So I know I said these were going in chronological order… I decided to go alphabetically instead. So here’s today’s Christmas in July offering.
Stan Fuller juggles a full time job as an airline pilot, along with being a single father to eight year old Haley Jo. When he becomes a reluctant Father Christmas at his daughter’s school Christmas party, she stuns him and the whole school, never mind the attending press, but announcing she wants a mummy for Christmas.
Carly Jefferson is covering the party for the local paper. New to the village, she is running from a bitter adoption argument with her mother which resulted in a rift lasting several years. Haley Jo’s simple request rocks her to the core, especially when her editor wants her to run several follow up pieces on a single father at Christmas.
Not even Father Christmas can grant this request.
All Haley-Jo wants for Christmas is a Mummy…
Carly Jefferson pushed her chair away from her desk. She needed coffee and lots of it. What was it about Christmas that brought all the crazies out of the closet? She thought she’d seen the last of that when she left Cardiff for somewhere more provincial. Apparently not.
Bramley, a tiny little village in the middle of the English countryside, seemed to have as many nut jobs as anywhere else. The only thing it lacked was murders and burglaries. The most exciting things that happened around here were cheating in the bake off at the village fete, the ongoing theft of garden gnomes, and the recurrent issue of dog poop in the wrong places.
Today’s front page consisted of…well, nothing she’d written. As always her stuff was confined to page seven or page fifteen. Page seven was a thrilling article on the history of the local library. And page fifteen was what her mother called the hatched, matched, and dispatched. Or births, marriages, and death announcements.
For once she’d like a story she could get her teeth into. Something dramatic and heart rending like finding the child she gave up for adoption. That was why she’d become a reporter.
But who was she trying to kid. She stood the same chance of finding her daughter as she did repairing the shattered relationship with her mother, which was as likely as an asteroid strike. She just needed to get on with her life as it was. Single. Alone. But with a career she could be proud of. Well, kind of proud. A career, at any rate.
Carly refilled her cup and leaned against the counter. Her gaze roamed around the newsroom. Everyone sat busy at their desks, trying to make their deadlines.
She jumped as the chief editor, Marc Delfraitus, appeared beside her. Was the bloke omniscient or something? “No, just a quick coffee. My articles are both done, early as it happens, and in your inbox on your desk, and in your e-mail.”
“Good. I have another assignment for you. The primary school is having Father Christmas visit on Thursday. Take a camera. I want lots of photos and a nice write up. And see what the kids want for Christmas. Maybe we can make one of the wishes come true.”
“I don’t know. See what the kids ask for. We can’t grant everything, but see what happens on the day. The budget might run to a bike or princess dress or something. Make a note of their names and what they ask for. Or get them to write letters to the big guy in the red suit. Bring them back here, read them, and make sure you get photos of the ones we might be able to help.”
He nodded. “Start by doing some background on the school, get an interview with the head teacher, that kind of thing. We run that tomorrow and then the big article on Friday. You might even get center spread if it’s good.”
Carly’s heart leapt. “Really? Center pages?”
“It might even go to four pages. Just get the story and photos.”
She nodded, barely able to contain her excitement. “Sure.” She hurried back to her desk, feet not even touching the ground. This was big. No, more than big. This was huge, with a capital H. The school often used the paper to cover events—harvest festival services, summer fairs, and so on. If she did a good job now, then maybe the school would use her again.
Stan eased the red coat over the padding around his stomach and sighed. He looked a total prat. Never mind felt like one. He really hoped no one with a camera was going to be there. Only there would be. He’d forgotten for a moment that someone from the press was coming.
He pulled the belt tight. “OK, there are Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Cupid and Comet, Donner and Blitzen and….” He paused counting on his fingers. “I thought there were nine. That’s only eight.”
“There are nine. You forgot Rudolph.” A Welsh voice from behind him almost rang with laughter. “Some Father Christmas you’ll make if you can’t remember all your reindeer.”
He spun around to find himself face to face with a woman almost his height.
Her long dark hair hung over her shoulders, brown eyes sparkled, and her ample figure was highlighted by her red Christmas jumper, black jeans, and knee length boots.
