A Date With Santa
Was Josephine being naïve, or was there more to the ad than met the eye?
RU a hottie? Play a wants D8M8. Cldbu! Josephine read the newsprint through twice then blinked wearily. Was it a code? The only bit she understood was the opening question and although she did often get a bit flushed, she didn’t think a menopausal fifty-something was what the writer had in mind.
“Why would someone like that need a lonely hearts advert?” she asked Keely, who was poring over a dating website. “There’s a lot more opportunity to meet people than when I was young.”
“If only it was that simple.” Her daughter rolled her eyes. “Besides, this is the way everyone dates now. People are busy – who’s got time to find someone they fancy, work out whether they like them back and if they’re single?”
“I suppose it does save a lot of messing about,” Josephine conceded doubtfully. “But that was half the fun. I don’t think Mr Playa is my type, anyway.” Keely peered over her shoulder. “What about that one?” “Cuddly Northern er seeks down-to earth nights. Age and looks unimportant. What does that mean?” “He’s fat and ugly.” “Keely!” Grinning, Keely relented. “OK, that’s the worst case scenario. At best, it means he’s not shallow. What else does it say?” “Must be understanding .” “Huh, he’s married.” Keely sounded disgusted. “Let’s look again.”
By the time Keely went home, Josephine had a shortlist of five potential dates. It seemed she wasn’t trusted to write her own replies; her daughter had composed those, too. Dutifully, she typed them up and sent each one to the email addresses shown.
She sat back; not much to do now but wait. As she folded the paper, her eye was drawn back to Cuddly Northerner’s advert. Maybe she was naïve but he sounded nice. And it was possible Keely was wrong; “understanding” didn’t have to mean “love-rat”, did it?
Josephine read the words again and sighed. It was so difficult to get a sense of someone from words on a page; the only way to make a true judgement was to meet them in person. Josephine reached for the keyboard and began to type.
“I’m a FREE MAN on Boxing Day. WILD REINDEER couldn’t keep me AWAY”
You’re home later than I expected. How did it go?” Keely discarded her magazine and rose to greet her mother. “Actually, no – don’t bother answering that. Your face says it all.”
Glimpsing her reflection, Josephine had to agree; her eyes were sparkling and she was beaming from ear to ear.
“I had a lovely time. Chris was charming. We had tapas at a gorgeous little Spanish restaurant he knew.”
Keely sank back onto the sofa. “So what are you waiting for? Kick off your shoes and spill the beans.”
When it came down to it, Josephine was surprised by how little she had to tell. “Cuddly Northerner” had turned out to be a widower in his early sixties, with no children. Despite his pure white beard, he had a youthful face and Josephine had warmed to him instantly. In fact, he’d seemed oddly familiar and she’d thought they’d met before.
It wasn’t until he’d mentioned his job that the penny dropped and she realised where she’d seen him.
“Let me get this straight.” Keely eyed her in disbelief. “My mother is actually dating Father Christmas?”
“I must have walked past Santa’s Grotto a zillion times this year already. What a lovely job it must be, making all those children happy.” Keely grimaced. “I bet he meets a few horrors. Still, he must be pretty fabulous if he’s managed to bag a regular gig in Selfridges.”
“He certainly looks the part,” Josephine agreed, picturing her date’s gently rounded stomach and ruddy cheeks. A shy smile crept across her face. “I know it’s early days but I have a really good feeling about him.”
Over the chilly weeks leading up to Christmas, Josephine found herself liking Chris even more. His gently self-deprecating humour, the quiet satisfaction he took in his job and his cheerful nature combined to make her count the hours between dates, which weren’t quite as often as she’d like.
He’d explained on their first date that
December was his busiest time, but she couldn’t hide her disappointment when work got in the way. “Won’t you be able to get away at all?” He shook his head, looking genuinely regretful. “Christmas Eve will be manic. I know from experience that it’ll take me most of the next day to get over it.” Josephine summoned a brave face. “I’ll see you on Boxing Day, though? Even Selfridges can’t need a Santa then.” A deep chuckle rumbled in Chris’ chest. “I’m a free man on Boxing Day. Wild reindeer couldn’t keep me away.”
Josephine made the best of things, spending Christmas Day with Keely and her son-in-law and trying her hardest not to mope. She escaped as soon as politeness allowed, slipping back to her empty house in the early evening.
Grateful to abandon her pretence of jollity, she closed her front door against the frosty air and clear starlit sky. She gave a heartfelt sigh; no snow again. Just once, it would be so nice to experience a white Christmas.
She was halfway to the living room when the doorbell chimed. Who on earth could that be?
Her heart leapt as she inched the door open and saw Chris. “Any chance of a sherry?” Swallowing a rush of elation, Josephine ushered him into the living room, babbling helplessly and flicking switches as she went. Waving him towards the sofa, she dropped both their coats on the stairs and headed to the kitchen for drinks.
