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Mary's Christmas

The magic of Christmas is in the giving
Mary pulled up next to the barn at Nick’s Christmas Tree Farm, the first Saturday of November. The farm opened for business the weekend before Thanksgiving. Mary had worked each season for the past seven years, and always came out a week early to walk through the fields of evergreens. It was the slowest time of year for her design business and this seasonal job allowed her to utilize her creativity.

The sun felt warm on her shoulders, while the air was cool against her face. The dried autumn leaves crackled under her feet as she walked. The fragrance of the dead leaves mixed with the scent of the balsam firs reminded her that the holiday season was fast approaching, and this would be the last quiet time on the farm until Christmas day. As she wandered, she picked up fallen pinecones that could be used in the centerpieces and door arrangements they created on the farm.

Mary walked the better part of an hour before turning to head back. The sun was starting to get low in the sky when she caught sight of the big red barn. It glowed in the setting sun, standing out against the gray-blue sky. Within two weeks, the corral fence would be draped with fresh evergreen garland and festive red bows. There would be colorful wreaths and evergreen sprays displayed on the sides of the large attached shed. The inside of the shed would be transformed into Santa’s house, filled with the aroma of cinnamon and where over two hundred different Santa figurines would be displayed. Mary’s mood turned somber as she remembered last year.

Nick and Emily had taken over the family business twelve years ago. It was Emily who had envisioned a place where families could come and cut their own trees, or pick out a fresh pre-cut tree, look at holiday displays, enjoy warm cider, hot chocolate, and cookies right out of the oven. A portion of the barn was refurbished and heated to be able to accommodate holiday parties, with Nick serving as the on-sight Santa.

They were raising their daughter to believe in Christmas magic, and to give back as much as they could. Last year, ten-year old Emma came up with the idea to become the drop-off for new toys for the needy, as well as a place where people could donate food for the local food shelf. Nick and Emily also hosted a free “Breakfast with Santa” for the residents of the town’s homeless shelter.

That would change this year. Emily left Nick and Emma, after having an affair with a younger man. In retrospect, her actions of last year now made sense. She had taken all the returning women aside and gave them instructions for the next season. No one ever suspected she was preparing them for after she was gone.

It was particularly hard for Mary. She and Emily were the same age, and had become fast friends. Emma helped Mary at a very difficult time in her life. Mary became Emily’s go-to person and she learned the business from Emily’s point of view. Emma even called her Aunt Mary and ran to her as easily as she did her own mother. Mary was more like Emily’s sister than her friend, and when Emily left in February, Mary came out to the farm, walked in the snow-filled fields, and cried.

Nick had turned his back on everyone. He became quiet and stayed at home most of the time. When he was seen in town, he appeared to be a shell of his former self – as if he died when Emily left him. Mary tried reaching out to him, but he wanted nothing to do with her. She was able to see Emma when she was at her grandparent’s house, which was most weekends. Emma was worried that the farm wouldn’t be ready this year, and Mary assured her everyone would pull together and make it happen.

Mary slid open one of the barn doors and moved into the darkness. She was surprised to see the remnants of the last Christmas party held there. Without thinking, she began gathering the tablecloths so they could be washed, and started filling a barrel with dried out evergreen decorations. She turned around and literally ran into a very angry Nick.

“What do you think you’re doing?” he demanded.

“Oh Nick,” Mary said, not thinking and hugging his stiffening body. “I always come out early, you know that. I saw this hadn’t been cleaned up so I thought I’d get a jump on next weekend. As long as you’re here, maybe we can set up the tables for wreath making.”

Mary took a good look at the man who had been her friend, and almost didn’t recognize him. He was unkempt, his clothing, his black hair, everything. His eyes were dark with anger and his fists were clenched at his side. She watched as his nostrils flared, and she listened as his words seemed to cut through her.

“Get out – get out now. I won’t need any help this year. This is a strictly a “you cut, cash and carry” operation.”

“What?” Mary asked, astonished. “You can’t be serious! You can’t change the tradition of the farm! What about all the families who’ve only known how to celebrate with you and your family? What about the kids who rely on this job every year? What about your own daughter, Nick? You can’t take this away from her – it’s her legacy!”

“Shut up!” he screamed at her. “It’s my farm and I’ll do things the way I want! What the hell would you know anyway? You don’t know the first thing about this place – and why would you? This is my business, not yours, and I’ll do things the way I want!”

“Nick, you and Emily created such a magical place here. Emma loves this farm. You know how hard she works. Hell, everyone who works here loves this place.”

Nick turned his back and started to walk down to the other end of the barn, trying to escape Mary’s words.

“I know this is hard for you – I know how raw this must be, but for Emma’s sake….”

Nick turned and marched back to her almost yelling, “You don’t know anything! How can you? Do you have any idea how it feels to have your heart ripped out? Do you have any idea what it’s like to look into the face of your kid and see hers? Do you know what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night to reach for your wife and only feel a cold sheet?”

