Authors: Julia Kent
Tags: #Contemporary Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #BBW Romance, #Humorous, #Romantic Comedy, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #romance, #General, #New Adult & College, #new adult, #Genre Fiction, #Literature & Fiction
“Do they let you bring the costume home?” he asks.
I whack him hard with a fistful of tinsel. It flies up in the air and whirls around us, like a piñata filled with Angel Dust and disco balls from the 1970s.
Which is about on par with what we experience when we arrive at the mall.
You know what the North Pole smells like?
Frightened kid pee, scented baby wipes, and Tiger Moms.
What are Tiger Moms? The same women who rule over their piano-playing prodigies, the kids mastering Chopin before they were weaned, who make Yo-Yo Ma look like a drunk homeless dude playing a broken recorder in East Cambridge, who raise soccer players who make Luis Suarez look like Rainbow Brite—and they’re lined up here at the mall with their kids, and they’re not taking “no” for an answer.
“Tycho! Tycho!” screeches one blonde mother who looks disturbingly like Jessica Coffin with under-eye bags. “Tycho, don’t you dare sit down. You’ll crease!”
. She’s dressed the kid in all white and he looks like a cross between President Snow from
The Hunger Games
and a Ralph Lauren ad. He’s three.
. And you put him in white? Mommy Masochist.
Creasing is the least of his problems. Most three year olds can’t follow a two-step command, or watch an entire episode of
without wiping nine boogers on the couch cushions, and she expects him to not
“I don’t like waiting! You said your waiting app told you we wouldn’t wait, Mommy. Give me your phone. I want to play Paplinko!” Tycho whines. “Eat at P.F. Chang’s! I want to order from your app!”
“Manners!” his mother snaps back.
Her eyes glow red with the kind of intensity that only a well-educated, over-entitled
-type mother can cultivate. My own mom suddenly seems cuddly and harmless, like Mrs. Brady with a side of Mrs. Weasley and a touch of Peg Bundy.
of Peg Bundy.
“We were told, in the app, that there would not be a wait!” she yells at me. I am standing in front of Santa’s throne, a veritable pantheon to the advertising geniuses who have turned Christmas into a religious holiday, serving the new gods: Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express.
“App?” I ask, resisting the urge to pull the butt floss out of my crack. Butt floss? Oh, yeah. After Declan dropped me off at the main doors to go hunt a wooly mammoth…er, find a parking spot (either were equally likely on December 23
at 3 p.m. in this particular mall parking lot), I’d found Greg, who had wordlessly handed me the elf suit.
I’ve seen models on GoDaddy Super Bowl commercials wearing more than this.
“App!” Mommy Masochist screams, texting while she’s yelling at me, her eyes on the screen but her lips devoted entirely to me. “The app!”
“An app for…what?”
Demon eyes flash at me and she holds up one perfectly French-tipped finger. “One second,” she says with a supercilious air that makes me want to crack that fingernail in half and use it like a ninja star to shave off that arched eyebrow. She’s blonde, hair pulled back in a twist, and she is wearing all red, open-toed shoes in December in Massachusetts, where nine inches of snow means everyone I know wears Fuggs and looks like a Jawa for four months of the year.
Red stiletto heels, open-toed and with these crazy ankle strap things that make her feet look like red flamingoes. If that’s fashion, then my Salvation Army wardrobe is starting to look good.
She ends her textfest and centers all her attention on me, taking as much time as she pleases to size me up. Her eyes catalog my bright green, satiny outfit, with sequins that spell out
Ho Ho Ho
across my boobs.
A careful examination under the blinking fluorescent lights of the employee bathroom two hours later will show that yes, indeed, I walked around the mall for three hours with just
on each nipple.
But I digress…
The green fabric cuts into my armpits, the shelf bra was designed for a ten-year-old gymnast, and what might have been appealing in a Mae West kind of way as the bustier pushes everything up instead makes me look like a can of Pillsbury biscuits.
One that someone pulled the string on.
The green, shimmery stockings are two sizes too small, and the crotch threatens constantly to pull down about six inches lower, which would make me look like I am wearing harem pants…except I’m wearing the closest thing to a g-string anyone can imagine, a tiny little red taffeta skirt circling my crushed hips like a bad case of eczema.
