was always cramped, especially during the holidays. Last minute shoppers rubbing elbows, eyebrows creased, gruff mumbling exchanged to one another over the cramped checkout lines. It is easy to lose one’s sanity during a holiday season when the pressure is ripe with tight budgets and growing prices.
But, there they were.
A father with his toddler tangled around his wrist, her small hand barely grasping his pinky as he raced down the aisle. She gasped at Santa, Rudolph, and chocolate covered cereal dawning fancy christmas packaging. She would slow topping at these things and he would gently pull her along, determination in every step.
At last, they made it. The jewelry station was glittering with expensive diamonds and a flashy attendant with a raspy smokers voice. He let go of his daughter’s hand, reaching up to shake the boney hand of the perfume ridden woman. His daughter quickly grasped at him, her dainty grip tugging at his damp jacket. He chuckled loudly as he became lost in the hunt for the perfect holiday surprise.
Her eyes wandered, sparkling at the rapid hubbub of the store while the faint Christmas jingles called to her from a distant aisle. She looked up, her soft hazel eyes focused on her father for a solid minute. She soaked up his excitement, drinking in his nervous gestures and quick words.
Her heart pounded.
She was wandering now.. her hand still cold from her father’s plaid coat. She was on a mission that mostly consisted of dodging inconsiderate customers and scouring for the best plush within reach.
The carols were louder now, a faint realization amongst the whirr of her excitable mind. Another child pointed at her, “Baby!” he shouted with a giggle. His mother shook her head curtly and pushed onward.
There was fear now.
Her heart pounded even faster as she looked over her shoulder. The glittering of the jewelry section had faded. So had her father. The impulse to cry was overwhelming and she almost started to when she heard it. Just there. From the corner.
Tall at once, there she was. A winter wonderland splayed before her like an endless forest of silver and gold. The carols rang all around her now. Her fear was doused with gentle raining snowflakes and pine trees that nearly touched the ceiling. Ribbons spiraled down their bristled branches, twirling into cascades of red rivers and green streams.
She began to dance. She imagined the elves leapt from their protective posts next to the giant presents and joined in with her. The bells rang from their tasseled hats and the drums they had carefully crafted beat out a special rhythm just for her. She spun in circles, grasping their hands and giggling as her hat fell to the floor. Hoofbeats sounded from the rooftop and she knew all at once that Santa was here.
She found shimmering ornaments and a lanky elf helped her shimmy up his shoulders to reach a high branch. Stuffed animals burst from their designated boxes and clapped as she place a crystal ball particularly perfectly next to an icicle. Lights blinked and flashed as a chubby elf plugged in the tree, just in time for Santa’s arrival.
There he is!
He used a gloved hand to dust off a hefty velvet chair and took his seat amongst the joyous events. His eyes lit up and he motioned to her to deftly, a warm smile barely peaking from underneath a long white beard.
“Hi, Mister Claus!” she shouted as she ran to his chair. Her little legs tripping over one another from boots that were one size too big.
“Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas!” He chuckled, “What a beautiful tree! Did you help do that?”
“Yes! They helped me too!” She was at his feet now, dancing in place as she pointed over her shoulder to her elf friends.
“Well, now I say that-” he scooped her up gently, placing her on one knee. “-deserves a very good present, indeed. What would you like for Christmas this year?”
“Well, yes of course.”
“I want daddy to find the perfect thing over with that silly lady by the necklaces,” she whispered in his ear, her tiny fingers cupped around her mouth.
“For mommy!” She nodded tightly, crossing her arms now.
“Piper!” Her father shouted, his chest heaving as he approached from behind a large snowman. “What- where have you been? How could you run off? Come here!”
She leapt from Santa’s lap, relief washing over her. She was ready to go home.
“Bye Santa!” She waved as she turned to race away, sliding to a stop at her father’s feet. She smiled up at him causing his worried expression to lessen slightly. She reached up for his hand, a puzzled look crossing her face as she noticed he was clutching something.
A small box, neatly topped off with a blue bow seemingly floated just above her father’s calloused hand as he outstretched it towards her.
He bent down slowly, “Piper.. look what I got for mommy.”
Her eyes widened.
From just behind them, Santa smiled.