Monday, November 27, 2017

New Devo Diary

Here is your post Thanksgiving update to Devo Diary. In this chapter, an unexpected connection with a friend, more opera rehearsals, more BDSM club events, and oh my god, the first appearance of The Mantis! You guys, this is what you have been waiting for.
Read on...
Devo Diary Chapter 34: Brenno the Baritone

Table of Contents

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Santa Crush Thanksgiving update!

So the encouragement in the last post inspired me to get out a little Thanksgiving update of Santa Crush.  Callie still has no idea what Dean's secret is.  Will she find out when she asks him to lunch?

Chapter 3

The whole story from the beginning....

Monday, November 20, 2017

New Devo Diary

New Devo Diary here! I dive back into internet dating, and land a date with a gorgeous hipster dude. Yes, it's another AB guy, but there is dev content coming up soon, I promise! But first it's...
Devo Diary Chapter 33: Atom the Archaeologist

Table of Contents

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Santa Crush update

In Chapter 1, Dean learned he was going to have to dress up as Santa at the mall. Will the kids figure out Santa can't walk?  More importantly, will the sexy elf find out?

Chapter 2

Thank you in advance for any thoughts or comments!!!!!

P.S. Due to the holidays next weekend, I may or may not be able to post an update, but I will definitely be back the weekend after.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Free Friday Short

Hi guys,

this short story is for the amazing anonymous reader who followed me through Blue and Silver. You asked for Noel's version of Blue... Well, here it is: White. I hope you all like it (and I hope the ano is still around after all this time :))!
This bonus chapter can be read independently from the other story parts. Thanks again to Annabelle for proof-reading and very valuable comments!


Thursday, November 16, 2017

New Book: The Girl I Didn't Kill For

For those of you who have been asking, The Girl I Didn't Kill For is finally available on Amazon:

Buy it on Amazon or read it free if you have Amazon Prime or Kindle Unlimited!

The cops have come to arrest me.

I know it’s them the second I hear that knock on the door. Cops have a knock I’d know in my sleep. That solid firm knock that you can hear anywhere in the apartment. I heard that knock many times before. I heard it when they took my father away. I heard it more times than I can count on my hands each time my brother Tony got busted.

But I never thought it would ever be me.

This is actually happening. These cops are taking me to jail. I’m going to be booked on a Murder One charge. I’m going to sit in a jail cell just like my brother did and my father did. I got the best lawyer in the city, but I’m not sure if even he can get me out of this one. The evidence is damning.

And the worst part?

The woman I love believes I’m guilty.

Buy it on Amazon or read it free if you have Amazon Prime or Kindle Unlimited!

Monday, November 13, 2017

New Devo Diary

New chapter here! Sorry it's another short one. Longer chapters are coming up, I promise. In this chapter I transition to being friends with Skip. Also it's March 2003, which means the opening of the Ben Affleck Daredevil movie, a significant event in my dev life, so I take some time to reflect on everyone's favorite blind superhero.

Devo Diary Chapter 32: After Skip

Table of Contents

Saturday, November 11, 2017

NEW STORY: Santa Crush

Hi all! It's Annabelle with a Christmas-themed novella. I decided to mix things up a bit and post on Saturday since I had Friday off.  Not sure if people like Saturday better than Sundays?

This is the first time I've ever written anything like this, so I hope you guys enjoy it. A friend of mine who read it already said it's her favorite thing I've ever written. It will probably be about 6-7 parts.



Nobody knocks anymore in this goddamn house.

They used to.  Even when I was a teenager, people would tap on my closed bedroom door prior to barging in.  Back then, they thought I could be doing something worth requiring privacy.  Like maybe I had a girl in here.  Or maybe I was relieving a little tension.  But these days everyone just swings the door open to my room without knocking because they assume all I could possibly be doing in here is working on my computer or watching TV.

To be fair, they’re mostly right. 

“Hey, Dean.”  It’s my brother Rich barging in this time. Rich is the last person I want to see right now.  “What’s going on?”

I lift my eyes to look at my little brother.  Rich—three years younger than me.  The pothead.  The screw up.  The one who would never amount to anything.  Yet he’s got his own place, while I occupy our parents’ den.  So who’s the screw up?

“Busy,” I mutter. 

These days I only seem to have the energy for one-word sentences.  Busy.  Tired.  Reading.  Or sometimes two words, if I’m really motivated.  Not hungry.  I use that one a lot on my mother.  Apparently, I’m “wasting away to nothing.”

Rich grins at me.  “Busy looking at porn?”

