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This is my submission for the 2014 Holiday contest. It’s primarily a romance with a Christmas theme. I hope you enjoy it.
I’d like to thank Bramblethorn for editing this story for me. Her comments and edits are very much appreciated.
I was having the Christmas dream again. I have the dream every year at Christmas time. In the dream, I am a little girl, five years old. It was Christmas Eve and I was asleep in the overstuffed chair in the living room. I was wearing a long cotton night gown and I was sitting in the chair with my legs drawn up, and the night gown was stretched tightly over my knees. Our family Christmas tree was hung with tinsel and ornaments. Next to the chair, on the table were homemade sugar cookies and a glass of milk. In my dream, I was awoken and when I looked up, there was Santa Claus, standing in front of me nibbling on a cookie that my mother and I had so lovingly decorated.
When Santa saw that I was awake, he knelt by the chair, and took my hand.
“Hello Emily, how are you tonight?”
I looked down, and buried my face in my nightgown. I could feel my burning cheeks against the cool cloth.
“My dear child…” He paused and a single tear slid down from the corner of one eye. “I’m very glad we got to meet tonight. I can tell you’re a very special girl with a lot of love in your heart,” he continued.
Looking up, I smiled shyly at him. “Thank you,” I whispered.
“If you can keep the love in your heart, I think we will meet again someday.”
He placed his hand on the side of my face, leaned over me and kissed the top of my head, and I fell back into sleep.
I woke up from my dream to the gentle chiming of my alarm. The dream had come a little earlier than normal this year. It was the first Saturday in November and I needed to get moving. Today was elf-training! That’s what I called it in my mind anyhow. This season I was going to work evenings and weekends at the mall as one of Santa’s helpers. I was really excited about it. I love children, and the thought of being around so many excited little kids was just too wonderful to pass up.
I ran a brush through my hair, and did my minimalist makeup routine: a touch of blush, some mascara, and a quick swipe with some lip gloss. Looking at myself in the mirror, I took a quick inventory. Not bad. At 25, I still enjoyed the full bloom of youth. I’m about 5’5″, and trim with cute breasts, shoulder-length red hair, and blue eyes.
With a quick goodbye to my cat Romeo, I headed out the door, and caught the bus to the mall.
The training session was being held in an empty space near the south end of the mall. When I walked in, I saw a half-dozen girls all younger than me, and the person that I guessed was going to be our Santa. I did a double-take when I saw how closely he resembled the Santa from my dream. It was uncanny. He smiled up at me and then turned his attention back to the person he’d been talking to.
Right after I came in, another woman entered. She was a few years older than me and I was entranced. As she glided noiselessly into the room, I furtively looked her over. She was the most amazing creature I’d ever seen. She had waist length black hair done in a loose braid that tumbled down her right side, accenting her curvy breasts. Her eyes were dark, and her eyebrows were full and perfectly shaped. She had cheeks that were high and proud, and rich lips that stopped just short of being pouty. Her frame was very slender, and she was wearing a peasant blouse that made her look both warm and inviting. It was tough to guess her height because she was seated in a wheelchair. She wasn’t “stunningly beautiful”, but I could see in her face and eyes a depth and complexity that I knew would be terrific to be around. As I looked at her, I felt a warm tingle go through me, and an urge to get to know her.
When she wheeled into an empty space near the end of one table, I quickly sat in the chair beside her. As she looked me over, I could feel myself blushing. One of the curses of being a red-head is that with my pale blue complexion, when I blush, it’s pretty obvious.
Pushing myself past my embarrassment, I introduced myself.
“Hi there, I’m Emily!” I grinned.
A warm smile spread on her face.
“My name’s Daphne Winston, kind of a weird name huh? I guess my parents were really into Scooby Doo” she said, grinning lopsidedly.
“I can understand that. My mother named me after her favorite poet, Emily Dickinson. I’m so excited to be here today,” I blurted. “I LOVE Christmas, and I love kids. How about you? Do you love children?” I was practically hyperventilating from the combination of her presence, and my anticipation at being Santa’s helper.
“I do. When I was a tween, a friend and I used to babysit all of the kids in my neighborhood. It was an awesome time for me.” But she sounded sad.
Just then, the woman from the talent agency called for everyone’s attention.
