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Santas & Snowflakes:
A FREE Christmas Read
By Rusty Fischer, author of Claus Encounters of the 25th Kind

 

Copyright © 2011 by Rusty Fischer
All rights reserved.

 

This is a work of fiction. All of the names, characters, places and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or, if real, are used fictitiously.

Cover credit: deborahatl – Fotolia 

Author’s Note:

 

The following is a FREE short story; any misspellings, typos or grammatical mistakes are all the fault of the author and will be cleaned-up prior to publication.
Enjoy!


Santas & Snowflakes

          I’m reaching for my elf costume when Mr. Bridges, my manager, clears his throat within striking distance.
          I say “striking distance” because every time he creeps up on me like that, I want to jab my elbow into his Adam’s apple, hear it crunch and then watch him writhe in agony on the floor!
          (Wow, Lily; where did that come from all of a sudden?!?)
          I know, I know, it’s supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year” but, dangit, every time Mr. Bridges skulks around it’s always to deliver bad news.
          “Lily?” he asks in his extra super dignified managerial voice he uses when there are others in the Snowflake Galleria employee locker room.
          “Mr. Bridges?” I reply. “Something I can help you with. I was just going to squeeze into my size small green elf tights so, unless you want an eyeful and perhaps get snapped when they finally burst at the seams, I suggest you—”
          “Yes, well, about that…” he interrupts, using that honey slow, southern voice he always adopts when trying to deliver bad news in a positive way. “It appears Blake is running a little late tonight so, he asked if you wouldn’t mind stepping in for him.”
          “Oh no,” I snap, fear turning my insides into pretzels of worry and self-doubt. “Mr. Bridges, please, please don’t ask me to do that!”
          How could Blake do this to me?
          He knows I get stage fright, he knows I hate sitting in “the big chair,” knows I’m afraid I’m going to say the wrong thing at the wrong time and destroy some little kid’s Christmas.
          Blake knows, in short, I have… drum roll, please… Santa Phobia!
          Mr. Bridges isn’t very patient or understanding.
          “Lily, when you signed on as one of Santa’s Helpers, you understood that at some point you might have to fill in for the big guy himself, now if you’ll just—”
          “But I don’t know how to play Santa, Mr. Bridges,” I whine, trying to keep the panic out of my voice.
          “Of course you do, Lily; you’ve watched Blake do so six nights a week since the day after Thanksgiving! In fact, come to think of it, I can’t think of anyone better suited for the roll.”
          I look around the half-empty break room at the six pairs of eyes currently shifting in their chairs to avoid the getting louder and louder holiday confrontation.
          “Mr. Bridges, there are five guys in this room who are all better suited to play a man named Kris Kringle than little old me!”
          Mr. Bridges quickly surveys the sampling of janitors, custodians and electricians all currently hustling to finish their sack lunches and beat a hasty retreat before they’re called into the big red suit.
          “None of these men are even close to being as prepared as you are, Lily,” Mr. Bridges leans in and whispers conspiratorially, as if giving me a backhanded compliment will suddenly convince me to conquer my Santa Phobia.
          Mr. Bridges is tall and lean and sharp, and his breath smells like the opposite of candy canes.
“But I’m a girl,” I hiss back, playing my trump card.
Because if it’s one thing Mr. Bridges is, he’s a traditionalist; men are always Santa, women are always elves.
Period, end of story, and it’s been that way ever since I’ve been coming to the Snowflake Galleria since I was a little girl.
          Bridges frowns, like he’s just now considering that fact, then looks me up and down.
          “Yes, dear, but with a little padding and that big, white beard, only a few of the kids will ever notice.”
          We argue for a little while longer, but the minute I hear the words “early termination for obstinate insubordination” exit his mouth, I meekly comply and trade in the green tights for the red velvet pants.
          Now, Blake is about 6-feet-tall and they’ve been tailored specifically for him, so it takes some doing to not only slide them on but roll them up enough at the top so I don’t fall fake beard over Santa cap the first time I try to take two steps.
