"You are going to get yourself arrested," his companion shrieked in a shrill-like voice. "You are just mad."
Mike smiled at his friend and shrugged. "I am not mad. It's Christmas. Where's your Christmas spirit? She'll thank me. Well maybe she won't, but she would if she could and knew it was me."
Rose shook her head and took her glass of wine from the table, looking up at her corybantic friend; even by his standards, his planned night-time delivery for the girl next door was simply a ridiculous idea. "How are you going to get in?"
Mike looked around the room, as if he was expecting a foreign spy to be eavesdropping on his conversation before turning back to his best friend, and flat-mate, Rose and spoke in a low voice. "You know when she went away and asked you to look after the fish?"
"Oh my God," Rose immediately replied, her eyes fizzing. "Don't tell me that—"
"Yes, I did," Mike said interrupting. "The 5 minute key cutting place down the road. And it is just perfect. I know she wants them and it'll be cool."
"Something to tell the grandkids, eh?" Mike blushed, his affection towards his Scottish neighbour, Heather, was a constant target for his friend's mocking. He spluttered and stammered, and Rose continued. "Because if she sees you are going to jail, she is going to freak out, she will think you are a rapist or a burglar and I ain't bailing you out." Rose looked at the clock for dramatic effect. "As it is now Christmas Day. I ain't spending my Christmas at the Cop Shop."
Mike stared at the clock and got up, dressed in his newly acquired Santa costume, and picked up a poorly wrapped present from the table. "And another thing," she continued. "Elves can wrap presents."
"Well this one can't," Mike snapped. "I'm Santa, I don't have the practice at doing elf-work. If it that bad you should have done it. And anyway I've had a few too many shots of my Santa juice."
Rose snorted, glanced at the half-empty bottle of finest Scotch and sighed. "I would have helped you if you wanted to go round with it next door and be honest with her on Christmas Day."
Mike snorted in return and she watched as her friend left the confines of the room, their flat and headed across the hall to the abode of Heather, the well-endowed and very popular resident in their apartment block. She wanted to wish him "luck" but ever since he had mentioned it as they settled down to watch Christmas Eve television she had being doing her best to disabuse him of the notion that his plan was a good idea.
She knew she would fail; Mike was as stubborn as they came, and thought that by leaving an anonymous present at the foot of the bed of the woman he admired, but was too embarrassed to ask on a date, would some endear him to the said woman. She knew that this was a ridiculous proposition but he just wouldn't listen. Instead, she waited for the scream, Mike was never quiet when he had had a few whiskies and she guessed he would wake her up and she would be terrified.
Mike looked out of the flat and tiptoed across the landing, quietly removing the key from his pocket and sliding it into the lock. He winced as the door creaked open, unrestricted by the door chain that lay limp by the side of the door: Heather was careless, anyone could have broken in.
He gently closed the door, and tiptoed down the corridor, his heart beating furiously. He heard everything, even the steps he made on the carpet, as being incredibly loud and waited for the inevitable sound of screaming and shouting.
Instead, there was nothing, no television or radio, no sleeping or snoring, absolutely nothing and Mike stopped outside the bedroom door that was ajar. He could make out a sleeping body on the bed, wrapped up in the thick duvet and just a chink of light in the room. He twisted his body around the door, the cheap felt of the Santa costume rubbing against the hairs on his leg uncomfortably.
Mike felt butterflies in his stomach and quietly put the parcel on the padded ottoman at the foot of the double bed that occupied most of the room, and then quietly slipped back past the door. He knew if he moved it, it would creak and he silently tiptoed back down the hall and locked the front door behind him.
"Piece of cake," Mike said as he sauntered in triumphantly. "Don't know why Santa has so many problems, I could do it no problem," he boasted and Rose groaned. In her heart of hearts she was glad she was not down the Police Station explaining that her friend was just a misguided, shy man who fancied the neighbour after being arrested, but just knew that little good could come out of Mike breaking into his neighbour's flat, no matter how well intentioned he was.
Christmas morning brought a small pile of presents for both of them; Mike had been generous, his seasonal bonus had been usually high and Rose opened a new laptop, eBook reader, bottles of expensive perfume and a new tennis racket while Rose had supplied him with two new games for his console. "That doesn't mean you get the television all week," she warned as she disappeared to put the small turkey in the oven.
"I can have it this evening," Mike replied, knowing that after lunch Rose would disappear and see her sister's family. Rose smiled, she felt a little bad about leaving him as they had spent Christmas together every year for five years but her sister had invited her to spend some time with her niece and nephew and she couldn't refuse.
