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The Wrong Gift – A Mercy Mares Cozy Mystery Short
By Ava Mallory
The jarring noise at 3 A.M. should have been my first clue that the holiday would not go as planned. I could have ignored it. I would have. But Barney, my part-time guard dog, full-time housemate, wouldn’t hear of it.
“What is that noise?” I tried to sit up but the new mermaid blanket my daughter had given me as an early Christmas gift barred me from moving anything other than my toes if I angled them just so.
Barney’s loud barking wasn’t helping. I flailed my lower half to loosen the death grip the blanket had on my legs, but between the barking, my shattered nerves, and a few extra helpings of my best friend’s world famous sweet potato pie, any hope of jimmying myself out of the blanket was nonexistent.
I plopped on the floor. Rolled toward the door. I had emergency training in nursing school. Stop, drop, and roll. I knew how to do that. If it worked for fires, why wouldn’t it work for this? Whether that would help me get to the source of the offending noise, I didn’t know, but what other choice did I have?
The blanket slipped to my ankles by the time I made it to the kitchen, knocking my elbows and head on the wall with each revolution.
“What is making that noise?”
A shadow outside my kitchen window startled me. It was followed by the sound of footsteps going down the front porch stairs and pounding the snow-packed pavement leading from the porch to the front gate.
“Who is that?” I lifted myself off the ground, hitting my head on my kitchen table. “Ouch! Who put that there?”
Barney’s barking raised to a feverish pitch.
I rushed to the door and fumbled to unlock them to get out. I was too late. The shadowed figure was gone, leaving large shoe prints in his wake. Smoke billowed from the tail pipe of an ominous looking black Sedan.
“What in the diddly is going on out there?” my next-door neighbor shouted from her bedroom window.
I hadn’t realized my rather embarrassing state of undress until she pointed it out.
“Running around in your unmentionables in the middle of winter is a recipe for pneumonia. You might want to wear clothes if you expect your visitors to stick around,” Margie joked.
“Did you see that man?” I asked as I ducked for cover behind a Santa statue.
She flashed a toothless grin at me. “You’re going to need a bigger Santa to cover you up.”
I glanced down. She was right. I ran inside to grab my coat.
By the time, I got it on, Margie had stepped outside with a heavy blanket wrapped around her small frame. “What was all the noise about? Were you having a party?”
I peeked under my coat. “Dressed like this?”
She giggled. “Who was that man?”
“No idea. I was hoping you’d be able to tell me. I never got a look at his face.” I shivered against the cool breeze. “What is with this storm? It’s like Mother Nature forgot this is California.”
Margie readjusted her warming blanket. “I think you have bigger problems.” She lifted her chin in the direction of my porch. “What’s that?”
I lurched back, assuming the shadowed figure had returned. “Get out of here!”
“Who are you shouting at? There’s no one there.” Margie moved closer. “I’m talking about the box. Is that for you?”
A small red box was placed next to the front door.
“No. Where did that come from?” I hesitated to get near it. “What do you think is inside?”
Margie had no fear. She shrugged the blanket off her shoulders and reached for the box without a care in the world for her safety. Opening it, she gasped.
I took another step back. “What is it?”
She tilted the open box in my direction. “I can’t believe it. You still haven’t said yes?”
The cold air wafted up through my nightgown. “It’s way too cold for this. What are you talking about? Of course, I didn’t agree to any of this.” I stopped in my tracks when I caught a glimpse of what was in the box. “Is that a ring?”
She jumped up and down. “Yes. What do you think it is? I know it’s been a long time, but that’s what a diamond looks like, hon.”
I didn’t know what to say.
Margie pulled the ring out of the box and slid it on her finger. “It fits!”
I looked around. “Why would he leave a ring at my door?” I motioned for her to go inside. “Do you want some coffee?”
“You better believe I do.” She followed me inside as she studied the ring. “I think it’s kind of sweet.”
I studied the box. “I don’t understand. Why would someone leave a diamond ring at my door, or any door, for that matter?”
“It’s Christmas. Why wouldn’t he leave it for you?” Margie asked. “I’m surprised he’s still holding on. It’s been over a year since he asked you to marry him and you still haven’t given him the time of day.”
“Who? Charlie?” I shook my head. This wasn’t something I could picture Charlie doing. “That wasn’t him. And, by the way, he’s here all the time. He knows where I stand. I already agreed to marry him.”
“Yes, but he didn’t give you a ring yet.” Margie pointed out.
“That’s not true. He gave me one. I just don’t wear it.” I nearly tripped over Barney as I walked to my bedroom to retrieve the ring it. I called out, “Do you think I should give Charlie a call and tell him what happened?”
Margie mumbled to herself.
“What did you say?” I asked as I walked back out.
