Category Archives: Writing

Santa’s Photographer: Part Ten

Santa's PhotographerContinued from Part Nine. To read from the beginning, start here.

“Pros,” Tish said, folding Shell’s sweaters and tucking them into the rolling carry-on bag lying open on the bed between them. “That awkwardness is out of the way. He’s cute. His kid is cute.”

Shell rummaged in a drawer, pulling out three pairs of wool rag socks.

“Cons,” Tish continued, moving on to Shell’s microfleece-lined leggings with an eloquently raised brow.

Shell shook her head. “It’s going to be cold. For real cold. And don’t pack those. They’re comfy for the flight.”

“Cons,” Tish began again. “He has a kid. Don’t give me that look. It’s a con. Because even if you just date him, you know that he’s got this entire set of other priorities. Maybe you can live with that, maybe you can’t.”

“I’m hardly going to date him.” Shell brought over the last of the clothes she was bringing for her whirlwind jaunt to the northeast corner of Michigan’s palm. “I mean, I was thinking about it after that whole exchange at Twist, but if you’d seen how he looked at me when I put my entire foot in my mouth?”

“Do you plan to bathe while you’re in the bush, because I see no room in this bag for basic beauty supplies…” Tish pressed down on the sweaters, creating a small divot. “So, you didn’t realize the kid was somebody else’s. It was exactly none of your business. And unless the guy makes a habit of enlisting his four? Five? Year-old son to use creepy holiday-themed pick up lines on women he only met while in disguise as an elf-photographer — which, for the record, I doubt — I figure you just appeal to the kid, who’s obviously still got some issues from his parents splitting.”

Tish finished shoving and mashing Shell’s clothes with a flourish, and dropped in the toiletry bag that held Shell’s toothbrush, razor, comb, and favorite lipgloss. Considering she had no plans to leave her parent’s home except to be dragged to midnight Mass, she wasn’t concerned with the rest of it. Anything else, her Mom would have on hand.

“It’s not the Outback, it’s two-hours north of Detroit.”

“Girl,” Tish leveled her stop-it-with-the-nonsense look at Shell. “One and the same.”

Shell giggled. “Not everyone can be from the mean streets of Buckhead, Peach.”

“Why I ever left Atlanta is a mystery. Especially for this godforsaken city.” Tish shrugged. “So, you’re going to find out where he works and go ask him out, right?”

“New Year’s Resolution?” Shell wrinkled her nose. “My last shift is tomorrow, and then I’m leaving first thing in the morning on Christmas Eve. So my brother can come down to Detroit and get me after his all night shift running the saw mill. Because my Dad will be ice fishing.”

Tish shook her head. “Your family is like something out of Fargo.”

“Michigan is nowhere near the Dakotas.” Shell plopped down across the suitcase from her best friend. “And I’ll need time to figure out how to find him, since I doubt he’s going to call me now.”

“One. And. The. Same: Cold, far, cold, 2 hours or more from civilization … Cold.” Tish zipped Shell’s suitcase closed, then swiped open her phone and handed it over. “Thank me later. Gib Walker owns Riddle & Blade, a comic book and cosplay shop at the Macy’s end of the mall.”

“Tish, you are the best.”

“I am.” Tish took her phone back with a big grin, and tapped the screen. “I’ll text you the link for reference.”

To be continued…

Santa’s Photographer: Part Nine

Santa's PhotographerContinued from Part Eight. To read from the beginning, start here.

Time slowed — like in the movies. Shell had a chance to take in the details visually, but the sounds swam in from a far away shore. The weirdness on top of the whole pink-hair, sore-feet spectacle was too much. She watched as Gib–  hair tailed back, blue button-down shirt open over a gray shirt with a Batman logo — carried Cade in her direction.

How could he be Cade’s father? Does he know what Cade thinks? Oh, god…

Weird or not, seeing him with his son tugged at her heart; that tug swirled with the fizz of lust that had rendered her dumb outside the bar. It was a complicated cocktail.

Liz broke the underwater spell. “I have to run, Gib. You’ll drop him at our place on Monday?” She was already pressing a kiss to the little boy’s forehead. “Be good for Daddy, baby. We’ll miss you.” Liz turned to Shell with an easy smile. “Thanks for everything, Shell. Merry Christmas.”

And then Elizabeth Harkness was gone, stroller, baby, and all. She, Gib, and Cade could have been the only three humans in the entire mall.

“Hi.” Gib hitched Cade up a little. “I meant to thank you the other night, outside Twist, for the photos, but your friend was pretty efficient.” He grinned at the memory. “I know Liz hired you, but your photos are magic.”

“But how?” Shell found her tongue. “I had no idea you were his father. I thought…”

“Yeah, I am. ” Gib’s expression clouded, and Shell’s stomach dropped. “Anyway, thanks for the photos.”

He turned to leave, but Cade stretched away, angling to be let down. When Gib didn’t put him down, Cade reached for Shell. “I’m going to ask in my heart. Tell Santa to listen extra hard? Please?”

Gib shot her a questioning look.

