My thanks to psyche_b_mused for bringing life to this tale.
The last minute shopping was complete and the Christmas cheer had been imbibed. The annual Christmas Eve shopping trip was coming to a close.
The three coworkers were still giggling as they stepped out of the dimly lit lounge into the blinding afternoon sun.
"Damn!" Marge exclaimed as she cupped her hand over her eyes. Jan stepped back into the lounge to rummage through her purse while Steph squinted as she frantically tried to retrieve her sunglasses without dropping any packages.
With their sight restored, the trio resumed their cheerful banter as they headed for the 'el' platform.
"Oh shit! I forgot about Brandon." Steph stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and began scanning the names of nearby stores.
Marge, the oldest of the trio, raised an eyebrow. "Brandon?"
Jan, the bubbly one after two drinks, giggled. "Steph's been holding out on us."
Steph laughed. "Down girls. He's my nephew and he's five."
Marge groaned. The department stores were crowded and four blocks behind them.
They walked back to the corner; each looked in a different direction.
Marge spotted Donovan's, a store that carried discontinued clothing. "What're his sizes?"
Steph shook her head. "No clothes," remembering her own childhood. "He wants toys."
"Down there!" Jan pointed with her hand.
Half way down the block on the left hand side, a wooden sign badly in need of repainting bore a welcome single word; 'TOYS'.
Steph darted across the street, ignoring the screeching tires and blaring horns.
Marge saw the dilapidated sign and frowned. She grabbed Jan before she followed after Steph. "It's probably out of business. Let Steph check it out. We'll wait and cross with the light."
The building was old; the brick was badly in need of repair and a coat of paint could only improve the rest. Steph glanced at the small display window, noticing eight reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh.
A bell jingled as she opened the door and scanned the room. It had that just cleaned shine and smelled like Christmas. She sniffed the air again. The aroma of fresh baked sugar cookies and warm apple cider with a cinnamon stick came to mind.
She stared at the large steel pedal cars and trucks hanging from hooks in the ceiling. She had a picture of her grandpa sitting in one as a young boy.
Steph spotted the dolls on the shelf and hurried over. They looked so real, and no two were exactly alike. She touched the closest one with blonde curly hair, soft green eyes, and dimples. Its face and hands were delicately painted carved wood. She had one as a little girl. It was made with porcelain instead of wood and had an elegant, brocade dress. She wasn't allowed to play with it. It still remained untouched on a shelf at her parent's house.
"That's Katrina. Bet you liked to play with dolls when you were a little girl."
Steph nodded without looking at the speaker. "She's beautiful. I played with my Raggedy Ann and Barbie." She glanced up, then did a double take.
The jovial white haired man had a bushy white beard and gold wire glasses perched on the end of his nose. A yellow pencil stuck out from behind his right ear and a bright green notebook showed through the pocket of his white shirt. Wide red suspenders held up black pants tucked into a pair of calf-high black boots that looked recently polished.
"Do you need help selecting a doll?"
Steph couldn't get over the man's resemblance. "No, I'm looking-"
The bell jingled above the front door as Marge and Jan entered.
"You look just like-" Marge exclaimed
He nodded his head. "Hear that all the time. I'm Kris. I'll be with you ladies in a moment."
"We're with her." Marge said pointing to Steph.
Kris returned his attention to Steph. "You were saying."
"I'm looking for a present for my five-year-old nephew."
"The fire truck."
Her brow wrinkled.
"Follow me." Kris walked into the next aisle where he removed a bright red wooden fire truck with yellow ladders from the shelf. "Your nephew will love it. Trust me, I know kids and toys. I'll get a box from the back to put it in."
"Pssst! Pssst!" Marge and Steph turned their attention to Jan's frantic 'come here' hand signals. Steph watched for Kris's return while Marge went to investigate her friend's sudden interest with the maroon velvet curtain.
"Check this out." Jan pulled back the curtain to reveal a sturdy wooden chair on a raised platform. She grinned. "Think Santa'll let me sit on his lap and tell him what I want?"
"Only one way to find out." Marge began pulling on the rope that opened the curtain. Giggling like school girls, Jan hurried across the platform to stand next to the chair with Marge a couple of steps behind her.
Kris brought out a box and slid the fire truck inside. "That'll be fifteen dollars."