The costume design department for
Blades of Glory
is weeping with jealousy right now for not coming up with this.
Or maybe they did…
“Nice outfit,” Mommy Masochist says. “I need to speak with your manager,” she adds slowly. Her eyes cut away. “And tuck in your nip.”
I look down. Yep—headlight escaped, pointed right at the security guard by the service desk, who starts to stroke his billy club suggestively.
“Thanks,” I mutter, because one good turn deserves—
“Manager,” she snaps. “You’re useless. And slow.” Her face softens a little. “Are you—do you have a helper? An aide who works with you? I think it’s great you have a job and all. Is there a program manager I can—STOP IT, TYCHO! DO NOT SIT ON THAT BENCH! CREASE! CREASE!”
A cold rage replaces the scent of peppermint and pine that the mall is piping through the heat registers. I’m breathing ice and frost and I wish I had Elsa’s power, because I could freeze a bitch right now. Turn her into a mall Han Solo.
“I am not developmentally disabled,” I say, searching for Santa, er…Greg. He’s gone, and the line of moms, a few dads, and tons of kids is getting longer.
“Then you’re just stupid
useless. Why is there a wait? We paid the exclusive premium for Santa’s Special Delivery, and—”
“Ho, ho, ho!” Greg busts out, materializing from the direction of the bathrooms. Either he’s pretending to be Santa or he’s reading my breasts.
In full Santa costume, he’s pretty amazing. Breathtaking, really. His belly fills out the costume perfectly, his eyes twinkle in a warm, inviting way with the skin wrinkling around them in a calm, compassionate manner, and his beard is fake but so realistic I want to tug it, just to make sure he didn’t magically grow it overnight.
“Your elf is ruining Christmas!” Mommy Masochist announces in a voice loud enough to make several children, and one dad, start to cry. I suspect the dad is her husband, Daddy Doormat, because Tycho runs over to him and buries his face in the man’s knees.
“Crease, Thomas! Crease!” Thomas the Daddy Doormat is wearing white jeans (those are a thing? For men?) and a white turtleneck, with a red wool sweater the exact color of Mommy Masochist’s shoes.
“I’ve never had an elf ruin Christmas,” Greg booms, his voice so Santa-like that shoppers slow down from their fast clip through the mall, pull phones away from ears to gawk, and come to complete halts at the baritone that fuels old dreams tucked away long ago.
He’s kind of magical.
“In fact, Shannon the Elf here has come to our rescue to help make sure every good little boy and girl gets their turn.” It’s working—she’s thawing and smiling now, her eyes a bit frozen in place as she realizes she’s the center of attention but not in control of it. All those years of Greg playing Santa at the community center are paying off.
“Thank you,” she says softly, giving him a look that says she could just as soon hug him as sever his limbs and hide them in the Verizon kiosk. “But the app says we’re supposed to be here on time.”
“App, Santa?” I ask helplessly.
Greg pulls me aside. “There’s this new app the owners rolled out. For $79 you can sign up in advance and come at your appointed time and jump the line. No waiting.”
“So the rich get to buy their way to no lines but the people who can’t afford it have to wait for eternity? How is that fair?”
“Is it fair that when I was a kid Santa brought one toy and my neighbors all got five? Santa’s an unfair bastard.”
“What?” Mommy Masochist asks, eavesdropping. “Please keep your voice down!” she snaps at Greg. “I can’t have Tycho tormented by nightmares about hearing Santa talk about…
and calling him a bastard!” She throws her hands up and then reaches into her purse for her phone, muttering something about getting a refund and how nothing works properly these days because employees don’t know how to do their jobs.
I look at the enormous sea of wiggly children, tired parents, and crabby mall workers.
“What now, Santa?” I ask.
“Off we go,” Greg says, walking past Mommy Masochist and letting out a loud “ho ho ho,” to the children’s delight. The throne has a place for Santa to sit, and I’m there to hand out candy canes, keep people in orderly lines, and encourage the kids to look at the photographer, who charges $39 for a blurry photo of your kid sitting on the lap of a man who hasn’t gone through a CORI background check.
has, but not the average mall Santa).
Tycho is first in line. He looks at my chest and points, shouting, “I want nanas!”
