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[RPF] The Most Wonderful Time of the Year [2/3]

Summary: Tom mulls over things while on duty.

Tom frowns as he finishes the last Nibbler from the batch he’d decided to get at Mrs. Field’s. Even though Chris had told him the other day that today would be his day off, Tom had maintained some strange hope that the sneaker salesman would show up out of a sense of routine or camaraderie or…something. But as any other level-headed person, Chris had chosen to stay away from his place of employment on his precious day off.

It wasn’t that he needed to confer with his lunch companion about anything. After getting the definite okay from his brother, the two had finally exchanged numbers for any other pressing issues. Since then the two seemed to revert to their early teen years with a barrage of mostly inane texts.

Tom had never been to Australia (and Chris had likewise never visited England), but it seemed there must have been something in the water of their respective schools that allowed them to become friends so easily. They just clicked into a pattern. It was making him look forward to Christmas even more. And should there be a conveniently placed piece of mistletoe…

With an inaudible sigh, he crumples up the small brown paper bag and tosses it at the garbage. A small smile manifests on his face as it makes it in and with a quick stretch, he walks back to the main courtyard where Santa’s village is located.

Despite having bothered to don his puffy jacket so as to not attract the attention of children, he still gets second glances for his vividly protruding striped tights and “little” curled green shoes.

Soon enough, he gets to the festive red picket fence decorated with garlands and ornaments which designates the enclosure to the village as well as the beginning of a line for visitors. Pushing the gate open, he shrugs off his jacket and quickly deposits it into the little house with the “Elf Workshop” sign that the other workers had designated as the unofficial coat room. He also grabs his cap that he had decided to leave behind and jams it on to his head before straightening out the rest of his outfit out of a sense of habit.

“How was your break, Thomas?” asks a soft, lilting voice. It belongs to Rene, their resident “Mrs. Clause” and photographer, who tucks her own light hair underneath the bonnet and wig of her costume.

“As refreshing as could be,” answers Tom with a sigh.

“And how is Chris?” she asks with a slight upturning of her lips.

Tom quickly turns around and pretends to adjust the cushions on the “throne” so Rene won’t witness the apparent flush on his face. Clearing his throat, he answers, “T-today was his day off so obviously he was absent. Preparing himself for the last big shopping rush, you know?”

“Pity,” muses Rene aloud, and he can practically hear the smile that must be unabashedly displayed across her face.

“Yes, well I can only imagine how working in retail this time of year can be, so I only wish him the best in his efforts to regenerate his batteries,” rattles off Tom in reply.

All he hears from Mrs. Clause is a knowing hum before a new voice joins them.

“If only we could be granted the same opportunity, eh. But familiarity is important for the little ones and that is the burden we bear.”

Tom turns to greet the man himself, who is also shucking his coat into the “Elf Workshop.” Anthony self-consciously pats the padding of his suit before climbing up the single stair to stand in front of his designated chair. Pulling his signature hat to fall lower across his forehead and running a few fingers through his beard, the mall Santa settles into the seat.

“Tom,” greets Anthony with a nod of the head.

“Tony,” greets Tom in return just as cordially.

Anthony looks around their little enclosure, and his grey eyebrows draw together as if missing something. “And where is—“

“I’m here! I’m here!” announces Kat as she hops through the fence on one foot while trying to tug on her other pointed shoe. “On time as promised.”

“And where is your hat?” asks Rene as she gestures to the female “elf’s” bare head.

“What’re you talking about? It’s right—“ the younger woman’s eyes widen from behind her glasses as she feels her head to find nothing there. “Ah, shi…” she begins to say until a raised eyebrow from both Rene and Anthony force her to finish with, “…taki mushrooms.”

“Try looking in the workshop,” suggests Tom. “I’m sure you’ll find a leftover cap in there.”

“Oh joy of joys,” grumbles Kat as she shoulders off her peacoat and opens up the little door. She disappears for a few minutes and indeed reemerges with a cap on her head. “Thanks, Tom,” she says as she buttons up her loose green vest (her original one had been an appropriate size until her considerable cleavage had made it “inappropriate”).


