EXCERPT – Where’s Santa?

BLURB: Chris has been hired as the new Santa at Danny’s store, and he’s just the guy Danny wishes he had on his personal Christmas gift list.  When Chris has a crisis of confidence and Danny finds him hiding in the stock room, it looks like Danny’s Christmas wish will be granted by a Santa who’s very real.

I was on a quest for the surplus supply of beanies. Yes, Mr. Stevens was sure he had another dozen boxes. Yes, he was sure they were in the storeroom. No, of course he didn’t know exactly where. But Danny would know, wouldn’t he? Danny was good at finding his way around the storeroom.

And so here I was, the ever-helpful Danny, peering in the dark among a hundred boxes all marked the same, while the eager customers presumably lined up at the registers.

I pushed back the loose hair on my forehead and wriggled between the stacked boxes. We kept all of our inventory in that small room, including the festive decorations, next
year’s calendars, and wrapping paper galore. There was loose glitter on the floor. I could see it gleaming in the dim light. I wondered aimlessly what the store would look like come January, when all this chaos was over and we faced the New Year. Then the remaining Christmas supplies would be on special offer and we’d be stocking up the Valentine’s heart cushions, I guessed. Not that I’d ever had much opportunity to celebrate that occasion, either.

I sighed aloud. No point feeling sorry for myself, although I was tired already and I was on until eight that night. But at least I’d be busy. That was, as long as I could find more
supplies of those Santa beanies. I peered across to the far corner. I thought I caught a glimpse of movement, and I was worried there might be mice in here. Story was, they chewed through a whole box of Easter bunnies last year…

“Danny? Is that you?”

The whisper startled me, but I recognized the voice. “Chris? What are you doing in here?”

A shadow in the corner thickened and flowed into a human shape. Chris straightened up, groaning a little. He’d been crouching in the corner, sitting on one of the sturdier
boxes. He’d taken off the Santa beard and hat, and pulled the stuffing out of his suit. I could tell all that from his profile, even though my eyes were still adjusting to the half-

Maybe I wasn’t admitting it aloud, but I’d spent most of the morning imagining what a really cute body he’d have under that costume. I seemed to be fascinated by him. I
hadn’t felt as attracted to a man for a long time. Well, I’m sure my friends would confirm that for you, if you wanted to ask. But by shifting a couple of chairs and a silver display
Christmas tree, I’d managed to find a spot behind the register that allowed me to watch both the Victorian table decorations aisle—where, experience told us, we attracted
most of the shoplifters—and also the small area we’d cordoned off as Santa’s Grotto. Chris had been smiling and laughing and handing out packets of candy all morning, as
parents paraded their children past him. He had a good, deep laugh—despite the fact he couldn’t be more than twenty, I’d have said, just like me—and seemed to have a lot
of patience with the kids.

There were a few tricky moments, of course. It was to be expected. They say never work with kids or animals, don’t they? I overheard one little boy ask for a Ferrari for
Christmas. The father was looking deliberately innocent. Then a girl tugged insistently at Chris’s beard, asking in an unnaturally loud voice if he had nits. Finally, there were
identical twin boys who kept swapping position to confuse him. Last I heard, they were asking if that was all stuffing under his belt, or whether he got a boner for the reindeer.
They were still shrieking with juvenile laughter as their mom dragged them away. I guess that covered the working with animals, too. When Chris went for a tea break, I didn’t blame him. I reckoned he was earning his money.

But he hadn’t come back.