“Well, you’re a little lankier and, uh… younger than what we’re used to...” the manager said when Chanyeol came in for the interview — he’d looked the boy up and down, peering at him through his glasses like something weird growing in a petri dish, nodding and frowning at alternate intervals. “But it’s nothing a fake beard and a fat-suit can’t fix, I suppose. Anyway, we’re a bit short-staffed for Santas at the moment, so I guess you’ll have to do.”
So it wasn’t the warmest welcome by any stretch, but Chanyeol had been too over the moon at the time to care; as a broke university student already working two casual jobs, the promise of a bit of extra cash over the silly season was nothing to sniff at. Besides, for a gig where he would essentially just sit on his bum for several hours and tell lies to kids, it paid surprisingly well... if anything, it appeared that the hardest part about being a department store Santa Claus was getting dressed for the occasion — Chanyeol had seen the outfit he would be required to wear, and although the process of getting into the bloody thing had seemed a bit daunting at first, he was more than ready to face the challenge.
As it turned out, the outfit was just one of many hurdles in the new obstacle course that Chanyeol had signed himself up for: it consisted of a heavy, uncomfortable padded suit worn underneath a pair of elasticated red pants and a matching fur-trimmed jacket, and there was an itchy white wig, an even itchier fake beard, and a red Santa hat to top it all off — which was too big for him, and had to be pinned down to keep it from sliding off his head. He even had to wear fake white eyebrows glued on over his real ones, and pink blush on his cheeks and nose to make them look ‘rosy’, but which only made him look sunburnt, or otherwise a bit drunk. Now that he was a little more practiced at it, the whole ensemble took only about twenty minutes to get into at the beginning of a shift, and slightly less to get out of at the end. He usually arrived half an hour early, just to be safe.
Now it was already eight days until Christmas, and Chanyeol had surprisingly come to enjoy the job, even more so than he thought he would; it was trying at times, but he liked the kids for the most part, and at least it was never boring. The main perk of the job, however, was not the kids, or even the pay. It was the photographer.
Chanyeol’s heart still wasn’t used to Byun Baekhyun; it would leap like a suicidal goldfish from its bowl whenever he saw him first thing on the morning of a shift. Chanyeol had secretly harboured a huge, embarrassing crush on Baekhyun ever since they met, during his very first day; this was no big surprise, since Baekhyun was a really nice guy, and was also unusually beautiful — so beautiful, in fact, that the very first time Chanyeol laid eyes on him, he’d had to quickly turn the other way and bite his own fist to keep from screaming. The worst part of it all was that Baekhyun was a shameless flirt, and had a perfect (and dirty) sense of humour that Chanyeol couldn’t help falling head-over-arse for. But Chanyeol could never tell if the flirtation was directed at him, or if Baekhyun was just like that with everyone, all the time… it was both exciting and extremely frustrating.
“Morning, Sandy Claws,” Baekhyun said cheerily as he popped his head through the door of the booth, where Chanyeol was now seated on his red velvet-covered chair, wearing his silly padded suit and waiting to get started. The photographer nodded at the hessian bag full of fake presents on the floor, spilling its contents in front of the plastic Christmas tree. “Goodness me, that’s a very full sack you’ve got there, Santa..”
Baekhyun said this at the beginning of every shift they shared together, and like clockwork, Chanyeol’s response was always the following:
“Well, what do you expect from someone who only comes once a year..?”
Baekhyun laughed at the joke, as he always did, and then he said, “alright, I’m just gonna go and elf myself real quick, and then we’ll call the hordes in, shall we?”
“Yeah, go on,” Chanyeol said. “Let’s get this party started. Loving today’s sweater, by the way.”
Chanyeol didn’t really love Baekhyun’s sweater at all, but it was good fodder for small talk — and also for getting a sneaky little compliment in there, which always seemed to make Baekhyun visibly glow with pleasure afterwards. Baekhyun had a strange penchant for sweaters with childish things knitted into them — bunnies and ponies and little race-cars and the like — and today the sweater du jour had a pattern of fish in an assortment of bright colours on a dark blue background. On any other person it would have looked terrible, but since Baekhyun was always unfailingly glamorous in every other aspect of his appearance, he somehow managed to make the damned thing look like a high-fashion item — it was a God-given gift, Chanyeol thought, the way the guy could look so fucking good in an ugly sweater. He wouldn’t have been caught dead in one of them himself.
