“I don’t get it. I really don’t get it.” Christopher was sitting on the bench, trying to reason with Golda, who was standing three feet to his right, her arms folded, and her nose stuck in the air. About twenty feet behind her stood Shanisse and Harry, who had turned their backs and for some reason had decided to periodically stomp their feet.
Golda refused to answer, so Christ continued. “What’s the difference? I’m a grown-up. You talk to me.”
Golda broke her silence. “That’s because you passed the test, Dopey! Remember the questions we asked you? If we start trusting one grownup who has not passed the test, then we’ll have to start trusting them all. Can you imagine that?”
She flung her arms in the air in a dramatic flourish. Meanwhile her comrades persisted in looking at Chris, frowning and stomping.
Things had not gone well. Christopher had arrived for the 10:45 meeting, assuming there would be no problem with introducing Charrleen into the fold, striking up a great friendship and unleashing a joyous “Merry Christmas” alliance. Unfortunately, Golda pouted, Shanisse fretted and Harry cried.
Christopher had become the villain. He pleaded with them. He explained that Charrleen was a really cool person. He asked them if they knew the song, “Great Jubilation.” They did. They loved it. They thought Charrleen was “immensely amazing.” BUT…they didn’t want to meet her, and they certainly and absolutely did not want her involved.
Stalled. All three were deciding to “park it.”
Christopher looked down at his watch and realized that Charrleen would be arriving very soon. What to do? He was at a loss. If he left the kids, they would escape. If he stayed with the kids, Charrleen might think he was a flake and leave. He decided to experiment. He took Golda’s hand and walked her halfway between the park bench and the parking lot. He didn’t explain. Harry and Shanisse maintained their twenty feet of protection but followed along.
All at once, in the distance, a huge, white limousine pulled into the Fenswick parking lot. Christopher turned to explain to Golda that this was Charrleen arriving to meet them, but when he pivoted, he saw that all the children were running up the hill toward the luxurious limo.
Harry, screaming like a madman, shouted, “Big car! Big car! Big car!”
Christopher decided to jog after them and then stopped. Nobody was doing anything until he got there, anyway. Charrleen had her legs out of the back seat, surrounded by Harry, Golda and Shanisse, all jumping up and down like kangaroos.
He topped the grade, slowed down so he wouldn’t be panting, and waved at Charrleen. He shouted, “Charrleen, I would like you to meet…”
Charrleen wrangled to her feet. “It’s okay. They already introduced themselves.” She pointed to each one. “Golda, Harry and Shanisse.”
Christopher, coming to their side, looked at Golda, perturbed. “So, Golda, what happened?”
Golda snubbed him. “I don’t know what you mean! We LOVE Charrleen. She is SO good.”
Harry stood just a foot or two back from Charrleen and said, “You are prettier than a poster!”
Charrleen winked and said, “Thank you. I think.”
Shanisse stepped forward. “Who does your hair?”
Charrleen leaned down to her. “Me, shampoo and my brush.”
Shanisse replied, “Wow. A brush…”
Everyone was gazing at Charrleen, who didn’t know what else to say. Christopher reached out his hand to her and said, “Let’s go down to the bench and talk about Christmas.”
Everybody clapped their hands joyfully, giddy over their gang. Arriving at the bench, all kiddies wanted to sit next to Charrleen, so Golda was to the right, Harry, left, and Shanisse was on the ground, touching her knees. Christopher was stuck three feet away, appearing as if he were conducting a job interview.
Charrleen looked at the children as if they were her own. “Tell me about yourselves.”
Harry spoke up first. “I’m a runner,” he explained. “That means I’m in great shape. I’m not very old—but you aren’t either. And what I was wondering was, if I stay in great shape, and you stay in great shape, maybe you would think about…I don’t know…”
Charrleen reached over and touched his face. “You are handsome and wonderful just the way you are. Let’s not talk about the future. Let’s enjoy right now.”
Harry blushed, relieved that he didn’t have to finish his marriage proposal.
