“Another Christmas Story” – Chapter Sixteen – I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus – As Read By Published Author, Nicole Little

“Another Christmas Story” – Chapter Sixteen – I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus – As Read By Published Author, Nicole Little

Happy Thursday, Christmas fanatics! Welcome to the seventeenth official installment of “Another Christmas Story“!

This week, published author, Nicole Little, will read to all of you Chapter Sixteen of our tale, entitled “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”. Within this chapter, we switch back to the perspectives of Joey and Mary as they slowly begin to get reacquainted with one another as they visit the winter wonderland that is Macy’s Herald Square!

We hope you like it! If you do, make sure to share this episode and our website, upon which the text of this installment is posted, to get it in front of as many eyes as possible! Make sure to check your podcast feeds for your regular weekly episode on Monday, in which the elves cover the 2019 parody (?) movie, “A Christmas Movie Christmas”, and next Thursday for the seventeenth official chapter of this story – “Chapter Seventeen: (It Must’ve Been Ol’) Santa Claus”, which listener, Seamus McLean, will be reading to you! In it, we switch back to the points of view of Aaron Rankin as he meets Santa Claus at Macy’s Herald Square!

 

 

Chapter Sixteen: I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

December 24th – 11:00 a.m. EST

“So what are you doing for work?

Joey and Mary had taken the subway downtown to 34th Street and were currently waiting in the long line, which stretched around the block, in order to view the famous holiday windows of Macy’s Herald Square. Though they couldn’t yet see what the display’s theme was this year, it was impossible to miss the Christmas lights that spelled out the word “Believe” along the department store’s brick façade, surrounded by giant, red stars. Additionally, an enormous balloon of the beloved beagle from The Peanuts, Snoopy, was affixed above the main doors of the store, a Santa hat atop his head.

The two childhood friends had remained silent for the duration of the time they were underground, sitting side-by-side and staring around in order to people-watch so they had an excuse to look anywhere but at one another. But now that they were back aboveground in the fresh air again, shivering as the snow fell upon them, they attempted to truly catch-up as they slowly inched forward toward the window display.

“I am an executive assistant at an advertising agency in Newcastle,” Mary explained, rubbing her hands together in an attempt to keep warm against the elements. “Unique – For All Your Distinctive Advertising Needs.” She rolled her eyes. “It’s so bloody stupid. It may as well be called “Unexceptional” to represent how “unique” we actually are.” Joey laughed. “I’m serious! I didn’t go to university in order to manage some middle-aged man’s calendar and remind him when his wife’s birthday is coming up, on top of when his mistress’ is. It’s literally all I do.” She sighed deeply. “But hey, it offers me a nice view of the Tyne, so that’s something at least, right?” But before Joey could answer, she scoffed loudly. “Seriously, God knows how he’s going to manage without me for the entirety of my maternity leave!” She rubbed her stomach absentmindedly.

“Why don’t you just quit it if you hate it so much?” Joey asked with a shrug, as they shuffled nearer to the store’s windows, at which a bunch of schoolchildren he thought looked vaguely familiar were clamoring to look at the displays within.

Mary glanced sideways at Joey with an eyebrow raised. “With a baby on the way?”

“Ah. Fair point,” Joey replied apologetically. “I forgot.”

Mary laughed. “Easy for you to do if you’re not lugging it around with you twenty-four-seven.”

“I don’t envy you,” Joey admitted with a wry smile before asking, “What did you major in at school, anyway?”

“You mean Irene never told Vanessa so that she could pass it on to you?” Mary asked, purposefully overacting how shocked she was.

Joey rolled his eyes. “Don’t tell me you still do that thing where you call your mother by her first name?” Mary threw a guilty smirk his way, which made a smile spread across his own face as he said, “I know you went to Northumbria University, so forgive me for not knowing what you majored in. I’m pretty sure my mother told me at some point, but I’m drawing a blank.” When Mary gasped, pretending to be offended, he hastened to add, “Don’t take it personally. I can barely remember what I had for breakfast this morning.”

“Corned beef hash.” When Joey appeared confused by her statement, Mary elaborated. “You had the corned beef hash for breakfast. I finished it, remember? I don’t know how you could forget it, it tasted amazing!” Joey laughed. “I majored in theater arts.”

“Ah, so you decided to pursue the old childhood dream of trying to make it on Broadway, huh?”

