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Surrounded by lovestruck couples at Christmas—it’s like a Hallmark horror film.At least she had Brooklyn to be a buffer between her and Arlo. Her presence gave the group an odd number, making it feel less like a forced set up.

As Ada put her plate in the sink, Arlo slid in next to her. Quietly he whispered, “Hey, can you help me with something in town?”

“Now what?” Ada raised an eyebrow.

“I need to get Brooklyn a Christmas gift. Do you think you could help me pick something out?”

I can’t say no to that…“Sure, I can try.”

“Thanks,” Arlo said looking relieved. “I’ll see if Maggie and Chase will distract her while we shop.”

Ada nodded and then headed to her room, trying to ignore the way Arlo smelled like Old Spice—her favorite men’s deodorant. Yes, she had a favorite. In the process of picking out the perfect scent for herself, she’d always smell a few of the men’s. There was just something so manly and delicious about most of them. A little boost of serotonin on her shopping trips.

Remain focused, Ada.You’re helping him out with Brooklyn’s gift. That’s all this is.

When they pulled into a parking spot downtown, Maggie asked Brooklyn to help her and Chase pick out a gift for the toy drive.

That left Ada with Arlo surrounded by jovial lights, music, and decorations. People bustled all around them with their hands full of shopping bags.This town is like a freaking movie set.Ada warily scanned for mistletoe.That’s the last thing I need.

“Hey, everything okay?” Arlo asked, breaking her inner dialogue.

“Oh yep, I’m good.”

“So…what do you think Brooklyn would like?”

Ada bit her lip. “I could show you the boots she was eyeing up yesterday. I think she really liked them.”

“Perfect, let’s head to the shoe store.” Arlo pointed down the street and they began walking together. Ada purposely left a gap between them.

When they made it to the store, Ada grabbed the fuzzy, sparkly boots Brooklyn was studying the day before. As they waited in line to pay, Arlo asked, “Wanna get some coffee after this? I found a place I think you’d like.”

Ada crossed her arms in front of her chest. “You do owe me. You know, for standing me up.”

“Oh I know,” he said as the corner of his mouth lifted. “This is part of the groveling. Coffee and anything else you want, my treat.”

Ada smiled at the way he took her chastisement in stride. “I’m in.”

The cashier rang up the boots and handed Arlo the bag.

“Thanks for your help. I probably would have ended up getting her an Amazon gift card.”

“I’m sure she would have liked that too.”

“Yeah, but it’s not as much fun to open, and it’s not as thoughtful.”

Arlo held the door for her as she stepped out of the store and onto the sidewalk.

“The coffee shop is this way,” he said.

She noticed that he put his hand on the small of her back to guide her.

As they neared the end of the block, Arlo stopped in front of an arch leading to a small alley between the buildings. “Down here.”

“This seems a little sketchy.”

“That’s the charm. It’s off the beaten path. More of a local’s spot.”

After taking ten steps, they came to a small brown door that simply said “Coffee” in white letters.

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