“This is the definition of insanity, Lieutenant,” Crane said as Abbie tossed him another pillow, gently hitting upside his head. He sighed heavily before he continued complaining. “How did I ever let you talk me into this?”
“Because you know as well as I do that it will be good publicity for the historical society. People will get a sense of what it is and will want to come back. Maybe spend some money. Besides, you look cute with a little meat on your bones,” Abbie said.
Crane shoved another pillow down his big red coat, trying to spread the padding around.
“An obese man shimmying down chimneys in the middle of the night. It’s more Christmas nonsense,” he said. Again. She had heard about Christmas nonsense a dozen times in the last hour. Thousands of times since the beginning of December. She was thankful he was too busy trying to get dressed to give her a lecture on everything wrong with Christmas. Maybe she should have found him a Grinch costume instead.
“This nonsense for a good cause. The sheriff’s needed a nice, safe place to do their Christmas event for the kids and you have a nice place. Right across the street,” Abbie said. Even though she was with the FBI, she still had plenty of contacts with her old department. When they asked, she gladly offered up the archives for an evening.
“Yet that does not explain why I have to be the one in the red suit. I’m not nearly the right age… do not look at me like that… and I am nowhere near the right size for your modern Father Christmas.”
“Santa Claus. The kids are coming to see Santa, not Father Christmas and not some grumpy colonial dude in breeches,” Abbie said as Crane’s red pants started to slip down again. Even with his breeches on underneath, they were hard to fasten on his slender hips. She had pinned them as much as she could but they were still meant for a man twice his size.
He twisted around, pulled the pants back up again and somehow secured them. She hoped they would hold until the kids all got to tell Santa what they wanted and for them to receive their one present they were getting this evening.
Did she mention to Crane the part about the kids sitting on his lap and whispering in his ear? Surely he knew? He had seen enough of modern Claus to know that was part of the deal.
“You do understand what you have to do, right?” she asked Crane as she handed him the fake white beard for him to put over his shorter, dark one.
“I have to appear to be jolly.”
“That and hand the kids their presents and listen to each one of them as they tell you what they would like for Christmas. These kids don’t have a lot so their stories can get a little emotional sometimes but… what? Why are you looking at me like that?” Abbie asked.
“Am I going to have help with this?”
“Of course you are. Everything is all planned out. You just finish getting dressed and your helpers will meet you out there by the tree, okay?” she asked.
He nodded but did not look okay at all.
Crane was sitting on the velvety Santa Throne and feeling very panicked. A few adults were starting the gather the children around him and some of the youngsters were already in tears just looking at him. He had seen enough on the internet to know this was a normal reaction many children had to seeing Santa but still, they could wait until they had a chance to meet him first. Someone had set up a camera to take pictures and the bright lights made it hard to see anything past the circle of children.
Abbie had said he would have help with this but so far that didn’t seem to be the case. Where was the Lieutenant anyway?
“Hello, Mr. Claus. How’s it going?” he heard a familiar voice ask and he turned toward the sound. He was expecting to find Abbie dressed in her usual ‘officer of the law’ outfit but instead she was in a short green and white striped skirt with a green shirt and an adorable pointy red hat, all trimmed in a white ‘fur’ much like his outfit. The pointy hat matched her pointy shoes which had bells on them.
“Are you one of my elves?” he asked, trying not to stare at her legs but failing. She had on red and white striped hosiery and he wondered briefly why this whole Christmas thing always seemed to involve stripes but he got distracted by her answer instead.
“I’m your only elf tonight,” she whispered and he raised an eyebrow at her. “We could only find one elf costume packed away and I drew the short straw. You should see how happy Jenny is right now.”
Abbie might have lost but Crane definitely felt as if he won. She was adorable as an elf. He was sure Miss Jenny would have made a fine elf but he’d rather have Abbie by his side doing whatever it was elves do.
As the night went on, he discovered that most of what this particular elf did was laugh at him when kids started screaming and to hand out candy canes when they were finished getting their gift and their photograph was taken.
He was thrilled when all the children had received their presents and he could finally exclaim that he had to get back to the North Pole. He and Abbie made their way to the historical society office and closed the door behind them. Abbie was commenting on how well he did with the kids while he was digging through the desk drawers, slamming one shut when he didn’t find what he was searching for.
“I wish I still kept a bottle of rum here,” he said, trying to pull the beard off as quickly as he could.
“Stop. I want to get a selfie of the two of us in our outfits,” Abbie said, pulling her phone out of somewhere on that tiny costume.
“We just had our picture taken about 200 times,” he said as he put the beard back in place.