“Thanks — merry Fish-mas,” Baekhyun said, winking at Chanyeol, and then he popped out to the staff bathrooms to change. He returned a few minutes later, all ready to go in his stupid little elf uniform with the green t-shirt and shorts and the red candy-striped tights underneath, the little brass bells on his shoes and his hat jingling with the slightest movement. As soon as he’d set up his camera, he opened the door and started calling the kids in. The first of many that day was a little girl called Hana, who walked inside the booth like she was going to her death, clutching her mother’s hand as though her life depended on it. She stood there in the middle of the room staring up at Chanyeol with wide, expressionless eyes, shaking her pigtailed head every time her mother begged her to go and sit on his knee.
“Go on, Hana,” Baekhyun said gently, when the girl’s anxious-looking mother turned to him in desperation. “You go sit on Santa’s knee and tell him all about what a good girl you've been this year. If you do, I’m sure he’ll get you something very nice for Christmas.”
“I’m all ears,” Chanyeol said as the girl finally walked over to him, and he helped her up onto his knee. “No embellishments, though… Santa can always tell when someone’s fibbing.”
The child looked up at Chanyeol with her large eyes slowly narrowing, and then she poked out her bottom lip. “If you're the real Santa, then how come you’re not fat and old..?”
Over in the corner, her mother sighed and shook her head. “Hana, darling, you can't just ask people why they're not fat and old..”
Chanyeol laughed nervously. “It’s alright, I get that a lot these days… Santa lost a bit of weight, that’s all, and it’s made him look a bit younger,” he said to Hana, and then he added in a hushed voice, “Mrs Claus made me go on a diet — it’s all lettuce and carrots and yucky stuff like that. Soon she’ll be calling me ‘Rudolph’ and making me sleep in the yard.”
Hana looked unconvinced, but she told Chanyeol what she wanted for Christmas anyway. She rattled off a list of items as long as his arm, beginning with a singing Elsa doll, and ending at last with a pink bicycle with rainbow streamers on the handlebars and a white basket with a sunflower stuck to the front of it — everything in between Chanyeol forgot within about five seconds, as he usually did. After official business was taken care of, Baekhyun snapped a few photos, Hana’s mother chose the prints she wanted, and they were finally on their way.
One down, a zillion to go.
“Have a very merry Christmas,” Chanyeol called out after them, “and remember to be a good girl, Hana, or you’ll get nothing but a pile of reindeer poo courtesy of Comet and Cupid — excellent stuff for the garden, but not much fun to play with.”
“You’re not even supposed to say that anymore, technically,” Baekhyun said, when Hana and her mother had left the room.
“Not supposed to say what..?” Chanyeol asked.
Baekhyun bent down to pull up his tights where they were bunching up around his ankles. “‘Merry Christmas’… it’s not secular enough. The PC police are always trying to pare it down to ‘Season’s Greetings’ or something similarly awful..”
“Yeah? Well, the PC police can kiss my padded arse,” Chanyeol said flatly. He rubbed his hands together and patted his knees. “Right. So who’s next, then?”
Baekhyun chuckled to himself, and Chanyeol thought he heard him muttering “bad Santa…” under his breath before he walked off to let the next kid in.
+ + +
Three days before Christmas, the crowd of kids waiting to see Santa had well and truly exploded. Chanyeol arrived that morning to find about thirty of them already lined up with their parents and elder siblings, waiting to see him with fists full of scribbled lists and spidery drawings of, well… no matter which way he turned the page, Chanyeol could never quite work out what the hell they’d drawn. Even so, he always made sure to thank the artist.
Chanyeol eyed each child nervously on his way past, hoping they wouldn’t recognise him once he was in his Santa suit. If there was one thing these kids didn’t need — besides more toys they would only play with once or twice — it was another reason to cry. And the crying ones were the worst, for sure. Chanyeol’s estimate was that roughly 1 in 5 kids who came to see him ended up blubbering in his lap — probably because they were scared, or tired of being dragged through a department store for hours, or both — and once the waterworks were on, shutting them off again was virtually impossible. Most parents just accepted their fate and politely gave up, dragging their bawling offspring away by the wrists, but there were a few who were adamant that they get the perfect photo of their sweet little darling, all smiles for mum and dad with not a single tear in sight. Those were the ones who would refuse to leave until they got what they came for, sparing no thought for the other people waiting patiently outside. To Chanyeol, at least, the parents were often more trying to deal with than the kids; the kids were only as much of a problem as the parents let them be.