          I’d just roll them up at the bottom if these were Blake’s jeans – and don’t I wish – but since there is a fluffy white cuff at the bottom of each pants leg, only the top will do.
          The suspenders that keep them up take tightening, too, and Mr. Bridges isn’t just a graceless manager but also a graceless technician; he tugs and pulls and yanks and knots until at last I can breathe again.
          Of course, that’s before I don the faded pink undershirt, the three pillows it takes to fill out the front of the pants and the giant red Santa jacket featuring six brass buttons it takes me, Mr. Bridges and two electricians to finally secure.
          “I feel like a Macy’s balloon in this thing,” I mutter somewhere about the third button.
          “Only around the middle,” says one of the electricians helpfully. “And the rear.”
          His nametag says “Ralph” and that’s appropriate, because after five straight weeks of dieting to fit into my New Year’s Eve cocktail dress, that’s what his ill-timed comment makes me want to do!
          At last we’re ready for the finishing touches.
          As I fiddle with the plain glass bifocals with the cheap gold finish, Mr. Bridges and his team of deputy electricians struggle to clasp the big black belt with the shiny brass buckle around my distended belly.
          When at last it’s in place and the electricians have scuttled away, giggling like schoolgirls and eager to spread the word about the “new Santa in town,” Mr. Bridges unceremoniously shoves me down onto the wooden locker room bench behind me.
          Thankfully Santa’s red satin pants come lined with extra shocks in back for long hours of seasonal sitting, or I’d be picking splinters out of my offended tailbone as we speak.
          “Hey!” I protest, nearly losing my fake glasses; Mr. Bridges merely holds up a pair of giant, gleaming black boots in reply.
          He slides them on but I can feel my toes rattling around about halfway up the giant boot fronts.
          He takes them back off and stuffs a few balls of newspaper from the cluttered break room table in the goes until I can walk without tripping over my own feet.
After that, well, there’s nothing left but a grand exit through the long tunnel leading toward Santa’s Snowflake Village, aka the rickety gingerbread house front and fake snow monstrosity that dominates the Snowflake Galleria food court from just after Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day every year.
          The boots squeak on the clean tiles of the hallways and I get a taste of celebrity as every cute female cashier, assistant manager and sales clerk I pass gives me bedroom eyes.
          “Is it always like this?” I ask Mr. Bridges, fake bearded cheeks flushing with jealousy.
          “Oh indeed,” he says cluelessly. “Blake has quite the following. I dare say he’s the most popular Santa we’ve had in years. You’ve got quite the boots to fill, Lily; figuratively speaking and literally.”
          Yes, Mr. Bridges is one of those people; specifically, one of those people who uses the term “figuratively speaking and literally” every two sentences.
          No wonder Blake always gets so cocky this time of year, strutting around tiny little Snowflake, South Carolina like the cock of the walk, grinning from ear to ear.
          Of course, it’s not like he’s any kind of slouch outside of the Santa suit, either.
          It’s just that something about seeing Santa and knowing there’s a big, strapping hunk sitting underneath all that red satin and fake hair is a turn-on.
          For some women, that is; not me, of course.
          After all, I’m merely one of Santa’s (humble) Helpers!
          It’s strictly forbidden for the elves to toss and turn every night, dreaming of what’s under Santa’s deliciously difficult brass buttons.
          I can hear the canned Christmas carols as we approach the final barrier between the back of the mall and the front, and I unconsciously begin to slow down.
          “Lily,” Mr. Bridges says furiously. “We’re already late to Santa’s Snowflake Village. Now, quit dragging Blake’s boots!”
          Something… happens… to Mr. Bridges before we burst through the double doors leading to Santa’s Snowflake Village.
          For all his talk of being late, he takes a pause, then a deep breath, then mutters some kind of mantra, like actors do while staring into their dressing room mirrors, then he stands two inches taller, puts one hand on each of the doors and swings them open dramatically.
          Fixing a leaden smile to his rubber face, Bridges leads me forth into the maddening throngs.
          My breathing is already heavy as the crowd begins to notice the giant red figure with the bugling belly and clomping boots whose suddenly stumbled into their midst.
