It Happened One Christmas Online - Leslie Kelly

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Chicago, December 23, 2011

WHEN LUCY FLEMING HAD been asked to photograph a corporate Christmas event, she’d envisioned tipsy assistants perched on the knees of grabby executives. Too much eggnog, naked backsides hitting the glass-topped copier, somebody throwing up in a desk drawer, hanky-panky in the janitor’s closet—in short, a typical high-end work party where people forgot they were professionals and played teenager-at-the-frat-party, building memories and reputations that would take an entire year to live down.

She’d been wrong. Completely wrong.

Elite Construction, who’d hired her a few days ago when their previous photographer had bailed on them, had chosen to go a different, and much more wholesome, route. They were hosting an afternoon event, a family party for all of their employees as well as important clients, and whoever they cared to bring along—including small children. Catered food, from caviar to corn dogs, appealed to every palate. There were presents beneath a huge tree, pretty decorations, music filled with jingling bells and lots of smiles. It was almost enough to give a non-Christmas person like herself a little holiday tingle.

Oh. Except for the fact that she was working with a very cranky Kris Kringle.

“If they think I’m staying late, they can bite me. I got paid for three hours, not a minute more.”

“We’re almost done,” she told the costumed man, whose bowl-full-of-jelly middle appeared homemade.

If only his nature were as true-to-character as his appearance. Though, she had to admit, right at this particular moment, his foul mood was understandable. He’d had to go dry his pants under a hand-dryer in the men’s room after one boy had gotten so excited he’d peed himself. And Santa.

To be fair, Santa wasn’t the only fraud around here this afternoon. Her own costume didn’t exactly suit her personality, either. She felt like an idiot in the old elf getup, a leftover from her college days. But the kids loved it. And a happy, relaxed kid made for an easy-to-shoot kid…and great pictures.

All in all, she’d have to say this event had been a great success. Both for Elite Construction—whose employees had to be among the happiest in the city today—and for herself. Since moving back to Chicago from New York ten months ago, she’d been trying to build her business up to the level of success she’d had back east. Things were getting better—much—but a quick infusion of cash for an easy afternoon’s work definitely helped.

Finally, after the last child in line had been seen to, Lucy eyed the chubby man in red. “I think that’s about it.” She glanced at a clock on the wall. “Five minutes to spare.”

“Damn good thing,” he said. “God, I hate kids.”

Lucy’s mouth fell open; she couldn’t help gawking. “Then why on earth do you do this?”

He pointed toward himself—his white hair, full beard, big belly. “What else am I gonna do, play the Easter bunny?”

Not unless he wanted to terrify every child on earth into swearing off candy. “Bet you can land a part in the stage version of The Nightmare Before Christmas,” she mumbled. He sure looked like the Oogie Boogie man. And was about as friendly.

Lucy turned to the children lingering around the edges of the area that had been set up as “Santa’s Workshop”—complete with fluffy fake snow, a throne and stuffed reindeer. Whoever had decorated for this party had really done a fantastic job. These kids had already had their turn on the big guy’s lap, but were still crowded around the crotchety St. Nick. “It’s time for Santa to get back to his workshop so he can finish getting ready for his big sleigh ride tomorrow night,” she announced. “Santa, do you want to say anything before you leave?”

Father Friggin’ Christmas grimaced and brushed cookie crumbs off his lap as he rose. “Be good or you won’t get nothin’,” he told them, adding a belly laugh to try to take the sting out of the words. His feigned heartiness fooled everyone under the age of ten, but certainly none of the adults. Waddling through the crowd toward the elevator, he didn’t stop to pat one youngster on the head, or tickle a single chin.

Jerk.

For her part, Lucy found the little ones in their party clothes and patent leather shoes irresistible. Sweet, happy, so filled with life and laughter and excitement. There was one boy who was so photogenic he ought to be on the cover of a magazine, and she was dying to talk to his parents about a formal sitting.

You’ve come a long way,