By Lizabeth S. Tucker
Jennifer DeSoto was jumping up and down in the front yard as John Gage drove up to the house. She waited impatiently for him to shut off the engine, just as her mommy and daddy had told her. Then, when Johnny walked around the car and reached the sidewalk, she tore off to jump into his waiting arms.
“Hey, punkin, whatcha doin’?”
“I gotta secret,” she whispered loudly.
“Really? Is it a big secret or a little secret?” Johnny lifted his partner’s daughter until she was safely in his arms, half leaning on his shoulder.
“Cool.” He walked toward the house where Joanne stood in the doorway. “Hey, Jo. Roy around?”
“Out back, Johnny.”
Jennifer pressed her lips together as she was carried past her mother. Once through the house and on the way to the back deck, Jennifer continued talking to her hero. “Doncha wanna know what it is?”
“Well,” Johnny replied slowly. “If it’s a secret, are you supposed to tell anyone?”
“I can tell you, just not Daddy!”
“Huh. You can’t tell Roy? Must be some secret. Can you tell your mother?”
She nodded her head vigorously. “Of course. It’s really Mommy’s secret.”
“Oh.” Johnny walked down the deck steps and started to where Roy DeSoto, helped by his eager son, was struggling with pruning the rose bushes. “Is it what you and your mommy are getting your daddy?”
“Nope.” Jennifer made a big show of looking all around, then tugged at Johnny’s ear. “Mommy has a boyfriend!”
This stopped Johnny dead in his tracks. “Excuse me? Jennifer, where did you hear that?”
“I saw them! Mommy and her boyfriend were kissing and tickling on the couch. I got up to get a glass of water and heard them. Mommy said I had to go back to bed and I wasn’t to tell anyone about Nick.”
This was too much for Johnny and he carried the little girl back to the patio where he sat her down on a chair, kneeling beside her. “Is that his name? Nick?”
“Uh huh. I was lookin’ for Daddy and she said Daddy was working o’ertime and I’d better go to bed or Santa Claus would put me on the naughty list.”
“Overtime?” Roy hadn’t mentioned that.
“Uh huh. And the man laughed and said that Mommy was already pretty naughty and would she like to be on his bad girl list?” Jennifer thought about her mother doing anything that could be considered naughty.
Johnny was getting mad. Roy’s wife was cheating on him! A guy risks his life and his wife couldn’t keep her panties on.
“Johnny, would you like something?” Joanne came outside, tweaked her daughter’s nose and blinked at the glare she received from her husband’s friend. “Is something wrong?”
“I don’t know, Joanne. Is there?”
Clueless, Joanne shrugged. “Not that I know about.”
“Honey, why don’t you go help your daddy and your brother while I talk to your mommy.”
“Okay, Uncle Johnny.” Jennifer went tearing off across the yard.
“Joanne DeSoto, I thought I knew you. How could you do this to Roy?”
“Johnny, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Your boyfriend, Nick! Does that ring a bell?”
“Boyfriend? Nick…oh, no. Jennifer told you,” Joanne’s laughter floated through the yard, earning another glare from Johnny and smiles from Roy.
“I’m glad you think it’s funny ‘cause I sure don’t!” Johnny started to get up, but Joanne stopped him with a surprisingly strong grip on his arm.
“Johnny, I don’t have a boyfriend. Honest. It was Roy.”
“I would think that Jennifer would know her own father when she saw him.”
“Not dressed…or partly dressed…as Santa Claus. Saint Nicholas. Nick?”
“But why didn’t she realize it was Santa Claus?”
“Roy wasn’t wearing the suit, only the beard. And he ducked down behind the couch when Jen appeared on the stairway. We wanted to surprise her on Christmas Eve with a glimpse of Santa Claus leaving her presents.”
Johnny’s face turned red as a beet. “Oh. Jo, I’m so sorry. I didn’t…Roy was…aw, man!”
“John Gage, that was the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen. You were so protective of Roy.” She leaned over and kissed Johnny on the cheek, turning him even redder.
“Hey, you makin’ time with my lady?” Roy called, finally giving up on the roses and walking back to the deck with his arms around his son and daughter, Chris carrying the pruning shears for his father.
“No…I mean…of course not…I wouldn’t…” Johnny stuttered and stammered, finally pursing his lips in disgust. “Forget it. Man, I was soooo.”
“Wait a minute, listen to this.” Joanne bounded across the deck and turned the volume up on the radio. “They’re playing our song, Johnny.”
“You and my wife have a song?” Roy was puzzled, looking from his giggling wife to his embarrassed partner.
“I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus, underneath the mistletoe last night…”
Note: Okay, did you really think I’d have Joanne cheat on Roy?