Disclaimer-- Everybody here knows who owns EE, and it ain't me. No infringement is intended and no money was made from this.
Author's Notes-- An infinite number of thank yous go to Melodey, who beta'd this quickly, because I procrastinated until the last minute to finish this story.
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Snow descended from the heavens in large flakes like confetti, as if the angels above were celebrating, today, the day before Christmas. And for the most part the people below were celebrating too. The streets were crowded with people who were doing some last minute shopping. People ice-skated at the outdoor rings. In the park there were children who were on vacation from school. Gleeful laughter filled the air as they participated in everything from
snowball, fights complete with forts, to building snowmen.
Gary was also in the park but not for his amusement. He ran across the snow-covered grass, dodging snowballs and sleds as they whizzed past him. He was on an "errand" and shortcut across the park to an empty lot, where Christmas trees were being sold.
"Wait--" Gary half slid and half ran across the un-shoveled frozen path. He slid the last few feet and stopped in front of a black sedan with a Christmas tree on its roof. "Wait."
"We're waiting." A man wearing a red lumberjack vest told Gary.
"The tree--" Gary said between breaths, "will slide.. off the. car."
"Pshhhh, no it won't. I've been selling Christmas trees for the last 10 years and I've never had a tree come off a car. I tie them very securely."
"The automatic seatbelts will cut into the rope. The tree will slide off in the middle of traffic, go through the someone's window and kill the driver."
"Geez, you're very morbid." The owner of the car said. "That would be bad if it were to happen, and my car does have the automatic seatbelts."
"And it would be my fault." The Lumberjack Jack scratched his chin. "Hmmm. I got it. Get into the car. I'll tie the tree through the windows. Do you have anything to cut the rope with when you get home?" he asked the guy in the car.
"I have my trusty Swiss army knife."
While they were distracted, Gary checked the paper. The article had disappeared. He smiled to himself. There was only one thing left and he would have the entire day to himself.
"Okay, a couple more knots--there-- all done. Hey buddy?" The vested guy turned to where Gary was standing, but Gary had already slipped away. "Hmm. That was weird. I wonder who he was?"
"Maybe he was the Christmas tree inspector?"
Both men shrugged.
The department store was pack with last minute shoppers and bargain hunters. People pushed there way through the different departments in the hopes of finding the perfect gift.
It was no different at the video game section.
"What do you mean you're under stocked?" One person hollered over the angry roar of the crowd.
"Yeah! I paid my deposits in May! May! You better have the consoles!" Another fumed.
"I'm sorry," the clerk explained. "There was a shortage of parts. The manufacturer apologizes for the inconvenience."
"I don't care what they said... I'm not leaving here with out one!" Several people in the crowd joined this sentiment.
One person pushed forward, knocking into someone, who in turned knocked into someone else. Then the shoving started. Each person seemed determined to make it to the counter and the lone salesperson first. One person grabbed another and pushed him behind him to the back of the crowd.
A man and a woman reached the front of the counter before anyone else.
"I'm first!" Both said in unison.
"What?" The woman raised her voice. "In your dreams."
The man bumped her away from the front of the counter. She knocked into another man who in turn collided with another man. The third man wasn't happy. He punched the second man in the face.
The store Santa, who was on a break, moved into the crowd and tried to stop the fighting, before it got out of hand. The first person he grabbed punched him in the nose. Santa fell to the floor, dazed.
Gary looked at his watch and let off a curse. The fighting had already started. He was early, well from the time it said in the paper. It said that this was going to start five minutes later. Somebody at the paper must have gotten the time wrong.
Gary saw Santa fall to the floor and helped him out of the way. He forced his way through the crowd, grabbed two people and split them apart. "STOP IT!!!!" Gary screamed over the crowd.
Amazingly enough people stopped. They all turned towards Gary.
"What's a matter with you people? The holidays are about family, not materialistic things. And you're attacking each other for a hunk of wires and plastic!"
"You," he pointed to the guy on his left. "What kind of example are you setting for you sons?"
The man looked over to his three sons. They were standing further back in the crowd. He said nothing, but bowed his head and stared at his feet.
"And you..." Gary looked to the woman on his right. "Do you think your husband would want the game system if he knew you hurt people to get it?"
She looked like she was about to say something, but chose to keep her mouth shut. The woman looked downward and not into Gary's eyes.
"The rest of you are acting like animals! For God sakes, it's Christmas Eve. Just calm down, I'm sure we can resolve this rationally."
