Back when I was in high school, I was told I needed a college education if I was ever going to have the American dream -- you know, house in suburbia, wife who is even hotter now than before our 2.5 kids were born, a nice SUV for her, a cool truck for me, golfing, maybe a little boat to use for fishing on weekends, all that shit middle-class kids are told they'll want when they grow up.
There was one major problem with all of that. I was a decent enough student to get into a good college, but I wasn't athletic enough to get a sports scholarship, and not quite enough of an achiever in school to get any merit-based help. My folks couldn't afford to pay for my schooling, and I wasn't mature enough to consider going to school and working full-time all at once.
So, I did what a lot of kids do. I found a decent-paying job after graduation, planning to work for a year or two, to make enough money to pay for some of my schooling myself. After all, the girl I was in love with, the amazing wife-to-be, wouldn't want to be saddled with my student loans for years.
One late summer morning, everything changed. I could hear some commotion in the office. Then one of the secretaries came out crying. She looked like she had just witnessed the end of the world.
"Tamara, what's wrong?" I asked.
"Oh God, Joel, they say there may be thousands dead," she sobbed.
"What are you talking about?" I asked.
"Go in Sarah's office. She has a news feed up on her computer. Oh, God, all those people dead!" she wailed as she ran for the ladies' room.
I had no idea what was going on when I dashed to Sarah's desk. I got there just in time to see a plane hit the second of the Twin Towers. I stood there, slack-jawed, not quite believing what I was seeing. The news commentators were speculating on the likelihood of two airliners colliding with those two buildings within less than twenty minutes, and very soon, everyone knew we were under attack. The few die-hards who didn't want to believe it were convinced when we learned about the other planes.
Stunned, I wandered outside for a cigarette. Work was forgotten for the day. Several people were certain that one of the people seen jumping, or falling, from those buildings had been our company president, Mr. Chambers, who had a sales appointment there.
A guy I worked with came outside and leaned heavily against the wall next to me. He lit up a smoke, took a few drags, turned to me, and said, "What now?"
"I have no fucking clue. Shit, does someone want a war?"
"We have to fight them. I'm so mad right now, I just want to go find those sons-of-bitches and cut their hearts out," he growled.
"Me too. I want to hurt someone like they hurt us," I agreed.
"Well, I know what I'm going to do," he said, grinding out his cigarette. "Come with me after work. I'm going to enlist."
I called my fiancee, and we talked for almost an hour. She knew what I was going to say when I called her. I wasn't sure what the future would bring, but I was raised to never take shit lying down. I went with my buddy from work and joined the Army.
At one point, I considered becoming a career military man. The life was impossibly hard, but I knew I was doing what needed to be done. I was on a mission to save the world from terrorists, to make America safe.
My glorious military career ended rather suddenly. A roadside bomb killed everyone in the Humvee I was riding in but me. I heard the blast, felt the blast, but didn't feel anything else for a couple of days. A pretty young nurse with a German accent finally got me to understand that my one leg was gone above the knee, and my other leg ended a few inches below the knee.
I was in a fog. Morphine makes it pretty hard to grasp some concepts, I guess. That same nurse had to read the month-old "Dear John" letter to me five times before I understood that no one was going to be waiting for me when I got home.
That was almost a year ago. Now I wake up in the morning in my apartment, turn off the alarm clock before it can make its awful noise, glance briefly at my Purple Heart, and start getting ready to face the day.
The army changed my life, no question about that. They did the surgeries to patch me up and gave me prostheses and a wheelchair. Better prostheses, ones that may have restored my mobility, would have required more surgery, and I wasn't sure I was ready for that just yet, so the army helped to pay for the installation of hand controls and other disability modifications in a pick-up truck I bought. Employment? Uh, not so much.
Regardless of all the laws and public service messages out there, the reality is that there are few civilian job openings for a guy whose only military-trained skills are humping tank rounds and driving a big rig, especially since I couldn't do either of those things any more.
That's how I wound up responding to an online job posting for holiday season help at the mall. Retail wasn't exactly the field I had expected to find myself in, but I was sick of the temp agencies, and I needed to get out of my apartment and re-join the living. I thought there should be plenty of things I could learn to do from my chair.