“Technically, I never tried making it on Broadway since I stayed in England,” Mary corrected. “I tried making it in the West End of London though, and by “tried” I mean I spent three years earning my degree in something completely useless only to get one measly audition for a show in which I’d have to show my tits on stage every night, only to get denied the part, become frustrated, and throw in the towel. But yes, I suppose you can say I attempted to pursue my dreams.” She smiled sarcastically.

“Well…you haven’t tried Broadway yet,” Joey pointed out, trying to cheer the woman up. “And remember the wise words that Frank Sinatra once sung about New York? ‘If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.’”

“And if I tried to make it here and failed at that too, then what?” Mary asked bitterly. “Does that mean I’ll end up failing everywhere?”

“No,” Joey replied quickly, flushing red. Then, deciding to try a new tack, he said, “Well, if it helps, I majored in something that’s proven equally as useless over the years. English literature.”

“I know,” Mary replied simply.

Taken aback for the briefest of moments, Joey nodded. “Well, there you go then. Don’t feel bad because you’re not the only one.”

“What are you doing for work?” Mary inquired.

Joey hesitated, as he scratched the back of his head in order to buy himself a few seconds to think. “Oh, you know…” He shrugged, as he stroked his stubbled-face. “I’m kind of in-between jobs at the moment.”

“What does that mean?” Mary asked. When the man appeared to hesitate, she hastened to firmly add, “Remember our deal! We’re supposed to be honest with one another!”

With a resigned sigh, Joey admitted, “I was fired half-a-year ago from a quality control gig at a publishing company, and I’ve been out of work ever since.”

Mary’s eyes widened. “Oh, Joey! I’m – that must be so hard for you!” Joey nodded. “How’s Lilianna handling it?”

“It varies,” Joey replied coyly before admitting, “But I don’t think she appreciates supporting me while I’m looking for a new job very much.”

“Vanessa and Sal can’t help you out in the meantime? Just until you find something new?” Mary asked, surprised.

“Honestly, my parents don’t even know I’m out of work – let alone that I’ve been out of work for six-months now, so…” He glanced down at Mary’s surprised face. “You’re not the only one who has to come clean to their parents about something this Christmas.”

As Mary absorbed his words, she was surprised to find that they did make her feel a little bit better. It was nice to know that somebody else could relate to what she was going through, even if it was on a different, micro-level. They did, however, also make her feel bad for her former neighbor. “I guess you need to ask them for some financial help?” Joey nodded bashfully. “Have you at least been working part-time jobs in the meantime for some incoming cash?”

Joey’s face fell. “I didn’t get my master’s degree to stock shelves at Walmart.”

Mary scoffed in disbelief. “Do you realize how entitled that sounds?”

Joey snorted in derision. “I know, but I just – I don’t want to do that. Sorry.” He shrugged.

“Well, Lilianna must be a very patient woman if she’s been putting up with you literally not working for six-months.” Joey shifted uncomfortably at the statement, but Mary didn’t notice. In an attempt to get back to a nicer topic of conversation, she asked, “What did you get your master’s in?”

“Creative writing,” Joey admitted, staring down at the icy sidewalk self-consciously.

“I guess I’m not the only who attempted to pursue my childhood dreams!” Mary teased. “So you’re still writing all of your little stories?”

“I actually completed an entire novel since I’ve been out of a job, thank you very much,” Joey said proudly before adding defensively, “So it’s not like I haven’t been working at all.”

Mary nodded, impressed. “What’s your book about?”

Joey blinked, taken aback by the question. “You really want to know?”

“How long have you known me?” Mary asked. “I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t want to know.”

“It’s just – Lily never cared what it was about.”

“Cared?” Mary raised an intrigued eyebrow, which caused Joey to silently curse himself for his choice of words. Before he could address his use of the past tense, however, a cold wind blew down Broadway, causing both of them to visibly shiver and instinctively step closer to one another as the line shifted again and they suddenly found themselves in front of the holiday windows at long last.

“Oh, look!” Joey exclaimed overenthusiastically, grateful that the universe had given him an excuse to change the subject. “It’s a Rankin/Bass showcase!”

Mary tilted her head in disbelief at the obvious pivot away from her question, but decided she’d press the subject again later. Not wanting to hold up the line, she joined Joey at the windows to peer at the animatronic displays within.

Sure enough, Joey was right – Macy’s had chosen to utilize Rankin/Bass’ classic stop motion Christmas specials as inspiration for that year’s theme. Each of the windows stretching the length of the building depicted a different scene from a collection of their animated films. Animatronic characters from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, Frosty the Snowman, and The Year Without a Santa Claus were moving and interacting in front of snowy backgrounds and idyllic Christmas villages, while songs from each movie were playing through speakers overhead.

