A/N: Okay, so this is my holiday gift to all my readers. It's completely fun and fluffy, so enjoy! Happy Holidays and have a safe and healthy New Year! (Don't worry, I will be posting throughout the next week.)

Charlynn

Santa's Little Helper – A One Shot

It was the exactly five days before Christmas, and here Ryan Atwood was in the mall, in a giant toy store waiting in a ridiculously long line with his little brother to see Santa early Monday morning instead of sleeping in and enjoying his first day of winter break. Sandy and Kirsten had both begged off taking Cameron, because they said they were swamped at the office and neither of them could get away. He had a feeling their lack of enthusiasm to visit 'The North Pole' was due more to the fact that the shrieks and cries coming from the hundreds of children in the store were migraine inducing and not their work ethic. At least their excuse was better than Seth's though. He had been home for almost a week already at that point, his winter break starting before Ryan's, but he complained that there was just too much left to do to prepare for Chrismukkah that his time could be spared to take his little brother to see Santa. Rather than dealing with his whining and protests of unfair treatment, Ryan had simply volunteered to take Cameron himself knowing he would end up doing it anyway. So, while he tried to block out all sound and still keep a watchful eye on a very curious four year old, Seth got to sleep in and Sandy and Kirsten avoided the chaos that was the Cohen household during the holidays and went to their quiet, stress free offices.

As time slipped by, valuable seconds, minutes, and hours that could have been put to good use brooding in the poolhouse, they slowly moved their way forward in the line. Ryan held Cameron's pudgy, slightly sticky, little hand in his the entire time. Looking down at the adorable kid, he had to smile. Spending time with him wasn't as bad as he made it out to sound sometimes. In fact, out of everyone in the family, he enjoyed spending time with Cameron the most, because he didn't care if neither of them talked for long stretches of time. Although they were not biologically related, they were more alike than Cameron and Seth were. He even had Kirsten's blonde hair and blue eyes, so he, to some extent, resembled Ryan.

Nearing the front of the line, Ryan couldn't help but cast his eyes across the elaborate set that stood in for Santa's workshop; the future architect in him, at least, found that part of their trip interesting. As he was glancing across the red, green, silver, and gold glittering structure, he found himself drawn over and over again to the same elf. He didn't know why he felt so compelled to watch her, to admire her beauty for he saw many gorgeous girls every day. There was just something indescribable about her that took his breath away.

Sure, she was exquisite, her long sun kissed, California blonde hair was thick and lustrous down her back, her skin gently tanned, clear, smooth, and he could just tell it was butter soft, her lips full and plump, the perfect size to kiss and taste at leisure all day and all night long, and her sleek, lean body had just the right amount of curves in all the desirable places, but the thing he found most attractive about her were her eyes. Whenever she laughed or smiled, they would light up, dazzling and shining at the person who she was bestowing the warmth of her personality on. Unlike most of the elves, she seemed to enjoy her job and the interaction with the children. How, Ryan had no idea, for he could not handle her job day in and day out for a whole holiday season and remain as gracious and caring as she appeared to be. Breaking him out of his trance, a small, insistent tug pulled on his hand.

"Hey, what is it, buddy," he asked looking down at his little brother whose eyes were wide with fright.

"You're coming up there with me, right, Ryan?"

"Sorry, Cam," Ryan responded, commiserating with the small boy. He had never been a fan of meeting or speaking with strangers. Hell, he still wasn't overly comfortable with it. "But I'll be waiting for you on the other side, so, as soon as you're done, we can leave, and I'll take you lunch anywhere you choose."

Nervously, he glanced up at his older brother, the trust and love evident in his eyes. "You promise?"