“Welcome everyone. I’m so glad to see you all. casino siteleri I think we’re going to have a wonderful time this year. I want you all to know that everyone here was highly recommended for this position. We’re also incredibly fortunate to have as our Santa this year, Mr. Chris Norling. Mr. Norling will start today’s presentation.”
“Thank you Ms. Larsson.” His eyes were twinkly, and he had a ruddy, flushed appearance and while he wasn’t fat, he was soft and sort of rounded. He exuded a warmth and confidence that made him seem to be the kindest and gentlest man I’d ever seen. When his words came, I felt a simple joy swelling in my chest. He was amazing. “I must say I’m so excited to be here with you all. I’ve worked as a Santa for a number of years, and I can’t say I’ve ever seen a group of helpers that were livelier, more intelligent, or more beautiful. I can tell that we’re going to have an excellent season together.”
As he sat down, bashful smiles burst into blossom on every face, including Ms. Larsson’s.
The morning was spent going over how to use the photo equipment that would produce pictures of the children with Santa, and policies (no flirting with parents). During a break, Daphne and I talked with each other.
“Do you mind if I ask what you do?” Daphne queried. “Most people are kind of uncomfortable around disabled people, but you seem to be doing OK.”
“I’m a first grade school teacher. When I was in college, I worked at a teen camp, and we had two groups of disabled teens every year. Not developmentally disabled, but physically disabled. So I guess it’s pretty normal for me. I could act more awkward if it would help,” I said earnestly.
Daphne placed one of her hands on mine. The physical touch was unexpected but felt so natural. She smiled and looked into my eyes and said: “You’re a nut, you know that right?”
There was a softness, and a hint of longing in her voice that put little butterflies in motion in my stomach. “Are you OK?” she said, concerned. “I really didn’t mean anything.”
Taking a deep breath, I fought the butterflies down, and pushed my happy face back on. “So, tell me about yourself, what do you do?”
Confusion ran over her face for a second and I could tell she was trying to work out how much to say, and the right tone to say it in.
“I work for the county in the children’s services division as a child protection caseworker,” she said, looking down.
“Wow,” I exclaimed. “That’s an amazing job. I can’t imagine the heartaches you must see every day. You must be a very strong person to do it,” I mused. “I wish my well of compassion were that deep. I’m really super-impressed…”
Daphne flushed and looked embarrassed. “It’s really not that bad…”
“How did you become interested in social work?” I asked.
“Well, when I was fifteen, my mother had kind of a crazy spell. I ended up living in a kind of group home the county provided. They gave me a small income and checked in on me every now and then. I got to know my case worker really well, and as corny as it sounds, I saw what a difference she made for me and I wanted to be able to do that for other children. I’ve only been doing it for four years now.”
“Well,” I started, “I want you to know that I think you’re a super-hero and I really admire you.”
Blushing again, she turned forward as the training session resumed.
At noon the training ended, and I suggested that we have lunch together in the food court. As we ate, we talked back and forth about our plans for the holiday season.
“About the only definite plan I have is that 17 of my fellow teachers and I are going to rent a condo and go skiing for a few days after Christmas,” I said.
“What about your family?” she asked.
“My mother died when I was seven, and my father died right after I graduated from college. My parents were both only children. I have a few distant cousins but we don’t really hang out that much. What about you?”
“Well, I never really knew my father, and things with my mother are pretty non-existent. I try to stay away from her just to protect myself. I guess the wounds haven’t quite healed,” she said ruefully.
We talked for another hour, and then we wandered around the mall, looking various things. We happened to go by a lingerie shop.
“Oh,” I exclaimed, “we have to go in here! My secret vice is that I have to wear sexy underwear!” I laughed.
Near the door was a gorgeous light pink bra that was decorated with lace appliques. Holding it up to myself, I asked her what she thought.
“It’s lovely” she said softly. Her face sort of flushed for a second and then she looked away, and exclaimed “Oh, look over here! I’ve been needing some flannel pajamas!” and she wheeled over to them. After much debate, she settled on a light pink pair decorated with hearts and roses. I thought they were totally cute!
As we paid for our purchases, I glanced at my phone to check the time. “Oh,” I exclaimed, “I need to get going. The bus I need to catch slot oyna is in ten minutes, and the next one isn’t until after the mall closes.”
“I’ve got my truck,” Daphne said warmly. “I’d be happy to take you home.”