“This was always my mom’s favorite Christmas special,” Joey informed Mary, staring wide-eyed at a window depicting Rudolph, Hermey the elf, Yukon Cornelius, and a group of misfit toys interacting in front of a giant Bumble like a small child, an enormous grin on his face that made Mary’s heart melt and flutter the tiniest bit as she watched him.

“Mine was Frosty,” Mary informed him, moving onto the next window, which featured the titular snowman waving a broomstick in front of him as he led a group of young schoolchildren and a rabbit called Hocus Pocus down a quaint, small-town street directly toward a traffic cop. “It was Irene’s too. I think we both used to love the idea that with a little bit of Christmas magic, anything was possible; even bringing a snowman to life.”

Joey smiled as his stomach somersaulted within him, taking him by surprise. “That’s cute.”

“Shut up.” Mary rolled her eyes, as they moved onto the next window.

“I’m serious!” Joey insisted. “Scout’s honor!” He held up a hand.

Mary snorted. “You were never a boy scout.”

“So what? I can’t take the oath still?” Joey asked, eliciting a laugh from Mary as they stared at a scene depicting the blue and white Snow Miser, dancing amongst miniaturized versions of himself opposite his brother, the red and orange Heat Miser, who looked a bit like an evil troll and was dancing amongst his own tiny clones. “This one was always my dad’s favorite. He thought these two were hilarious; always loved the song they sung.” He closed his eyes for a moment, straining to hear the Miser brothers’ dueling songs playing on the loudspeaker above over the crowds around him. “It is pretty catchy, I have to admit.” He smiled as he opened his eyes.

“Is this one your favorite too?” Mary asked.

“Nope,” Joey replied, as the two strolled over to the next window. “This one was.” He nodded at the animatronics within it, depicting a young, red-headed Santa Claus skipping arm-in-arm with the Winter Warlock, who was wearing sparkling robes of bluish-white, and the tiny penguin, Topper, wearing his signature yellow and black scarf. “I really liked the whole origin story aspect of it, you know? Finding out how Kris Kringle became Santa Claus? I mean, it does such a great job explaining how he got his name, his suit, his powers, his laugh, his wife, his reindeer…” He shrugged. “I’m a sucker for origin stories. Always have been. It’s why I’ve always loved comic – what?” he demanded, embarrassed, when he noticed Mary laughing at him out of the corner of his eye.

“You are such a nerd.”

“I’ve always been a nerd.”

“I guess I forgot just how much,” Mary admitted before hastening to add, “But I like it. It’s a compliment. Trust me.” When Joey turned away from her uncertainly, in order to look back at the window, she motioned at the animatronic penguin. “I always liked Topper. He’s adorable. I think I have stuffed-animal of him in storage somewhere.”

“Topper and the Winter Warlock are great,” Joey replied, motioning at the wizard in question. “The song the two of them sing with Santa taught me one of the most valuable lessons that anyone can learn in life.”

“Put one foot in front of the other?” Mary asked with a smile.

“Exactly.” Joey winked at her. “No matter how tough life gets, just keep taking each day one step at a time. Eventually things will get better.”

Mary mulled these words over in her head, overly touched by them due to her raging hormones. Before they threatened to overcome her, however, Joey asked, “Have you seen Ryan since high school?”

“Not once,” Mary replied, confused by the sudden change of subject. “Why?”

“Well, I know I’m not one to talk, given the fact that I’ve put on a few pounds myself,” Joey began.

“You can say that again.” Mary winked teasingly.

But, Ryan’s looking a like this nowadays.” Joey pointed to an animatronic of Kris Kringle during the point in his life when he still had red hair and a beard, but had gained all of the weight of Santa Claus.

Mary burst out laughing at the statement. “Oh, come on! He can’t be that big!”

“Maybe not that big,” Joey conceded with a laugh. “But he’s getting close.”

The two childhood friends came to the final window, which depicted Santa Claus flying away from the north pole in his sleigh packed to the hilt with presents, being pulled by nine reindeer with Rudolph and his glowing nose leading the pack. Meanwhile, on the ground, Mrs. Claus, a bunch of elves, the Winter Warlock, Topper, Frosty, the Snow Miser, and the Heat Miser waved him off. After Joey snapped a picture of the festive scene on his phone, the two stepped off to the side so they were directly in front of the store’s main entrance. Jerking his head at the doors, Joey asked, “What do you say? Want to do a bit of shopping? Visit Santa Claus?”