He stopped, realizing that one she did know about. When Mary’s husband had died four years ago, Nick and Emily were right there to help her.

She could see the struggle he was having. In her heart she knew he needed this as much as Emma, but Mary had no idea how to make him see it. She didn’t have the words he needed to hear, but someone did.

“Aunt Mary!” screeched Emma, as she tore through the barn doors and barreled into her. Emma was talking a mile a minute, while clinging to Mary’s waist.

“You’re here, you’re here! Aunt Mary, I’ve been so afraid there wouldn’t be a Christmas without Mommy, but you promised, and now you’re here! See, Daddy, it’ll be just like always, like when Mommy was here. See?” Emma rambled.

Nick glared at Mary. In his eyes, this was all her fault, but he couldn’t talk about it now.

“We’ll discuss it later, Emma,” he said sharply.

“But dad….,” Emma began to plead.

“Emma! I said not now!”

Emma looked shocked as her father raised his voice. Without a word, she ran from the barn and back towards the house. Nick lowered his head, clearly ashamed of how he had just behaved, but Emma was his daughter. There is no way she could understand the torment this season would bring to him.

Mary kept her voice calm and quiet as she spoke to him, “I think you know how much Emma needs this to happen. Her mother ran away from her, too. This farm was such a huge part of who she was. If you take this away too, Christmas will never be the same.”

Mary paused to watch for Nick’s reaction, but he kept his head down and remained silent.

“You were right when you said I don’t know what you’re going through. I hope to hell I never have to watch the person I love walk out the door. So let me help you with this, for this year only. I’ll get together a business plan, call a meeting of everyone who normally works here, and assign others to your tasks. You won’t have to lift a finger, or come anywhere near the barn. But, please let Emma come and help if she wants. I’ll take full responsibility. Nick, I want this to be as painless as possible for you.”

Nick showed no emotion as he said, “You have until Wednesday to show me the plan. If it doesn’t gel, it’s a cash and carry operation only.”

“Deal,” Mary said as she held out her hand to shake in agreement, but he turned and walked away.

She’d show him; only three full days to pull things together on paper, but it was going to happen. She stopped in the old tack room that Emily used as her office, sorted through papers and ledgers, and gathered anything she could think would be useful. When she got home she would start telephoning the staff to see who was available to meet before Wednesday. She may not be able to pull this off alone, but with everyone’s support, the original dream would still be a reality.

The staff was in total agreement about keeping the farm open one more year. Between all of them, they came up with schedules for set-up, fresh-cut holiday decor, baking, tree cutting, and Santa breakfasts. Two of the women volunteered their husbands to fill-in as Santa, one of the retired gentlemen was a former accountant, and said he would take over the bookkeeping. What one person didn’t think of, another one did. It may not have Emily’s finishing touches, but it would still come off without a hitch.

Nick looked surprised to see Mary at his back door Wednesday afternoon, but led her through the kitchen and into the dining room. The house was neat and clean, but definitely missing the warmth that had come from Emily. Nick was cordial and scrutinized the written plan and spreadsheets Mary had created. When he was done, he laid them down in front of him and leaned back in his chair. His voice was barely audible.

“Okay,” was all he said.

Mary knew better than to push and kept her excitement in check. The last thing she wanted to do was scare him off. She thanked him, gathered her work, and stood to leave, promising a weekly accounting of the operation. She left him still sitting at the table, staring out the window. Her heart ached for him, and the grief he was feeling.

The employees worked non-stop to ready the farm for the Christmas holidays. Everyone had been wonderful, taking time out of their busy lives to make wreaths, sprays, garland, and to start baking. Even Emma helped to drape the garland and tie the bows around the fence. One of the high school art students created posters to hang in town announcing the first day of business.

The Wednesday night before the seasonal opening, Mary let herself into the shed and looked at the twelve plastic covered totes stacked in the corner. There were two hundred Santa figurines that had to be unpacked, dusted off, and displayed. Mary hadn’t trusted anyone else to do this job. Emily had left her collection behind, so Mary was going to see it was passed down to Emma in good condition.

It was after ten o’clock when she set the last empty box aside. Her last item was the Santa covered wreath for the door. She gasped when she opened the door and saw Nick standing there, and she stepped aside as he came in. He looked around while she hung the wreath on the outside of the door, occasionally touching a piece with his finger. She stepped back inside, but remained quiet while he finished his inspection.

“It looks good,” he said in an earnest voice. “Everything looks good.”

“Thanks, Nick,” Mary replied quietly. “Everyone worked really hard.”

Nick put his hand on Mary’s arm and said, “It shows. Emily would be really proud of all this – if she still cared.”

Mary looked into his sad eyes, walking a fine line of not scaring him off, but letting him know how she felt.

“This is a good thing you’re doing for Emma. Everyone needs closure, Nick. Having this one last Christmas at the farm will be a way of saying good-bye to the old, and establishing something new.”

