DISCLAIMER: My story, my characters, no disclaimer needed. A holiday-inspired little tale.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: An unexpected sequel to my short story Chocolate, brought about because of the good RalSt asking me to, at a time when I was pumped up on Nerds...the apple/watermelon kind. Amazing what a sugar rush can make you do.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Carola "Ryûchan" Eriksson

Sarah berated herself for the foolish idea to go shopping for some extra things for herself and her cat on a day like this. It was New Year's Eve tonight, and the stores that were open were packed to bursting with people that had some last-minute shopping to do in preparation for the evening's festivities.

Sarah on the other hand, had no particular festivities planned to mark the passing of yet another year, in fact she rather looked forward to spend the evening with a few movies and something nice to eat... and her cat curled up in her lap most likely. Oh, she could have spent the evening at her mother's place, but she really didn't relish that idea... nor the 'let's get so drunk we end up in a coma' type parties some of her friends had invited her to. No, that didn't appeal to her at all.

It did get a bit lonely, true, but it was preferable to the alternative, and Sarah didn't mind much.

However, she had come up with the brilliant idea that she simply had to have a few more things for tonight, and so here she was, elbowing it with rude people whose minds were already on whatever party they were having, or harried homemakers who had just found out they were out of that particular ingredient for whatever was planned for the family gathering tonight.

Sarah was tempted to thank God that there just was no way she'd ever end up in either category, although on second thought perhaps that should be a Goddess? Sarah had a vague impression it should be a Goddess in her case, but in truth she just wasn't a spiritual woman and couldn't care less about religious matters. Which, she supposed, was another thing to be thankful for.

And speaking of thankful, her shopping was almost done, with quite a few extra kitty treats in the process, just one more thing and she could get on the bus back to her apartment and escape the insanity. Well, Sarah added mentally, so maybe a few extra human treats had found their way into her bags as well, she couldn't blame it all on her poor defenceless kitty.

The one thing Sarah needed to get before making her escape would be vanilla. Extract, essence or even a jar of pods, either would do fine really, but she needed it for a cake she was going to make.

With a slight twinge of a guilty conscience Sarah trudged on in the snow towards a small, highly specialised shop on the corner, knowing that she had already passed countless cans of perfectly usable pods or essence or any other product she might have used in the stores she had been to already. But Sarah had saved that particular item for this tiny shop, not so much because the products they carried had high quality, although Sarah admitted that they did, so much as the very lovely and friendly woman who worked there.

Blushing slightly to herself, Sarah tried not to think about the many times she had made up little errands just to go to that shop and catch a glimpse of the woman in question, or the fact that although those errands were getting to be conspicuously many by now, she hadn't really managed to say much beyond the daily pleasantries and a few shared jokes.

Frowning at herself, Sarah thought that, well, what was she to do? Just walk up to the lovely Michaela and ask her out for a dinner and a movie? Oh yes, that would happen... right. And right after that monumental change in her own character, Sarah would find out about the husband and two kids Michaela had waiting for her at home. Sarah scowled some more.

Well no. There was no ring on Michaela's finger, Sarah had checked that many times, and she doubted the woman had any children at home. In fact there was just something subtle about her that gave Sarah the faint impression that she might not be straight, but then again, to Sarah's experience gaydar was a wonderful invention that only worked for other people.

Sighing as she opened the door to the shop, Sarah once again resigned herself to a little harmless, and hopefully discreet, ogling before returning to the reality of an apartment for one and a loving kitty with a penchant to hide her socks in the strangest of places.

Squeezing past a woman on the way out of the store, Sarah heard Michaela's voice wishing another customer a fun time at the party tonight, and reminding the person to add a spoonful of honey while it cooks. Sarah wondered briefly what the person was going to make, and why it seemed that Michaela always offered advice to her customers on how to make this and that.

Another portly woman squeezed by on her way out of the store, with a smile on her face and a bag with the store name on it, leaving Sarah and two others the only customers in the shop. Sarah stealthily breezed among the shelves, picking up an article or two as she listened intently as another customer was attended to, then the sound of the bell on the door as he too left. Sarah tried to peek at the register from the shiny surface of a silver can of Japanese tea, but that was when she was spotted.

"Sarah!" Michaela sounded delighted and Sarah turned around somewhat guiltily to answer her enthusiasm with a sheepish smile and a small wave. "How great to see you, come on over here honey, I'll just help this gentleman and then we can chat."

The elderly gentleman in question smiled at both Sarah and Michaela as Sarah walked up to the counter, and then asked for both their advices on which special blend of coffee to get for his wife. Before Michaela was through with him he had gotten a bag of coffee for his wife and a bag of tea, plus a tin of hard candies for himself. The old man smiled and thanked them before leaving, wishing them a happy new year.

Then Sarah realised she was alone with Michaela, who was leaning over the counter to talk to her. Sarah fought the urge to blush.

Cheerfully Michaela began asking Sarah about how her Christmas had been, how her cat was and how Sarah's mom were doing. With a rising sense of embarrassment and alarm, Sarah realised that while she didn't know much about Michaela, Michaela on the other hand knew quite a bit about her. How had that happened?

They chatted along amiably for a while, until Michaela steered the subject onto what Sarah had planned for the evening. Suddenly deadly embarrassed to admit it, Sarah nevertheless told Michaela about her movie-evening in solitude.

To Sarah's surprise Michaela had planned something similar for herself, adding that she wasn't really feeling up to a party this year because it just wasn't fun to be the odd one out, the only single one among her friends.