"Of course," Ryan answered, ruffling his hair to lighten the moment. With that, they both went back to being silent, and Cameron stuck his tiny thumb into his mouth, another sure sign that he was anxious for what was to come. Kirsten had pretty much broken him of the habit, but, when he was sleeping or afraid of something, unconsciously, as if looking for security, the thumb would pop right back in between his thin, pink lips. They were supposed to reprimand him, insisting that it was a nasty habit that only babies had. Ryan, though, couldn't do that to him. In his mind, he was still a little boy, and if sucking his thumb offered him comfort, than so be it.

By the time it was their turn, Ryan could feel his brother pulling back on his hand slightly as if he wanted to leave the store, and he realized their hours of waiting in line might be in vain if he couldn't convince Cameron to sit on Santa's lap, tell him what he wanted for Christmas, and have his picture taken for the fireplace mantle. However, before he could say anything, one of the elves appeared by their side, smiling kindly at the four year old boy, and kneeling down to talk with him, the elf that had so captured his attention.

"Are you ready to see Santa," she asked Cameron. Immediately, Ryan was attracted to her voice. It was deeper for a woman's and slightly raspy, and, before he knew it, he was imagining just how deep it would get post-orgasm. Flushing bright red, he silently yelled at himself for having such thoughts in the middle of a wholesome, children's toy store. Sometimes though, with the right object of infatuation, he realized that you just can't help yourself. Shaking himself out of his lust induced stupor, he realized Cameron had not answered her. "What's your name," she tried again, trying to make him feel comfortable.

Signaling for her to lean in closer, he whispered, "Cameron Chase Cohen."

"Oh, triple C's," she teased him, making the boy giggle, "that's quite the name! What if I call you Trip? These pointy shoes make it hard for me to remember such a big name."

Ryan couldn't believe how Cameron instantly felt comfortable with her. While he continued to laugh, he pondered out loud, "are you really an elf?"

"Well," the charming woman replied, "we prefer to be called Santa's Little Helpers. Speaking of which, what do you say to the idea of me helping you up to Santa's chair so you can talk to him and have your picture taken, and then, when you're done, I'll even walk you back down to your Dad."

Before Ryan could say anything, Cameron spoke up. "Ryan, he's not my Dad. He's my big brother."

"Okay then, Trip, I'll take you back down to your brother when you're finished. Are you ready," she asked him, holding out her hand, but, instead of taking it, Cameron put his arms out insinuating that he wanted her to carry him. Chuckling, she obliged, mockingly moaning as she stood up that he was too heavy. As Ryan stood there mesmerized, he watched them talk back and forth as she carried him to the toy store Santa, and he knew that he needed to know more about her, that he needed to see her again. How exactly he was going to do that though, he had no idea.

"Alright, now let's go over this one last time, Ryan instructed his little brother late Tuesday morning as they stood in line at the toy store once again. "Tell me exactly what you're going to ask her when you talk to her." Cameron merely shook his head no. "What, why not?"

"Ryan," the younger boy complained, "I know what I'm supposed to do. I'm not Seth."

"That's a very good point, buddy," Ryan agreed laughing. "But what's most important is that you don't tell her I told you to ask her those things. Can you remember that?"

Giving him the thumb's up sign, Cameron responded, "piece of cake!"

So, just like the day before, they waited patiently in line, but, this time, it was Ryan who had insisted they be there, and Cameron couldn't wait to see Santa's Little Helper again. By the time it was his turn, she didn't even have to approach them. Instead, the little boy ran off to meet her, jumping into her arms and immediately talking her ear off. It amazed Ryan that his shy, quiet brother felt so at ease with a woman, who, up to the day before, had been a stranger. He couldn't help but laugh when he had to be pressed into sitting and posing with Santa when all he really wanted to do was talk to the woman who had so captivated Ryan the day before. Though he was anxious to learn the information Cameron had gathered for him, Ryan could have watched the two of them interact all day. They were perfect together; she was perfect with him.

Walking out of the store five minutes later, hand in hand, Ryan eagerly questioned the candy cane amused child beside him. "Alright, so tell me everything. What did she say?"

"Lots of stuff," Cameron answered him preoccupied with his red and white striped sweet.

