A Christmas Date
I wasn’t sure whether I liked the uncomfortable mixture of extreme excitement and nervous nausea that swelled within me as I stood under the clock in the quiet town centre, waiting for my date to arrive.
My last two dates had been a disaster. One man had used a photo online that hadn’t at all reflected the reality of his long scraggly beard and wide staring eyes, and the other had liked to repeatedly say the word ‘bosh’ at the end of every sentence, as if it made what he was saying all the more impressive. It certainly made an impression, just not the one he was hoping for.
However, that night I was finally meeting a man that I actually felt a solid connection with. Noel Jolly and I had been exchanging messages for two weeks, and it’s fair to say I had developed quite the crush. Not only was he very handsome with a bright face and cute fluffy hair, but we also had loads in common. He had a big family, just like me, he was quite the night owl, just like me, and he had a very sweet tooth, which was also one of my major weaknesses. It was seeming like a perfect match.
‘Belinda?’ a male voice said. I turned around and was instantly surprised. Now I am only short. Five foot two when I’m exaggerating. But he was shorter than me. Okay, only by millimetres, but still. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting.
‘Are you Noel?’ I asked, trying to work out whether the height bothered me. It had never occurred to me that I might fall for a man who was shorter than me. No one was ever shorter than me.
‘Yes. Lovely to finally meet you in person.’ He kissed my cheek. It was sweet.
‘You look cold,’ I said, noticing his rosy cheeks. It was early December and the weather had taken a turn for the worse just that week.
‘And you look freezing. I’m sorry I kept you waiting. I hope you haven’t been here for long?’
‘Just a few minutes. I always arrive early for everything. It’s a bad habit.’
‘It’s a good habit. Shall we find somewhere warm to go?’
We walked up the road to a pub where Noel said he knew there was a crackling fire. Being a Tuesday night, nowhere was busy, and we managed to grab the comfy armchairs by the fire in the quaint little inn. I took off my coat and sat down. You could almost hear the sound of me thawing out. With all the nerves, I hadn’t quite realised just how cold I was.
‘What can I get you to drink?’ Noel asked.
‘A glass of red wine would be lovely,’ I said.
He was only gone for a few minutes. He came back with a large glass of wine for me and a pint of something called “Excellent Elf” for himself, the name of which he found far too amusing.
‘Cheers,’ he said through his giggle as we clinked glasses.
‘Cheers,’ I replied, trying to figure out what was so funny. ‘This is a nice place. Good choice.’
‘It’s best on a cold night like tonight. But I’m always so busy at this time of year with work, I don’t often get to enjoy it.’
‘I don’t think you actually told me what you do for a living. How much have we chatted and I still don’t know what you do for a job!’
‘Did that not come up?’ he asked, nonchalantly.
‘I don’t think so.’
‘We had so much other stuff to talk about.’
‘That’s true. I’ve really enjoyed our chats. So, go on then. What do you do for work?’
He paused. ‘I have an unusual job.’
‘Tell me what you do first,’ he said.
I paused this time. ‘I’m an accountant. I actually run my own practice. Remember I said I was ambitious…’
‘See what I mean!’ Noel replied, cutting me off.
‘A perfect example of how people judge you based on your job. Accountants are stereotypically boring and strait-laced, but you’re anything but that. You seem lovely. And full of life. Just because you happen to be good with numbers doesn’t mean you should be labelled so negatively.’
‘I suppose people do make assumptions about who you are based on what you do for a living. Although thank you for your kind words. Do you get judged then?’
Suddenly all sorts of crazy things started whizzing through my mind. What was he about to tell me? As long as it wasn’t sleazy, I was sure I wouldn’t mind. Maybe he trained cats? Or was a chocolate taster for Cadbury’s? Or reared chickens for fast food restaurants? I could live with that.
He took a deep breath. ‘I’m in manufacturing.’ He didn’t make eye contact with me when he said this.
‘What sort of manufacturing?’ All I could think was that he made sex toys. He was the maker of weird sex toys that were sold only on the dark web. That nausea was coming back again.
I didn’t move. Oh God, he made sex toys.
Was it a bad thing? Was I being unnecessarily judgemental? Someone had to make these things. They were growing in popularity and it was probably a booming business. He might have been a millionaire.
No. I didn’t like it.
Maybe I was strait-laced after all.
‘You look a bit shocked,’ he said with worry. ‘Are you putting it together? Christmas. Toys. My height.’
I could feel my face unintentionally screw up. ‘Your height? Does that help with manufacturing?’
‘Are the machines quite low to the ground?’
‘My height because of my race.’
That must have been seriously strong wine because I was now completely confused.
‘I’m an elf,’ he said.
It took a second to sink in.
‘What did you just say?’ I asked.
‘I’m an elf.’
I burst out laughing. The relief! I didn’t understand his sense of humour, but he was making me laugh, so that was good.
I took another sip of my drink as I waited for him to reveal the punchline, but his face didn’t flinch.
