Copyright© 2013 by Refusenik
Scott had the windows down, despite the freezing temperatures, to help clear the evidence of Ed's passage the previous night. He arrived outside the Mendoza home at two on the dot. Fewer cars were present than the day before.
He found Mrs. Mendoza, Connie he mentally corrected himself and a woman he recognized as one of her sisters, in the kitchen.
"There you are," Connie said. "Luisa dropped by with your costume." She pointed to the ensemble hanging over the back of a chair. "Janie's changing upstairs. You can use the hall bath."
"How'd Ed doing?"
She snorted, "He's in the den, doing an impression of a coma patient."
The elf costume Mrs. Delgado had selected for him had red pants that ended at the knee and red and white striped leggings. The pants were tight, but he could tolerate them for the duration of the party. Problems started when he couldn't get the white button down shirt or green coat past his shoulders. He tried, but it just wasn't happening.
Scott walked out of the bathroom wearing the goofy pointed shoes, and the lower half of his costume.
Connie's sister wolf-whistled when Scott walked in the kitchen.
"I've got a problem," he said.
"Oh, my," Mrs. Mendoza said.
"The coat's too small."
"Connie," the sister said, "give me a dollar so I can stuff it in his g-string."
"Donnita!" Constance Mendoza said, slapping at her sister's hand. "Hector has a green t-shirt that might work. I don't think 'Chippendale's Elf' is going to work for the foster kids."
Scott folded his hands under his arms to cover his chest. The sister, Donnita, kept making exaggerated eyes at him and pursing her lips.
Connie came back with the t-shirt before things got too uncomfortable. Hector Mendoza was not a large man, and the shirt was a tight fit. He turned his back to the ladies to tuck it into the pants.
"I think that's what they call a 'smedium' on you," Connie said. "Now you look more like bouncer elf than exotic dancer elf."
"Great," he said. He tugged at the neck and flexed his biceps. The t-shirt strained, but didn't rip.
"You have to wear the hat," Connie said.
Scott put the green sock-like hat on his head. The white puffball at the pointy end brushed against his ear.
"I feel like an idiot."
"What happened to the coat?" Janie asked.
Scott turned and had to catch his breath. Janie was wearing green knee-high boots with a spiked heel, topped with white fur trim. From the boots to the hem of a bright-red coat belted tightly around the waist was a tantalizing stretch of bare leg. She had done something with her eyes to make them almost feline in shape.
"We need pictures!" Donnita said.
Connie clapped her hands together, "Yes! You two, living room. Now."
The two older women rushed into the living room.
Janie crooked her finger at Scott and gave him the 'follow me' signal.
His legs moved of their own accord.
"By the fireplace," Connie commanded. "Scott, put your arm around her, she's not going to bite."
Scott waited for a quip from Janie, but she said nothing. He could feel her trembling as he put his arm around her waist.
They posed for pictures until Scott said they were going to be late to the party if they didn't leave.
Janie stopped him by the truck, hidden from view of the house. She undid the coat and revealed a green velvet dress with a criminally short hemline. "What do you think?"
"I think the boys in foster care are going to go through puberty this afternoon."
Janie broke into a huge grin and Scott opened the door for her.
The Fort Stockton foster-care group home, really two homes side by side, served all of Pecos County. For such a sparsely populated county, the need was great.
Scott felt like a nervous kid going to his first prom as he trotted around the truck to open Janie's door. He helped her down and she clung to his arm.
"You know this place won a Governor's award for small group home?" Janie asked.
He did, but it wasn't the time to go into that. "Did it really?"
"Here's Luisa and Jorge," Janie said.
The Delgado's station wagon eased past them into the spot ahead of the truck.
Mrs. Delgado was wearing a Mrs. Clause costume and beamed at them as she climbed out from behind the wheel, "Look at you two!" she said. "Like you stepped from the pages of a magazine."
Scott bent and kissed Mrs. Delgado. "You look great, Abuela."
She pinched his cheek gave a pointed look in Janie's direction.
Scott changed the subject, "Does Santa need help getting out of the car?"
"Santa's just fine," Jorge Delgado retorted.
"How much is padding," Scott asked, "and how much is you?"
Jorge pulled down the white beard, "It's all padding." He slapped the costume's extended belly, "Still as flat as a board!"
Scott and Jorge shook hands and slapped each other's shoulders.
"We're lucky guys," Jorge said, "surrounded by beautiful women."
"He puts on the suit," Mrs. Delgado said, "and the Latin blarney starts coming out."
Jorge gave a Janie a kiss.
"Thanks, Santa," she said, and curtsied.
"Thank you for bringing the big guy with you," Jorge replied. "That's the one thing they don't show in the Christmas specials, Santa's personal bodyguard."
"Momma said he looks like an elf bouncer."
"Very funny, both of you," Scott said.
"There's a bag in the back of the wagon," Jorge said. "Grab it will you?"
"Aye aye, Santa!" Scott popped a salute and executed a parade ground worthy about face.
Jorge tugged his suspenders, "I could get used to that!"
The home hosting the party had a festive atmosphere. It was Scott's third Christmas party at the group home, and none were wise to the fact that he was the home's personal patron. He liked it that way.
The kids were always the same, to his eye. Turnover was high, but the home attracted and kept a solid core of staff. He didn't claim credit for that. Money provided stability and resources. The staff made the program a success.
Santa handed out packages and Scott helped assemble toys and install batteries.
Janie was never far away. She was a big hit with the boys, aided by the eye-catching velvet dress and display of leg. They clamored for her attention. She obliged with a ready smile and kind word.
They worked well together, distributing Santa's toys and making peace when squabbles threatened to erupt. Scott appreciated her confident manner. They were comfortable together.
The party ended too soon.
They were alone in the foyer. Scott helped Janie with her coat.
"That was fun," he said.
"Thanks for inviting me," she said.
Scott straightened the collar of her coat. "You know we're standing under mistletoe?"
Janie glanced up and he kissed her.
After an eternity, he broke the kiss. They stood face to face, lips only millimeters apart.
"We should get going," he said. "Your parents will be waiting."
"Yes," Janie said, her eyes locked to his.
They didn't move.
The noise of footsteps in the hallway broke the spell and the moment ended.
Connie Mendoza prepared an impressive feast. The main table seated Connie and Hector at opposite ends, Scott, Janie, and Ed on one side with Tom, his wife Eve, and Aunt Donnita on the other.
Tom and Eve's boys were at a nearby card table in easy reach.
Scott and Janie had changed out of their costumes and were seated together.