The Peppermint Martini Miracle



I closed Megan's door and returned to the living room, smiling at Stacey as I approached.

"Why are you doing this, Tom?" she asked quietly.

"I'm sorry, you must have me confused with someone else. My name is Kris. As for why I'm doing this, well, that will be apparent momentarily." I flashed a devious smile at her, grabbed my sack, and headed toward the tree.

I dug into Santa's bag and removed a myriad of gifts perfect for the discerning 4-year-old girl -- some dresses, DVDs, and half a dozen things about which I was completely clueless. I had solid intel that they would be well received, however.

I set my bag to the side, the distinctive tinkle of glass muffled by the thick cloth. Presents arranged, I returned my attention to Stacey. She was shaking her head slowly, her face a mask of disbelief.

"Stacey, would you bring Megan in, please?"

Stacey shook herself, and then went to fetch Megan. As soon as her bedroom door was opened, Megan flew down the hall. She raced to the tree, and dropped to her knees amidst the presents, eyes enormous with wonder.

"Mommy, can I?" she asked, clutching one to her chest. Stacey nodded mutely.

"Yay!" she cheered. Paper flew, and she hoisted one of the DVDs over her head. "Just what I wanted!! Look mommy! Santa got it!"

"I see that," Stacey eked out, her eyes filling with tears. The concern she had shown earlier slowly evaporated as wrapping paper began to litter the floor. When Megan unwrapped one of the dresses, the Christmas spirit finally fully captured Stacey. With an earnest, "Ohh," she went to Megan and held the dress up in front of her.

"It's so pretty, mommy!"

"Yes it is. Do you want to wear it to Aunt Jamie's tomorrow?"

"Yes yes yes! I can't wait to tell her I MET SANTA!" Stacey chuckled. "Why are you crying, mommy?" Megan asked.

"I'm ... I'm just happy you're having a good Christmas, sweetie."

Eventually, all the presents were unwrapped, and Megan dove into a package with some dolls and clothing. I sidled over to Stacey, who was watching Megan supply both sides of a conversation with a doll in each hand.

"That's why," I told her.

Stacey turned to me, her eyes filling with tears again. Then, she threw her arms around me.

"Thank you, Santa. I'll never forget this, and I don't think she will either."

I placed my hands on her back and held her against me. My traitorous body tried to ruin everything. The heat from her seared my hands through the satiny material of her simple, green wrap dress. I almost managed to suppress a shudder as the floral scent of her shampoo invaded my nose. I was trapped. I couldn't pull away, knowing how much she needed the comfort, but every second threatened to expose me for the lecher I was. I needed a drink.

Megan saved me. "Mommy, can I watch one of my movies?"

"Sure, sweetie. Go brush your teeth and you can watch it in your bedroom." Stacey relinquished her grip on me and said, "I'll be right back." I nodded.

Once they were busy out of sight, I removed the glasses and bottles from my bag. Thomas Morgan had been a failure as an amateur mixologist. I was hoping Kris Kringle might fare a little better.

I muddled some peppermint leaves with some ice and a crumbled candy cane in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. I added four parts gin and one part peppermint schnapps, and then gave it a quick shake before straining it into two red-stripped martini glasses. With the drinks poured, I waited for Stacey before adding the finishing touch.

When she returned, I took an ice cube, placed it into a wheel-style cheese grater, and then cranked the handle. A dusting of snow fell onto the peppermint martinis. I gave them a last stir with a candy cane. Before I could put it into the shaker, Stacey gripped my wrist and sucked the remnants of the cocktail from it tentatively, a shy but determined expression on her face, her eyes locked onto mine. My breath caught, and she smiled.

"Merry Christmas," I said, handing her glass to her.

"Thank you ... Santa," she said with a sly smirk. She took a sip. "This is ... perfect. It smells and tastes like Christmas."

"I'm ... glad you like it." I took a healthy swig from my glass. "Wow, better than I thought actually." We sipped our drinks silently for a few moments.

"How did you know what Megan would like?" she asked. I could hear the slight alarm in her voice, as if she wondered where I had hidden the cameras and mics.

"I have a niece that's close to her age. My sister helped me."

"That explains how, but I still don't understand WHY you did this. Not that I don't appreciate it, but, why me? Why us?"

"C'mon. I know you saw the look on Megan's face when she was digging in."

"Well, yeah, but, you don't really even know us."