Mary raised an eyebrow. “Aren’t we a little too old to sit on Santa’s lap?”

Joey gasped, feigning offense. “Never! Mary Holiday, what happened to you?”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Mary laughed. “I’m just feeling a bit grinchy this year.”

Noticing Mary’s face fall slightly, and how sad her bright green eyes had become, Joey felt his heart break for her. “Come on, it’ll be fun!” he promised in an attempt to cheer her up. “Remember in middle school when we used to get our pictures taken with Santa Claus together? We’d give them to our mothers every year? They’ll have a good laugh if we did it for them this year for old time’s sake. And let’s face it,” he added after a beat. “After we both come clean about the things we’ve been keeping from them, they’ll both need a good laugh.”

Mary smirked despite herself. “You make a good point.”

“It’s been known to happen,” Joey teased, causing the woman to roll her eyes. “Come on! It’ll be like old times! Remember you always used to flirt with Santa and try to make him as uncomfortable as possible?”

“I was thirteen-years-old,” Mary pointed out before adding sarcastically, “That’d look really good if I tried doing that this year. I can see the headlines now – ‘Pregnant Woman Tries to Seduce Santa Claus’.”

“More like ‘Mommy-to-be Kisses Santa Claus’,” Joey joked as a lightbulb went off in his head. “In fact, I’ll give you fifty-bucks if you manage to get Santa to kiss you for the picture.”

“Ha! You’re out of your mind!”

“What are you, chicken?”

“What are you, twelve?” Mary asked, as Joey began to make clucking noises. Then, with a laugh to get him to shut-up, she promised, “We’ll see, okay? But I’m definitely not going to do it for anything less than one-hundred.”

“A hundred bucks it is.” Joey clapped his hands together excitedly.

“But first, I want to do a bit of shopping. I still need gifts for my entire family, remember?”

“I remember,” Joey replied. “Nothing like leaving your Christmas shopping until Christmas Eve, eh?”

Mary hit Joey playfully as the two entered the enormous store side-by-side. The incredible, eleven-floor space – completely decked out in so much Christmas paraphernalia that it looked like Santa Claus and Martha Stewart had decorated the place – was normally slightly overcrowded on a good day, but during the Christmas season it was so packed that it was nearly impossible to navigate the crowds at a reasonable pace without constantly bumping into fellow shoppers. Joey was surprised, however, by how packed the store was that morning considering it was the day before Christmas; he had naively assumed that most people would have finished their holiday shopping already. Though he didn’t mind the crowds – they were, after all, part of what it made it feel like the holiday season – he did throw a nervous, sideways glance at Mary’s stomach as a few shoppers rushed by so quickly, they barely avoided knocking into her. “Are you alright being in here?” he asked the pregnant woman, trying to sound nonchalant.

“Yeah, why?” Mary asked, genuinely confused.

“I don’t know. I just thought that you might be feeling a bit – uh – claustrophobic.” He glanced pointedly at her swollen belly. Mary glanced down at it before letting out a loud bark of laughter.

“This is actually one of the best perks about being pregnant,” she informed him, as she shrugged her jacket from her shoulders. “Watch.” Handing the blue coat to Joey for him to hold, Mary pushed her stomach out a little more so that it seemed slightly bigger than it already was, and made a show of placing both hands on it as she exaggerated her walking so that it resembled something closer to a waddle. Joey watched in amazement as, almost instantaneously, fellow shoppers in their immediate vicinity began to give the two a much wider berth. “See?” Mary asked with a wide smile, as she glanced up at her companion. “I told you.”

“This happens everywhere you go?”

“Generally speaking, the majority of people are quite aware of and generous toward pregnant women,” Mary explained, as they made their way toward an escalator to ascend to the next floor. “Though if I’m being honest, I wasn’t sure if that trick would work here or not, considering the fact that the two restaurants I’ve been to since arriving back in New York weren’t exactly accommodating of my condition.”

Joey laughed before asking, “So what are we looking for, exactly?”

“Nothing in particular.” Mary shrugged as they disembarked the escalator on the second floor and headed in the direction of the one that would take them up to the third. “Just, whatever I can find that I think members of my family would like. But first, I want to pick something up for myself.” Joey raised an eyebrow, curiously. “Lingerie,” Mary elaborated. “Something sexy to motivate me to get back into shape and lose the baby weight quickly after I give birth.”

