Sunday, December 15, 2013

Santa's Daughter

I love Christmas time. I love the cold, wet snow. The piney smell of Christmas trees. The lyrical sound of Christmas carols and the gleeful laughter of children. But most of all I love playing Santa Claus. Well, not really Santa Claus—just Santa's daughter.
In real life I'm Sally Carter, director of our local YMCA.
Once a year I'm Sally Santa, Santa's daughter, who for a day sits on a makeshift throne in the Y's day-care center and invites youngsters to climb up on my lap and tell me their Christmas wishes, while their parents watch or work out.
I wear a lady Santa dress. My ensemble includes a big tousled Santa hat, a Santa skirt with a wide black belt, and red knee-high boots.
Dressed up like that, my face plastered with rouge, I have more fun than the kids, and no one ever guesses who I am. Some kids are afraid of Santa's daughter, but over the years only one seemed truly frightened of me.
He was a brown-eyed youngster, maybe four years old, with short, wheat-blonde hair and a dimpled chin. The handsome man standing next to the little boy looked like the youngster's adult twin, a man whose physique made it evident he'd found our facilities here at the Y to his liking.
"Hi, Santa's daughter," the man said, unleashing a wide, brown-eyed smile, that sent my heart pin wheeling. "I'm Travis Meyer, and this is my son Matt."
Upon hearing the man's name, I remembered several of our female trainers pointedly telling me about the hunky widower, a lawyer, who worked out four times a week.
I answered with my own smile. "Hi, Travis and Matt."
Travis knelt down in front of his son. "Want to sit on Santa's daughter's lap?"
Wide-eyed, fingers at his mouth, Matt shook his head, and took a step back. His bottom lip started to quiver. His eyes glistened. The sight of the frightened youngster squeezed my heart. "There's nothing to be afraid of," I said softly, deliberately skipping a boisterous, Santa-like, "Ho! Ho! Ho!" that might frighten him even more.
Travis gave his son a tiny nudge. "She'll tell her dad everything you want."
"I will," I said, extending a hand toward Matt. "And my dad listens to everything I say."
I think it was my feminine voice that convinced Matt I wasn't a scary creature. He inched onto my lap and looked up into my face.
My heart jolted when, smiling for the first time, Matt said, "Your mouth looks like my mom's." Then he touched my lips with his tiny fingers, as if to make sure I was real. "She's in heaven," he added. "But we have pictures."
I glanced at Travis. He nodded. "Couple of years ago. Auto accident."
In a halting voice, Matt whispered all his requests in my ear. His biggest request didn't surprise me at all. After the boy climbed off my lap, he leaped into his dad's arms and said, "I like her."
An appreciative grin crept across Travis's face. "Matt and I would like to thank you for—"
But before Travis could get another word out, a pigtailed little girl sprang onto my lap and asked, "Are you really Santa's daughter?"
Much to my disappointment, Matt and his son disappeared among the throng of other waiting parents and their kids.
When I went to bed that night, among all the parents I'd met and youngsters I'd talked to, Matt and Travis lingered in my mind. Such a handsome dad. Such a precious little boy with such a special Christmas request.
Late the next afternoon, I nearly fell out of the chair behind my desk, when Travis Meyer rapped lightly on my open office door and stepped inside.
"Ms. Carter—" he started.
I gulped. "Sally, please."
"Sally," he said, and hesitated. "Um...I want to thank you for helping Matt overcome his fear of Santa. You were marvelous."
"Thank you." I smiled. "But all that makeup on my face—how do you know I'm Santa's daughter?"
"Several of your trainers have told me about you..." His voice trailed off. He looked sheepish.
"Ah, yes. A lot of gossip goes on around here."
His feet shuffled. "Look, I know you're not seeing anyone. Do you suppose we could stop for coffee sometime?"
I tried to hide another gasp. Then, "Of course."
That was last Christmas. I'm going to play Santa's daughter again next week, but Travis and I have a huge problem. Matt's biggest Christmas wish from last year has come true: he has a new mom. But how in the world are my wonderful husband and I going to explain to our dear little boy that his dad married Santa's daughter?
The End
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