“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” ~Anne Lamott
“I want to invite Caroline over for Christmas Eve.”
Paige looked at her partner in surprise. Noelle did love her Christmas traditions, a special dinner being one of them. But the pandemic was well into its second year and they had both been playing it very safe when it came to socializing.
“She and Dylan have had all their vaccinations, and I can ask her to get tested before she joins us,” Noelle said quickly, as if she knew what Paige was thinking. “But it’ll be the second Christmas that she and Dylan are spending without Jessie…..and….I don’t think she’s doing so good.”
Paige felt a pang in her chest. Caroline had lost her spouse to COVID in the early days of the pandemic, before vaccinations had been developed. She’d been healthy, with no underlying conditions, just one of those mystery deaths that the awful virus had chalked up all over the world. A cough had turned into a fever and then into gasping for breath, and she’d been gone within days.
The only saving grace, if there was one, was that Jessie had caught it while on a business trip, and had gone into the hospital without having had the chance to spread it to either her wife or eight-year-old son. They’d been spared any illness, but they’d also not really had a chance to properly say goodbye. Soon afterwards the world was plunged into a nightmare of lockdowns and deaths, denials and protests, and Caroline’s grieving had to be put on hold as she struggled to homeschool her child and keep her job.
She was a strong woman who carried on with a minimum of fuss, and eighteen months later it seemed to acquaintances that she was nearly back to normal. But to Noelle, who knew Caroline much better, it seemed like a light had gone out within her. Holidays must be especially hard, thought Noelle. At least, they would be for me.
“Sure, okay,” Paige said quietly. “That’s a good idea. I’ll pick up a nice roast, shall I? And you can make those twice-baked potatoes that Dylan likes?”
Noelle looked at her partner gratefully, a lump coming into her throat as she contemplated how awful it would be to lose her unexpectedly. “That sounds good, honey,” she said. And they shared a long hug, both suddenly feeling the fragility of life.
They’d met Caroline and Jessie through mutual friends, part of a group of lesbians and gay men who all wanted to start families. Banding together in a support group made it easier to navigate the intricacies of adoption, IVF or surrogacy, as well as providing parents to arrange play dates with once the baby was there.
Paige and Noelle had decided early on that parenthood wasn’t for them, unless you counted Miss Kitty. But they supported their friends’ desires to start families, and occasionally joined in on some of their activities. Caroline and Jessie had become even closer friends once they’d discovered (through Noelle and Caroline recognizing kindred brat spirits in each other) that they shared an interest in TTWD. Having a growing son in their lives meant “playing” was not as easy as it had once been, so Paige and Noelle had offered to babysit a few times to allow the other couple a chance to enjoy some rare intimacy.
The night before Christmas Eve, while Paige took care of planning dinner, Noelle baked some gingerbread to decorate later. She thought Dylan might enjoy constructing a gingerbread house, and she loved that Christmas tradition herself. To avoid the pressure of shopping for presents, Caroline had agreed that the only “gifts” they would exchange would be the pleasure of each other’s company. However Noelle was careful to have a stocking hanging for Dylan, which did include a couple of matchbox-sized cars for his collection.
On Christmas Eve, the 6-foot Noble fir Paige and Noelle had purchased stood in its stand in the corner, ready to be decorated. Normally they would’ve decorated it earlier, but Noelle thought this might be another tradition they could share with their guests. The roast was finishing in the oven, spreading mouth-watering smells throughout the house. Paige was just uncorking a bottle of wine when the doorbell rang.
“Merry Christmas, Caro! Merry Christmas Dylan!” Noelle exchanged hugs with both of them, feeling a sense of surrealness at the contact after months of social distancing. They’d all been vaccinated and tested, but there was still a twinge of discomfort. Wonder if we’ll ever get back to normal, Noelle thought with a sigh. Then she decided to put sad thoughts aside and concentrate on making merry.
A few glasses of wine and an excellent dinner helped with that. The conversation was light and easy, with lots of laughter as they discussed the drawbacks of replacing in-person interactions with online meetings.
“I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not a phone call, so my boss can see me rolling my eyes during meetings!” Caroline said. “But one of my coworkers is an idiot who doesn’t really get the concept. He keeps eating potato chips or arguing with his wife, not realizing all of us can hear every single sound!”
