My Dream Santa


"I see. When exactly will you get back?"

"I'll be back just before dawn on Christmas morning. I have the key fob which allows me entry into your Dad's yard there and I also have keys and the burglar alarm codes, so I can get into the offices to use the er, facilities."

"What about your father and family, why are you not staying on with them during the festivities?"

"Well, it's a family thing. Me striking out on my own was, well, complicated," he said, "I have obligations which I cannot shirk. Andy, your father, is aware on my situation, and I try to fit those obligations in with my work here. So far it hasn't been a problem."

"You're not an 18-year-old, surely. You seem more my age." Jennifer winced at what she said, hoping he hadn't noticed. She liked this man, this apparently single man, who didn't seem to have anywhere to go, or anyone to see, over the Christmas holidays, other than some reactionary old family that seem reluctant to let him go. Looking at him again, even in the dim reflection of the lorry dashboard dials, she thought he looked handsome, dependable and really quite cute. If only any of her old boyfriends were like this driver.

"No, I am not a youngster, and certainly not as young as a teenager, anyway. I suppose we must be of a similar age, in appearance and circumstance, I suppose, we're both visiting our parents for the festivities and are unaccompanied. Look, Miss Webster, I'm on my own here in this town and it's really no hardship to do your car service. I am always working over Christmas anyway, and once I get back on Christmas Day I will probably sleep most of the day. I've not got anywhere else to go, or anything I particularly want to do. Now, it would be different if my house was ready...." he let the rest of his conversation about his possible future alternatives drift away.

"Look, I'd really like to thank you for helping me out with the car. Maybe you could come to lunch on Christmas Day at my Mum's? That is our traditional Christmas Dinner."

"Really?" he asked, his eyebrows raised, "but, no, that's for family, surely. Do you really think your mother would be prepared to have one of your Dad's drivers over for dinner?"

"She can be a bit snooty, I know, but she wouldn't have to know you were one of Dad's drivers," she said, "besides, she's half expecting me to bring someone with me, you know, a er ... friend, so she'll be able to accommodate you for at least tonight. She'd expect you to sleep on the couch, of course, but she will definitely have room at the dinner table for you tonight. So, you could sleep on the couch and then, after the car service and me treating you to lunch tomorrow, you could have a nap in the afternoon before you leave on Christmas Eve. You could even sleep at my mother's on Christmas morning for maybe four hours, as it would be quiet, with no children, other than one teenage girl, until the grandkids arrive late-morning."

"Mmm, I'm not sure if your mother would be prepared to have a stranger asleep under her roof." Jennifer's Good Samaritan notwithstanding.

"Well, that could be awkward, of course, but I could always tell her that you are my new boyfriend." She almost winced as she said it, "Then you wouldn't be a stranger, you'd be almost family."

"I'm not sure if that will work," he smiled, raising his eyebrows again, "for a start, how 'new' can a new boyfriend be? Besides, won't your Mum expect boyfriend-girlfriend to have er, you know, more personal sleeping arrangements than one of them being relegated to the couch?"

He did have a handsome smile, she thought, and a nice open trustworthy face "True. But my mother is a bit funny about my sleeping arrangements, actually. Even when I lived with my ex-boyfriend Scott for about five of the eight years we were an item, and we visited Mum far more regularly than I have on my own recently, she always insisted on his sleeping on the sofa."

"Actually, I love sofas," he grinned, "they are much better than a lorry cab, any day, or rather night of the week."

"There is one other thing, mmm, how am I going to put this?" She bit her lip nervously.

"I find the easiest way is just to come out and say it as it comes."

That nice sweet smile again, she noted.

"I suppose you're right. I just don't know what you are going to think of me when I ask this of you."

"Just say it as if you are talking to a mirror. Don't worry about what I think. Once it's said it's said, and, believe me, many more unsaid words are regretted than those that are said."

"True," she agreed. "OK then, here we go. In order to stay with me as my boyfriend at my Mum's house, you will have to pretend that your name is ... Jeff."

"Jeff? Why Jeff?"

"It's ... oh. Damn it! ... It's my new boyfriend's name.

"Oh, you already have a new boyfriend?" he asked, eyebrows raised but still smiling, "I had assumed by 'new', you meant 'new' as in brand spanking new."