Steph gave him a surprised look as she pulled the money from her wallet.
Kris leaned over and lowered his voice as he took the money. "Don't tell anyone, but the elves work for next to nothing."
Steph grinned. "Your secret's safe with me."
"Come here Santa." Jan winked as she patted the chair. "Let me tell you what I want."
Kris watched the giggling pair before returning his attention to Steph. "Your friends seem to need me."
Steph shook her head in disbelief as he walked over and sat down. Jan immediately plopped in his lap and whispered in his ear.
Kris's smile faded. "That's a big request. You've been good all year?"
Jan giggled and nodded her head like a 'bobble head'.
Kris let go a hearty 'ho-ho-ho' belly laugh that nearly unseated Jan. His glowing smile returned. "I think that's possible."
Jan giggled and kissed Kris on the cheek before jumping off his lap. She was quickly replaced by Marge who wiggled her tush in Kris's lap.
Marge gave him a sultry chuckle. "Before you ask... I'm always good."
Kris arched an eyebrow when Marge whispered her request.
"You two plan this?"
Marge frowned as she looked at Jan and then back to Kris and shook her head.
He let out a deep breath. "Okay, I'll work on it."
Marge hugged him and left another lipstick kiss on his cheek.
Jan looked at Steph and wildly waved her hands. "Come on Steph, tell Santa what you want."
Marge stood and let her hand rest on Kris's shoulder. "Come on Steph. Don't pass this up. It's your big chance to tell Santa what you've always wanted."
Steph felt her face flush in embarrassment even as she saw him nod. She raised her hands in surrender and slowly walked past her two whispering friends to sat on his lap. She didn't notice them pointing their cell phone cameras until they broke out in laughter. Steph turned red and started to rise.
Kris stopped her. "They're just having a little fun. Tell me what you want."
Steph shrugged her shoulders. "I don't need toys."
Kris smiled. "Doesn't have to be. It's what you always wanted."
Steph hesitated for a moment, then whispered in his ear.
Kris cocked his head and looked into her eyes. "It's what you want... more than anything else?"
Steph blushed and nodded.
Kris stroked his beard for a moment. "That's one of the biggest requests I've heard."
He saw her shoulders slump as her head lowered. Kris placed a finger under her chin and gently raised her head until he could look deep into her eyes. "If that's what you really want...You keep believing and I'll see what I can do."
Steph gave him a half-hearted smile and stood up. She stopped at the bottom step and looked back.
His eyes twinkled as he winked and nodded his head.
The giddy laughter followed by the jingle of the bell over the door brought Steph out of her daze.
"Come on Steph. Marge's getting a cab."
She slung her purse over her shoulder and grabbed her packages as she hurried out the door in pursuit of her friends.
Marge flagged down a cab and they laughingly piled in, holding what packages they could on their laps with the rest between their feet.
Marge leaned back. "Jan, what'd you ask for?"
Jan giggled. "An evening with Hugh-"
"Jackman?" Marge giggled as her friend nodded excitedly. "No wonder Santa said that. I asked for him too. Steph? Steph." She reached across and shook Steph's arm. "What'd you ask for?"
Steph flinched and turned toward her friend. She'd been watching the frantic last minute shoppers hurrying from store to store. "What?"
Marge looked questioningly at Jan who just shrugged her shoulders before looking back at Steph. "I said what did you ask Santa for?"
Steph gazed back outside and thought for a moment; too embarrassed to tell them what she really asked for.
"I asked for a five pound box of money just like that Christmas song. It probably won't come true because I told you."
She grinned as laughter erupted from her two friends.
Steph finished buttoning her flannel pajamas and donned her cozy terry cloth robe. Walking into the living room, she pressed the play button on the CD player and turned off the lights. Carefully holding her hot cocoa, she curled up on the couch. Nat King Cole singing 'The Christmas Song' filled the room. She gazed at the tree she so painstakingly decorated.
She closed her eyes and inhaled the scent of the fresh pine. This was her favorite time of the year. The music, the decorations, the excitement of the season; it all combined to create this magical, festive feeling everywhere you went.
Her parents showed her the magic of Christmas. The living room of their apartment would be turned into a magic place with lights, music, and the smell of pine. Christmas music would play as she and her sister, Trish, would spend hours helping decorate the cookies.
