‘Twas the night before Christmas. Neela was sprawled out on the moon-bathed sand, the warm breeze caressing her face and body, and the ocean waves sounded like soothing lullabies.
Ah, this is exactly what I wanted, Neela thought. Away from the annoying snow in her hometown up north, the holiday hustle and bustle, the darn faux Santa Clause at the mall, all the gift buying and wrapping, oh and the horrible fruitcakes. Here on the beach, just the moon, the stars, the breeze, the waves, the sand, and the seagulls kept her company on the silent night before Xmas.
Five days earlier, Neela had told her boss she was taking her vacation time. She hopped into her jeep and drove straight down south, until she reached the southern tip of the country, Key West, Florida, where some people claimed you might catch a glimpse of Cuba on a clear day.
Neela checked into a B&B called Southernmost Inn. It was a charming enough place, all done up with Xmas decorations. She grumbled under her breath, ‘Darn, there’s just no escaping Xmas, is there?!’ At least the display was tasteful. Neela changed into her bikini bathing suit and put on her neon green flip-flops and headed to the beach.
Next day it was Xmas eve. Neela spent the day soaking up the sun. She concentrated on alternating between lapses and sunbathing, pushing all the other thoughts out of her mind. By the evening she’d lost her pasty northern completion and acquired quite an impressive tan.
Neela rewarded herself with a juicy cheeseburger and a thick slice of the world famous Key lime pie. The she headed back to the beach to watch the sunset.
Hugging her knees, Neela sat on her blanket watching the ember-red sun turning into flaming orange and then dipping below the ocean. The sky darkened, and the moon and stars cast a soft light on the beach.
Neela lay down and wrapped a shawl over her body. She closed her eyes, laying half asleep, willing herself to focus her mind on the tranquility around her. She heard the occasional low voices in the distance. ‘Maybe lovers are whispering in each other’s ears,’ she reckoned. Far yonder the church clock struck midnight.
As the sounds of night descended, the world faded.
A faintest stirring made Neela open her eyes, and in the moonlight she saw a shadowy figure. A tall woman with big dark eyes floated towards her, her steps gracefully light and airy. As she glided along, her sleeveless white dress swayed from side to side and her raven hair cascading over her pale shoulders.
“Who are you?” Neela sat up rubbing her eyes.
The woman smiled. “Let’s just say I’m a special envoy for…you know…the ol’ man at the North Pole.” Her voice carried a sing-song tone.
Neela’s mouth dropped open. “Santa? You mean like you’re an elf?” She looked around. “Where’s the reindeer?”
The tall woman anchored herself down next to Neela. “More like a…tracker,” she answered. “The reindeer had other stops to make,” she winked.
“A tracker? For what?” Neela was a little confused.
“For naughty girls who pull disappearing acts before Xmas,” the woman’s voice became low and husky.
Effortlessly the woman picked up Neela and carried her back to her hotel room. Neela noticed that the room seemed cozier and warmer than when she left it earlier. A wonderful aroma of fresh fir greeted her before she spotted a Xmas tree in the corner with lights on. A single lit candle stood on the window sill behind it. On the coffee table sat a silver tray of beautiful Xmas cookies. “Silent Night,” her favorite carol, was playing softly.
“What’s going on?” Neela’s eyes widened. “I drove all the way down just to –”
“Avoid Xmas?” Santa’s special envoy finished the sentence, her dark eyes staring at Neela intensely.
Neela looked down at the floor, not replying. The visitor gently put her hand on Neela’s back and guided her to the bed. She sat down on the edge and easily lifted Neela up to sit in her lap. Hugging her tightly, she whispered in Neela’s ear, “Sweetie, you know you can’t escape Xmas. In fact, it’s your favorite holiday, is it not?”
Neela looked into the woman’s kind eyes and nodded, tears beginning to fall down her face. Of course she loved Xmas, always had. She put her arms around the woman and buried her face into her bare shoulder, sobbing.
“Shhh, Honey.” The woman stroked Neela’s wet cheek gently. “Santa loves you and he knows you are going through a difficult time.” She pulled out a package from inside her dress. “There. Santa had this specially made for you. He said it would cheer you up,” the woman winked and continued, “and would also help you not to run away again next year!”
Neela untied the ribbon revealing a dainty hairbrush that could easily pass for a toy. The flat side was smooth Siberian birch and the handle had a small burning candle carved into the wood. On the other side, each bristle was covered in thick pink velvet. Her stomach fluttered. “Oh my god, Santa knows I’m a spanko?” she whispered, blushing.
The visitor from the North Pole nodded, her face breaking into a broad grin. “Would you like to try it, Honey?”
“Really?” Neela beamed and her heart began to race.
“Ah, now that’s more like it.” The woman gently wiped tears from Neela’s face.“I like your pretty dimples. You should smile more often.” She lovingly stroked Neela’s blushing cheeks.
On Xmas morning, the bright sun shone through the thin curtain as Neela opened her eyes. For awhile she lay still,allowing the breathtaking memory of last night to rush back as she remembered the dark eyed visitor in the white dress and her sweet breath and silky touch. Squirming, she could still feel the birch hairbrush being soundly applied to her bare bottom, exactly the way she had always wanted – no real pain, only stingy pleasure, and lots of it!
Neela’s moist eyes swept around the room and came to rest on the nightstand, where on top of a card perched an exquisite hairbrush. Neela reached for it, cradled it on her chest, and kissed it. Then she unfolded the card. The message was handwritten in beautiful cursive:
“Merry Christmas my dear Neela,
Hope you enjoyed Santa’s gift as much as I did!
Keep the candle lit, Sweetie, and keep smiling.
Santa’s Special Envoy”
Taking a deep breath, Neela walked to the window and saw a single candle on the window sill, still burning. Her face broke into a big sweet smile, the kind she hadn’t had for a while. She knew in her heart that everything would be all right, and she would be all right.