Mike didn't mind, he was steadfastly refusing to even speak to his family, and while he would have liked to have Rose keep him company, he had the regulars at the Hare and Hounds, as well as two new games to occupy him.
Rose cooked a wonderful turkey that was moist and succulent and accompanied with Brussel sprouts, carrots, potatoes, parsnips and sausages wrapped in bacon that his Yorkshire friend called "Pigs in Blankets".
As Rose was driving she let Mike drink most of the wine, and he ushered her out of the flat after she finished her meal and he had beat her at the obligatory Christmas Trivial Pursuit. She was somewhat relieved to see that there was no Police cordon around Heather's flat, but then what could the Primary School teacher actually report – someone had been into her flat dressed in a Santa costume and left an extremely expensive gift as a present. They lock people up for thinking things like that!
That said, Rose still knew the seriousness of Mike's "crime" and had wished she had not been too drunk to talk him out of it the previous day. One day, he was going to get himself into serious trouble, and as his best friend it would come down to her to sort it out for him; he still refused to talk to his family, the stubborn and obstinate bastard that he was and she worried about him.
Heather watched as Rose left the flat from her window. She hadn't travelled up to Scotland to be with her family as they had gone to New Zealand for the festive period to see her other sister, and Heather had not been able to afford the air fare. Instead she intended to treat it as any other day, resisting the inevitable invites from most of the school teaching staff to join them and their family as they "always have too much turkey" and didn't want her to "be lonely on Christmas Day."
Her plans had changed as she returned from the shower when she spotted a red present on the padded cushion at the foot of her bed. She scowled at it, slightly perplexed – she certainly hadn't left it there when she went to bed and didn't remember seeing it before. Drying her hair as she walked into her sitting room and counted her presents under her tiny Norwegian fir tree she had purchased the week before in the pre-Christmas sale. Ten from school teachers, four from pupils, one from her sister, one from her parents and one from Rose and Mike next door. So where did this new one come from, and why was it addressed from "Santa."
Heather wrapped herself in her large beach towel and turned it over. It was definitely for her, addressed to "Heather. You have been on my nice list all year. Have a good Christmas. Love, Santa."
What the hell was going on? Santa didn't exist any more than the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy, how come the present was there. Heather stared at her gas fire and then shook herself out of her trance, there was no way anyone could have fit through that, and anyway it wasn't connected to a chimney.
Instead, Heather wandered around her house and checked the doors and windows – they were all locked and fastened securely, even the dodgy window in the kitchen. Added to the fact that she was on the second floor, Heather was certain that no-one had entered her flat from any other method other than the front door and returned to the red parcel.
So could this be a bomb? It wasn't ticking and it felt reasonably light – certainly heavy enough for some explosive to blow up her flat but nothing more, but who would want to blow up a primary school teacher in her mid-20s?
Instead Heather slowly peeked through a gap in the fold of the wrapping paper, it was dark and she tentatively peeled it back. There was no explosion or sound and Heather tore off the paper to reveal a piece of black fabric on top of a small box.
Scowling and unsure, even more, Heather took the black thin fabric and unfurled it, before gasping – it was a designer dress decorated with crystals and almost certainly worth hundreds of pounds. So what just was it doing in her flat addressed to her?
Holding the garment up to the mirror and placing it over her front, she forgot about the box it sat on and as she slipped herself into the gorgeous outfit glanced over at the colourful container, biting her lip. The box contained the make of shoes she was saving up to get, and at over one hundred pounds was sheer extravagance, but it was the right manufacturer, was it the right shoes? Heather zipped up the side of the dress and smoothed herself down; it fit perfectly and sat down on the bed to have a look at the footwear.
Santa, or the mystery present giver, knew her size and opened the box to find a pair of opulent shoes, with a clear heel and diamond-like decorations subtly over the strap, which were just the ones she wanted. They looked divine on her and she cooed at herself in the mirror, it had been a pipe-dream to own such shoes, her teaching salary rarely went far, but she looked stunning in them and smiled at her reflection.
The question still remained, who had bought them and looking up and down at herself began to think. It was not Santa, clearly. There were a couple of her friends at school knew she was saving up to buy the shoes and they could easily have copied her keys when she put them in her desk drawer once lunchtime, but their salary scarcely went any further than hers, and they had no reason to spend that sort of money on her.
Of course, her ex-boyfriend knew she wanted them but there was no way he would have spent a tenner on her, let alone three hundred pounds; they had parted on bad terms when they had discovered they were incompatible during a quiet night-in. That left just two candidates, her parents in New Zealand or her neighbour who had bumped into her in the High Street four weeks previous as she admired the shoes in the window.
