"Mom," I said. "How come you and Dad never took me to see Santa in the mall?"
My sister perked up. "Yeah! What gives?" she asked. Obviously, Vickie had never gone to see Santa, either.
Our mother sighed. "Your father," she said sourly. She and Dad had been divorced since a week after I graduated high school. She gave me a look. "You know how he was. 'Mr. Practicality.' Didn't want you kids believing in things like Santa Claus."
I pursed my lips. "I was just wondering," I said. I smiled. "Man, you should'a seen the look on Jana's face when she came running back."
My sister grinned with vicarious pride in her daughter. "She always loves seeing Santa. I swear, that girl is gonna believe in Santa Claus for the rest of her life."
I met my sister's eyes. "You know what she asked for?"
Vickie's smile faded slightly. "I've got an idea," she said, considering her drink.
"What is it with you and John?" I asked, referring to my sister's estranged husband. "I mean, nine years, and . . . pfft! That's it?"
Vickie gave me a look. "It's not that easy, Dave," she said heavily.
I sighed. "It's breaking Jana's heart."
"Yeah, well it broke mine, too," Vickie said darkly.
My sister ground her teeth. "I really don't wanna talk about it right now, okay?"
I nodded. "Sorry, sis."
She didn't say anything as she sipped her cocktail. I caught the expression on my mother's face, one of warning to me and understanding for the sympathy I had for my niece. I just gave her a short nod, wordlessly saying, 'I won't push it.'
"Well, I'm gonna go to bed," I said, and drained my second drink. I pushed up from the ouch, gave both my mother and sister a kiss good night. I held Vickie's hand a moment, letting her know I was sorry for bringing up a painful subject. She squeezed my fingers and let me go.
I headed up the stairs to my room. It felt strange to have a room in a house again; since I was nineteen, I had always had my own place. My own bathroom, my own kitchen, my own living room. But after spending the previous year's holidays alone, I did not want to go through that feeling of unbearable loneliness again.
So when Vickie's invitation came to let me stay with her through Christmas, I jumped at it. I was between jobs as a bartender and had saved up more than enough money to carry me through for at least a few months. Being around family would do me good, I figured.
And I had been right. Not just my sister, but my mother lived in the same city, as well as my grandparents on my mother's side. I had been away for too long, I figured. In the week since I had been back, I had begun thinking about finding an apartment in the city.
Getting on with life.
I paused beside the cracked-open door to Jana's bedroom, pushed it open just a little to peer inside. My niece was tangled up in her sheets, laying on her side, facing the door in her Spongebob Squarpants pajamas. I smiled. Donna and I had talked about having kids when we were engaged; hell, we planned on it. Two kids, we decided, a boy and a girl. We had even picked out names: Jeremy David and Melissa Shane Cooper. We had shared dreams about our life together.
Now, those dreams were gone. Dust. Just shattered glass and broken promises.
My smile faded. I started to leave Jana's room.
I looked back. Jana had lifted her sleepy head, brown hair sticking out. "Hey, sunshine," I said.
"I had a dream about Trish," she said, blinking slowly, stretching her eyes open.
I frowned, stepped into her room. I sat down on the bed beside my niece, stroked her back. "Did you?" I asked.
Jana smiled, murmuring, still sleepy. "Um-hmm," she said. "She told me my Daddy's coming home."
I felt a tugging on my heart. "Sounds like a nice dream," I said.
"She also told me she thinks you're really cute!"
I laughed. "I think she's really cute, too," I said. I leaned over and kissed Jana's cheek. "Get some sleep, honey."
Jana curled her arms up beneath her, her eyes closing once more. "Hmm . . . okay . . . ."
I stood and left my niece's room, softly closing the door. Then I headed down to my room, stripped off my clothes, and fell into bed. I was asleep within minutes.
I helped around the house the following morning, doing dishes and laundry, being the good brother for Vickie. I made breakfast for Jana as my sister slept off her hangover from the night before. As I would later discover, she and our mother had stayed up until the wee hours, drinking half a bottle of rum between them.
"Uncle Dave?" asked Jana as I cleaned up after breakfast.
"Yes, sunshine?" I asked, glancing to Jana as she worked on a Sudoku puzzle. I couldn't understand her addiction to the Japanese concoction.
"Is Trish a real elf?"
I frowned, putting the pots and pans in the sink. "Do you think she is?"
Jana screwed up her face in thought, tapping her pencil on the table. "I think so," she said.
