Disclaimer: No money is being made from this story. Just a short, fun piece that I stumbled across over Christmas and thought I'd share. Hope you all enjoy!
Vin forced the tension from his limbs as he scanned the façade before him. Blocking out everything else around him, he drew in a deep breath and moved into position. No matter how close they were, there were just some things Chris could not help him with - this was one of those things. He knew his friend was there, backing him up. But he maintained a safe distance.
The predatory gleam was instantly familiar to Vin. He'd seen it often, recognized it for what it was, but chose to pretend it was something else for his own safety. If he focused on that look, he'd never be successful in this mission. Still, Ezra's voice echoed through his mind briefly with one of the undercover agent's favorite sayings... "...eat you like half a sandwich..."
"How can I help you today?" the young clerk asked. A wide smile lit her face, matching that look in her eye. Vin suddenly wished for his long duster. Her eyes wandered over him, head to toe. Subtly, yet not so much that the sharpshooter would not notice. And generally he was confident enough to ignore the looks he garnered from women. But here, he was so far out of his element, it only added to his awkwardness.
A myriad of soapy scents assaulted him. Soft, and in many varieties, yet the blend was a wonderful one. They smelled of women, and the outdoors, and the holiday season. His heart thudded in his chest, and for a moment, the thought to turn and hightail it over to American Outfitters crossed his mind. But, no, he was a Tanner. He could do this. Besides, Chris was waiting for him by the fountain. If he came out empty-handed, he'd never hear the end of it.
"So what are you getting Nettie?" Chris had asked just that morning, as the men drove out to the mall to do their Christmas shopping.
"She really likes all that smelly soap and lotion stuff. I see a lot of bags at her house with Body Bath Connection on them, so I guess I'll go there. She always smells nice. Makes ya think of yer gram I suppose, and spring rain, and sugar cookies..." Vin had felt his ears grow warm at that. "Well, she always smells good, I mean."
"You ever been in one of those places?" Chris had asked.
"Nah. But how bad could it be? Just go in, pick something that smells nice, and get out."
Famous last words.
His breathing hitched as he realized the woman was still waiting for a response.
"Ah, I'm looking for a gift fer a lady. She likes this kinda stuff."
A chill came over the woman's voice. "Oh." Vin saw her double-check his ring finger. "So, what does your girlfriend like?"
"Well, it's not my girlfriend exactly. She's a older woman, took a likin' to me. Kinda like a gramma to me, I reckon."
The smile returned. "Ah, well, let's see then... Do you know what scent she likes? That's usually the best place to start."
"Ah, she smells good," Vin stated, wondering what Larabee knew that he hadn't told. This was already more complicated than he'd figured.
"Like flowers?" the clerk questioned. "Like fruit?"
Vin raked his fingers through his long waves, not realizing the attention it drew from an already-interested young lady. "She - she smells like mountain rain, clean, ya know?"
"We have a wonderful new holiday fresh scent - Swirling Snowflakes. Here," she said, drawing him by the elbow toward a side shelf.
A sink stood nearby, making Vin wonder who would come to a store to wash up. He thought briefly how handy that would've been when he was a kid on the streets. Course, they wouldn't a' wanted someone like him hangin' around then.
It took Vin a moment to catch up as he was confronted with memories of his past, and then with the mirrored wall of choices. Lotions and liquids of every color in bottles of every shape and size. Slippers...he should've listened to Buck and gone with slippers. Buck knew what women wanted better than he did anyway. What was he doing here?
"...scrubs, soaps, gels, and salt baths in this scent. Which does your friend prefer to use?"
"Salt? Why would I give 'er salt?" Vin blurted.
"Oh, it's a new product, and it's wonderful. Here, let me show you." The woman tugged his sleeve, pulling him over to the sink.
She took his calloused hand in her two soft ones, palm down. She traced over his fingers with her thumb. "You have very strong hands. What's your line of work, Mr....?"
