designed Green Bay Packers handbag for the delightful first cousin of one of her oldest clients.
She was enjoying her evening, feeling good about all that she was accomplishing when there was a loud knocking at her front door. She never had clients visit her office this late at night.
Padding softly down the hallway, she stopped abruptly when she recognized the figure behind the antique glass front door. It was Ozzy. After the afternoon they had spent together, he called three times yesterday and not at all today. She wasn’t at all sure why he might be here now.
Opening the door, she saw the snow flurries behind him and invited him into the warmth of the house. “Can I help you? It’s awfully late for you to be out in this weather,” she asked as she took his coat and hung it over the coat rack.
“I was in meetings all day today and wasn’t able to call and see how your day was going,” he said as he ran a gloved hand through his hair, shaking the snowflakes out of his ebony locks.
“The dinner meeting just finished, and I saw your lights on as I drove by, so I decided to stop and check in with you.” A wide grin spread across his face as he looked over her Rudolph pajama shirt and matching knit pants with jingle bells on the hems.
“Don’t mock the jammies,” Sophie said playfully. “These jammies have been with me longer than you have.”
Feeling suddenly shy, Sophie said, “I’ve got all of your presents already finished. I was going to deliver them tomorrow. You didn’t have to come by to get them.”
“I didn’t come to get the gifts. I came to see you. I missed you today.”
There was a few feet of distance between them, but the air quickly became charged as Ozzy continued.
“I know I’ve only known you a few days, and this is completely unexpected, and I never fall for women like this. But there is something undeniable between us, and I don’t think it’s just physical attraction. That doesn’t feel like this.”
Sophie opened her mouth to speak, but words failed her.
“You cannot deny this,” Ozzy said moving quietly toward her. He lifted his hand to stroke the side of her face. “I never believed in love at first sight, but lately, I very much believe in love in a few days.”
And with that, he bent to kiss her. The kiss was soft and tender, but the passion underneath was clear. Sophie lifted to her tiptoes and wrapped her arms around Ozzy’s neck, pulling herself closer into him. When the kiss ended, they stood quietly together wrapped in one another’s embrace. Sophie couldn’t tell where the beating of her heart stopped and the beat of the music began.
After what seemed to Sophie like an eternity, Ozzy pulled away and wiped the stray tear from Sophie’s cheek.
“I don’t know what’s happening,” Sophie whispered. “I don’t know you, really. But I trust you more than I’ve ever trusted any man before.”
“I won’t betray your trust, Sophia,” Ozzy whispered back.
Several passionate kisses later, Sophie pulled back and said, “Much fun though this is, I really do have work to do if I’m going to get everything wrapped tonight for delivery tomorrow morning. You’ve been quite a distraction.”
“Why don’t I stay and help? Well, I’m not actually any good at wrapping, but I could just stay and hand you things. What do you say? I’ll order a late night pizza, and we’ll have a good time.”
Hours passed as Ozzy and Sophia talked and laughed. Sophie wrapped all of her gifts, much to Ozzy’s amazement. By the time, they finished, it was the wee hours of the morning, and Ozzy bent to give Sophie one last kiss before walking to his car. He stood beside the car long enough to watch all of the lights in the house be darkened. And as he drove away, he said a thank you prayer for his good fortune in meeting Sophia.
Looking into the bathroom mirror, Sophie used all of her best makeup tricks to hide the sleepy puffies around her eyes. Her cell phone was laying on the countertop, and she was talking with Janette on the speakerphone.
“I swear, Jannie, I’m in love with this man. I know it sounds completely irrational and totally unlike me and, well, a bit crazy. But there’s something about him. I feel alive when I’m with him. I feel … in love.”
“You’re right. It is more than a bit crazy. But you have a knack for picking gifts. Maybe Ozzy’s your gift to yourself this year. Maybe he’s God’s gift to you. Maybe I’d better meet him.”
“I’m meeting him for lunch today after I deliver all of the gifts. Why don’t you meet us?”
If Sophie thought she was tired when she woke up that morning, she was beyond tired when she met Ozzy and Janette for lunch. The deliveries had taken a little longer than she’d planned, so by the time she arrived at the restaurant, Ozzy and Janette had been there almost half an hour, getting to know one another.