Shell didn’t know what to say. She thought now she understood what Cade was after, and it left her confused: breathless and a little seasick. Gib gave up on a response from her; Cade’s focus never waved from her face.

“Come on, Shortstack. We have to go check on the store before we go home.” Gib stayed his course and vanished into the crowd of Christmas shoppers.

Shell  wondered where the store was. Did he work in the mall? The convergence of coincidences banged against her skull, and she made her way to the employees only entrance to the Outpost, praying both that there was still some Advil in her purse and that Tish would feel like coming over after work.

She needed her bestie. For perspective, and to distract her from Cade Har– Cade Walker’s unanswered question.

To be continued…

Santa’s Photographer: Part Eight

Santa's PhotographerContinued from Part Seven. To read from the beginning, start here.

Sometime in the third hour of screaming babies, tantrumming parents, and the ceaseless ringing of the bells on the toes of Jingles’s and Snowflake’s elven booties, Shell nearly walked off the job. When Ashleigh put up the Be Back in a Jingle sign at the front gate of the Outpost, Shell nearly wept with relief.

She was this close to whipping off the wig and breaking character right there in the faux-snowy front yard, when a small voice reminded her who she was.

“S’cuse me?”

Shell turned to see Cade Harkness, cute as a button in his orange parka and bright blue hat, waiting at the gate. Liz Harkness was only steps behind, hustling, the baby in the stroller on this occasion.

“Cade!” There was an edgy wobble in Liz’s voice; Shell recognized parental panic.

“Hey, pal.” She crouched down to speak with him.

“Did Santa go?” Cade peered around her to Santa’s empty chair. His bright blue eyes scrunched closed in frustration.

“He’s having a cocoa break,” Shell whispered. “With extra marshmallows.”

Cade’s smile, and the conspiratorial giggle eased the ache in Shell’s feet.

“Can I help?” She glanced up at Liz Harkness, who was watching them with open curiosity.

“I need to ask Santa for something. I don’t want the ninja pirate ship anymore. I need Santa to bring me something else.” The gravity of his request welled up in his eyes. “But it’s not magic if I tell anybody ‘cept Santa.”

He squared his small shoulders. “I need it to be magic.”

“Cade, honey,” Liz put a hand on her son’s shoulders. “We need to meet your Daddy. He’s going to be waiting.”

The mention of Mr. Harkness lodged like a lead ball in Shell’s throat. “Listen, I bet Santa will know if you ask him with your heart.”

“Is it true, Mama?” Cade turned his serious gaze upward.

Liz’s face filled with gratitude. “I think so, baby.”

Cade lit up like the giant Christmas tree in the center courtyard. He hopped away from his mother, and bolted away, “Daddy!”

Shell looked up just in time to see a tall man swing Cade up high, turning him around in a full circle before settling the little boy against his chest. When Cade leaned away to wave back and Liz and her, her breath stopped in her chest.

Daddy was Gib Walker.

To be continued…

 

Santa’s Photographer: Part Seven

Santa's PhotographerContinued from Part Six. To read from the beginning, start here.

Gib struck out for Piper’s Playroom after the afternoon rush. Riddle & Blade did a brisk business in the weeks leading up to Christmas, but unlike a lot of the retailers in the mall, he didn’t depend on the holiday traffic. His clientele were specific and endlessly devoted: followers of games, superhero film franchises, graphic novels, cosplay, steampunk, sci-fi… His was a curio shop for outliers, and he knew his business.

Cade wasn’t into superheroes, video games were right out, but Liz had mentioned some Lego set with pirates and ninjas that might make a good Christmas gift. Or was it a Boxing Day gift, since he wouldn’t see Cade until the 26th? It was C.J.’s year to have “both his guys” at home for the holiday.

Piper, who owned a little toy store on the other end of the mall, texted him that she had a fresh pallet of Lego in her stockroom, and that in exchange for an early copy of Ewan Lovatt’s newest Alasdair Sledge novel, she’d give him the pick of the lot.

He’d gone a step beyond and reserved one of the precious autographed ones for Piper. She’d been a good friend when he’d needed one most, and she’d never let him feel awkward for turning her down when she offered more.

On his way back Riddle & Blade, with not only the Lego set, but two new trains for Cade’s wooden railway, he paused for a moment outside Santa’s North Pole Outpost, hoping to catch a glimpse of Shell. The maybe-not-so-grumpy, pink-haired photographer’s card was burning a hole in his pocket, but he didn’t want to push his luck.

Besides angling to hear that smoky-but-vulnerable voice again, he wanted to thank her for the photos she’d taken of Cade.

Liz had been right about her; she knew the way into his little boy’s heart somehow. He’d paged through not only the proofs of Cade and his yellow train, but his cherub-cheeked little brother, then the rest of Shell’s public albums. She’d done a smattering of everything — travel, food, weddings and engagements, families, advertising — and she had a wonderful eye.

Santa’s photographer was working, but it wasn’t Shell in the candyfloss wig. Gib shook his head at the sinking feeling at the realization it wasn’t her. Two unfinished conversations shouldn’t have left him so intrigued, but there was something about her.

To be continued…