Store security finally arrived and restored order to that part of the store. Gary let off a sigh. 'Better late than never', he mumbled to himself. There were three injuries two were scrapes and the third was suffered by the Santa; a broken nose.
"Hey thanks man." The clerk smiled. "For a minute there I though they were going to riot. That would have been ugly. At least nobody was seriously injured."
Half an hour had passed since the fights broke out. All the video game consoles in the store were distributed. Those who didn't get one were given and apology and were offered a refund of their deposit. Most chose not to take the refund. It would be hard enough to get one even after the holidays.
"Thank you for all your help. If there's anything I can do..." The store co-owner, Cindy, told Gary.
"I have to be going now." Gary still needed to do some Christmas shopping.
"Wait! I don't have a Santa! He was injured."
"I really can't help you with that. Can't you call a Santa replacement line?"
Gary looked around to find The Cat sitting on a shelf nearby. It was doing the Lassie bit again. Gary turned away from the manager's prying eyes and looked though the pages. The only article that had changed was the one about the riot. It was replaced by an article, which said that dozens of children were disappointed this holiday season because a major department store didn't have its store Santa.
Gary let out a deep sigh. He leaned over to the cat and whispered. "You aren't telling me to do what I think you're telling me to do, are you?"
The Cat just gave him "the look".
"That's what I thought."
"I guess I could help you but I don't look a thing like Santa." He said, turned back to Cindy.
"You have the kind, gentle eyes though. And our Santa wasn't a big guy either. He was just wearing a padded suit. He's actually about your size and there's an extra one in his locker. Please help, I don't want to disappoint all those kids waiting for Santa."
"All right, I'll help."
"Hey! Watch where you're going Kringle."
"Sorry." Gary apologized to the person he bumped into as he exited the backroom. "Chuck?"
Chuck began to laugh, first a chuckle and it became louder and stronger the longer he looked at Gary. Gary watched his friend for a full five minutes before he stopped.
"Are you done?"
"Yeah, I wish I had a camera though. What are you doing-- No wait, this has to be something with the paper, right? Always that paper."
"The cat wants me to play Santa, I'm playing Santa."
"Oh, there you are, are you ready?" The co-owner approached Gary and Chuck.
"Yeah, sure Cindy."
"Oh I get it now, you devil. Go Gary."
"Hi. I'm Chuck." He extended his hand to Cindy. She shook it firmly and let him continue. "Gary here is my best friend, and a very available bachelor. "
"I'm Cindy, I co-own the store."
"Can you excuse us for a moment," Gary pulled Chuck away to talk privately. " What are you doing here anyway? I thought you were at your Grandpa Jerry's? Isn't that why you came from L.A.?"
"I was. It's a mad house over there, so I decided to go for a walk. I don't even know why I went into this store. I just did."
"Um. Excuse me guys. I don't mean to rush you, but can you hurry up a bit."
"Yeah," Gary said. "I'll be there in a minute."
"You know if your friend wants to help. I have an elf outfit that'll fit him."
"Me? I'm not the helping type. My boy Gary here is the boy scout."
"I can pay you. How does two hundred dollars sound? It's only for three hours."
"Really I don't want."
"Okay three hundred, but that's all I can afford. I'm desperate. My elf just quit on me."
"Three hundred? That's a hundred dollars an hour."
Gary watched Chuck for a moment. He could have sworn that dollar signs lit up in his eyes.
"I'll do it!" Chuck smiled.
Half an hour later.
"Santa doesn't own a cat!" The kid on Gary's lap yelled in his ear. He was referring to The Cat, who decided to sit on a bunch of prop presents. It hadn't moved from that spot since Gary and Chuck started. "He has reindeer! You aren't the real Santa!!"
"Shhh.. Calm down." Gary tried to quiet the kid, but was having no luck.
"Cat? That's not my cat."
"Sure it is. Why else would it be here?" Chuck said. He wore a green tunic, a green felt hat, and cloth boots with bells that jingled every time he moved. There were pointed Vulcan like ears, but he refused to wear them, saying the costume was silly enough.
"You are not helping, my trusty elf *buddy*."
Chuck tried to grab the cat, but the feline ran under the chair Gary sat upon. It refused to come out.
The boy wailed loudly. It seemed to be infectious. The next kid on line, a little girl, began to cry. And the child behind her began to sniffle.
