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Jingle all the Way

Santa Unwrapped

Have you ever longed for something so much, every fiber in your being is consumed with desire and yearning? It's as if you've been overtaken—your thoughts, your mind, your body—they are no longer your own. That's how I feel now. The world has stopped. I can think of nothing else. I have invoked the stars, the Heavens, God above, the powerful forces of nature and the universe and with all my will from the marrow of my bones and the center of my heart I urge the clock at the bottom of my computer screen to speed ahead to five o'clock, but no, no. It mocks me. Every century or so, it will crawl to the next number. 3:01, after many eternities, will toss me a bone and change to 3:02. It's like a slot machine in Vegas: Every now and then it will surprise me with a win, just enough to keep my hopes, my dreams, my greed, alive. Oh how those three little digital numbers at the bottom of my screen taunt me.

I try to trick the clock into thinking I don't care what time it is. I do online searches for recipes as if I'm very interested in something other than my work day coming to an end at long last. But it knows the truth. It knows I'm glancing at it approximately 876,543,281 times per minute and so the numbers get their kicks by nearly standing still. Whole mountains have been eroded by wind and water into flat prairie lands at a faster pace than my clock is moving.

It's 3:02 on Christmas Eve Eve. Naturally, neither my officemate Olivia nor I have done a shred of work today on principal. It's wrong to be asked to work on Christmas Eve Eve. That's just a fact. Especially when I have a ton of last minute Christmas stuff to do, and I clearly have no time to pretend to be productive at my job.

Olivia and I underwriters, which means we approve loans or deny loans. We make dreams come true or squash dreams into oblivion. Our lives are an endless scourge of paperwork. But not today. Today is goof off day. Read the 'Net day. Take a two—hour lunch day. Spend endless hours gossiping day. Fret about hosting Christmas for the first time in my adult life day.

My entire family is coming to Colorado to visit me from Montreal, which is where I'm from. I'm looking forward to seeing them, and I thought I was ready for their visit, but then today I realized I completely forgot to buy stocking stuffers, and I'm feeling like I really should get one more gift for each of them, and while I'd plotted our Christmas dinner in intricate detail, it slipped my mind entirely that we'll want something to eat on Christmas morning, so I have to go grocery shopping for breakfast food.

And I'm going to have to get it all done tomorrow before they get here tomorrow night because instead of being able to shop and clean this evening, I have to go to a children's hospital and give gifts to little kids. I signed up for it a few weeks ago when I was in this deranged frame of mind where I thought that I was a good person who gave back to my community. Today I remember clearly: I am not a good person. I have no desire to go to the hospital and be nice today. What was I thinking?

The organization I signed up to do the volunteer work with is called For the Children. They do stuff for needy children all year round. Even as I signed up to give gifts away for Christmas, I knew how insignificant this one little gesture was when all year long there are children who are sick and don't have enough food or warm place to sleep. So the truth is, I do want to give back, I really do. Just not tonight. Tonight I want to finish getting ready for my family's visit and then be one with my couch and my TV.

There's just so much left for me to do before they get here. Right now I'm frantically searching recipes sites online, trying to plan a suitably exotic breakfast to dazzle my parents and younger sister with on Christmas morning. Meanwhile, Olivia has spent the last hour reading every online horoscope there is and subjecting me to the predictions for both herself—Aries—and myself—Pisces.

"Listen to what this one says here about Pisces," Olivia says. "'Before the New Year, you will meet a love like you've never known before. It will transcend all of your expectations.' See, I knew breaking up with Sean was the right thing to do."

That's a big fat lie. Olivia had strongly urged me not to break things off with Sean. He was, after all, perfect marriage material. Sean and I were together for four years, three of which we lived together. We didn't fight. He didn't beat me. He was good with money. He was kind. And because of all those things, it had been easy to keep on dating him, even though I knew he wasn't the guy I wanted to spend my life with. We just didn't laugh enough together. There was never enough passion. Our relationship was close to being what I wanted but never quite right. I kept trying to talk myself into being happy with him, but eventually I just couldn't do it anymore. My body knew it before my mind did. It shut off from him sexually months before we technically broke up. We eventually got to a place in our relationship where he'd literally beg me for sex and I'd be like, "We just had sex two months ago, and you want it again?" As if he were the one being unreasonable. I knew in some faraway place in my mind that when you get to a point in a relationship in which you can't stand having sex more than once every other month, things aren't going well, but I did my best to ignore this little tidbit of truth because it seemed easier to go on being miserable than to risk the fear of the unknown. Breaking up with Sean meant I might be alone forever or that my heart might get broken again and again or that I'd go on an endless number of awkward, horrible dates and never find true love. It seemed safer to stick with a low—grade misery I was familiar with.