“That’s nothing,” Noelle said. “I’m so used to the fact that no one can see me below my waist, that after one meeting I left the house wearing pajama pants with my Christmas sweater!”
“At least it was Christmas pajamas,” Paige teased, while Dylan hooted with laughter.
After dessert, Noelle poured out glasses of eggnog and put some Christmas carols on while Paige and Dylan attempted to untangle the string of Christmas lights.
“I was going to bake some cookies for Santa and his reindeer,” Noelle said to Caroline. “Wanna help?”
“Sure,” Caroline agreed, following her into the kitchen, where the ingredients were already laid out on the counter.
“Here’s the recipe,” Noelle said, handing over an index card which was dog-eared and dusty with flour, and had brown splotches where the vanilla had dripped on it.
“Uh, you know you can just pull it up on a tablet or something,” Caroline pointed out. “Who uses recipe cards anymore??”
“Shut up and start creaming the butter and sugar together,” Noelle responded good-naturedly. “Can you imagine what Paige would do to me if I told her I spilled flour all over her iPad?”
Caroline laughed. “Good point,” she agreed. “Hey, we’re going to need some baking soda too.”
“Didn’t I take it out? Oh nevermind, I have some in the pantry.” She walked through to the room next door and headed for the shelf where she kept the baking items. As she did so, she thought she heard a faint sound of tapping coming from above her head. Damn, do we have mice in the attic again? she wondered distractedly. Better have Paige go check on that tomorrow.
Of course looking back later, Noelle realized that wasn’t mice in the attic she’d heard. But at the time she’d been more concerned with baking cookies, and not thinking at all about who might be visiting.
Though Paige and Noelle called it their “pantry,” it was more like a back porch – a combination of laundry room, boot room, and storage. It had its own door out to the garden, and was a useful place to wash off after long walks outside. In addition to the shelves of canned goods and veggie storage, it contained their washing machine and dryer, an airing cupboard for extra linens and clothing, and even a small sofa.
As Noelle searched the shelves for another box of baking soda, she heard a knock on the back door. That’s strange, she thought, as no one should be out in the garden at this time of night. She opened the door and got the shock of her life.
“You! What are you doing here??” Noelle gasped.
The woman Noelle knew as “Kris,” raised her eyebrow inquiringly. “It’s Christmas Eve, is it not? I usually visit this time of year.”
‘Yes, but…but…it’s too early! I mean…we have company!” Noelle said in a panicked fashion. Though when she thought about it, having people around had never stopped Santa from dispensing her Christmas justice before. Her magical powers had always insured that no one ever heard or saw a thing. Just thinking about how thorough her previous spankings had been caused a tingle in Noelle’s backside.
“Yes, that is precisely why I am here.” Kris said, stepping forward and removing her black leather gloves.
Noelle backed up into the pantry and glanced over her shoulder fearfully. “What do you mean? Can’t you wait till they leave, at least?”
“Mm, I’m afraid not. It is Caroline I have come to see.”
Noelle’s jaw dropped in disbelief. “Caroline?! That’s impossible! She’s done nothing wrong! In fact, if anyone has suffered more than her….” she trailed off. Then the full import of what Kris was saying hit her, and she felt suddenly outraged for her friend. “Listen, I’m not letting you touch her, so just forget about it!”
As she spoke, Noelle walked up to the woman and poked her in the chest for emphasis, right above the low-cut neckline of her red velvet jacket. Incredibly, she wasn’t struck by lightning for her temerity in touching Santa; in fact, the woman’s expression softened.
“I understand why you’re upset, and your compassion does you credit. However I’m not about to discuss her situation with you, as it’s none of your business. You will go back into the kitchen while I talk with her in the pantry.” Kris’s dark eyes glinted. “Trust me, I will be having a discussion with you later. Especially about a certain over-use of your phone!”
“Oh shit.” Noelle’s own eyes widened as she remembered her promise to Paige to curtail her time on social media. A promise which she had found it impossible to keep, and lied about instead. She opened her mouth to defend herself, but before she could speak, Caroline came through the door into the pantry.
“Hey Noelle, don’t worry, I found the baking soda—” she broke off as she saw the stranger her friend was talking to. “Oh, excuse me, I didn’t mean to interrupt!”