‘I’m an elf,’ he repeated again.
My heart dropped as I realised he was completely serious.
So many words were ready and waiting in my mouth. There were so many things I wanted to say. But none of them were coming out easily.
‘I work for Santa Claus,’ he added.
I couldn’t resist the laugh that came out again, although I think this was mostly related to the stark realisation that I’d ended up on another terrible date.
‘There are no such things as elves,’ I said, not able to hide the irritation in my voice.
‘You’re offended by me stating mere fact?’
‘So you know everything about everything do you? Whether you believe it or not, you’re sitting next to a real life elf, who works for Santa Claus and makes toys for children.’
I laughed again. Could he not hear himself?
‘I thought Santa lived in the North Pole?’ I challenged.
‘Santa lives in Greenland. But he has factories all over the world. Do you seriously think we can make presents for two billion children in just one little manufacturing plant in Greenland?’
This stumped me.
‘So, where do you work?’ I asked.
‘At the industrial park on the edge of town. You know Snowflake Toys?’
I passed the massive building of Snowflake Toys every day on my way to work. It was just a normal building. It wasn’t a magical place for elves.
‘You’ve got to stop this,’ I said. ‘This is ridiculous. What do you really do?’
‘I work for Snowflake Toys. I’m actually now Head of Production. Santa likes to promote within. He’s a good man to work for.’
‘Are you crazy?’ My tone was now angry.
‘Look, I really am an elf. This isn’t a joke. Don’t worry about it, though. Most people react this way. I just thought after we’d built up such a strong connection, you might be more willing to open your mind. I thought you were different. I guess I was wrong.’
Noel downed the rest of his beer and stood up.
‘Nice to meet you, Belinda. Have a good Christmas.’ With that he left.
I instantly felt very small and stupid. Had he really just walked out on our date? I sat for a few minutes not knowing what to do. Was he going to come back? I could feel eyes across the very quiet bar staring at me. I’m sure no one really cared, but that didn’t ease my embarrassment.
Deciding that the date was now very much over, I grabbed my bag and coat and went to leave, when something caught my eye. All across the chair where Noel had been sitting there was glitter sparkling against the light of the fire. Had that been there before? It was so pretty. What sort of a man would leave sparkly glitter behind?
I didn’t sleep well that night. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw flashes of Noel dressed up in green with bells hanging off his shoes and hat. It was utterly ridiculous. And it was so unfair. He was the first man in a long time that had actually excited me. After three years of being single, I had finally braved the online dating world and I had met a man that I actually liked. There had been such incredible chemistry between us as we’d chatted on the phone and exchanged messages before our first date. It had all been so easy and comfortable.
Why did he have to declare he was a Christmas elf? It was preposterous.
A horrifying thought hit me. What if when he saw me he instantly had doubts and the elf story was his kind way of letting me down? That thought then haunted me for hours.
Even as I made my way to the office the next morning, I was still being taunted by so many awful thoughts, which only heightened as I passed the enormous building of Snowflake Toys. He was probably in there laughing at me. Telling all his mates how he’d made fun of me before ditching me and moving on to date number two that night, or something equally as horrible.
Even though none of these terrible thoughts matched the man I thought Noel to be, they went round and round in my mind, over and over, and by the time lunchtime arrived, I was going mad.
That was it. I needed closure. He had walked out on me, and I had a right to know why.
‘I’m popping out for lunch,’ I said as I shot through the office and straight to my car.
It took just ten minutes to get to Snowflake Toys. I sat in the car park, surrounded by dozens of other cars, my heart thudding. This wasn’t going to end well. But I needed to know the truth.
I held my head high as I strode towards the main entrance.
As soon as I stepped foot in the building, I was hit with jovial Christmas music and a warm glow. The red and green interior of the large reception area looked like Christmas had thrown up on it, but in a strangely tasteful way. It was most peculiar.
‘Can I help you?’ the very tiny woman behind the small reception desk said. She was quite young, perhaps early twenties, and had a look that said she wanted to be anywhere but behind that desk.
‘I’m here to see Noel, please.’
‘Which one? We have like twenty-four Noels working here.’
‘Noel Jolly.’ As soon as I said it, his name sounded so different to me. It could definitely be an elf’s name.
‘Do you have an appointment?’
‘No. I’m just a friend who’s dropping by on the off chance he has a few minutes to see me.’
‘At this time of year?’ She scoffed as if I was an idiot. ‘Who shall I say is disturbing him?’
I didn’t like her. ‘Belinda Baker.’
She picked up the phone and dialled.
‘Hiya, Noel. I have a Belinda Baker in reception. She seems to think you can magic up time to see her.’ The receptionist’s face morphed from arrogant to surprised as she listened to Noel’s response, and then there was the final pinch of annoyance as she placed down the receiver.
‘He’ll be with you in a few,’ she said, forcing a smile.
She went back to studying her computer. I could only imagine that whatever she was doing wasn’t work related. She looked too interested in it.