I glare at him.  He’s wearing badly ripped jeans that ride somewhere below where his butt crack probably starts.  He’s got on a T-shirt with a picture of a girl holding a hoe on it, with the words, “Every farm boy needs a good hoe.”  Even though I was always too polite to ever wear one, shirts like that used to get a laugh out of me.  But not much gets a laugh out of me these days.

“Busy working,” I mutter, gracing him with one of my rare two-word sentences.

“Christ, do you ever take a break?”

I glare at him again.  No, I don’t take a break.  Because I’m broke and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life living in my parents’ den.  That’s not my aspiration.  I have a Master’s Degree in computer science and I intend to use it to haul myself out of this shitty situation.


“I got a question for you, Dean,” Rich says.

I don’t answer, having already used up my word allotment for this conversation.

“When’s the last time you’ve been out of the house?”
I’m not touching that one with a ten-foot pole.

Rich plows on, not seeming to care about my lack of response: “Mom says you haven’t left the house in ten days.”

Ten days?  Is that right? 

Yeah, sounds right.  But so what?  It’s cold out there.  I don’t want to deal with it.  Is that so crazy?

“Mom thinks you’re planning to stay indoors the rest of the winter,” he adds. 

Congratulations, Rich, you’ve managed to break my concentration.  I lift my hands off the keyboard, figuring it’s a lost cause to try to get any work done right now.  It’s okay—I’ve got a week to get this code done.  I’ve got time.  It’s not like I need to clear my schedule for some hot date.  Maybe I’ll start watching the new season of Stranger Things.  I heard it was good.

“Dean?  Is that your plan?”

I sigh and grab the wheels of my chair to push myself away from my desk.  Even though it’s only me and Rich here, I have to admit I’m embarrassed when I look down and remember I’m wearing sweatpants.  Rich made a joke a few weeks ago about how I live in sweatpants these days, and I can’t say he’s wrong.  Sweatpants are comfortable.  They’re easy to put on.  They don’t have back pockets that will rub me in a place I can’t feel and make one of those pressure sores the docs at the hospital always used to scare me about.  And let’s face it—it’s not like I’m trying to impress anyone.

“There’s nowhere I want to go,” I finally say.

Six words.  He got six words out of me.  I must be in a better mood than I thought.

“So let’s go out,” Rich says, his lips curling into a grin.  “Let’s go hit O’Toole’s.”

 I just shake my head no.

“C’mon, Dean.” He reaches out like he’s going to slug me in the shoulder, but he doesn’t at the last minute.  Rich and I both use to do wrestling at the lightweight level in high school, so we practiced on each other as teenagers, even though he was smaller than me so I had to go easy on him.  Even after we both stopped wrestling, we used to punch each other with alarming frequency.  But now it’s like I’m made of glass.  He never touches me except when he has to in order to help me.  And then it’s so, so gently.  “You’ve got to get out of the house. You’re getting weird and isolated.”

I glare at him again.

“It’s happy hour,” he adds.

On Rich’s twenty-first birthday, I took him out for drinks at O’Toole’s.  That’s what you’re supposed to do for your little brother when he comes of age: get him plastered then make sure he arrives home safely.  Now it’s three years later, and I’m worried if we went out, I’d be the one who’d end up drinking way too much and Rich would have to push my sorry ass home.  Or worse, carry me. My life is too depressing to drink a responsible amount.

“No thanks,” I say, back in my two-word comfort zone.

Despite my refusal, Rich doesn’t budge.  He just stands there, fidgeting with the hoop in his left ear.  I remember how he agonized over which ear to get the earring in.  Apparently, there’s one ear that’s the ear gay men get pierced and the other ear is the straight one.  But he wasn’t sure which was which, and it varies region to region.  I thought his whole dilemma was really funny at the time. 

I never got an earring because I was the clean cut kid who got straight A’s and never broke curfew.  I followed every rule.  Yet look what happened to me.

Life’s a bitch.

“Do you want something?” I finally snap at him because he doesn’t appear to be leaving.

“Well…” Rich grins sheepishly.  And here it is—the real reason he’s here.  Not to rag on me for turning myself into a hermit or the fact that I haven’t showered in three days, but because he needs a favor.  God knows what kind of favor I could do for him anymore though.  “I sort of… need your help.”

I raise my eyebrows at him.

He sighs.  “So… you know that Santa gig I’ve got going at the mall?”

“Yeah…” The only reason I could think of to leave this house would be to see Rich dressed up as Santa at the mall.  It sounds like it would be hilarious. 

