Phoebe Grant had to laugh as she looked at herself in the small bathroom mirror as she finished getting dressed. The reflection that greeted her was one that had become quite familiar over the last few weeks, but still filled her with a certain amusement all the same. What would her co-workers at the bank think if they could see her now? She was an Elf, right down to the pointed ears and the equally pointed bright green shoes.
"Well it's not the worst job I've ever had," the twenty-two year old blonde thought. She pinned up her long hair to better hide it beneath the floppy red cap, remembering the varied assortment of things she had done to make ends meet back in her school days. "Still, I don't think this is going to be a high point on my resume."
Phoebe didn't need to remind herself just how lucky she'd been to even get this part time job as she stepped out of the make-shift dressing room and headed out to the front of the store to begin her shift. As holiday jobs went, the pay wasn't bad, the hours were flexible, and the people fun to work with. A lot more than most of the employees at First National Trust where she had been employed for the last two years. Yes, it certainly was her lucky day when she happened to be passing by in front of the bakery shop just as they'd put the "Help Wanted" sign in the window.
For most of the year, the C & B Bakery was no different than a hundred other similar shops around the city. A place to buy both traditional and trendy desserts. But, for the short span between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it stood out as a little piece of the North Pole transplanted to midtown Manhattan. The home of Mrs. Claus's Cookies, it had, over the last ten years, become as much of a holiday tradition as the tree in Rockefeller Center or the Christmas show at Radio City. A winter wonderland with decorations that rivaled the best Fifth Avenue stores, it truly was a marvel to behold.
Despite the fact that it was Christmas Eve, or perhaps because of it, Phoebe found the public area of the small store even more crowded than usual. Working her way behind the counter, she took note that all three of her fellow Elves were also in today. Normally, only two of them worked at a time since they all also had other jobs. She flashed a quick smile to Sandra Kingston, the short redhead that looked like she was born to wear the costume they all shared. Sandra took a moment to acknowledge her, then went right back to wrapping the box of two dozen cookies she had just filled.
The other two Elves, Mary Pitt and Kendra Brown, were even busier and didn't even notice the new arrival until she squeezed in between them. Her fellow blonde Elf and her taller, dark skinned counterpart, looked more than relieved to have help dealing with the crush of last minute shoppers. As Phoebe took her first order of the afternoon, she noticed that Mrs. Claus herself, known the other eleven months of the year as Emma Burke had been pressed into service behind the counter as well. Normally, the owner and chief baker liked to work the crowds on the other side of the long tabletop, spreading her infectious brand of Christmas cheer.
A decade before, the idea to specialize only in Christmas cookies for one month of the year had been a risky venture for the then struggling shop. But it was one that quickly turned into a veritable gold mine for the two owners. The bakery did almost a third of its yearly business during that short span, and the good will they spread during the holiday season continued across the rest of the year. It wasn't just the cookies, good as they were, that kept bringing the crowds back year after year, it was the entire Yuletide experience. Right down to the helpful Elves and of course Mrs. Claus herself.
The next few hours passed in a pleasant blur of smiling faces, Christmas Carols echoing from the wall mounted speakers and an assortment of wondrous smells wafting from the kitchen. Still, by the time eight o'clock rolled around and the last customer had been served, Phoebe was glad the long day was finally over.
"In a way, I'm almost sorry to see the season end," Mrs. Claus said as she locked the door behind the last customer and put up the "Closed For Business" sign. "I wish it could go on another month."
The comment brought a friendly groan from Sandra and Mary, who had each put in more hours in the last week than the other two girls combined. Mrs. Claus laughed and assured them she was only kidding.
"I said almost," she broadly smiled. "Seriously, I don't know what I'd do without you girls."
The smiles now on all her helper's faces were just as warm and genuine. Their gratitude and affection toward their employer was the result of far more than the salary they received, which was worth noting, was higher than the minimum wage Phoebe had originally expected. Mrs. Claus was a lot more than just the person signing the checks. She was a friend who took a deep interest in the people who worked for her, even if just part time. All three of the other girls had worked for her the previous season, with Kendra having even worked the one before that. Kelly George, whom Phoebe had replaced when she had to quit two days into the season to take advantage of an opportunity on her regular job, had been there for three years.
Since she'd been there only a few weeks, and her short hours left her limited time for socializing, Phoebe understandably hadn't had that many chances to get to know the woman behind the "Mrs. Claus" persona. Still, in those moments when she did have the chance to talk to her, she found the white haired woman to be a kindred spirit. Some of the blanks were also filled in by her chats with the other girls. Sandra told her that she'd heard that Emma had been a widow for about five years, and Kendra confided that she'd been told by Kelly that it was because she couldn't have kids of her own that Emma loved the holidays so. Since it was all second-hand, Phoebe didn't know how accurate it all was, but it made her a little sad to think that this nice woman who gave so much of herself to others had no one to share her life with.
Having someone to share with, or even just someone to talk to, was something Phoebe really missed these days. Unfortunately, as nice as Mrs. Claus and the other girls were, she doubted they'd really understand her situation. Well, maybe they'd understand the situation, since it wasn't all that unique, but it was the particulars that might give them pause.
A little over a year before, soon after she'd gone to work at the bank, Phoebe had met the love of her life. Or at least the person she thought would be. Barbara Ann Phillips had been twenty-three, pretty and intelligent, and worked at the pharmacy down the street from the bank. More importantly, the short haired brunette had, like Phoebe, realized at an early age that her interest in her own sex far outweighed any interest in the opposite one.
A casual friendship, started awkwardly, had turned to romance soon enough. Six months after they began dating, they found a small apartment in Brooklyn and set up house together. For the slightly younger blonde, it was like a dream come true. Each day seemed better than the last, each tomorrow full of promise. That was, Phoebe sadly remembered, until the phone call eight weeks ago.
The call had been from Barbara's mother, whom Phoebe couldn't remember her lover ever even mentioning before, except to acknowledge that she was still alive and living with the rest of her family back in Connecticut. The news had been bad, one of Barbara's closest friends had died in an auto accident and her mother wanted to know if she planned to come home for the funeral.
Of course Barbara would go, Phoebe had no doubt of that. Just as certainly, she offered to go as well, to offer moral support in what she knew was a time of personal anguish for her love. They were still of an age where death was a distant concern, and even more devastating when it visited one of their contemporaries.
To her surprise, Barbara declined the offer, saying that it would be better if she went alone. Phoebe knew the woman who shared her bed well enough to note a look of concern at the prospect of her coming along. Not wanting to pry at such a painful time, she instead used her own experience to fathom a reason.
Ever since the day she had informed her own parents that they could stop trying to fix her up with what they considered suitable young men, and the reason why, Phoebe's relationship with her family had been strained to say the least. It was possible, she considered, that Barbara's parents had a similar reaction, and she didn't want to flaunt a lover in their face. Or, it also suddenly occurred to her, Barbara's parents might not even know of their daughter's sexual preference. It wasn't something that had ever come up before, and Phoebe certainly wasn't going to bring up the subject now.
So she'd settled for helping Barbara pack, and going with her to Grand Central Station to see her on her way. It was hard to see her go off alone, but she had made it clear that she would go with her if asked, even up to the point they were standing on the platform. The request had never come.
The four days that Barbara said she would be gone seemed longer than any Phoebe could remember. Sitting in the empty apartment, waiting for her lover to return, she felt even emptier than when she had been alone before meeting Barbara. How could she not be, when before, she didn't know what she'd been missing. She wasn't a virgin when they'd met, neither of them had been, but it was the first time she had ever been in love.
.... There is more of this story ...