As they stepped onto the escalator taking them to the fourth floor, Joey felt his cheeks burn red as a mental image of Mary wearing revealing lingerie flashed through his mind. “So – uh…” He cleared his throat casually. “You’re taking me shopping for sexy underwear?”

“Do you have a problem with that?” Mary teased, as they ascended from the fourth to the fifth floor.

“Not at all,” Joey replied a little too quickly. “It’s just – well, you know what they say.” He shrugged innocently. “If a woman takes a man lingerie shopping, the rule is she has to model what she buys for him later on.”

“In your dreams pal.” Mary laughed, as they stepped onto the escalator that would take them to the sixth floor. “You had your chance to see me in my underwear once, remember? You blew it.”

“Yeah, well…” Joey began. “Hindsight is twenty-twenty.”

As they stepped off the escalator onto the sixth floor, finding themselves smack dab in the middle of the lingerie section, Mary glanced at Joey, who was still carrying her winter coat, and realized that she had inadvertently caused an awkward silence with her flippant comment. Clearing her throat pointedly, she added, “Though in fairness, I could use a man’s opinion on what he’d find sexy and not. You know, so I can seduce a potential future boyfriend.”

“Well, I can definitely help with that,” Joey informed her, as the two of them began to search through the racks that contained the more revealing selections.

“Are you sure your fiancée isn’t going to mind that you’re helping me pick out underwear?” Mary asked, hoping Joey would take the hint and explain what exactly was going on between him and Lilianna so that she wouldn’t have to flat out ask.

Joey hesitated for a moment before replying, “She knows how close we used to be. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind.”

Mary clucked her tongue in annoyance, but decided to let Joey get away with the lie for the time being; mainly because, at that moment, she found an item that caught her eye. “Ugh, if I can ever fit into something like this again, I’d be so happy.” She held up the ensemble by its hanger so Joey could take a look. It was a sheer red stocking with an attached garter belt, white lace top and matching sheer thong and bra. “What do you think?” The woman held them up in front of her body, immediately launching Joey’s imagination into overdrive. Swallowing hard, he nodded appreciatively. “I think that’d do the job.”

The woman smiled mischievously at him, throwing the ensemble over her arm with the intention to buy it, thinking back to when she and Joey were growing up; she had always loved being a flirty tease to him when they were younger. “Hopefully I’ll be able to fit into it one day,” she lamented.

“I have no doubt you’ll be able to,” Joey began. “But just in case you can’t – or, you know, find somebody to hook up with in the meantime…” He pulled a sheer silver nightie and solid red thong from the rack. It was short, and clearly built for curvier women, but it was sexy as hell. The only part of the outfit beside the thong that wasn’t see through was the area where the nipples would rest; they’d be hidden behind two red circles with white trim.

Mary raised an eyebrow, a small smirk on her face, as she took the garment from Joey and studied it closely. “It’s nice,” she confirmed. “But I don’t think that I’m going to be getting any action looking like this.” She waved a hand up and down the length of her body.

“You never know.” Joey shrugged, as Mary threw the garment over her arm with a laugh, regardless.

The two of them spent the next half-an-hour picking out presents for Mary’s parents (a monogrammed bathrobe for her father and a Kitchen Aid mixer for her mother) and her three brothers (brand new wallets made out of genuine leather), but were unable to find anything for her sisters-in-law or nieces and nephews. They also managed to pick out two nice picture frames for both Mary’s and Joey’s mothers, in which they’d place copies of the picture they were about to take with Santa Claus.

When they finished their shopping, the two childhood friends ascended to the eighth floor, which had been completely transformed into Santaland for the Christmas season, and found themselves smack dab in the middle of a throng of New York natives and tourists alike, staring openmouthed at the thirteen-thousand-square-foot north pole village they found themselves standing in. Employees dressed as elves were interacting with children, and animatronic woodland creatures and toys were placed along the walls lining the queue that led toward where Santa Claus was sitting on his throne taking pictures. Meanwhile, an enormous train continuously circled the entire floor, its horn blowing sporadically as it released fake steam into the air.

After Joey tore his eyes from the lights dancing along the ceiling, which were meant to create the illusion of falling snow, he glanced sideways at Mary, whose eyes were twinkling with a warmth and happiness that had been noticeably absent all morning. As she subconsciously placed her hands on her stomach, Joey smiled to himself before noticing the group of school children that had been crowding around the windows outside, along with their beleaguered teacher, who was trying to corral them toward where the line to see Santa Claus began. Panicking, he grabbed Mary’s hand – taking her by surprise – and dragged her toward the start of the queue. “What are you doing?”