“Would you mind? That would be great. People get kind of single-minded this time of year, and some a little sad, and the bus isn’t the nicest place to be then.”
Heading for the exit we went out to the parking lot. Daphne had a pickup truck with a little hoist that came out and lifted her chair into the back. I was surprised when she awkwardly got out of her chair and took a few halting steps to climb in.
“Oh, you’re not totally paralyzed,” I said wonderingly.
“No, my accident just badly injured my back. I can walk really short distances, but anything more than about three steps makes me pay for a couple of days.”
I frowned looking at her. “That really sucks,” I said angrily, “here you are a genuine superhero, and you have to be disabled and in pain a lot.”
I thought I saw a small tear in the corner of one eye, and she smiled softly and whispered “Thanks. It’s awesome knowing that you think I’m a hero. The pain’s usually not that bad.”
The next few weeks were a lot of fun. The kids loved Mr. Norling. I remember thinking what a gift he had. A child could be cranky, tired, and just plain rotten, but once they got on his lap they were transformed into shy innocents that never wanted to leave. Sometimes when a parent couldn’t afford to buy the pictures, Mr. Norling would catch Daphne’s eye and give her a wink. She would tell the parents that the photos were a gift for their Christmas and at the end of the night Mr. Norling would pay for them out of his own pocket.
Whenever Daphne and I could, we would meet before our shift, or after for dinner together. I shared the story of my life, the early loss of my mother, and how it was growing up with my Dad. I told her about how my Dad helped me prepare for prom, and she told me about the endless procession of roommates she’d had to endure in the IL house. Other times, she would talk about her job, and the children she was trying to help. As I got to know Daphne, I realized just how incredibly complex she was. She would do really well with the kids, but sometimes when a parent was losing patience, I saw her eyes ice over and a terrible glare overcome her face. When I started to catch on to this, I kept a close eye out and when I saw something was happening I would try to work with the kid or parent to smooth things over. It came to a head one Thursday evening. A woman went by us dragging her little girl and at the same time berating her and telling her how worthless she was, and how her father was a worthless piece of filth, and she would never amount to much. I was shocked. When I recovered some composure, I saw that Daphne was frozen, and tears were rolling down her eyes. Her face was a mask, and her lips were pursed together so tightly, there was just the thinnest line where her mouth should have been.
Leaning forward I wrapped my arms around her and hugged her fiercely.
“I’m so sorry. She was wrong to do that.” As she shuddered and the tears streamed down her face, I caught Mr. Norling’s eye and nodded toward the bathroom. “Come on, I need to go to the bathroom.” Walking around behind the chair, I grasped the handles and pushed her towards the women’s bathroom. Once I got her inside, I wordlessly knelt and held her tightly again. Her plaintive sobbing redoubled.
“I’m so sorry honey. I’m so sorry. It’s OK, shhhh… It’s OK baby. I’m so sorry. It’s OK Daph, I’m so so sorry…” I repeated over and over. My heart was breaking as I felt my wonderful hero crushed in my arms. I had an overwhelming urge to find the woman and yank her daughter away from her so that she would never turn into my beautiful wounded Daphne.
After a few minutes her sobbing subsided and she looked up at me. Her eyes were rimmed red, and her mascara was smeared. Her nose was kind of swollen and was running. She was devastatingly adorable in my eyes… I guess what I’m trying to say is that in that instant I realized I adored her. Overwhelmingly, and unconditionally. I was struck by the idea my whole life had been riding on the world’s most boring roller coaster, and suddenly the track had fallen away into a screaming dive and I now understood the wonder and excitement.
“Why are you so sorry? It’s not your fault. You’re not the one who hurt me,” she sniffled.
“I know that. I’m just so sorry that you had to go through it. You’re a wonderful person, and you didn’t deserve what she did. Do you want to tell me what happened?”
“I’m sure you’ve pretty much figured it out. When I was a little girl, I heard those things from my mother,” she said emotionlessly. “My mother is a terrible person. She’s mean, abusive, arrogant, and a lot more. When I took abnormal psych, I tried and tried to come up with a diagnosis for her. I was really trying to come up with some way to excuse her for who she was, and how she had treated canlı casino siteleri me. What I realized was that she didn’t have a personality, or mental disorder. She just plain hates me and likes doing whatever she can to destroy me.”