But I’d never go to the mall. Too many people I know there.  Too many chances to be forced to field questions like, “Dean, oh my God, what happened to you?”  No thanks.

“It turns out I’ve overbooked myself for tomorrow.”  He shrugs helplessly.  “I’ve got the Santa gig all day, but I’m also supposed to drive for Mr. Hannigan doing deliveries.  I’m stuck.”

Typical Rich dilemma.  Can’t say no to anyone.  Especially with the way jobs pay around the holidays.

“That sucks,” I say.

“So…” He flashes me a crooked grin.  “I thought maybe you could help me out.”

“You want me to call Bill Hannigan and tell him you’re an idiot?”

“Actually,” Rich says, rubbing his hands together, “I was thinking maybe you could play Santa for a day.”

I laugh.  It’s the first time I’ve laughed in ten days and it feels better than I expected.  It’s funny how you can forget laughing is something that feels good.

“So is that a yes?”

I laugh again and tug at the leg of my classy sweatpants.  “Rich, that’s a resounding no.”

“But Dean, I really need you to—”


“Don’t you think it would be fun to—”


“Come on, it would really help—”

“Am I saying ‘no’ in a language you don’t understand?”

Rich sighs and collapses onto my bed dramatically.  Even though he’s in his mid-twenties, he looks five when he does that.  It tugs at me, but not enough to get me to dress up in a Santa costume.  What the hell is wrong with him?  What made him think I’d even consider it?

“We could make a deal,” Rich says.

“You have nothing I want.”

My brother stares up at the ceiling thoughtfully.  He scratches at his spikey brown hair, which is a hint at how “cool” my own hair could look if I gave two shits about it.  Right now, I’m aiming for the “just rolled out of bed” look pretty much all the time.  It’s surprisingly easy to achieve.

“I’ve got one thing,” he finally says.

I raise my eyebrows, waiting to hear it.

“My apartment.”

I laugh again.  “That shithole?  Try harder.”

“I’m serious.” Rich sits up in my bed to look me in the eyes.  “You don’t have any place to hide over the holidays, do you?”

I cringe, aware of what he’s getting at.

“Grandma and Grandpa are coming…” Rich ticks them off on his fingers.  “Aunt Sarah and Uncle Pete.  Aunt Bernice.  All our cousins.  Great Uncle Joe.  Oh, and that creepy friend of Mom’s from work—John.”  His lips curl into a smile.  “Think about it, Dean.  All those people in the house.  For days—you know Grandma and Grandpa are staying with us, right?  Days and days of… well, you know.”

I do know.  It’s not like I thought my first Christmas since landing my ass in a wheelchair for life was going to be any picnic, but Mom had to magnify the situation by inviting our entire extended family.  When I protested, she cried.  Cried.  She said last year she wasn’t sure she’d have another Christmas with me, so this year is really important.  I can’t argue with my mother when she’s crying. I’m not some kind of monster.

So it’s going to be days of everyone clapping me in the shoulder and telling me how good I look.  Awkward conversations.  Sympathetic looks when I admit I haven’t worked up the nerve to actually interview for any jobs.  Patronizing comments when I say I’ve still managed to get some freelance work from people online who have no clue about my situation.  There will definitely be the occasional inappropriate question.  Mom’s friend John is sure to ask me how I manage to go to the bathroom.  And of course, none of them will knock before barging into my room because why would a disabled person need privacy?

It’s going to be terrible.

“You do this for me,” Rich says, “and I’ll give you a set of keys to my place.  You can stay there as much as you want until New Years.  Sleep there if you want—I’ll take the couch and you can have my bed.”

Wow.  I never thought it would be possible for Rich to offer me something that would make me considering putting on a red suit and fake beard, but here it is.

“Even if I theoretically were willing to do it,” I begin, “I can’t just show up at your job and pretend I’m you, right?”

He shrugs.  “Why not?  Nobody will know. You’ll be in costume.  We look enough alike.”

We do.  Or at least, we used to.

“Also,” I add, “I don’t think the kids are going to be excited about Santa in a wheelchair.”

Rich rolls his eyes.  “Don’t worry, we’ve got a huge throne for you to sit in.  You don’t have to budge from it. We can stash the chair out of the way.”

I can’t believe I’m considering this.  “What would I do?  I don’t have any experience with this.”

Rich laughs.  “Dean, you’ve got an advanced degree—I think you can figure out how to play Santa.” Possibly.  “It’s like the easiest job on the planet.  You just sit there, ask kids what they want for Christmas, then tell them ‘Merry Christmas.’”