Noelle stood frozen for a second, then rushed over to her. She took a deep breath as she put her hands on Caroline’s shoulders. “Honey, I know this sounds crazy, but please listen to me? This woman who’s dressed like Santa, well….she IS Santa.”
“Oh?” Caroline didn’t look all that surprised. In fact, she looked amused. “And is she making her rounds on Christmas Eve?”
Noelle could tell Caroline wasn’t taking her seriously, and nearly stamped her foot in frustration. She knew she had very little time to convince her, but she couldn’t let her face Kris completely unprepared. “Yes, she is. For REAL, Caroline! And please believe what she says, because I thought it was B.S. at first myself, but….she has POWERS, Caro! I mean, REALLY!”
Caroline opened her mouth to laugh, but something about the urgency in Noelle’s expression prevented her. She didn’t really understand what her friend was talking about, but clearly it was important to her. So she decided to play along for now. “Okay, sure.”
The woman nodded in approval, and gestured to the door. “I’d like to talk with you for a few minutes, Caroline.” Her voice was low and reassuring, and when Caroline glanced at Noelle, her friend bit her lip and nodded.
“She’s safe,” Noelle whispered. “I mean, well….you’ll see.” She sent a pleading glance to Kris.
With a shrug, Caroline agreed, and hung back as Noelle left them. She raised her eyebrow when she saw the woman close the door between the pantry and the kitchen, but didn’t feel any alarm. She knew Noelle was right on the other side, and that Paige and Dylan were right in the living room.
“Noelle is correct, you are perfectly safe with me,” the woman said.
“Well, I would hope so!” Caroline said, the amusement back in her voice. “If you can’t trust Santa, who can you trust?”
“Noelle calls me ‘Kris,’ and you can do also. But I also answer to Santa, if that’s what you prefer.”
“Okay, Kris, do you mind telling me what this is all about?”
“I presume you know how I monitor your deeds each year? And keep track of things both naughty and nice?”
“You do, huh?” Caroline’s tone was skeptical. “And why haven’t I seen you before now?”
“You haven’t needed to,” Kris said simply. “Jessie took care of things regarding your behavior.”
Caroline gasped. Her amusement disappeared and her face flushed with anger. “What?! How dare you! Did Noelle tell you about that?!”
Kris shook her head. “No, I have never talked with your friends about you. I have no need to.”
“I don’t know what you’re playing at, but it’s sick and cruel! Noelle,” she yelled, “what the hell is this about?!”
“She can’t hear you,” Kris said quietly. “And neither can Paige or your son, so don’t worry about that.”
“What kind of disgusting joke is this?! I’m not staying here for this crap!” She tried to push through the door to the kitchen, but it wouldn’t budge. She pounded on it in frustration, and shouted for her friends to help. To her alarm, there was no response. She turned around slowly in disbelief, recalling what Noelle had said about Kris’s powers. Was it really possible??
Both Noelle and Paige would’ve been surprised to see their friend at that moment. The Caroline they knew when Jessie was alive was cheerful and mischievous. After Jessie died, she was much quieter, but still polite and caring. They would not recognize the expression of near-rage that darkened Caroline’s normally composed features.
“So you’re Santa, are you? And you have magical powers?” Caroline’s tone was dripping with bitterness. “Then you know Jessie is DEAD, right? That she died at the beginning of this fucking pandemic?”
Kris inclined her head. “I do know. And I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Sorry?! I’ll bet you are! What’s the use of MAGICAL POWERS if you’re going to let all these people die! Why didn’t you save some of them, SANTA?!”
“That’s not what I do,” Kris said simply, although her tone was gentle. “But I’m sorry you lost Jessie. I know she would not like to see you in this condition.”
“Fuck you!” Caroline picked up the nearest thing at hand, which was a box of powdered sugar on the shelf, and flung it at the woman standing in front of her. It flew past Kris’s ear and smashed against the wall, breaking with an explosion of white powder everywhere.
Caroline was dimly aware of being a bit shocked at her own behavior, but something about Jessie’s name on a stranger’s lips enraged her. All the loneliness and stress of the past nineteen months coalesced into a ball of white-hot anger, and for some reason she wanted to aim that ball right at the stranger dressed in a Santa costume. She picked up another box, this time one of macaroni and cheese, and hefted it above her shoulder.