Shanisse, at Charrleen’s knees, spoke next. “I love board games. I mean b-o-a-r-d.”
Charrleen giggled. “I’ve always loved them.”
Shanisse sparkled back. “I want to have the biggest board game tournament in the world.”
Charrleen smiled. “I do love them, but…” she whispered, “I like to win.”
“Me, too!” said Shanisse, her eyes lighting up. “I try to do what my mom and dad say, and not pout. But when I lose, a little bit of pout always sneaks in.”
Charrleen turned to Golda. “And how about you, sweet lady?”
Golda hesitated, suddenly gripped by apprehension. “Well,” she said, “I feel kind of dumb saying this to you, since you’re so great, and a big star, with a big, white car…”
She stopped. “Hey!” she exclaimed. “Did you hear that? I just rhymed. Let me try again. You’re a great big star who has gone far with a big white car.”
Charrleen, in a country accent, sang back, “Drinkin’ from an old fruit jar.”
Everybody laughed, including Chris–from a distance.
“So,” said Charrleen to Golda, “I’ll bet you’re a singer.”
“And a song writer!” exploded Golda. “I want to write a musical about Santa Claus and the North Pole and Mrs. Claus! I want to represent for women! Is that the way to say it?”
Charrleen nodded. “Yeah. That’s what I want to do, too. Be human but represent well for women.”
Golda crooned, “Charrleen and I agree.”
They talked. They laughed. They discussed the joys of Christmas. They shared the favorite gift they’d ever received. They hugged.
Christopher was actually able to get a thought or two in around the festival of words about the Yuletide. It was a beautiful sight—a young woman worth countless dollars, with millions of fans, talking to children with no dollars, but a boat-load of dreams.
Charrleen leaned forward and said softly, “I’ve got an idea.”
The children nestled in even more tightly. Chris scooted over on the bench. Charrleen continued in a breathy tone, “This afternoon, here at Fenswick Park, I’m shooting a new video for my song, ‘Great Jubilation.’”
The children quietly feigned clapping, to mirror Charrleen’s whisper.
“I was wondering if you three would appear with me in the video.”
On cue, all three children looked at each other, eyes like big apple pies, and spoke a resounding, “Y-E-E-S-S-S!”
Charrleen put her finger to her lips, encouraging them to be a little quieter. “Now,” she said, “I wonder if we could get Christopher over there, to help us out by playing the part of Santa Claus in the video. We could rent him a costume.”
Christopher interrupted proudly, “I have my own costume. You know—since I play the part of Santa Claus. I had it made for me and it’s perfect for my…” He peered down at his belly, “…for my dimensions.”
Charrleen, surprised, said, “Wow. I love a man who has his own Santa suit.”
They began to discuss times, and then Golda said, “Wait a minute! What are we going to do in the video?”
Charrleen answered, “Well, if you don’t mind…I’d like you to play elves.”
Golda leaned back on the bench. “From what era?”
“What do you mean?” asked Charrleen.
“I mean, there are different eras for the elves,” Golda responded officiously. “There are the medieval elves, which are more or less wood nymphs, resembling gargoyles. Then there are the elves of the Victorian era, which were giggly, impish and had pointed hats and curled up shoes. Those have endured to today.”
Charrleen was amazed. “Why don’t you play modern elves?” she suggested. “Not too modern… but certainly not gargoyles.”
Harry piped up. “What’s a gargoyle?”
“Ugly, like you,” Shanisse answered.
Harry tried to playfully punch Shanisse, but Charrleen blocked the blow.
“Stop!” said Golda. “I will design the costumes. Trust me. I’ve been told I have a flair.”
Charrleen giggled, then realizing that Golda was serious, stifled her levity.
All at once Harry poked Charrleen. “I don’t want to be weird. But there’s a man over there, in one of those…you know, jailhouse outfits…wearing a baseball cap. He’s been watching us.”
Charrleen looked over.
Harry protested, “No! Don’t look! Just be careful. He keeps circling around us, poking for trash—but I don’t see any junk.”
