He walked as quickly as he could to get to the delivery entrance of the huge department store that anchored the now quiet shopping emporium.
He knocked lightly on the door and then paced nervously in the dark. Jack wasn’t a rule breaker, but sometimes, extreme action was necessary.
The door opened, and he was greeted by the familiar smile of his best friend. Ralph looked sharp in his security uniform as he quickly motioned for Jack to enter.
“Thank you so much for doing this for me,” Jack said sincerely as he patted his buddy on the back. “I know you could get into serious trouble…”
Ralph waved him off. “I’d do anything for you, Jack, but let’s make this quick. I’ve got the cameras down for fifteen minutes, but anything longer than that will raise suspicion.”
They talked in whispers even though there was no one else around.
Jack pulled an envelope from his pocket. “I’ve got the money. You sure you don’t want any for your trouble?”
Ralph shook his head. “You’re my best friend. Consider this my Christmas present. Give the money to the person I bring you to, and just be quick.”
Jack nodded that he understood, and followed his friend through the dark loading dock and into the store. The place looked eerie after hours. Only the emergency lights were on, and the utter silence seemed so out of place.
“Can we trust her?” Jack asked with obvious concern in his voice.
“We’re gonna find out,” Ralph replied.
She was dressed as one of Santa’s elves, and wore sunglasses despite the darkness. She was slightly shorter than Jack, but appeared to be around his age.
She shined a flashlight in his face, and Jack quickly raised his arms to cover his eyes.
“You sure he’s not a cop?” she asked Ralph dubiously.
“I can vouch for him,” Ralph answered without hesitation. “Fifteen minutes starting now.”
The elf nodded and Ralph headed back towards the loading dock.
“You got the money?” she demanded.
“Yeah,” Jack mumbled. “Can you take that light out of my eyes first?”
She did ask he requested, and Jack handed her the envelope, which she quickly tucked away in her elfin cloak.
“What’s with the shades?” he asked in an attempt to lighten the mood.
“I don’t want you to be able to identify me should this go south,” she replied. “You done with all the questions? We’re tight on time.”
“What’s your name?” Jack blurted out because he was so damn nervous.
“Just call me Jingle,” she snapped. “Follow me, Twenty Questions.”
“Do a lot of people do this?” he asked because the silence was driving him mad.
Jingle didn’t answer at first, but she finally had a change of heart when they reached Sporting Goods.
“Not a lot, but enough,” she told him. “There are definitely adults out there who would do anything for some one on one time with Santa. I’m happy to make that happen because elves don’t get paid very well, and the extra cash helps at the holidays.”
“I figured you did it to pay for that big ring on your finger,” Jack quipped.
Jingle reflexively looked down at her engagement ring. “Luckily, my fiancee belongs to Santa’s inner circle, and has a cozy, well paying job. Now shut up before I ditch you here with the other dummies.”
Even though he felt anxious and guilty about what he was doing, Jack zipped his mouth for the remainder of the journey.
After what seemed like an eternity of walking in the dark, Jack saw a welcoming glow on the horizon.
It was just as how Jack had remembered it when the store was open, but it now looked even more magical as it was lit only by white Christmas lights and a few candles.
“Address him only as Santa or Santa Claus,” she ordered. “Be respectful and make it fast.”
Jingle nudged Jack towards Santa’s throne, where the big man himself awaited him.
“Ho, ho, ho! You must be Jack!” Santa bellowed in greeting.
Jack nodded and slowly trudged towards Santa Claus. There was a chair set up across from the throne, and Santa pointed to it.
“Hope you don’t mind not getting to sit in my lap, Jack, but you’re a lot bigger than what I’m accustomed to. Ho, ho, ho!”
Jack flashed a nervous smile and took a seat across from Jolly Ole St. Nick.
“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me,” Jack whispered.
“Ralph tells me you’ve been a very good boy this year,” Santa explained with a smile brilliant enough to light up the entire mall. “He also said that you had a special Christmas request that you wanted to talk to me about in person.”