“Young lady, if you don’t put that down immediately, you will be very sorry.” The stranger’s tone was stern, but her volume remained the same. Somehow the authority in her voice made Caroline hesitate. No one had talked to her like that in what seemed like a very long time. She lowered the box slowly.
“Put it back on the shelf and come here,” Kris said. “We have a lot to discuss.”
Caroline put the box back on the shelf, but eyed the stranger distrustfully. She turned and tried the kitchen door once again, pounding on it and yelling at the top of her lungs. Again, there was no response from the other people in the house, but suddenly she felt her left earlobe firmly taken, and she was led, yelling and kicking, over to the sofa against the wall.
Later she was never quite sure how it happened, because she was not a weak person and she was certainly fighting with all her might against it. But she found herself across Santa’s lap, and no matter how hard she resisted she could not get away. A sudden hard swat caused her to cry out and pause in her struggles.
“You have no right!” she said breathlessly.
“No one has more right,” Kris said quietly. “I know that you have not been taking care of yourself, Caroline.”
“You have got to be kidding me!” Caroline said angrily. “Do you know what I have to put up with on a daily basis?!”
“I do, actually.” Kris lifted the back of Caroline’s dress, and patted her bottom through the dark blue leggings.
“Then you know that it’s been nearly TWO YEARS since Dylan has lost his mother? And I’ve had to struggle on alone?”
“Yes. And you’ve been neglecting your health a bit, haven’t you?” The patting on her bum now turned into smacks, as Kris’s hand landed with moderate force, alternating cheeks.
Instead of deterring her, the swats infuriated Caroline. “When have I had fucking time?! Do you know what my life is like? Do you know I have to worry about being laid off because of this stupid virus?! Do you know how hard it is to live on one income without being terrified that even that might disappear?! I have to scramble to find someone who will watch Dylan whenever he’s studying from home! I have a mother in a care home who I worry every single day might be the next to die because she’s so frail! And then I have to watch fucking idiots protest that their rights to further spread the virus are being trampled upon!”
Kris paused in her spanking, but only long enough to pull down Caroline’s leggings and bare her bottom. “With so much on your plate right now, it becomes even more important to make sure you look after your physical, mental, and emotional health,” she said. Then she started spanking Caroline’s bare bottom, hard and repeatedly, and the sharp pain caused Caroline’s breath to catch in her throat.
“It’s not fair!” she said. “You don’t understand!” She burst into tears, and was surprised to be suddenly lifted upright and gathered into Kris’s arms. She buried her head against the woman’s shoulder, the plushness of her Santa costume soft against her face.
“Tell me what’s not fair,” Kris said softly.
“Losing the love of my life!” Caroline sobbed. “We didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye! I never should’ve let her fly out of state!” A handkerchief was placed into her hand.
“You had no control over her work,” Kris said. “And no knowledge that she might get sick.”
Caroline sniffled into the handkerchief. “When she called me from the hotel room and told me she was feeling crappy, I told her to just sleep it off. I should’ve made her go to the doctor!” Her eyes filled again, the pain as fresh as it had been all those months ago.
“I know you feel guilty,” Kris said, “but it’s NOT your fault. It was a terrible thing to happen, but it’s not something you could’ve predicted or prevented.” She waited till Caroline wiped her eyes, then took her firmly by the chin. “You need to let yourself grieve, and you need to be patient with yourself, do you understand? Most of all, you need to give yourself as much attention as you give others.”
In spite of her tears, Caroline felt the anger start up again. “Are you going to tell me that Jessie wouldn’t want me to carry on this way?” she said bitterly. “Well, she’s not fucking here, is she! And I’m sorry, but your platitudes are a load of crap! You have no idea what I’m dealing with!”
“Oh, I think I do,” Kris said evenly. “However I don’t think you quite understand the problem. But we’ll fix that.” So saying, she immediately reversed Caroline’s position, and Caroline found herself again staring at the pantry tiles.
Kris began spanking once more, steadily but with even greater force, as Caroline squirmed fruitlessly to escape. She swore and kicked, her anger and resentment cresting, as she concentrated on the arbitrary punishment that was being dealt out to her. But it had been nearly two years since she’d been spanked, and she’d forgotten how much it could HURT. Each wallop of Kris’s hand was like a red-hot iron against her tender skin, and soon her rage dissipated in direct proportion to her bottom’s soreness.