"No, this Jeff is not a new boyfriend, er, not my new real boyfriend exactly. He doesn't actually exist. Oh dear. It's really complicated ... and I was the one who made my present life so complicated. I feel so stupid about it but it really is all my fault." She sighed. "Look, about eight months ago I split from my boyfriend Scott —"

"Scott? Not Jeff?"

"No, I told you it was complicated. My old and now definitely ex-boyfriend's name was Scott. He was the loser boyfriend, you know, the one who was supposed to be regularly servicing my car over the last six years? He was a cheating womanizer and a liar. My mother really liked him, liked him more than she liked me, I think."

"Surely not."

"Anyway, he was a bit of a dish, actually, and everyone liked him, including my Mum."

"Good job I don't have to pretend to be him, then, isn't it?" he laughed, "just Jeff the ghost."

It was a nice deep laugh, Jennifer thought, relaxed, warm and comfortable, comforting even. Ok, he was laughing at her, at least a little bit at her, but it was somehow more like gentle leg pulling, a sharing of an amusement, rather than as condescending as she was reminded that Scott often used to be.

"I didn't mean that you weren't a ... er, well I, er, you see I didn't want to tell my mother that I hadn't got a boyfriend, or tell her what the reason was why I dumped him all those months ago."

"So YOU dumped Scott, this apparent dish, this man your Mum thought was a dreamboat? Or at least as far as everyone else and your mother were concerned? I think it's great that you showed Scott that you were no doormat."

"Yes," Jennifer stuck her chin out, and said determinedly, "Yes, I was the one who dumped him."

It somehow lifted her, not just the realisation that she had summoned the strength to do so at the time, but that a stranger, a man, a really nice man, knew that she wasn't just any old rag doll to be used and abused. It made a difference. It finally made a difference. For the first time she felt better, even happy, for having the gumption to have dumped Scott.

"That says something about you that should give you the strength to face your Mum, you know."

Her rescuer was thinking the same as she was. She took strength and encouragement from that.

"Yes, I suppose so. Yes, you're right, it should give me strength. I did dump him and it was ... it was because I found out that Scott had been having a series of affairs behind my back. He wasn't just lying about servicing the car, he was, well, he was being what he thought a man should be. So, almost immediately after splitting with Scott, I was unable to take someone home on a trip to Mum and my Mum's new man in her life. So, almost to change the subject from what was so upsetting to me, I made up a stupid fictitious boyfriend and called him 'Jeff'. Stupid, I know but...."

"I know, Miss Webster, believe me," he laughed, "I really do know all about parents, their unreasonable expectations and our opposing reactions to them."

"You too?"

"Yes, my parents also want to marry me off before I am good and ready."

"So, you already have a girlfriend?"

"No, no, they wanted me to marry and take over the family business. So they were prepared to arrange a marriage for me, if necessary, because I am completely unattached. I must be unkissable or something."

"I wouldn't say that," Jennifer paused, colouring up, before she added, "is that why you are not with your family over Christmas?"

"Maybe that has a little to do with it. Although it boils down to the fact that they live ... far away, abroad, which makes life difficult. You can't live your life in two places without compromise. I felt so restricted there. All part of growing up, I suppose. I don't have any brothers or sisters to talk to about it."

"I have a brother and sister, but they have settled lives and their own families. They don't want to deal with me and the problems that they coped with long ago."

"Same here, it does leave you isolated. It means that for now, at least, my life seems to be centred around here."

"Oh, I'm in London, being independent for about ten years now, but I really am starting to hate it. And traveling up from there at this time of year is a nightmare." Jennifer paused. "Look, as I said, you could stay at my Mum's tonight, sleep on the sofa instead of in the cab. You will have running hot water, hot food and central heating, and a good night's sleep on the sofa instead of in a draughty old lorry cab. After breakfast, we can sort out servicing the car and then I'll treat you to lunch, before I go off and finish my last-minute Christmas shopping. And all you have to do is answer to the name of 'Jeff' for a while."

"Sounds like a plan, but you'll have to give me a lift to the airfield from your Mum's tomorrow, I don't have a car here."

"No problem."

"I should think your car's probably warmed up enough by now. You lead off slowly and I'll overtake you, so I can churn up the fresh snow for you on the way to your Dad's depot, where I'll pack myself an overnight bag."