“I don’t talk to many people about her, Mary,” Nick explained. “If it wasn’t for Emma, I honestly don’t think I’d be here today. Emily was more than just my wife - she was a part of me – the best part of me. Do you get that? When she left she took away everything I believed in about happily ever after. I know she’s gone; I know she’s not coming back, and I know I’ll go on without her. That doesn’t mean I have to celebrate it.”

Nick walked to the door to leave and looked back. “Yeah Mary, this was a good thing to do for Emma. But it’s the last year, do you understand? She can’t even pick up a phone and check on her own daughter, or let Emma know she’s okay. I won’t continue the holiday lie.”

Mary nodded and watched him leave. She never thought they would have a civil conversation, the way he was almost two weeks ago. Something had changed in him. He was still grieving, but this was different. His anger seemed to be melting away.

They came on Saturday – all those who wanted their trees up before Thanksgiving. The real rush would come the following Friday and every weekend leading up until Christmas. The guys had a hard time keeping fresh cut trees on hand. The day ended at sundown and Mary was thrilled to see how much money they had taken in.

Nick stayed in the house most of the time, so Emma appointed herself the hostess. She greeted each car, gave them a run-down of what they would find, and encouraged them to come back for something warm to drink, after selecting the perfect tree. She spent a lot of time with Mary, going over the operations of the farm, and wanting to learn the business, as much as an eleven-year old can. Mary wasn’t sure if she was aware of her father’s decision, until a conversation a few weeks later.

“Aunt Mary, do you think if I’m good and learn all I can that Daddy will let us have Christmas here next year?” Emma asked.

“Oh honey, I don’t know, that’s up to him,” Mary answered.

Emma walked over to her, put her arms around Mary’s waist and said, “I miss Mommy. It’s when I’m here that I feel closest to her, but at night in the house sometimes I just need to talk to her and that’s when it hurts. I need to have her around to tell my secrets, and ask questions, and….”

Mary held Emma close while she began to cry. Neither one knew that Nick was watching.

“For as long as you need someone to talk to sweetie, you know you can always talk to me. I love you, so whenever you need me just call. I don’t care what time, just pick up the phone and call me.”

“Can Daddy talk to you, too?”

Mary smiled and answered, “Of course, he can.”

Nick watched the tender way Mary treated Emma, and listened to her words. She was right; Emily would always be part of his soul. He smiled and turned away, letting the girls talk.

The next afternoon, Nick walked out to the barn while Mary was putting the finishing touches on some evergreen centerpieces for a party that night. She was singing to the holiday music playing on the radio and dancing between the tables. She had the same attention to detail that Emily had when she would set up. Mary jumped as Nick walked up behind her and said hello.

“Damn you Nick,” Mary said half laughing, half embarrassed. “Could you shout out some kind of warning instead of sneaking up on a person?”

“I don’t think you would have heard me over that so-called singing you were doing,” he countered.

“And I suppose you could do better, Tony Bennett?” Mary came back at him.

Nick put up his hands and started to back up.

“I give; I give up,” he said with a chuckle, and then caught himself.

Mary looked at the confusion on his face and walked to his side.

“It’s okay you know, to laugh. It’s okay to feel amused, or happy, or silly. The world is not going to come to an end, and no one is going to think any less of you just because you enjoyed yourself,” she told him.

Mary got her nerve up and put her arms around him for a brief moment. He surprised her by returning the hug. When she stepped back she looked into Nick’s eyes. It was almost like looking at the old Nick, the one who hadn’t gone through hell the past months. He moved back and smiled.

“Well, I have to check on some things. I’ll see you,” he said with a wave and walked back out the door.

Mary’s weekly meetings with Nick went well and he was pleased with the profit the place was showing. She could tell he was starting to take more of an interest in the farm. She would see him walking through the trees with Emma and speaking with some of the customers. What she didn’t see was him watching her.

Nick had to admit he admired Mary’s hard work; whether it was going over the books, helping to create some of the fresh pine decorations, checking on the baked goods, pushing a broom and making sure everything was tidy, or spending time with Emma. He could see how much Emma meant to her, and vice versa. Mary was becoming a very important fixture in their lives.

It was after nine o’clock one night and Emma was in bed, when Nick noticed a light on in the barn. Grumbling, he spouted off about the carelessness of someone for not turning off all the lights. The sound of Christmas music began to fill the air as he approached, causing him to wonder who was working so late. When he walked inside he wasn’t all that surprised by what he saw.

Bent over a table, decorating a small tabletop Christmas tree was Mary. He smiled as he looked at the concentration in her face, while she attached silver ornaments to the tree that was already was decorated with fairies and angels. He laughed out loud as she stood back with her hands on her hips and said, “Ha!”

“Nick!” she exclaimed, shaken from the sound of his laugh. “When will you learn to announce yourself? You damn near gave me a heart attack! You have no business sneaking up on a person like that.”

Nick continued to chuckle at her flustering. “Excuse me, missy, I believe this is my barn. I didn’t know you’d be here this late and I thought someone left the lights on.”