“How’s Captain Kangaroo?” she asks with a little smirk.

Tom straightens out and strides towards the picket fence where some families had started to make their way towards since noticing they were open again. “On his day off,” he answers matter of factly with no intention of giving anything else away.

“Lucky bastard,” he hears her mutter before she makes her way to the register located near Rene and the exit of their area.

“Game faces everyone!” exclaims Anthony encouragingly, and with that Tom dons his most winning smile (or at least the one he has mastered for this job).

With Christmas just days away, the amount of families clamoring to get their child’s first picture with Santa seems to increase. He ushers in many children—from the painfully shy to the overly excited—to go sit on Santa’s lap and list everything they could possibly ever want before Rene coaxes smiles from them for the picture. Of course there are the expected amount of fussy little ones who are confused as to why they are being given to a bearded stranger all in red, but the amount of screamers is thankfully few.

While waiting on especially long-winded children who came prepared with pages of notebook paper, Tom converses with the children in line. Some of the older ones eye him suspiciously and ask if he’s a rejected elf because of his freakishly tall height.

With a false smile that doesn’t tip off any of their internal sensors (for children are a perceptive bunch), he usually answers, “Santa appreciates me as much as any of the other elves. He did give me this job of deciding who can go see him.”

After that answer, most clam up immediately and straighten up as this will give them extra “nice” points.  The more bold ones point out how they’d get to see Santa regardless of him but would indeed remain quiet for the duration of their wait. One memorable occasion saw him end up with a bruised shin as a rather upset 8-year-old had seen it fit to kick him in response to that answer (Chris had gotten his titters in when Tom had told him what happened, but afterward had almost bent over backward to accommodate Tom that day even going so far as to offer to help him get back to the village).

Most children though just stare up at him in reverence.

The line remains steady for a good hour before finally thinning out. The occasional customer shows up without any regularity until they finally reach the stage in their shift where they simply twiddle their thumbs. With about thirty minutes left, a mother and son show up with the boy clocking in some quality time with Santa (Anthony plays his part wonderfully). Tom has eyes completely focused on the pair of them which is why the insistent poking at his leg catches him by surprise.

He whirls around and looks down to find the culprit is a small blond haired girl who can be no older than four. “You’re a pretty elf,” states the little girl with a wide grin.

“Holly!” calls out a stern voice that is immediately recognizable to Tom’s ears. Looking back up, his breath hitches as Chris strides over with another little blond girl in his arms. Asides from the absence of his uniform (and it seems Chris really favors the casual look with a peacoat that makes it seem as if he’s not wearing a shirt underneath if the patch of skin from beneath the loose scarf tells Tom anything), his usual little bun has been done away with. The man’s dirty blond hair hangs loosely around him as the little girl in his arms gleefully stretches his hair band in her hands.

“Chris?” says Tom in confusion as he takes in the sight before him.

“Hey, Tom,” greets Chris casually with a wave. “Just decided to be the best uncle ever and bring my nieces to come visit old St. Nick.”

Tom nods his head in understanding while the girl on the ground claps her hand excitedly.“Uncle Kip! Uncle Kip! You never said you knew a pretty elf!”

Her sister claps disjointedly and starts chanting, “Elf and Kip! Elf and Kip! Elf and Kip!”

Both men flush at her statement, though Tom’s the first to recover with a curiously raised eyebrow. “Kip?”

“It’s a childhood nickname cause I couldn’t say Christopher properly when I was about Ella’s age here,” he answers. Chris raises the girl in his hands to identify Ella.

Tom can’t contain his smile at the endearing anecdote, and it causes a chain reaction of a smile to light up on Chris’ face as well. Another series of pokes to his legs forces him to turn his attention back to the other little girl, Holly.

“Mr. Pretty Elf, when can we see Santa?”

“Santa! Santa!” chimes in her sibling with growing excitement.

Tom crouches down so as to relieve the child from craning her neck back. With a quick look back at the young boy, who is still counting things off on his hand, he says in a soothing tone that he has also come to perfect since he was first employed here, “Very soon, darling.”