He had opened his cab door and was on the ground while still talking and around holding her door open as Jennifer climbed down. He held her arm steady on the fresh snow underfoot as they made their way to her driver's door. He helped her into the car and squeezed her shoulder before closing the door on her.

"I'll flash you, Jennifer, when I'm ready for you to move off. Go slowly along the lane for twenty to thirty yards. I'll overtake you and squash all this snow with my big snow tyres, so your car shouldn't slide around too much. I'll keep an eye on you in the wing mirrors, so I can't lose you."

A shiver went down Jennifer's spine, as he slammed her door and walked back to his cab. Just the way he called her by her first name had made her glow. Yet she didn't even know his name at all! She was about to open her door, to run to his cab and ask him, when he flashed his lights. He was already ready to move off.

As she drove down the road, and the big truck lumbered past her to lead the way, her mobile phone rang. She recognised the number, her best girl friend, Satish. She picked it up.

"Hi, Satish. How are you?"

"Hello, Jenna, honey. I just wanted to check how you got on with your Mum and what she thinks about you rolling up without your so-called boyfriend 'Jeff' in tow."

"I haven't actually seen Mum yet, Satish, my car broke down on the way. That shit Scott hasn't serviced the car in all the time I've had it, and it gave up the ghost a few miles short. It's pouring down with snow up here."

"Oh, no! Whereabouts are you?"

"I'm driving round to my Dad's lorry depot, with one of his drivers leading the way, in case I break down again. Purely by luck he saw me broken down on the side of the road and managed to get this bloody heap going again."

"So you've still got to face your Mum, then, huh? What are you going to say to her when 'Jeff' is no show?"

"I don't know what she would say, but I might not have to explain anything at all."

"No? Really?"

"Maybe, I really don't know yet. Look, Satish, do you believe in love at first sight?"

"I don't think so, Jenna. Love grows from getting to know and trust someone completely. I really don't think you would have that level of trust right at the outset, not with a new boyfriend, at first he would be no more than any stranger. Natural attraction isn't love, you know, it is lust! And there's some safety in having doubts and not giving away your heart to somebody too soon. Look at how you felt when Scott let you down, and you knew him for eight years."

"I know, it is so hard to know. What about you and your hubby? I mean, did you fall in love with him early on in your relationship? Were you already comfortable as a couple by the time you married?"

"Ha!" Satish laughed, "Sanjay was a friend of a second cousin. He was still living in India when I was engaged to him. I spent ten minutes with him in a room full of both our older relatives. I met him just the once and then we were engaged. That was just a few days before we were married. We flew to India to meet, marry and have our honeymoon, before flying home again at the end of a fortnight. Everything was arranged for us. We didn't even speak on our own as a couple until our wedding night."

"But ... you're a modern British woman, and your Mum and Dad seem so normal. I didn't think arranged marriages happened over here."

"My family are British and I was born here, my father was even born here, but they are ultra traditional when it comes to marriage and bringing up children."

"And you were already in love with him before you were married?"

"Not at all. I thought he was handsome on first appearance, but at first he was stiff and formal with me. I didn't even think he liked me very much. I thought he only married me because his family approved our match. At the time I wondered if he loved someone else and was being forced to give her up."

"But you must have liked him?"

"He was a strong marriage match, a medical student with a good future, from a family with strong moral values. What was there not to like?" She laughed.

"But you love him now?"

"We learned to love each other quite soon in our marriage. He was so gentle a lover and he has been a good father and husband. He found it difficult adjusting, when he first came to London, of course. I was born here so it was easy for me. Then we had our three children in five years and have had a really good life together. I can't imagine being married to anyone else. We are happy and —."

"Sorry Satish, I'm at the depot gates now. I better go."

"Call me in the morning and let me know how you got on with your mother."

"Will do, bye."


The gates opened up in front of Jennifer as the lorry pulled inside and she drove in behind him. The truck parked up in line with several other trucks.

Just then, Jen's phone rang again, the number she recognised as her father's.

"Hi Pops, you'll never guess where I am."

"I know exactly where you are, Pumpkin," her Dad replied laughing, "I hear you have rechristened my best driver as a guy called 'Jeff' and, that you're going to be passing him off to your mother as the latest man in your life."

"Oh crap! He rang and told you!"

