Bleak midwinters. Shane Houston supposed they didn't get a whole lot bleaker than working Christmas Eve late shift in Cinemagic Video, frosty winds or otherwise. He glanced up from his paperback at the garishly-lit dreariness to check for customers. The drab horror of the place was only emphasised by the few decorations Arlo had cared to string casually about the shelf-tops. God, you'd think the guy might put in a little effort if he wanted to keep his business solvent. Shane had been short on festive joy when he'd begun work that afternoon; the inate despair of his surroundings was sapping what was left.
Distraction strolled into view from one of the aisles - a Santa-suited piece of eye-candy which stirred him from his funk in a way that his crime novel had thus far failed to do. Strawberry-blonde hair spilled from under her jauntily-balanced, fur-trimmed hat and her similarly fringed scarlet costume was fitted to draw double-takes from good and bad boys alike. Shane's brain made a tracking-shot of her progress along the New Releases section; she walked so daintily in those little black ankle-boots and how her stocking seams traced the supple curves of her legs all the way up to that brief shock of suspender-crossed thigh - oh Baby Jesus... Then her eyes flicked suddenly his direction and he assumed nonchalance just a little too late.
"Mind on the job, stud. Quit checkin' out Santa's Little Helper." Arlo's sledgehammer quips were always overtly loud when there was a chance of applying a little humiliation. The Santa-girl glanced over again as Shane's rumpled boss sloped from the back room, rubbing his bleary, ill-shaved face with one hand. He picked up the discarded novel and glanced at the cover dismissively. "Ehhh - am I running a bookstore here?"
"Sorry?" Shane felt more perplexed than usual by his employer's sour demeanour. He supposed it was a Christmas thing.
"You're working in DVD rental." The over-emphasis on the final words as though addressing a child. "Try and keep a little focus on the job in hand. Look as though you give a shit and maybe I'll employ your ass into the New Year."
Shane's mind swam with choice epithets on the wisdom of maintaining an independent DVD store in this age of on-line rental, not to mention what the hell he was supposed to focus on that customer-lite Christmas Eve, but as ever he shared none of his thoughts. He needed this dubious posting to fund his studies until he made some - any - other arrangement. "Yes boss," he said, rapping his knuckles decisively on the counter with minimum betrayal of sarcasm. "Consider my act sharpened up."
Arlo eyed him critically. "Yeah. Well. Good." He began to struggle his ungainly form into a bulky winter coat. "I've gotta go out. You're minding the place the rest of the day. And locking up."
Shane was taken aback. "I'm - eh - supposed to be finishing at six..." He stared at his boss in a semi-daze. There were still family gifts to be bought. "We had an agreement..."
"Plans change. The other guy bailed. And I've got stuff needs doing." Like festive binge-drinking before he dragged his sorry ass home to his God-forsaken wife, thought Shane. "You want this job or not?" he was challenged.
"Yeah yeah, you go," Shane muttered in resignation to his fate, rather than the job. "I'll cover it."
"I mean it's not like you've got a girlfriend to worry about these days," Arlo said casually and loudly, as he raised the partition and made for the shop-front door. He paused there to deliver a final parting shot. "Hey, she did you a favour. One less gift to worry about, right?" And the door slammed.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas too, you dumb bastard. Shane was smarting from the unprovoked volley. He did not dare look up in case he caught Miss Claus's eye again. Bad luck that Arlo had overheard his recent conversation with another clerk on the subject of Shelley. I wasn't dumped, he might have protested, not as such. But the truth did not provide greater comfort. He could have followed his ex to the UK as she pursued her studies, she had said she wanted him to, but there was his creative writing course there in New York - his chance to redeem his college-dropout ass. They'd both made their tough choice.
Or in his case had it been an excuse? Couldn't he have found himself a similar course amongst the Limeys? Was he just too shy of commitment or the unknown or just shaking up his life a bit? Shelley had suggested as such. The warmth of her hug at the airport had just impressed salt into the wound her skepticism had opened. And now she was three thousand miles off, dating some guy in London. Merry Christmas, buddy-boy, Merry fucking...
"Oh - Hi, sorry." He had been staring down as though absorbed in the computer screen, to the extent that he had not noticed the vision in red hovering before the counter. "Off in my own world."