Also, because we lived together, there was the added bonus of a break up leading to an ugly snarl of fiscal entanglements. For the last several months of our relationship I just quietly moved into the guest bedroom of my two bedroom townhome and did my best to be really mean to him, hoping he'd get fed up and break up with me. Very mature, I know. But he didn't break it off, so I had to be the villain, the heart breaker, the reviled ender of a long—term relationship.

It took a lot of courage for me to end things with him, but I know I did the right thing because I miss the DVDs I lost in the break—up more than I miss him. I hadn't realized it, but apparently during but the three years we lived together, almost every DVD I bought I bought "him" as a gift, because when you live with someone, every book and DVD you buy "him" also just happens to get added to your collection. Then you break up, and suddenly property ownership becomes a very big deal. We had about a thousand conversations that went like this: "I didn't buy that for you as a gift. I'm sure of it." Then he'd say, "Yes you did. You got it for me for Christmas." "Well, maybe you're right, but I'm sure Being John Malkovich wasn't a gift." "Yes it was. You got it for me for my birthday." "Are you sure? Damn!" Etc. etc.

Even so, now that the holidays are here, I'm thinking about him a lot. I miss him, I can't deny it. Right now I'm thinking about how, even though we were only pretend happy together, maybe that's as good as I'll ever be able to get.

Olivia continues reading the website's predications. "It also says that 'You should be open to the unexpected.'" She looks at me and says, "'A transcendent love.'" She gets a spacey, wistful look in her eyes. "It's going to happen for you."

I roll my eyes. Olivia has a little trouble with a concept I like to call "reality."

"Great. I'm glad to know a love will be delivered to my door. That's fabulous. Do you think Mom and Dad will give him to me wrapped up in a bow or will Santa be bringing him by?"

"I think you need an attitude change, Aimee. Good things are going to happen to you. Christmas is a magical time."

"Like hell it is. It's a giant plot to separate people from their hard—earned cash just so we can have some lame gifts to unwrap. Magical time my ass."

The truth is that I really don't hate Christmas. I'm just a wee stressed out by getting ready for it. Even though I bought a lot of gifts online, I feel like I've gone back and forth from the mall to Target to the local post office every single day this month. And I've spent a lot of money I didn't really want to spend. And my fingers are permanently cramped from all the endless wrapping. But even though the holidays are a lot of work, I'm looking forward to it because I'm excited to see Mom, Dad, and my younger sister Bridgette again—I haven't seen them in months. I moved to the States eleven years ago to go to college, and then I got a job right after graduation and somehow I never went back to Canada. I visit them when I can, but it's never often enough.

I actually get along with my family. Mostly. Although I fully anticipate that my mother will pester me about having children the whole time, and we'll have at least one fight about it, but we have this fight every time we see each other, so it's not really a problem. I'm used to it. The thing of it is, I wouldn't even mind her bugging me about it if she'd bug me in the right order. She never gives me a hard time about not being married. She never urges me to run out and snag myself a husband. But for the last few years, her urging me to get on with making grandbabies has bordered on relentless. I genuinely don't think she'd care if I had the kid out of wedlock. She's just obsessed about me getting knocked up. The thing is, Bridgette has a boyfriend, so she seems the much better candidate to harass about procreating. But because I'm the eldest, Mom has all her grandmotherly hopes set on me. She doesn't care if I get preggers from a one—night stand, immaculate conception, or a drive—by insemination. She just wants me to generate babies. Mom acts like some mythical kingdom is going to fall if I don't produce an heir to the thrown IMMEDIATELY.

I turn my attention back to the Internet browser I have open. I'm just writing down all the ingredients for a spinach quiche when my cell phone rings.

"Hello?"

"Hi. I'm looking for an Aimee La . . . La . . ."

"This is Aimee Lachaussée."

"Hi. This is Vince Contreras. For the Children gave me your name and number to talk to you about tonight."

"Yes?"

"Well, I wanted to know if you were going to be getting to the hospital early so I could get you your elf costume."

