Per the annual holiday sales excursion, tensions were high. My mother and sister were in some clothing store negotiating a clothing budget, my brothers had occupied themselves at the nearest game store. So here we were, my father and I, searching for an island in the sea of holiday shopping bags.
The pair of large recliners were occupied by two overweight men, with pink Victoria’s Secret bags beside them as they lay fully reclined and snoring. We found the bench in the middle of the large mall corridor, nestled between the snoring husband and the Dip and Dots cart.
“How about him?” Dad asked, pointing out the teenage boy scooping tiny ice cream drops into overpriced bowls for a mom and her daughter. I laughed.
“Too young,” I said. “I’m in college now. Dating high schoolers is creepy.”
“But you’d have an endless supply of ice cream,” Dad said with a chuckle. Another boy walked by, with dark pants with holes in them and piercings. “What about him?”
“Cute, but too many piercings. And I can’t date a guy with hair longer than mine.”
“That’s what your mother always said. And you’ve got a hip nose piercing now,” he said, poking my nose. “You can be piercing buddies. Get matching ones.”
I laughed. “I’ll think about it.”
“In my day we called those guys mall rats.”
“I didn’t see you as much of a mall kid.”
“We didn’t go much. Couldn’t afford it.”
“And here we are,” I smiled, holding a hand out to the mall like Vana White. “Buying out the place.”
He grinned—a peaceful grin like he was lost in a memory and sitting in it as it surrounded him.
“Like we need any more crap,” he said, grinning and rolling his eyes.
“What did you do when you came home from winter break?” I asked.
He sighed. “Played cards mostly. With my friends. I didn’t go home much though. When I was your age that was the first Christmas I didn’t go back to Walt’s. I spent it with the Wakefields.”
“It’ll be good to see them soon.”
Carols echoed through the mall. Have a holly jolly Christmas, it’s the best time of the year. A kid almost tripped on my feet as he raced by. The Christmas lights twinkled as they cascaded down from fluorescent lights. I thought about the projects I wanted to work on once we got home.
“What are your friends doing for the holidays?”
“Most of them are going home. Everybody’s already talking about their summer plans. I feel like that’s forever away. There were recruiters on campus this week. It all comes so fast. I love it there, I really do. But it’s crazy to even be thinking about summer already. I’m just trying to soak up the time here with you guys. Most of my friends are the youngest, so they don’t have younger siblings they’re going home to. They’re already aunts and uncles or going home to empty-nester parents. And they’re talking about working at these summer camps.”
“Do you want to do that?”
“No way. I already did my time. But I don’t want to waste my summer. I don’t want to be one of those people that just bums around.”
“You could stay here and get a summer job.”
“Yeah. But I don’t know who’s hiring.”
“You could write for the paper.”
“Yeah,” I said quietly.
“Well, what do you want to do?”
“I got a call from that store in Fayetteville the other day.”
“The cool one that was on the square? I loved that one! All those cool socks.”
I laughed. “Yeah, I knew you’d love that. They want to carry my stuff.”
“That’s great, honey!” He turned his full body to face me and put a reassuring hand on my knee, squeezing me close with his arm that was already draped behind me.
Slow tears dripped down my cheeks.
“What’s the matter?”
“I don’t know. It’s just scary.”
“What’s so scary, hon? That’s great!”
“Yeah, but it’s real. I don’t know. I’ve never done this before. I’m excited that somebody wants to buy my stuff. It’s awesome. But it makes it real. It’s overwhelming. I don’t know how to run a business. I don’t know how much to sell my stuff for. Everything seems overpriced. And what if nobody buys them?”
He didn’t say anything.
“I don’t know. It’s just that all my friends have these definite summer plans and I don’t want to do any of that. I don’t want to go back to doing daycare in the summer. That sounds exhausting. I just want to make art.”
“Then do it.”
“Well, you can get a business license. It’s really easy. It’s like 15 bucks.”
“I’ve thought about just taking the summer to work on all that. Get some of the processes down to making the phone cases. Saying yes to the store in Fayetteville would mean I’d have to make a ton of cases. And I want to sell at shows, but there aren’t any in this area.”
“Then do your own.”
“You think I could do that?”
“Yeah, hon. Of course! Take the summer. If you need a business license I can buy it for you. I think you could really do it.”
I smiled and wiped tears off my face and buried my head in his chest. His goatee tickled the top of my head.
“I’m so proud of you, hon.”
“What’s going on here?” I heard my mom say, and looked up at her with watering eyes.
I wiped a streak of mascara on my sweater.
“Just talking about summer plans,” Dad said.
“That seems a little soon,” Mom said.
I smiled. We got up and strolled on together past discount signs and fake poinsettias. I started making summer plans.