"What's her name," Ryan pressed.

"Marissa."

"And how old is she?"

"I don't know." Confused slightly, the precocious tot stopped eating and looked up at his older brother. "She said something about how a lady never reveals her age, whatever that means, but I know that she's in college. She wants to be a pediwician or something weird like that."

"Pediatrician," Ryan corrected, amused by his brother's under-developed speaking capabilities.

"Yeah," the little boy agreed brightly. "It's a doctor just for kids, so she could be my doctor but not yours." With that, he stuck his tongue out at Ryan, pleased with himself.

Under his breath, Ryan replied, "it's not like I would want her to be my doctor. That'd be a little embarrassing."

"Whatcha say, Ryan?"

"Nothing," he dismissed, embarrassed. "Did you find out if she has a boyfriend?"

"She said no," Cameron revealed, "but that I was pretty cute, so I should look her up in a few years."

Ryan had to laugh at the comment. The more he learned about his mystery girl…Marissa…the more he liked her. "You did good, buddy, you did good," he praised his little brother. "Now, as I promised for your reward, let's go get Seth out of bed and throw him in the pool."

Chuckling, hands linked together, they made their way back to the car, both boys enjoying their bonding time together.

For the rest of the week, they continued their routine. Ryan and Cameron would get up early every morning, go to the toy store where they would wait in line until Cameron could talk and get information for Ryan from Marissa, and then, for his reward, they would do something together, whether it was going to the beach, go-cart riding, or to the movies. Sandy and Kirsten didn't ask questions, because, not only did they like the idea of two of their sons spending so much time together, but it was also free childcare, and they didn't have to worry about a babysitter that week. Seth, however, was a different story. He was quite curious as to what they were up to, and pushed and pushed Cameron until he finally revealed that they went to see Santa's Little Helper everyday. This got his attention quickly, and, no matter what Ryan would do, it held it. So, on the last day the toy store would have 'The North Pole' on exhibit, he had demanded that he be taken along, even going so far as getting up early without a single complaint.

Waiting in line for Cameron's turn, Ryan ignored his two brothers as they bickered back and forth, Seth picking on Cameron and making him fight back. Instead of listening to them, he thought back over the various things he had learned about Marissa through the questions he had pressed Cameron into asking her. She was originally from Riverside, worked in Newport because of the work opportunities, and went to school at UCLA. Surprisingly a tomboy, she enjoyed sports more than shopping, preferring to go surfing, something he knew Sandy would love about her, golfing, or to the beach to play volleyball in her spare time instead of clamoring around the cavernous high end retail malls in the area. The one thing that stunned him the most about her though was the fact that she enjoyed sewing. It was something, she had told Cameron, that her grandmother had taught her when she was a little girl before she had passed away. As he learned more about her, it became apparent that she was one of a kind and completely different than any woman he had ever met before. Ryan found that trait in her intriguing.

"Aw, this is boring me," Seth whined, breaking into Ryan's revelry as he referred to the game of Rock, Paper, Scissors that he had been playing with Cameron for several minutes, making up new rules continually as they went along. "I want to see this girl that Ryan has a crush on."

"Seth, it's not a crush," Ryan corrected, bristling at the sentimental, juvenile term. "She's just….I….we're not talking about this."

"No problem man," Seth responded, clapping him on the back. "Cameron will help me out. So," he continued, leaning down to gather information from his younger brother, "which one of Santa's Little Helpers is this Marissa chick."

"She's not a chick, Seth; she's an elf."

"Right," Seth agreed, rambling as he followed the finger Cameron used to point out Ryan's infatuation and his new friend, "pointy ears, weird, freaky, nightmare inducing shoes, glitter on the cheeks…..and the longest freaking legs I've ever seen! Dude," he elbowed Ryan with a smirk, "she's not so little. Hell," he exclaimed, "she's probably as tall as you are, and, if you put heals on her, you'll have to start buying elevated boots just to be at her eye level. Not to mention her other assets are not too tiny either, definitely perky and just the right size…."