I know even before the word “yes” leaves my mouth that this will be a mistake.


This is the ugliest elf costume I’ve ever seen.

There are cute elf costumes.  They exist.  My friend Serena was a sexy elf for a Christmas costume party last year, and every guy at the party was trying to get a piece of that elf.  It made me wonder what I’d be thinking when I decided to dress up as a very unsexy Mrs. Claus (only because I’m perpetually broke and was able to piece the costume together with items from my grandmother’s closet).

Anyway, back to the ugliest elf on the planet—i.e. me. 

I’m wearing a baggy green shirt with a red star collar.  It’s paired with red Capri pants that are also quite oversized, red-and-white striped stockings, and shoes that are a full five inches longer than my actual feet.  Pair it with a green cap and my humiliation is complete.

My roommate Rhea catches me gazing miserably at myself in the hall mirror and stops to stare.  I could be annoyed, but I can’t really blame her.  I stop and stare when I see a horrible car crash.  It’s human nature to stare at disasters.

“It’s awful,” I groan.  “I can’t go out in public looking this way.”

“I like the hat,” Rhea says and plucks it off my head, depositing it on her own mane of blond hair. 

Of course, she looks adorable in it.  There are two kinds of women in this world—those who look good in hats and those who don’t.  I am in the latter category: the hat-challenged.  I won’t even put on a baseball cap because it makes me look like an idiot.

“I wish I weren’t so poor,” I mutter.  “So I wouldn’t have to humiliate myself to have the money to buy Christmas gifts.”

Actually, I have already bought said Christmas gifts.  This job is so that I can pay the credit card bill when it arrives in January.  Or else face having the earrings I bought for my Aunt Sylvia repossessed. 

Rhea grins at me and replaces the hat back on my head.  “Think of it this way, Callie—this will give you a funny story to tell someday when you’re a rich and famous lawyer.”

Midway through my second year of law school, the dream of being a rich and famous lawyer seems as impossible as becoming a woman who looks good in hats.

“Do you need a ride to the mall?” Rhea asks me.

This is a very reasonable offer for her to make, despite the fact that I own a car.  My car, Old Denty, has only a fifty-fifty shot of starting on any given day.  If I have an exam that morning, the chances of her starting fall to a mere thirty-two percent.  Which is coincidentally the same score I got on my constitutional law exam when I was forty-five minutes late thanks to my stupid car not starting.  I wish I could afford a better car than Old Denty, but I can’t.  Not if I want to eat and have a roof over my head that isn’t made of cardboard.

“I’ll let you know,” I tell Rhea.  “Stand by.”

I grab my coat so I don’t have to be seen on the street in this ridiculous getup.  It’s a one-week gig, and I’m not looking forward to it.  I’ve never been an elf before but I’m guessing it’s going to involve a lot of screaming kids kicking me in the shins and an old guy in a Santa costume who will pinch my butt when nobody is looking.  But it pays really well because nobody wants to spend their Christmas week standing at the mall, looking like an idiot in an elf costume.

The best thing about Old Denty is nobody breaks into her.  The carjackers (rightfully) assume there could be nothing of value in a car that looks like that.  Let me tell you, if you ever want to smuggle a million dollars in a car, borrow Old Denty.  Nobody will suspect a thing.  Also, breaking in to Old Denty would presumably involve getting one of the doors open, which is a challenge in itself, even when you’ve got a key. 

As I turn my key in the engine and it reluctantly sputters to life, I think to myself that what I miss most about having a boyfriend is bumming rides off him.

That’s a joke, obviously.  I miss other stuff about having a boyfriend.  I miss making out.  I miss a nice stubble grazing my chin.  I miss Adam’s apples.  They are so sexy.  What are those things?  Why do they stick out?  Why don’t we women have them?  They are such a mystery.

Also, sex.  I miss sex.  It just isn’t the same with my little rabbit vibrator, despite the raves on Amazon.

When I’m stopped at a red light, I tug at my oversized green elf shirt.  Before I put this hideous costume on, I thought maybe this elf work would be an opportunity to meet someone.  After all, I’ve already dated everyone in my law school class who seemed dateable and determined none of them were a match.  (It didn’t take long.)  Being an elf might sadly be my only opportunity to meet eligible guys.  Older brothers.  Cool uncles.  Single dads.

Actually, I might be too immature to date a single dad.  The thought of me being any sort of mother figure is slightly horrifying.