"Elf costume? What are you talking about? Nobody said anything to me about an elf costume."

"Yeah. You're the elf. Me and my buddy Gerry will also be elves, and my friend Craig will be Santa. Do you want a ride or anything? If you want, we could pick you up."

An elf costume. Merde! I will never forgive myself for getting myself into this. I will never be charitable or nice ever again.

"Yeah, actually a ride would be great." The children's hospital we are going to is in the suburbs, and as I am a city girl, I have no idea how to get there. I'd printed out Mapquest directions and had armed myself with my mapbook of Colorado, but leaving the navigation up to someone else seems a much safer plan.

"What time were you thinking we should leave?" I ask.

"With traffic . . . I was thinking we should head out of Denver at five."

"Could you pick me up from my office then?" I give him the directions and then click my phone off. I look at the clock at the bottom of my computer screen. It's still only 3:29 p.m. How is that possible? Five o'clock seems like a distant dream.

It takes a few millennia, but eventually five o'clock does roll around. I shut off my computer, bid Olivia a Noël joyeux, and bound down the stairs. I wait for Vince in the front of my office building, and very quickly become bitterly cold. The cold isn't so bad when the sun is out, but between the sun going down and the bracing winds, it's freezing. Still, I stick it out because I'm worried I won't be able to see Vince from the foyer of the office building.

I check my watch. 5:11. He's not that late, but every minute seems like an eternity because it's so cold out. Also, I have to wish happy holidays and Merry Christmas's to my co—workers who are leaving work, and I'm just not really in the mood to be cheerful and friendly right now. I'd better get in a better mood though. Otherwise I'll be snarling at the sick children tonight, and that will do awful things to my karma.

I realize I stupidly didn't ask Vince what kind of car he was driving, so every vehicle that goes past I squint at expectantly and full of hope, only to be disappointed.

I hear a strange beeping sound, and I realize it's coming from my cell phone. It's the sound it makes when it's running out of juice and is going to shut itself off. I'm pretty hopeless about remembering to charge the thing. I just hope Vince either calls me very soon to tell me he can't make it or gets his butt over here quickly.

My nose hairs weld together from the cold. Fabulous—I have icicles in my nostrils. That's just great.

I try to rearrange my scarf babushka—like to better cover my nose, ears, and head, but then my neck is exposed and it instantly hurts from the biting wind.

At last, a van stops in front of the building. It has the words "For the Children" emblazed on the side. It hadn't occurred to me that For the Children would have leant out a van. A man rolls down the passenger side window.

"Are you Aimee?" he asks.

"Yep."

"Hey. I'm Gerry. I'll open the door. Hang on."

He gets out of the van and shakes my hand. He's wearing baggy green velour pants, pointy elf shoes, and a white t—shirt. He's got crewcut blond hair, rough skin, and pale blue eyes.

"Hi. It's nice to meet you. I'm Aimee."

When he opens the van door, I realize there's something weird about this van, and I'm struck by the sudden knowledge that I'm getting into the vehicle of total strangers. Maybe they painted "For the Children" on it as part of an elaborate ruse. These three guys could be serial murderers who have outfitted their van so they can trap me inside it and then gut and flay me in a particularly brutish manner. Then I see that the only real thing that's different about this truck is that it's got a fold—out ramp, and that's when I realize this van hasn't been designed to kidnap random women, it's a van for somebody who uses a wheelchair.

I get in and there is a very attractive man sitting in the backseat. Before I tell you what happens next, I have to give you some more background on me. You need to know that I'm not normally a woman who gets crazed with lust over a good—looking guy. I've never been out just for fun, meaningless sex. It's important to me to care for somebody and for that somebody to care for me before I get physical with a guy. I tend to be practical with my choice of boyfriends. I'm not looking to reform a bad boy who treats me like crap. Give me a sweet guy with a good job who treats me well over a jerky pretty boy any day. Because I care a lot less about dating a hunk then choosing a sweet guy, I usually go through this whole evaluation of a guy that's not based so much on initial attraction but on things like whether he's smart and has a good career and so on. Having said all that, you'll understand how surprised I am when, with one look at this guy, my body is rocked by this intense carnal craving. In just moments, the wave of desire eases, and I decide to pass off the powerful surge of emotion to the fact I haven't had sex in several months.

Buy Jingle all the Way!
Buy Jingle All the Way!


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