“Hey, Mom, what’s up?” Rebecca Williams asked through her blue tooth.
“Just calling to see how you are. Are you sure you want to be all alone for Christmas?”
Rebecca rolled her eyes. “Mom, I’ll be fine.”
“But Christmas is about spending time with loved ones.”
And Rebecca’s list of loved ones had shortened recently. She'd broken up with her boyfriend, Derek, last week. They were better off as just friends. “I’ll stop by on Christmas Eve to give you two your presents. Listen, I’m driving, gotta go. Love you, bye.”
Rebecca pressed the disconnect button and made a left turn, on her way to the mall to buy her parents’ said presents. Up ahead, a car was pulled over to the side, its four-ways on. She had to giggle when she saw the driver was dressed in Santa garb, complete with a beard, although he was far too lean to be a convincing Santa.
She pulled up behind him and parked her car. “Do you need any help?” she asked, even though she doubted she could do anything.
He glanced at her. “Ho ho… hello, Becca.”
His jovial laugh changed into a familiar voice.
“Jason?” Rebecca couldn’t believe it, but there was no mistaking the twinkling blue eyes. Jason Carter had been her high school sweetheart. “I mean, Santa?”
Jason had started to remove his beard but snapped it back into place. “Someone’s trying to get off my naughty list by helping me out.”
She laughed. How long had it been? Once or twice after graduation, at parties, when it had been strained and awkward since she had decided to go to a school across the country. She’d thought about him on and off over the years, and always compared her boyfriends to him. Didn’t all girls do that with their first love?
Rebecca cleared her throat. “Well, first, Santa, it’s Rebecca now. And what’s wrong?”
“I’m waiting for a tow. Got a flat.”
“Santa doesn’t know how to change a tire?”
He grimaced. “If only it was that easy.” He pointed to the frame, which was horribly bent, cutting into the tire, rendering the car undrivable. “The tow should be here any minute.”
“That’s good at least.”
“Yeah, but I have to get to the mall in a fifteen minutes.” He shook his head, and a dark lock of hair peeked out from beneath his white wig. “I don’t know how I’m gonna make it in time.”
Just then, the tow truck arrived. The driver, a short, pudgy man who would have made a great looking Santa if not for his dour expression, spoke with Jason for several minutes before hitching his car.
Jason walked over to Rebecca, who leaned against her car. “I’m sorry, I should have told you to leave. I’m fine.”
“Oh really? Is Grumpy gonna give you a ride to the mall?”
He shrugged. “I haven’t asked him yet.”
She snorted. “I don’t think he’ll be willing to. Doesn’t strike me as having the Christmas spirit.”
Jason winced. “The poor kids…” he muttered.
Rebecca’s heart warmed. The Jason she had known had thought all kids were terrors. The few times she had convinced him to help her babysit neighborhood kids had done nothing to change his mind. How else had Jason changed in the past almost ten years?
She smiled. “Santa, where’s your Christmas spirit? Hop in.”
“I don’t want to inconvenience you.”
“It’s not a problem, I was going to the mall myself.”
His grin was barely visible through his bushy white beard. “Great, hold on a sec, let me make sure that everything is squared away with Grumpy.” He winked.
She laughed and watched him walk away. The Santa suit, although precious, gave her no indication as to whether or not Jason still had the same athletic form he had had in high school. If only he would take off the costume…
With a blush, she returned to her car and started it, and the heat.
A minute later, Jason sat beside her, and they were on their way.
Jason snuck glances at Becca. Whoops, Rebecca. Her hair was just as bright a blond as it had been in high school, her brown eyes that same spark. Her heavy winter coat prevented him from seeing the rest of her, and his mind kept providing examples.
He coughed to clear his thoughts.
“Oh no, don’t tell me Santa’s getting sick,” she teased.
“I’m fine,” he said, his voice a little tight. “How have you been?”
“I’m fine,” she parroted, her voice still teasing.
“Good.” He wanted to pummel her with questions—when had she moved back home, was she living here now, was she seeing anyone…. But so much time had passed, he had no claim on her now.
Hell, he should have fought harder, changed her mind or gone out there with her. But he hadn’t been as smart as her, and although athletic, he hadn’t gotten a full scholarship anywhere, and had to go to a state school. Becca—Rebecca—had gotten into her dream school with several scholarships, and her parents had paid the little balance that remained.
“Quarter for your thoughts?”
“A whole quarter?” He yanked his beard down. It was scratchy and unbearable in the heat of the car, although he welcomed the warmth; he’d been waiting for the tow car for a good fifteen minutes before Becca—Rebecca—came along.
“Yes. I’m in a giving mood today.” She glanced over and smiled at him.
“Just thinking you’re an angel for helping me like this.” He winced. Could he sound more desperate?
“Just one of your helpers.” She pulled into the mall parking lot but instead of parking, she stopped at the front entrance. “Here you go.”
Dropping him off. So sweet, and yet he regretted the extra minute they could have had. “Thank you so much.” He readjusted his beard and then reached for the door handle.
“Wait a second.” She undid her braid and pulled out a few bobby pins. “Come here.”
Jason leaned over.
She lifted his wig and secured his hair back with the pins. Then she pulled his wig down. Cupping his cheeks, she moved his face left and right. “There,” she said with a satisfied nod. “Can’t have you destroying little ones’ dreams.”
He grinned. They were so close he hardly had to move to kiss her.