Ozzy stood and kissed Sophie’s cheek when she arrived at the table, and he took her coat and laid it over the extra chair while Sophie and Jannie hugged. As Sophie sat, Janette stood and gathered her things.
“He’s a Christian. He doesn’t live with his mother. He’s got a job. And he loves you. So fine by me. You two enjoy your lunch. I’m going home to watch Christmas movies with my kids.”
And with that, they were alone again. And delighted to be together.
Sophie changed her outfit so many times she couldn’t count, and the floor of her bedroom looked like her closet exploded. Ozzy had invited her to join his family for Christmas Eve, and while it seemed like a wonderful idea at the time, now, Sophie was worried. She really wanted Ozzy’s family to approve of her, but there were so many of them, and she wasn’t accustomed to having that many people at a holiday celebration. What if they didn’t approve?
Almost as if he sensed her fear, Ozzy knocked at her door at just that moment. He quickly entered the warm living room when she opened the door and pulled her toward him. After a deep and passionate kiss, he said, “In case you were worried, you shouldn’t be. They’re going to love you. Like I do.”
Despite Ozzy’s assurances, his parents’ home was a bit of a shock to her system. There were five children, and the three girls were all married with at least two children per couple. Max had brought his girlfriend with him, and the group also included aunts and uncles and several cousins and stray folks who had been invited just because.
Dinner was loud and lively, and soon, Sophie settled into the spirit and felt at home. All of Ozzy’s family were warm and welcoming, and she had the oddest feeling of belonging.
After dinner, the extended family and friends dispersed, and the immediate family gathered around the tree. Ozzy had told her earlier that they all celebrated together on Christmas Eve so that each little family could spend Christmas morning together.
Ozzy’s father was the self-appointed Santa and handed out gifts one at a time from under the tree. Their family tradition was to focus their attention on one person at a time as they opened their gifts. Sophie sat next to Ozzy with his arm around her. She felt warm and loved. And she felt more than a little gratification whenever someone opened a gift from Ozzy that she had selected.
“I swear something’s come over you this year, Ozwald,” said his mother as she held up a unique piece of jewelry. “Your gifts in the past haven’t been quite so…”
“Good,” his sister, Emily, finished. “Your gifts usually are lousy, and this year they’re all super. I’m suspicious,” she said as the group laughed.
“Ha,ha,ha. You’re so funny. But of course, you’re right,” Ozzy said looking around the room. “I have a confession to make,” he said waving off Sophia’s attempts to stop him.
“You all got fabulous gifts this year because I hired a professional shopper. She’s this amazing woman who has a knack for buying the perfect gift.”
“You got that right,” Max yelled over the laughter.
“Yeah, yeah, okay. But I never expected to fall in love with her,” he said turning to Sophia. Oohs and ahs slipped from his sisters, and he knew without turning to look that his mother was already crying.
“But I did fall in love with her. And I am so grateful. I am hoping she’ll be with me for many, many more Christmas Evenings like this one.”
“This year, I didn’t select gifts for any of you,” he said standing and removing a small box from his pants pocket. “I only picked out one gift this year.”
Ozzy dropped to one knee in front of Sophia, and at that point, his mother wasn’t the only one crying. Sniffles could be heard all around the room, and tears of joy slid silently down Sophie’s face.
Opening the box to reveal a solitary diamond ring, Ozzy said, “Please, Sophie. Give me the best gift possible this Christmas. Agree to be my wife. I know this has all happened beyond fast, but I love you. I truly do. Will you marry me?”
And with that, the sniffles stopped and the room was quiet as a pin. Sophia gazed into Ozzy’s eyes, and simply nodded. “Yes,” she whispered. And the room erupted in shouts and applause. But Sophie could only feel Ozzy’s lips on hers, could only hear the beating of their hearts together.
Much later that evening, as Ozzy and Sophie sat snuggled together on her sofa in front of the Christmas tree, Ozzy thought that Sophie’s ad had been right on. She really was the woman of his dreams.
Obviously ... this is my favorite story! At least so far.... Seriously, amazing work. I fell in love with Ozzy!