There were a lot of cryers that day… more than usual. Chanyeol had only just rid himself of a set of wailing triplets when Baekhyun let the next pair into the room, a nice young mother and her five-year-old son, whom she introduced as Sehun. The kid went over and sat in Chanyeol’s lap without so much as a peep. Chanyeol decided he liked him immediately.
“Tell me, Sehun,” Chanyeol said to the little boy. “Have you been a good boy this year..?”
Sehun didn’t respond. He simply stared straight ahead of him to where Baekhyun was making funny faces, and he smiled, but he didn’t say anything at all — even when Chanyeol asked him what he wanted for Christmas. So he was a boy of few words, it seemed… Chanyeol respected that. It was a very welcome break from the cryers, and the ones who talked his ear off about all the new toys they expected to see falling out of their stockings on Christmas morning. And then Chanyeol’s lap began to feel unusually warm, and he looked down and saw a dark patch forming beneath the seat of Sehun’s jeans. He had to bite down hard on his lower lip to keep himself from swearing.
“Uh-oh… alright, time to get up now, buddy…” he said, lifting the boy up off his lap. Baekhyun’s eyes widened when he saw what was going on, and he quickly turned around to face the wall — to keep himself from laughing, it seemed, although Chanyeol could still hear him snorting quietly into his hands.
Sehun’s mother hurried over to relieve Chanyeol of her son. “Oh god, I’m so sorry,” she said, cringing with visible embarrassment. “I really am... he's certainly never done that before..”
Chanyeol forced a fake smile through his equally fake beard. “It’s fine, ma’am… it’s all part of the job,” he said, trying to reassure her. It wasn’t really a part of the job, to be fair; Chanyeol had only skimmed his contract once upon being hired, but he couldn’t recall ‘getting pissed on’ being mentioned anywhere within the job description.
“Would you still like to purchase a print?” Baekhyun asked; he had one finger pressed against his lips. It was clear he was still trying very hard not to laugh.
“Yes, of course… put it through and I’ll collect it right after I get this little guy cleaned up,” Sehun’s mother said, taking the boy by the hand; Sehun was still smiling, although now there was a vaguely evil tinge to it that Chanyeol hadn’t noticed before. With one last apologetic look in Chanyeol’s direction, his mother added, “I’ll leave my details at the front desk. Please do make sure you send me the dry-cleaning bill..”
“No problem… merry Christmas,” Chanyeol said, waving them off. As soon as the boy and his mother had left the booth he sighed, and slowly stood up from his seat to inspect the damage.
Baekhyun grinned at him. “I suppose now I should be wishing you a merry Piss—”
“Don’t say it,” Chanyeol warned, and then the camera flash went off, almost sending him blind. He stared at Baekhyun in disbelief. “Did you just take a photo of me with someone else’s piss on my pants..?”
Baekhyun lifted his head up from behind the camera and winked at Chanyeol. “Maybe,” he said, chuckling to himself. “That’s one for the fridge right there. Are you alright?”
“Yeah,” Chanyeol sighed, “it’s all good. A wee bit of wee never hurt anyone, I guess.”
“Actually, I once read something about a woman who was almost killed by a brick of frozen urine that fell from a passing plane,” Baekhyun said, and then he laughed. “What a way to go, huh..?”
“Not helping,” Chanyeol said flatly. He jerked a thumb in the direction of the door. “Anyway, I’ll just go and, uh… yeah.”
Baekhyun nodded. “Sure, sure — take your time. If anyone complains, I’ll just tell ’em that Santa’s sack exploded everywhere and there’ll be a bit of a wait while he sorts the mess out.”
“You’re disgusting,” Chanyeol said, although he couldn’t help the little smile that snuck onto his face on his way out the door. When he got outside he caught a glimpse of the unruly line of children and parents still waiting to get a piece of him, and he quickly tiptoed off in the opposite direction so as not to be seen, heading to where the staff bathrooms were located. As soon as he got inside the men’s room he yanked off his Santa pants and began scrubbing them furiously in the sink, lathering them up with pink liquid soap; the pee seemed to not have soaked through to the padding, which was still strapped to Chanyeol’s body — although there was nothing much he could do about it if it had. There was no time to wash and dry an entire padded suit.
