Part Seven: The Conversation
"What the hell--" Joan Banks, aka Mrs. Claus, leapt up from her chair as a figure stepped out of the fireplace. Joan charged at the stranger, as only a mother protecting her home would do. She shot out her fist, aiming for the larynx, when she was stopped one inch away from her target as thoroughly as if she'd hit a brick wall. In the next instant she felt her whole body freeze.
The stranger, who was covered in soot from the chimney, shook herself, like a dog shaking off water. The soot disappeared and a lithe, redheaded woman stood before her, smiling and giving her a slight bow. "Forgive my rudeness," she said. "I needed to see you and the chimney was the only way in. My name is Naomi Sandburg. I will not harm you or your son--I only want to talk. After that, I'll leave if you wish." Naomi ran her hands over her dress, straightening it. "Now, I'm going to release you."
Joan instantly had full mobility. She scowled. "Leave my house or I'll call the police."
Naomi gave her an 'oh please' flick of her hand. "What do you think they could do? Instead of all this posturing, why don't you use your intuition to see if I'm lying."
Joan concentrated, then nodded. "Okay, you're not a danger. What do you want?"
"Why don't we sit down and have a cup of tea? Or maybe some wine? This is going to take a while."
"So," Naomi asked as they opened a second bottle of Zinfandel, "I've told you a bit about me and why I'm here. Now it's your turn to share."
"Let me get Daryl settled first."
She picked up the pizza they'd put together, using just a little magic. She knocked and entered at his "come in". Daryl had several large sheets of wrapping paper, tape, ribbons and holly branches spread out on his bed. "I brought you some dinner," she said.
"Whoa, is that pizza? Thanks, Mom, I'm starving." He picked up two slices, folded one over the other, then took a large bite. "Mmm, that's so good."
Joan smiled fondly. "I'm glad you like it. So, you're wrapping presents?"
"Yeah," he said, wiping his face and hands with a napkin. "For Perry and the guys… and Dad. I made the paper myself."
She looked at the dark blue paper scattered with stars which shimmered slightly. She suspected it would glow in the dark. "It's beautiful."
"Can I… will we see Dad for Christmas?" Daryl asked with clear longing in his voice. Her heart wanted to give him a cheerful answer, but she couldn't lie about this.
"I don't know, yet, Daryl." She squeezed his shoulder to stop any further comment. "I've got company right now. I'd like you to stay here while I talk with her, okay?"
"Is she a divorce lawyer?" he asked.
"No! Just a visitor." Joan sighed. "I'm trying to… please Daryl, I'm trying to get our lives straightened out. I… just need some time."
Daryl looked away but nodded. When he continued his silence, she suppressed a sigh and left.
Joan sat back on the sofa, picking up her wine glass. "My mother ran away from home, wanting to experience the human world. She met my father and they had a torrid affair that lasted the summer. She was pregnant when she returned to our village. She never told me about him, but I found some letters and discovered he lived in Cascade. He was a wealthy businessman who'd never married.
"When I became of age, I went to see him. He was overjoyed and invited me to live with him. I felt guilty that my mother abandoned him, so I agreed and decided to embrace the human world. I went to college and met Simon there."
Joan stared at her glass. "Things happened so quickly. He wooed me, we married, and I got pregnant right away. I had to leave a job I loved. He took a job with my dad to support us, but I knew he was unhappy. Daryl wasn't even crawling when Simon accepted Nickolaas' proposal. I tried to figure out my role, but Nick never married, so we didn't know what Santa's wife was supposed to do. I know the stories, but I'm just not the wear-a-white-apron-and-bake-cookies kind of woman. It wasn't too bad, except leading up to Christmas, of course. We couldn't accept party invitations and I ran out of excuses to explain his absence for all of December."
She took a long swallow and sighed. "I thought it would be easier when we moved to the North Pole--we'd have a built-in reason not to have to explain things. But it was actually worse--much worse. Simon used magic at the workshop to slow down time so we wouldn't age--"
"Wait," Naomi interrupted. "You mean he doesn't know you're an elf?"
Joan shook her head. "I was estranged from my mother's family, so I never told him. But he didn't tell me he had elfin blood either."
Naomi said nothing but just waved 'go on'.
"The decades dragged on and we were there all the time. No social life, since I couldn't fraternize with the workers. There was nowhere to go and nothing to do, especially once Daryl grew up and needed me less. I just seemed to be in the way. I finally had it out with Simon, then packed up and left. My father offered us a place to stay, but right now I need a little space, you know?" She finished the wine and sat back.
Naomi shook her head to clear it, as much from Joan's story as from the wine. "Well, you've got a long life ahead of you; what would you really like to do with it?"
As they cleared the debris from the living room and moved into the kitchen to make crème brûlée, Joan told her.