His voice trailed off as Cameron interrupted him. "What are assets? Are you talking about her butt, Seth?"

"Nope, but that's nice, too, very firm and round," Seth answered him, ignoring Ryan's glare. "What I was talking about were her," he pointed to his chest so as not to get in trouble with his scowling brother, but his actions resulted in a punch to the arm anyway.

"You're a jerk! You don't talk like that to a four year old," Ryan chastised Seth, his eyes flickering with anger. "Why don't you just go and look around," he suggested. "There were some plastic horses on display by the doors where we came in."

"Ryan, my man, Oats would get jealous if I got him a roommate. He's very possessive of his stable. However, now that you mention the toys, I wonder if they have any new action figures I could add to my collection." As he wandered off, he kept talking to himself, his voice carrying back to the two remaining brothers who could only shake their heads in disbelief.

"Are you ready, Cam," Ryan queried, smiling down at the younger boy beside him. "Today's the big day. If we don't pull this off, we'll probably never see her again. Not to put any pressure on you or anything…." All the nervous child could do was shake his shoulders in uncertainty. "You'll be great," Ryan assured him. And with that, it was, for the fifth time that week, Cameron's turn to see Santa.

"I had a feeling I might see you again," Marissa greeted the little boy, holding out her hand for a high five which he laughing accepted. "So, is the fifth time the charm?" As she went to lead him to Santa's chair, Cameron's little hand held her back and stopped her. At that point, according to their plan, Ryan had already moved to the other side of the set where he was to pick him up when he was finished.

"Could we just talk," the little boy asked with a charming smile on his face that he learned from his more debonair older brother. "I like you better than Santa, and it smells bad when he talks."

"I've noticed that, too," Marissa laughed, motioning towards her co-worker in the red suit that she would take care of their latest client while another elf was to help the next in line. "So, what did you want to talk about today, Trip?"

"I wanted to know what you wanted for Christmas so I could get you a present."

"Oh, honey," Marissa gushed, hugging him softly, "you don't have to get me anything."

Not willing to give up, Cameron pushed on. "Okay, but I still want to know what you want for Christmas."

"Well…," Marissa revealed, leading the small boy to the side of the stage and sitting down with him, "I'd like to spend Christmas with someone. My Dad doesn't live around here anymore, my Mom passed away a couple of years ago, and my little sister decided she'd rather go on vacation during her winter break than come to see me, so I'm all alone."

"That's boring," Cameron pronounced, wrinkling up his nose. "Don't you want something fun like a puppy or a dirt bike or a new video game?"

"Not really. I just want to do the things that I miss from when I was a little girl, like baking cookies or sitting around a fireplace drinking eggnog and singing carols." Giggling at his perplexed expression, she said, "I'm really not making sense to you, am I?"

Jumping up from his seat, he shook his head. "Nope, but that's okay. Adults always say crazy stuff like that. But here," he handed her an invitation, "we want you to come to our party tonight."

"Who's we?"

"Me and Ryan."

"Oh, so your brother asked you to give me this," Marissa realized, grinning and turning to look at the man who was trying to appear as if he didn't care what the little boy and the beautiful woman were discussing but failing terribly. "Tell your brother…Ryan," she continued, "it's kind of last minute, because the party is tonight, but I'll see what I can do." Smiling, Cameron went to walk away, but her voice calling him back over to her stopped him. "Can you tell him one more thing for me?"

"Sure."

"Tell him that I would have said yes on Monday if he would have asked me then." With that, she sent him on his way, offering Ryan a small wave and a smile as she laughed, standing up to go back to work. Her mirth just continued and got louder when she saw him adorably redden out of embarrassment.