This brought a whole new problem to light: he couldn’t go back out there with wet pants. Chanyeol sighed and stood there for a further ten minutes in his undies, holding his damp Santa-pants under the hand-dryer — onlookers be damned, although thankfully there weren’t any. When the pants were somewhat close to being dry he pulled them back on and stared at himself in the mirror, making sure his beard wasn’t crooked. There were only three days left until Christmas… but he only had one more shift on the 24th, and then that was it — they would probably never see each other again. There would be no reason to, really.
He could just do it tonight, after they were finished — no, not tonight. Better to rip the bandaid right off, and sooner rather than later. He could do it right now, as soon as he got back to the booth. Honestly, the worst Baekhyun could do was say no.
But then, that was just it, wasn’t it? He could say no…
He could say no.
He could say no.
Upon returning at last to the booth, Chanyeol threw the door open to a surprised Baekhyun and said, “if I ask you something really important right now, will you give me a straight answer..?”
There was a hint of something unreadable in Baekhyun's eyes — apprehension, perhaps. “What is it..?” he asked. His voice was unusually soft, almost timid.
Chanyeol looked at him for a long time, and then he let out a heavy sigh that seemed to spring from the darkest depths of his cowardly soul. “Do I still smell like piss..?” he mumbled, in the smallest, most pathetic voice he had ever heard come out of his own mouth, and if Baekhyun was even disappointed, then he didn’t have time to show it before he burst into peals of lovely musical laughter.
“Yeah, you do,” he said, his nose wrinkling as he smiled. “But only a little.”
There was only one thing on Chanyeol’s own Christmas wish-list that year, and it was to someday be able to kiss every one of those little wrinkles, as well as the beautiful smile that begot them. He could no longer count the number of times he’d gone home hating himself for not telling Baekhyun that.
+ + +
When Chanyeol showed up on Christmas Eve to find that another photographer called Amber would be covering for Baekhyun that day, he immediately wanted to kick himself. He’d taken it for granted that Baekhyun would be there… he hadn’t said anything about taking the day off during their last shift together. Chanyeol sighed heavily and made his way out the back to get changed, dragging his reluctant feet and his heavy bag of (thankfully dry-cleaned) Santa gear along behind him. The disappointment twisting his insides into knots was enough of a punishment for his gutlessness, he thought, and so beating himself up about it even further was pointless. As always, he would file the experience away under ‘lessons not really learned’ and just get on with it.
To Chanyeol’s pleasant surprise, the Christmas Eve shift was relatively painless; there were far fewer cryers this time, and no one complained about Santa smelling like pee. They came seconds short of a potential crisis when one of his fake eyebrows peeled off and fell into a little girl’s hair, but luckily he’d picked it up and stuck it back on before she’d had the time to notice. But despite these little mercies, the day still seemed to drag on and on unto infinity — Amber was a great girl, and excellent with the kids, but Baekhyun’s smile and his laughter and his off-colour jokes had always made a shift pass by that much more quickly. Chanyeol no longer had it in him to even pretend he was taking each child’s lengthy wish-list into consideration; he simply nodded and bared his teeth for the camera at Amber’s bidding, and then he sent them all on their way with a candy cane and a few halfhearted Ho-Ho’s.
“Okay, only one left to go,” Amber said (“fucking finally!” Chanyeol wanted to yell out, but he caught himself at the last second) and then she left the room to go and call in the last kid for the year. Chanyeol watched her stroll back inside a few seconds later, wearing a mysterious little smile on her face. She was followed by someone who was just a bit too tall to be a kid, and too childless to be a parent — and he was wearing a bottle-green Christmas sweater with a reindeer face knitted into it. The reindeer had plastic googly eyes and a red fluffy pompom for a nose.
Baekhyun gave Chanyeol a shy smile of his own as he entered the booth. “Hey there,” he said, closing the door behind him. “Looks like I made it just in time, huh?”
“Hey,” Chanyeol replied, blinking at him. He was too astonished to even mention the ridiculous sweater - a sure winner, even by Baekhyun's standards. “What are you doing here..?”
