tagRomanceThe Best Christmas Ever

The Best Christmas Ever


She used to love this time of year. She had loved it all, from the bustle of people in search of that one perfect item to the music that floated through the air of the department store to the crunch of new-fallen snow on Christmas morning. She had loved it until five years ago. Now, she was just depressed.

Mellissa had become Mrs. Walter Schaeffer against the advice of her mother and girlfriends, but she'd known it was right. Her heart told her it was. Walt had been charming. Walt had been handsome. He'd said he loved her when her heart ached to hear those words.

Walt and Mellissa moved into the house on Elm Street and began what she thought would be an ideal life together. He sold real estate at a local brokerage, and she was a cashier with Winslow's, a department store downtown. They came home every night to the little house and each other. Mellissa would make dinner while Walt read the paper. About ten, they would fall into bed and make love before going to sleep.

After eight months of marriage, Mellissa was overjoyed to find she was pregnant. Walt seemed all right with the idea, although he didn't go around boasting to their friends like she thought he might have. In her sixth month, Mellissa found the condom packet in Walt's jeans. She always turned the pockets inside out so she didn't wash anything he might have left in them. Walt's answer was that he'd been given the condom by a co-worker as a joke. At first, Mellissa didn't believe him, but Walt sent her some flowers, and seemed to be a little more attentive.

To show Walt how much she loved him, Melissa tried hard to please her husband. She cooked his favorite foods and made sure there was a drink waiting when he walked in the door after work. Though she had grown too large to comfortably lie beneath him, she found other positions that worked as well. One night, she lowered herself over his erect cock, and rode him until she groaned out the waves of her own orgasm. Walt hadn't finished, but when she started to relieve him with her hand, he rolled over and went to sleep.

After that, Walt seemed to have a lot of houses to show late in the afternoon. He came home later and later, always with the explanation of some potential buyer who couldn't get there any earlier, or that the owner of the brokerage had assigned him some last minute project. They seldom made love, because Walt was always tired. Mellissa tried to believe him, and almost convinced herself that things were as he said until the day Walt took her car to be serviced. She was driving his car to work when the police car flashed its lights at her.

The cop who pulled her over asked to see her license and registration. Mellissa opened the glove box for the registration and a small piece of black fabric fell to the floor. The officer left after explaining that she just had a broken taillight, and Mellissa began putting the collection of junk back into the glove box. The piece of fabric was puzzling until she straightened it out. Tears came to Melissa's eyes when she realized what it was.

The tiny black lace triangle had thin strings for the waist and the thong back. Mellissa had never owned any panties like that before, and now that she was pregnant, she wore only white cotton. For a moment, she beamed at the thought that Walt had bought them for her as a present. That moment lasted until she saw the faint discoloration on the cotton crotch panel.

Walt's explanation had been brutal.

"You're big as a cow and your tits hang down to your belly button. In a month, you won't be able to screw anymore, but that won't make much of a difference. You're belly's so big, I can't get it in all the way now. What the Hell do you expect me to do – just let my balls turn blue?"

"But…, I'm big because of the baby. I thought we'd agreed to start a family. I thought you wanted a baby as much as I do."

"You wanted the baby. If I remember right, I said it would be OK, someday. I didn't say now. You're the one who stopped taking the pill, babe, not me."

"Who is she?"

"That's none of your God-damned business."

"Do you love her?"

Walt had laughed. "Why the hell do women think a man has to love the woman he's sleeping with? If it makes you feel any better, no, I don't. She's married, anyway."

Mellissa couldn't bring herself to ask the question on her lips. The answer was obvious, but it would have been devastating to hear him say it. When she looked back, she doubted he'd ever really loved her.

Walt had at least been civil during the divorce, and he didn't argue much about the settlement her lawyer proposed. She could go back to her job at Winslow's, and the extra money from Walt's child support payments would make things go pretty smoothly. She'd live with her mother until the baby was born and then look for an apartment.

The contractions started a week after the divorce papers were signed. Melissa's mother took her to the hospital and held her hand for the entire fourteen hours. Little Timmy came into the world at six pounds of perfection with big blue eyes and a tiny little nose. She loved the little boy from the moment she saw his little red face and tiny, clenched fists. Mellissa and her mother brought him home wrapped in a blue sleeper that was big enough for two of him. After a couple of months, Mellissa found an apartment and began putting together a life for her and her son.