"I thought you invited me here as your guest for the party," Marissa questioned Ryan as he led her past the socializing guests in the backyard and into the poolhouse. She had arrived ten minutes earlier, and after greeting and hugging Cameron, being introduced to Sandy and Kirsten, and having Seth harass her about her elf costume, they had finally escaped his family. Unfortunately, because she knew nothing about him, things were still quite awkward between them. His hands were shoved deeply into the front pockets of his dress pants, balled into fists, and hers were laced tightly behind her back, and, as they walked together, both made sure there was a respectable amount of space between them not wanting to make the other one uncomfortable.

"Well yeah," Ryan finally answered, turning to look at her briefly before pushing the poolhouse doors open, "but I really don't these type of things…parties, especially with people like those…."

"Fake people," Marissa clarified for him. They shared a smile as they realized they had been thinking the same thing. "So, I thought, if it's okay with you," Ryan explained, "that we would do something else until everyone left. Afterwards, we're all supposed to gather in the living room for dessert and the lighting of the Hanukkah candles. Cameron made me swear upon all his presents that we'd join them."

Confused, Marissa asked, "you're Jewish? But…why did Cameron come that first day to have his picture taken with Santa, and why are there Christmas trees all over your house?"

"We celebrate both," he shrugged with his response. "Sandy's Jewish and Kirsten is a gentile as Seth puts it."

"Boy, it's always interesting around your family, isn't it?"

"Unfortunately, yes," Ryan agreed with, exaggerating his facial expression into one of mock annoyance. He was rewarded with a large smile and a small, quiet laugh from Marissa. "So, with that out of the way, are you ready?"

"Ready for what," she pondered out loud, looking around the room and suddenly self-conscious of the fact that they were standing alone in what was apparently Ryan's bedroom.

"To bake cookies," he answered, making his way to the kitchen as she followed, bemused and delighted by his plans at the same time. Seeing her bewildered expression, he continued. "There was an ulterior motive for Cameron asking you what you wanted for Christmas. Now, I might not be that talented in the kitchen, but I'm capable of following directions, and you've made cookies before, so we should be in good shape."

"What about my dress," she exclaimed, indicating the simple, strapless emerald green, tea length cocktail dress she was wearing. "I'm not a big fan of parties either, but I can't afford to ruin one of my only nice dresses."

"It is a really nice dress," Ryan agreed with her, rewarding himself with a long, greedy glance at her figure, "so that's why I have this for you to wear over it." Handing her a long, Christmas themed apron he had borrowed from Kirsten, he leaned in and slipped it over her neck, the slight graze of his hands against her bare shoulders the first intimate contact they had shared. It felt amazing, and her skin was even softer than he had dreamed about….many times….during the past week.

Indicating her own apron, she asked Ryan, "where's yours?"

"Oh no, that's fine, I don't care if I get anything on my shirt. It can be washed."

"But that's not fair. If I have to wear one, than so should you," Marissa continued to taunt him.

"I have a better idea," Ryan responded, immediately unbuttoning his shirt.

"Whoa," she called out quickly, holding up her hands in front of her eyes, "that's enough. Stop right there. This isn't even our first date. It's a….meet and greet."

"This IS our first date," Ryan insisted as he proceeded to take off his cobalt blue dress shirt, revealing his signature wife beater. "See, I'm still covered."

"Ryan," Marissa said emphatically, "I know nothing about you."

"And we're going to be here for several hours baking cookies," he replied. "So, while we're working, you can ask me anything you want."

"Anything…."

Correcting her, he shook his head. "Anything within reason."

"Fine," she pouted playfully, pushing him towards the refrigerator. "Now, while you get out the ingredients for us, tell me why you call your parents Sandy and Kirsten and not Mom and Dad."

"You don't mess around, do you," he joked with her. "You get right to the point and skip the easy ones."

"It's part of my charm."

"Yes," Ryan concurred, "yes, it is."

