In celebration of the season, one of my Secret Santa stories from the *NF archive. Really proud of this story. Enjoy!
My Christmas Hero
By MissM for Kasia87 for Secret Santa 2011.
Christmas Eve, 2011
Orlando’s Fashion Square Mall was decked out in its annual holiday finery, beckoning with the sounds and smells of Christmas. Lush green garlands with sparkling lights intertwined between the branches adorned the doorways of each store. An enormous, fully decorated tree stood at the center of the mall, stretching three stories tall. And just loud enough to hum along to, cheery mood-lifting music filtered over hundreds of heads from loudspeakers.
You wouldn’t even know it was December- damn near Christmas- if it wasn’t for the overdone festivity. Garlands and glitter and flashing lights, blow-up Santa dolls, sparkly snowflakes and tinsel-God, the tinsel on everything, everywhere was a severe contrast to the sunny, cloudless, 70 degree temperature.
“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…” JC mumbled the familiar tune as he and Joey bustled past JCPenney, approaching Macy’s. Armed with a last minute shopping list and a few hours to burn, JC and Joey were on a mission to find three gifts, have them wrapped, and get back to the Fatone house in time to slip the presents under the tree. “It looks like Christmas threw up in here.”
Joey chuckled, his head low as they pushed through a thick crowd of last minute shoppers. “You’re such a Grinch.”
“I feel like I’ve been celebrating Christmas since Halloween.”
“That’s because you have. But Christmas is tomorrow, so it’s almost over.”
“It’s like there’s some kind of competition as to which business can be the most annoyingly attractive to shoppers. Come spend all your money here, not there! That’s totally not what Christmas should be about.”
“Yeah, but it’s a big time of year for retail. They gotta make money somehow.”
An ear piercing scream and a heavy thud broke through tidings of comfort and joy like a record scratch. A scuffle of feet, yelps of surprise and then a man clad in dark clothing and a cap pulled low over his face pushed through the crowd at a full run, a small leather handbag tucked under his arm.
“He stole my purse!”
As if by instinct, Joey took off like a shot, several men behind him. JC turned to find a young woman cowering on the tile floor in front of the PacSun store, red faced and wild eyed, breathing heavily and clutching her throat as if she couldn’t breathe. A gaggle of shoppers gathered near her, their glassy-eyed stares moving from her to the pack of men running and shouting through the mall and back to her.
JC stepped forward, then kneeled next to her and offered her a hand. “Hey, are you okay?”
Her entire body shook as she took JC’s hand and pulled herself up. Now on her feet, she didn’t seem to be securely standing, rather on the verge of swaying one way or the other.
“He just… blew right past me. He pulled the strap right out of my hand and pushed me into the wall. It happened so fast…I’m usually so careful, but I was in a hurry and got distracted…”
“It’s not your fault. That’s totally understandable. It happens a lot this time of year.” She blinked slowly, seemed hazy, but was definitely calmer. “Are you hurt or anything?”
“Just my pride,” she answered, finally lifting her eyes to his. The recognition- and subsequent embarrassment was visible in her eyes. “Oh, God.”
JC chuckled. “I just go by JC.”
“I know. I mean… shit.” She laughed. “You know what I mean.”
“Are you sure you’re okay? Did you hit your head?”
“No. I mean, yeah.” She nodded then shook her head. “I mean no, I didn’t hit my head. I think I’m okay.”
JC gripped her hand and found it still trembling. He slid an arm over her shoulder and guided her toward a nearby seating area. “Let’s have a seat over here on this bench.”
Once she was seated, she inhaled deep breaths and pushed them out. JC watched her like a hawk. “Do you need a doctor? I’m sure Mall Security can-”
“Please,” She interrupted. “I’m fine. I’m positive I don’t need a doctor.”
“How are you positive? Are you a doctor?”
She reached into a brightly colored short sleeved shirt and pulled out a lanyard. At the end of it was a plastic pouch holding an ID card. “Olivia Weller. CRNP,” he read aloud. “At Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. So you’re a nurse?” She nodded. “I guess you’d know. What do all those letters mean? You’re really smart?”
“Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner,” she answered, tucking it back into her shirt. “I work in the Critical Care Unit. I actually have to get going-I’m going to be late. Thanks for your help.” She moved to stand, but JC gripped her arm to stop her.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hang on. Your purse is gone, remember?”
“Oh my God, you’re right.” All over again, she was flustered and shaky. “I should call the police. Or Security.” She reached for her bag, but it wasn’t there. “Oh. I don’t have my phone. Or my keys!”
“I have a phone.” As JC reached into his pocket, Joey jogged around the corner, beet red and heaving heavy breaths but clutching a leather bag in his hands.
“He got away, but I got your-hey!” Joey grinned as he dropped the bag into her hands. “I know you!”
She stared at Joey, her jaw dropped open. “Me?”
“Yeah. You’re one of the nurses at Arnold Palmer, right? I come out to work with the kids in the Music Therapy Room.”
“I know who you are. I guess I’m surprised you remember me. A lot of kids and nurses come through there.”
“Yeah, of course I remember. You work with Anthony and Jeremy? And Christy?”
She smiled, her head bobbing. “Yeah. She’s a character.”
“That’s one word for her,” Joey said, laughing. “Anyway, at least you got your bag back. The guy tripped and fell, dropped it, then gave up on it and ran off. I sent Mall Security after him.”
Olivia did a cursory glance through the bag. “Wallet, phone, keys… I think it’s all still here!”
“That’s good,” JC said. “I’m glad we could help. You’re sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah, I’m okay. I can’t even believe it was you guys,” she said, her eyes wet with tears. “I really, really appreciate your help. I’m going to be late for work, so I have to go, but… thank you!”
She rushed away, clutching the bag closely to her chest, limping the slightest bit. JC turned to Joey and clapped him on the shoulder.
“Good work, man.”
Joey brushed it off but his cheeks were slightly pink. “I haven’t moved that much since Dancing with the Stars. Gonna be hurtin’ tomorrow.”
“Well my lazy ass wasn’t running after him, that’s for sure.”
It seemed less exciting to continue their shopping trip than to reminisce about the past few minutes, but they had a mission to complete, so they wandered into Macy’s. Joey turned to JC with a devilish smirk.
“So, you shoulda got her number.”
JC thumbed through a rack of short sleeved shirts. “Who?”
“The nurse. She’s cute when she’s not all scared lookin’.”
“Joey.” JC glared at him, looked away, glared again, and then couldn’t help laughing. “She could just barely stand up. I had to make her sit down. I didn’t manage to hit on her.”
“You got her name, though. And you know where she works.”
“What would I do with that information, Joe?”
“I don’t know.” Joey shrugged. “Maybe you should like… check up on her, later.”
“You know what? Let’s just get the stuff you need and get out of here. I think your brain is dehydrated. And I need a drink after riding here with you, you maniac. Have you ever heard of a speed limit?”
They shopped, picking up the few items needed, waited for them to be gift wrapped and were climbing back into Joey’s SUV an hour later.
“You should think about it,” Joey said. “I can call up there to the hospital and find out when she’s working, if you want.”
JC could only stare, incredulous at the suggestion. “That’s like… the most opportunistic suggestion you’ve ever had.”
Joey grinned over at him. “You’re surprised?”
“No. No, I’m not at all surprised.”
And unfortunately it was starting to sound like a good idea.