But as I pull into the mall parking lot, I look down at my striped stockings and let out a sigh.  I will not be meeting any older brothers, cool uncles, single dads, or even spry grandpas today.  Nobody in their right mind would hit on me while I’m wearing this elf costume.  I’ll be lucky if they even recognize I’m female.

I swear to God, this better be worth the money.

To be continued...

Monday, November 6, 2017

New Devo Diary

Hello everyone, it's another chapter of Devo Diary! For all of you who are tired of the dead-end relationship with Skip, fear not, I have moved on at last. In this chapter, I start getting more involved in the BDSM scene, and go on a date....
Devo Diary Chapter 31: Paul the Pornographer

Sorry this chapter is a little short but it was a shortish episode. Also I want to keep up the weekly pace so some chapters might be on the short side.

As always, here is the Table of Contents.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Update to The Girl I Didn't Kill For

First of all, thank you so much to everyone who has read and commented along the way!  Your support has honestly meant so much to me.  But this is definitely going to be the last chapter I post on here because I am eager to post my Christmas novella before the season is over!  The book will be out, at latest, by the end of the month.  So please enjoy an extra-intense:

Chapter 13

And one last time: Table of Contents

If you haven't already, please check out the prequel, The Girl I Didn't Marry!  It's all about how Nick and Jessie first met, Nick got injured, and then turned into the successful businessman he is in the current story.

And next week, I'm going to start posting my Christmas novella, Santa Crush.  The whole thing will (eventually) be made available on the blog in its entirety, but it's also on Amazon for those who prefer that.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Santa Crush, Chapter 2


Rich drives me to the mall because getting myself a car with hand controls would involve a) my having enough money to purchase a car with hand controls and b) my leaving the house.  No and no.  So right now, I’m dependent on everyone else in the world for rides.  As if my life couldn’t get any better.

Rich doesn’t have handicapped plates like my parents do, so he has to park in a spot where the spot to our right is empty so I have room to get out.  Only when he’s going to get my wheelchair out of the trunk, someone swings into the spot next to ours. Of course they do. Because that’s my life these days.

“Hey!” Rich is waving his hands at the woman who pulled into the spot.  “Hey, can you park somewhere else?”

The middle-aged woman getting out of the car looks at Rich like he just spoke to her in a Martian language. To be fair, it’s an unusual request.

I can see by craning my neck that Rich has already pulled one of my wheels out of the trunk and is waving it in the air now.  Great—a scene.  Just what I was hoping for. 

“My brother is in a wheelchair,” Rich explains to the woman.  “We need room for him to get out.”

The woman looks at me, sitting in the passenger seat.  I’m attempting to slouch down as much as humanly possible without being on the floor.  She gives him a skeptical look.  “So park in the handicapped spots.  That’s what they’re for.”

“Well, I don’t have a permit,” Rich says. 

“So get one.”

“Come on, lady, he’s disabled. Have some heart.”

The woman has no heart.  She throws up her hands and walks away from her car, saying once again, “Next time get a handicapped permit.”  Meanwhile, I’m sitting shotgun, willing my brother not to cause any more of a scene.  If he does, I’m out of here.  To hell with the apartment.

But Rich doesn’t make a scene other than yelling “Merry Christmas!”  at the woman, then storming back into the car, where he swears the entire time he’s looking for another spot.  My original suggestion was for him to drop me off in front first and then find a spot himself, but he said it was “too much trouble.”  Now we’ve spent over ten minutes in the process of parking.  Luckily, we don’t have any more trouble at the next spot.

By the time we get to the entrance of the mall, I’m already exhausted and regretting this with every fiber of my being.

It’s only nine in the morning, but the mall is packed.  I’ve always hated crowds, but now I really hate crowds.  Especially when a family of five kids knocks into me near the entrance and I practically slam into a wall.  Getting the money for this job and the apartment for a week isn’t enough.  Rich is going to owe me his firstborn after this. 

“Where’s the Santa court?” I ask Rich.  I’m trying not to let on that I’m five seconds away from having a panic attack.

“Second floor,” he says.

I groan, dreading the journey to the second floor.  The mall has two elevators and I don’t want to go in either of them.  One is a tin can elevator the size of a broom closet all the way at the far end of the mall.  The other is a glass elevator by the food court, which makes me want to throw up every time I use it.  I’ve been terrified of that elevator since I was four years old.  I don’t know what it is about glass elevators that makes me so damn queasy.  But it’s still better than the tin can elevator.

There are a lot of people waiting for the glass elevator—more than the elevator can possibly hold.  And all of those people are carrying five bags of packages.  I feel my blood pressure going up and start to remember why I hadn’t left the house in ten days.

