Authors: Alice Bex
A Rom Com Novella
Eight Days Until Christmas
Morgan wove her way through the crowded mall. Half of Seattle had chosen Thursday evening to do their Christmas shopping. A trio of heavily-laden shoppers almost knocked Madeleine down. They pushed past her without a backward glance.
“So much for Christmas Spirit!” Madel
eine grumbled to her sister Ami.
just shrugged, shifted her shopping bags from one hand to the other and told six-year old Emily, “Switch.” Emily obediently wriggled from one side of her favorite aunt to the other.
Emily, you forgot to point out that Aunt Ami didn’t say please,” Madeline said, a bit petulantly.
Christmas shopping didn’t bring out
Madeleine’s best side. Frankly, nothing about Christmas appealed to her anymore. Her ex-husband had stripped the holiday of its charm four years ago when—on Christmas Eve—he had informed her that he wanted “a break to think things over.” By “break” he’d meant a two-week holiday in Bermuda with a woman 10 years younger and 20 pounds lighter. Chad, the ex in question, was now enjoying life as a wealthy, carefree bachelor. Madeleine, in contrast, was slogging through life as a stressed-out single mother the wrong side of 30 working for a nightmare of a boss who—
Madeleine’s bitter thoughts were interrupted by Emily
“Mommy, I want to see Santa.
Madeleine followed Emily’s pointing finger. Sure enough, there was Santa. There was also a line snak
ing around the white picket-fence enclosure surrounding Santa’s plastic iceberg throne which looked long enough to reach back to the real North Pole.
“The line’s too long.
It’ll take 45 minutes just to get to Santa.”
“But, I said
‘please’,” Emily pointed out.
’Please’ isn’t a magic word.”
started laughing. Madeleine amended her statement. “’Please’ may be The Magic Word, but it’s not the same kind of magic word as ‘Abracadabra’.”
“Can I see Santa, Abracadabra?”
Madeleine was dead tired. She’d already put in a 10
-hour day. She’d spent most of it in court representing the world’s slimiest cheater. Who did he think he was—trying to get out of paying his soon-to-be ex-wife alimony? Why did her boss keep pawning off these slime-balls on her? It should be obvious by now that her heart wasn’t in it.
mily was still tugging at her elbow.
I’m sorry, Emily, but I still have to find a present for Uncle Joe. I’m not coming back to the mall another day. One trip through this circus is quite enough, thank you very much!”
at are you saying ‘thank you’ for?” asked the ever-literal Emily. Were all six-year-olds such sticklers for accuracy? Madeleine ignored Emily’s question and retrieved the shopping bag that had slipped from her grasp.
Joe’s present won’t make it to Hong Kong before Christmas,” Ami pointed out.
“I know, but I’d feel bad if
we hadn’t even bought our little brother a present,” Madeleine protested. “It’s the fact that it’s in the mail that counts.”
“I still can’t believe that we have a little brother living in Hong Kong.”
“Well, if you’d been offered a deal like he’s getting, you’d move to Hong Kong, too,” Madeleine pointed out.
Ami sighed. “I knew I should have gone into high-finance instead of social work.”
“Oh, come on. You know you’d be miserable doing anything else.”
Emily had been holding her peace while her mother and aunt were talking, but she hadn’t refrained from tugging her Aunt Ami’s arm at intervals.
“Well, how about you pick something out for Joe from both of us?” Ami suggested. “Light and easy to mail, unless you’re bank-rolling the cost of shipping.” As Ami pointed out every Christmas, it usually cost three times as much to send the gift as the present was worth.
“You mean you still haven’t found a way to make helping the homeless pay?” Madeleine joked. She sometimes teased her sister about her career choice, but at least
Ami had the satisfaction of knowing that she was actually making the world a better place. Being a divorce lawyer, on the other hand—
Emily still hadn’t given up on seeing Santa.
She resumed her tugging and made deliberately sad eyes at her aunt.
“Abracadabra,” she said plaintively.
“I’ll stand in line with
Emily,” Ami said. “You can finish your shopping and meet us back here.”
Madeleine gave in.
She’d be back in 45 minutes. Just in time to see Emily sit on Santa’s lap, she promised.
Jameson gave his wooly white beard a tug. The adhesive was almost dry. Good. He was due on in 5 minutes. During his very first shift as Santa, Mark had discovered that plenty of glue was essential. That first evening, Mark’s beard had been tugged off a dozen times, much to the amusement of the waiting crowd.
Mark checked himself in the mirror. He adjusted his fake belly. Being a personal trainer wasn’t the best preparation for pulling off a traditional Santa physique.
Personal trainer past-tense, Mark corrected himself. The past-tense part was how he came to be playing Santa in the first place.
“Ho, Ho, Ho!”
Mark boomed into the mirror. He tried to make his blue eyes twinkle, but he wasn’t feeling very jolly.
his white curly wig and Santa hat over his short blond hair. He pulled on his big black boots.
“You ready in there?” A gruff voice
enquired from outside the door.
Mark pushed the door open. It was Horace
, the early-evening shift Santa.
and get out there,” Horace advised. “It’s up to an hour wait now and the tots are ready to riot!”
Mark took a deep breath and stepped
through the door. There must be an easier way of making rent.
Mark spotted her before he even made it to his
plastic ice-throne. Madeleine Morgan. Right there in line to see Santa. Her hair was short now and brunette instead of blond. But then, he knew that already. He hadn’t kept in touch with her brother Joe for nothing. He’d spent more time than he liked to admit sifting through Joe’s pictures on social networking sites hoping for a glimpse of her.
was just as beautiful as he remembered her. He couldn’t believe he was finally seeing her again. He’d known she was still somewhere in Seattle, but he’d made it a point not to look for her. Sooner or later, he’d figured, he’d run into her, but the years had slipped by and up until tonight, he hadn’t.