Charrleen became concerned. “Maybe we should move, and let Mr. Christopher here find out what’s going on…?”
She motioned for Chris to approach the man, while she took the children over to another bench. Chris stood up and walked toward the man—about thirty feet away. As he approached, the fellow turned and began to head out of the park. Realizing he should do something—or lose Charrleen’s respect—he hastened his own clip and caught up with the man, who stopped dead in his tracks.
Christopher tapped him on the shoulder. “I don’t mean to bother you, sir, but we noticed that you’ve been hanging around, and we wondered what your interest in us is.”
“Nothing at all,” growled the man in a deep voice. “Just doing my job.”
Christopher was suspicious—the voice seemed phony. “Would you turn around here where I can see you?”
“Not allowed to talk to the public,” said the man, with a crack in his tone.
Christopher gently took him by the arm and pulled him around, peering into his face. Under the ball cap and what appeared to be a fake mustache was someone he knew. “Shelley?? Is that you?”
“My name’s not Shelley!” said the man with less basso profundo. “I don’t know any Shelley! And if I were a girl, Shelley wouldn’t be my name!” The pitch lifted higher with each word.
“No, that is you,” Christopher announced with conviction. “Shelley, what are you doing in that get up?”
Shelley, embarrassed, pulled off her mustache. “I…uh…well…” she stammered. “I was asked by…uh…Mr. Markins…Yeah. Mr. Markins. To come out and keep an eye on Charrleen, because she’s…well, you know. She was acting weird at the luncheon, and he wanted to… Well, you know. Corporate people. He wanted to monitor her movements, so we would know that she’s …Well, you know. Still on board.”
Christopher squinted. “So, you needed to dress up like a convict picking up trash?”
Shelley chuckled. “I didn’t think I’d make a very good tree.”
Christopher shook his head. “You also don’t make a very good liar.”
Charrleen shouted across the park. “Do you want me to call the police?”
Christopher turned to Shelley. “So…do we need to call the police? Shelley??”
Not waiting for a reply, Christopher shouted back over his shoulder. “No, that’s okay, Charrleen. I’ve got it under control.” He turned back to Shelley. “You, on the other hand, are not in control. I know what’s going on here.”
Shelley objected. “I told you what’s going on. What right do you have to question my authenticity? My veracity? My truthfulness?”
“Maybe because, like Santa Claus, I know who’s naughty and nice,” Chris countered.
Shelley attempted to push away to avoid any more inquiries.
Christopher managed a chortle. “You’re out here checking up on me.”
Shelley shook her head.
“No, no,” he accused. “You are a little bit jealous about what I’m doing…Oh, wait! Or is it Charrleen?”
Shelley tried to pull away, and Christopher took her arm and pulled her back in. “Shelley Claibourne, are you saying that you have the hots? For me?”
“You are so gross,” she replied, pulling away from his grasp. “I am a trash woman, and a damn good one! YOU didn’t notice me! I got fingered by the kid!”
“Okay,” said Chris. “You want me to consider you trashy. So be it.”
Shelley turned adamantly, walked, jogged and then ran away into the distance. Chris stood for a moment, watching her retreat, then turned and walked back to Charrleen and friends. Charrleen looked at Christopher, puzzled and concerned. “Is everything all right?”
“Just one of the paparazzi,” he whispered to her.
Charrleen nodded. “Oh. I should’ve known. They’re always around. I had this one guy that dressed up like a hot dog vendor.”
“You mean, like…with an apron and a paper hat?” Christopher asked.
Charrleen shook her head. “No,” she explained. “He dressed up like the cart for a hot dog vendor. I mean, he hid inside, waiting for me to walk by.”
“Talk about being a hot dog!” Harry joked.
Everybody laughed. Then they laughed some more. Then they laughed because they were laughing, and finally, they laughed because they couldn’t stop.
Plans were made for the afternoon, to shoot a video with new amigos—brought together because of Christmas.
Published by Jonathan Cring