“Angie,” Peggy coaxed, tilting her head so that it rested against the wall. Angie had disappeared to change into the Santa costume almost ten minutes ago, and hadn’t emerged since. “We need to leave. Howard’s party starts in fifteen minutes.”
There came the distant, muffled sound of a drawer shutting and the sound of movement. A minute later, the door opened and Angie stepped out, dressed head-to-toe in a vivid red outfit. She was pulling at the fake beard around her neck.
“I can’t believe Howard couldn’t find anyone else to be Santa,” she said, letting go of the beard and shaking out the sleeves of her costume. “This beard itches like you wouldn’t believe.”
Peggy reached up to adjust the hat on Angie’s head. “You know Howard. He’ll probably think that this is all just the most hilarious thing. I have to say, though, you make a very beautiful Santa.”
Angie laughed, catching Peggy’s hands with hers and pulling her closer. “That’s the first time I’ve heard that one.”
“Tony’s going to love you.” Peggy said, noticing that Angie had used some sort of powder on her eyebrows so that they were a pure white, matching the fluffy beard. She smiled at the small detail.
Angie grinned affectionately. “How old is he now?”
Peggy thought for a moment. “Three?”
Angie nodded. “Well, then we should probably get going before he gets too impatient.” She pulled back and headed to the doorway, Peggy following.
The arrived at the party not much later. The Starks’ home, large as anything that Howard had ever owned, was decorated immaculately for the holiday. Even the long driveway leading up to their house was lined with strings of lights, illuminating the path to the door. Howard and Maria greeted them once they made it to the front door, Howard lighting up at the sight of Angie’s costume. Peggy shook her head at him as he pulled her, and then Angie, into a tight hug.
“Good to see you, Pegs,” he said, his eyes taking her in. “Angie still treating you as well as always?”
Peggy allowed him a smile, reaching out to squeeze Angie’s hand. “Of course. And how are you, Maria?”
“Wonderful, thank you,” said Maria. Howard slid his arm around her waist. “Tony’s been excited to see you both again.”
Angie perked up. “How is he?”
“Growing fast,” Maria said, fondly. Howard apparently bored of the conversation, spotted someone else in the crowd and moved to speak with him. “He’s in the basement, with one of his nannies and a couple other of our friends’ children. They’ll love seeing Santa.”
She pointed to a nearby door, and Peggy and Angie headed towards it, dodging the other party-goers as they walked. They opened the door to find a long flight of stairs heading further down. From below, they could hear the faint sound of children’s shrieks and laughter floating up towards them.
Peggy pulled a black sack away from the side of the staircase, pulling it open and examining the contents. “I think these are the gifts for them. I’ll go first, so Santa can come in later.”
Angie took the gifts, and Peggy made her way down the stairs, her hand sliding along the polished wood of the banister, craning her head so that she could see what was happening in the basement. Almost immediately upon her entrance to the room, a small boy rushed towards her, attaching himself to her legs.
A handful of the other kids in the room stopped their play to watch her, curiously. Peggy smiled quickly at them, and then knelt down next to the toddler by her feet.
“Hi, Tony,” she said, pulling his arms away from her legs so that she could hug him. As an only child, she had never had too much experience with taking care of young children, but Tony didn’t seem to mind her slightly awkward ways. Already, he was becoming more of a chatterbox every time that Peggy saw him.
“Where’s Aunt Angie?” he asked, attempting to peek around Peggy.
“Oh, she’ll be coming later,” Peggy told him. She raised her voice a little bit, so that she could be heard by the others in the room. “Meanwhile, though, I was told that another special visitor would show up soon.”
This caught a couple of the children’s attention. From behind her, she heard Angie shake the bells on the costume, and the boys and girls scattered around the room exchanged excited looks, the beginnings of murmurs arising. Tony’s eyes lit up, and Peggy backed away to the side of the room as heavy footsteps sounded from the stairs.