I smiled. "Well, I trust you," I said. "If you think she's a real elf, then that's good enough for me."
Jana gave me a concerned look. "But if she's a real elf, then you can't get married and have babies."
I approached the table and sat down, poured some orange juice from the carafe on the table. "Why do you say that?"
Jana furrowed her brow. "'Cause she's an elf," Jana said, as if that was all the explanation she needed to give.
I pursed my lips. "Do your puzzle," I said.
Jana shrugged, studied the puzzle for a moment, then looked back up at me with a little smile on her face. "Although . . . if she really is an elf . . . ."
My niece grinned. "Then that means Santa really is real."
It was just before noon. I was out in the back yard, having a snowball fight with Jana and Vickie, when I heard my mother call my name: "Da-vid!"
"Yeah!" I called back, and turned around toward the patio deck. My heart caught in my throat.
Standing beside my mother, dressed in a tiny denim skirt, brown leather go-go boots, and a tight yellow halter, was Trish. Her hair was in pig tails that trailed down along the length of her arms. She gave me a sweet, sexy little smile. My heart flip-flopped.
God, she's gorgeous, I thought. But how'd she know where to find me--
A snowball smacked right into the back of my head.
I stumbled, wincing at the sting of the impact, reaching back to scoop snow out of my hair. Jana and Vickie both howled with laughter. My sister ran up beside me, grabbing my arm.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" she said, over and over.
"It's okay," I said, shaking compacted ice off my gloves. I looked toward Trish again, saw the amused smile on her face.
"Wow, that's her, huh?" my sister asked. She leaned close. "Dave . . . she is old enough, isn't she?"
I shot her a look. "Yes, she is," I said.
"Trish!" screamed Jana excitedly, running, stumbling through the snow of the back yard. My new girlfriend jumped down from the deck and met Jana with a hug, grinning ear to ear.
"Um . . . looks like Jana really likes her," my sister said, and slapped my back. "You know what that means."
Vickie chuckled. "Dum-dum-da-dum . . . ." she said, mimicking the first bars of 'Here Comes The Bride.'
I rolled my eyes after my sister as Vickie headed up to the house. Strangely enough, I wasn't all that perturbed by her apparent precognition. Maybe I didn't know Trish all that well, but I couldn't think of anything about her that I didn't adore . . . or even love.
My mother loved her. My sister was impressed with her. And Jana simply thought that Trish was the 'coolest thing in the world.'
The four of us sat in the living room, with Trish cuddled up beside me on the couch. Even though she was out of 'uniform,' my petite, cherubic little lover had her pointed ears on. The long, slender protrusions were made even more prominent by her pig tails. I had to admit that the things looked convincing; I could tell where her real ears ended and the fake ones began.
"So, are you in school?" my mother asked Trish as we all shared a casual lunch of toasted ham and cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.
"Sort of," Trish said. "Guess you could say I'm into anthropology. I'm a big time people-watcher."
"Grandma," said Jana, plunking her sandwich down in her lap for a moment. "She's an elf. Elves don't go to school."
We all smiled at Jana's childish comment.
"Well, that's not true," said Trish, leaning forward and the couch and tousling my niece's shoulder-length hair. "Elves go to school, too. We have to know how to act around you humans."
Jana nodded slowly. "Oh . . . well, that makes sense."
I looked to my mother; she was giving me a strange smile.
"Trish?" Jana asked.
"Yes, sunshine?" responded Trish, casually using my niece's pet name. I frowned. I didn't tell her about that, did I?
Jana gave Trish a serious look. "Is my daddy really coming home?"
Trish's smile didn't waver. "Didn't I tell you he is?"
Jana grinned, excited. "Yay!" she exclaimed. "Daddy's coming home! Daddy's coming home!"
My sister looked visibly disturbed, shooting Trish a look that my elfin girlfriend seemed to ignore. "Um . . . J-Jana, why don't you get your colors? I bet Trish would love to see your pictures."
Jana grinned and jumped up. "Yeah! Stay here, Aunt Trish, I'll be right back!" My niece ran up the stairs.
Aunt Trish? I thought.
"Trish," my sister said, giving my girlfriend a look. "I know you mean well, but Jana's father and I . . . it's complicated. He's not coming back."
Trish's didn't skip a beat. "You sure of that?"
Vickie laughed ruefully. "You really don't know us that well, okay? So don't go giving my daughter false hopes."