Caroline entered into a mindset she’d not felt in a long time – that of a thoroughly punished girl, who wanted only to make it stop. The tears started up again.
“It’s not fair,” she said again, but this time it was almost a whimper. “I know I’m not taking care of myself properly, but it’s all too much! I’m doing the best I can!”
Miraculously, the spanking stopped. Resting her hand against Caroline’s cheek, Kris spoke. “Exactly. Say it again, please!”
Ears and bottom both ringing in the sudden silence, Caroline was confused. “I…say what??”
“You’re doing the best you can,” Kris said. “Do you realize it’s true?”
“Well, I’ve snapped at Dylan a couple of times,” Caroline admitted, suddenly remembering all the times she’d failed her son. “And I made an excuse to avoid visiting my mom last Saturday because I was just so exhausted, but I probably could’ve gone for an hour– Ow! Ow! OW!” she broke off as Kris started spanking again.
“You are absolutely doing the best you can,” she said, handing out a dozen swats before pausing mid-stroke. “You are a caring human being who has been suffering as much as anyone else. And you deserve the same time and attention that you give to everyone else! Do you hear me?”
“Y-yes,” Caroline said. “I mean, I think so.”
“You are doing the best you can. Say it.”
“I’m doing the best I can,” Caroline repeated with a sigh. Then she cried out as two more hard swats landed against her aching bottom.
“Think about what you’re saying,” Kris said sternly. “And say it like you mean it.”
All Caroline could think of were the times that she had failed. It seemed like there had been so many. As if Santa could read her thoughts, there were a couple of sharp taps on her bottom. And suddenly, her mind was filled with another set of memories: The times she held Dylan and eased his tears. The times she made her mom laugh. The times she lifted a coworker’s spirits with a kind word. The times when she felt like she didn’t have it in her to go on a moment longer, and yet would take a deep breath and do it anyway.
These moments flashed before her eyes like she was watching a movie. And there was even a soundtrack playing along with this mental film – it was her own conscience, though it sounded exactly like Santa’s voice: Even when you made mistakes, you were still doing the very best that you could. Even when you didn’t achieve what you had hoped, you were trying your hardest to continue. Given all the obstacles, given all the horrible events of the past 2 years, you did the best you could with the resources you had at the time. You would have compassion for any other person in similar circumstances, and you should have compassion for yourself as well.
“We human beings are both terribly fragile and tremendously tough at the same time,” Kris was saying now. “We need to appreciate our resilience, and have patience with ourselves. It doesn’t mean we don’t make missteps, or that we can’t learn to do better next time. But it does mean we have to forgive ourselves and others, because we’re all struggling in some way.”
“You’re not,” Caroline couldn’t help pointing out with sniffle. “I don’t think you’re human.”
Kris laughed and finished with a last tremendous WHACK against Caroline’s sore cheeks. Then she righted the young woman and gathered her in for a cuddle. “Please take care of yourself as well as you take care of others,” Kris whispered in her ear. “I would hate to have to punish you next year for the same thing.”
Caroline shuddered. She stood and hastily tried to put her clothing into some semblance of order. “Don’t worry, I’m going to start meditating, and exercising, and eating better…..oh god, what will Dylan think when he sees me like this?!”
Kris pulled out another snow white handkerchief from out of nowhere and wiped the last vestiges of Caroline’s tears away. “Don’t worry, no one will be able to tell from your appearance,” she said.
“But what will they think I’ve been doing all this time?!” Caroline looked a bit panicked.
“As far as they’re concerned, it’s only been a few minutes,” Kris assured her.
“Really? That’s incredible!” A sudden thought. “So is my butt as bright red as it feels right now?”
“It’s a good Christmas color,” Kris said with a wink.
In the kitchen, Noelle was fidgeting apprehensively behind the counter. The door had just closed behind her, but she was quite sure if she tried to open it up again it would be impossible to budge. She began sifting out the flour for the cookies, but her mind was not on her task. She couldn’t think of any time Santa had been cruel, or even the least bit unfair. But her friend Caroline was so vulnerable right now. Should she try to interfere? She was pretty sure that standing up to Kris would prove ultimately futile and probably land her in even more trouble, but…maybe it was worth it?
