SECRET SANTA, 1/1, [WC] [Z/D][G]

Title: Secret Santa

Contact: kelhapam@metrocast.net

Series: Wild Card

Rating: G

Part: 1/1 NEW

Date: December 2003

Disclaimer: Lifetime, etc., owns all the characters, etc. I'm just using the characters for a little fun and relaxation.

Summary: Zoe has a Secret Santa.

Email: kelhapam@metrocast.net

Note of Appreciation: To "Senior" and my hubby for beta reading efforts.

SECRET SANTA

Dec. 2003

He waited.

It was dark and it was quiet.

Everyone had left the office except him.

And he waited -- waited for the last employee to return from a last-minute assignment investigating a claim at Jenkins Family-Style Restaurant. He knew she still had one more task to complete before she could leave work and enjoy her holiday with her new family. She had to finish her timecard making note of the Jenkins' case.

So Dan Lennox sat on the floor in his darkened office, his back pressed against his file cabinet, alert for any sound which would signal her return.

He imagined what her evening would be like as he waited. Zoe Busiek would be urging her lambs to bed so St. Nicholas would be sure to visit the house. In his mind, Dan could see Zoe hustling around the house. She'd make sure all the presents were placed under the Christmas tree, including carefully tucking some of the smaller gifts onto the branches. She would also fill the stockings with various goodies and treasures, before she turned in for the night herself. He chuckled soundlessly wondering if she would get any sleep waiting for what the next day would bring -- for not only would it be sure to bring happiness but sorrow as well. It would be first Christmas the children would spend without their mother.

Dan envied her. He envied her new family complete with all the joy and troubles it brought to his partner on a daily basis. He hoped she knew how lucky she was.

Last night, he had hurried out of the office and to the mall. As expected, it was bustling with activity. People hurried at a pace to rival any Olympian. Their coats flapping open with charge cards clutched in their fists. Dan remembered feeling overwhelmed. There were so many stores and so many things to buy. Unfortunately, a lot of the items which remained on the shelves had been picked over and rejected by countless shoppers. He wondered if his idea of surprising Zoe had been a wise one, and berated himself for not thinking of it sooner when the mall wouldn't have been as crowded and the selection better.

He was just about ready to give it up as a bad idea when a throng of teenagers descended upon him. Like a tidal wave they pushed him along until finally taking a turn at the mall's large atrium, he almost fell into a small shop tucked away between two large stores, both proclaiming they had the best selection and the lowest prices.

"Anything I can do for you, young man?" an aged man's voice asked.

Dan turned at the sound of the old gentleman's voice and chuckled. "I don't know if I still qualify to called young," he joked.

"You look young compared to me," the gentleman ruffled his gray hair and winked. "Looking for anything in particular?" he asked. With one hand he motioned to his wares which consisted of a wide range of antiques.

"Oh, I don't know." Dan rubbed his hands together nervously looking around at yesterday's treasures. "Actually, I'm trying to find something special and I'm afraid I'm at a loss. The owner of the Wonders of Wisconsin kiosk store said I should purchase a cheese log, but it didn't seem quite right," Dan said laughing.

The old man grinned. "Nope, not right at all," he agreed. "Tell me about your special lady. Maybe I can help."

"I-I never said..." Dan stammered.

"No one ever goes to as much trouble as you seem to be going through for an elderly uncle," he said knowingly and slowly walked his way to the glass counter at the back of his store, Dan following in his wake. Dan raked his fingers nervously through his hair. "Well she *is* special and deserves something special for Christmas. She's vivacious, funny, and can't stop talking. She makes me laugh and other times want to shake her."

"I think I know just the thing. Now you just wait here, and I'll get her. She's out back." He threw his thumb over his shoulder at the door behind the counter.

"Her?"

The old man just smiled knowingly and disappeared though the door.

As promised, the man came back shortly. He backed his way through the door and into the store, carrying something fairly large in his arms. As he turned around, Dan could see that what the old man had brought out was a beautiful porcelain doll.

Dan was momentarily speechless. The doll wasn't a baby doll but instead represented an adult woman. She was clothed in a full skirted mint green lace dress and clutched a straw hat in her delicate hands. What really caught his attention was the doll's face and curly honey blonde hair -- she bore a striking resemblance to Zoe Busiek.

"I'll take it," Dan said softly, regaining the use of his voice.

"Thought you'd like her. Exceptional, isn't she?"

Dan could only nod as he passed the gentleman his credit card, not taking his eyes off the doll.

"May I suggest something to accompany the doll?"

Dan nodded again.

"I find it makes for a nice gift if you also include something that the person receiving the doll can wear, like a piece of jewelry. I have a number of excellent antique necklaces and bracelets." The man reached down behind the glass case the withdrew a large red velvet box. He opened it to reveal many beautiful shiny chains and pendants.

The younger man reached into the box and withdrew a fine golden chain, upon which hung a jade pendant. He looked up at the shop's owner hesitantly.

"A fine selection," the man said. Taking the necklace from Dan, he placed it around the doll's head, wrapping the chain securely a few times around the porcelain neck. "Look how well it goes with the doll's coloring and her dress."

"Add it to the charge," Dan said.

"Don't you want to know the price?" "Nope. It's perfect."

"Then at least let me throw in a gift box and wrap it for you," the old man suggested.

"Sounds good. And thanks. I don't think I could have done it without you."

The old man smiled again and rang up the charge.

The sound of the elevator door opening roused Dan from his reminiscing and he found himself holding his breath less he be discovered. Listening intently he could hear the sound of Zoe singing Jingle Bells. Her high- heeled boots slapped against the tiled floor keeping time to the song, until she stopped to open the door to her office and stepped inside. She should see the gift now, he thought. She couldn't very well miss the almost two and a half foot tall box complete with red and green wrapping paper and a large white bow which he had placed in the middle of her desk.

Dan reminded himself that he should breathe if he didn't want to pass out. Taking a deep breath he looked around his file cabinet fortress and peered though the window of his office and in through the open door of Zoe's. She was walking around her desk, carefully examining the present, looking for a gift tag that wasn't there. Finally, she pulled off the bow and carefully undid the tape from the wrapping paper.

Interesting, Dan noted, he always thought she'd be one of those wrapping- paper rippers -- like him.

The paper fell away and Zoe grasped the box and pulled it off the base. As the doll was revealed Zoe dropped the box top to the floor and lowered herself slowly down into her office chair. She seemed to be uncharacteristically at a loss for words, her hands clasped across her mouth. When she lowered her hands, Dan swore she had mouthed the words 'beautiful' and 'who did this?' She carefully fingered the necklace and the doll's dress and hair. Reaching for a box of tissues, she grabbed a handful and dabbed at her eyes and blew her nose. Then suddenly she looked away from the doll and out through her office door. Quickly he pulled himself back behind the file cabinet and out of her view.

He listened to her as she walked out of the office calling for whomever had left her the gift to show themselves. She even rapped against his own door in her search for her Secret Santa. He heard her finally give up, presumably repackage the doll, and shut her door as she left her office. Again Dan heard the sound of her footsteps, the elevator door open, and Zoe walk inside. As the elevator descended to the ground floor, Dan felt a tear of his own trickle down his cheek.

"Merry Christmas, Zoe," he said softly, his voice cracked with emotion.

Many more minutes passed before Dan rose from the floor and exited the office. Tonight had been his Christmas. Tomorrow would be just another day for him. He'd be alone, and wishing he was part of something bigger -- like a family with a loving wife, and three children. The End.