Angie’s voice, when she spoke, was deepened in an attempt to sound more authentic. Even Peggy was startled into doing a second take when she heard the booming “Ho, ho, ho,” that Angie managed to produce. The children flocked to her eagerly, reaching out for her and chattering amongst themselves. Angie managed to catch Peggy’s eye and send her a quick wink, over the heads of all of the kids, before directing her attention to the children nearest to her.
Peggy found a spot near the wall, next to one of Tony’s nannies. The woman gave her a smile and said, in a heavily accented voice, “This santa is very good, yes?”
“Yes,” Peggy agreed, her eyes on Angie, who was doing a wonderful job of entertaining the children. She seemed to know exactly what to say to send them on their way grinning, and as Peggy watched, Angie whispered something into a young girl’s ear. The girl clapped her hands together and flung her arms around Angie’s waist.
The nanny eyed Peggy. “You love this woman?”
Peggy found herself glancing over the nanny with a quick appraisal, and then nodded. “I do.”
The older woman patted her arm. “You are a very lucky person.”
“I am,” Peggy told her,
The nanny gave her another motherly pat and then was off, trailing after Tony, who had already visited Santa. He had unwrapped, with the help of Angie, some sort of puzzle with inner circuiting, so that it lit up when the pieces were placed in the right spot. It seemed to delight him to no end.
Angie, meanwhile, seemed to be down to only a handful of the remaining children, passing out the gifts that they had been allotted and listening to their wishes. When she had finished, and the last little boy bounded off to play with his new toy truck, Angie said her goodbyes. The kids waved and called their own farewells to her, and Angie made her way back up the staircase.
Peggy played with Tony and his puzzle, helping him arrange the pieces properly, and soon enough Angie had reappeared. There was no sign of her costume, but for a residual powdery whiteness on her eyebrows.
“It wouldn’t come off,” Angie whispered, shrugging, when she noticed that Peggy had spotted it. Peggy grinned, and turned back to Tony.
“Aunt Angie’s here,” Peggy said softly, touching his shoulder, and he looked up at her, beaming.
“Look at my puzzle!” He said, holding up the piece in his hand proudly. Angie squatted next to him, picking up a piece of her own and turning it over in her hand.
“It’s amazing!” She exclaimed. “Can you show me how it works?”
This was exactly what Tony needed to get him started on a long-winded, excited explanation of how it worked (all delivered in a small voice that could only be described as adorable). The evening passed with them spending the most of their time with the toddler, who seemed overjoyed to have an audience of his own. It wasn’t until they re-emerged from the basement to find the main floor empty of most guests that they noticed just how long they had spent with the children.
“We missed most of the party,” murmured Peggy. Around them, people dressed in cleaning uniforms seemed to be tidying up.
Angie shrugged. “I can’t say that I was really looking forward to talking to all of Stark’s friends. Usually the word ‘actress’ doesn’t quite fit in when you’re in a room full of businessmen. I’d take seeing Tony over that, anyday.”
Peggy inclined her head, smiling. She led the way out of the house, opening the door for Angie. “That’s true. It was worth being Santa?”
“I have to say,” Angie said, “Not my favourite job. I have no doubt that Stark could have found someone else if he had just tried a little harder. Hell, he could have been Santa himself.”
“Now that’s a sight I’d like to see,” Peggy replied. It was cold outside, the beginnings of snow beginning to fall. She could see her breath in the air.
“What I’d like to see,” Angie added, bumping her shoulder against Peggy’s, “Is you taking the role next year.”
“There is absolutely no way that I’ll give to that.”
Angie laughed, her expression mischievous. “You say that now, but I have an entire year to convince you.”
Peggy raised her eyebrows. “Oh? How do you intend to do that?”
“I have my ways,” said Angie, stopping so that she could face Peggy. She slid her arms up around Peggy’s shoulders and leaned up.
It didn’t take long at all for Angie to convince her.