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
“What did you say to me? In Russian?” I ask as I straighten my stockings and try to squeeze myself back into the sausage casing that masquerades as my elf costume.
He’s buttoning his Santa coat and doesn’t look up, just laughing to himself.
He won’t look up. “Let’s just say Santa’s sac will be visiting you quite a bit more often than once a year, and I need to look up the Russian word for ‘slutty.’ I only know the word for ‘whore.’”
“You called me a
while we were having sex?” I twist around to catch his eye so fast the g-string nearly gives me a colonoscopy.
“Not on purpose.” He opens the door and we walk out into the industrial hallway toward the public bathrooms.
“Not on purpose? You mean, like, ‘Whoops! I called you a whore in Russian while buried balls deep in you,’ like you might say, ‘Whoops, I forgot to pick up milk while I was at the store’?”
My words echo down the linoleum-floored hallway. And then I realize we’re not alone.
“See?” Mom says to Dad. “I told you we’re not the only ones who play The KGB Agent and the Bond Girl.”
“I am going to pretend I never heard that,” Dad says, making a beeline for the men’s room. He hands a still-fuming Chuckles over to Mom, who strokes his fur and hums “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” while Chuckles raises one paw and—if he had claws—looks like he’s imagining how he’s stroke Mom’s vocal cords and shred them while singing “Kumbaya.”
In that reindeer getup he looks an awful lot like Anthony Hopkins playing Hannibal.
“We need to get back to work!” Declan announces, storming off.
“Sounds like Santa was already in someone’s chimney, busy at work—”
I storm off and follow Declan. We come to the end of the hall and into the main part of the mall to raucous applause. The line is twice as long now, but no one has kids with them. It’s all elderly women and gay men.
Declan goes behind the Santa chair and I realize I need caffeinated reinforcement. I stumble over to the espresso cart near the service desk and dig into my breasts again. I can store anything in there, including a sweat-soaked twenty.
At least, I hope that’s sweat…
Two double Mexican mochas later, I come back to find Declan already in the chair, Amy and Mom there to help, and a series of old ladies from Mom’s yoga class tittering. I drink as much of my spicy-hot nirvana as I can before setting it down and getting back to work.
“You don’t smell like Santa,” one of them giggles, making fun of a line from the movie
. “You smell like beef and cheese!”
“Actually, he smells like sex,” Mom says cheerfully. I kick her.
“Elves can’t kick people!” Amy informs me. I kick her, too.
“Shannon the Violent Elf,” Amy mutters as she hands a candy cane to yet another old lady who just got more male muscle contact from my boyfriend than she’d had since he was born.
“Hi, Auntie Thannon!”
I look at Mom and Amy. “You have got to be kidding me.”
. “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Now smile!”
“Smiling is my favorite,” I say as I frown. Chuckles nods.
“Auntie Thannon!” Jeffrey and Tyler sprint through the crowd and both of them leap into my arms at the same time, knocking me backwards onto my ass. Something in my costume rips.
“Day-um!” Amy says just as Dad appears, his face shocked as he quickly looks away.
“Um, honey? Cross your legs. No one needs to see your clam,” Mom whispers in my ear.
“You have a clam?” Jeffrey asks. “I have a hermit crab. What’s your pet’s name?”
“What a nice surprise!” I shout in an overly friendly voice. Carol comes up behind them, eyes turned to triangles, narrowed with laughter at my appearance. “I thought the kids were too sick for you to work here.”
She ignores that comment. “Shannon the Christmas Can-Can Dancer. How nice.”
“At least there’s no nip slip,” I mutter.
“Lip slip,” Mom says, pointing to my crotch. A three-inch tear in the costume has, um, made private parts of me not so private.
I look around frantically for anything I can wear, then spot it. Perfect.
I wrap Declan’s green cashmere sweater around my waist.
“That’s cashmere!” Mom gasps. “It will pill!”
“My labia are on display in a place where people are snapping pictures at a rate faster than the paparazzi following Lindsay Lohan.”
“But it’s cashmere!” She’s scandalized. I don’t care.
“We’re here to see Santa and take the family Christmas picture,” Carol explains.
“There is no family Christmas picture!” I scream. My cries echo through the high-ceilinged mall at the exact moment the Muzak system cuts short and the service desk announces:
“We will now start the canine Santa time. I repeat, bring your favorite furry kids on down to Christmas Village and get some bow-wow-wow holiday cheer.” The clerk says this with the enthusiasm of a Brazilian announcing Germany’s win in the World Cup.