I hate Christmas.

The glass doors of the elevator swing open and the ocean of people starts to flow inside.  It’s clear Rich and I won’t make it onto this elevator, and we’ll be lucky if we get on the next one.  Except before I settle in to wait, a woman calls out, “Everybody needs to make room!  There’s a man in a wheelchair who needs to board!”

For Christ’s sake…

“It’s okay,” I say quickly.  “I can take the next one.”

“No, we need to make room,” the woman insists. 

I try to protest again, but Rich hisses in my ear, “Just go, Dean!  We don’t want to be here all day!”

I don’t want to go.  I don’t want to be the “man in a wheelchair” who needs special treatment.  I just wanted to be treated like any other twenty-seven-year-old guy who needs to wait his damn turn to get in the elevator.  But they do make room for me, and at that point, it would be awkward if I refused.  So I go inside with Rich, who they probably think is my nurse or something.

And of course, I end up right against the glass of the outside of the elevator, so I can see us rising in the air.  I try to look away, but it’s hard.  Rich watches my face, amused.  He knows I’ve got a thing about heights.  “You getting sick, Dean?” he asks.

“No,” I lie.

If this elevator takes one more second to reach its destination, I’m gonna hurl.

The elevator jolts to a halt on the second floor.  The two boys next to me are horsing around, probably because they’re bored out of their skulls from being dragged out on a shopping trip first thing in the morning.  I feel for them, I really do—or at least, I would if my situation weren’t so much worse. And also, their behavior is making me anxious. Sure enough, just as I’m pushing through the elevator doors, one of the kids bashes into me and knocks my right foot clean off the footplate. 

The poor kid looks nothing short of traumatized.  He stares at me, open-mouthed, as I lift my leg back into place.

“Mason!” the boy’s mother snaps at him.  “Say you’re sorry.”

“Sorry, Mister,” the boy mumbles.

“It’s fine,” I mumble back.  My manners aren’t any better than a ten-year-old kid’s.

“Are you all right?” the mother asks me, her brows scrunched together like her kid may have seriously injured me.

I just nod at her because I don’t feel like talking to anyone ever again.

Santa’s village is at the far end of the second floor of the mall.  I get winded pushing myself there, which is a sad commentary on how little exercise I’ve been getting lately. Maybe not leaving the house for ten days straight isn’t the best idea ever. 

My chest tightens when I see all the fake snow and the giant Christmas tree all lit up.  I still remember how excited I used to get when I was a kid and my mom brought me here.  I used to look forward to it all year.  I wish I had good nostalgia right now, but it’s just making me feel uneasy. 

In the center of Santa’s Village is Santa’s cottage.  It’s a small faux-wooden cottage, covered in fake snow and surrounded by a bright red fence.  I know from personal experience that Santa sits inside the cottage, which is where the kids go to meet him.

I keep my hands on the pushrims of my chair, reluctant to wheel any further.  Rich doesn’t seem to notice until he’s several paces ahead of me.  He turns back to look at me and waves his hand impatiently.  “Come on!  We don’t have much time before the kids start coming.”

Well, that lights a fire under me.

Inside the cabin is a giant chair where I’m supposed to be sitting, which is next to a fireplace.  The fireplace is fake—or at least, I hope it is because there’s no way I’m getting my ass out of here in a fire.  There’s a giant bucket filled to the brim with little candy canes, which I suppose we’ll be giving out to the kids after they’ve told me what they want for Christmas.

There’s also a woman in her forties with gray-streaked hair who is in front of the giant chair, fiddling with a fancy-looking camera.  The second I see her, my heart sinks.

“Hi, Rich,” the woman says.

“Hey, Betty,” Rich says.  “This is my brother, Dean.”

Betty waves at me.  “Hi, Dean.”

The polite, normal thing to do right now would be to say “hi” back.  But instead, I stare up at my brother, my blood boiling. “Who is she?”

He shrugs.  “She takes the photos.  I filled her in on what we’re doing.  Don’t worry—Betty won’t rat us out.”

“You mean I have to pose for photos?”

“Of course you do.” Rich shrugs again as if failing to mention I was going to be the center of a hundred Christmas photos is inconsequential.  “Where do you think all those photos of kids with Santa come from?  Magic?”

I look at the camera then down at my lap.  “Forget it.  I’m not doing this.”

“Dean!” Rich looks panicked now. “Come on, don’t do this to me.  I’ve got to be at Hannigan’s in less than an hour.  You promised.”

“You didn’t say anything about photos.”

“Shit, I didn’t think I had to!”