He had to do something fast or he would be stuck with a bunch of crying kids.
"Look kid, I'm Santa! See..." He tugged on his beard lightly hoping it wouldn't come off. Luckily it didn't. "See... Ho Ho Ho! Now little boy tell me your name..."
"If you were the real Santa you'd already know my name..."
"Look, just tell me your name so I can check it off on my list." This kid was trying his last nerve.
"Yeah, so he can check your name off on the naughty list and leave you coal..." Chuck stated.
"I'm telling my Dad!" He jumped off of Gary's lap and kicked him in the shin.
Gary yelped. He rubbed his shin as he glared at Chuck. Chuck just shrugged.
"He was a little brat..."
The next kid hopped onto his lap. The little girl smiled up at him. "Hi!"
"And what do you want for Christmas little girl?"
"I'm not going to tell you because you aren't the real Santa."
"Oh great another cynic." Chuck said.
"Santa's a myth." She stated.
"No little girl. It's a myth that Santa's a myth." Chuck leaned in and whispered. "The real Santa comes down chimneys and eats children during Christmas."
The girl screamed and ran to her mother in tears.
"Stop doing that! You're traumatizing the children. Just stop making up stories."
"I didn't make that one up. I heard it on TV."
"Yeah? Where? The X-Files?"
"Nope. Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
Gary shook his head. He had a feeling that this was going to be a very long three hours.
Two hours and fifty minuets later.
"Ho. Ho. Ho." A tired Gary said with as much enthusiasm as he could muster.
"Are you okay Santa?" The little boy who approached him asked.
"Yeah, just a little tired." Gary picked the boy on his lap.
"And how are you Mr. Elf?"
"Just peachy. Please tell me he's the last one. Please tell me there aren't anymore of these little monsters. that punch, bite, kick. scream."
"Come on Chuck they weren't all that bad. But, he is the last one."
"Thank you Lord! No amount of money was worth this torture."
"Is he okay, Santa?" The boy looked at Gary.
"He's fine. What's your name little boy?"
"Meorw." The Cat came out from under the chair. It stretched its furry little body then jumped onto Gary's lap. It snuggled against William, who pet the tabby merrily.
"Now he wants to help." Chuck commented. "Did you have a nice nap, Cat?"
Gary ignored him. "So, William, what do you want for Christmas?"
"We figured as much. That's what all the kids wanted. What kind of toys, G.I. Joes, Legos, those digi-poke-e thingies, you have to give us a little more than that." Chuck said.
"No, no, not for me. for everybody else. Christmas is going to pass us by and it's all Mr. Wilkins fault."
Dr. Jean Frawley paced up and down her office. This wasn't the way she pictured the holidays. Apparently her new assistant, Wesley Wilkins, had been stealing from the foster home for the last six months. She only realized this after she tried to withdraw money to pay for the kids' presents. She tried to get a hold of Wesley but found he had skipped town. After talking with the bank she had found out that the he had stolen over ten thousand dollars. Stealing money from a foster home was low.
Dr. Frawley sighed. She headed into the living room, to tell the kids. It was inevitable.
"Hi Miss Jean!" William excitedly yelled as he entered the front door with Gary and Chuck in tow.
"Will! Where have you been?"
"Santa!" One of the younger kids yelled. "Look, Will brought Santa! I told you Alex! There's a Santa."
The kids swarmed around Chuck and Gary like bees. Gary put the sack he carried on the floor letting the kids take the toys.
"Now, wait. There's enough for all of you. Just wait. calm, calm. down." Chuck tried to bring order, with absolutely no luck.
William grabbed Gary's hand and pulled him over to Miss Jean.
"Will," She scolded but hugged the boy, "what did I tell you about going off on your own."
" I was hiding in the closet, in your office, when I heard you on the phone. You said something about Mr. Wilkins and no Christmas. I went looking for Santa. A lot of them were fake. But when I saw this one, something told me he was real."
"What did I tell you about spying."
"I wasn't spying. I was playing hide and seek with Dawn, Anne, Riley and Amy."
"Will, why don't you make sure everybody has gotten a toy."
"Sure thing Miss Jean."
"Thank you, Santa." Will hugged Gary, then joined the other kids.
"Thank you for bringing William back, I hope he wasn't any trouble, Mr.--?"
"You don't remember me do you?" Gary asked. "It's been a long while. Maybe it's the costume."
"You do look and sound familiar."