Jack nodded. Santa smiled and patiently waited for Jack to share that Christmas wish.
“Tick tock!” Jingle hissed from somewhere behind him.
“I want a girlfriend for Christmas, Santa,” Jack blurted out. “I know that’s an unusual ask, but I’ve tried everything, and I can’t seem to meet anyone. I’m incredibly lonely, and it hurts my heart not to have someone to love and spoil this Holiday Season. I just want to hold someone’s hand, have someone to kiss under the mistletoe, and have a date for all the Christmas parties I avoid because I feel like a loser going to them alone.”
“Well, you’re not going to meet anyone if you avoid social gatherings,” Santa pointed out.
Jack shrugged. “I know, Santa, but I tried. I can be shy and introverted, but I still put myself out there because that’s how much I miss having someone special in my life. I’ve gone on awkward dates, I’ve tried the dating sites, I’ve begged my friends to set me up with distant relatives, neighbors they barely know, and coworkers they don’t really like. But nothing has worked.”
“I refuse to believe that love has forgotten me, and that I’m meant to spend my life alone. I’ll forever be a hopeless romantic, Santa, but at this point, the emphasis really seems to be on the hopeless part.”
Santa could not suppress a chuckle. “Love is strange. Love is confusing. I’m sure there’s someone out there for you, Jack. I will do my best, but this might be one wish I can’t make come true. Let me see what I can do.”
“I understand. I’m asking the impossible,” Jack admitted as he rose to his feet. “I just figured Christmas is such a magical time of year, and if anyone could pull off a Christmas miracle, it would be you.”
“Merry Christmas, Jack,” Santa said with a smile. “Just don’t give up hope. It’s not Christmas yet, and I still have a few tricks up my sleeve.”
Jack forced a smile onto a face that really didn’t want to stop pouting, and gave Santa a wave before seeking out Jingle in the shadows.
He did not exchange a single word with the elf on his way back to the loading dock.
It was nice to be around other people, but Jack had stationed himself at the end of the bar, far away from anyone else. He wanted some quiet time to think about his conversation with Santa Claus.
“Is this seat taken?” asked the attractive redhead who had materialized while Jack was replaying his chat with Santa in his head.
“Ummm…no,” Jack mumbled. He quickly noticed how pretty she was, but he immediately did that thing he always did where he convinced himself that she was out his league, taken, and not at all interested. The Triple Crown of Rejection.
“I’ll have what he’s having,” she told the bartender. “And bring him another.”
Jack looked at her in confusion. “Did you just buy me a drink?”
“I figured you could use one after the night you’ve had,” she replied with a smirk. “Plus, I’m suddenly flush with cash.”
She pulled a familiar envelope out of her purse, extracted a twenty dollar bill, and placed it on the bar in front of her.
“Do I know you?” Jack asked while also refusing to get his hopes up that this was anything more than a case of mistaken identity.
“Do you ever stop asking questions?” she answered with an adorable giggle. “Maybe this will help.”
She removed a pair of sunglasses and an elf’s hat from her purse. Once she had put them on, she smiled brightly at Jack.
She slid her stool a little closer to his.
“It’s Kate, actually. What you said to Santa really moved me. I’m as frustrated as you are about trying to meet someone, and the holidays suck when you’re single.”
Jack quickly glanced at her finger, but the engagement ring was not there.
“What about the fiancee who works in Santa’s inner circle?” he demanded and then took a long sip of his eggnog.
Kate blushed. “I wear that to scare off the creeps with elf fetishes. You have no idea how often I get hit on at work by men in front of their kids.”
“Well, that elf costume is pretty sexy,” Jack chuckled.
Kate giggled. “I asked Ralph about you, and he told me that if I didn’t ask you out, that I was doing myself a great disservice. So, will you go out with me?”
“Look who’s asking the questions now,” Jack quipped.
But then he wisely accepted her invitation, and thus began the best Christmas either of them had enjoyed in a very long time…