One of her favorite memories was having cookies and hot cocoa by the tree each year while Trish helped her write a letter to Santa.
On Christmas morning she'd rush to look under the tree. Every year a present wrapped in bright red paper with a green bow would have her name on it. Inside would be the toy she'd asked for.
She knew it was from Santa because her parents always gave her clothes.
Steph watched the blinking multicolored lights reflect off the ornaments she'd collected over the years. The angel which adorned the top was the beginning. She found it in at a flea market. The paint was chipped in a couple of spots, but Steph knew the ornament was meant for her.
The angel proudly looked down from the top of an eighteen inch tall artificial tree that first year. The angel, two glass bulbs, and a single string of lights with more lights curled on the floor than on the tree were all the decorations that year. Over the years her collection had grown, each chosen with care. This year, the angel looked down from a real four foot spruce. There were now six strings of blinking lights and over fifty glass ornaments.
All her presents for tomorrow were wrapped and under the tree, all except the fire truck. She couldn't find it when she got home. It must have been left in the cab. She'd substituted a card and twenty dollars.
Taking a sip of her cocoa, she set it on the coaster. Since she'd grown up she found there was a depressing part of the season too. The coming home after the gifts have been exchanged and the dinner eaten. Coming home to the stillness of an empty home with no one to continue sharing that happiness.
It wasn't as if she wasn't searching... because she was. She'd dated plenty of men. It's just that they weren't that special one meant just for her.
Steph sat up and rubbed her eyes. It was quiet. The music had finished. She must have fallen asleep because it was now after midnight. She set the mug in the sink and went to bed.
Steph purred as the lips slowly kissed down her neck. She felt the warm hand gently glide down her side to rest on her hip.
"You look beautiful tonight."
A blush came to her cheeks for a moment... until her eyes opened wide as she sat up and turned on the light.
A cold sweat dripped down her back as she anxiously looked around the room. She climbed out of bed and nervously inspected the rest of the apartment.
Checking the door locks one last time, she had a drink of water and returned to bed; leaving on the bathroom light.
Steph lay on her back and pulled the covers up to her chin. Her eyes darted at every imagined movement in the room. The twinkle of the blinking lights in the living room didn't help as they created moving shadows on the hallway wall.
After laying there watching the clock for twenty minutes, she let out a frustrated groan.
"This is ridiculous. I imagined it. It's just a dream." She rolled on her side away from the hallway shadows and closed her eyes.
The tender kisses slowly moved inward from her shoulder to the sensitive hollow of her throat. Stephanie felt the lips brush along her cheek bone; a hand lightly rested on her hip. She rolled onto her back, feeling the hand slid across her tummy. The lips touched hers. They were warm and moist. The tip of a tongue teased her parting lips.
Stephanie looked with sleep filled eyes at the face in front of her. The room was dark, but for the pale light illuminating his face as he looked at her.
Her eyes traveled from the curly brown hair to his piercing brown eyes with specks of blue that seemed to reflect the light like little diamonds. His face was more round than oval with a soft smile on those wonderful lips. He leaned down and she closed her eyes as his lips found hers once again.
She felt his lips pull away from hers, to be felt a moment later on each closed eye. Steph breathed deeply; smelling his scent of musk and almonds. Her lips touched his throat, feeling his day old growth of whiskers as she softly returned his kisses.
His nose buried in her hair as his lips touched her ear.
"Time to go my love. We'll be together soon."
Steph felt him move away and grabbed for his hand, but it was out of reach. "No! Don't go. I want you to stay."
The morning sun reflected off the neighboring building casting slivers of light onto her sleeping face. Steph blinked and turned away from the bright intrusion.
Wiping the sleep from her eyes, she grabbed her robe and stumbled toward the bathroom.
It was like out of a romance novel but felt so real. She leaned against the wall and let the hot water pelt her body.
Turning off the water, she dried off and dressed; opting for slacks, sweater, and boots for the three block trek to the closest church.
She wasn't a very religious person. In fact Christmas was the only time she attended. It was more a tradition from when she was a child. Now that she was on her own, it had become a part of her Christmas.
As soon as she entered the apartment, Steph saw the box with the fire truck setting on the coffee table with a folded piece of red paper on top. The words looked like they were quickly scrawled out by someone in a hurry.