Betty regards us both with amusement.  She steps out from behind her camera and I can see she’s wearing an elf costume.  “Can I say something please?” she asks me.

I avert my eyes, not really wanting to bring a stranger into this family dispute.  “Uh huh.”

“Look,” she says.  “The photos aren’t a big deal.  I’m quick—I promise.  And you’ll be in your costume so you won’t be recognizable in the pictures.  Nobody will know it’s you in a million years.”

Both Rich and Betty are looking at me expectantly.  I really don’t want to do this.  But I’ve reached the point of no return here. Plus, I don’t want to be the Grinch who refused to pretend to be his brother on Christmas week and spoiled Christmas.

“Fine,” I grumble.

Rich gets out the suit, which is, not surprisingly, bright red with white trims.  It looks extremely hot.  I wore jeans today instead of my usual uniform of a T-shirt and sweatpants, but the jeans are going to have to come off to get this suit on comfortably.  I could probably keep my T-shirt on, so I don’t have to strip down naked in front of Betty the Camera Lady.

“You need help changing?” Rich asks me.

“No,” I say irritably. 

Usually I dress in bed, but I can do it in my chair.  The upper body part is easy—I have great upper body strength, even better than before.  My legs are harder because I can’t move or feel them, but I learned how to do this in rehab.  I get my jeans off, then put on the furry Santa pants.  I take off my jacket, so I can put on the red jacket.  I stuff the fake belly down my shirt, which I badly need because I’m thirty pounds lighter than I was before I got hurt.

“I should probably transfer into the chair now,” I say, eying Santa’s chair.  There’s a red velvet cushion on the seat, but if I’m going to be sitting there all day, especially with a bunch of kids hopping on and off my lap, I’m worried it won’t be enough.  I want to use my wheelchair cushion.  I don’t think anyone will notice. 

I scoot my butt forward in the wheelchair, take my legs out of the footplate, then transfer myself in one swift motion.  Before I can get settled, I grab my cushion and put it behind me.  Then I back up so my butt is on the cushion.

“You really need that?” Rich asks.

“I really do,” I practically spit at him.

“Okay, okay…”  He looks down at my wheelchair.  “So I could put your chair out in the—”

“The chair doesn’t leave this room,” I say firmly.


“Not negotiable.”

Rich looks like he might argue with me, but I won’t bend on this.  I need my chair.  I am screwed without it.  I’m not going to risk something happening to it in this crowded mall.  I’m not letting it out of my sight.

Finally, Rich finds a closet in the cottage where he can stash the chair.  I can’t see the chair, obviously, but I can see the closet so I know my chair is safe.  Betty can get it out for me when I need it, or if worse comes to worse, I could drag myself over and get it, but I hope it wouldn’t come to that.

Last, I’ve got to put on the beard, wig, and hat.  It’s the part I’m looking forward to the least, and that’s saying a lot.  When I get everything in place, I feel ridiculous.  Betty asks me if I want a mirror, but I really don’t.  All I know is I want this over with so I can rip this hot, itchy beard off my face.

“It’s not that bad,” Betty says, a smile twitching at her lips.

“You owe me so much,” I say to Rich.

“I know,” he says, his own lips curling into a smile too.  “Listen, I gotta run now.  But the kids will start coming in about ten minutes.  I’ll be by to pick you up at six.”

This day already feels endless.

I crack open a candy cane while I watch my brother walk out of Santa’s cottage.  I’ve got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  Even at my best, I wouldn’t have enjoyed doing something like this.  But I remind myself if things go south, I can always leave.  I’m not stuck here.  Rich is the one whose job is on the line—not me.

“Hey, stupid question—this is Santa’s cottage, right?”

I look up and that’s when I see her standing at the door.  A girl around my age, wearing the ugliest elf costume I’ve ever seen.  It’s as big and bulky as my own Santa suit with crazily oversized shoes and a silly hat, but at least I can see her brown hair that curls at the ends and her flawless, pale skin. 

“Are you the new elf?” Betty asks her.

The girl nods.  “Yes.  I’m Callie.”

I’d assumed Betty was the elf.  I figured she was doubling as elf and photographer.  I mean, how many freaking elves do we need here?  But apparently, this girl Callie is going to be the main elf, who will lead children into the cottage and make sure they each leave with a candy cane.

And she’s beautiful.


The best news I’ve heard all day is that I’ll be in Santa’s cottage, which means I won’t be out in the general public of the mall, visible to all mallgoers.  I’m not vain—I swear.  I just feel like an idiot in this costume.  The more hidden I am, the better.