          “Hey,” I hear one kid scream. “It’s Santa!”
          Then another bursts, “SANTA CLAUS!!!”
          They make a mad dash for us, sneakers on waxed linoleum, as Bridges runs interference, muttering over his shoulder the whole while, “Keep that smile going, Lily; this may be the only Santa these kids get to see this year.”
          “That’s what I’m afraid of,” I murmur, earning myself a quick reproach from Bridges.
          “Silence,” he snaps. “Santa only speaks when spoken to!”
          Children start tugging and pulling, despite my own personal bodyguard’s best efforts.         
          I smile through the nausea I’m feeling, and blink behind the suddenly foggy eyeglasses.
          I wave on instinct, hands muggy in their floppy white gloves as I try not to step on any of the children’s eager, dancing feet.
          Santa’s Snowflake Village looms a few yards away, a purposeful oasis of calm (for now, anyway) just outside the already bustling food court.
          It has little gingerbread storefronts that are empty in back, and a giant electric train called the Snowflake Express that runs all around the village.
          Fake snow mounds abound, piled high with shimmering red and green foil-wrapped packages as even faker snowmen wave dusty, plastic stick arms.
          The Christmas music is doubly loud here because it sits equidistant between four of the mall’s biggest speakers, all trained directly at our faces every night!
          (So help me if I hear the barking dogs’ version of “12 Days of Christmas” one more time I might just switch careers from Santa’s Helper to animal control!)
          There is a purple velvet rope and my stand-in for the night, Roberta Johnson from House wares (looking fab in a slapped together elf costume), greets me with a demure smile as she unclasps it for Mr. Bridges and me.
          “Break a leg,” she whispers, refastening the rope and sliding her arm into the handle of the red and green basket she’ll use to hand out miniature candy canes all night.
          “If only that would get me out of this,” I murmur weakly.
          Roberta gives me a sympathetic smile that is heavy with relief that it’s her out there and me in here.
          The giant, red velvet throne sits empty and waiting.
          Mr. Bridges leads me to it, milking his moment in the spotlight for every last second as kids begin lining up in throngs on the other side of Roberta’s VIP line.
          I can hear them whispering, gurgling and suddenly I feel like retching.
          For as long as I can remember, I’ve been afraid of Santa.
          Not just going to see him, which has always been terrifying in its own right, but… just… anything having to do with him.
          The decorations in my house are all snowmen and angels and candy canes and snowflakes, never Santa.
          I’ve even gone so far as to toss out the Santa cookie cutter that comes in the set of six I inevitably have to buy each season because I’ve lost one or two throughout the year.
          I don’t give my friends Santa gift bags and they know not to send me Santa greeting cards.
          Blake knows it, too; he’s always ribbing me about it on our frequent breaks by the pretzel stand where the perky blond coed behind the counter always gives him a free frozen lemonade because “he’s doing so much for the kids.”
          Yeah, right; if the kids only knew how their precious “Santa Blake” curses their names every time one of them steps on his toes, bites his finger or tinkles on his lap, he might not get so many adoring stares – OR frozen lemonades.
          Who am I kidding?
          Blake is charming in or out of the Santa suit.
          Me?
          Not so much.
          I’m about to crash and burn, live and in person, which actually might not be such a bad thing.
          At least after that, no one will ever ask me to play Santa again.
          The throne beckons, at last; there’s no avoiding it any longer.
          The kids are squirming, Roberta’s giving me “get on with it” death glares from the sidelines and Mr. Bridges is doing everything but literally shoving me down into the plush red seat – and don’t think he wouldn’t if there weren’t about 400 impressionable witnesses watching carefully, either.
          I take the seat only after bending my trembling knees to literally force myself to sit down, hands quivering as I grip the wide armrests tightly.
          “Remember the drill, Lily,” Mr. Bridges reminds me one last time before deserting me until my first break – in an ungodly 2 ½ hours! “One brief ‘Ho, Ho, Ho’ when they sit, ask their name, nod like you’re listening, ask what they want, nod again like you’re listening, one more ‘Ho, Ho, Ho’ as they leave and… lather, rinse, repeat, got it?”