“First day on the job,” he said holding out a hand. “I normally fly planes not sleighs. Stan Fuller.”
“Carly Jefferson.” Her touch was cool and short. Her smile showed a tiny gap between her front two teeth. “Reporter. I’m here to cover the party and your encounters with the children. All the parents have signed releases for the photos—”
“Have they?” he interrupted, knowing he’d never received a letter about this.
The reporter nodded. “Yes. Either signed by parents or guardians. Mrs. Johnson made sure of that. I’m assuming you don’t have any objections to me using your photo?”
He sighed. It didn’t look like he had a choice. “Just make sure I’m in full costume, Miss Jefferson.”
“Please, call me Carly.”
“OK, Carly. I can’t afford anyone finding out it’s me underneath this costume. Especially my daughter.”
“What’s her name?”
“Haley-Jo. She’s eight.”
Carly nodded. “I remember meeting her a couple of days ago. Really cute kid. She told me that Christmas is about Jesus, not presents.”
Stan grinned. “That’s my girl.” He pulled on the hood and the beard. “How do I look?”
“Fine. May I?” She waved the camera at him.
He nodded and, shoving down any embarrassment he felt, posed for her while she took a few photos.
Carly smiled. “Thank you. OK. I’d best get out there. Now the reindeer are?”
Stan recited them perfectly, including Rudolph, and then took a deep breath. Flying a fully laden jet liner was much easier than this. He could hear the children’s voices echoing down the hallway, screaming and calling in delight as they played party games in the hall. He hoped Haley-Jo’s princess hat had remained intact. He’d had to staple the streamers in twice before she’d left for school, and he’d only make the cone hat the previous evening.
Mrs. Johnson put her head around the door. “Are you ready?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be.” He swung the sack over his shoulder and took a deep breath.
“OK. We’ll sing ‘Jingle Bells,’ and then when we’ve finished, you ring your bell and come in.”
Stan nodded, following her down the corridor to the hall. His stomach was in turmoil and his palms were damp beneath the white gloves. He prayed for a calm voice, that Haley-Jo wouldn’t give the game away when she figured out it was him, and that he wouldn’t fall flat on his face and make a complete idiot of himself.
This was definitely the first and last time.
If he’d wanted to be an actor, he’d have gone to stage school.
Sixty voices in unison started singing, and despite himself, Stan found himself humming along. Then, as they paused, he rang his bell and entered the hall to squeals of delight.
Mrs. Johnson led him to a throne set on the stage. “Look who’s here, children,” she said.
Stan smiled below the beard, praying it wasn’t going to fall off. “Hello, boys and girls.”
“Hello, Father Christmas,” they all chorused back.
“Are you having a fun party?”
He did a couple of “ho, ho, ho’s” and got the children to guess the names of his reindeer, who were currently up on the roof of the school. Then in dribs and drabs the children came up to receive a wrapped gift. Some were so shy he could barely hear their names, while others, bolder, sat on his lap and gave him a long list of what they wanted.
Finally, Haley-Jo reached the head of the queue. She looked at him, recognition dancing in her eyes. She climbed onto his lap.
“And what’s your name, little girl?” Stan asked, praying she’d keep his cover.
“Haley-Jo Fuller, with a hyphen,” she said. “I use both names, not just Haley.”
Stan nodded. “And what would you like for Christmas?” he asked.
Carly knelt in front of the stage. She snapped several pictures, the recorder taking notes for her.
Haley-Jo looked him in the eye. “I only want one thing for Christmas,” she said in a loud voice, clear enough for the whole hall to hear her.
“Just one?” he asked, slightly worried as to what she was about to come out with. She’d been so adamant about not telling him. “Everyone else had a whole list.”
“All I want for Christmas is a mummy.”
Stan looked at her stunned. “A mummy?” he managed.
Haley-Jo nodded. “I don’t have one. And I think it’d be good for Daddy to have someone to help look after me as he works so hard all the time. Don’t you? And I know he misses Mummy and doesn’t like being alone because he’s sad a lot.”
Stan nodded, dumbfounded. “A mummy is a tall order, but I’ll see what I can do.”