The cashier job at Winslow's didn't pay very much, but the first check from Walt took care of Timmy's needs, and hers covered the rent and gas for the car. She gave her mother a few dollars a week to watch her little boy and had enough left over to buy some things for herself. It was hard for her to leave Timmy every morning, but doing so gave her confidence. She was making it on her own. Mellissa began saving a little each week. Christmas was only three months away.

In November, Walt's check didn't arrive on time. She called his office to ask if he'd forgotten. The secretary who answered transferred her to the owner. He explained that Walt was no longer in the employ of the company. No, they didn't have a phone number or an address. That weekend, Mellissa dipped into her Christmas money for diapers and formula. A dying battery for the car consumed the rest a week later. She comforted herself with the fact that she and Timmy had each other. That was a much bigger gift than any she could buy him.

Timmy was three when he asked her about Santa. Mellissa explained how the jolly old man left presents under the Christmas tree for good little boys and girls. Her heart sank when Timmy beamed and asked if he'd been good enough. He had, and she told him that, but she was barely able to pay for necessities. Her mother offered to help, but Mellissa couldn't let her. To do so would mean she'd failed her little boy.

By going without lunch and coffee, she managed to scrape together enough to buy a little tree, and found a few toy cars at a second hand shop. The tree wasn't much taller than Timmy, but they popped some corn and strung it on thread for garland. She finally accepted her mother's loan of some old ornaments and one string of lights that were fussy about staying lit. On Christmas morning, Timmy was overjoyed. Mellissa was just relieved it was over.

Timmy's fourth Christmas had been worse. He was old enough to understand the television commercials that offered superhero figures and electronic toys, and by Thanksgiving he was bubbling with the anticipation of talking to Santa about his requests. Mellissa gave in and let her mother buy him the talking fire engine he told Santa he wanted. Her mother also gave her an artificial tree and some ornaments. Mellissa was happy for Timmy, but unhappy with herself. She wanted to make Christmas a happy time for Timmy, but she wanted to do so by herself.

That spring, she'd met William. He was the assistant manager in plumbing, and he seemed to take an interest in her. They had lunch together for a week before he asked her out. Her best dress hadn't seemed nice enough, but she'd lost most of the tummy the pregnancy had left her and it fit well. She blew herself a kiss in the mirror. Not cover girl material, she mused, but not all that bad either. Her mother was playing with Timmy and answered William's knock. He whistled when Mellissa walked into the room.

The evening had been fun. William was very attentive, although a little distant, but this was a first date, so how did she think he was supposed to act? Love only happened on the first date in the movies. Besides, Mellissa didn't want things to progress too quickly. Walt had burned her once. She wanted to make sure this time.

William didn't ask her out again. Michelle, the tiny little redhead from lingerie, seemed to have captured his interest. Melissa's mother tried to be comforting by pointing out she was still young and still pretty. Some men just weren't ready for a woman who already had a family, but she shouldn't worry. Somewhere, there was a man who would love them both. There was still plenty of time.

Jim asked her to dinner one Friday in June, and picked her up at the apartment about six. Timmy kissed her goodbye and then ran back to his game with her mother. The evening was enjoyable. Jim was a nice man, and Mellissa thought she really felt something between them. He walked her to her apartment about eleven and she asked him in. Her mother quickly gathered her purse and car keys, whispered "good luck" in her ear, and left.

Jim seemed uneasy as she made coffee, but she attributed his fidgeting to first date nervousness. Her heart wasn't exactly beating in regular time either. She put their cups on the coffee table and sat down on the couch. Jim took a sip and smiled at her. Neither said anything for a few minutes. The silence was driving Mellissa crazy.

"So Jim, you're pretty quiet. Are you always this way when a woman asks you into her apartment?"

"Yes. Well, no, but…"

"But what?"

"Mellissa, I like you. I like you a lot, but I didn't know you have…, that you have Timmy."

"I see. He makes that much difference? He's a good little boy."