Little Holly smiles giddily at him and clasps her hands behind her back while swaying back and forth so that her little dress fans out beneath her. “Very soon like in ten seconds?”

Tom releases a soft chuckle at this answer. “Something like that, dear.”

“I wanna see him now!” demands Ella.

“What did I tell you about waiting?” says Chris in what Tom thinks is his “uncle” voice as it has a strange lighthearted authority to it.

“It builds carroter!” answers Holly excitedly while Ella just blows a raspberry into Chris’ face.

Tom hides his smile behind a hand while Chris sputters in an over the top fashion. “That’s it, Ella,” says Chris. “Down you go.”

Then Tom is faced with two similar looking blond haired girls who stare at him in awe. When Chris had called his nieces “angels,” Tom had taken it to be a descriptor of their character. Looking at them now, he can definitely agree to how cherubic appearing they are with their rosy cheeks and in-tact baby fat.

“Mr. Pretty Elf,” begins Holly.

“You can call me Tom,” reassures the mall elf to the little girl.

“Mr. Pretty Tom,” amends Holly (“Pity Tom!” exclaims Ella in unison), “is it okay if I tell you one of my Christmas wishes so you can tell Santa in case he forgets?”

“I don’t see why not, Holly. It never hurts.”

Holly looks up to her uncle and then leans in close to Tom. Bringing a hand up to her mouth so as to cup the answer to his ear, she loudly whispers, “I want Uncle Kip to be happy because he’s the bestest uncle ever.”

Tom’s eyebrows rise in unison at the request. “Did your Uncle Kip put you up to this?” he asks as he sends a sly look up to Chris. The look of surprise on Chris’ face is enough answer, but Holly responds anyways.

“Nuh-uh! I came up with it all on my own! I want that more than a koala but not as much as a Barbie scooter.”

“Glad to hear that, Holly,” remarks Chris with a low chuckle.

The telltale sound of the flash goes off, and Tom turns to see the boy blinking his eyes while hopping off of Anthony. The mother and child are soon on their way, leaving Santa free for the girls.

Standing up, Tom gestures to Anthony. “Santa’s all free now,” he informs them.

With matching smiles, Ella latches on to Holly’s hand while Holly grasps Tom’s fingers. “Follow the leader!” squeals Ella.

Taking more pride in his job than usual, Tom leads them over to Anthony and helps to situate them into the older man’s lap. Job done, he goes back to his station where Chris still stands.

“It’s great seeing you in your natural environment,” comments Chris with a smile.

“Ha. Ha,” replies Tom dryly as he crosses his arms in front of his chest. “You know you’re welcome to move by Mrs. Clause if it helps get a smile out of the girls for their picture.”

“Nah, they’re quite extroverted and naturally happy. They’ll be fine.” He glances at the exit a little nervously. “And uh, I think I’m better off over here anyways. More preferable view and all those other good excuses.”

Tom looks at him questioningly before turning his head to try and see what Chris was looking at. He immediately catches sight of Kat intensely staring at Chris with her glasses perched on the tip of her nose. She looks like she is about to absolutely devour him right then and there.

Tom’s lips purse together at this unsubtle display from his co-worker and inches closer to Chris. Feeling bold, he pokes his large pocket only to hear something crinkle. “Did you still bring me my daily treat because I’m afraid I gave into the temptations of Mrs. Fields.”

Chris swings his arm in a manner reminiscent of some ‘50s caricature that would say, “Aw shucks.” He buries his hands in pockets again while giving Tom his strange (yet still somehow charming) sideways grin. “Curse that Fields woman and her trademark cookies. It’s a good thing I brought you something slightly different then.” From out of his pocket, he produces something wrapped in wax paper and tied off with a ribbon. He gently takes one of Tom’s hands and places the little package in his palm.

“It’s um, it’s just a brownie, but the girls caught wind that it was a present of sorts and insisted I dress it up more.”

“Oh,” says Tom as his spindly fingers enclose over the little square package. He shoots a quick glance to the girls, who are animatedly chatting away with Anthony, and directs a smile back at Chris. “Well tell them thank you very much from me.”