          I nod nauseously, looking up with pained eyes he promptly ignores.
          He walks briskly away as I readjust myself to get comfortable and try to shove down the pillow-padding covering my lap enough so that it feels more natural.
          I watch as he shares a conspiratorial laugh with Roberta, no doubt at my expense, before giving her the signal to unleash my first visitor of the night.
          I swallow, wishing I’d brought along a bottled water like Blake always does.
          My mouth is dry and stale as a little girl of about eight strides up confidently, looking adorable in a gingham jacket with a bright red scarf.
          “Ho, Ho, Ho,” I say in my normal voice, suddenly realizing: I’m a girl!
          I quickly bellow, louder this time and deeper, much, much deeper, “Ho, Ho, Ho.”
          It sounds tight and strained and a little… scary.
          She says, as if we’ve known each other all our lives, “You sound funny, Santa.”
          “Sorry, little girl,” I grumble, giving my best Santa Blake impersonation. “What’s your name?”
          “Sylvia Collins,” she says, still skeptical as I pat my knee in the universal Santa gesture for “plant your bottom here, oh nosy one.”
          “You still sound funny,” she says inquisitively, looking up into my green eyes. “Almost like… a girl!”
          I shake my head and grumble, “That’s silly; everyone knows Santa’s a boy!”
          She looks at me funny and says, almost hopefully, “But he could be a girl, right?”
          I cock my head and smile. “It’s Santa we’re talking about here, Sylvia, remember? Anything’s possible!”
          That seems to put her mind at ease, at which point I kind of wish I’d left her feeling uncomfortable because now she feels free to list every toy she’s ever wanted, since birth, in alphabetical order.
          “Which toy do you want most?” I ask, remembering this little trick from listening to Blake six nights a week for the last month.
“More than any other toy,” I add before Sylvia can debate any longer.    
          “The Molly Madison Organic Bread Bakery!” Sylvia practically shouts, giving me the segue I need to gently nudge her off my knee and onto the red velvet lined step in front of me.
          “Sounds fun,” I say. “Ho, Ho, Ho!”
          Sylvia looks disappointed until I finally wink at her; then she winks back – it takes a little effort – and runs off to join her Mom waiting on the other side of Santa’s Snowflake Village.
          I watch as Sylvia stretches high on her polished black dress shoes – “Did she dress up to come see Santa?” I wonder idly – and whisper something in her mother’s ear.
          Mom looks at me with a slightly quizzical expression, then… smiles… nodding in confirmation of something, to Sylvia’s obvious relief.
          Her eyes are warm and almost… grateful.
          Word spreads quickly along the kiddy grapevine, to the point where before I’ve even uttered my second “Ho” the kids are curious to find out if Santa really IS a girl.
          The boys are skeptical, doubtful, almost… resentful.
          That is, until I growl and tickle them and then they don’t care anymore; they just want their toys.
          The girls, though, are taking this very, very seriously.
          They want to know how this works; I tell them Santa’s an equal opportunity saint.
          They want to know if the reindeer respect me; I tell them all except for that “Dancer jerk.”
          They want to know why I’m wearing a suit, not a dress; I tell them I spilled hot chocolate on my dress.
          It doesn’t take much to convince them; half the time they’ve spent so long grilling me that when Roberta shoots me her “that kid’s been on your lap too long” death glare of hers and I gently shoo them off, they disappear without even asking for anything.
          There are so many kids; more, it seems, than usual – and a former Santa’s Helper like me should know!
          The time for the first break comes and goes but the line is so long I know I’ll never get to all of them before the night is over if I stop now.
          Mr. Bridges approaches and I hold him off with a hand; “I’m fine, Phil,” I say, forgetting my place.
          His eyes get big, and then he smiles, nods and hands a bottle of water from his pocket to the next little girl in line.
          She brings it to me gently, offering it up almost… reverently.
          I say, “Thank you, little girl. What’s your name?”
          “April,” she says, looking at the water bottle in my oversized white glove. “I feel bad.”