“Let’s give Tyler and Jeffrey a turn first,” Mom pleads as a slow trickle of dogs on leashes, attached to green-and-red-covered owners, makes its way to the Christmas Village.
Carol grabs five-year-old Tyler, marches over to Declan, and unceremoniously plunks him down. Tyler hates strangers. Despises face hair. Can’t stand loud noises. And yet he looks calmly at Declan with absolutely no facial expression whatsoever, eyes blinking.
“What do you want Santa to bring you, buddy?” Declan asks in a soft voice, familiar with my nephew’s language disorder. For a kid who can’t say much, little Tyler looks Declan firmly in the eye and says:
“You need to pee.”
Tyler confuses “I” and “you” and is potty trained, but…
Declan jumps up and Carol swoops in, hurrying my little nephew off to the bathroom as his older brother, eight-year-old Jeffrey, climbs shyly onto Declan’s—er, Santa’s—lap.
don’t need to pee,” Jeffrey assures us. His lisp that was deeply pronounced just eight months ago has faded, a hint of it left. His features have broadened and he’s in third grade now, on the cusp of being a bigger boy. This might even be his final year in Santa’s lap.
Mom snaps picture after picture, ignoring her duties and reveling in being Grandma. Dad beams and records the whole little moment as Jeffrey chatters on and on and on, giving Santa a list of requests longer than anything you’d find on the wish list of one of the wives in those fancy reality television shows about over-consuming rich people.
Carol rushes back with a (hopefully) emptied Tyler as we all hear Jeffrey loudly request the latest video game system, and then he goes quiet.
“But I have one final thing, and Santa?” he whispers.
“First of all, I know you’re really Declan, because Santa needs lots of helpers, and you’re one of them.”
Declan, er…Santa just smiles.
“But, um, I’ll ask anyway.” He goes still, his face falling. I swallow, my mouth dry, and all the ambient sounds of the mall fade to a series of whispers, like time slows down.
“I don’t need any of those video games or systems or points. I don’t even need the robot. What I really want is my dad.”
Tears prick at my eyes, and Carol’s hand floats to her mouth, trembling.
“Can you tell the real Santa I just want my dad for Christmas? Or, maybe”—Jeffrey’s eyebrows connect in concentration—“maybe if he’s too busy, like Mom says, maybe just
Declan’s eyes register so many emotions—surprise, anger, compassion, confusion, befuddlement—but he manages to stay composed as Mom, Amy, Dad, and I try to secretly wipe tears away. Dad’s spare hand is in a fist, the other one still taping the scene. He’s angry not at Jeffrey (of course), but at Todd, my older sister’s ex-husband who took off and who hasn’t seen his sons in far too long.
Casting his eyes about, Declan catches mine and I shrug in solidarity. I don’t know what to say, either. Whatever Declan says is fine, because no one can do the right thing here.
Other than Jeffrey and Tyler’s father, and he isn’t exactly in the running to provide a Christmas miracle.
“Tell you what, buddy,” Declan says quietly. Carol is furiously wiping tears away and turns her back on the scene. Mom’s standing there, sniffling. Amy is looking at me, our exchange one that doesn’t need words.
“What?” Jeffrey says, eyes down. A rumble of dog sounds builds around us as big dogs and little dogs, hairy dogs and shaved dogs, all line up for their chance at Santa.
“I’ll tell Santa what you want, just like you asked me to.”
“You will?” Jeffrey’s eyes light up, his face completely changing to one of pure joy. “Do you think he’ll help bring my dad home?”
Declan widens his eyes, the fake white eyebrows covering for a multitude of emotions no eight-year-old could understand. Hell, the twenty-nine-year-old man in the costume is clearly struggling to comprehend.
“Um, well, Jeffrey, I don’t know. Santa isn’t all-powerful, but I know—I
Jeffrey nods somberly. “Okay.”
“But I know something else.”
“Even if your dad doesn’t come for Christmas, I can’t be a dad for you, but I can be an uncle.”
Mom gasps and shoots her eyes my way. I drop the candy cane in my hand. Everyone stops breathing. Declan’s eyes are only on Jeffrey, whose head is bent so close their foreheads are touching.