"No. It's not him. He's probably a great kid. It's just that…, well, I'm not ready for everything that means. Someday, I will be, but not yet."

The good-bye was awkward, but thankfully, it was quick. Mellissa didn't see Timmy peak around the doorframe and then slip quietly back into his room. She didn't see him climb into his bed and lie quietly as tears streamed down his plump little cheeks. Her own tears blurred her eyes. By the time she fell asleep, her own pillow was damp.

There were other men in her life after Jim, but none of them had worked out. Usually they didn't call her after the first date. Mellissa finally stopped accepting their invitations. She was too busy to think about a man anyway. Timmy was full of life and it was a challenge to keep him occupied. For some reason, he'd started trying to take care of her. Melissa found that amusing and touching at the same time. When she came home from work, he always made a show of carrying the groceries or whatever else needed to be taken inside. When they went shopping together, he'd race ahead to open doors for her. Mellissa had asked him about that. Timmy looked up at her through his bright blue eyes and grinned.

"Grandma said men do things like that for women if they're gentlemen. Am I being a gentleman, Mommy?"

Now, it was November. Winslow's had put the Christmas merchandise on the shelves earlier each year, or so it seemed to Mellissa. This year, they started stocking ornaments, lights, and other decorations a week after Halloween. What had once been joy to Mellissa had turned to near hatred for it all. She despised the shoppers with credit cards who bought and bought and bought without seeming to think about the money they were spending. She blamed Winslow's for causing her depression earlier each year. She hated herself for feeling this way at a time that was supposed to be a time of family, a time of happiness, a time of peace and goodwill.

How had her life turned into such a mess? Surely, she thought, most of it was her own fault. If she'd just listened to her mother or to her girlfriends, this would have never happened. Walt was smooth, and her mother said he was a little too smooth for her. Grace and Jane told her Walt had made passes at them even after he and Mellissa began to seriously talk of marriage. Mellissa had kicked herself a thousand times for being so blind.

Maybe it hadn't been Walt. When she thought about it, she had pushed him pretty hard for a baby. Maybe she'd only thought Walt wanted one too, just like he'd said. Mellissa was certain Walt knew she'd stopped taking the pill, but maybe she should have made sure. Maybe she was so selfish she didn't want to ask him, to risk hearing him saying no. Maybe she was so selfish she should never have gotten married.

But if she hadn't married Walt, she wouldn't have Timmy. The little blonde-haired boy was the light that brought her home every night. Why couldn't men see how wonderful Timmy was? Was it because he wasn't theirs, the son they would sire in the heat of passion with one they loved, or was it just because he was there, in the way of quiet evenings with a fire and a glass of wine or weekends at a favorite hideaway? It was almost as if they expected she should chose between the child who had shared her body for nine months and the love they would give her.

"Mommy, this Sunday, after Thanksgiving, Santa is gonna come to town with his sled and reindeer and everything. My teacher said so. They have a little house for him right in your store. Do you have to work that day? Can we go?"

Mellissa smiled at her son. She'd known such innocent, unquestioning belief before, once as a child fascinated by Santa and the Easter Bunny, and once with Walt. Timmy brushed the hair from his eyes and asked again.

"Please, can we go? I have to ask him for something really big this year."

Melissa's smile turned to a look of worry. Timmy was in kindergarten, and she knew almost every other child in his class had much more than they could ever need. It had been a struggle just to buy him enough clothes for school, and he still needed dress shoes for the Christmas Pageant. There was no way she could afford anything very costly.

"Well, Timmy, sometimes Santa can't give little boys everything they ask for. There are so many little children in the world. Just think of how many trips he'd have to make on Christmas Eve if he brought each one everything they asked for."

"I don't want lots of stuff. I only want one thing."

"You could tell me, and I could tell Santa when I go to work."

"Nope. I have to ask him by myself." Timmy's grin turned into a mask of disappointment. "If you can't take me, can I ask Grandma to do it?"

"Sweetheart, does it have to be this weekend? Santa will be there for a whole month before Christmas comes."

"But if I don't ask him now, he won't have enough time."