Dear Stephanie, You left the fire truck at the shop. I haven't forgotten what you wanted. I couldn't bring it with me for obvious reasons, but it will arrive. Just keep believing. Merry Christmas, Kris
Steph called the doorman. "Albert, did you put a package in my apartment?"
"Yeah, I was gonna keep it down here and leave you a message, but he insisted I put it in your apartment. I put the note he wrote on top. It's kinda hard to turn down a guy that looks like Santa, especially on Christmas."
"It's okay Albert. It's a present for my nephew. My sister should be arriving shortly. You can let her in without calling."
"Will do, Ms. Taylor. Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas Albert."
Steph wrapped the truck and placed it in the huge shopping bag with the other gifts.
She started a pot of coffee and went to change before her sister arrived to take her to their parent's house.
She removed the clothes she wore to church and replaced them with the gifts she received last Christmas. The black slacks from her parents and the red cashmere sweater from Aunt June. She pulled on a pair of knee highs and stepped into her low heels.
Steph removed her coat from the closet, placing the ear muffs from her niece in a pocket and draping the silk scarf her sister gave her around the collar.
She heard a knock on her door and opened for her sister.
"Sorry I'm late; you ready to go?"
"Almost. I was going to have a cup of coffee before I touched up my makeup. You want one?"
"Sure, cream and sugar." Trish removed her coat and sat on the couch while Steph went to the kitchen.
"So who's Kris?" Steph froze with a cup in each hand. Trish held the red paper in her hand.
"He has a store over on Fulton. I bought Brandon's present there yesterday and forgot it. He was nice enough to drop it off."
Trish smiled. "Awful nice of him to drive all the way here to drop that off to you. Is he a hunk?"
Steph chuckled. "I wouldn't say hunk, maybe jovial would be a better description. Nice smile, rosy cheeks, twinkling blue eyes, white hair, and long curly beard. He knows a lot about toys."
Trish laughed. "A regular Santa Claus huh. What's the other thing you wanted?"
Steph thought a moment how to answer. "It's just something I asked him for, but he didn't have on hand. He travels a lot and said he would try to find it. How do you like my tree this year?"
Trish went to look at the tree. Steph set the cups on the table and stuffed the red paper under the couch cushion. She brought the coffee over to Trish.
"Beautiful tree Steph, best one you've ever had."
"You should have seen me trying to get a cab holding that tree. I'll bet a half dozen cabs went by before this old cabbie finally stopped and picked me up. The tree wouldn't fit in his trunk so he tied it on the roof of his cab." Steph glanced at her watch. "I better finish getting ready before mom starts calling."
She touched up her makeup and remembered to put in the Santa earrings her nephew gave her.
Trish was waiting by the door when she stepped into the living room. "Mom called my cell wondering where we were. Put on your coat. I've got the bag. Let's get going before she calls again."
Marge called Jan as soon as her family settled down from opening presents. She began giggling as soon as Jan answered. "He's not here; you have him?"
Jan chuckled, "No, and I'm sure I would have heard the ruckus if Rich found him under the tree and tried to throw him out. Maybe Santa left him at Steph's. Hold on while I call and conference us together."
Jan flipped the switch hooks and speed dialed Steph. She flipped them again adding Marge to the ringing line. Marge giggled again. "I wonder if Steph got her box of money."
"You think she really asked for-"
"Hello caller twenty three; how tall was James Howlett?"
Marge was stunned. Jan hesitated a second, "Uh, um five foot three inches."
"That's correct. You are a true X-men aficionado. The character Wolverine in the comics was five feet three inches tall. You win our grand prize of an evening with Hugh Jackman for you and a friend. You will be picked up by limo, courtesy of Arrow Limo Service, and brought to the Hancock Building where you will dine with Mr. Jackman at the Signature Room on the Ninety Fifth. Enjoy the breathtaking view and the excellent cuisine compliments of the Signature Room. From there you will be taken to the private showing of The Amateur, where you will sit with Mr. Jackman and other members of the cast. Hold on so we can get your name and address."
There was a long pause before either spoke. "Jan, you dial the wrong number?"
"I couldn't Marge; I used the speed call like always. You don't think that our telling-"
"Right now, I'm not sure. You stay on the line with them; I'm dropping off and calling Steph."
Marge called, but got her voice mail. "You won't believe it! Call me."