It was absurd that he still had a thing for a woman he hadn’t seen in
7 years. Madeleine had certainly never shown a bit of romantic interest in him. To her, he’d just been the nerdy friend of her little brother. Back then, the 6 year age-gape might as well have been a decade.
hoped his crush on Madeleine hadn’t been painfully obvious. Everyone around them had noticed his infatuation. Everyone except Madeleine. Unless, she’d just been pretending to spare his feelings. Madeleine had always been so careful of the feelings of others. She probably had been. That was one of the qualities which had attracted him to her in the first place.
then, she’d been way out of his league. Still was, of course. His only advantage now was that he was no longer a scrawny awkward kid of 19. Sometimes he felt like nothing had changed, but the mirror told a different story. It still startled him to look in the mirror.
stroll down memory lane was rudely interrupted by a kid launching himself at Mark’s knees. The kid was all of four and had a bright future ahead of him as a line-backer. Mark made it to his ice-throne and dealt with Little Mister Line-Backer who wanted a flamethrower and real live dinosaur. Mark said he’d see what he could do. Little Mister Line-Backer slid off his knee.
Madeleine stood just a few feet away now. A woman Markus recognized as her sister
Ami stood with her. The adorable, curly-topped little girl clinging to Ami’s hand must be Madeleine’s daughter, Emily. She’d look just like her mother when she grew up. Lucky girl.
Pull yourself together man! Think Santa. Be Santa. Don’t make a fool of yourself
“Ho, Ho, Ho!” boomed Mark. “Hello
, little girl!”
Emily scrambled up on Santa’s lap and whispered in his ear. Her list was long and
complicated. Mark had a hard time concentrating on the intricacies of Pocket Patsy Dolls and their myriad accessories. Emily wanted a Pocket Patsy slumber party set. “But not the purple one. The blue one. The one with the little dogs. Not the big dogs. The puppy dogs. Not the orange ones. The pink ones are better—“
listened to Emily with one ear and to Madeleine and Ami with the other.
“How was your date with the podiatrist?”
Ami was asking Madeleine. “He doesn’t have a foot fetish, does he?” Ami giggled.
Madeleine didn’t look amused. She looked tired. And sad. Mark hated that she looked sad. At least she was going out on dates. Maybe she’d find someone. Someone who deserved her, unlike that Chad guy. When Mark had heard how Chad had left
Madeleine, he’d wanted to punch someone, preferably the cheating rotten bastard.
“I’m going to take a break from dating,” Madeleine
was saying. “It’s a waste of time. In the time I’ve wasted on bad dates I could have learned to knit or speak French or—“
Ami looked doubtful. Clearly, this is a vow she’d heard before.
“Santa! Please!” Mark felt a little hand tugging on his beard.
“Is that your whole list?” Mark asked. He now knew more about Pocket Patsy Dolls than any grown man should, but he was hoping Emily had more specifications. He was seconds from watching Madeleine walk away and he still hadn’t thought of a way to stop her.
was ready to go. More than ready. Emily was taking more than her share of time on Santa’s lap. The father of the little boy behind them pointedly suggested that whoever was in charge at the North Pole ought to institute a time-limit. Madeleine set down her bags and went to retrieve Emily.
“That’s enough, Em! Tell Santa good-bye and let’s go!”
Santa, who had very nice blue eyes, was in no hurry.
“Are you next, little girl?”
Madeleine looked around at the grumpy father and his young son with long blond locks.
“I think that’s a little boy,” she whispered, trying to be discrete. She had to lean in close to whisper in Santa’s ear, so close that she couldn’t miss how good he smelled. She must be
incredibly desperate for a man, when she started—
“I meant you!” Santa said, lifting Emily off his knee. “Tell Santa what you want for Christmas.”
“Sit on Santa’s lap, Mommy!” Emily insisted.
Madeleine capitulated. It was easier and quicker just to get it over with
. She’d tell Santa that all she wanted for Christmas was to have the dishwasher repair man finally show up when she was actually home and for whoever kept leaving bags of puppy poo on her front flower bed to drop dead—or at least catch a moderately bad cold.
gingerly balanced on the end of Santa’s knee, making as little body contact as possible, but Santa wasn’t having that. He wrapped both arms around her and pulled her in close. His wooly beard tickled her ear. He smelled so good!
“Tell me, little girl, have you been good this year?” Santa breath fanned her neck and she wasn’t quite sure but she thought she felt his lips brush her ear lobe. She was sure her face was the same color as Santa’s crushed velvet suit.
“Incredibly good!” Madeleine said and
tried to extricate herself, but Santa held on tight.
, that’s the problem,” Santa whispered.
Madeleine just sputtered and made another half-hearted attempt to stand up.
“I’ll let you go when you tell me what you really want for Christmas,” Santa said.
Madeleine felt herself choking up. “I just want to be happy,” she whispered in Santa’s ear. “Or is that too much to ask?”
This was insane. She was on the verge of tears. Stupid Christmas. Stupid sexy Santa.
Stupid sexy Santa
pulled her in even tighter. She could feel his heart beating in his chest. That big Santa belly was certainly not real. Now his lips were definitely touching her ear. And her neck. Thank God his beard made it hard for the hundreds of people watching them to tell.
, stupid sexy Santa recognized that he was engaging in behavior unbecoming to St. Nicholas and let her go. Emily was asking what she’d asked Santa for and Ami was handing her shopping bags back to her.
Everything around her was a blur.
Madeleine felt dizzy. She must be coming down with the flu. It had been going around the office. Just that morning, their receptionist had gone home sick.