Mary’s cheeks shown with the rosy glow of embarrassment and her eyes were shining brightly. Nick took a moment to really look at her. Here was a beautiful woman with soft sable-colored hair that gently lay on her shoulders. Her eyes were emerald green and her heart-shaped lips had a natural rose color. He guessed he had always thought of her as a beautiful person, because he had gotten to know the inside of her first. Now, he looked at her as a man looked at a woman.

“What’s this?” he asked, walking up beside her.

“Um, look, I hope you don’t mind,” she stammered. “I wanted to give Emma a little tree for her bedroom. Emma said you hadn’t set up a tree in the house and she was afraid that there wouldn’t be one.”

Now it was Nick’s turn to look embarrassed as he answered, “Are you kidding me? Why didn’t she talk to me? I simply forgot about putting one up. That was always Emily’s thing. She never let me in the room until it was all decorated. I can’t believe Emily hasn’t done anything about contacting Emma.”

“Please don’t be angry,” Mary told him.

“I’m not angry – I’m embarrassed I didn’t think of this. Mary, there are just so many things that Emily did that I don’t think about. Now this; my kid must think I’m a total loser.”

“If it’s something you forgot about, then pick out a tree and get it inside,” Mary offered a solution. “That way, Emma will see it tomorrow morning. You can spend time tomorrow night decorating it as a family. It will be the start of a new tradition.”

“You’re right, of course,” Nick admitted. “Just the way you’ve been right about a lot of things. Do you want to leave that tree here tonight, or do you want to bring it into the house?”

“No, I’ll surprise her tomorrow after school. Right now, it’s time for me to head home,” Mary said picking up the unused decorations and putting them in a box.

“Would you mind helping me pick out a tree first? The last load of cut trees was brought up around three this afternoon.”

Mary smiled and agreed. It had snowed for several hours that day, but finally stopped. It seemed almost a shame to cut through the pristine white blanket, while walking in the lot.

Nick immediately headed for the larger trees. The farm house was over one hundred years old with fourteen foot ceilings. It could easily accommodate any size tree. Mary watched as he scrutinized each one in the corral. She could tell he had something specific in mind.

“Here we go,” he said triumphantly, pulling the tall Noble fir tree up into a vertical position. He had a huge grin on his face as he turned to face Mary. “Perfect, right?”

Mary burst into laughter as the upper limbs let go of their frosty bounty and dumped a huge pile of snow on Nick’s head. Nick was sputtering, trying to brush the icy fluff off, while Mary continued to laugh uncontrollably.

“Funny? You think this is funny? I’ll show you funny,” he threatened as he dropped the tree and walked towards her.

Mary backed away with her hands up, but couldn’t stop laughing. “Should we call you Frosty? Please Nick, I’m trying to stop laughing. Please, stop.”

Nick kept walking towards her until he saw her bump into a bench and topple over the back of it, into the soft snow. Now it was his turn to laugh while Mary tried to scramble to her feet and brush away the freezing film. He helped brush the snow off her back and she reached up trying to help get the snow out of his collar. The two were still laughing like a couple of kids.

It was when Nick brushed Mary’s hair away from her face that he stopped laughing. He looked into her green eyes and felt a warmth grow inside. He bent down and touched his cold lips to hers, only neither one felt the cold anymore.

The white cloud from their breaths circled their heads when they separated.

“Mary,” Nick exhaled.

When she looked up into Nick’s eyes, he was overcome with desire for her. Out in the cold and dark of the night, he pulled her to him and covered her mouth once more. Mary returned his passion with her own. They were two lonely people with needs to be met. They separated briefly and walked briskly back into the barn.

Nick didn’t bother turning on the lights. The outdoor lot lights allowed them to see what was needed. Their hands found one another’s buttons and zippers, and coats and clothes began to be thrown into a pile. Between the removal of each garment, Nick would cup Mary’s face and kiss her. When the pair were both shirtless, he drew her close and pressed his body against hers.

Mary’s breath caught in her throat as she ran her hands over the skin on Nick’s back. Her breasts were tickled by the hair on his chest and she felt his need press into her belly. She turned her head upward and kissed his neck, causing his breathing to hasten. He growled and lowered himself to the floor, pulling her down with him.

Lying on their discarded clothing, Nick began to work the zipper on Mary’s jeans. He popped the snap and pulled it down, opening her pants. While he moved his hand towards her warmth, his hot mouth attached itself to her nipple and began to suck.

Mary was overwhelmed by her feelings. It had been so long since she had been with a man, the air filled with the smell of her excitement. She found herself raising her hips and helping to push her jeans and panties down. She continued to kick them off over her shoes while Nick’s hand moved down her belly and then covered her mound, finally driving a finger deep inside of her.

She was already wet with passion, and when he moved his finger in and out, she moved her hips, always trying to recapture it. Her reactions caused his cock to swell and pulse even more. He knew if he didn’t set it free, he would soon explode. As if reading his mind, Mary’s hand found his zipper and began struggling with it.