Just as she was mulling over how she might distract Kris from her mission – maybe she could stampede the reindeer? – the door suddenly opened and Caroline walked in. She looked exactly the same as when Noelle had last seen her, just a few moments ago. But Noelle had no doubt that she had gone through a lifetime’s experience in that time. She rushed over to give her a hug.
“Are you okay?” she asked, examining her face carefully. Her eyes had a sort of luminous glow about them, but nothing to suggest she’d been crying. However Noelle knew from experience that tears after a session with Kris was very likely.
“I feel….great,” Caroline said tremulously.
“Really?” Noelle felt almost dizzy with relief.
“Yes,” she said, then cupped her backside and lowered her voice. “Though I haven’t had a spanking like that in…..well, ever!”
Noelle nodded with feeling. “You should see her implements! They’re like…conjured on the anvil of Hell or something!”
Caroline couldn’t help but giggle. She felt like the world had been lifted off her shoulders, even if only for the evening. “By the way, she wants to have a word with you. Something about your phone?”
“Oh god.” Noelle swallowed and contemplated running in the opposite direction. But she knew that escape was impossible, and would only get her into more trouble.
“I’ll put a cushion on your chair,” Caroline said sympathetically. “After getting one for myself, of course.”
Noelle took a deep breath and turned to go, but Caroline put a hand on her shoulder.
“Thank you for being such a good friend. And Merry Christmas.”
Noelle’s heart melted. She grabbed Caroline for another hug. “Ditto, hon. And Merry Christmas to you too!”
Thanks, Patti. 🙂
Beautiful story, Alyx.
You write compassionate tops with such tender insight.
And despite kind of a new start of late, I am still struggling with more than a few of my own guilty echoes, so this really hit home (pun maybe half intended 😉)!
Thank you, Woodsy. And to be honest I find it a good reminder as well — we need to be more forgiving of ourselves than ever these days! 🤗
So sweet, though Kris could take a holiday off for once. Nicely done. Loved it.
*LOL!* Yes, you would think that, Nicky. 😆 But Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Santa and her naughty list. 😉 Thanks for your comment!
My heart. Thank you so much Alyx, I felt everything I needed to feel from this story. It’s safety and comfort in words 😊
Aw, thank you, By! It didn’t come out exactly as I’d wanted, but I did write it with you in mind. So it means everything that you liked it! 🥰 Wishing you a very happy holiday season, and safe and healthy New Year! 🤗 🥳
I didn’t just like it, I loved it. Thank you again and all the same wishes to you in return 🥰
I’m glad you brought Paige and Noelle back, and of course Kris, my fave Santa! Their Xmas stories are always so sweet and heartwarming, a comforting read during the holidays. 🙂 This timely reminder applies to us all! Happy holidays.
Thanks, Peachie! It is indeed a good reminder to all of us. 😁 Let’s hope the New Year brings better times (and more stories from all)! 🥳
Yeah, Kris is my fav Santa too.
Thanks, Nicky. If only Santa were really like Kris and visited us every year, eh? 😉 😆
You gotta love it when your favourite author comes out of the woodshed to write a story (or is it into the woodshed?) :D. I agree with Peach.. Kris is my one of my fav tops also. The relationships with the women are fun too, and thought that was illustrated particular well in this story. Such a cool mix of humour and drama.. nice one, honey! (-thinking- “Balance” that’s kind of signature to your work. Don’t how you do that!) ❤
Honey, the only one who belongs in the woodshed is YOU! *SWAT!* 😆 But I’m very happy you liked the story, and thank you for such lovely comments. “Balance,” huh? I’m chuffed you feel that way. I love the thought of my work having balance….and I love you too. 🥰 😘
Alyx another awesome story from you. You set the standard high and reach it every year! Thank you for this chance to step off from the real world for a short spell whilst reading this gem. As always thank you for sharing your inimitable talent with us and for organising the Holiday Exchange!
Aw, thanks, Wookie! Thank YOU for being such a wonderful participant in every way! Your beautiful stories and sweet comments really do make the holidays brighter around here! 🤗 🥳