JunoMagic's Birthday Stories Playlist 2006
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Not Fade Away: 6. Santa and His Elves
As Posey understood it, the day after Thanksgiving was a special one at Rivers Enterprises. It was traditional for Dale Toy Company to hold an open visit with Santa Claus in the lobby to kick off the holiday season. Most of the staff did not celebrate Thanksgiving Day, and they had been busy decorating the lobby for the all day affair on Friday.
Posey herself, having no family to spend the holiday with, had wandered into work on Thursday. The gamescape had reached another level, yet another underground cavern, this time where the party was captured and held by strange woodland beings. The cave was labyrinthine, including a throne room, feasting halls, dungeons, and a cellar with a trap door, so Posey had much background art to do. There was also an armory, with an impressive collection of deadly weapons, and Posey had asked Leif if this would be the spot where the key to beating the level might be found.
Leif had smiled enigmatically and told her that, yes, the protagonist might free his friends and fight his way out of the cave by killing the leader of these sinister captors. It would even beat the level, but there would be consequences in the final level of the game if this happened.
So she had spent the day working on the details of a wine-flagon and a barrel until she had decided to give it up and join the others downstairs by decorating the lobby for the festivities.
Their combined efforts had been well worth it. The lobby looked like an enchanted forest, with tiny lights strung in the greenery and a twelve-foot decorated fir tree. A throne for Santa stood near the tree, and a maze of velvet ropes had been strung to accommodate the lines. Having worked on the decorating, Posey was eager to see the event itself.
When she arrived at 8:00 AM on Friday, the lines were already long, but the crowds of parents and children, directed by Hal and the other security staff, were patient and well behaved. She found her way to a long table at one side of the lobby, where Linda was handing out cookies. As she said good morning to her friend, she got her first look at Santa, who was none other than Aaron Rivers himself, with his long hair powdered white and wearing a false beard. And next to him, shepherding the waiting children, stood Leif.
Posey gasped. "That is SOME elf costume!" .
Linda laughed. "Yes, Leif takes his job as Santa's head elf very seriously.
He was wearing tight breeches, softly draped boots, and a long fitted green and brown jacket over a high collared shirt, and his hair was out of its ponytail and draped over his shoulders. He looked fantastic, even though the effect was somewhat obscured by a four year old clinging to his leg and a toddler in his arms.
Their older brother was on 'Santa's' lap, whispering into his ear. As Posey watched, Aaron said something to another man in elf costume who stood beside the throne, and he was handed a package, which he gave to the child.
"Who is that?" Posey asked, and laughed when she realized it was Glenn.
"He looks good in uniform, doesn't he?" Linda said with a chuckle.
"Did that little boy just get a microscope? Are they actually giving away those toys?" Posey asked. "Doesn't that get awfully expensive?"
"We can afford to be generous one day a year," Linda said.
"Who are all these people?"
"We send out word to the domestic abuse and homeless shelters and the other social agencies, but the event is open to anyone who wants to come."
"Don't some people take advantage? I see a few parents who look like they can more than afford gifts for their kids."
"Aaron says that those children need the example of generosity even more than the rest," Linda said. "A little kindness never goes astray. Strangely enough, we never seem to get repeaters from that kind."
Posey munched a cookie -- they were very good cookies -- and watched the procession past the throne. It was true. Every child came away smiling, no matter what he or she had been given. From the light in Aaron's eyes above the beard, it was plain that he was enjoying himself, and the look on Leif's face as he held the younger ones in his arms was one of an almost wistful joy.
"Look at my two men -- they're in their element."
Posey turned to see that Felice Rivers had joined them. She was looking lovely, as ever, in a tunic and loose trousers of red velvet. She wore her necklace and a tiny nametag that read, "Mrs. Santa."
"Leif had better look out," said Posey. "That baby is going to . . . Oh no! Please tell me that wasn't real leather he's wearing!"
"It's real leather," said Linda, laughing. "But Glenn will get it out. Glenn is good at that kind of thing." As she spoke, Glenn had produced a towel and was busily mopping Leif's shoulder, while the baby had been handed off to a grinning Santa, who was distracting it with a rattle.
"That's nothing. You should have seen what happened last year," said Felice. Then she sighed. "My son does love being around children. Twice, I hoped he might have some of his own, but . . . he seems to have given up on it. It became too painful for him, I suppose."
She turned and looked at Linda. "That's my biggest regret, you know; missing his childhood."
Linda's voice was soft. "You had no choice, Felice. And Aaron raised him well. Your mind can be at ease. No son ever had a better father."
Posey shook her head in helpless confusion. The other two women noticed and favored her with calm looks. "I was living in . . . the west," Felice said.
Before anyone could answer, Linda startled, and all three women turned to see Hal, tensed like a cat and looking daggers at someone who had just come through the lobby door. While Posey had become used to Hal and the other security guards who manned the desk when she came in each morning, she still found Hal to be a little spooky.
"Oh, have they no shame?" Felice said. "Today of all days!"
It was Duncan and Fitzhugh, surveying the crowd and taking conspicuous notes, as if there were something nefarious about Santa Claus handing out toys to a group of children.
"I had better go deal with this," Linda said quietly.
"Better you than Hal," Felice said.
Calmly, Linda picked up a plate of cookies and wove her way through the twisting line of waiting parents until she reached the two agents at the door. Posey could see her offer the food to Duncan, who shook his head in refusal as if the cookies might be drugged. She could not hear what was said. Linda seemed to remain cordial, while the two men became increasingly upset and then left abruptly.
Linda returned, looking concerned. "This was not a friendly visit," she said. "I think they won't be back today, but this isn't the last we'll see of them."
* * * * * * *
To be continued . . .
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