"Tanner...Vin Tanner. I, ah, work for the ATF."
She stopped, just holding his hand above the spigot. "You mean as in, 'Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms'?"
"Well," she said. Her smile grew, as did her stroke, as the rubbed along his forearm. "That would explain all these scars. I'll bet you have a lot of stories to tell..."
Vin cleared his throat noisily, hoping to draw her attention back to the matter at hand - of his hand. He wondered if she'd give it back.
"Anyway," she continued as she turned on the water, "you'll love this stuff."
Vin watched as she opened a glass tub filled with a bluish colored grainy gel, with a clear oily substance over top. She stirred it together with a small wooden paddle and slathered a big dollop on the back of his hand before he could protest.
"It's too harsh for the face, of course, so we recommend starting at the neck and working your way down," she said.
Vin could sense her following that line once again with her eyes. He thought about telling her to just wash the gunk off so he could get out of there, but the truth was, it did feel terrific. The woman worked the stuff over and between his rough knuckles and around his fingers, down to the tips. She rinsed it off, then turned his hand palm up to continue.
If having the top of his hand massaged felt good, then having this junk rubbed over the palm and along each finger felt downright sensational. He thought of how cramped and tight his fingers felt after a take-down, having sat for hours just waiting to get the shot. A vague consideration of medical reimbursements ran through his head as he effectively tuned the rest of the sales pitch out.
All too soon, the lady was rinsing his hand under warm water. "Feels great, huh?"
Vin realized with embarrassment that he'd closed his eyes, lost in the relaxing feel of her massage. "Uh, yeah," he said, clearing his throat again.
"And then we usually top it off with the moisturizer. Would you like to try it?" She turned the small tube of lotion so he could read the name of the scent, same as on the gritty stuff she'd used.
"Might as well...Just so I know fer sure if she'll like it 'n all."
This time the cool, smooth lotion was rubbed along his hand. Made his hand feel soft, too. He just hoped the guys didn't notice.
"What do you think?" Again, the clerk's eyes suggested she was asking an opinion on more than just the cream.
Vin tugged his hand gently from her firm grasp. "It's fine, ma'am. R-real fine." Man, feels like I have a whole new hand. Too bad we don't have a big case to wrap up today. He looked at his watch. Maybe he'd get out of here and head to the shooting range before the effect wore off. "I'll take...ah, two..."
He jumped as he recognized the voice. "Oh, hi, there, Mary."
Mary's eyebrow quirked. "I'm surprised to see you here."
The clerk moved to the register with two of the glass tubs. Vin heard her faint mumble: "Gramma, uh-huh."
The temperature of the store spiked. "Just doing some Christmas shopping, Mary. That's all. Gettin' some early shoppin' done - ya know, beat the crowds n' all." He wondered if JD felt like this. Like his tongue was moving independently of his brain. He needed to cut the kid some slack. Yeah, the next time he saw him...
"Same with me, so I'll see you later." He relaxed a little as she moved off. "By the way, Vin?"
Vin turned back to her as he moved toward the checkout. "Yeah, Mary?"
"You'll want to be sure and try the Sweet Sugar scent - I think it'll suit you." She had the audacity to grin. "Oh, and my scent is Passion Berry - be sure to let Chris know, will you?" With a wave, she was off. Vin would swear he heard her laugh as she left.
+ + + + + + +
Vin slid into the seat next to Chris and buckled up.
"You get it?"
"I'm proud of ya, pard. It's not as easy as it looks."
Vin nodded mutely, trying to avoid Chris's gaze. He stared through the windshield, but Chris leaned over to catch his eye.
"They got ya, didn't they?" His voice held no accusation, only familiar resignation.
"Smelled good, huh?"
"Felt even better, right?"
"It's okay, pard. I've been there. You'll get through it." Vin felt the heavy pat of a hand on his shoulder.
"Thanks, Chris. Glad ya feel that way." He grinned at his friend. "How's that Passion Berry scent strike ya?"