“I don’t want to get stuck behind them.” Joey jerked his head at the kids and just managed to get himself and Mary into line ahead of them by a split second, much to the teacher’s annoyance.

“Are they on a field trip?” Mary asked in an undertone, glancing behind her and immediately finding a tiny, lonely looking boy who looked preoccupied. “Over Christmas?” When Joey shrugged, she remarked, “It’s just a weird time for a school trip, that’s all.”

“Well, there’s no place like New York at Christmas,” Joey pointed out, as silence fell between the two of them.

As they slowly moved with the line of children and their parents, inching closer to Santa Claus, Mary glanced shrewdly at Joey. “So? Are you going to tell me, or are you going to make me ask?”

“Tell you what?”

“What’s going on with you and Lilianna?”

Joey’s face fell instantly. His mind raced as he stared down into Mary’s face, listening to the Christmas music playing overhead. To his surprise, his heart skipped a beat as he took in her bright green eyes and slightly pointed nose; she was just as pretty as he remembered her, and as she stared at him expectantly, he was reminded of all the times he had confided in her over the years as they grew up together. Eventually, he took a deep breath and decided to be honest with her, like he promised earlier that morning he would be. “The truth is, Lily and I actually broke up.”

Mary let out an audible gasp as Joey flashed her a pained smile, looking as though he had bitten down into a lemon. “Yesterday, in fact. She was supposed to fly home with me, but when she got home from work, she broke up with me instead.”

“I’m so sorry,” Mary said genuinely, reaching down and squeezing Joey’s hand gently – an act which sent shivers down his spine. “That’s – did she say why?”

Joey let out a laugh completely devoid of humor. “Of course she did. She wasn’t going to break off a planned marriage without an explanation!” Clearly Mary wanted more of an answer, however, for she stared at him inquisitively until he continued talking. “Yesterday she got a promotion that she’d wanted for years, and I guess that made her question what she was doing spending her life with a man who hadn’t held a professional job in six-months.” He let out a weary sigh. “It’s my own fault, I guess.”

“You really can’t blame the girl,” Mary replied guiltily before quickly adding, “But still, to do it the day before Christmas Eve when you had plans to fly home together? That’s cold. She should have waited!”

“Yeah, well…”

Mary bit down on her lower lip. “What do your parents think?”

“They don’t know yet,” Joey admitted, going red in the face. Then, continuing with a laugh, “I told you I can relate to the stress you’re feeling about going home tonight.”

The two lapsed into another silence once more, as they continued to shuffle along with the line, smiling politely at the Macy’s employees who came up to them dressed as elves in order to wish them a Merry Christmas. Mary felt bad for prying; she had assumed the two were having relationship difficulties, but never would have thought their engagement had fallen apart a mere day before. She wracked her brains, desperately trying to come up with a topic of conversation that would make Joey relax a bit and smile again, but before she could, they rounded the corner and got their first glimpse of Santa Claus on his golden throne. “That’s one of the best Santa’s I’ve ever seen,” Joey remarked, clearly impressed.

Mary silently agreed with him. If Santa Claus did exist, he would look exactly like the man sitting twenty-feet away from them. Dressed in a burgundy Santa suit, the man had a perfectly round belly and face in addition to a genuinely warm smile that reached his twinkling blue eyes, which were staring out from behind half-moon spectacles at the child currently sitting on his lap. His long, white beard reached down to his neckline, which allowed the small child sitting with him to pull at it gently, eliciting a booming laugh of “Ho, ho, ho!” as he listened intently to what the little girl was chatting to him about. Though sitting, Mary could tell that when he stood up, he’d actually be an impressive height and strike an imposing figure, especially with his broad shoulders that looked like they could carry heavy sacks of toys upon them for long stretches of time. Though she had visited Santaland at Macy’s Herald Square many times over the years, this was by far the best Santa they had ever cast, and as she stared at him, watching as he beckoned the next child in line over to sit on his lap, it suddenly struck the woman how she could cheer Joey up. “I’ll do it!” she exclaimed loudly, causing her companion to stare at her in confusion at the sudden outburst.

“Do what?”

“You know…” Mary glanced around covertly to ensure they weren’t being overheard. “I’ll kiss him.”

Joey let out a bark of laughter. “You don’t have to do that.”