Nick got up long enough to lower his jeans over his hips, spread Mary’s legs and drive his cock deep inside of her. This was not a romantic tryst, this was two people needing to fuck and release their pent up frustrations.

Mary’s legs immediately went around Nick’s waist and her hips met his thrusts with the same needs and wants. You could smell the passion, hear the grunts of exertion and skin slapping against skin. It was almost as if each were trying to exorcise the spirits of the past.

Nick felt Mary’s nails dig into his ass, trying to pull him closer. His hands were gripping her shoulders, as if he were afraid she would move away from him. Thrusting in and out, harder and faster, they moved with each other. Mary’s pants became louder and higher pitched. Nick’s became lower, like a wild animal growling. Suddenly, Nick gripped Mary even tighter and drove his cock in as deep as it would go, releasing the hot cum from deep inside his balls. He felt Mary’s teeth sink into his shoulder, stifling the scream from her orgasm. Her legs became vise-like as she rode her sexual roller-coaster.

Their passion had come to an end and they fell, exhausted, in a heap. Their panting slowed and then became silent breathing. Silence – awkward silence. Slowly, they moved away from each other and began to dress. When they had finished pulling on their coats, they left the barn and closed the door.

“Nick….” “Mary….” They both began to speak at the same time.

Mary continued, “I’m going to take off.”

When Nick began to walk with her to her car, she stopped him. “No, go on. At least get the tree onto the porch. Emma will be surprised tomorrow morning.”

“I guess you’re right,” he said, turning away. “Good night, Mary.”

“Good night, Nick,” she said in a barely audible voice. She turned away so he wouldn’t see the tears forming in her eyes.

Driving home, Mary pounded on the steering wheel, yelling at herself, “How could you have been so stupid, Mary? For God’s sake what were you thinking? Any respect he had for you is gone!”

Nick was having the same heated discussion with himself. “Fucking idiot! How dare you treat Mary like a low-class whore? What, your hand isn’t good enough for you anymore? Stupid, fucking moron!”

The next week was awkward, at the very least. Emma ran out to the barn to invite Mary to help decorate their tree, but Mary used having a business meeting as an excuse not to go to the house. She watched as Emma very carefully took the tree Mary had made for her, into the house. When Wednesday came, Mary found an excuse to leave the farm and have one of the staff members go over the books with Nick.

Nick had done his best to avoid being anywhere near Mary during the early part of the week. He was embarrassed by his actions and even more appalled at not being able to face Mary now. When Wednesday came, he showered, shaved and put a little more effort into dressing. He wanted to look nice – for Mary. He tried not to show surprise when Hank came to the house, in her place. He knew he had ruined the one friendship that meant the most to him.

The farm ran like this, until the week before Christmas. The two adults acted like children, hiding, avoiding and running away from the elephant in the room. Each assumed their friendship suffered from a damage that could never be repaired. It never occurred to either one that perhaps they should have just talked to each other.

On the weekend before Christmas, Nick always closed the farm at five o’clock and then had a celebration for the staff. He never wanted to cut into family time the day’s right before the holiday so he always held an appreciation dinner for the workers and their families that Sunday. As much as Mary would have loved to beg off, it went without question that she was expected to attend.

This year Nick let Emma help plan the party. He knew that she would go to Mary for advice, just like he knew Mary would do anything to help Emma. He also knew this would probably be the last chance he would have to settle things between them.

Even though Mary was there to help and support Emma, this party was Emma’s vision. Her father gave her a small budget for decorations, and he helped plan the menu and order the catering, but the party was Emma’s winter wonderland. She and Mary went shopping for blue snowflake fabric that they could use for tablecloths. At the craft store, they found snowflakes of different sizes and styles, which would be hung from the ceiling, on the walls and used to decorate a Christmas tree which was also adorned with blue fairy lights.

While Mary crafted table wreaths from the scraps of evergreen trimmed from the fresh-cut trees, Emma painstakingly spray painted found bare tree branches white, and then sprinkled them with silver glitter. Emma’s plan was to have the branches standing in the center of the table, surrounded by evergreen and glittered pine cones, and snowflakes hanging down.

“Mary, it just doesn’t look special enough,” Emma complained.

“What do you mean?” she asked. “Look at how beautiful the first table is. Once we get the others decorated, the room will be perfect.”

Emma stood with her hands on her hips and a frown on her face. “Something’s missing. It just doesn’t feel Christmassy enough. There’s no magic.”

Mary walked up behind her and put her arms around Emma’s shoulders. “Will you trust me that when all the lights and candles are lit, the Christmas carols are playing and everyone is here, it will be magic? I promise you, Emma.”

When Nick slid open the double barn doors, it was a magical winter wonderland. Without anyone knowing, he moved potted evergreen trees into the room and draped them with clear white lights. He left the doors open so everyone could watch the soft fat flakes fall gently to the ground. Hank turned on the CD player and the room was filled with the sounds of the holiday.