When I rolled into the mall office for my interview, the personnel manager said, "I'm Ted Haggerty, and you must be Joel Parmer. I'd salute you, but I can't raise my arm that high any more. Two years in a little cage in a North Viet Nam prison camp pretty much ended that for me. I see on your application that you're a veteran, too. I know I'm not supposed to ask you this, but we're just two broken-down old warhorses, here, okay?"
"I'll tell you whatever you want to know, sir," I replied.
"Tell me what happened, and how you're doing," he said.
"Long story short, third tour of duty in Iraq, roadside bomb, both legs were hamburger and needed to be amputated. From the field hospital they flew me to Germany, and I had more surgery there. I'd need more operations to be able to wear the fancy new-tech prostheses, and I'm just not ready for the pain. The prostheses I have allow me to stand, but I really can't walk without crutches or handrails. That's why I usually use my chair in public. I was working to save for college when 9/11 happened. I enlisted, got hurt, honorable medical discharge, been working through temp agencies at odd filing jobs since then. I'm starting college after the holidays, and any money I can earn to prepare for that will help. I'll do anything I'm capable of, sir."
"Do you like people?" he asked.
"Generally, yes sir, unless they're planting bombs."
"Do you like kids?"
"I don't have any of my own, sir, and I don't have any childcare training. Why?"
"Can you stand kids?"
"Yes, sir, I guess I didn't answer your last question. I like kids, sir, I just don't have much experience with them."
"OK, here's the thing. The mall needs a Santa. You sit in a chair wearing a costume, listen to children say what they want for Christmas, smile for pictures, that's pretty much it. There's room in 'Santa's Workshop' to store your chair, and the 'elves' can help you if you need it. Here's the pay scale and the work schedule," he said, pushing a paper across the desk.
I read what he handed me. The pay was more than I was getting from the temp agency, and the mall employee discount meant I would be able to buy a few gifts for my family along with some stuff I knew I would need to start school.
"How many shifts may I work per week, sir?" I asked.
"You're the first candidate I'm hiring this year, so you have your pick. Welcome aboard!"
That's how I came to be wearing a white wig and beard, a "fat suit", and a red costume.
Every day was different. At least once each morning and each afternoon, a toddler would piss on me or a baby would spit up on my suit, which meant a wardrobe change. The "elves" sometimes helped me with that when we were busy (to keep the line moving), so they all knew my physical limitations. All the women who worked with me as elves were young mothers or college students, and, with me being only twenty-six years old, we jelled pretty quickly into a cohesive team.
Occasionally, some giggly high school girls would come by our stand, and dare each other to sit on Santa's lap. Sometimes, this would end badly, with a girl looking upset when she felt the straps and hinges on my prostheses pressing into her thigh or butt. The college-age girls were better about it. Most of them seemed to choose to ignore the evidence of my injuries, and a few made sure they wiggled around on my lap until they felt something against their asses that wasn't made of plastic or metal.
My favorite elf was Sandy, a junior in college, taking a semester off to earn money. Her name fit her, since she had a long mane of wavy, sandy-blond hair. She even had a pixie face, and she looked very nice in her green-and-white striped tights and elf costume. She started work the same day I did, and we immediately hit it off. Sandy had worked as a hospital volunteer in high school, so I wasn't too shocked when she offered to help me with changing my wet pants. She saw what I looked like in just my underwear, and we came to accept that as part of our working relationship.
It was still early enough in the season that weekdays when school was in session were slow. We had a few babies and toddlers, but the kids old enough to actually tell Santa what gifts they wanted were all in school. For that reason, only Sandy and I worked at "Santa's Workshop" at those times. One elf was enough to keep the line orderly, while snapping and printing pictures and taking money. In the early afternoon, we would close the stand for our lunch break, since the kiddies were usually home taking naps. Sandy and I got fairly comfortable talking to each other on those boring days.
On an especially slow day, a slutty young woman sat on my lap just before break time. This girl wasn't dressed to impress. She was dressed to seduce. When she sat on my lap, she grabbed my arm and wrapped it around her so her one breast was in my hand. She kept squirming around on my lap trying to get into just the right pose for the camera, and she managed to put a hand on my cock which was growing in my pants. "Oooh, a nice big candy cane," she murmured in my ear. "Santa, I've been a very bad girl this year. Do you know what a bad girl should get for Christmas?" When she was done with her pictures, she scribbled a note and stuck it in my hand, kissed me on the cheek, and swished her ass walking away.