“I want to!”

“Really?” He raised an eyebrow, glancing over at the man in question. “What, does the real deal turn you on or something?”

“No.” Mary rolled her eyes. “I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to squeeze a hundred bucks out of you.” She hip-checked him playfully.

“I don’t know, Mary.” Joey glanced over his shoulder at the long line still twisting behind them. “There are a lot of kids here…”

“So?”

“Meaning there will probably be a lot of angry parents if you do it.”

Mary arched an eyebrow. “When did I ever care about what strangers thought of me? Like you said, I used to flirt with mall Santas all of the time!”

“We were kids! Little shit-disturbers!”

“Semantics.” Mary waved aside the man’s concern, earning herself an exasperated smile in response. “Does the offer still stand or not?”

Joey hesitated for a moment, staring between Santa, the kids behind him, and Mary herself, before finally he relented as a huge grin spread across his face. “Go for it.”

Mary smiled wide, cracking her neck and knuckles as she rolled her shoulders. “It’s showtime!” she exclaimed, determined to exude an air of confidence despite the nervous butterflies in her stomach.

The two waited patiently for the kids in front of them to each get their visit with Santa before finally, at long last, it was their turn. “Next!” a cute blonde elf called.

Joey and Mary exchanged a glance before lugging their shopping over to where Santa sat on his throne, which was placed against an intricate backdrop that was painted to reflect his busy workshop. “Ho, ho, ho! Who do we have here?” the old man asked politely, unperturbed by their ages.

“I’m Mary!” the pregnant woman exclaimed brightly, sitting down so hard on Santa’s lap that he let out an involuntary “Oomph!” and widened his eyes in surprise as she threw her arms around his neck, much like she’d do with a lover. “This is my friend Joey.” She jerked her head in the man’s direction.

“How’s it going, Santa?” Joey perched himself on one of the arms of the magnificent looking throne.

“As you can imagine, it’s my busiest day of the year.” Santa smiled warmly. “Though I must say, it’s nice to see two people your age who still have enough Christmas spirit left within them to believe in me and the magic of the season! It makes what I do each and every year that much easier knowing that I’m making a difference in the lives of the young and old.” Joey and Mary exchanged a glance, trying to conceal their amused smirks in response to how seriously the man was taking his job. “What can I get you two for Christmas?”

“Well, I would love a new job,” Joey said, after pretending to think about it for a few seconds. “Maybe a publishing contract. And if you can’t get me any of those, a nice bottle of aged whiskey would definitely do the trick!”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Santa replied kindly before turning to the woman sitting on his lap, who still had her arms wrapped around his neck. “And what about you, Mary? What can Santa get for you?”

“Well…” Mary began innocently, raising her voice to a pitch often associated with ditzy blondes in the movies. “There’s only one thing I really want for Christmas this year, Santa; one thing I really need.”

“Oh?” Santa asked politely, furrowing his eyebrows in confusion.

Mary nodded. “You see, I just want somebody to keep me company this Christmas…somebody to keep me warm this Christmas Eve.” She pouted, sticking out her lower lip. “Someone to try on my new outfit for.” She half raised one of her new pairs of lingerie out of its shopping bag so that Santa was able to see it; immediately, his cheeks turned rosy.

“I’m not quite sure I can help you out with that request, my dear.” Santa laughed uncomfortably. “As a general rule of thumb, I don’t normally indulge people who are – uh – naughty.”

Joey glanced at the employees dressed as elves, waiting to take their photo, and laughed at the expressions on their faces. Their mouths were open wide in disbelief that a grown woman, who was pregnant no less, was so openly brazen about flirting with Santa in front of a line of people still waiting to see him. Mary didn’t notice, however; she was too committed to playing her role. Twirling the old man’s beard around her index finger, she continued innocently, “But being nice is so overrated! Being naughty is so much more fun!”

She stared deep into Santa’s twinkling blue eyes with her own wide, green ones. Clearing his throat pointedly, Santa glanced from the line of kids watching the scene unfolding before them curiously to the openmouthed elves waiting to take their picture. “Well, I’ll see what I can do,” he said quickly in an evasive manner. “Now, why don’t we all smile for the camera! I still have a lot of children to get to, you know.”

Mary and Joey obliged the man’s request, and the three of them smiled as one of Santa’s elves instructed them to “Say cheese!” just before a bright light flashed, indicating the moment had been captured. “Can we get one more, please?” Mary called loudly over to the elf. “I don’t think I smiled properly for that one!”