Emma squealed with delight as she ran to her father. An outsider never would have guessed the turmoil these two had gone through this year. When the families started arriving, Nick seemed like his old self, in the days before his wife left him. Very soon, the barn started to fill with parents, grandparents and children, but Nick was looking for only one person.

Mary had gone home to change before the party. Her dark hair lay softly on the shoulders of her red dress. The neckline draped to just above her breasts and it flowed nicely over her hips. After pinning on her grandmother’s antique broach, and grabbing some Christmas gift bags, she was ready to go.

Nick had been nervously glancing at his watch when Mary came through the door. Her cheeks were rosy from the cold and there was a frosty dust covering her hair. When she smiled it was as if someone had turned on more lights. He felt his heart beat a little faster. God, he thought, when did this happen?

The dinner was great, but the company was better. Nick never dreamed that this Christmas would be more than a bad memory, but he and Emma had made it through. Not only had he made it through, but it suddenly occurred to him that he was looking forward to a new life. When he thought of next Christmas, it included his Christmas tree farm. He owed these people so much more than they would ever know.

After eating, Nick stood in the center of the room, in his Santa hat, and thanked everyone. As he pointed out individual accomplishments, Emma went around the room handing each staff member a gift.

“Last, but not least, none of this would have happened without Mary,” Nick said smiling as the room began to applaud. “We owe you so much for what you’ve done for us.”

Emma went to Mary with a gift, along with a huge hug, as did many of the staff members. When Mary looked up to thank Nick, he was nowhere to be found. Commotion from the children in the room caused everyone to turn to the open barn doors. The sound of bells, horse’s hoofs and a hearty “Ho, Ho, Ho!” announced the arrival of the party’s special guest.

Santa’s throne was pushed into the middle of the room and the children automatically sat on the floor surrounding it. Mary smiled as Saint Nick made his way to his chair, hauling a huge bag of gifts. It was probably the best portrayal of the gift-giving elf that Mary had ever seen – and she had seen seven years of it. Her heart warmed while watching him interact with the children. The wonderment in their eyes never failed to touch her heart. It always amazed her that each year the children received one of the gifts on their Christmas list.

When at last Santa’s bag of gifts was empty, he called one last person to come forward. “Mary? Won’t you come and sit on my lap? I have something very special for you,” the jolly, old elf requested.

The blush on Mary’s cheeks was almost as red as her dress while she made her way to Santa. She didn’t know what he had in mind, but if it was to purposely embarrass her, he achieved his goal. She wondered how far he was going to take this mischievous plan.

Santa held his hand out, to help Mary sit on his knee. She looked into his eyes and became confused. Nick’s eyes were normally a deep sapphire blue, but tonight they sparkled a paler icy blue. She searched for another sign of recognition, but found none.

“My dear,” Santa began, “you’ve given your heart and soul to this farm and to the community. You’ve given your time, your creativity, your professionalism and your love. This is a small gift of gratitude for keeping Christmas alive here.”

Mary took the small box from Santa’s hand and placed a kiss on his cheek. When she turned to walk away, several women surrounded her to see what Santa had given their friend. The wrapping discarded, Mary opened the black jeweler’s box to reveal a small diamond heart necklace.

“Oh my,” she gulped, quickly looking up at Santa, who was no longer seated. She saw him leaving the barn, the children trailing behind him to see him off and say good-bye. She tried to follow to properly thank him, but she was too late. The horse drawn sleigh had already disappeared into the night.

“So, did Santa give you a nice gift for being a good girl?” the familiar voice asked from behind her.

Mary whirled around to see Nick smiling at her.

“How….what….when,” she stuttered.

“Mary, will you come to the house after everyone is gone? I’d really like to talk with you,” Nick quietly asked.

Mary knew she needed to return the diamond pendant to him, so she agreed. Nick, Mary and Emma waved to the last of the departing guests and then walked hand-in-hand into the house.

Mary would have liked to speak with Nick immediately, but Emma had other plans. She showed Mary the large Christmas tree in the front room of their home. The sight of it brought back memories of the night she and Nick came together. Emma asked Mary to come upstairs to her bedroom, for a little girl talk and to ask if Mary would take her shopping after school so she could buy her father a gift. Mary would do anything for Emma. Mary smiled when she entered the “Princess” bedroom at the rear of the house. The Christmas tree that Mary made for her was sitting on the table next to the bed.

After a while, Emma called her father upstairs to say good-night. He found the two curled up on the bed, with his daughter’s eyes half closed. It had been a long day, and he knew she would be sound asleep before he even had the chance to close her bedroom door. Both Nick and Mary kissed her and went downstairs to finally talk. At the bottom of the steps, Nick turned towards the front room, now only lit by the lights of the Christmas tree and some candles.


“Mary, this may be rude, but please let me speak first.”

Mary thought, but remained silent. Her only movement was her eyes widening as Nick spoke.