Their playful banter set the mood, putting both of them at ease with each other as the two former strangers started to get to know one another as they baked Christmas cookies into the night. Never had a meet and greet or a first date come so easily for either of them, and they both knew that it would not be the last. Long after the first batch of chocolate chip cookies were placed in the oven, the guests eventually lingered home, leaving the Cohen mansion quiet, a mess, and perfect for an intimate family gathering. As the members of the family joined together, Seth and an exhausted Cameron arriving in the living room first to scope out the presents that had been placed under the tree so far, eager to try and predict what they had been given, they were soon followed by a content and happy Sandy and Kirsten, and the four of them settled down to wait for Ryan and his date to join them.

"Well, look who decided to join us," Sandy beamed enthusiastically. "It's Betty Crocker and her assistant."

Seth rolled his eyes. "Good one, Dad."

However, Cameron was confused. "Her name is Marissa, silly, not Betty."

The adults all laughed at the innocent comment. As Ryan and Marissa made their way into the living room, Marissa at his side the entire time as it became obvious she was slightly unsure of herself around so many new people, they passed around a plate full of fresh from the oven, warm cookies. The two, together, sat down by Cameron to wait and see the jury's verdict on their cooking skills.

"Hey these are actually good," Seth exclaimed, showing his shock that they had somehow managed to successfully make cookies without poisoning him.

"On that note," Kirsten added, standing up and moving towards the kitchen, "I'm going to go and bring in the drinks. Is hot cider and eggnog alright for everyone?" When the various yeses and nods were given to show their approval she left the room, leaving Marissa all alone with four men.

"So, Ryan," Seth wondered out loud, "now that you've got us all here, gathered together as a family on Christmas Eve, just what exactly do you want us to do. This was, after all, your idea."

Upon Seth's comment, Ryan's face immediately blushed a bright, self-conscious scarlet. If he could have leapt across the room and knocked Seth unconscious at that point, he would have. But, instead, he merely tried to avoid Marissa's eyes, too embarrassed to see her reaction to his plan. He had wanted her to think that the family was just celebrating in their normal, traditional ways; he had no intention of telling her he had organized the entire gathering after the party for her. However, he shouldn't have been worried.

At the soft, angelic touch of Marissa's hand on his, he turned to look at her with astonishment and pleasure written clearly on his flushed face. Instead of seeing fear towards how strong he already felt for her, she seemed touched. By holding his hand in hers so no one could see them entwining their fingers, she let him know that his actions were appreciated, and that gave him courage to request the rest of her wishes.

"I thought maybe we could turn off the lights, start a fire…."

"Hey, Ryan, man, please stop right there," Seth begged. "It's 72 degrees out there right now. There's no way we're going to light a fire. Do you want me to get a heat rash?"

"Seth," Sandy corrected, "you can only get a heat rash in the sun, and we all know you're allergic to the outdoors, so that's never going to happen. What else do you have in mind, Ryan?"

"Well, I was thinking perhaps you could sing us some carols….or lead us, and we could all sing along. I know how much you enjoy singing….."

"I think that's a wonderful idea, Ryan," Kirsten agreed with him, reentering the room with a silver tray laden down with hot and cold seasonal beverages. "We used to do that when I was a little girl. I miss those moments, sitting around the fire with my parents, singing our favorite Christmas songs. You know, my Mom was a beautiful pianist, so she would play for us while we sang. I wish one of you boys knew how to play."

"Or that we had a piano," Seth added sarcastically.

"It's decided then," Sandy pronounced, moving towards the mantle. "While I start the fire, honey," he addressed Kirsten, "would you mind switching off the lights?"

So, that's what they did. The five members of the Cohen family and their special Christmas Eve guest sat around the fireplace long into the late hours of the night, joining together to sing their favorite holiday songs, eating cookies and drinking their refreshments, and sharing stories about Christmases of the past. It was exactly what Marissa had been wishing for and everything the family needed to feel connected as one. Finally, after Cameron had fallen asleep and Sandy and Kirsten had decided they needed to retire to bed as well, carrying their young son to his room, the evening was over, and it was time for Ryan and Marissa to say goodbye.