“Uncleth are great! I’ve never had one before! My dad only has sisterth. Mom only has sisterth. I have a ton of aunts so I don’t need any more, but an uncle is wicked cool!” His lisp comes out when he’s excited.
Declan envelops Jeffrey in an enormous bear hug. His eyes are glistening with undropped tears as he says to the boy, “Be good for your mother, and nice to your brother.”
Jeffrey whispers something in Declan’s ear. It makes them both smile, and Declan says, “You bet.”
And then my little nephew scampers off, leaving the rest of us with shattered hearts. Declan looks at me and winks, then addresses the crowd.
“Ho, ho, ho, merry Christmas,” Declan bellows as he sees the crowd of dog owners lined up. If we weren’t so crushed for time I’d try to talk to him—
—but we can’t. The new Santa is coming in fifteen minutes, but we have to do this last bit.
Mommy Masochist comes running over with a yappy Bichon Frisé in her hands, perfectly white (of course), uncreased, and wearing green and red bows.
Dad drops Chuckles to the floor and I realize the poor cat is on a leash. No wonder he’s plotting more violent deaths for us.
“I reserved my time for my family picture with our dog, Mr. Puffinschmitz Snowfighter III at exactly 4:55 p.m., which is in exactly one minute, and I expect—”
“Is she wearing ankle laces?” Dad asks under his breath, just as—
“AAAAIIYYYYYYYY,” Mommy Masochist screams as Chuckles pees all over one ankle. She kicks Chuckles across the room, where he lands right in Santa’s lap. Declan shouts and Chuckles hisses, back arched to the full in a complete and utter feline imitation of Mommy Masochist, who is screaming in a pitch made only by dog whistles.
Two giant German Shepherds break free from their owners and descend on Chuckles and Declan, one of the dogs encasing the cat’s head entirely with its mouth, though Chuckles maneuvers just so, leaving the dog with a mouth full of antlers, clinging to Declan’s lap.
“Off! Down! Ho ho ho!” Declan shouts. Chuckles sprints to a giant water fountain and springs into the air, landing with a furtive grace on the very edge of the top marble tier of a five-layer water cascade. He pauses to lick a paw as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
“Chuckles!” Mom screams, racing to the fountain. “Get down!”
SPLASH! A Great Pyr jumps into the fountain, followed by a rush of dogs that resembles something out of
. A gaggle of Segway-powered mall cops appears, blowing whistles and accomplishing absolutely nothing as Amy, Dad, Carol, Jeffrey, Tyler, me, and Declan all run to the fountain to try to do, well,
Tyler crawls into the fountain and shouts “Wa-duh! Wa-duh! Da dog is in da wa-duh!”, splashing with glee.
Carol stares in surprise. “That’s a new sentence!”
Mom, Dad and Amy grin as Jeffrey jumps in, too, and begins scooping his hands into the water and stuffing handfuls of something in his pockets. He’s soaked, and tiny dogs swim past him in the eighteen-inch-deep water, their heads tipped up, eyes on the prize of Chuckles, who now rules over his domain.
The King of the Mall.
“Money!” Jeffrey shouts. “Fwee money! Look, Mommy. It’s fwee!”
I hear laughter behind us as a crowd of mall shoppers just takes in the scene, a few taping it. Josh is laughing in the crowd, across the large fountain from us, and he pulls his phone out. He snaps a ton of pictures as Mom cries out for Chuckles and the rest us just laugh, the kids throwing handfuls of “fwee money” from the wishing well into the air.
A white-haired old man lingers by Santa’s seat, and I realize it’s Declan’s replacement. He’s standing next to a shapely young woman.
“Hi!” I ask. “Are you the new Santa and elf?”
She eyes me up and down. “I, uh, brought my own suit.”
“What’s ‘O O’ for?” the old man asks, looking at my boobs. I look down.
“Great. More sequins fell off,” I mutter. My breasts tell people what to say when they’re coming. Excellent. Directing them to the changing area, I sigh a big, long blast of relief. We’re done.
We made it through the miracle of Christmas.
Two strong arms wrap around me, bending me backwards in a dip so low my loose hair brushes the carpet. Soft, hot lips cover mine and a fake beard presses into my face, a welcome tongue exploring and teasing as Declan’s hands hold me in place, his heart cradling me, too.
He pulls back and I look up, dizzy with desire and joy. “I love you,” I say.