She wasn’t sure what to get him. Every year she had something planned out two months before Christmas Day. This year was different. She was laid off from her job 12 days ago. She was afraid to look at her bank account. Her mind was empty.
Two days before Christmas she went out to the pharmacy. She bought discounted cologne that smelled like mint. The bottle was somewhat nice. She sighed as she handed it to the jaded cashier. He placed it in a plastic bag for her and said, “Hope he likes it.”
He was making pancakes and scrambled eggs on Christmas morning. She took blueberries from the fridge and approached him from behind, kissing his neck gently. He smiled and kissed her forehead, reaching for the blueberries resting at her side. He was never hungry in the morning, but he ate to keep her company. She grew anxious when he didn’t eat.
They sat on the couch together finishing off cups of coffee. The room was wrapped in scents of berries and pine from the Christmas tree. She giggled, and leaned over to wipe off the coffee stained on his upper lip. He smirked and said, “Thanks, sweetie.” He leaned in to kiss her, took his hand and caressed the right side of her face. His hand perfectly cupped her jaw line. That was her favorite.
They walked over to the dainty tree set up in the right corner of their small apartment. She assumed it was jewelry. Every year he gets her a charm for her gold chain or a pair of dangly earrings. She hates her tiny wrists so he never gets her bracelets. He always gets something perfect. This year, it was a small pearl surrounded by her Ruby birthstones. Her eyes started to water. Her face dipped into her shaking hands. He was confused. He gently took her wrists and pulled her toward his chest. He held her silently until the tears would stop washing down her cheeks.
She was scared. She knew he wouldn’t care even if she bought him a box of nonpareils and iTunes gift card. But it was something about not having the excitement herself. She had no job. She hated the cologne. She preferred cinnamon toothpaste over mint and the bottle started to remind her of something cheap salad dressing would come in. She felt embarrassed. He finally released her from his arms and said, “Everything will be okay.”
He slowly started to open the box. Her eyes didn’t move from his fingers fidgeting around the plastic wrap. His eyes started to squint and his dimples started to pop. He looked up at her sunken-in cheeks and pale countenance. He said, “It’s perfect. This is just what I needed.”
She didn’t want to smile. She wanted to cry even more and melt away into the carpet. She wanted something better—something extravagant for him to open. But she couldn’t help but smirk looking at the small dimple appear under his right eye. It was a smile, and then a giggle, and then a burst of laughter filled the room. It was joy—joy that came from this cheap bottle of cologne. He was happy, but happier to see her eyes finally dry.
He walked out of the shower as she was braiding her hair. They were getting ready to go to church and meet with her family. He grabbed the bottle of cologne and sprayed it twice on his chest. He inhaled and looked in her direction. They smiled.
A year passed and they were sitting across from each other for lunch on a Tuesday. He received a call from his boss, and had to rush back to the office to meet a client. He was frazzled and she grew concerned. He went in to kiss her goodbye and saw the goose bumps on her pale arms. He grabbed his jacket that rested on the back of his chair and put it around her frail shoulders. Her heart grew warm as she coyly bowed her head for him to plant his lips gently over her side swept bangs. As he scurried away she planted her nose to the left side of her shoulder. It smelled like mint.
She was still wearing his jacket hours later. He had to stay late that night and wouldn’t be home for dinner. It was cold in the apartment, so she decided to take a hot bath. She took off his jacket to put away in his closet when she saw something strange. She moved his extra briefcase to the side where she counted 22 bottles. There were 22 empty bottles lined up in the back of his closet. There were 22 empty bottles of cheap mint cologne. She fell to her knees, and cried.
He came home to her, kneeling on the bedroom carpet completely dazed. He started shaking and said, “Baby, what are you doing? What are you doing like this?” She looked up at him slowly and pointed at the closet. Tears dropped down her face and streaked her neck. She said, “What are these doing here? Why did you do this?” She almost yelled at him. She cried the same way she cried last Christmas.
Every time he got ready in his apartment since last Christmas, he sprayed two sprits of the cologne she bought him. There was something about doing it in private he felt obligated to. He knew she felt ashamed of her small gift. He loved it. He couldn’t ask for anything more. But he knew she wouldn’t believe that. So every day he sprayed her cologne and bought a new bottle whenever it ran out. She never smelt it by the time he got home from work those evenings. She figured he used that one bottle just every now and then.
When he explained this to her, she said nothing. After moments of silence, she asked him again, “Why?”
“Because I knew you hated it. I knew you hated the smell of it and I knew you hated yourself that day when you bought it. But it was the best thing you’ve ever gave me. It wasn’t a fancy brunch or silk tie that cost hundreds of dollars. It was something that I could put on every day. It was something that even when you were gone, you were here. Every morning, I knew you were with me.”
At their engagement dinner, there were 12 tables. Instead of a bouquet of flowers as the centerpiece, each table had one empty bottle of cologne with one rose planted inside. She now brushes her teeth with mint toothpaste instead of cinnamon.