Cierra stood amid the mistletoe and music, watching the shoppers hustle past. Christmas in the
Cierra watched as the mall Santa reached out to yet another child who climbed onto his lap to whisper a list of great importance, to petition the jolly old elf for a toy truck or maybe a bicycle. With the confidence born of innocence, children walked away knowing that Santa had heard their plea and if they were truly good, that he would reward their faith on Christmas morning.
I’ve been very good, thought Cierra as the child jumped down and ran to his mother. If only it was so simple, like when she was young and knew with all her being that Santa was listening and ready to fulfill her Christmas wish. If only she could climb up on that lap and whisper into the white hair that covered his ears, “Santa, bring me a somebody. I’ve been so very good.” Silly, Cierra chided silently…but what if? When did she stop believing; when did the magic stop? Could Cierra capture it again? A thought crossed her mind as another child approached the man in red. She was far too old to climb on his lap but surely Santa ate and drank. He had to take a break sometime.
Her chance came fifteen minutes later when Santa stood and placed his away message on the glistening white throne. He waved to the crowd as he ambled out of Christmas village and started toward a narrow door behind Santa’s workshop. Hurrying through the crowd, she slipped up behind the display to wait for him. He opened the door and raised a thick eyebrow when he spotted her.
“Santa,” Cierra purred, flashing her sweetest smile. “Can I buy you a Latte?”
He seemed taken back for a moment but recovered and then nodded. “I think that would be wonderful, young lady.”
They found a tall table at the Beanery and sat sipping hot drinks while holiday shoppers perused store windows in the mall.
“I hope you don’t think me crazy,” Cierra began, feeling the first flush of redness in her cheeks. What was she doing, a grown woman seeking help from Santa? A mall Santa, at that!
“You have a Christmas wish?” asked Santa, not unkindly.
She nodded and set her mug on the table. “I mean, when I was a child… you never let me down, not once. So, it only seems logical to ask you for this one small thing.”
He grinned through his thick curly beard. “And what is that? A new car? Shoes for every day of the year? A new job?”
“No— although those are all good things,” Cierra answered. A young mother wheeled her infant past the table and Cierra’s eyes followed her with a wistful glance.
“You want someone to love.” Santa nodded to the woman.
“How did you…Oh, it’s kind of obvious.” Cierra rubbed her hands on her skirt and shrugged. “They say there’s someone for everyone. I just can’t find him.”
He agreed. “Mrs. Claus and I want everyone to be happy like us.”
“Mrs. Claus?” She decided to play along. “I guess since you’re Santa you know how lonely it is for me at Christmas time, without a husband and family.”
He considered that. “And you’ve been a good girl?” Santa crossed his arms over his wide belly.
She grinned. “Oh, yes. Very good. So far. There was an incident with my sister and a plaything when I was seven. Last year I went to a toy auction and found her the very same doll. It’s not the same, but I did replace it.”
“Better late than never,” remarked Santa as he sipped his drink. A bit of liquid spilled on his beard and Cierra dabbed at it with her napkin.
“So…will you consider it?” she asked, knowing it was a silly question. Somehow she just needed to believe again, to feel as if he heard and cared like so many years ago when Christmas was magical.
He set his cup aside, slipped from the chair and took her hand. “Consider it my gift to you.” Santa gave her as squeeze and started out of the Beanery. Cierra threw her purse over a shoulder, gathered her bags and followed him to the door.
“Thank you,” she called as he walked away.
He stopped and waved. “Merry Christmas, Cierra.”
Her mouth dropped open. “How—?” A shopper collided with her, scattering both their packages.
“I’m so sorry! My fault!” Said the bluest pair of eyes she had ever seen. They belonged to a sandy-haired man who hurriedly gathered all of the packages before realizing he had mixed them together. “I was distracted by Santa. Pretty lame, huh?”
“Not at all,” replied Cierra, and his blue eyes smiled at her.
“Guess we should sort out these bags. Can I buy you a cup of coffee while we figure out who owns what?” He pointed to the Beanery.
Sugarplums danced in her head as Cierra allowed him to lead her to another high table. He left her briefly to order hot drinks and returned momentarily carrying two tall clear mugs topped with whip cream and a tiny candy cane.
“Peppermint coffee. Seems to fit the season.” He slid her drink across the table. “I’m Joel.”
“Cierra.” She thanked him for the coffee and took a small sip. It was heavenly and reminded her of cold mornings wearing flannel pajamas in her mother’s kitchen. “I work here in the mall.”
“Me too,” he replied, not taking his eyes off her. “Funny we haven’t run into each other before. No pun intended.”
A rosy blush spread from her neck up to her cheeks. “Looks like you’re spending all your earnings in one day.”
He sighed and pulled a stuffed dog from one of the plastic bags. “Two nieces, four nephews. Every one of them claims that I’m their favorite uncle, especially at birthdays and holidays. I go broke buying gifts, but they’re worth every penny. Someday I plan to start a small dynasty of my own, you know, let my kids beg for presents.”
His words were like a sweet fragrance and the butterfly inside her was not from a ticking biological clock. Cierra listened as he spoke of his big, happy family and his desire to find someone who shared his interests. This man was exactly what she had asked for every single Christmas. A sparkle caught her eye, and across the courtyard, she caught a glimpse of Santa. He winked at her before opening his arms to a waiting child.