“Yes, but not a selfie,” she said. She found the perfect angle for the two of them and snapped the picture. He looked at it briefly and shrugged.
“I look preposterous.”
“Says the man who once wore powdered wigs and by the way, now wears breeches to work every day,” Abbie said. She was typing in something on her phone and he was certain that the photo was being uploaded to somewhere.
“You should dress like that more often,” Crane said while she was distracted and Abbie gave him a wide-eyed stare.
“Like an elf?”
“No, that’s not what I meant. I was suggesting that you… well, you do have very pleasant legs. All that running… they are… oh! You know what I mean!” Crane exclaimed before he got himself into more trouble. He pulled off his hat and white wig and tossed them aside followed by the fake beard.
“And you should wear the color red more often… you look good in it… no, you know what I mean… not red like a ‘Red Coat’ when you’re here working but… oh, I give up. Do you need help getting out of that?” Abbie asked.
“Maybe. Do you?” Crane asked in return.
“I don’t have another outfit on underneath mine so I’ll be an elf for the remainder of the evening. That should make you happy,” Abbie joked as she jingled the bells on her shoes.
“Not as happy as some mistletoe would right now,” he mumbled, almost inaudibly, and Abbie stopped jingling immediately.
“Wouldn’t that be more Christmas nonsense?” Abbie asked. His cheeks were the now the color of his suit and Abbie was a bit stunned that he had even suggested such a thing. Or said it aloud.
“Some of the nonsense is fun,” Crane responded.
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing,” Abbie said.
“Sleigh rides. Hot chocolate. A warm fire. I have grown to appreciate that kind of Christmas nonsense,” he said with a shrug. “Gifts are wonderful. As is time spent with good friends. And I’ve always appreciated mistletoe.”
“Too bad we don’t have any,” Abbie said. It had been years since she had last had any hanging up. She had kind of given up hope that one day he would just kiss her for whatever reason. They had just saved the world or outrun a murderous jackalope. Anything would have been a good enough reason.
“That and the rum,” he said. He looked up at her, his blue eyes sparkling. “Wait! I remember where I hid some.”
Crane returned with two coffee mugs filled with rum and took a slow sip, savoring the taste. Abbie took a sip of hers and set it down. He looked at her again but now his eyes had grown darker. She was always mystified at how he did that. He finished his rum and put his mug down next to hers.
“Mistletoe and rum. Always moves things along,” Abbie said. She was still trying to figure out exactly what the hell was happening. Perhaps it was just the silly costumes or the holiday season but… did he really want to kiss her? Finally? He didn’t need booze or a parasitic plant for that. He just needed to get up the damn nerve to do it. “Let me help you.”
Abbie removed his huge plastic Santa belt and all the pillows fell out around their feet.
“Next year we really do have to find someone who fits in this better,” Crane said as the fluffy red pants slipped down again.
“Maybe you can join me and be an elf,” Abbie said, laughing at the thought of Crane in candy cane striped tights and jingling shoes.
“I don’t know if I have the legs for it,” Crane said.
“I don’t know about that. You have some pretty shapely calves,” Abbie said and Crane blushed again. The Christmas music had gotten louder in the other room as had the sounds of the children laughing. They must be playing a game. A far different game than the one going on in here. Maybe it was time to move this game along. She boosted herself up so she was sitting on the edge of his desk. “Come here, Santa.”
He looked confused but did go to where Abbie was now sitting. She put her hands on his face and drew him closer to her, her lips meeting his. It was just a short, sweet kiss but it was still a kiss. It was a sign that things would be going in another direction now. It would never be the same again and she was ready for whatever was next. She pulled him to her, snuggling her cheek against the fleecy warm coat. He pulled off her elf hat and cradled her head in his hand like he had done many times in the past. It was always comfortable and soothing. He was comfortable and soothing. But this time, it was just a bit different, too.
“Happy Christmas, Lieutenant,” he said. He gently lifted her face towards his and kissed her once more. Her heart began to beat faster and she grew dizzy. This was more intoxicating than the earlier taste of rum. More so than a whole bottle of rum.
Nothing else meant a thing. Holidays. People. Presents. The noise outside the door. None of it mattered except the feel of his body pressed to hers, his hands on her face, his mouth against hers seeking out more. She wanted to give him more but perhaps not here on the desk. Maybe at home. In front of the fireplace. Under the tree wrapped in cozy quilts. The kiss ended and she expected him to turn away or look a little embarrassed by what had just happened. He didn’t. Instead, he finally looked, dare she say, jolly?
“Yes,” Abbie said, looking at his rosy lips and darkened yet twinkling eyes. “Happy Christmas to all… and to all a good night. A very good night.”