"Of course he did. I told you he's my best man, and he knew I would understand, especially if it means putting one over on your mother! Anyway, you are in good hands with young 'Jeffrey' as you like to call him. No-one can pack a truck or van like he can or deliver it as quick. He finds his way around the countryside like it's the back of his hand. And he is a really likeable chap."

"He says he doesn't have a girlfriend."

"Well, I think that's correct. The two young girls that I've got working in the office, keep trying to chat him up and he's not interested in taking advantage of them, so I do believe you are safe with him, I'm just not certain about his safety!" He laughed. "So, you can be sure that I won't say anything embarrassing about either of you to the rest of our family. By the way, you are both invited to our place on Boxing Day, as a 'couple'."

"Yeah, he said you'd already invited him to dinner. So you really do trust him with me, and vice versa, then Pops?"

"Absolutely, sweetheart. I trust the both of you to waste a perfect opportunity to be eternally happy together. What I would prefer you to do over the next three years is marry him so I can retire and leave the business with you both to look after it."

"But Pops, I hardly know him!"

"I'm not aiming to retire straight away, so get to know him over this holiday for a start. He's a first-class bloke who's really going places. He's worth his weight in gold to my business. You should see the house he's having built!"

"Oh! He's coming back, I'll speak to you tomorrow, Pops."

"OK, Pumpkin, speak to you later."

'Jeff' walked up to the car with an overnight bag in one hand and a bulging red sack in the other. Jen got out and opened her untidy boot for him.

"Sorry it is a mess back here, not sure if both those bags will fit."

"Get back in the warm, Miss Webster, I have a knack for packing a lot of stuff into small spaces."

"OK," she said, doubtfully, "what's in the bag exactly, your week's laundry to take home?"

"Fortunately," he laughed, "I caught up with my laundry yesterday, so I have a clean change of clothes and freshly pressed PJs in my holdall. I want your 'Jeff' to make a good impression on your mother. As for the sack, I have some spare presents that might fill some of the gaps in your shopping list."

"How do you know I have gaps?"

"You told me, you're shopping for presents while I'm servicing your car tomorrow morning."

"Your photographic memory?"

"Just paying attention."

"Oh, this is embarrassing, presents as well, I mean, you are doing everything—"

"Everything that it takes to make your Christmas a good one, Miss Webster. Let me take that on as my seasonal job this Christmas."

"Call me Jen or Jennifer, please. We are supposed to be boyfriend and girlfriend, after all!"

He nodded, smiled again, and managed to squeeze the bag and sack in and, to her amazement, the boot clicked shut without popping out any of the windows.

"Do you want me to drive?" he asked, "I'm quite accustomed to driving in the snow."

"Thank you, I would be grateful," she said, "it was really noticeable the difference it made following your tyre tracks."

As they drove along, 'Jeff' spoke.

"I haven't properly introduced myself—"

Jennifer interrupted, "No, please don't tell me your real name, now, otherwise I'll be confused and only call you the wrong one. I spoke to Dad just now on the phone and, well, he vouched for you."

He nodded. "Funnily enough, I'm called 'Junior' when I'm at home, so I rarely get called my real name anyway. Even your Dad started calling me 'Ace', almost from the outset, and they all do that now, both in the office and by the other drivers. OK, formal introductions, then. Hello, Jen, I'm Jeff. Now, Jeffrey Who, am I exactly?"

"Oh Lord, I'm hopeless at lying, I never even made up a last name for my made-up boyfriend!"

"I'll start again then Jen, hello, I'm Jeff," he laughed, "er, Jeff Nixon Junior will do, I think. That will explain if I answer to 'Junior'. Now, you must be Jennifer Webster, my girlfriend of ... how long have we been going out Jen? Oh yes, eight months, wasn't it? In that case I must know all about how you take your coffee or tea, what your favourite foods are, alcoholic drinks, favourite colours and whether you've been a good girl or not this year."

"Yes, I suppose ... I better find out what your favourites are, too."

"Or we could just guess them," he suggested with a grin.

"OK, guess mine, clever clogs."

"Right," he said, "tea, white, no sugar, first thing in the morning; then coffee white, with one sugar at break time; tea again at tea time and white coffee again with one in the evening. I think you probably love lasagne and pasta but not with too much garlic. Your favourite drink is dry white wine and that, as usual this year, you have been a very good girl except for lying, albeit just these little white lies to your mother."

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