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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Holiday · #2286407
Was it deja vu?
“May I help you? Who are you visiting?” Legend had it that the snowbound YMCA on December 5th was an original. The fact that the legend included a visit by Santa to Mary and her child started in the neighborhood pub. Coming from the mouth of the local drunk was surprising in how it spread so fast as accepted fact.

“I’m not sure.” The place needed a lot of care. A couple of recent cheap attempts at fixing it were crumbling into ruin almost as fast as they’d been built. Local history buffs claimed it was the location of the first one in North America opening in 1850.

Joe Anderson wasn’t Santa, but he had the heart of one. “The girl that just came in the back door?”

“Oh, no. Another homeless person and a woman at that, trying to sneak in here. They try that knowing we are all filled up. We require references, only accept upright men without bad habits or worse friends. Was she alone? No children?”

The lights flickered off, then on. “Sorry. Bad wiring.” The counter guy picked up a flashlight. “Scuse me. I need to get rid of the riff-raff.”

“Maybe, I can help.”

The flashlight beam highlighted Joe’s face. “Are you the Santa the Salvation Army sent? Come along.”

They found the shivering single mom huddled by the back door with a crying baby in her arms. “Your name Mary? I’m Joe.” He coughed, embarrassed. “Joseph.”

He couldn’t tell if she nodded or it was the way she was shaking. “You got no place for her?"

The negative shake of the counter man’s head was real. He opened the back door into a blast of icy air. His hands made shooing motions. Light from a creak in an old garage door widened as the wind caught it. "Go."

“What’s that?” Joe asked, rubbing his tired eyes. His twelve hour nursing day job had just been left behind. A flash of light glinted from the flashlight, reflecting off the Christmas star hung at the top of the garage. “I’ll take it from here. I’ll close the garage door on the way out.”

“Thank you. Perhaps the homeless shelter?”

Mary pulled the blanket off the back of her head, and wrapped her baby. "I checked. It’s full, There’s nowhere to go." She stood rocking the baby into sleepy silence.

The fluttery, shooing motions stopped. “It’s not heated, There’s straw and a roof over your head. You can stay there for the night but then must move on.”

“Your baby didn’t happen by immaculate conception, did it? Sorry, bad joke.” Joe pulled at his Santa beard, nudging it in place. “Guess I’m from the other side of Christmas. Happy to meet you.”

Mary blinked at the tears appearing in her eyes. “No. He’s not, thank you. We can walk to the garage ourselves.” The baby chose that moment, disturbed by his mother’s jostling, to begin crying.

Seeing Santa and hearing the jingling of Christmas bells attached to his hat and belt, reminded the counter help what time of year it was. The YMCA staff person shouted after her, “I'll call home. I’m sure I can find and share a baby bottle filled with warm milk.”

Joseph and Mary found themselves walking together, their footprints leaving a trail in the snow. “You looked familiar, like my brother’s old girlfriend, the one that got away.” Joe explained.

“Show me your face, Santa.” They were at the door of the garage. Joe closed it behind him, shutting out the worst of the cold and lifted his fake white beard.

“It is you. Your brother got mad and kicked me out when he thought I was flirting with you. It wasn’t the first time he was jealous of men. When I told him I was pregnant, he threatened me, said the father was more likely, you. I haven’t seen him since.” Mary watched Joe. His movements slowed while making a mound straw bed for her and the child while they talked.

Joe turned, “When I asked about you, my brother hit me in the face. He fought with me and said if I ever saw you again he’d kill us.” Joe eased Mary and the baby down. “He never calmed down, stopped talking to me, and got construction work in South America.”

Three men appeared at the door. One handed Mary a baby bottle. “A gift for the child. It's not costly frankincense. We’re not the wise men." A basket of baby food, diapers, and clothes were handed over for the child. "If you need anything else, we’ll do what we can to help.”

Joe followed them to the door. “I’ve a home for you, if you want one. The baby is a relative, after all.” He adjusted his beard. “I need to go be Santa for an hour or I’d take you now.”

“Promises should be kept. We’ll be fine.”

Santa stood nervously, adding to the look of Christmas, by the YMCA event. At its end, he handed out presents, waved a ho-ho-ho and dove for the back door.

The light was off in the garage. No-one was there. Mary was gone. Had meeting him been too much for her, brought back too many bad memories? Where had she gone?”

No-one knew anything, not at the YMCA, not at the local pub when he explained things. He paid for drinks, squeezing out any hope of a useful hint of where Mary had gone.
“You’re here.”

Mary stood on the porch, smiling from behind the top of an over sized winter coat. The baby lay settled in a bundled up carriage. “I decided not to wait. The three wise-men helped me. They left when we saw you coming.”

Joe flicked the light switch and a nativity scene lit up on the front yard. A plastic Santa waved, sitting in a sleigh on the roof. “Merry Christmas.”

The sound of the baby cooing made Joe laugh. "He likes you." She handed the baby over and kissed his cheek. Was Mary flirting with him?

Each Christmas thereafter, Joe dressed as Santa. He, Mary, and his adopted child celebrated the holiday with the staff of the YMCA. The garage had been modified into extra sleeping arrangements for whomever needed them. The star above the doors never failed to glitter a welcome when the garage lights turned on.
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