She gathered the blankets she used to keep herself warm in this large but cold house. It was the time of year that most people got into the holiday spirit, but she had grown tired of it. Year in and year out – she never thought she would ever get sick of Christmas. How could she? It was the most wonderful time of the year, and she was as close to the center as a person, as a girl could get. She was swept up in the magic of it all, but after all these years, she could barely stand the thought of it.

I walked into the enormous house through a side wing, as I had been doing for five years. I knew in my head that she was getting on in years, but she didn’t look like she had aged since she was in her early twenties, much less over the last five years. I think that’s why I kept coming, even though it was but for a short time. And I think she felt the same, which is why she kept inviting me, again, even though it was for a short time.

The nature of this place allowed her to know when I was there. It also let him know I was there, but if he knew more he had never let on. I didn’t think so. Besides, at this time of year he had other things on his mind.

It was odd, our first meeting. I saw her across a crowded jazz club, long ago, and just had to talk to her. That wasn’t so odd, but we were both still in school, and neither of us should have been in there. We had nothing to drink save a bit of whiskey she had smuggled into the club in a small flask, mixed with generous glasses of root beer, the only thing they would serve either of us. At least they let us stay. And we did. We danced. We talked. When it was time for us to sneak back into our houses before our parents woke up, we even kissed one last kiss.

And I never saw her again. Well, obviously not never. But not for a long time. Soon after that magical night, she met someone. Him. And he saw something in her, or cast a spell on her, or was just himself. That probably would have been enough to draw any woman to him. But for whatever reason, this well-traveled man chose her, and she could not say no.

Looking back, I see why. She got so much from their relationship. Happiness, giving, friendship of a sort, magic – true magic. But looking back now, right now, I can see everything she gave up. I am thankful for a small part of that. Yet I am sad for the majority of it.

He was charismatic and yes, kind and generous, if cold and distant. He liked to laugh, and he genuinely cared about so many people. He had this way of looking at the world, and seeing where it was doing well, and where it might have needed some attention. He had so much going for him, but he was lonely in spite of it. He needed someone of his own kind.

But she wasn’t his kind. No one was. And he really shouldn’t have pushed this on her, or anyone. I shouldn’t blame him, but I still do. She was young. She couldn’t possibly have understood what it would mean to be with him.

In time, she grew in intelligence and wisdom. She looked young, but wisdom isn’t about age, it’s about experience. And she learned everything about him, how he operated, how to work the system he had set up. It took her years to work up the courage, but she had time. Without a doubt, she had time. And that’s how she found me.

She had remembered me all these years, and she took a chance while he was out, and went out herself. She summoned me, and while I had a couple of doubts about the whole thing, it was so easy to believe her when she was the same girl from all those years ago, from that night. Not just an older version, but the same girl!

It didn’t bother her that I had married, and had grown children, and that my wife had passed on yet I still wore my ring. For one night, long ago, she had been happy. For one more night, she was happy once again. I wondered what she could find still attractive about me, considering our very different paths, but I felt as incredible after that second night as I did after the first one. And it showed, literally. I looked a little younger. A bit less wrinkly.

This time, when we parted, I thought it would be the last time. But the next year, exactly one year later, she summoned me again, and she looked slightly older even as I looked slightly younger. I asked her about it, and she refused to answer. She just wanted the magic moments, and I couldn’t refuse her. I wanted them too.

The next year, I hoped and my hope was answered. But I was also curious. People around me were starting to talk, and say odd things, and I had to move from my home because of my appearance. And she looked a little older again. This time, I wouldn’t let her avoid the question. And so, she told me. She was giving me some of her power. The power that he had given her. And she broke down and told me everything.

Being with him meant never growing old. Being with him meant some long lonely nights. And being with him meant never having children. They were not compatible in that way. It was, it turned out, scientifically impossible. The children he came in contact with, she never really saw. For the romance, the very idea of it! The promise, the life, the unbelievable magic of it, the fairy tale ending – it didn’t work out. It wasn’t worth it. And now she was stuck like this. And I was stuck like this. I couldn’t stop the yearly visits. I couldn’t have more than that.

She couldn’t give him up. She couldn’t leave him for the modest, boring but somehow preferable life she would certainly have with me. She could even have the children she wanted, because she was still capable! But she couldn’t leave him. And I understood perfectly, and even though it hurt, and even though it was but a tiny fraction of a relationship, I accepted it and even embraced it. She couldn’t leave him. It would affect so many people. She just couldn’t leave him. It would ruin him, and ruin so much more.

How could she destroy such a sacred thing? How could she live with herself knowing that she had disappointed so many people, ruined so many lives? Yes, I understood perfectly.

How could she face the world as the woman who had left Santa Claus?

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