‘You’re busy at the minute, then,’ I said, trying to break some of the tension.
She scowled at me. ‘A toy manufacturer busy just a few weeks before Christmas. We must alert the media.’
Completely thrown by the unnecessary attitude, I replied, ‘I thought maybe the closer you got to Christmas, the quieter it would get. Don’t the toys get shipped off to retail well before Christmas?’
She glared at me. ‘Retail?’ Then she cackled and shook her head. I felt about two inches tall.
‘Belinda, what are you doing here?’ Noel asked, appearing through a door at the back of the reception. I spun around, hoping to find a welcoming face, but he didn’t seem that happy to see me either.
‘Hi Noel. Can we talk?’
‘I’m a bit busy right now.’
‘It will take just five minutes. I promise.’
He hesitated before nodding, and then he gestured for me to follow him.
We walked up some stairs and then down a few white corridors. We passed a large window and I couldn’t resist a sneak peek. Down below us was the heart of the factory. There were dozens, if not hundreds of small people running around, working exceptionally hard.
Noel led me towards a door. It had his name with “Head of Production” engraved below it on a plaque.
I entered and he closed the door behind me. It was a small and tidy office, not a piece of paperwork out of place. I liked it. I had always been attracted to order. He sat straight down at his desk and, once he was comfortable, he stared at me, waiting for me to say something.
I sat nervously on a chair on the other side of his desk. What was I doing there?
‘Have you come to laugh at me some more?’ he said.
‘What? No! Not at all. I’m sorry about that. I was just a bit surprised by what you said.’
‘So you believe me now?’
His phone rang. He answered it immediately. ‘Noel Jolly.’ He looked stressed. ‘No, there was a problem with the wood. It was pine. It was the best we could get. No, we don’t have time. It won’t get here in time. I know it’s better, but...’ He exhaled sharply. ‘Look Santa, I’m doing the best I can.’
This made me sit up. He was talking to Santa? This time it didn’t feel so funny. Weird, yes. Like I was on some hallucinogenic trip, yes. Funny, not so much.
‘There is no time for you to ship your stock over here!’ Noel practically shouted. ‘I know you want the best quality for everyone, but sometimes we can only do what’s feasible. The children won’t know the difference, and the parents won’t care. The parents just think it’s random presents from aunts and uncles. They’ll just be glad it’s not socks. Will you trust me, Santa?’
I watched as Noel held his position perfectly.
‘I’ll keep you posted.’ Noel slammed the phone down before resting his head in his hands.
‘Did you just tell Santa off?’ I asked, a little exhilarated.
Noel looked up at me. ‘He’ll never accept anything but perfection. It was easy in the old days. There were fewer children and fewer competitors. Nowadays it’s just too hard. My staff are already working overtime every day of the week.’
‘You really are an elf.’ The words just came out. But I knew I believed them. The man before me was one of Santa’s elves. The lovely man before me that I had definitely started to fall for was one of Santa’s elves.
But not just any elf. He was high up the chain. He’d put Santa in his place. This elf was going places.
‘I really am an elf,’ he confirmed. ‘Now you’ve seen it for real, I won’t hold it against you if you run off screaming.’
I sat and pondered my position. He was a nice, kind man who had a good job. He was looking for love just the way I was and we had loads in common. In fact the elf thing was the only part of him that made me unsure.
I took a breath. Dating was hard. It was virtually impossible to meet your soulmate. I had gone from bad boyfriend to bad boyfriend, but I’d finally found someone that I really liked. That I really felt a connection with.
‘Do we have to tell my parents you’re an elf?’ I asked.
This surprised him. ‘Why?’
‘I don’t mean lie. We’ll say you’re Head of Production at a toy factory and just leave out the bit that Santa is effectively in charge.’
He chuckled. He was gorgeous when he smiled. ‘I have no problem with that.’
‘If we were to ever have kids, would they be half elf? Is it like a totally different race? Can you still... copulate in the same way?’
There was a startled hesitation before he laughed again. ‘Yes. Of course. We are very much like humans. There are only small differences. Our children are unlikely to be tall, but…’
I looked down at my body. ‘Even if they take after me.’
I smiled and stood up. I edged around his desk as seductively as I could. It didn’t come that naturally to me, but he seemed to like my swagger.
‘So… I’m thinking…. I shouldn’t have judged you based on… the fact that you’re an elf. You’re so much more than that. And I really like you. So…’
‘Are you saying you want a second date?’ He stood up so we were eye to eye.
I shrugged. ‘Might be nice.’
‘Dinner this time?’
‘Sounds wonderful. You pick the place.’
‘Okay. I’ll have a think. I’ll text you later.’
We stood for a moment, our faces just centimetres apart. It was electric. Then he smiled that sensational smile and leaned in. His lips touched mine and I fizzled with delight.
‘See you later,’ he said.
As I left his office, I glided through the corridors. Elated didn’t cover it.
This might have been the last thing I ever expected, but it certainly was a festive gift that I was going to enjoy.