Doormat Daddy gives my breasts a nervous grin and says, “Tycho, we’re all done with nanas. Remember? We had your weaning party—”
Greg turns the color of his beard and I turn the color of my elf suit as we both realize what “nanas” are.
“Want nanas! Want nanas!” Tycho screams. Visions of a three-year-old vampire-diving into my overflowing nanas and drinking direct from the tap—a decidedly dry tap—make me cross my arms and push back my breeding date by, well,
. How does never sound? Sorry, Mom. No billionaire grandkids. I’m too traumatized by being turned into an unsuspecting wet nurse while wearing a naughty elf costume.
“Crease! You’re creasing!” Masochist Mommy cries out.
And that’s kid number one in a sea of them.
One hour later I am ready to give myself a tubal ligation with a mascara wand.
Sex ed classes shouldn’t teach abstinence, or the mechanics of sex, or even birth control. They should march those teens to the mall two days before Christmas and make them play Santa’s Helper for a few hours. That would drop the teen pregnancy rate by a good fifty percent,
I love kids. I do. The world revolves around Jeffrey and Tyler when I’m with them, and in my thirties, after I make director or vice president, I plan to have a couple. Whether Declan wants them or not is still a mystery, because we don’t talk about it. Ever. There’s this shadow between us that seems to have formed not by intention but more by omission.
The longer we don’t bring it up, the bigger it becomes.
The photographer, a lovely older woman named Marsha, who dresses in a Mrs. Claus outfit that makes her look like Betty White, approaches me and Greg.
“My shift’s over,” she says, a bit nervous. “The new photographer is talking to the parents.”
We look at a man in black jeans, a grey leather jacket, and a collared business shirt talking to parents in line. Twenties are changing hands.
Greg stands and we put up the “Santa is Feeding the Reindeer—Back in Five Minutes!” sign. Parents groan, but the new photographer seems to be keeping them occupied.
“You know him?” Greg asks Marsha, who shakes her head.
“Never seen him before, but he says he’s a sub the owner sent. I texted the owner and he hasn’t replied, so…” She reaches for a clipboard on the small counter behind Santa’s throne and starts writing numbers on a spreadsheet.
Greg and I exchange a skeptical look. “We need to document this,” he whispers to me. “They either pay through the app or at checkout. Cash isn’t supposed to change hands.” One of the many sour aspects of being a mystery shopper and customer service evaluator is that you end up busting people who are embezzling, or cheating customers. It always involves cash.
Marsha looks at me with agitation and pulls me aside. “Your nipple is, um…” She points down and I growl, shoving the girls back in place.
“Thank you.” If this were a Dickens novel I would be the Ghost of Christmas Nip Slips Present.
“Jory was less…buxom,” she murmurs.
“The old elf. The one who always worked here before. So much turnover.” She slings her purse over her shoulder and gives a wave, looking repeatedly at the new photographer, then shrugging. “I’m doing some shopping, so I’ll pop back in after a while and see how it’s going. I’ve been here for nine seasons and I can spot someone who isn’t going to work out.”
Greg and I share a knowing look, and Santa turns away from the crowd to text the client and let them know what’s just gone down.
Marsha crooks one finger at me and whispers in my ear: “This Santa is too nice. Betcha he won’t make it two more days.” She has no idea who we are, so I play along.
Greg is texting the client, but then stops, alarm crossing his face. “Shit!” he exclaims.
“Hush!” I hiss. “Santa doesn’t say ‘shit’!”
“He does when the replacement Santa is stuck in the parking garage! Says he’s been in there for more than forty-five minutes and can’t find his way out.”
“I believe it,” says a familiar voice. Warm hands are on my shoulders, and Declan adds, “This parking lot is designed by planners who hate human beings.”
I laugh. He doesn’t. But he plants a kiss on my cheek and lets go of me, walking around and emitting a low whistle.
.” His eyes rest on the overflowing volcano of flesh that is my chest line.
“Ho,” he says as he looks at one breast. “Ho,” he says for the other. “Nice. It’s like a Christmas eye doctor’s chart.”
Greg’s texting furiously, then looks at us, horrified. “He says he just came out of the exit to the mall near the turnpike and he’s heading back home! Says it’s not worth it!”