ByDaniel ‘Chip’ Ciammacella
During the Christmas Season the usually stoic lobby of First State Bank of Raton was transformed into a Christmas wonderland, and this Christmas Eve was no different. Wreaths and garlands graced the walls, and centerpieces made from pinecones were at each teller station. The female tellers and bank officers all wore cute little elf outfits, though the men still wore their usual suits and ties. Only the younger ones were bold enough to don a bright Christmas tie.
At the far end of the lobby three eight-foot tables were crammed with cakes, cookies, snacks, eggnog, and punch in a huge crystal punch bowl. A ten-foot tall Christmas tree, decorated with multi-colored ornaments, garlands, twinkling lights, and tinsel dominated the center of the lobby. Under the tree were brightly wrapped packages of all shapes and sizes, merely empty boxes of course, but what Christmas tree wouldn’t have presents stuffed beneath it?
Sitting next to the tree in a great stuffed armchair sat Santa Claus…AKA Charlie Wagner. Charlie was uncomfortable in the hot Santa suit and the itchy white beard, but he loved playing Santa Claus. He had never played Santa for the bank’s annual Christmas open house before, but his friend Shannon, who was the Public Relations Manager of the bank,
had asked him if he could…and Shannon Smith was a woman he could NEVER say no to.
Charlie simply adored Shannon. To him she was probably the most beautiful and sweet woman in the world, though he never dared to let her know he felt that way. Charlie didn’t feel he was worthy of a woman like Shannon, let alone think she was attracted to him at all. She was a bright and beautiful woman, climbing the ladder to success, the best
part of her life still ahead of her. On the other hand Charlie thought of himself as a washed-up old has-been who had fallen off that ladder years ago. He had once been an ambitious and successful community leader and businessman. Then his wife divorced him, he lost his home, his business fell on lean times, and he lost all confidence in himself; he burned out.
As Charlie sat in his place as Santa Claus, he watched Shannon move around the lobby performing her duties as hostess of the event. He never ceased to marvel at her grace, beauty, and especially her smile that seemed to not only brighten the room, but his heart as well. He remembered how she had offered to pay him to play Santa for the bank and the look of disappointment on her face when he declined. Broke as he was, he couldn’t accept any money, even from a bank. He knew she was just trying to help him out, as a lot of his good friends had done after he fell on hard times, but taking money to play Santa on Christmas Eve just didn’t seem right.
Charlie carefully adjusted the pillow he had duct-taped to his belly before the next child climbed into his lap. He was a bull of a man at over six feet tall, but hardly fat. People milled all around the bank lobby talking, laughing, and enjoying the snack feast at the refreshment table. A few children ran about playing, but the majority of them waited
patiently for their turn to see Santa Claus and share their Christmas wishes. Charlie greeted each one with a hearty “Ho, Ho, Ho”, which sometimes scared the more timid young ones into tears and wails. Charlie was good with kids though, and after a bit even the most frightened child would be sitting in his lap laughing and giggling.
Charlie’s full attention was on all of the children gathered about him, so he jumped slightly, almost bouncing a young boy right off of his knee, when Shannon came up next to him, leaned down and whispered in his ear. “Does Santa need a break for a little while, or maybe some punch?”
Charlie turned and met Shannon’s beautiful eyes for what seemed like an eternity, before averting his own, hoping the great white beard hid his blush. “No ma’am, I’m just fine for now,” he croaked.
Shannon’s smile made his heart melt and his legs go weak. “Well I want to thank you for doing this for me…us, Charlie. I really appreciate it. I can’t think of anyone who is a better Santa Claus than you.”
Charlie blushed again, not sure what to say. He thought it funny that she was so easy to talk to sometimes, yet at other times his tongue felt like a pound of chopped liver and forgot how to form words.
“Anytime you need a Santa Claus, you can count on me Shannon,” he finally replied.
Charlie almost fainted when she gave him a light kiss on his Santa cap and walked away,
The boy on his lap tumbled to the floor with a surprised squeal. The boy jumped up, indignant, and scolded Charlie. “Gee Santa, you need to get your mind off the babes and onto business…I thought you were married to some old lady at the North Pole anyway?”
Charlie blushed deep red as both adults and children began to laugh. He wasn’t sure if they were laughing at him or at the unexpected comments from such a small boy. He regained his composure quickly though, a quick-witted response coming to mind almost immediately, but he held his tongue, thinking a Santa should not say such things.
Charlie didn’t notice that Shannon had turned a short distance away, watching him with a twinkle in her eyes. She knew he had a crush on her. It wasn’t something he hid very well. The thought made her both uncomfortable and flattered all at the same time. Though she had known Charlie for nearly ten years, she had never gotten to know him that well. They never had the same circle of friends and rarely met outside of business related functions. Shannon knew she could always count on him to help out when she ha a problem requiring someone with his skills and experience, and she had always reciprocated by throwing some bank business his way. When he was doing work for the bank he never failed to drop by her office to chat for awhile, always bright and cheerful,which ran counter to the rumor mill wisdom that made him out to be a grouchy bully. He had always treated her with respect and gentleness, and somehow she knew that was the real Charlie.
Shannon had never really considered getting into a relationship with another man since her divorce and a few painful relationships afterward. Her children and her career were the most important things to her, and while she missed having a man to share her life with, she didn’t miss the pain that caring for one always seemed to bring her. She felt comfortable around Charlie: safe even, but she was always careful not to give him any
signals that might lead him on. He had made a few shy attempts to show her that he cared for her, sometimes sending her flowers or a card. She always thanked him, but never let him see how flattered and happy those gifts really made her.
As she watched him now, bringing such joy into the eyes of every child in the room, Shannon couldn’t help but feel pride in him. Life had thrown him a lot of curve balls the past few years, and a lesser man would probably have sunk himself into a bottle of whiskey…but not Charlie. Despite his misfortunes he never quit fighting to rebuild his life, and more importantly, never quit giving of himself to help other people as he was now. She remembered the fierce pride that radiated from his eyes, overcoming the pain and hurt that usually resided in them, as he declined any payment for playing Santa Claus today. As much as she wanted to help him, she couldn’t help but respect him and his wishes. She wished she could see that fire in his eyes more often.
Just then Charlie glanced over at her, noticed she was watching him, and turned away quickly, his blush obvious even behind the white Santa beard. Shannon couldn’t help but giggle as she turned back to her duties, thinking, “He’s so darn cute when he does that!”
Part 2 – To be continued