He glanced down at her hands. She was wearing gloves, making it impossible to know if she were engaged or married.
Jason gulped and pulled back as a large knot formed in his stomach. “You’re one helpful helper,” he said, his voice a little rougher than he intended. If Rebecca was married, she might even have a child by now, could be here to buy for him or her.
What the heck was wrong with him? He had loved Becca once, but they hadn’t spoken in almost ten years. How could his feelings for her still be so strong? “Now as long as you don’t do anything naughty, you can expect some nice presents from me on Christmas,” he said, prolonging their time together as long as possible.
She smiled but said nothing, and Jason opened the door and climbed out. After a wave, he said, “Thanks again,” turned around, and entered the mall.
Rebecca waited until he walked inside to drive away and find a parking spot. She turned the car off. With a groan, she pressed her forehead to the steering wheel. “Why?”
Jason had never left her tongue-tied before. That was some of the reason why they had been so perfect together in high school, despite their traveling in different circles, her a brain, him a jock. Lots of other crushes had left her stammering and red-faced, but not Jason.
“Does that mean you’ll be sneaking into my house?” she should have said to him. Light and flirty without being too over the top. “Or even, so I’ll be seeing you again?”
She banged her head into the steering wheel again, and her car honked. “I’m pathetic.”
Get it together, girl.
Rebecca walked into the mall. A blast of warm air hit her, and she untied her pea coat.
She rounded the corner, and there before her was Santa’s workshop. Tall, with a chimney, lots of garland, and a huge Christmas tree with presents beneath it, it looked every part of a magical scene.
A large line of excited children waited to see Santa. Rebecca walked around them. Hiding behind yet another Christmas tree, she spied Jason. He sat on a black chair, looking impressively heavy, a pillow most likely. A mom was trying to convince her little girl to sit on his lap.
Jason said something, and the girl laughed. She gave a shy smile and climbed onto his knee. He whispered into her ear, and the girl smiled widely. A flash and the mom exclaimed, “It’s perfect!”
Rebecca pressed a hand to her chest. She was nearing thirty, and she’d thought she would have started her family before now. Although she loved working as an accountant—math had always been her favorite subject—she had never wanted to only have a career. She’d returned home to start her own business, and it was flourishing nicely. What had Jason done since graduating?
Rebecca shook her head and walked away. She had shopping to do. Reminiscing and wishing wouldn’t change anything.
Maybe she would call her mom and tell her she would be coming over for Christmas after all. Being lonely never felt so lonesome before.
A couple of hours passed, and Jason stood and stretched.
Heather, the photographer, nodded. “The line’s not bad. Want a ten minute break?”
He nodded. “Please.”
He walked away after Heather put out the signs that said Santa was feeding his reindeer and would be back in a few minutes.
His back was sore but he couldn’t complain. The delighted smiles of the kids as they whispered their Christmas wish list to him more than made up for a little discomfort.
When his older brother had asked him to fill in this year because he was too busy with his newest family addition, Jason’d scoffed at the idea. To humor Jeff, he’d donned the suit for his nephews. After seeing little Rick gasp and believe, Jason readily agreed.
It wasn’t until Rick had been born three years ago that Jason loved a little kid. He even entertained the idea of becoming a father one day himself, if he could ever find the right woman.
That is, if he hadn’t already had her and lost her.
After high school, Jason studied and became a reporter. For the longest time, he struggled at the bottom of the ladder, but in the past two years, he had finally made some headway and earned the promotion of investigative reporter. His editor-in-chief had given his blessing for the Santa project, and Jason had been writing several seasonal pieces, ever since Thanksgiving had passed.
“Quarter for your thoughts?”
His heart skipped a beat as he whirled around.
Rebecca stood behind him. She held out a Cinnabon and an extra fork. “Santa needs some fattening up.”
He grinned. She wasn’t wearing gloves anymore. Even better, she wasn’t wearing a ring. After he shoved some cinnaminny goodness into his mouth, he said, “Actually, what Santa needs is a Mrs. Claus.”
“Excuse me?” Her eyes grew wide as saucers as they sat on a nearby bench.
“For pictures. On the weekends.” He nodded toward the workshop.
Her cheeks stained a bright pink. “I…”
“You don’t have to, Becca,” he rushed to add. “I’m sorry. Rebecca.”
“You can call me Becca.” She smiled, and her cheeks turned from pink to red. “Or Mrs. Claus on the weekends.”
He ho ho hoed as he pulled her close for a hug. She whispered something about this Christmas not being a lonely one after all.
Oh no, he definitely didn’t think it would be lonely. Santa and Mrs. Claus were made for each other, just like he suspected he and Becca were.
Nicole Zoltack writes fantasy/paranormal, romances, horror, historical, for adults, YA, MG, and PB, novels, short stories, and flash pieces. She's also an editor for MuseItUp Publishing and eTreasures Publishing, and a freelance editor for Passionate Writer Publishing.
When she isn't writing about girls wanting to be knights, talking unicorns, and zombies, she spends time with her loving family. She loves to ride horses (pretending their unicorns, of course!) and going to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, dressed in period garb.
To learn more about Nicole and her work, visit her website at www.NicoleZoltack.com or her blog at http://NicoleZoltack.blogspot.com.
Facebook fan page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nicole-Zoltack/93384618347
My books on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/mn/search/?ref_=nb_sb_noss&url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=nicole%20zoltack&x=0&y=0&rd=1