They were lost in each other, totally oblivious to the lone spectator who had decided to remain downstairs to watch their farewells. He had a plan, his gift to his brother, he said, and, in order to see it through, he had to remain with them.

"I had a wonderful time," Marissa gushed, the corners of her rouged lips turning up in a radiant smile meant only for Ryan.

"Does that mean I can call you," he asked, trying to sound uneager but failing miserably.

She tilted her head as if in thought, narrowing her eyes in a teasing glance. "I guess that would be alright. After all, I'll need to know if Santa brought Cameron everything he asked for. I mean, after visiting him five times, he should definitely be remembered fondly."

"So then what about tomorrow?"

"What about it?"

"Can I call you then, tell you what Cameron got for Christmas and then invite you over for dinner. Someone's going to have to help us finish all the leftovers we'll be sure to have….well that is if Sandy and Kirsten make Seth stop eating."

Giggling, she let go of his hand and moved towards the door. "Tomorrow."

Just as he went to open it for her, their salutations of goodnight on their lips ready to be spoken, Seth's loud, insistent voice stopped them immediately.

"Not so fast, you two," he ordered. "Look above you." And with that, he left the room.

There, hanging ever so gracefully, was a tiny sprig of mistletoe, no doubt intended just for them. As they each, simultaneously, glanced at the holiday ritual and back to each other, slow, nervous, excited grins crept their way unto their faces.

"It is a tradition," Marissa argued playfully, moving closer to Ryan.

"And he wouldn't want to break it." He added, taking a step closer to her as well until their noses were close enough to touch. "The tradition, I mean….."

But his words were cut off as she leaned into his body finally letting their lips graze across each others for just a brief moment. It was a chaste, sweet kiss, just a whispering of their skin, but they could both feel the sparks of passion that, to them, were promises of things to come, great, wonderful, magical things to come. It was their first kiss, but it definitely would not be their last.

With that, she turned around, sauntering at a regal pace back to her car, leaving Ryan with only one word to say: "Tomorrow."

"Seth, this is ridiculous," Marissa complained as he led her through the toy store. "Remind me again why I have to be blindfolded."

"It's part of a school experiment, an assignment I have for next semester that we got early," he answered, surprising even himself at how cool, collected, and believable he sounded. "We're supposed to observe someone when they lose their ability to see, take notes on how they react to various situations."

"You're going to school to design video games. How is this relevant?"

"Marissa," he chided, "blind people like to play video games, too."

"They do," she questioned, rolling her eyes behind the blindfold, but he just ignored her and kept talking.

"And if I want to be able to design a game for them based solely on sound, then I have to study them…blind people."

"But why are we at a toy store? Why are we going to visit Santa? I have worked so hard this semester," she sighed thinking back to her first few months of medical school, "and with Ryan's job, we barely get to see each other except for on the weekends. I'm on break; he had the day off. I wanted to spend the day with him, but, instead, I'm being dragged around as your guinea pig. I better get a damn good Christmas present out of this."

"Chrismukkah present, Marissa, Chrismukkah present. This is your second year with our family during the holiday season. It's time you learned the lingo."

As he continued to guide her through the line, smirking at her soft complaints and whispered mumbles, he went over their plan once more before giving her the instructions.

"Okay, so this is what I want you do. I'm going to help you up the stairs, and then I'll place you on Santa's lap. Once you're there, I just want you to answer his questions, and I'll listen and write down what you say. When you're finished, I'll take off your blind fold, and we can leave."

Crossing her arms over her chest, she protested, "I don't see why Trip couldn't have done this."

"After last year," Seth answered, "the little guy refuses to go anywhere near 'The North Pole' for at least five years, he said. Plus, Santa's Little Helpers this year aren't as hot."

"Seth!"

"Oh wow, look there, it's our turn. Too bad we couldn't continue that conversation. Now, be careful, hold onto my hand, we don't need you falling down and getting a booboo."