          “Why honey?”
          “Because in all these years I’ve been coming to see you, I’ve never thought to bring you anything!”
          The gifts start coming shortly after.
          One little girl brings a candy bar, another a gingerbread cookie – still warm – from the food court, one boy brings one of those giant, round all-day suckers!
          I make a big show out of biting into everything they give me, if only to spit it out into the bottom layers of my beard and remove it between visitors.
          (Hey, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t need padding next year!)
          And still the kids come, and come and come and come.
          Usually by our second break, which is fast approaching, the crowds die down, even this close to Christmas.
          But from the look on Roberta’s frazzled face as the line continues stretching toward the food court and beyond, the crowd seems to be growing rather than thinning.
          So is the pile of gifts by my side.
          Soon it’s teetering over and threatening to topple, a giant mass of bubble gum packs and girl-sized barrettes and tiny Christmas ornaments and fuzzy white snowmen socks.
          At one point I look up to see a tiny girl bringing me a Mrs. Santa Barbie doll!
          I go to flick my eyes at Roberta, to give her a little girl-to-girl “Wtf” face, but instead I see a giant looming in front of the velvet ropes; Blake!
          He looks positively, but adorably, ridiculous in an elf costume, possibly even Roberta’s old costume, since she’s suddenly nowhere to be seen; the green tights hugging his long, hairy legs, the shade darker green shorts too short, the green jacket too tight, the pointy green hat with the jaunty red feather resting high atop his fluffy blonde curls.
          I snort and the little boy on my lap thinks it’s about something he’s said, which is fine because he’s been reeling off all these complicated monster movie toys for the last three minutes and I have NO idea what he’s talking about.
          I give him the old, “But which super monster alien invader toy would you want the most?” line and he’s still debating it when I gently shoo him off to his mother and Blake saunters over, limping slightly while little jingle bells jingle at the tips of his pointy red toes.
          “Blake,” I gush, never so happy to see him in my life. “You made it. What happened to your leg?”
          “I sprained my ankle playing softball,” he says in that southern twang of his I love so much. “Darndest thing. I’ll be fine tomorrow, but tonight… hey, Lily, I really appreciate you stepping in for me. I know how much you hate all this.”
          He has a knowing grin as I stammer, “N-n-no, I never said I hate all this, it was just a little… uncomfortable… at first.”
          “Uncomfortable, huh?” he asks, nodding. “But you’re okay to finish out the shift?”
          I have to force myself to temper my enthusiasm and say, softly, “If I have to.”
          “No, no,” he assures me, already limping away. “I’ll just go tell the kids the first-ever female Santa Claus to come to Snowflake is bailing and we can switch outfits and…”
          I look at the smiling faces milling about anxiously on the other side of the velvet rope, each eagerly clutching gifts, smiling, antsy on shuffling feet.
          “I’m already in it,” I bluff. “Besides, why rob myself of the chance to see you squeezed into those tights for the rest of the night?”
          Blake winks and my heart grows another size too big.
          “Where’d Roberta go?” I wonder out loud.
          He shrugs and says, “She bolted the minute I showed up. I’m kinda glad, though; this way I get you all to myself!”
While I’m busy trying to see through my suddenly foggy glasses – compliments from hunky man elves do that to me – Blake Elf unleashes the next little girl, who’s so eager to see me that she trips and stumbles on the steps at my feet.
          I stand, breaking about three dozen protocol for Santa, and help her up.
          She smiles gratefully, offering up a tiny snowflake lapel pin from the dollar store on the other side of the food court.
          It’s bent now and she looks sad but I hoist her onto my knee and tell her, “This way I’ll always remember who gave it to me.”
          She smiles and tells me her name, and that she wants to be Santa when she grows up, too!
          It’s a long, but also a quick night after that.
          The lines swell to bursting just around dinner time, then swell once more an hour before closing.
