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Brynne Ferguson

Howard Manning wandered up and down the aisles of the department store. He was beginning to get a little desperate with this present thing. They had those new computer things, geared towards finding gifts. Just put in a couple of hobbies, a general description, and all of a sudden the screen is filled with dozens of suggestions.

He didn't put much faith in that method, though. For goodness sakes, he'd been married to Violet for fifty-five years, he should know what to get her for Christmas better than some machine. Christmas is scarcely less than five days away and I don't have a single gift for my wife, he chided himself.

Howard paused at the cosmetics counter and scanned the perfumes safely locked away in a rather elaborate display case. They were all commercial scents; his Violet would look upon the designers with pity.

He used to think that if he could bottle the scent of her, he'd hold the secret to happiness. She had her own distinct aroma. Butter and peaches and cinnamon -- it lingered around her like a glow, spreading warmth wherever she went. Needless to say she didn't need to douse chemicals on herself to smell good.

Next came the jewellery counter. He could get her pearls, real ones of course, she always loved them. Or maybe a diamond necklace. Howard smiled sadly. His social security checks couldn't fit the bill of either expensive pieces of jewellery, and as much as he wanted to give his wife something extravagant, he knew she wouldn't want him to live the rest of his life in debt.

Another Christmas, and he was clueless on what to give his wife. Deep down, he knew Violet would treasure anything he gave her. Even a simple card. That was just one of the many things he loved about his wife.

Just the same, he didn't want to just grab something off the nearest shelf, have it gift-wrapped, and get it under the tree by the end of the day. Violet deserved better. He intended to give her the best, as soon as he found out what that was, exactly.

With a last reluctant glance, Howard turned away from the jewelry and went to the women's clothing department. Howard touched a few sweaters, debating, then moved on to the pyjamas. In the Christmas Spirit, terrycloth robes in bright, bold colors, were put on display.

Perhaps she would like a new robe, he thought, feeling the hope regenerating in his system. Her current one had been hanging on the bathroom door for sometime, she must not like to wear it anymore. He had quite possibly stumbled upon the perfect gift.

Howard fingered the material of the jade green bathrobe, finding it soft and a velvety under his fingers. Even the smallest size would practically swallow her whole, Violet was so tiny these days -- he worried. But this would do. He hoped his wife would like his gift, but he wouldn't know for sure until he gave it to her.

I'll just go pay for this, he decided, before turning around and coming face to face with a store security guard. And his daughter, Amy. She pushed a greying strand of dark brown hair away, her face bathed in relief. "Dad, I've been looking all over for you." Her voice broke on the last word, she threw her arms around him.

Howard was puzzled. He'd been missing? "I'm sorry dear, I had to come here to find a present for your mother. I didn't mean to worry you."

"I'm glad I could help you locate your father, Miss. Have a merry Christmas," the security guard said quickly, before dashing out of the line of fire. This was obviously a family problem, and frankly, he didn't want to be involved.

"Thank-you," Amy called out to the guard before turning her attention back to her father. She eyed the woman's bathrobe. "Dad...what did you say you were doing in here?"

Howard smiled. "Finding your mother a present, of course." Amy's face clouded up in anguish. "No Dad, please not this." Tears suddenly fell silently down her face, which only served to confuse Howard.

"What's the matter, honey?" He asked politely.

"Dad please, Mom is gone. You know that," Amy answered with great difficulty. "She died five months ago Dad."

Howard was stunned. How could his oldest daughter say something like that? Violet wasn't gone, she was at home right then, with dinner waiting. But he couldn't bring that image up in his head any longer. A split second later his mind forced him to remember the unbearable truth, and he crumpled against his daughter in sheer agony.

"Dad I'm so sorry. It was too soon for you to go out...God, I should have known better."

Amy gently to her father's frail arm and led him out the door, and into the winter chill.

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