Wordlessly, I handed her another tissue, and after a minute of silence, she worked on her makeup briefly and then led us back to Santa’s Workshop.
While I had comforted Daphne, the storm that had been threatening all day broke. The weather forecasters had been hyping it for days, calling it the “storm of the century”, but I sincerely doubted that. When you live in our state, you learn to laugh at them. Still, sometimes they’re right.
Tight, dry flakes were flying, and the wind was starting to pick up. Looking out the doors, I couldn’t see the lights at the outside edge of the parking lot. The mall was rapidly emptying and the other elves were working on shutting down Santa’s Village.
Daphne looked at me. “Would you like a ride home tonight?”
“Are you OK? I’m worried about you,” I said.
She nodded.”I’ll be OK.”
“I don’t know, I’m worried about you driving across town twice to take me home and get to your place,” I paused. “I’d feel better if you would let me spend the night with you. I mean, could I sleep on your couch?” I didn’t want to leave her side tonight, and at the same time, I felt flustered.
Smiling shyly, she nodded and we moved towards the exit.
It was a bitch getting into her truck. I found out that wheelchairs suck in the snow, and the deep ruts left in the frozen slush made things almost impassable. We got about halfway to where she was parked, and I had to go to the truck and get her crutches. I took the crutches to her and then carried the wheel chair to her truck. Finally, I returned to her and we navigated the last torturous yards to her truck together.
When we got to her apartment complex, we reversed the process. I took the chair to the door, and then returned and helped her navigate through the deep snow. By the time we got to the building, the pain was visible on her face.
“Are you going to be OK?”
“It looks like it’s going to be a Percocet night.” She winced. Then she shrugged, and led me into the elevator and up to her apartment. The space was clean and neat, but the oppressive darkness caused by the storm and visible through the windows made me shudder slightly. Still, the couch looked big and squashy and comfortable, and Daphne turned on the gas fireplace for me. After a minute, the blue flames brightened and turned yellow.
“The couch looks super comfy!” I called. “Thanks for letting me stay with you.” Daphne was over at the sink, fishing a pill out of a disturbingly large prescription bottle. As I watched, she swiftly threw the pill in her mouth and washed it down with some water.
“I’m afraid it’s not as comfortable as it looks,” Daphne started. “I’ve got a queen-size bed. We could share if you wouldn’t mind. Please? Could we cuddle? I feel so lonely tonight.”
I looked out the windows at the snow swirling, and I saw the desolate solitude of a single lamp in the parking lot. I could feel the beating of the wind against the building, and the beating of my heart, and I thought of the comfort in my friend’s arms.
“That would be awesome.” I smiled.
“Let me get changed.” She grinned. Going over to a dresser, she pulled out a couple of large t-shirts and handed one to me. “Here you go. Hope you don’t mind it’s kind of nerdy,” she giggled.
Unfolding the shirt, I looked at it and squealed, “Oh my god, it’s a Totoro shirt. I love Totoro. It’s my favorite movie! My dad and I used to watch it together. It was his favorite too!”
If you’re not a nerd, My Neighbor Totoro is this Japanese anime move. It’s about a family that moves into the country. The mother is sick and in the hospital, and the children meet a forest spirit or Totoro. There’s this magical pagan scene where the children and Totoro dance around a tree that had just been planted. Every time I watch the movie I remember the wonder of the first time that I saw it.
“I love Miyazaki! Studio Ghibli films are my favorite. I think I die every time I watch Howl’s Moving Castle. Sophie is so beautiful when she’s restored. I just adore the way she’s transformed. The way her experience changed her on the inside and out,” I gushed.
We carried on for a few more minutes, and then Daph excused herself to get changed in the bathroom. After she finished, I went into the bathroom and saw that she had left out a new toothbrush for me. While I brushed my teeth, I stared at myself in the mirror. There was something subtly different about my look. I knew I wasn’t magically looking sexier or prettier, or skinnier, nor thank goodness any fatter. My hair was still wet from the blowing snow, and I could see that I was sort of in a state of disarray. It took me until I was done to come up with it.
I looked content.
I felt like I was living in the moment, and the moment was all I was ever going to need. I’d never felt so free, or so joyful. In that precious moment, I could feel the difference between happiness and joy, and I knew the joy was coming from feeling complete. With a shock, I realized that Daphne made me feel whole.
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