"The world would be an even shittier place if we only did nice things for the people we know. After all, most people behave their worst towards strangers. They only reign it in around the people from whom they fear repercussions. I know what it's like to be on the wrong side of tragedy. I've had a miserable Christmas or twenty. There's no reason to keep that tradition alive. I can't go back and make mine better, but I figured that I could maybe keep one or two from being miserable for someone else."

For a moment, Stacey struggled for words. Then, she blurted out the last thing I expected to hear.

"John was gay. That's why he killed himself."

My jaw dropped. "But... Megan."

"She's the result of the second and last time we had sex, once obligatorily on our honeymoon, once again about five months later."

"I don't understand," I said.

"I couldn't leave him for so many reasons. He was my first and only relationship. I was so shy I could barely acknowledge anybody who talked to me. I had one friend in college - my dorm roommate. John was in one of her classes. After they worked together for about a month, I managed to respond to him when he said, 'Hi,' one day while they were studying in our room. I think Gina suspected he was gay. She even hinted at it to me after she noticed our relationship forming, but I was convinced he hadn't any other girlfriends because he was as shy as I was. It all made so much sense to me.

"I started to suspect that maybe Gina was right the night before we had sex the second time. I chickened out every time I tried to talk to him about it. Eventually, I was so desperate I practically forced myself on him. He managed to perform, but the lights were off, and I'm sure he just imagined himself somewhere else. He wouldn't touch me at all.

"He was excited when I got pregnant, and I know he loved Megan, but I think he was more relieved than anything. A few months after Megan was born, I cornered him and made him discuss it. He finally admitted he was gay. His parents had been riding him since he turned eighteen to get married and give them a grandchild. They're so fucking pushy! But he could never tell them it wasn't going to happen. He was glad that Megan ended those questions.

"Anyway, we decided to stay together for Megan." She held up a hand to stop any response I may have had. "I know, it's a terrible reason, but, I couldn't bear the thought of raising her alone, or only spending part of my time with her, and I was terrified of trying to find someone else." Her lip began to quiver, and she dropped her eyes. "Oh, God, Tom, I'm such a terrible person," she sobbed.

"Stacey, what are you talking about?"

"Tom, I'm ... I'm not glad he's dead but ... I'm glad I'm free," she whispered.

I wrapped my arms around her, and she wailed with guilt. I stroked her hair, trying not to enjoy the silken texture and heavenly aroma. If she thought she was a terrible person, what would she think of me taking pleasure from comforting her? I was almost ready for her to kick me out, but I would rather give her present to her before she did, and leave without her hating me. I did what a could to reign in my libido, but everything about her made it more difficult by the second. Her soft, luscious flesh was pressed against me. Her fingers gripped my back, and every curvy sign of her femininity was apparent. I stiffened, in several places at once, and tried to take my mind somewhere else.

"Tom," she said quietly, after a her tears had played out, "it's OK." She pressed herself firmly against me. "You're one of the reasons I'm glad I'm free. You've always been so nice to me, always made me feel ... special."

I swallowed, hard, and then held her at arm's length. "No, Stacey, it's not OK. I came here to give two people who needed it a Merry Christmas, not to take advantage of you." I pulled an envelope from inside my Santa suit and handed it to her.

"What's this?"

"Your present."

She eyed me quizzically before opening it. Her eyes scanned the letter, and her face slowly blossomed into an excited smile. "You wrote me a letter of recommendation, and the director of research signed it?"

"You deserve it. Your silicon thin-layer chromatography concepts are fantastic, and your work is impeccable. I may be just an old drunk, but I know my shit, and the people in charge know to listen to me. If I say you're a rising star, they want their names attached."

"You're not an old drunk. I know that beard is fake," she teased.

I smiled halfheartedly. "A middle-aged drunk, then."

"Don't say that!" she yelled at me, pounding a fist on my chest. "Drunks are selfish, destructive people. I don't know why you hurt so much, but you are not selfish. Just look at what you did tonight."

"Call it one good act to make up for a lifetime of waste and failure, then."

"Don't you dare downplay this!" she spat. "You did a WONDERFUL thing here. You made two people very happy, and you did it completely selflessly. You're a real-life Christmas miracle, Thomas Morgan."