Trish's expression was dead serious. "I don't give false hopes," she said.
My sister stared at her, with a look that told me she was about to explode into one of her patented inflamed diatribes. I decided to head it off.
"Hey," I said, forcing myself to sound upbeat. I looked to Trish. "I almost forgot! We were gonna see that new movie today! You know, that comedy! The new one!"
Trish held my eyes a moment, then smiled. "Yeah, that's right," she said. "Wow. Where has the time gone?"
"Well, we'd better get going now, or we're gonna miss it," I said, standing and taking Trish's hand. Trish stood up with me, setting her plate on the coffee table. She looked to my sister and mother.
"It was nice meeting you," she said.
"Likewise, dear," my mother said.
"Yeah. Likewise," said Vickie acidly.
"Why did you do that?" I asked Trish as we headed down to my car.
Trish darted ahead of me, stopping my march to the car. She stared up at me. "What makes you think I'm wrong?"
I forced myself to stay calm. "Look. Jana's very vulnerable right now. She doesn't need someone telling her that her father's coming home, when he isn't."
Trish's confident look remained. "Oh? And you know that for a fact?"
"More than you know that he's coming back."
Trish's lips curled. "Well," she said. "We'll just see, won't we?"
I held onto a handful of Trish's long, silky hair, my other hand on her naked hip as I shoved into her from behind. She gasped and panted, clawing the back of the passenger seat, all but screaming as her orgasm roared through her tiny body.
"Cum on me, baby!" she cried passionately. "Come on, do it! Shoot it all over me!"
I grunted as I felt my balls tighten. I slipped out of her snug pussy, admiring the way her fine blonde hairs surrounded the puffy lips of her sex. I marveled at her perfect ass and bright pink anus. Trish whipped around, onto her back, spreading her legs wide and cupping her breasts in her hands. She stared up at me with a feral, passionate expression, her mouth hanging open as she panted.
"Yeah, baby, stroke it," she whimpered, her eyes darting down to my cock as I masturbated over her. "Jack it, baby, go on! Go on! Do it all over me!"
I shuddered with release, spurting thick streams of cum that splashed onto Trish's breasts, stomach, and pubic mound. A few ambitious globs of fluid landed in her mouth, upon her soft pink tongue. Trish grinned and cooed, watching me erupt. As my spurts became dribbles, she rolled up and slipped her mouth around my cock, sucking out the last little bit and swallowing with a sigh.
I collapsed in the driver's seat, panting as I regained my breath. Trish cuddled close, running her hands up and down my body and affectionately fondling my spent cock. She ducked down to kiss and lick my penis, then snuggled her head on my chest. She murmured contentedly, scratching lightly along my abdomen.
"Mmm, baby," she moaned softly.
"Jesus," I huffed. "Now I know why people wanna smoke after sex." I looked around at the steamed-over windows. The air inside my car was steamy and warm from our frenzied lovemaking.
Trish giggled against me. "I think we were 'smokin'' enough," she said.
I laughed. "Damn, Trish . . . I can't believe how good you make me feel. And not just like this."
She lifted her head, brushing back a strand of hair. A thick dollop of sperm was conspicuous on her chin. "I'm glad I make you feel this way, baby," she said. "It really makes me happy."
I smiled, kissed her forehead. "Do I make you happy?" I asked her.
She gave me a dreamy look. "David, do you even have to ask?"
The following few days were a passionate, hedonistic blur. Trish and I would make love two, three times a day, always in my car or in some secluded little grove in the park. While our sex life was the stuff that great porn is made of, it never felt like just fucking. Trish and I made love, albeit in the most incredible, intense ways imaginable.
But never at the house, or wherever she lived (questions about which she always managed to deflect). Whenever I picked her up, it was always outside the mall, and when I dropped her off, late at night, it was always at the same spot. A couple times, I met her inside the mall, near 'Santa's Wonderland.'
She was always excited to see me and seemed nearly impatient to be alone with me. Sometimes, we spent time at Vickie's house, and Trish and Jana were almost inseparable when she was there. Jana always referred to my girlfriend as 'Aunt Trish,' a title that perturbed me less and less.
But more than make love with all the passion and desperation one would expect from virgins on their wedding night, Trish and I talked. I told her about my life back in Florida, and with her urging, about Donna and the pain I felt. Trish listened sympathetically, never once sounding offended for hearing about my ex-fiance.