"Yes, I remember you now. How have you been? You always seem to show up in our time of need. How do you manage to do that?"
"It's a knack."
"Where did you get all these toys? You didn't buy all of them."
"It's a good tax write off." Chuck joined their conversation. He left William with the other children. Gary glared at him. "I'm just kidding, Gar. We like helping."
"Thank you, both of you."
Gary's footfalls echo off the walls as he ascended up the stairs towards his loft a little past midnight. Spending the entire day with children tired him out. All he wanted to do now was sleep. Instead of finding the loft dark and empty, it was full of people; everyone from his parents to Crumb to Patrick. Even Chuck was there.
Lois spotted her son from across the room. She greeted him as he entered the loft.
"Hi sweetie...It's just what I wanted. How did you know I wanted a bread maker? And you even got the specific brand I wanted. Thank you Gary. You were on the ball with this one, unlike your father. "
"You know honey, I don't recall ever telling anyone about it... hmm... Thank you." She kissed him on the cheek and went back towards Bernie and Crumb were chatting.
"Hey Mr. H! Thanks!" Patrick walked up to him and hugged him tightly. Gary shifted uncomfortably and patted him lightly on the back. "You must have gone through a lot of trouble to get this original Duncan yo-yo. I've wanted one of these since I was six!"
"Patrick. You're welcome." He watched the young bartender, who was grinning ear-to-ear, walk off to join a conversation in the corner.
Gary felt guilty. He didn't buy any of these gifts, but everyone seemed to think he did. He didn't have time to go Christmas shopping this year. He was going to go through the rush, like he had last year, but the thing with the toys and the kids consumed all his time. He was sure his friends and family would understand.
"Hey this one's for me!" Chuck walked over holding a medium sized box with brightly colored paper on it. Chuck shook the box gently. It rattled with a metallic clank. "I thought you said you didn't buy any gifts yet."
"I didn't. I didn't buy any of these... That tree, the food, those decorations, and of this..." Gary said pointing to the box that Chuck clutched. "All this wasn't here when I left the loft this morning. And I thought you were going to your cousin's house?"
"Yeah I made an appearance, dropped off the gifts, and left. Those family affairs always end with a fight and somebody passed out on the floor. They won't miss me. Besides, I'd heard you were having a party and didn't invite me. Is that how you treat your best friend?"
"Calm down, I'm teasing... I heard what you said you don't know how or even planned...Somebody did though. You really don't know what's in the box?" He motioned towards Gary with the box.
"Nope. Not a clue... Why don't you just open it...?"
"That'll ruin the surprise." Chuck said still shaking it. "I've ruled out clothing..."
"Gary?" Marissa called from behind him.
"Planning the party and buying the Christmas gifts."
"I didn't do this. I just found my invitation this morning in the office." She held the phone out to him.
"Phone. It's Erica." She handed him the cordless.
"Hello? Erica, how have you been...? That's good... That's good... uh huh... uh huh... We're all good. Thanks for asking. You got the gifts I sent you and Henry?" Gary shrugged. He still had no clue where they came from. "You're welcome... I'm glad you like the um... yeah... sweater. Henry? Sure I'd like to talk with him. Hey Henry, How you've been? Bored huh...? I miss you too... I'm so glad you like the... Dreamcast...? I'm glad you liked it buddy. Merry Christmas to you too... Bye..."
Gary scratched his head after he hung up the phone. He didn't even know what a Dreamcast was.
"Erica sends her best."
"That was nice of you to send them gifts," Marissa said. Emmet called her from across the loft. "Excuse me."
"I found this on the floor." He handed him an envelope with his name written on it. "I think someone might have slipped it under the door."
"Did you see who?"
Patrick nodded and left Chuck and Gary alone.
"What's it say?"
"'Gary, I taken the liberty of leaving gifts on your behalf. I know you are a busy man with your errands and all. This is my gift to you for being on my "nice" list'. It isn't signed."
Gary and Chuck looked up from the card and out the window. They couldn't see much because of the snow falling lightly, but each swore they heard bells jingling and saw a red light fly through the sky.
They both looked at each other for a moment. "Nah..."
Chuck put his arm around his buddy's shoulder and they walked toward the crowd. Now was a time to celebrate.
Ya know what kinda presents I want, right? Hit reply or send them to Measer@nyc.rr.com. Happy Holidays and thanks for reading!
Email the author: Measer@nyc.rr.com