          I’m fed and watered all night, and only leave for five minutes to use the nearest restroom, Blake Elf and Mr. Bridges running interference while a smattering of girls try to follow me in.
          After that it’s a mad dash to closing time, with announcements running every five minutes.
          There are still dozens of little girls in line, and Mr. Bridges confers with mall security – aided by the loud, shrilling voices of dozens of those little girls’ mothers – to remain open until they’ve all been seen.
          Finally the line is down to one more little girl, who wanders up in mismatched socks and a stuffed bunny under her arm.
          She looks about seven years old, and sleepy.
          I say, “Ho, Ho, Ho” in my best Santa voice and she frowns.
          I wink and say it again, this time in my real voice.
          “I’m Pearl,” she says when I ask her name.
          “What can I bring you this year, Pearl?”
          “I knew it,” she gushes, ignoring me and climbing onto my lap without any assistance. “When my Mom came home and said there was a lady Santa at the mall, I couldn’t believe it. She even agreed to drive me here, even though it’s way past my bedtime.”
          “I’m glad she did, Pearl. Now, what can Santa bring you?”
          She looks at me and says, “Oh, I already told the man Santa last week. I just wanted to come and say ‘hi’ to the girl Santa!”
          I grin and sniffle and help her off my knee.
          Her mother is wearing a trench coat over a robe over pajama bottoms, conferring with Blake Elf as I stand to escort Pearl over to the other side of the velvet ropes personally.
          “She just had to come and see you,” says Pearl’s mother, turning around and smiling from a familiar face.
          “Roberta?” I gush, reaching out and hugging my former Santa’s Helper.
          (So that’s where she went!)
“I would have never let her stay up this late,” Roberta explains, patting little Pearl’s head. “But… this is history in the making, right?”
“Mommy?” Pearl asks as they begin sauntering away. “How does Girl Santa know your name?”
And I hear Roberta whisper, “Because Girl Santas listen better than Boy Santas!”
          I wave them goodbye and turn, seeing the waiting pen at Santa’s Snowflake Village empty for the first time all night.
          Blake limps up behind me, curled toes still jingling as his crooked smile puts the Christmas lights surrounding us to shame.
          “Bravo, Mrs. Santa,” he says, touching my shoulder gently.
          I flinch with intense pleasure and say, “Yeah, well, just don’t ever do that again!”
          He turns me around to face him and says, “Really? Never again? Ever?”
          I snicker and say, “Okay, well, maybe I’ll do a repeat performance next year. But we’ve got to advertise better. I’d like all the little girls in Snowflake to be able to come next time, not just…”
          Blake smiles and slings an arm around me as we walk toward the employee entrance that will take us to our lockers.
          Halfway down the hall, listening as Blake hums his favorite Christmas song, I notice something.
          “Your limp seems to come and go,” I mention knowingly. “And it’s plainly come and gone!”
          I slug him in the non-padded stomach, feeling the familiar curves of his six-pack abs.
          “Hey,” he grins, finally doffing his ridiculous elf cap and giving me his famous smile. “Someone had to get you over this ridiculous Santa Phobia of yours, Lily. Who better than… your husband?”
          “For now,” I say, patting his firm rear as we change into our civilian duds. “Try that trick again, and I might just be ‘Miss Claus’ by next year!”

 

Special Note from Rusty Fischer

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short story, Santas & Snowflakes. If you have, and would like to read 11 more FREE stories just like it, please hop over to Smashwords where you’ll find my completely FREE holiday anthology, The 12 Stories of Snowflake.

Each short holiday romance features a completely new couple, in a completely new scenario, but all feature the fictional town of Snowflake, South Carolina. Happy Holidays from me to you! (No matter what time of year it is!)


About the Author:
Rusty Fischer

          A full-time freelance writer, Rusty Fischer is the author of several supernatural romances for young adults, including Zombies Don’t Cry and Vamplayers, both from Medallion Press.
          His first contemporary romance for adults, Claus Encounters of the 25th Kind, comes out from Aspen Mountain Press in November 2011.
           Visit his “My Bromance” Blog at for romance writing tips, publishing advice, cover leaks, book excerpts and even MORE FREE Snowflake Stories!

 

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