‘Woah, careful!’ Gavin warned as Darryl slipped out of our hold and headed towards the pavement. I had to stifle my laugh. It was awful, of course, that Darryl had got so drunk we were having to carry him home on what was technically, at ten past twelve in the morning, Christmas day.
Gavin and I helped him to his feet and we propped him up again. We shuffled down the road and I couldn’t help my giggles. I too was feeling the effects of the alcohol, but I knew my hangover would be nothing in comparison to Darryl’s.
We approached the end of Darryl’s driveway.
‘You go on and get the house warm,’ Gavin said to me. We lived next door to Darryl so it wasn’t exactly far.
‘Are you sure?’ I asked.
‘Yes. I can drag him up the drive from here.’
I felt instantly jealous. Gavin was my husband, yet I was always in second place to his oldest friend. We’d even had to move house to be next to Darryl, which I only agreed to because the house was amazing. I should have known I’d be constantly left on my own. Gavin was always knocking on Darryl’s door, wanting to play computer games or drink beer with his dearest bachelor friend. Some days I questioned why Gavin had ever bothered to marry me.
I grumbled my goodbyes and Merry Christmas, fearful that I might not see Gavin now until Boxing Day, and I walked on to our front door.
Gavin had been right: the house was absolutely freezing. We’d been out since late afternoon, first delivering last minute presents, and then on to the pub to meet Darryl and some other friends. How could we possibly enjoy a night without Darryl?
I plodded over to the thermostat to get the boiler fired up when I jumped with fear.
‘What are you doing?’ I screamed at the red clad man standing in the middle of my living room.
‘You can see me?’ he asked with shock before he shook his head.
‘Yes. It’s hard to miss a man standing in a Santa outfit in your living room in the middle of the night. Please get out.’
‘Do you even have children?’ he asked, as if I hadn’t just demanded that he leave.
‘No. Why? What would you do if I had children?’ I was horrified.
‘Damn it. I’m really not cut out for this.’
‘Robbing people?’ I asked.
‘No. You must know who I am.’
‘Yes. A weirdo dressed up as Santa Claus who’s broken into my house. How did you even get in?’
‘You have a chimney,’ he stated quite plainly, before showing me a touch of soot on his elbow. He swiftly brushed it off.
‘Mind out!’ I said, worried about my beautiful laminate flooring that I’d just cleaned that morning. ‘Did you just stick your elbow in my fireplace so it looked like you’d entered through my chimney?’
His face became immediately alarmed. ‘If you can see me, that means…’ He raced to the front door and out onto my drive. I felt momentarily pleased that he had gone, until he paced right back in.
‘Great. None of the magic has worked. Dad is going to kill me. I told him I wasn’t ready.’
‘Right, I’m calling the police,’ I said as I searched for my mobile in my handbag.
‘Oh, that’s brilliant. Yeah, call the police. That means no children will get any presents at all this Christmas.’ I found it quite startling that he seemed deadly serious. ‘Before you do that, though, can I show you something?’
‘I’m not falling for that,’ I said, although I wasn’t quite sure what he was trying to get me to do.
‘Come outside. I need to show you something.’
‘I’m not stepping outside with you.’
‘If I were a threat to you, wouldn’t you be safer outside?’ he said. I couldn’t argue with that.
I followed him out onto my drive.
‘Look,’ he said, pointing up towards my roof. My jaw dropped open when I saw, quite clearly, a festive sleigh floating behind nine flying reindeer. And the reindeer up front was sporting a bright red nose.
I took a moment to re-focus. Maybe I had drunk more than I’d thought.
‘I’m Santa Claus,’ he said. ‘I’m halfway through my round the world trip to deliver presents to all the good children, but I keep cocking it up. I’m supposed to be invisible, but I can’t get the bloody magic to work.’
I gasped. Santa shouldn’t swear.
I headed back inside, and the man claiming to be Santa Claus followed me. Could this be real?
‘Show me how you get up the chimney,’ I asked, pointing to my fireplace.
He sighed. ‘Okay. But I’m not very good at it. I might make a mess.’
He stood before the fireplace, bent down, and then with a swift breeze he vanished.
What was in that vodka I’d been drinking?
He reappeared with another gush and brushed off the soot.
‘Mind the floor!’ I told him, but really all I was thinking about was how it was getting harder not to believe that this really was the one and only Santa Claus.
I studied his face hard. That’s when I knew he was a fake, and I really was drunk.
‘This isn’t even a real beard,’ I said, pinging the elasticated fluff from his chin.
‘Of course it’s not,’ he said, yanking the white fur away.
I gasped again. With the beard removed, I could see how absolutely gorgeous he was. He had chiselled features, firm lips and stunning blue eyes. I stood glaring at him, unashamedly.
‘I’m only twenty-five,’ he said. ‘Why would I have a big white beard?’
‘You’re only twenty-five?’ I asked with delight. I was thirty-two, but I’d always had a thing for younger men.
‘How can you only be twenty-five? Santa has been around forever.’
He looked at me as if I’d said the crazy thing. ‘You don’t think there’s just been one man for all these hundreds of years, do you?’