Sandy had already hung up our sign that said, "Ho! Ho! Ho! Working on more toys! Back at 2:00." She came over to me pushing my chair. "Do you know what a bad girl needs for Christmas?" she giggled, mocking our last customer.
"Knock it off, Sandy," I laughed.
"Can you say 'aggressive'? Why didn't she just wear a sign that says, 'Looking to get laid'?"
We both laughed like kids as I hauled myself off Santa's chair and into my own.
"She did answer one question for me, though," Sandy said.
"What's that?" I asked.
"Oh, nothing," Sandy blushed.
"Come on, say it. We're friends, aren't we? What was the question?" I persisted.
By this time, we were in a restricted-access hallway, one not open to the public, heading to the employee break room. "Well," Sandy said, "I've seen your injuries,..."
"Yeah," I said, hoping to draw her out.
"And you've told me what happened,..."
"I'm not shy about that. It's pretty obvious that I'm not the same as I once was. And besides, you've helped me change my pants. You've seen the worst. So, ask away."
"But I always sort of wondered, um, well,..."
"Well, I wondered if you had any damage,... um,... further up. OK, I'll just say it. I wondered if you still could function as a man. And judging by what I saw when that slut got off your lap, I guess you can."
"Oh," I said. She was blushing so hard, her cheeks were redder than her red tunic top. "Yeah, I, um,... yeah, I... I can."
"Well, that's good, I guess," Sandy said. "Do you have a girlfriend?"
"No. I did. I thought we were going to get married. I got a 'Dear John' letter when I was in the hospital after I got wounded."
"She broke up with you because you lost your legs?" Sandy sputtered. "That's horrible!"
"No, no, she had mailed the letter before I got hurt. It just took a while for the letter to find me. It's okay, really. It was hard at the time, but, well, you move on."
"But have you?" she asked.
"I guess. Yes, I have. I had to. A lot of things changed for me in a very short time. You know what they say: 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.'"
"I guess," Sandy said. We ate our lunches in silence.
"Joel?" Sandy asked.
"Do you ever go out? Do you ever see anyone?"
"Not really," I said. "It's kind of a hassle with my chair and fake legs and all."
"Some people are able to get prostheses that they can do stuff on. I've even seen videos of people running on prostheses," Sandy said.
"They tell me I'd need more surgery on both legs, maybe two procedures on the left leg, to revise the stumps enough to allow me to wear the good stuff, and my benefits won't cover all of it. Maybe I'll do it one day, but I'm pretty much done with hospitals and pain for the time being," I said.
Sandy was quiet for the rest of our break, but just as we were re-opening "Santa's Workshop," she said, "What are you doing after work?"
"Going home, I guess."
"Would you like to stop for a drink?" she asked.
"How about if we grab some dinner, too?" I responded.
"Sounds like fun."
The afternoon was a lot busier after school let out, and by the time our replacements came in, Sandy and I were both glad to be done for the day. We went to our locker room to change.
When Sandy came out of the building, I was waiting at the curb in my truck. "Get in," I said. "I'm sorry I'm not gentleman enough to hold your door for you."
"Oh, don't be silly," she said, sliding into the passenger's bucket seat. "I'm not handicapped, you know." She suddenly got a shocked, embarrassed look on her face and covered her mouth. "Oh, oh my God, I'm so sorry, Joel. That was awful of me. You must think I'm an insensitive bitch."
"No, it's okay, " I said, reaching over the console to pat her hand. "I've heard a lot worse. You wouldn't believe the number of 'wooden leg' jokes I've endured, from people who actually think that's funny. You get used to it. So, where do you want to go? I figured I'd drive. I have trouble getting into some people's cars."
"How did you get in here and deal with your chair?" she asked.
"This truck has more than just hand controls," I said. "As a typical gadget-happy guy, I really like how some of the other modifications work. I'll show you when we get to wherever you tell me we're going. Your choice, my treat."
"Anywhere is fine," Sandy said.
"No, really, what are you hungry for? After army food, I can eat anything, especially if it doesn't have much sand in it."