The elf who had taken their picture stared down at his computer screen, upon which the photo of the three of them had appeared. “You look fine to me!”

“Just one more,” Mary pleaded, pouting until the elf finally relented.

“A-alright then,” the elf replied uncertainly. “One more, on the count of three. One.”

“Don’t you get it Santa?” Mary turned back to look at the legendary figure, blinking furiously. “All I really want for Christmas…”

“Two.”

“…is you,” she finished in a seductive whisper, her mouth so close to Santa’s ear that her tongue practically grazed his earlobe.

“Three.”

Santa’s eyes widened in surprise as Mary pulled his face toward hers, kissing him hard and full on the lips, her arms still wrapped tightly around his neck as Joey let out a bark of laughter at the same time the bright flash of the elf’s camera went off to indicate that the moment had been captured. With a loud squelching sound, Mary – beat red in the face – pulled away from the old man, whose mouth was open in astonishment, and exclaimed, “Thank you!” before hopping off of his lap and bending down for her shopping. “Come on, Joey,” she added pointedly.

“See you around, Santa,” Joey said apologetically, as the man continued to sputter incoherently. Scrambling to grab the remaining shopping bags, Joey hurried toward where Mary was paying for copies of both pictures they took – the posed one and the one in which she had surprised Santa – as the teacher who had been standing in line behind them with her students, and had been within eyesight of their entire escapade, was complaining loudly to one of Santa’s cute little blonde helpers about what her kids had just witnessed.

“I can’t believe you did that!” Joey was still laughing as they hurried out of Macy’s main entrance ten-minutes later.

“Me either,” Mary admitted, feeling light as air as she twirled on the spot. “It was totally worth it though. The pictures came out great!”

Joey silently agreed; the look on Santa’s face the moment Mary forced herself on him was priceless. “Man, that was fun.” He glanced sideways at her. “I guess I owe you a hundred bucks now, huh?”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“A deal’s a deal,” Joey insisted, as he pulled his wallet out from the folds of his winter coat.

“Joey.” Mary placed a firm hand atop of his and pushed his wallet down to his side. “Save your money.”

“But–”

“You’re unemployed!” Mary cut across him. “And your fiancée just broke up with you, so save your money.”

“I don’t need your charity.” Joey’s face burned red-hot.

“This isn’t charity,” Mary replied emphatically, rolling her eyes in response to how stubborn the man was being. “This is just me refusing to take money from a friend.”

Joey hesitated for a moment, his stomach somersaulting at the mention of the word “friend”, before relenting and pocketing his wallet gratefully. “Well…thank you.”

Mary nodded as a particularly strong gust of wind blew down the street, nearly blinding them as it whipped snow into their faces. As cold as it was, Joey thought there was something particularly relaxing about the snowfall in a way that cleansed his soul. Sighing contentedly, he asked, “So where to next?”

“Wherever you want,” Mary replied.

Joey shook his head. Truthfully, he didn’t care where they went as long as they continued hanging out. Thinking that it might be a little weird for him to voice that sentiment aloud, however, he insisted, “Seriously, it’s up to you.”

Mary stared up and down the crowded street before her sore arms, weighed down with all of the items she had just purchased, reminded her, “I still need to get my sisters-in-law, nieces, and nephews gifts.”

“Hmm.” Joey mulled over where they could go shopping next, as he took the shopping bag from a grateful Mary’s arms, before suggesting, “We could go to the Bryant Park Winter Village? They normally have cute, homemade, crafty type things that your brothers’ wives may like. Plus, it’s the perfect day to be wandering around an outdoor Christmas market, don’t you think?” He nodded upward at the snow falling from the sky.

Mary smiled wide, as she agreed. “It’s the perfect day for it.”

“Then afterwards we can pop into FAO Schwarz,” Joey said. The iconic toy store, a Christmas staple in the city, was sure to be packed, but that was all part of the experience in his mind. “You know me, I’m a giant kid at heart, so I’d love any excuse to visit a toy store.”

Mary laughed. “The Winter Village then FAO Schwarz. Sounds like a good plan to me. Come on, you big dork.”

As they began to walk, side-by-side, up the busy street, Joey pointed out, “I’m already carrying all of your shopping, so – no offense – but I really don’t want to have to end up carrying you too; let’s catch the subway.”

“It’s like you read my mind,” Mary replied, trying to ignore her aching feet as the two hurried across the street to catch the F train from Herald Square station to 42nd St.

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