She smiles, blushing, and I take her hand to lead her to the car. We pull up at a colorful bazaar which normally, would be teeming with tourists. It’s oddly empty, but I don’t let that bother me. Instead, I pull the curvy girl in my wake, leading her to the first store.
The proprietor greets Kelsey by name, almost curtseying with excitement. The older woman has already pulled a wide assortment of dresses in Kelsey’s size, and the curvy girl tries on a dozen dresses, asking my opinion of each, twirling in circles to make the skirts spin like a school girl.
“This one has pockets, Keith!” she laughs with delight. I don’t know why that excites her so much, but it goes into the stack of favorites.
“I love them all so much that I don’t know which one to pick,” she murmurs, one hand gently stroking the fabrics. This is where I come in.
“We’ll take them all. Please have them delivered to the hotel for us,” I tell the associate helping Kelsey. My beautiful girl’s eyes widen and she protests.
“I don’t need eight dresses, Keith.”
I shake my head. “I’m not buying you things you need. I’m buying you things you want. Just kiss me and let’s move on to the next stop. Come along, sweetheart.”
The next stop is a French patisserie. No one makes pastries better than the French and while we’re not in France, Tahiti is part of French Polynesia. There are chocolate croissants, macarons, mille-feuille, éclairs, and custard tarts. We sample some of everything and have our favorites packed up. Then we proceed to the next shop.
“Oh, look at all this,” Kelsey exclaims, holding a beaded necklace up. “I have got to get this for Melissa. She’ll totally crack up.”
I smile. We’ve hit a tourist trap with shelves of mugs, magnets, and t-shirts. The CEO Keith Commons would have walked right by this shop, but ten year old Keith Commons could have spent hours in here, and I realize that Kelsey has changed me. I’ve spent years in a surreal world where money is no object and buying a gift for someone is about it being unique, rare, and completely useless. For example, I bought my dad some antique wine glasses for Christmas last year that were originally made for some count in Eastern Europe. But the ridiculous thing is that my dad doesn’t even drink wine. He’s a scotch drinker. I basically only bought them because they’re expensive and make for an “appropriately luxurious” gift. It’s lame and totally wasteful, come to think of it.
But now, with Kelsey, the fun of gift-giving has returned. I see a coffee mug that says “World’s Best Dad” that’s adorned with a Tahitian woman wearing a coconut bikini top. My dad drinks coffee every day and he’ll get a kick out of this. I realize that my father really was an amazing parental figure, and that I’ll have to call him once we’re back in the real world.
Meanwhile, Kelsey has stacked an array of refrigerator magnets, shot glasses, key chains, mugs, and t-shirts on the counter. I set the mug for my dad down with the other items and reach for my wallet.
“No. I’m paying for this,” Kelsey tells me in her ‘I mean it’ voice while raising one eyebrow, as if daring me to contradict her. I put my hands up in surrender, wallet still in my pocket.
“Kels, you know you don’t have to.”
“No, I want to,” she insists. “These are gifts for my friends and family, so it would be strange if you paid for them.”
Again, I’m so impressed by the curvy girl, and the next words come out of my mouth without thinking.
“Kels, I want you to meet my dad when we get back to New York,” I blurt out. “Would you be interested?”
What the hell? I never take girls to meet my dad. But she merely cocks her head and smiles while paying.
“I’d love to meet your dad. But what brought that on?”
I try to pass it off as nothing. “Well, you did just pay for his gift, so you should be there when he gets it.”
That sounded really lame but I’m certainly not going to tell a girl I love her after a week. It would totally freak her out, even if the words are already at the tip of my tongue.
“Ok then,” she says with a smile. “Got it.”
I’m saved from replying by the next boutique owner. He steps out into the sun with something sparkling in his hands.
“Miss Laine, please take this for your beautiful curls. I saw you coming down the street, and knew that it would be perfect for a woman of your beauty. It’s a piece to remind you of the ocean.”
He’s holding a hair clip of a seahorse made with dazzling stones of turquoise, azure, and teal. She gasps.