Kiss Me Santa
by Patrice Wilton
Genre: Contemporary Romance/Holiday Romance
Release Date: September 18. 2014
Widowed teacher, Cindy Harris, takes her son to meet Santa at the mall, but instead of jolly Saint Nick, they get grumpy Brad Williams. He’d stepped into the red suit to help out his brother, not promise the impossible, like deliver a daddy by Christmas. Brad is the new real estate agent Cindy hired to sell her family home, and sparks fly between them. Will the magic of Christmas open their hearts, and offer the best gift of all: love?
“Oh, look, Tyler. There’s Santa. See all the kids lined up? Wouldn't you like your picture taken with him?”
Cindy Harris held her five-year-old son’s hand, his chubby little fingers sticky from the candy cane set alongside his hot chocolate a few minutes ago. Tyler’s enjoyment of the sweet peppermint was worth a temporary sugar high, but between that and the chaos of the mall, his mood bordered on testy.
Quaker Bridge Mall was crowded, as expected the first week of December. The beautifully decorated tree--and the winter wonderland that housed Santa and his helpers-- had been up since Thanksgiving, but this was the first time she’d brought Tyler shopping.
“Wow. Is that really Santa?” he asked. “How did he get here? Where are the reindeers? Can I feed them?” He looked up at her, excitement shining in his eyes.
“I think he left the reindeers in the North Pole,” Cindy said, automatically playing along. “They’re resting up for the long journey ahead.”
“But how did he get here?” Tyler questioned. “Can he fly like Superman?” He jumped up and down. “I want a Superman costume so I can fly around all over the place. I could fly up to Heaven and see Daddy.”
Cindy swallowed a lump in her throat. “That’s a real long way to fly, honey. Even Superman would have trouble with that one.”
“What about Santa? I bet he could zoom through the sky and get there in no time.” He yanked at her hand.
She laughed. “Why don’t we get in line and then you can ask him?” Her plan was to get Tyler’s picture with Santa Claus, then grab dinner and finish shopping–home by eight, so they could unwind from a long week.
“Okay.” He ran the extra few steps while she followed more slowly, wondering what this fascination with his daddy was all about. Only three-and-a-half when his father had been killed by a drunk driver fifteen months ago, she’d kept David alive for Tyler through pictures and stories. His grandparents also were happy to answer any questions that Tyler had about the father he’d lost--their much loved son.
Still, it seemed lately that Tyler wouldn't let the subject go.
Although her grief had marginally lessoned, she still clearly remembered trying to make it through the holidays last year without her husband at her side. The pretense had been unbearable. Smiling, pretending everything was all right, when inside she was dying and knew that nothing would ever be the same again.
Cindy put her hand on her son’s shoulder as they stood in line with the other thirty or forty excited children and their parents. She smiled at a few of the mothers and glanced with a touch of envy as fathers played with their kids and lifted them high upon their shoulders so they could see Santa and his little helpers.
Elves happily chatted with the children in line, creating excitement and a make-believe-world.
Cindy lived in a make-believe-world, a daily pretense that everything was fine. That bubble was the only protection she had from the heart-breaking reality that Tyler’s dad, her beloved husband would never see his child grow up, or marry, or become a father himself. Would the pain ever go away completely?
They inched closer to Santa. “So what do you want this year?” she asked her son, knowing that he had every toy a child could imagine, and then some. His grandparents and aunts loved nothing better than buying him stuff. It was as if filling up his bedroom with hundreds of “things” could distract him from the hundreds of nights without his daddy’s hugs and kisses.
“I want uh...uh...a pony. And riding lessons. And boots.”
She’d taken him for some riding lessons this past summer, and though he’d enjoyed it the cost was too prohibitive to do on a regular basis. “We've talked about that, sweetheart. It’s something we can do as a special treat. Like hot chocolate and a candy cane, it’s fine in small doses.” And better suited to her tight budget.
“I want a pony.” He kicked at the ground, scuffing his new sneakers.
“Honey, don’t do that.” She frowned. As a teacher, she expected good behavior, with or without reward, and discipline hadn't been necessary until lately. Tyler’s disposition used to be sweet as they come. “We’ll be seeing Santa in a few minutes. Won’t that be fun?”
“I’m telling him I want a pony for Christmas,” he stated, glancing at her before turning back to Santa. “He’ll get me one. Just wait and see.”
“We don’t have room for a pony. How about a new hockey stick?” Cindy kept her tone light. Even if she wasn't squeezing pennies, a horse--big or little, wouldn't be on her shopping list. They were going to sell their family home. Downsize to a townhouse, not a farmyard.
His jaw set. “I want Daddy to come back. He can be my present.”
Cindy bit her lip and fought back a sting of tears. She knew Tyler was upset because some mean kids had teased him at school. He was angry and frustrated, not understanding why he had to be different. Why had his father been taken away? he’d asked her more than once. She wished she had had answers, instead of only empty words of comfort.
“Tyler, I wish it were that simple.” She hadn't even dated anybody in the year and a half since David passed away. It felt too soon, and she had yet to meet a guy that held a candle to the one she’d lost.