The woman taking photographs, Betty, seems really nice.  She shakes my hand warmly when I come in and explains to me what I’m supposed to do.  Thank God, because I hadn’t been given much in the way of instructions aside from: Show up in ugly elf costume. 

The guy dressed as Santa seems like a jerk.  I can barely see his face at all between the giant beard and wig, but when I introduce myself, he just mumbles a hello.  He doesn’t even stand up or make eye contact or something remotely politely like that.  He doesn’t even introduce himself, but I hear Betty call him “Dean” so I guess he’s Dean.  Nice to meet you, Dean. 

Hopefully he’ll at least be friendly with the kids.  There’s nothing worse than a grumpy Santa.  If a kid’s been waiting in line an hour to meet him, they deserve better than a growled “Merry Christmas.”

At eleven o’clock, Santa’s cottage is officially open.  Betty gives me word to let in the first of the already lengthy line of children.  As I’m walking to the door, I see Betty put her hand on the grouchy Santa’s shoulder and say just loud enough for me to hear: “Don’t worry.  You’ll be fine.”

Maybe Santa isn’t grumpy.  Maybe he’s just nervous.

As soon as I open the door, the first kid shoots into the cottage like a lightning bolt.  It’s a little girl, wearing an absolutely adorable dark red velvet coat.  Without having to be told, she scrambles onto Dean’s lap.

Dean just stares at her like he’s not sure what to do.  After an awkward moment, he blurts out, “Oh!  Um, what do you want for Christmas?”

“Well,” the little girl says, “I’d like an Oonies Mega Starter Pack, Doctor Dreadful Zombie lab, and a Hatchimals.”

“Oh.” Santa Dean looks befuddled.  He tugs at his beard and for a second, I catch a glimpse of his blue eyes and realize how young he actually is.  I don’t know his real hair color, but it’s definitely not white like the wig.  He’s probably about my age.  “Have you been good?”

The little girl stares at him.  “Don’t you know?”

“Of course I do,” Dean says quickly, and I almost laugh.  “I’m just double-checking  Checking twice.  You know.”

The girl gives him a skeptical look, but accepts his answer.  Then it’s photo time, which is obviously the girl’s forte.  She poses adorably with her little hands folded in her lap and her head cocked to one side, and Betty snaps the picture in an instant.  I hand her a candy cane and herd her out the door on the other side of the cottage.  We’re an assembly line.

“Good job,” I say to Dean, because he looks so anxious.

“Oh.” He laughs and I realize he has a cute laugh.  Nice eyes and a nice laugh. I wonder what he looks like under the wig and beard.  I’m suddenly unbearably curious.  “Thanks.  I… I’ve never done this before.”

I look down at my ridiculous costume.  “Me too.  But I think we can fumble through it together.  And on the bright side, I don’t think anyone we know will see us like this.”

He laughs again.  “Yeah, true.”

Dean may not be as grumpy as he seemed, but he’s obviously not very talkative.  Not that we have time to talk, since the line is growing as we speak.  It’s going to be a very, very long day.

The next kid in line is another girl, around six years ago.  Like the first girl, she climbs onto Dean’s lap without hesitation.  I remember being in line to see Santa where the kids were terrified of the man in the red suit, but none of the kids seem to have this problem with Dean.  He seems more scared of them than they are of him.

“What do you want for Christmas?” Dean asks the girl.

The girl recites, “I want a My Little Pony Canterlot and Seaquestria Tower with a light-up tower.”

The girl’s father groans, “No!  No more My Little Pony junk!  I can’t stand it anymore, Brianna!”

The girl, Brianna, glares at her father.  “It’s not up to you!  Santa gets to decide!”  She turns back to Dean.  “Santa, please?”

“Um.” Dean looks at the father, who gives him an exasperated shrug.  “I’ll see what I can do.”

Brianna sits there for another moment, looking at Dean thoughtfully.  “You smell nice, Santa.”

He lets out a surprised laugh.  “Oh.  Um, thanks.”

“You smell like peppermint.”

“Well, I ate a candy cane.”

The little girl’s eyes widen. “You’re allowed to do that?”

He shrugs. “Sure.  You don’t want Santa’s breath to smell bad, do you?”

I laugh myself this time—I can’t help it.  I remember when I was a kid, I sat on the lap of a Santa who had a bad case of coffee-breath.  I appreciate Dean’s attempt to be a nice-smelling Santa.  Good to know in addition to having nice eyes and a nice laugh, he also smells nice.

And now I sort of want to smell him.

To be continued...