“I will,” replies Chris who returns the smile. They continue to stand together in a silence that starts to turn awkward until Chris clears his throat. “I’m looking forward to having you over, Tom. Or as Luke likes to remind me, he’s eager to be hosting you.”

“I’m very thankful that you invited me,” says Tom in turn.

“It wasn’t a problem,” says Chris with a simple shrug of his shoulders.

“Doesn’t stop me from appreciating it,” counters Tom.

Chris seems like he’s about to say something when Rene’s voice carries over very clearly.

“All right! Say jingle bells!”

The chiming of Chris’ nieces’ voices are heard right before the sound of the camera going off. The girls promptly thank Santa for his time before scrambling off and clambering around Chris. The trio makes their way to Kat where Chris promptly pays for the photo. Kat’s demeanor remains more professional with him than her eyes had suggested.

Picking up Ella with one arm and taking Holly’s hand within his other one, Chris makes his way back over to Tom. “So I’ll see you then, eh? My hours are all wonky with this last big shopping push, you know?”

Tom nods in understanding. “Mine too. But yes, I will see you then.”

“Just give me a ring when you’re ready, since the bus will take too long.”

More nodding. “Definitely.”

Holly and Ella excitedly wave as they walk away with both girls loudly wishing him a Happy Christmas.

The second they’re out of earshot Kat bombards him. “Deets. Who was that hot piece of Mr. Mom?”

Tom flushes and notices how Rene and Anthony are also listening despite their efforts of looking otherwise occupied by taking off their unnecessary outerwear and donning their winter coats from the workshop.

“If you must know, that was Chris and those are his nieces not his daughters,” answers Tom in a low tone.

Kat’s eyes widen comically, and she pushes at his chest which has the effect of having him stumble back a bit. “Shut up!” she shrieks in an unnaturally high register. “THAT’S Mr. Down Under! If that’s the case, I think I know where I’m vacationing.”

“He is quite handsome,” chimes in Rene as she pulls off her wig and shakes her long hair free. “If only I were a few years younger…” she wistfully muses.

“Strapping young lad,” adds Anthony who is now considerably thinner having cast off his padding. “And those young girls with him were also very charming. Such delightful children to end the day with .”

“Yeah, a real treat,” quickly agrees Kat. “And speaking of treats…” her gaze falls to the brownie still within Tom’s hand.

He protectively draws it closer to him. “It’s a thing we have where he supplies me with baked goods.”

“How sweet,” says Rene with a warm smile as she draws her trenchcoat closed.

“Sweet’s one way of saying it,” mutters Kat as her eyes remain glued on the gift brownie.

The four workers then get to putting equipment into the workshop and arranging other pieces of the village so as to further signify that they are closed.  Anthony and Rene say their farewells before departing for the employee locker rooms located within the heart of the mall where they can change back into their civvies.

Finding themselves alone, Kat quickly asks, “So what’s the deal between the two of you?”

Tom’s eyebrows draw together at the question, and he shoves his hands deeper into the pockets of his puffy jacket. “Chris and I, you mean? We’re just friends. Lunchtime acquaintances really.”

Kat hums along with this answer and adjusts her glasses as if to get a better look at him. “So do you two swallow each other’s tongues before or after you eyefuck each other?”

Tom’s eyes blink rapidly of their own accord in response, and he stutters profoundly while failing to form a rebuttal right off the bat.

Kat continues to assess him critically. “So that’s how it is,” she muses more to herself than to him. Suddenly, she unexpectedly slaps him heartily on the arm. “Constant vigilance, my friend,” she advises as she taps her cheek right beneath where the frames of her glasses touch her face.

With another hard knock, she buttons up her peacoat and walks away backwards so as to deliver a final message. “Just don’t get surprised when you get caught under the mistletoe, you know?”

And with that, Tom’s left alone with his brownie which he quickly unravels in order to distract himself. The first bite of thick chocolate deliciousness nearly stops his heart, and he groans in frustration as he chews on it. He curses Kat for having him wonder what it would be like to have Chris’ tongue shoved down his mouth.

Part One
Part Three