The line grew smaller and they could now see Santa. Cindy thought he was a pathetic looking Santa, to be sure. He was too thin, for one thing. Couldn't he have stuffed himself with a pillow or something? His hat was askew, and his face, even behind the big white beard, looked far too youthful. Guy was probably only in his thirties or so. Although small compared to some, surely this New Jersey mall could afford the picture-perfect Santa for all the youngsters that climbed in his lap each day. This one didn't fit the bill. Not at all.
She pinched her nose, feeling a slight headache coming on. The shopping, the pretense, and the whole holiday spirit was suddenly too hard to handle and Cindy felt as grumpy as Tyler. Hum-bug with the whole holiday thing! If she had her way, Christmas would be cancelled this year and for many more to come.
Carols played merrily throughout the mall, and the window shops were decorated festively. Fake snow was heaped around Santa’s chair, as well as big, pretty presents under the giant tree. Yet, all the Santas and all the glitter in the world couldn't make hers, or her son’s, holiday bright.
“Merry Christmas,” Santa boomed, beckoning Tyler. “Come tell Santa what you want for Christmas.”
Tyler held on to her hand a little tighter. “Do I have to go, Mommy? Do I?”
“Well, we did wait twenty minutes. Just speak to him for a second. I’ll be right beside you.” One good picture for the mantle and they could hit the food court.
“Okay, Mom.” His eyes brightened. “Maybe he can bring me what I want most in the world!”
Sadly, she smiled. “Ask for a toboggan sled. Wouldn't that be a nice thing for the two of us? We have several big hills right behind our place.”
Tyler stepped forward and when he got in front of Santa, he spoke in a quiet, hesitant voice. “I want a new daddy. Can you get me one? Please?”
Santa glanced from her son’s face to Cindy’s, and she felt her cheeks grow warm. He gave a big false laugh, and patted his bony knee. “Come. Sit. Think about a great new toy. I came all the way from the North Pole to give you something special.”
“I don’t want a toy. Just a daddy.” Tyler lifted his eyes and looked at Santa. “He’s in Heaven. Is that near the North Pole?”
Cindy blinked back tears, and put a hand to her mouth. Her poor, poor son. She was tempted to pick Tyler up, and run away from Santa and the crowds. Instead, she stood frozen. Desperate for Santa to say something, and make everything right.
He shifted his weight, and looked from one unhappy face to the other. “It’s a thousand miles away, at least.”
Tyler seemed to consider this. “That’s far, but if you’re really Santa and I’m a good boy, can’t I have anything I want? Anything at all?”
“That’s what I do best. Deliver presents to kids all over the world. Not the bad ones though. Only good children get presents, right? So, what’s it going to be? I bet you have a big list. Trucks, a Wie game, an I-Pad?”
“I want my daddy to leave Heaven and come back home.”
Santa shot Cindy another glance from beneath bushy white eyebrows. “Well, you see, I don’t exactly bring daddies back. That’s out of my jurisdiction. I make toys. That’s my business. So you tell me what kind of toy you want, and I’ll make sure you get it. Deal?”
“No deal.” Tyler’s body stiffened. “I have ‘nuf toys. All I want is a real live pony, or my daddy.”
Cindy stepped in, hoping to avoid a melt-down. “Tyler. What about that sled we talked about?”
“A sled is a great present. Or how about an electric car? Very cool.” Santa shook his head. “No ponies or daddies, I’m afraid.”
Tyler reached out and pulled hard on Santa’s beard. It came off in his hand, surprising Cindy, Santa and Tyler. Her son’s cheeks turned red. “You’re not Santa. You’re a fake. I hate you!”
Santa grabbed his beard and stuck it back on. “And you’re a little ... a little...”
“Boy,” Cindy finished for him. Had he just about cussed at her son? This Santa needed to grow some real whiskers and get some training. Temples pounding, she took Tyler by the arm. “Let’s go, honey.”
Tyler started to sob, liquid drops of sadness running down his flushed cheeks. “I want a daddy. And you won’t give me one,’” he shouted at Santa. “I hate you, I hate you. You’re a big meanie.”
“Listen kid,” Santa said, leaning forward. “You just can’t pull on Santa’s beard and expect presents. Especially ones they can’t deliver. Doesn't happen.”
Tyler’s tears broke Cindy’s heart, and his temper the last of her patience. It was easier to blame Santa than the sugar high, or the cruel fate that had robbed them of their family.
Cindy shot Santa a withering look. “He’s right. You are a big meanie. The boy wants his father, and he should have him.” With that, she grabbed Tyler’s hand and stomped off.
Patrice became a flight attendant for seventeen years and traveled the world. At the age of forty she sat down to write her first book—in longhand! Her interests include tennis, golf, and writing stories for women of all ages.
She is the proud mother of two, has four lovely grand-daughters, and a wonderful man at her side. They live in West Palm Beach, Florida, where he teaches her golf, and she teaches him patience.
Her best selling books are the Candy Bar series, the Serendipity Falls series, and her returning war hero series. She joined a group of talented, NY Times and USA Today best selling authors and released a ten book box set--TEN BRIDES FOR TEN HEROES, followed by TEN CHRISTMAS BRIDES.