By Christmas Eve, I was seriously considering using the remainder of my savings to buy an engagement ring. The idea was ludicrous, to be sure, but . . . Trish was everything I had ever desired in a woman, and then some. Physically, emotionally, Trish seemed to have been molded directly from my fantasies. Sexually, she was more than any woman had ever been, more than I had ever realistically hoped for. No matter what I wanted, Trish was always instantly and eagerly willing to comply.
While my sister tried to keep her distance whenever Trish came over, even she could not resist Trish's overwhelming charm and charisma. With some reluctance, Vickie warmed up to my lover, apparently forgiving her for her remarks to Jana. As Christmas loomed closer, Trish was introduced to my grandparents and other members of my family. She always seemed to almost instantly endear herself to everyone she met. No one ever had anything bad to say about Trish, although a few comments were made here and there about her tiny stature and pointed ears. Jana conveniently explained that 'that's just how elves are.'
But, as much as I wanted to have a life with her, somehow, I knew it wasn't to be.
"She's a wonderful girl, Dave," my mother said to me the afternoon of Christmas Eve, as we stood out on the patio of Vickie's house. Trish, Jana, Vickie and a few of my cousins were all in the back yard, making a snow man.
"Yeah, she is," I agreed, watching Trish. Now and then, she would look back to me and smile, wave her hand.
"You're in love with her, aren't you?"
I sighed, frowning. "Yeah, I think so."
My mother moved around and looked into my face. "So what's bothering you?"
I sighed heavily. "There's something wrong," I said, then checked myself. "No, it's not wrong, just . . . I have this feeling."
I looked to Trish forlornly. "Like . . . like this is the last night we're gonna be together," I said.
At that moment, time seemed to slow down, like a movie set on slow-motion. Trish, slapping a handful of packed snow onto the snowman's face, turned her head toward me, giving me a smile. It was a sad smile, an apologetic smile.
Don't leave me, I thought.
Her smile changed a little, and seemed to say, I have to.
I wasn't all that surprised when Trish told me she had to head back to the mall that evening. She changed into her elf costume in the bathroom (pretty quickly, too) and held my hand tightly as we headed down to the car.
Trish was quiet on the drive, staring out the window with a blank expression on her face. Once we stepped through the doors to the mall, she made a bee-line for 'Santa's Wonderland,' pulling me along behind her.
The galleria was crowded. Nine o'clock on Christmas Eve, and there was still a line for Santa. I watched the kids fidgeting in line, anxious to see Santa before the mall closed.
I noticed Trish's 'triplet' sisters standing at the edge of the gated area, watching us approach. They seemed to look at Trish as if thinking, it's about time you showed up.
Trish stopped at the edge of the display and turned to me. She squeezed my hands, looking up into my eyes. Her own were swollen and wet, ready to burst with tears.
"I have to say good-bye, David," she whispered, her words choked.
I held back my emotions. "I know," I said, strangely accepting the moment.
She shook. "I don't want to, I really don't," she said.
I touched her face, her neck, threading my hands through her hair as I gently cupped one of Trish's long, pointed ears. She closed her eyes a moment, enjoying my touch, her soft lips parted as she breathed in and out. I hated to admit it, but my suspicion was finally confirmed. Trish's long, pointed ears weren't fake.
Strangely enough, the confirmation of what Trish was didn't surprise me. I realized I had always known. I just had to accept it.
I stooped, tilting her face up, and kissed her dearly, lovingly. Trish whimpered and pressed herself against my body, curling her arms around me and squeezing tight.
"I love you," I whispered.
She breathed out, a hot, heavy sound. "I love you, too, David. I always will."
I kissed her again, wanting to keep her with me, to just pick her up and run like a mad man back to the car . . . but I understood somehow that I knew I couldn't. Trish pulled away from me, stepping backwards, tears streaming down her cheeks.
"Good-bye, baby," she whispered.
And then she was gone, meeting her sisters, vanishing with them into the crowd.
I sighed heavily, straightening, swallowing my tears. The buzz of conversations, the chime of advertisements, the melodies of Christmas carols surrounded me. I wiped my eyes, almost feeling self-conscious about my display in such a public place with so many people around. But ultimately, I really didn't care what anyone saw or thought.
"Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas, young man! Off you go!"
I watched as the little boy – six or seven years old – jumped off Santa's knee and ran toward his mother. Santa smiled as well, a genuine expression that made his snow-white beard shift upon his broad chest. His small, grandfatherly eyes drifted to me.