Baekhyun stood in front of Chanyeol and shrugged. “Well, I took the day off to do some much-needed last-minute Christmas shopping, and, uh… I kinda decided I wanted a Santa photo of my own,” he said. “Is that okay? It’s a bit short-notice, I know..”
“Not at all,” Chanyeol said, and then he smiled. “I think I can hold off on emptying my sack for a bit longer.”
Baekhyun laughed and bit his lip. “Great,” he said. “Can I sit on your knee, then, or would that be weird?”
Chanyeol pondered the question for a long, heavy moment. Somehow, ‘FUCK YES’ didn’t seem like the most appropriate response, although nothing else came to mind.
“Not to worry… I won't piss on you unless you ask nicely,” Baekhyun said, smiling at him, and Chanyeol heard Amber let out a loud snort from where she was fiddling with the camera.
“Well, sure,” Chanyeol replied at last, patting his knees with both hands. “Hop on.” He waited for Baekhyun to settle on his lap, wincing at the heaviness of him compared to the average grade-schooler he was used to having there, but once he got used to it the weight was welcome, almost comforting. Chanyeol tested the waters by carefully hooking one arm around Baekhyun’s waist, and when Baekhyun responded by leaning back against his shoulder, he said, “so what do you want for Christmas, then?”
“This isn’t standard procedure… aren’t you meant to ask me if I’ve been a good boy first..?” Baekhyun asked, and Chanyeol had to laugh — a real one this time, and not the forced Ho-Ho kind.
“I already know you haven’t,” he said drily, “so there’s not much point in asking.”
“I suppose I can’t argue with that,” Baekhyun said, laughing a little himself; he turned his head to the side until his mouth was right next to Chanyeol’s ear. “Actually, I’ve had a thing for you ever since the day we first met, Mr. Claus, but I was too shy and silly to tell you,” he whispered. “So I thought I’d come and do it now. And if you must know, what I’d like most of all isn’t a remote-control helicopter, or a Playstation 4, or a Nerf gun… it’s a kiss.”
Chanyeol swallowed, unsure he’d heard correctly. He suddenly felt a great deal hotter in that bloody Santa suit. “Um, I beg your pardon..?”
“You heard me… I really want to kiss you. Right now,” Baekhyun said, in a voice so soft it was clearly only meant for Chanyeol’s ears. He licked his lips, and Chanyeol couldn’t help following the slow swipe of that tongue with his eyes. Baekhyun’s half-lidded gaze was now fixed on his mouth.
Amber made a loud gagging noise over in the corner. They both ignored her.
“I see,” Chanyeol said, nodding his head. He laughed nervously. “I mean, I’d love to, but… well, I don’t quite know what Mrs Claus would have to say about that..”
“But we’re under the mistletoe,” Baekhyun said; he was batting his lashes at Chanyeol, poking out his bottom lip in such a way that made him even more impossible to resist. Chanyeol craned his neck upwards and squinted at the sparkly green sprig of something tacked on to the ceiling above them.
“That’s just a bit of tinsel..” he said, frowning up at it.
“It was all I had,” Amber interjected. “But hey, at least it’s green.”
“Good enough,” Baekhyun said quickly; he grabbed Chanyeol’s head in both hands before he had time to prepare himself, yanking the fake white beard down off his face, and then he laid a big wet smacker right on Chanyeol’s lips. Chanyeol was so entranced by the kiss that he forgot to open his eyes again until moments later, only to find Baekhyun smiling at him, his cheeks now flushed a lovely pink.
“Is that a really big candy cane in your pocket, Mr. Claus, or are you just pleased to see me..?” Baekhyun said, and then it was Chanyeol’s turn to go red.
“Alright — I got it,” Amber called out, still peering at the screen of the camera. She gave them both a thumbs-up. “Very cute, guys… very cute. Almost vom-worthy. Shall I send two copies to the printer?”
“Definitely,” Baekhyun told her, and then he turned to Chanyeol again with a mischievous grin and whispered in his ear, “merry Kiss-mas, Park Chanyeol.”
+ + +
When Chanyeol finally arrived home after his last shift, he put the photo of Baekhyun kissing him up on the fridge, holding it there with his favourite plastic banana magnet. Smiling to himself, he put something up next to it: the green sticky note Baekhyun had handed to him just before he left, on which he'd scrawled the words ‘call me
maybe definitely’, and just beneath them, his number.