Mellissa felt ashamed as they stood in the line of children waiting to sit on Santa's knee. On a platform just in front of Santa, a girl in an elf suit snapped a picture of each child as he or she accepted the sucker Santa offered. The visit to Santa and the sucker were free. The pictures cost eight dollars each. So that these pictures would be perfect, each child was dressed in Sunday clothes, and each mother fussed with her little bundle of energy to keep those clothes neat and clean. Timmy wore his faded school jeans, the good shirt Melissa's mother had given him for his birthday, and his sneakers. He stood patiently beside Mellissa and from time to time, she felt him squeeze her hand. Timmy's picture would end up in the trash at the end of the day. Mellissa couldn't afford to pay for it.

Finally, it was their turn. He looked up at Mellissa, grinned, and proudly marched up the two steps to Santa. The man in the false beard lifted the little boy to his knee. Mellissa listened carefully. Maybe, if Timmy's hopes weren't too high, she might find a way. She would hate it, but she could always ask her mother to help.

"Now then, young man, what is your name?"

"I'm Timmy Schaeffer."

Santa gave an appropriate chuckle.

"Well, Timmy, what would you like Santa to bring you for Christmas?"

"I have to whisper it to you. It's a secret."

"A secret? Oh, I like secrets."

The man held his fake beard to his chin and bent down. Timmy put his little face close to the man's ear for a few seconds, then looked at Mellissa and smiled. The girl in the elf suit snapped the shutter on the instant camera, waited until the photo slipped out the side, and put it on the table. She turned to Mellissa.

"It'll be done in about a minute. That'll be eight dollars for the one, or if you want copies, they're on special at fifteen dollars for a sheet of two and you get this one free. We'll send them to you in about a week."

"Thank you, but not today. We happened to be here, and Timmy just had to talk to Santa. I think we'll come back when he's dressed a little better."

Neither of them noticed that Santa had taken off his wire-rimmed glasses and was carefully studying them with bowed head.

The next day, Winslow's was bursting at the seams with shoppers. By the time the head cashier said it was time for her morning break, Mellissa had a tension headache. She got a cup of coffee in the breakroom and swallowed a couple aspirins.

"That bad, is it?"

It was Stan Cooper, the store's head accountant.

"You wouldn't believe. They're all in a hurry, and they don't even know which credit card still has money left on it. I tried to clear three for one lady before she finally wrote me a check. She had five or six more cards in her wallet. I think she'd have tried each one if the man behind her hadn't been getting mad. They're all grabbing the sale stuff, or at least they think they are. One woman tried to convince me we had this electronic space ship thing, or whatever it was, on sale. She showed me the Sunday ad to prove it. I explained that it wasn't our ad, but then she said if another store could sell it for that price, so could we. I left her with Sally and she was still arguing."

"Well, don't be too mad at 'em. They're paying your salary."

"Yeah. Such as it is. One man spent as much as I take home in a week on a radio-controlled car for his kid. Must be nice."

"I suppose, but you have to wonder what impression that's leaving on the kids. You know, that they'll get anything they want, no matter what the cost, and they don't have to work for it. I didn't grow up that way and I think I appreciate what I have a lot more for it."

The rest of the morning was just as bad. Mellissa didn't really want to eat the sandwich in her purse, but it was a way to kill the half-hour before she went back to work. It surprised her to see Stan in the breakroom again.

"You must be following me around, Stan. This is the second time today. People are going to talk."

"Oh Hell, let 'em talk. I haven't been accused of sleeping with a cashier in, let's see, about eight months now. I think I'm losing my image."

"Wouldn't be much of an image if you were sleeping with me. Now if it was Trixie, you'd have something there."

"Nah, Trixie's a little, uh…, over-endowed for me. Besides, her lipstick has more brains than she does."

"Oh, so you like brains more than big boobs? That's a first."

"Maybe for some guys, but not for me. I mean, one can only…, you know…, so many times a day. If she can't hold her own in a conversation, life would get pretty dull."

"Gee, maybe there's hope for me yet."

"Probably so. Hey, we could find out, say, tomorrow night, if you're not too busy."

Stan's invitation stunned her for a minute.

"Well, I, uh…, I usually don't go out with men from work."

"Why? I'm reasonably normal…, for an accountant anyway. I don't scratch in public, I've had all my shots, and I hardly ever bite."

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