“Look, I don’t know how things got so messed up. Well, yes I do, but I don’t. I want to tell you I’m sorry, but I’m not. Not really. Mary, we’ve been friends for a long, long time. I don’t want to lose that but, honestly, it’s not enough for me anymore,” Nick declared, placing his hands on Mary’s arms. “What happened that night happened, and even if we wished it hadn’t, it did. We can’t change that, but we can decide to move past it – together.”

Not only were Mary’s eyes widening, but she felt her jaw dropping a bit. She was afraid to say anything, but had to. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

“Do I have to say it? Do I have to say the words?” he asked, moving his hands to cup her face.

Mary’s voice was shaky. “Yes,” she whispered.

Nick looked into her eyes and said, “I love you. I’m in love with you. I don’t know how or when, but I know what I’m feeling. I love you, Mary.”

He lowered his mouth to hers and kissed her. Mary put her arms around him and they moved closer. It was tender – everything a loving kiss should be. When they separated, Nick buried his face in Mary’s neck, breathing in the fragrance of her soft hair. He held her as close as he could.

“Oh God, Mary, this is what I want. This is what I need,” he said, lifting his head and looking at her once more. “You’re what I need. You’re who I want.”

Mary ran her hands through Nick’s hair and pulled his face to hers, greeting him with a passionate kiss. It was she who first pushed her tongue towards him, hoping he would see that she felt the same. A slow sensual dance began in their mouths, ending with them clinging to each other.

“Nick, I’ve hated the way we’ve been since that night. I hated myself for possibly ruining our friendship, but I know what I needed and I needed you that night,” she said lowering her eyes and dropping her voice. “Just like I need you now. I love you, too.”

“Let me make love to you, Mary, here by the light of the tree. Let me show you how much I love you,” Nick said, pulling her hand to join him on the floor.

Mary kicked off her heels while Nick grabbed a throw and pillow from the sofa. After he spread the blanket out, they knelt, facing each other, almost afraid of what would happen. Nick tenderly reached out and ran his hand down the side of Mary’s face, trailing down her throat, the side of her breast, to her hip, and pulled her to him. Mary kissed his lips, then all along his jawline from one ear to the other, stopping to nibble until he moaned. They each pulled back and then lay down in front of the tree.

Nick leaned over Mary and kissed each of her eyes, her nose, and then her soft lips. He continued down her creamy white throat to her chest where the swell of her breasts began. He breathed in her cologne, scents of flowers mixed with amber and sandalwood. It was a sultry aroma that he had come to know each time she entered a room. The combination of that and the scent of the tree made for a sensuous mix.

Mary combed her fingers through Nick’s hair as he kissed her. She shuddered when he reached her chest, and leaned up to kiss and tease his ear. All resolve she felt about keeping their relationship strictly professional was long forgotten. She loved this man. He made her feel like a woman when she hadn’t for a long time. The heat of his breath in her cleavage further fueled the desire she felt for this man – her man.

Carefully, Nick reached around for the zipper to Mary’s dress and slowly pulled it down. As she lay in his arms, he slid the dress off her shoulder and continued kissing her body. His lips traced down her red bra strap to the cup of her lacy bra. Sliding her dress out of the way, he marveled that a kiss through the sheer fabric brought her nipple to hardness.

A moan escaped her as his lips touched a spot that sent chills much lower. Mary opened her eyes to watch Nick very intently nuzzling her breast. She raised her hand and gently pushed him away. He looked confused when she sat up, but quickly smiled at her action. Mary sat up, pulled her dress down to her waist and then reached behind her to unhook her bra. She held his eyes with hers while she very slowly lowered each strap and slid the red lace off her body. Nick thought her breasts glowed in the light of the tree. When she lay back, Mary opened her arms to him. It was an invitation he was not going to refuse.

Nick reached out and placed his hands at Mary’s waist, taking a hold of her dress. A shy grin crossed her face as she raised her hips, let him pull the dress down her legs and toss it onto the sofa. She looked like a goddess with her hair fanned out, the shadows of the light playing with the curves of her body and wearing only her red lace thong. His mouth went dry at the vision.

When he leaned forward to kiss her, he felt her hands unbuttoning his shirt. That was all the encouragement he needed. In just two minutes, Nick’s shirt and slacks were on the sofa next to Mary’s dress, and he was lying next to her on the floor. They came together in a loving embrace, their mouths trying to possess the other’s. This time it was Mary who took the initiative and rolled Nick onto his back.

She pulled at his legs to open them and then crawled up his body, between them. Her hair felt like a silk scarf as she bent down to lick and nibble at his nipples. The hair on his chest tickled her chin when she moved down the center of his chest and over his belly. Mary stopped to French kiss his navel before coming to the waistband of his boxers. Nick put his hand under his head so that he could watch this Christmas elf.

When Mary caught him watching, she locked her eyes on his and never wavered. She pulled at the boxers with her teeth, while her hands pulled at the sides. It was Nick’s turn to raise his hips, letting Mary free him from the last of his clothes. His cock sprang to attention, and without freeing his gaze, Mary began to tease him with her tongue.