I stared blankly at Stacey, completely shocked by her words. Could it be that simple? Could that be the answer I had sought my whole life? It was something I could never have known before now, but it made sense. Was the 'why' of my father's death simply 'so I could be someone else's miracle'? Could I be living a black and white Christmas movie after all?

No, life didn't work that way. I wasn't a domino set in motion all those years ago, destined to be at this place at this time for this reason, but maybe that event had allowed this one in some way. Maybe I didn't need a reason anymore. Maybe it was time to stop looking for one, and focus more on preventing myself from becoming the next tragedy. Maybe I could do good going forward, and try to balance the random bad, instead of looking for an answer that I would probably never find.

It certainly felt good to deliver joy instead of being mired in misery.

"Why do you drink, Tom? Why do you dislike yourself so much?"

"Mostly, I drink so I can sleep. Otherwise, the nightmares ... don't let me sleep much."

"Nightmares of what?"

I sighed, and then told Stacey the story of the night that changed my life, and of the progressively worsening nightmares that had ruled it since.

"Oh, God, Tom, that's awful. I never knew."

"Nobody does, except for Maddy, my sister."

"Have you tried talking to someone?"

"A few times, as a kid. It didn't help, so I stopped going."

"Do you ever sleep through the night?"

I flinched, thinking of the night I had fantasized about Stacey, and slept dream-free. "Sometimes," I said blankly.

"Is there anything that helps?"

"Not consistently, no. Alcohol used to, but it takes more and more, and only helps for part of the night usually."

Stacey nodded, and an uncomfortable silence filled the kitchen. "I need to go check on Megan. It's past her bed time, and we have to be up early tomorrow," she said.

"I should probably go," I replied.

"No! Wait, please, at least until I get back." The pleading look on her face froze me.

"OK," I whispered.

Stacey smiled warmly, placed her empty martini glass on the counter, and retreated down the hall.

"Oh, what the hell." I said to no one, once she disappeared. I quickly mixed another batch of Peppermint Martinis, and took them into the living room, where I awaited Stacey's return. I perused the pictures on the walls and mantle. As I took in the images of various moments of family life, I noticed a theme -- John and Stacey almost never looked at each other, but she looked at him more than he looked at her. When the pictures began to contain Megan, they were both looking at her. Before her, they would focus on anyone else in photos, at something in the scenery, or just at the camera. They always held Megan, or their other family members close, but there was a perpetual distance between them when they were the only people in the image. Looking at all those photos, I realized Stacey had lost her husband a long time ago, if she had ever had him at all.

When I heard her footsteps coming back to the living room, I stood with my back to the fireplace. I handed Stacey her martini. She took it wordlessly, sipped it, and smiled at me.

"Is she out?" I asked.

"Yeah." Another uncomfortable silence descended. Stacey sat down her drink with her back to me, clenched her fists, and took several deep breaths. When she turned to face me, she had the same shy, devious smile on her face I had seen earlier. "Tom, I have something for you for Christmas, but I need you to promise you'll accept it before you unwrap it."

"Um, OK. I think I can do that."

"Good," she said, approaching me slowly. She reached behind her back. I knew there was no way she had something in her hand. She had just had her back to me. So what could she...

Stacey's dress twitched, and went slack on her shoulders. Her hand came forward holding one of the ties for it. She stopped a few inches from me, and placed the band of satiny material in my hand. "Merry Christmas, Tom."

"Stacey, I-"

She held up a finger to silence me. "You promised."

"But, Stacey-"

"No, no excuses. You are not taking advantage of me. You are not some awful person using me. I need this, too. That's why I made you promise. Please. I don't know what it feels like to have a man who wants me. Make me smile, like you did for Megan. Don't be cruel and make me beg, because I ... I don't know if I can." I was awed by the strength she showed. I had thrown a wild surprise into her life this evening, and this painfully shy woman still had enough steel in her backbone to make a request that obviously terrified her.

She stepped forward, a pleading expression on her face. Her breasts lightly brushed my chest. At the moment of contact, my resistance melted like snow in the spring sunlight. I tugged on the green cloth in my hand, pulling her dress open. It slid off her shoulders, down her arms, and onto the floor.

Motherhood had done good things to Stacey's body. She had been thin, almost to the point of bony in college. Maternity had added several inches to her bust and hips, and some meat to her arms and legs, but her youthful metabolism had removed the baby weight from her waist. She had gone from string bean to bombshell, and I had never noticed what a knockout body she hid under her lab coat. A low growl rolled from the back of my throat, making Stacey shiver.