Smiling, Chris accepted the overgenerous sherry she handed him with a slightly shaking hand. Then, under the glow of the fairy lights, Josephine picked up the last gift from under the tree.
“It’s not much,” she ventured nervously, watching him tear away the wrapping. “Now you don’t have your Santa outfit to keep you warm, you might need it.”
He held up the luxurious, handknitted red scarf, pleasure radiating from his face. “It’s perfect. Thank you.” Reaching across, he took her hand and touched it to his lips in a feathery kiss. Josephine felt her cheeks grow hot. “I know you won’t have had time to get anything for me,” she gabbled. “It’s fine, honestly. You’ve been busy –”
“I did get you something.” Excitement fizzed inside her. “You didn’t need to.”
“I know,” he said, smiling. Then his expression grew thoughtful. “What’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever had?” Josephine didn’t have to think. “The charm bracelet I got when I was twelve.” She gave a nostalgic sigh. “It had a silver letter J and a tiny wishing well and a carriage with wheels that really turned. My cousin snapped one of them off the day I got it. I cried for hours.” Chris nodded. “Where is it now?” A stab of regret cut through Josephine. “I lost it years ago, when I moved house. I even went back, to see if the new owners had found it.”
“And you’ve never forgotten it.” Chris spoke almost to himself. A gentle smile played around his lips. “Check under the Christmas tree.” “Your scarf was the only present left.” “Take a look,” Chris suggested. Convinced she would find nothing but pine needles, Josephine knelt down and groped cautiously. Sure enough, her fingers closed on something. She drew out a beautifully wrapped gift.
He must have slipped it under there while she was in the kitchen, she decided. Casting another quizzical glance his way, she peeled back the paper to reveal a long slender box. Lying inside was a delicate bracelet, exactly like the one she had lost.
She gasped in delight, examining the shining charms. A silver J nestled alongside an intricate wishing well… and a miniscule carriage.
She peered more closely. Three wheels perfectly intact; one missing.
Breath caught in her throat, Josephine gazed at Chris. “How –?”
He knelt to fasten the clasp around her wrist. “Here, let me help.” “How did you know?” Chris met her questioning eyes and his gaze sobered. “When I placed that advert all those months ago, I had a very specific person in mind. Someone understanding, I said. You remember?”
Wondering what that had to do with the bracelet, Josephine nodded.
“I had very good reasons.” He sighed. “I’m afraid I haven’t been entirely honest with you, Josephine.”
Her heart fluttered into freefall. This was the part when her world fell apart. Keely had been right; he was married. She swallowed. “Go on.” Chris took a deep breath. “I knew what gift you wanted most because it’s my job to know. Working in a department store isn’t all I do.” His eyes sought hers. “I’m not just any Father Christmas. I’m the Father Christmas.”
At first, Josephine thought she’d misunderstood. But Chris didn’t elaborate and the silence stretched.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she managed eventually. “There’s no such person.”
He spread his hands. “Who else would know about your broken charm? You never told anyone.”
Her mouth dry, Josephine stared. He was right; scared she’d get into trouble, she had hidden the breakage.
“Who else knows that you wished with all your heart for snow tonight?” He stood. “Come with me.”
From the front door, Josephine peered into the dark sky. The first intricate flakes were few and far between but soon they were spiralling thickly down.
“Still unconvinced?” Josephine felt warm breath softly tickling her ear. “Look at me. You’ll see.”
Her mind whirling, she gazed up into his twinkling blue eyes. With a sudden inexplicable flash, she knew everything. He’d been alone a long time, this man who gave everything to the world. It was a solitary existence; no wonder he’d longed for a companion. He needed someone special to understand that, for him, work had to come first. Could she be that someone?
She stretched out awestruck fingers to touch his chilly cheek. “Are you real?” He smiled. “I can rustle up a ‘Ho Ho Ho!’ if it helps.” Josephine smiled back. “Why now?” Chris shrugged. “I was lonely. The elves are cheerful enough but they get a bit wearisome after a while.” A thought occurred to Josephine. “In the stories you’re already married.” His good humour faded. “I didn’t lie when I said I was a widower. My wife fell ill around two hundred years ago.” He glanced away. “There wasn’t anything I could do.”
Josephine remembered losing her beloved husband, years earlier. It had been devastating but at least she hadn’t had to cope with the thought of spending all eternity without him. “How did you know I’d believe you?” “I didn’t. But I hoped you would.” Josephine stared at the snow. Before tonight, she’d been on the brink of falling in love with Chris. Kind, considerate and funny, he made her feel young again. Even better, he seemed to care about her as much as she did about him. Did knowing who he really was change any of that? “And you live at the North Pole?” He gave a grave nod. “It’s a bit of a commute but there’s not a lot of traffic.”
She rested her hands against his chest and turned her face upwards.
“In that case,” she said, “how do you feel about long distance relationships?”
She peered more CLOSELY. Three wheels were INTACT, one MISSING