"I'm blindfolded, moron; I'm not two!"

"Excellent observation, Stevie Wonder; now, just a few more steps and you'll be right by the fat man in the red suit."

Nodding her head in disbelief, she cried out, "you are so politically incorrect!"

"And there you are," Seth pronounced, pushing her down on what she presumed to be Santa's legs none too gently. "Chat it up."

Marissa sat there, unsure and feeling more than slightly uncomfortable with the situation. Although she didn't speak, neither did the Santa. Suddenly, she felt his hands on her hips….a little too low to be deemed polite.

"Whoa there, Santa, have you been sniffing some of the reindeer's magic dust, because you're definitely bordering on sexual harassment right now. Why don't you try moving those paws up a little bit…or off would be even better?"

He listened to what she said, moving his hands away from her hips, but they did not stop at her waist. Instead, they moved quickly to top of her chest, his hands under her arms, his fingers grazing against her breasts.

"You have to the count of three to take your hands off of me, of I'll let this whole store know that Kris Kringle is a pervert!"

Her threat worked, and, before she knew it, his hands were off of her.

"Now, what do you want for Christmas, little girl?"

"This is ridiculous," she bemoaned, burying her still blindfolded face into her hands. "I can't believe I let Seth talk me into doing this." Just as she was about to sit up and answer his question, she caught a whiff of a very familiar scent. "Wait a minute," she said slowly as if she were thinking out loud, "why do you smell like Ryan?"

"Shit!"

"Who said that," she exclaimed, turning around anxiously even though she couldn't see anything. That voice was familiar to her, very familiar, but it had been whispered and was rather hard to place. Now, not only was she uncomfortable, but she was also slightly suspicious.

"That was just one of my elves," the same deep voice who had been talking to her the entire time responded to her question. It was not the voice of the whisperer. "He's a mean little guy," the Santa Clause finished. "However, missy, I don't have all day. I'm a very busy man, and there are many children who wish to talk to me. So, please, tell me what you want for Christmas."

"Fine," she relented, letting go of her curiosity. "I guess….I guess I want a new pair of tennis shoes for when I start working in the hospital, a large satchel to carry around all my things when I'm at school, and…..OH!, and this new driver I saw….."

"No," the Santa interrupted her, "that's not what you want. What you want is for your boyfriend to propose to you. You met here one year ago exactly today, and you're thinking that it would be the perfect anniversary and Christmas present all rolled into one if he were to give you a diamond ring, get down on one knee, and ask you to marry him."

"I….uh…..of course I want to spend the rest of my life with Ryan; I love him, but….," she stumbled over her words, flabbergasted by what the man had said to her, "what would even make you say that?"

"Whoops, time's up, little girl," he told her. "Now, hold out your hand, and Santa will give your treat for coming to see him." As she instinctively listened to his instructions, she put her right hand out, palm facing upwards, waiting for the inevitable candy cane that she would, no doubt, just give to Cameron, but, surprising her, the Santa Clause put that hand down and picked up her left one, leaving the palm facing downwards. With the blindfold still on, she felt a cool, metallic feeling sensation sliding against her ring finger, and before anyone could say a word to her, tears formed in her eyes and fell silently down her face underneath the blindfold.

"Marissa Cooper," the same voice that had whispered earlier spoke up, a voice she knew to be Ryan's, "will you marry me?"

Nodding her head enthusiastically, she leaned in and let her hands, one wearing her Christmas present in the shape of an engagement ring, find his lips before covering them with her own. Just as their first kiss had been, the embrace was soft, gentle but yet it spoke of wonder for what would come in their life and was a pledge between them of love and commitment to each other. It was a kiss of faith, hope, and joy, the themes of the holiday season.

And so that's how once upon a time a leggy, voluptuous, dazzling Santa's Little Helper, a seasonal elf that was not so little as some were only too kind to point out, became Mrs. Clause to all who knew and loved her.