One hand cupped his balls while the other held his rod still. From base to tip she trailed wet kisses. She swept the head of his cock with her tongue and then pressed it into his slit. Mary could feel Nick’s body tense, and then tense even more when she slid her lips over him, taking him into the back of her throat. She could smell his musky scent and taste his salty flavor. She backed off a bit and then slid down again, feeling his pubic hair touch her nose. His groan told her that he liked what she was doing. She wondered for how long.

Mary began to move, keeping her lips firm around his shaft. She slid up and down, swirling her tongue around the head, repeating the motion, massaging his balls and all the while, never losing his gaze. She released him for a moment to lick each side of him, bottom to top, and then surprised him by sucking his balls into her mouth. Jesus, he could feel his cum starting to boil.

She released his now moist and hot balls to engulf his cock once more. Mary worked like a woman possessed. Up and down, sucking with a need to taste him, drink from him, to seek nourishment from him. She continued to watch him, even though his eyes were closed, his head was thrown back and his groans had turned to audible pants.

“Mary…you have to stop. Please,” Nick begged. “I’m not going to last.”

She smiled on his cock and then stopped long enough to say, “Good.”

He hadn’t lost control because he never had control of this situation. Mary was determined to work until he surrendered. Sucking harder and faster, massaging his balls while she did, Nick suddenly tensed and growled while he released his juice down her throat. Mary never let up and kept her lips locked around him until she felt the spurts cease. When she got up on her knees, Nick opened his eyes to see her with an odd smile on her face. Slowly, she opened her mouth to show him his own essence and then swallowed, licking her lips afterwards.

“Come here, you,” Nick said, leaning forward to pull her to him.

His mouth captured hers as her rolled her on her back and held her close. Nick could taste himself as he explored her mouth with his tongue. He wanted Mary now, more than ever. He wanted her every day, every night, for the rest of his life. He ended his kiss by leaving her mouth and making his way down her body. He suckled at her breasts, but in no way like a baby. He sucked, nibbled, and chewed at her nipples. He massaged her glorious flesh and rejoiced in her willingness as a partner.

Nick kept massaging Mary’s chest but moved his mouth down her very flat belly to the moist piece of lace covering her pussy. He buried his nose between her legs to capture her scent. He kissed her through the flimsy fabric, and now it was Mary’s turn to moan. He brought a hand down to move her thong aside and expose the wet curls covering her lips. He ran his finger through them, until he reached the smooth wet flesh that had been hidden.

He ran his finger up and down, never quite touching her hole or her clit. The more Nick moved his finger, the wetter Mary became.

“God, Nick,” she begged. “Please, please stop teasing me.”

Nick kissed Mary just below her navel, then lowered his mouth and pushed his finger inside. Mary’s hips rose involuntarily, and as they did he slid his tongue up her slit to her throbbing nub. Mary squeaked and held her breath while he moved his finger in and out and licked and flicked the small pearl. It didn’t take long for him to realize that when he hit the spot high and left on her clit, it sent her to a whole other level.

“Oh, oh, oh,” she panted. “Now, oh God, now!”

That was all the encouragement Nick needed. Her responses had him hard again and ready to go. He pulled the thong from her body, threw her legs over his shoulders, and pushed his raging, pulsing cock into her. Nick looked down at Mary and saw the look of a woman sharing love with a man. When he leaned down to kiss her, Mary’s arms went around his neck and held him as close as she could. Harder and faster, he moved with her. Mary’s legs were becoming tense, and her breathing was becoming was more rapid. A low squeal started to rise up and out of Mary’s mouth as Nick plunged in one last time.

This time the couple clung to each other and didn’t let go. Riding their orgasms, they rocked and kissed and then finally lay, exhausted, still holding each other. Nick stroked Mary’s long hair while she was curled up in his arms, their legs intertwined.

“Mary, I want this to be the first of many nights together. I don’t mean sexually, I mean us, being together. I’m going to pursue divorcing Emily,” he told her, quietly. “She’ll always be Emma’s mother and if she wants to be part of her life, I’m fine with that, if Emma is. But I want you to be in this family, too. Tell me it’s not too soon to think about it.”

Mary looked up. “No, it’s not too soon. I would love to be part of yours and Emma’s family,” she giggled. “And to think I came back here with you to give the necklace back to you.”

Nick got up on his elbow and asked, “What necklace? What are you talking about?”

Now Mary sat up and looked puzzled. “Nick, the diamond heart necklace you gave me when I sat on Santa’s lap. You know.”

“Mary, I never gave you a necklace. I didn’t play Santa tonight. I thought you and Emma hired someone.”

“No, I just assumed you played Santa this year, like you do every year. Nick, if it wasn’t you, who was it?”

Nick sat up and kissed her again. “I don’t know and I really don’t care right now. You have my heart, Mary. You have it forever.”

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