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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2207897
Recognising the true giver, and the true gift. All Words: 816
He tried to hide it, but -- "What's wrong?" Bella asked.

Ken straightened his face. "Nothing, nothing." He smiled.

"Ken, we've just started dating, but I do know your 'oops' face!"

"I have an 'oops' face?"

"Ken, let me see whose name it is."

Reluctantly, Ken handed over the slip of paper. Bella burst into giggles. "Ah! That's why you're nervous! Don't worry, I'll help you buy a girl gift, I know all about what girls like."

"Sure," Ken replied.

He'd have to go with it. Let her think she knew why his face had fallen when he'd seen the name he'd drawn for the Secret Santa gift exchange. Telling her the real reason now would ... Ken shuddered. Then he felt a bit resentful. Why couldn't women just understand these things? Why did romance have to be this big game, which involved chasing and asking and ... and ... well, not quite lying, but telling untruths?

Beyond noticing his first reaction, Bella hadn't been looking at him. She'd been chattering away. " ... check out the Christmas sale at the mall. Should be able to get something there within your budget. This should be fun."

"Yes," he replied, mechanically.

And so, they went to the mall.

Ken kept reminding himself of his resolve. "Let her choose. Just 'like' whatever she chooses, say 'yes' to the first gift and get out of here."

But somehow, he couldn't.

"Not blue. I don't think blue would suit her," he said, when Bella tried to choose a dress.

"Leather? Isn't she vegan?" -- at the handbag Bella picked out for his giftee, Aishwarya.

"No, I don't think she'd be comfortable in high heels, I've never seen her wear them."

"Hmmmm. Let's go with a lighter shade ... actually, does she use lipstick or nail-polish at all?"

He managed to steer her away from the girly stuff, and into the bookstore. By then, Bella was a little tired, and more-than-a-little puzzled. She followed him into the 'TRAVEL' section of the bookstore, and watched him search.

"What exactly are you looking for?" she asked, when he'd been shuffling the books around the shelf for twenty minutes, growing more and more frustrated as he pushed each book back.

"Indonesia," he replied.

"Why Indonesia?"

"Because Aishwarya wants to visit Indonesia, and doesn't already have a book on it."

"Now HOW in the blinking blue blazes would you know that?"

Ken replaced the book he had just pulled out. He turned to look Bella full in the face.

"Bella."

"Yes, Ken?"

"When we became girlfriend-boyfriend ..."

"Go on ... what then?"

"Well, you were so excited that I was your first boyfriend, and were so happy assuming you are my first girlfriend, I just let you keep thinking that."

"I'm not your first girlfriend?"

"You're my third girlfriend. There was a girl in high-school, and before you joined, I'd been dating Aishwarya."

"So you didn't want to get her name in the Santa exchange ..."

"Because I know exactly what she does NOT want as a gift. She does not want typical girly stuff. All those dresses and handbags and shoes and make-up things. She'd have been disappointed to get any of those."

Bella thought for a minute.

"So you didn't want to disappoint her," she said, finally.

"I didn't. We might've broken up, but we're still friends. And -- I mean -- imagine her getting a gift all wrapped -- and then opening it hopefully -- and getting something she dislikes. I mean, the feeling. It's different if you don't know someone doesn't like something, but if you know they don't like it, it isn't very -- HEY!"

Bella was kissing him. Right there, in the middle of the TRAVEL section. They'd never kissed before. He liked it. But one part of his mind was aware that people were watching.

Did he care about people watching? Not really.

In the car on the way back, he asked, "I told you I'd lied, and I told you Aishwarya was my girlfriend before you, and suddenly you were kissing me. I mean, it was the best kiss ever, but can I please ask what I did to earn it?"

She giggled again. Then became solemn.

"Why'd you lie to me in the first place?"

"Well, I didn't want to disappoint you. You somehow thought it was my frist relationship, too."

"And why'd you not just say 'yes' to the blue dress I picked for Aishwarya?"

"I knew she wouldn't like it. I didn't want to disappoint her."

"So -- then -- how can I be disappointed? I have a sensitive boyfriend who doesn't want to disappoint his current girlfriend or his ex-girlfriend, either. Now that sounds really weird, but you know what I mean."

"You're really okay with all this?"

"I have a feeling about you, Ken, and it isn't disappointment."

"Yeah. I guess my feeling for you isn't disappointment, either."

"How romantic. We're not disappointed!!"

They laughed together all the way home.

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