"Well, congratulations," I said, licking my chapped lips and using my rising frustration to push back my tears, "I definitely feel a strong desire for something right now."
"Is that so?" he asked, standing up straight and lifting his chin so that the light cleared away the sympathy that had darkened his often playful mischievousness. "Can I take a guess as to what you want?"
"I'm sure you will whether I tell you no or not."
"I imagine you want your car, credit cards, phone, apartment, id papers..."
"Honestly what I want is to be warm," I grumbled, feeling a little grateful that I, at least, still had my own bed to return to even if the rest of my apartment was trashed. And it was in that moment, as I reflected on the comfort and relief I gained in the knowledge of my bed's existence, that I froze in place, my face going stiff and my posture turning rigid.
"What's this now?" he asked, a joking tone in his voice as he drew in close under the pretense of allowing a family to pass. In doing so, he braced himself against the tree behind me, preventing him from stumbling into me completely as the rambunctious bunch jostled by with little regard to the two of us standing in the aisle. There we stood for a moment, his green eyes looking down, his lips raised in a subtle smile, and his breath a sweet mixture of peppermint and cocoa. "Something seems to have come over you."
"Nothing," I replied after clearing my throat and pushing away from the tree once the family passed. "Just thinking that maybe if we walked and talked I might feel a bit warmer."
"Yes, that might help, though I suppose it's comforting to know you have a warm bed back at home too."
"Do you read minds?" I replied in a tone caught between a growl and a whimper.
"No," he said with a laugh, as he urged me to lead on in our trek through the tree lot, "I can just read people. I've done more of these types of cases than I want to admit to."
"If that's true, then why haven't you retired?" I strolled down the aisle, looking for a good place to turn. Spotting an opening ahead, I made my way to the bend in the path while Alistair kept pace with a brisk, easy step.
"That's a question I wish I had an answer to. Unfortunately, your guess is as good as mine."
"Well, my guess is it's because your people skills suck." We turned the corner and headed down a path that led to a back section full of smaller trees that didn't even reach my shoulders.
"You're one to judge."
"I work with shoes, they don't tend to talk back." I made my case with confidence in my voice, but as my sore feet could attest, perhaps shoes did have a means of making their opinion known.
"Well, I think I'm perfectly pleasant," he replied in a voice that wasn't quite as familiar to my ears. I looked up at him from the corner of my eye and saw his gaze diverted to some distant corner. Apparently even elves could feel uncertain.
"Your job is to steal things for a living. I wouldn't call that pleasant."
"I'm not stealing, everything will be returned in due time."
"Oh yeah, well how exactly are you snatching my TV then? The only way that screen is leaving my apartment is if someone either steals it or it smashes it to pieces, and it certainly isn't going to come back if it gets shattered." I paused and looked over at a squat Douglas Fir that was a soft cone of crisp green needles, even if it was a bit bare at the bottom.
"I can't say, really."
"I thought I call the shots and you were going to give me answers."
"Except I don't control how the calendar works. I crafted the structure and designed the ornaments, but how they play out is up to a magic far stronger than anything I can manage. Santa Claus wields an ancient craft that comes from a realm that originated long before the time of humans."
YOU ARE READING
Jessica Sullivan knows what Christmas is all about -- sales. For her, the best present on Christmas Day is a sales report showing her shoes have sold well beyond expectations, capping off another successful year as a bright star in the fashion indus...