"That's okay. Anywhere nice?" Santa-girl smiled openly, unassumingly, and it lit up her already pretty features - the neat, straight little nose, high cheekbones, crystal-blue eyes and crimson-painted lips all gloriously enhanced by what moderate attention she appeared to be showing him. His response had to fight its way from his mouth.
"Yyyeah, a real - festive funland." He smiled ruefully, aware that she would have heard Arlo's every disdainful word to him. "It's called retail. Feels like I'm the only one not joining in the celebrations." He glanced tactfully over her low-cut, high-hitched St Nick costume.
"Hello," she said in cheery exasperation, and she flicked her hands upwards into a check-this-out pose. "This isn't my normal party-wear, you know!" The move had the effect of ramping up her satin-bra-ed cleavage impressively. Her apple-round tits were trimmed with ermine; it made Shane feel seasonal for the first time that December. "I've been handing out nightclub flyers all day," she informed him. "My butt's frozen off!" She gave a demonstrative shiver as she handed over her rental DVD cover and her petite frame, clad in red satin, shimmied delightfully. "And I've still got another batch to get through. What you reading?"
"Oh..." Fetching the DVD insert, he felt her degree of interest in him a minor Christmas miracle. "Crime story, LA Confidential. By James Elroy. Y'know, sex, murder, police brutality. 'Tis the season to be jolly..."
"Yeah, right, very Christmassy," she grinned. "Whatever happened to The Grinch?"
"I am the Grinch this year," he smiled back wryly, handing over the packaged disc. "Hey, the murders and police brutality happen at Christmas, that any good?"
"Sure, that's okay then," she smirked, handing over payment. "Hey, I read a Raymond Chandler book once. Had a teacher who was into that stuff. I liked it. I kind of wanted to be a femme fatale."
"Really? 'She walked into the room in a Santa suit and I could tell she was trouble', that kind of thing?" Wow, she was giggling in response. Shane actually felt on a roll here - what were the odds of that?
"Something like that," she said a touch slyly.
"Well we've got the movie of this over in Crime Classics," Shane advised her, holding up the Elroy. "It's got a great femme fatale. And your boyfriend might prefer it to PS I Love You." He cringed severely inside as he said the last bit; he always hated crowbarring in those cheesy test-the-water references. But sometimes you just had to, never more so than on the brink of a joy-free holiday.
"He would have," she replied with a tinge of melancholy, and her smile faded. She turned to leave, pausing just slightly to check his name badge. "Gotta go. You have a Merry Christmas, Shane the Grinch. Bye." She flashed a smile like a beautiful glimpse of winter sunshine and made for the door.
Shane grasped for some last conversational straw. "Hope you find someone to guide your sleigh tonight!" She turned at the door, gave a brief giggle and was gone. The skin on his face tightened in a mask of embarrassment and his hands balled into fists of mortification. He'd been doing okay, the Bogart bit had felt almost inspired. And then... Hope you find someone to.... What the fuck was I... "Damn!" One fist jammed hard into the countertop. Which hurt. "Shit! Ow!" He sucked on his grazed knuckle. The only minor consolation was that Arlo hadn't been witness to his final Yuletide humiliation.
Vanessa was warming her hands around a marshmallow-heavy hot chocolate, when Sammy returned to the coffee shop. "Did you get it?"
"Yeah..." Sammy was brandishing the DVD rom-com, triumphantly it seemed; however it turned out she had other matters on her mind. "Vee, I've found someone..."
"One more hour of these damn leaflets in this damn cold, then it's my place - roaring fire, sappy movie and lots of Cointreau." Vanessa was already basking in the anticipated warmth of both fire and liqueur. The turbulent waves of her red hair had been set free from Santa-hat captivity and she obviously resented these locks' imminent return to incarceration. "And no family to worry about till tomorrow morning."
"Vee, listen to me." Sammy dropped eagerly into the seat opposite her friend. "I've found someone, just stumbled on him. He's a clerk in the DVD store, he's perfect..."
"Sammy, what are you talking about?" Vanessa was irritated at having her reverie interrupted. "Perfect for what?"
"Perfect candidate. I mean - Vee, it's Christmas Eve!"
Vanessa was confused. "What - you mean...?"
"Yes! Yule..." Sammy leaned in and dropped her voice. "Yuletide Mindfuck."
"But ... Where did this come from? We hadn't even talked about doing it this year. I thought we'd consigned the Mindfuck to Christmas Past."
