“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Abigail asked her widowed sister. “You remember what happened last year when you took Clara to see Santa.”
The mall Santa had been brusque. He had not given Michelle’s daughter the attention she needed.
“I do, but Clara insisted. She has something special she wants for Christmas, and she’ll only tell Santa what it is.”
The two sisters drove to the mall where Michelle worked in a women’s clothing store. They waited with Clara in line at Santa’s Village. Nearly an hour passed before they reached the front of the line. Michelle paid an elf for a photograph, and then it was Clara’s turn.
Michelle lifted her daughter onto Santa’s lap.
Though the children visiting Santa might not have realized it, Michelle knew the man in the costume was not as large or as old as he appeared.
“Ho-ho-ho!” Santa bellowed. “And what would you like for Christmas little girl?”
“She can’t hear you,” Michelle said. “My daughter is deaf.”
Santa peeled off his white gloves, caught the little girl’s attention, and spoke to her in sign language.
Clara’s face brightened, and she responded with a flurry of fingers and hand gestures. Clara had her back to Michelle, so Michelle did not know what her daughter told Santa.
“Ready?” Santa’s elf asked.
Santa turned Clara to face the camera. Michelle saw the grin on her daughter’s face as the elf snapped the picture. Clara’s reaction to her visit with Santa was a vast improvement over her experience the previous year.
As Clara slid from Santa’s lap, Michelle asked him, “What does my daughter want for Christmas?”
“She didn’t ask anything for herself,” he said. “She said you’ve been sad since her father passed away. She just wants you to be happy.”
Michelle glanced at her daughter and then said, “Thank you, Santa.”
After the elf handed her the photograph, Michelle led her sister and daughter to the food court for hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls, and they were lucky to find an open table.
With only a week until Christmas, the food court was just as crowded when Michelle took her lunch break the following day. She was half-finished with her lunch when a clean-cut man with an athlete’s build stopped before her table. He carried a salad and an iced tea.
She was wearing her nametag from the clothing store and the stranger squinted his sky-blue eyes to read it.
“Hi, Michelle,” he said. His voice seemed familiar. “My name is John Stephens. May I join you?”
Surprised, Michelle glanced around. The mall was crowded with shoppers, and there were no empty tables. “Sure. Why not?”
He settled into the chair on the far side of the table.
“I’ve seen you before,” he said. “You work in the mall, don’t you?”
“I do,” she said. He wasn’t wearing a nametag. “Do you?”
“Not for long,” John said. “I’m seasonal. Christmas Eve is my last day.”
“Not really,” John said. “I start a new job in January.”
They talked until Michelle had to return to work. That evening, she told her sister about their conversation.
“Do you know which store he works in?”
“He never said.”
“Well, I hope you run into him again,” Abigail said, “because your eyes sparkle when you talk about him.”
Michelle saw John in the food court the next day and motioned for him to join her. They met again the day after that and the day after that.
Two days before Christmas, Michelle told her sister she was worried that she would never see John again. “His last day is Christmas Eve. I don’t know what he’ll do for Christmas. He’s single and he doesn’t know anyone in town.”
“Invite him to Christmas dinner,” Abigail insisted. “It’s just going to be the three of us, and I bought a ham big enough to feed an army.”
Christmas Eve, Michelle did just that. She told John about her sister and her daughter, but did not mention that Clara was deaf.
The next afternoon, John rang the doorbell. Inside the house a light flashed, alerting Clara. She ran to the door and opened it.
Before Abigail or Michelle could greet their guest, his fingers and hands began a flurry of movement. Clara responded in kind.
When Michelle reached the door, her daughter spun around.
“Mommy,” Clara signed to her mother. “It’s Santa!”
Only then did Michelle realize how she knew the handsome man on her porch.
“My oldest sister is deaf,” he explained, “so I was using sign language before I even learned to talk.”
Michelle smiled at John and felt his answering smile wrap her in its yuletide warmth. She was happier than she had been in a long time, and she knew that Santa had made her daughter’s Christmas wish come true.
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