“I said maybe you have an admirer. Think about it. A tall, dark stranger arrives at your door in the middle of the night the day before Christmas. He places an impeccably wrapped gift next to your door in the hopes that you’ll find it on Christmas morning, but his plans are ruined when the too-nosy-for-her-own-good woman inside hears him and makes a ruckus, interrupting his surprise.” Margie wagged her finger in my direction.
Stunned silence probably wasn’t the reaction she hoped for, but it’s all I had. I highly doubted the man dressed in black snuck onto my property in the middle of the night to propose to me.
“Well?” she asked when I didn’t answer. “Aren’t you going to say anything?”
I chuckled. “Yes, you’re looking at this from the wrong angle. Obviously, he wasn’t here to make my day. I bet he probably stole that from underneath someone’s Christmas tree and dropped it when he was trying to break into my house.”
Margie rolled her eyes. “Fine. Think negatively, why don’t you? Do you want to call the police now?”
“The police? For what?” The sound of Nubbin’s voice startled both of us.
“Where did you come from?” I asked, clutching my chest.
He turned and pointed out the door. “From Nebraska, originally, but just a second ago, I was standing in your living room wondering where you ran off to in the middle of the night.” He pointed to Margie, his on again, off again girlfriend for the past year.
She stared at him as if she’d never seen him before in her life. “You’re wearing black.”
“Toyota, what is wrong with your friend?” he asked, calling me by one of the many nicknames he had for me.
It occurred to me then. “You’re wearing a black sweat suit.”
Exasperated, he groaned. “Why are you so focused on what I’m wearing? Who cares? I got this for myself for my Christmas. Why does it matter?”
I peeked out the window. “Did you get yourself that car too?” I pointed to the dark sedan parked outside.
“No, he did.” Nubbin stepped out the door and pointed to the car.
The passenger side window rolled down.
I squinted to see. “Is that Charlie?”
“You’re killing me, Honda. Who does it look like?” Nubbin motioned for Charlie to get out of the car. “I knew this was a bad idea.”
Charlie stepped out with a wide grin on his face. “Surprise! Did she say yes?”
“Who?” I asked. It was like everyone had lost their minds.
He answered, “Margie. Nubbin said he left the ring here for you to hold onto. I figured since Margie’s here, he must’ve popped the question already.” He hugged Margie. “Congratulations.”
She was just as I confused as I was. “Will someone explain to me why you knuckleheads are hiding engagement rings in the middle of the night?”
Charlie wrapped his arm around my waist. “We weren’t hiding it. Nubbin wanted Mercy to keep it for safe keeping.” He hung his head. “It looks like I ruined the surprise.”
Nubbin cleared his throat. “No, I did. I knew I should have let you hide the ring, but I was so nervous something would go wrong.”
I could tell by the sound of his voice that he was genuinely disappointed. “Wait a minute. You didn’t ruin anything. It’s a relief. I thought you were an intruder.”
Charlie chuckled. “No, he’s just a man in love.” He winked at me. “You didn’t think that was for you, did you? I already gave you a ring.”
“That you refuse to wear,” Margie chimed in.
I shook my head. “No, I was confused. I couldn’t understand why someone would be on my porch in the middle of the night. When Margie found the box, I knew it had to be a mistake.”
“It was,” Nubbin answered. “You weren’t supposed to wake up. I was going to have Charlie call you in the morning and explain, but you caught me.”
Charlie said, “Nothing is ruined. Mercy just thought she got the wrong gift.”
“Wrong gift? What do you mean?” I asked as he pulled out a small blue box for me.
“Since you don’t want to wear the ring I gave you, will you wear this one for the rest of your life?” Charlie knelt down.
Nubbin cleared his throat. “And, Margie will you wear that one for the rest of your life?”
I had no words. Apparently, Margie didn’t either. He eyes welled with tears.
“Is that a yes, ladies?” Charlie asked.
Margie rushed over and hugged Nubbin.
Emotion welled in my throat as Charlie slipped the new ring on my finger. It was the most gorgeous ring I’d ever seen.
“Mercy?” he asked.
My voice broke as I answered. “Wait.” I slipped the original ring on my finger, then, held out my hand for him to slip the other ring on my finger. “Now, I’m ready. Yes.”
Charlie stood up and kissed me.
Nubbin squirmed out of Margie’s arms. “So, are we doing this? You’re only getting one ring, though.”
Margie hugged him again. “How romantic, my big bear.” She winked at me. “Double wedding?”
I stammered. Things happened so fast. I couldn’t believe Charlie was brave enough to ask me again after I’d stalled him for so long and dressed the way I was.
“Can I comb my hair first?”
The room erupted in laughter. This wasn’t how I planned the holiday to begin, but it sure was a wonderful surprise.
Read the entire Mercy Mares series here: The Mercy Mares Cozy Mystery Series
Don't forget to check out more great stories here: Holly Jolly Blog Hop 2016