If Sarah felt a brief elation and a sense of frightened hope at that, what Michaela said next completely floored her. Leaning a lot closer and looking Sarah in the eyes, Michaela asked if Sarah would like to come spend the evening with her, watching movies together. Sarah could even bring her cat if she wanted to, Michaela didn't mind.

The sound of the bell on the door broke the rather intense moment, and also saved Sarah from a moment of open-mouthed panic. Michaela was called upon to help the customers with their purchases, leaving Sarah to stare rather stunned out the window.

People were passing by, and Sarah blinked slowly, trying to kick her brain back in gear.

She blinked again.

Hey, she knew that person walking out there... suddenly Sarah's mind jumped back to life but in an unexpected direction, and she threw herself out the door. She didn't even notice the shocked expression on Michaela's face in the all the hurry.

Sprinting across the snow-sloshed street, still clutching the jar of vanilla pods she had yet to pay for, Sarah ran up to the people that just passed by the window and grabbed hold of an arm.

She apologised in a rush as the person she stopped turned around, but the curiosity that had momentarily overruled a somewhat more polite personality could not be bothered with such details for long.

A quick look at the startled face of the brown-eyed woman that turned around confirmed that this was indeed the woman who had been Sarah's last customer for the holidays... the woman Sarah had spent quite a bit of time and effort on in effort to help the other woman get together a very special box of chocolates for an intended proposal.

Sarah had wondered what happened to her dark-haired and awkward customer, whether or not whoever the woman was that was meant to be the recipient of the ring, the chocolates and the roses had said yes. She had even kept an eye out in the local paper for engagement ads, but since she didn't know the name of either woman it proved to be a bit difficult. True, none of the ads she had seen so far had sounded like both people involved were women, but one couldn't really tell sometimes, she knew that.

And now by some coincidence she saw the same woman just walk by in the street. She just _had_ to find out.

Brown eyes blinked in surprise, then a slow, impossibly wide and goofy grin spread across the woman's face as Sarah managed to explain who she was and what she wanted to know. In reply the smiling woman pulled at the arm of her companion whom Sarah had completely ignored in her rush to know what had happened, at once pulling her a bit closer and shifting Sarah's attention with one small gesture.

Sarah stared with rapt attention as the taller woman stepped forward and with a gentle smile pulled off a pair of furry bright red mittens to reveal a delicate gold ring with a rose design on one slender hand.

Squealing with delight, Sarah bounced forward and hugged both the surprised women, coercing them into a promise to stop by the chocolate store where Sarah worked someday, and giving them her well-wishes for the occasion. It wasn't until waving goodbye to them as they wandered off that Sarah remembered the jar still in her hand, and the situation waiting for her inside the shop.

Sighing, Sarah wanted to knock herself in the head with the jar, and thus end her suffering... if her brilliant non-communication in answer to a simple, if faintly world-shaking, question would fail make sure Michaela thought she was a complete moron, then running out of the store with the merchandise would certainly do it.

Well... darn.

She kicked morosely at a lump of snow, only to discover that it was soft and sloshed up to cover the leg of her pants in an unattractive and cold muddy grey.

Sarah stepped back into the store with a sheepish expression on her face and the accidentally stolen jar held high like a white flag, but Michaela would not look in her direction despite the fact that the store was empty for the moment. Taken a bit aback in the middle of an apology, Sarah stopped and took a closer look.

Michaela was pouting and frowning, banging drawers and cabinet door with a bit more force than necessary, looking terribly busy... doing pretty much nothing, if Sarah wasn't mistaken. On impulse, Sarah turned her head slightly to look at the window were she could just barely make out the spot where she had been standing, probably scaring a pair of strangers so badly that they'd never eat chocolate again... and there was a faint outline of a hand against the glass, fading quickly as the heat that created it had disappeared and left only the winter cold of the glass.

Suddenly a lot more confident, Sarah walked up to the counter and put the jar down, smiling all the while at the clearly upset woman in front of her.

"Silly me," She said with a grin. "I completely forgot I was holding this. Sorry about that."

Michaela didn't look up, but muttered something Sarah couldn't quite make out.

"Anyway, about what you said..." Sarah began, leaning forward on the counter a little.

"That's allright," Michaela interrupted a bit frostily. "I expect you'll be spending tonight with your girlfriend, I understand." She hesitated briefly, a tone of hurt creeping into her voice. "I wouldn't have asked if you had told me you were in... I mean, that you had... that, that you had plans."

Sarah smiled widely, earning a glare from Michaela. Hurrying as not to anger the woman she had been ogling for months even further, Sarah told the story about her last customer for Christmas, and how she had wondered how things had turned out for her. Michaela looked torn between surprise, scepticism and relief when Sarah was done.

"So you just hugged some person you don't even know? You?" Michaela said disbelievingly. "It took me weeks to get you to look me in the eye... longer before I got you to say more than 'hi' in passing."

Then Michaela promptly blushed, making Sarah grin some more.

"Well... I'm not seeing her or any woman..." Sarah hesitated briefly. "and certainly no man. I really am just going to go home, make something to eat, then spend the evening watching a movie together with my cat."

A beat. "And you, if you're still interested..." Sarah added a bit shyly. "If you still feel like it, we could either be at your place or at mine... I thought it'd be easier at mine, because of the cat, I don't want her to be alone when they start shooting off firecrackers outside, and..."

Sarah felt herself start to ramble nervously, and tried to stop talking. "Well... if you still wanted to, that is. I can understand if you don't."

Michaela smiled, then leaned over to take Sarah's hand into her own, her fingers caressing the skin within reach. She looked into Sarah's eyes for a long moment.

"I'd say it's a date." Michaela said with a grin.

The End

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