"Well yeah, so did I, but, look, he's such a deserving case - he's sweet and he's cute and he's funny... And he's broken up with his girlfriend. His boss was being so mean about it, left him looking like Droopy the Dog. I just wanted to - well - you know..."
Vanessa's thoughts flicked back to the origins of Yuletide Mindfuck, five whole years ago. It never failed to make her radiate a sense of seasonal warmth. Ollie had been the kid brother of Genevieve, hers and Sammy's roommate in the apartment they had rented during their final year of college; a good-looking if somewhat shy and gawky youth just turned eighteen, who had visited a few days from Maine in the run-up to Christmas. From the start he had seemed overwhelmed in the presence of his sister's attractive girlfriends, eager to talk, hardly able to string a sentence.
Sammy's discovery of the boy masturbating furiously in the shower stall one morning had been a total accident, she assured Vanessa; she had momentarily forgotten they had a guest, and that the lock needed mending. And she'd been a bit hungover, although maybe the running water should have clued her in. Her helpless, wide-eyed laughter at the poor guy's futile attempts to contain his spasming, cum-jetting cock, had mortified him to the point that he dressed, packed his stuff and went to leave.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," he had muttered incoherently, heaving his backpack towards the front door. "It's better if I just go - just please, please don't tell my sister, tell her I...I..."
"It's okay, you don't have to go anywhere," Sammy had insisted kindly, wresting the pack from his grasp, as Vanessa had turned away to hide her amusement, and despite his shame she had convinced him.
"He's such a sweetie," Sammy had said to her friend, later that day. "Poor guy."
"I know. We could so fuck with him," Vanessa had smiled. "We could melt that boy's head."
"We could." Their eyes had locked, evil brewing in both their minds. "Oh Vee, we should, we so should."
"It is Christmas after all, Sammy. Season of giving."
"Exactly. Just as long as Genevieve doesn't find out..."
"To hell with her if she does. Her little brother deserves a Christmas treat." How they had grinned.
And so the final night of his stay, when big sister had gone to bed, a bemused Ollie had been lured by text to Sammy's room, where he had found her and Vanessa in sheer lingerie, tonguing each other's mouth heatedly on the bed. "Shut the door and get over here, Ollie," Vanessa had instructed the stunned high-schooler, breaking away, her hands still brushing Sammy's face. "If you're going to jerk off in our place, then we'll give you something to jerk off to."
"Or better," Sammy had smiled sweetly, beckoning. He had looked confused and terrified, but not so much he even thought of leaving.
They had made him lower his pants and massage his fully erected prick in front of them, as they tenderly caressed each other's French lace-encased curves. Then they had removed their brassieres, both providing a lotion-enhanced tit-fuck for the dazed youngster, both gleefully encouraging him to stroke vigorously between the other's tight-squeezed breasts. Finally they had knelt before him to deliver a double-blowjob of advanced deliciousness, till his jolting cock was ready to release its load freely all over their waiting chests and faces. "Come on Ollie, don't be shy, shoot it all over us!" He had. Copiously.
He had wilted to his knees, adoration akin to that of the Magi plastered all over his face, before they had kissed and gently dismissed him back to the bed-sofa in the living-room.
"So that little bit of lesbianism wasn't too high a price?" inquired Vanessa.
"For the look on his face? Fuck, no," laughed Sammy. "You're a very good kisser, by the way."
"Thanks," said Vanessa, pleased. "So are you."
And so passed the advent of Yuletide Mindfuck, three times repeated on consecutive Christmases: in the men's room of a classy bar, a gym steam-room and the cloakroom of a restaurant respectively. Each time with a different subject, someone the girls had deemed deserving - regular, unassuming, with adequate personal hygiene and a reasonable level of attractiveness. A clear-cut once a year deal. "After all, it's not like we're sluts," Vanessa had said firmly, as they plotted the second year's adventure.
The whole evolving enterprise flashed instantaneously through Vanessa's mind and sitting there in the coffee shop she could not help but smile at the memory. But she shook her head nonetheless. "No can do," she told Sammy apologetically. "Good times, but we've laid it to rest. At least I have."
"At least go look," Sammy encouraged. "For old time's sake. It's just two doors down." So Vanessa humoured her friend and went there. Glancing through the store window she saw him - mid-twenties, a little taller than her - say five ten - with dishevelled fair hair; physically quite well-developed and facially strong with just the remnant of adolescent skin problems - nice eyes, Vanessa noticed. But a droop at his shoulders and a certain hangdog expression suggested all was not right in this guy's world.