It made a degree of sense, their landlord was what was known as a "tight-arse" and would have happily put the same lock in every flat if it would have saved him a bob or two. Not that identifying the probable person behind her Santa visit would have helped her identify a motive; Mike was a nice guy but had not shown any interest in her.
Heather didn't want to take the dress or shoes off and opened the rest of her presents without putting on any underwear or removing a single item. She kept smoothing herself down enjoying the feel of the thin material against her skin, it was so smooth and luxurious. She felt like a princess.
As she washed up from her dinner, she saw Rose go out and decided that if Mike was in he would have to explain himself. The remaining presents were worth no more than fifty pounds, but Mike had almost certainly spent several times this on her; why and what did he want in return?
Mike's eyes widened as he opened the door and Heather stood there, dressed in the beautiful dress that hugged her body and shoes that tightened her calves and added four inches to the five foot seven inch woman. She brought her hand up and slapped it across his face as hard as she could, he had broke into her flat while she had been asleep, and that had made her angry. Mike recoiled instantly, calling out in pain and awaiting an explanation for the slap.
He looked into her eyes and knew she already knew. "Rose told you," Mike said despondently.
"That," Heather said firmly, her eyes sparkling. "That is breaking into my flat."
Heather jabbed him in the chest and waited for Mike to mutter an apology. She grabbed hold of his faded shirt and pulled him towards her. Mike sensed and prepared for another hit, maybe a knee in the genitals or another hit across his face, and closed his eyes, waiting for the pain. Instead Heather leant forward and kissed him on the lips. "That," she explained as they separated from the kiss. "That is for the presents. Thank you."
Mike breathed a sigh of relief and invited his neighbour into the flat. She looked at the abandoned Santa outfit on the side and looked at him, slightly worried. "In case you saw me," he said and Heather forced a smile.
"I don't get why?"
Mike bit his lip and pursed them together, blushing and rubbing his nose. "You said you wanted the shoes and I thought the dress would suit them."
Heather nodded and then stared at him, there was something he wasn't telling her and she picked up her phone from her handbag. "I'll ring Rose, tell me the truth. Tell me why?"
Mike took a deep breath. "Well I thought you would look good in them." Heather shook her head and took the phone from her hand. Mike spluttered in embarrassment and fear. "Don't ring her. Please. Come in and I will tell."
Heather folded her arms and shook her head. "No, I am not sure I trust you after you broke into my flat. Now tell."
Mike bit his lip and, with his hands shaking, blubbered an explanation. "I like you."
Heather's lips curled into a smile and she pursed them together, not wanting to show that she liked his admission. However, he had broke into her flat, and she snapped back in an annoyed tone. "You like me? So you break into my flat? Seriously, why couldn't you have just given the present to me over a glass of wine?"
Mike spluttered, he wanted Heather to wake up and see it, genuinely believe that Santa could have delivered the present to her. He wanted it to be special but Heather's eyes made him think that she wouldn't believe him. "I don't know," he muttered sheepishly with a Gallic shrug. "I had a copy of your key so I thought you might like to be surprised."
Heather took a deep breath and looked at his tired face and sniffed, holding out her hand. "My key please." Mike pulled out the key from his pocket and put into the palm of her hand, watching as she curled her fingers around it.
"Don't break into my flat again," she warned him and looked at him in the face. "And now I need to work out what I do about you abuse of trust. At school we have time out, I think you are a bit big for that." Mike sniffed and Heather glared at him. "I'll be back," she told him and he watched as Heather returned to her flat to ponder her next move.
She did feel a bit guilty at shouting at him, but he had broken into her flat and even entered her bedroom, she didn't feel that happy about the idea of her neighbour who "likes" her doing such a thing. Mike was nice enough, a bit of an oddball at times, but certainly nice enough. Rose had told her of some of the things he had done at University over a cup of tea one Saturday morning and she had laughed at some of his antics, but breaking into a single woman's flat was just too much.
There was another reason for Heather's reticence in that she had secrets she didn't want exposing to anyone; she certainly didn't want the Police to treat her bedroom as a crime scene and peer inside the wardrobes. Heather knew exactly what they would find and it would lead to awkward questions about her choice of sexual paraphernalia.
Being exposed for what her true urges and kinks were would have the tongues working overdrive in the school playground and she could easily imagine being hounded out of the school she loved to work in. Her colleagues and parents were tolerant but they were not overly open-minded and as she worked in a very conservative environment, her secrets must remain so. Therefore, there would be no police involvement.