I remained silent. What I thought seemed so irrelevant now. There were no words I could utter.
‘I’m the next generation,’ he explained. ‘This is my first Christmas. The first born of each generation of Santa has to eventually take the reins. Literally. My dad retired last Christmas and I didn’t have a choice. There have even been female Santas when the first born was a girl, but we all dress up like this so people won’t know the difference.’
‘Why would you need to dress up if you’re meant to be invisible?’ I asked, still searching for the flaw in his story.
‘Because every now and then it doesn’t work. Not everyone is susceptible to magic. My father told me to expect the odd person to get a view over the night. I do visit about a billion houses.’
‘A billion houses in one night?’ I spluttered with disbelief.
‘I’m magic,’ he insisted. ‘When it works! But you’re the eighteenth person to see me in the last hour. I just can’t get the bloody spell right.’
He rolled up his sleeves with frustration and I caught a glimpse of his strong arms. I had always been a sucker for a man who looked after himself. I knew it was a weakness. Maybe if I was less obsessed with people’s looks, I might have married a man who actually liked to spend time with me. But too late now.
‘Your arms and face don’t match that big fat belly,’ I noted as I unbuttoned his velvet jacket. I couldn’t quite believe I was doing it, but my inhibitions had flown out the window with drink number five, and there was no way I was wasting this rare opportunity to undress such a sexy man. Even if he was apparently Santa Claus.
His jacket opened and underneath, as I expected, there was a large pillow strapped to his waist. Or at least it looked like a pillow.
‘You’re not fat, then,’ I said.
‘No,’ he replied, coyly. ‘The last two generations of Santa have been quite health conscious. But thanks to my greedy great great grandfather, we’re stuck with these big fat bellies. It’s too messy to keep changing our image. “Think about the brand” my dad always says. I’m sure I’ll understand one day.’
‘Take it off,’ I ordered in my most sultry of voices.
‘The pillow thing. Let me look at you.’
I felt around his waist and unclipped the fake belly. It dropped to the floor revealing the traces of a firm body shrouded by a white vest. I couldn’t resist looking further.
Forget about my state of inebriation, I have always been a terrible flirt. Lifting up men’s shirts if I suspected they were attractive had been a hobby of mine when I was single in my early twenties. What was the point of being timid? Whoever achieved anything by being timid? I had seen many a six pack during my younger years, and that was well worth a few angry men. Although, to be honest, most men quite enjoyed it. My conclusion had been that men who spend hours in the gym building up a six pack were generally delighted to show it off.
I pulled up Santa’s vest and I wasn’t disappointed.
‘What are you doing?’ he asked, pushing me away as he stepped back to further his distance from me. It seemed he was an exception to the rule.
‘You’re absolutely stunning,’ I muttered. ‘It seems such a shame to hide that incredible torso below that pillow.’
‘It’s not a pillow. And I have no choice.’
‘You’re so shy,’ I noted, unable to resist my grin.
‘You’re removing my clothes!’ he spluttered back.
‘I could remove mine too, if that would make you feel more comfortable?’
‘No!’ he screeched.
I regarded him with curiosity. ‘I think you’re quite innocent, Mr Claus.’ I edged slowly closer to that amazing body.
‘I just need to get on with my job.’
‘Have you ever been kissed?’ I asked.
‘Have you?’ I stood just centimetres from his mouth. He was so handsome, how could I stop myself? I took his hat off so I could properly see his beautiful face.
‘I haven’t met my Mrs Claus yet, if that’s what you mean,’ he replied. I wanted to melt. He was so cute.
‘I could be a practice Mrs Claus, if you like.’
I pressed my lips to his. He tasted of mince pies. It was delicious.
He backed away, nervously.
‘Did you not like that?’ I asked softly, knowing full well that he did.
He didn’t move and I stepped back in front of him. This time I went in for a full-on smooch.
My body fizzled with delight as I devoured this spectacular man.
‘Why is the front door open?’ Gavin said. I backed away from Santa with fear. I’d completely forgotten about my husband. I was far too used to being on my own.
I raced to the door to greet him. ‘Hi. How’s Darryl? You look tired. Maybe you should go straight to bed.’
‘Have you not put the heating on?’ Gavin asked. ‘It’s bloody freezing in here.’
I couldn’t stop Gavin as he strode into the living room. I closed my eyes, ready for his reaction. But he said nothing.
He switched the heating on and called out. ‘Night cap?’
I crept into the living room and poked my head around the door. There was no one but Gavin in there.
‘Are you all right?’ he asked.
I nodded. I studied the fireplace, both relieved and disappointed, and that’s when I spotted it. There, on the floor near the armchair, was Santa’s hat.
‘Do we have any sherry?’ I smirked as I picked the hat up.
‘Are you serious?’ Gavin asked.
I giggled as I stuffed the hat into my bag. ‘No. A beer will be fine,’ I said.
As Gavin sorted out our beers, a light caught my attention from outside. Far in the distance, I could see him. My wonderful, scrumptious Santa Claus.
Now this was a Christmas to remember.