I ran my hands lightly along her arms, down her sides and over her hips, before moving them to the small of her back and pulling her against me. She flashed me a relieved smile, giggled, and began to sing "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause."

"Not yet, you haven't," I said.

"So what are you waiting for?"

I pulled off my Santa beard, wig and hat, throwing them onto my sack by the tree. Then, I wrapped my arms around Stacey, pulled her against me, and slowly lowered my lips to hers. The kiss began tentatively, our lips brushing lightly. As I pressed my mouth more firmly against hers, Stacey sucked in a ragged breath through her nose, and began to kiss me back, working her lips against mine. Her fingers dug into my ribs, and I struggled to restrain myself. As soon as I stopped berating myself for how much I wanted her, I was almost insane with need. I forced myself to remember that this was for her, not me.

I opened my mouth slightly, and hers followed suit. I let my tongue taste the peppermint on her full lips, and hers darted forward to meet it. One had caressed her smooth back. The other, almost with a mind of its own, drifted downward slowly to her round, full bottom. When I cupped a cheek and squeezed it gently, she moaned into my mouth, and thrust her tongue aggressively against mine. I ran my fingers through the silken hair I had craved earlier, kissing her hungrily.

After a moment, Stacey tore her mouth from mine, gasping for breath. "Come see MY room, Santa," she said, mimicking Megan's earlier request. I chuckled.

"Lead the way."

She took my hand and guided me to her bedroom. I stopped halfway there and pulled my hand free.

"Wait, forgot something." Stacey eyed me curiously, but nodded. I didn't want this to happen in the dark, but the full, harsh light of a modern light bulb seemed sacrilegious. So, I returned to the living room to collect two long, white taper candles and their silver candlesticks, along with the lighter half-hidden among the pine boughs draped on the mantle.

Candles in hand, I turned back to the hallway to find Stacey watching me, a glowing smile on her face. Without a word, she turned and led the way again to her bedroom.

Stacey sat on her bed while I placed the candles on a dresser backed by a large mirror. I lit them, and the room was coated in soft, buttery yellow light. When I turned to her, she smiled demurely and titled her face downward and away from me. I sat beside her on the bed.

"Having second thoughts?" I asked.

Her face whipped up to mine. "NO!" she yelled, and then clamped her hand over her mouth, looking out the door of the bedroom toward Megan's room. After a beat, she whispered, "No!" fiercely. "It's just, well, sometimes, Pinky is still in there." She took a shuddering breath. "Tom, I'm afraid I won't be very good at this. Like I said, you will be fifty percent of my partners, and this will be thirty-three percent of my experience."

"Math nerd," I teased. Pinky charged to the surface, and, again, she turned away. I cupped her chin and hauled her gaze back to mine. "Hey, math nerds are super sexy. You don't have any naughty librarian glasses, do you?"

"Sorry, I've always had good vision. It's my biggest nerd short-coming, and my secret shame."

"I'll just have to make due with your fabulous body, then."

"You ... you really think I'm pretty?" Stacey marveled as a beaming smile slowly blossomed on her face.

"I shouldn't let you in a chem lab. You're a damn fire hazard."

Stacey fidgeted on the bed. "So, where do we go from here?" she mumbled. Her radiant smile began to degenerate into anxiety.

"First, you tell Pinky to shut the hell up for the rest of the night. Her input isn't wanted. Second, how about I lead, and you speak up anytime there's something you want?" I reached out to caress her cheek, and I felt her relax into my hand. "There's no fear here, and no judgment, OK?"

"I..." Stacey began, and then faltered. I smiled and nodded encouragingly. "I want to see you," she finished in a rush.

"Thank God. It's sweltering in this thing," I replied. I stood and quickly shrugged off the heavy, red velour coat and the t-shirt I wore underneath it. Then, I kicked off the boots and pants. "Um, I might be a bit ripe," I warned her.

Stacey stood and buried her nose in the tuft of hair in the center of my chest. "You smell like a man," she moaned huskily. Then, she began to giggle.

"What?" I asked.

"Well, I've always kept my nails short, for the lab. I suddenly find myself wishing I could dig long fingernails into your back."

"Personally, I'm not a fan of puncture wounds. I think yours are the perfect length. They'll make your point without any subcutaneous damage."

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