"I see what you mean," she told Sammy on returning, "he'd definitely be a contender. If Mindfuck were still in operation. Look, don't let me stop you. Go cheer him up yourself."
"No," Sammy replied a touch petulantly. "It's more fun with two. Two's the whole point." She tried wheedling. "One final time, Vee. It's been a bad few months for me with the break-up. Come on, who got you this promotions job when you needed it?"
Vanessa scowled just a little. "Look, I'm grateful for the extra money, but I've just had a day's worth of getting hit on by every douche who thinks he's owed a free fuck courtesy of the season. So even if I weren't dating, maybe I wouldn't be in the mood. Plus the fact that I am dating, and I'd like it to get serious. Dave's back from Montreal two days after Christmas and I don't want to spoil it. He sent me the sweetest text while you were gone. If things go well maybe I'll be there meeting his family this time next year! I can't do Mindfuck this time. Sorry, babe."
Sammy looked glum for a moment. Then she revived, her eyes a-sparkle. "So - okay, what if you didn't even touch him?"
"Hmmm?" Vanessa had been back to her hot chocolate, the matter dropped.
"Not even lay a finger on him. What if you left all that to me? You'd just be there to add - you know - the 'fuck' factor. Look, it's because he's not one of today's creeps that we'd be doing it! It's a Christmas gift, Vee. It's traditional!"
"So - what would be my function?" Vanessa enquired with a raised eyebrow. She was still unconvinced. "Purely voyeuristic?"
"Maybe," Sammy said thoughtfully, "maybe we could do better than that. Come on, Vanessa, you're inventive. Help me work a l number on this guy. We can hand out the rest of the leaflets and talk through the details while we do it. He's called Shane, Vee. I like him." She did a little dog-panting routine and Vanessa laughed despite herself.
"Okay." Her voice was resigned, yet good-humoured. "Since I'm such a good friend. But you do all the hands-on, right? We'll rework it a little..." - Sammy was fairly bouncing up and down in her seat in excitement by now -- "...and then we'll roll out the Mindfuck. One final time."
Shane gave up and threw down his book. It was the first time James Elroy had failed him - even the devious plot convolutions and character contradictions could not retain his attention that afternoon. The wasteland that was Cinemagic Video was atrophying his brain; its despair was infecting him. He didn't want to be some sort of brooding Dickensian spectre at the family Christmas the next day, but he didn't think he could fake sufficient mirth to cover his current mood. Customer, customer, please - anyone. Any brief conversational exchange which might affirm his humanity in the midst of this most emotionally unforgiving of seasons. Bit of small-talk - too much to ask for? Yes? No? A moment's pause. Okay, that would be no. He slumped back into his seat.
Then she walked in. Santa-girl. And his heart felt like it was pinballing around his insides. She ignored all the racks of DVDs, she just walked fearlessly, intently between the isles in those little black boots all the way up to him and leaned forward over the counter, an earnestly decisive expression on her cute face.
"Hey Shane, I just came back to apologise."
He was nonplussed. "Apologise? What for?"
"Well," she went on with a frank, confessional tone, "there you were, feeling a bit low on Christmas Eve, and there I was, tossing a Merry Christmas your way like nothing was wrong..."
"That's okay," Shane protested. He hated the thought that his misery had been that tangible, but was terribly pleased to see Miss Claus back again. "I'm actually pretty content with life most..."
"...And I wanted to do something about it."
"...Of the time...Sorry?"
She was strolling casually now towards the door in the partition, raising it and moving through, crossing that sacred divide between staff and customer. Shane's scalp was prickling. The apathy of one minute ago had been dispelled and replaced with galloping, excited confusion. "It's just that we go about wishing Merry Christmas all the time," she was saying, and to the earnestness was added something unambiguously sultry. "And when I thought about it, I realised I wanted to give you a Merry Christmas. Now what's wrong with that?"
She gripped the front of his loosely hanging shirt and drew him close to her, so that her enticingly packaged, pert bosom pressed into his chest. There was a terror of the unexpected rising within him simultaneous to the rising of his dick. "You're a really nice guy, Shane," she purred, and it made him shiver. "I mean that's just obvious. So this time of year why shouldn't somebody like me make you feel really nice?" Her voice caught breathily in her throat as she said it and at the end she bit her moist lip, clutching tighter to the shirt and rising onto her toes expectantly.