We settled on a little country inn, a place we had both heard was casual and reasonably priced, but with excellent food. It didn't take long to get there, and, amazingly, the handicapped-only parking space was open. Sandy got out and came around to my side to see me playing with a little remote, making the gadgetry in the truck put my chair on the ground and then lower me, so I could slide into it.
"I can push you, if you like," she said.
"No I'm fine. That's an easy wheelchair ramp. Hmmm. I might have to ask you to open the door, though" I said.
Sandy dashed around me, opened the door, and motioned me inside. There was an old-fashioned threshold, which I knew I could get over, but the antique doorway was a little too narrow for my chair.
"Damn it, I thought it would fit," I muttered. Turning to Sandy, I said, "I'm sorry. I guess we'll have to think of something else."
"I'll make us dinner," Sandy said.
"I don't want you to have to do that. Let's just think of somewhere we can go that's easier for me."
"How about your place? Do you have a kitchen?"
"Well, sure," I said.
"Dishes? Forks? Pots and pans?"
"I cook. I don't use my microwave much. So unless you need the stuff you'll only find in a cooking-show kitchen, I think there's enough hardware," I said.
"Spaghetti and meatballs, salad, and garlic bread?" she asked.
"I have to stop for frozen garlic bread, but I've got the rest at home."
"We need everything, bachelor boy," Sandy laughed. "This is a girl doing the cooking, so humor me."
* * * * * * * * * *
Dinner was excellent. We had a good time talking afterward, and we learned a lot about each other. She got to see how I live, and we talked about how I got in this situation. Her grandfather had been a Marine, and had only recently begun talking a little about his experiences in the Viet Nam war, so she knew not to ask me too many questions about my time in the service. Some things you see and do in war time are not that easy to discuss with people who have never experienced it.
I took her back to the mall for her car when it got late, and she gave me a brief peck on the cheek when she got out of my truck. I would have enjoyed a lot more, but decided that could really screw up a budding friendship.
I found myself looking at Sandy a little differently the next day at work. She had always looked good to me, but had she always looked this good? I found myself watching her legs in those silly green-and-white striped tights a little more closely, and I became more aware of the way other parts of her costume hugged the curves of her body. I found myself changing my opinion of Sandy from cute to desirable.
For her part, Sandy seemed a little more comfortable with me, a little more touchy-feely. When young children sat on my lap, Sandy smiled a little more openly as she worked the camera. When teenage girls sat on my lap, she sometimes chuckled when she saw them working their little butts around on me. And when another young woman blatantly rubbed her ass on my crotch, she laughed out loud.
"That one felt more than hard plastic, didn't she, Santa?" she whispered when the girl sashayed away. "Is Santa horny?"
"Knock it off, Sandy," I scolded good-naturedly.
Some time later, a toddler's diaper leaked on my pants leg. Sandy gave the signal to one of our other "elves," who held up the line so I could have a moment of privacy for a wardrobe change. Sandy, of course, helped me. This time, however, instead of handing me the container of baby wet-wipes so I could clean my thigh, she did it for me.
"I think Santa is horny," she whispered. She had caught me looking down her top, and she gave me a smile I wasn't sure I understood. I hadn't really seen much, just some nice cleavage and a little pale blue lace at the top of her bra. It was enough, though, to have my dick feeling a little warm and thick. I didn't actually pop a boner, but I was thinking about it.
When we left work that night, Sandy said she was going to do a little shopping, so I said goodbye and went home.
The next day, Sandy said, "I got you a Christmas present. It's just a little something for you. I'll give it to you at lunch time."
"Why, Sandy? You don't have to give me a Christmas gift."
"I know. I just saw it when I was shopping yesterday, and I thought it was something you should have."
We got through our morning and took our lunch break. After we ate, Sandy said, "I'll be right back. Gotta go get your present from my locker."
She returned in a moment with a square, flat box, wrapped in green paper with a deep red bow. "Open it," she said. "No need to wait for Christmas day."
I pulled off the ribbon and paper and opened the box. Inside was a pair of red boxer shorts with a sprig of mistletoe stenciled on the front, just above the fly opening. "Oh, nice. Thank you," was what I said. What I thought was, "I should be so lucky, especially with a girl like you, Sandy!"