e snow-covered roads were passing swiftly outside. He needed to pull himself out of this mire. Christmas Eve was usually his favourite time of year. Sneaking around the hospital and putting the presents out for the kids was always special. There was always some pale-faced little person who was awake and wanted to open their present in front of Santa. He couldn’t hide the joy that gave him. Seeing the little eyes widen at the gift of their dreams and knowing that he’d given just a little happiness to a child who might not have a lot of time left on this earth.
The thoughts strengthened his resolve. He couldn’t let anything get in the way of this. He would do anything to make sure he continued to provide for these kids.
Anything at all.
The car pulled up to a halt outside the hospital. It was eleven-thirty. Hardly time to get ready at all. Thankfully Lisa was waiting, the costume, beard, shoes and Santa sack already laid out. She put her fingers to her lips and led them into the staff changing room. ‘Shhh, we have a few still awake. And it looks like you’re going to have to come back and refill your sack at least five times. I’ve put the presents in for the kids in Rooms 4, 5 and 6 first. They are furthest away.’
Mitch nodded and stripped off his clothes without a second thought. ‘Give me five minutes, Lisa. I need to shower.’
She slipped out of the room into the darkened corridor, leaving Sam and him alone. The silence was deafening. He took out his monitor and spent twenty seconds checking his level. It was on the way down so he’d need to eat something soon, but it wasn’t urgent.
Sam was bent over the Christmas parcels, organising the next load for the sack. He flicked the switch on the shower, filling the room with steam.
It was almost as if she was waiting to say something to him. Trying to work things out in her head. But Mitch wasn’t feeling rational—he wasn’t feeling patient. For some reason the pent-up frustration and anger from earlier was returning. He had a million fans around the world. Why did the opinion of Samantha Lewis, his nurse, matter so much? Three weeks ago he hadn’t even known her. He would have walked past her in the street without a second glance.
Well, maybe that wasn’t quite true. There was no way he wouldn’t have noticed those big blue eyes and jeans-covered curves.
He just couldn’t work out why what she thought mattered so much. This wasn’t about the diabetes any more. Granted, he still wanted her to give her blessing for the tour. But how she looked at him, what she said to him, how she felt about him seemed to matter so much more.
She was still hovering around. So he did what any self-respecting guy would. He dropped his boxers on the floor and stepped into the shower, giving her a view of his naked backside.
Some girls would have paid money for that. Samantha Lewis wouldn’t.
Mitch had never been shy about his body. After a few weeks of looking a little puny, his muscle tone and weight was starting to return. In another few weeks—just in time to start the tour—he should look normal again.
He heard her choke a little outside. Was it the steam? Or was it something else?
When he emerged from the shower a few minutes later she’d made a sharp exit into the corridor. He was disappointed. But what had he expected to happen here, in a staff changing room?
He pulled on the costume, fixed the beard to his face and lifted the sack. It was like a rush of pure endorphins. Playing Santa for these kids was the best job in the world.
Sam was waiting at the door, shifting on her feet continuously. ‘Do you want me to sit down somewhere and wait for you?’
Of course. Part of him wanted to say yes. He loved doing this. But the reluctance he thought he might feel wasn’t there. He kind of wanted Sam to play a part in this too. He was sure she would find it every bit as magical as he did.
He shook his head and gestured for her to follow him along the corridor. It was dark, lit only by the multicoloured lights and white stars that were wound around the windows and strung across the ceiling.
The bells that were stitched into the sleeves of his coat jangled gently as he moved down the corridor. Sam let out a nervous laugh. ‘I love it,’ she whispered. ‘It’s almost as if they can hear the reindeers and sleigh landing on the roof.’
He raised his eyebrows. ‘Watch out. There’s a thought. I should have made you dress up as a reindeer.’
The nerves and anxiety previously obvious on her face were gone. Now all he could see was the softness of her eyes. The jingling continued as he reached the first room. Lukas Wagner was fast asleep. He was recovering from emergency cardiac valve surgery and his colour had improved rapidly in the last few days. Mitchell moved quietly, slotting the gift-wrapped tablet and games machine into the carefully positioned stocking at the bottom of the bed. Sam added various little extras from the bag she carried, mainly nuts, fruit and chocolate, and they both crept back out.
Anna Gruber, in the next room, was also sleeping. She’d wished for a pink tablet and crying baby doll. Her sleepy mother gave them both a wave from where she was dozing in the recliner chair, whispering her thanks as they left.
It was Brian Flannigan’s room next. The teenager had made some progress towards recovering from his recent dip in health. His wasn’t a small electronic parcel. His was a full-scale guitar. Sam smiled as Mitchell pulled it from the sack and ran his fingers over the gold paper.
‘Do you think the wrapping is a bit of a giveaway?’
He smiled. ‘You try wrapping one of these things. It’s no easy task.’ He pushed open the door and Brian’s eyes flickered open immediately.
He blinked again, taking a few seconds to recognise the thinly disguised Santa Claus. ‘Mitch,’ he croaked, as he tried to push himself up in the bed.
‘Hey, buddy.’ It was so nice to see him with a little more colour about his face. He was still thin and pale, but he was obviously managing to eat a little better.
‘Am I supposed to pretend to be sleeping when Santa Claus appears?’
Mitch sat down next to the bed. ‘You can do whatever you like. I’m just glad to see you’re looking better and that you’re out of isolation for a while.’
Brian nodded. ‘I’ve responded well to the antibodies they’ve given me. But I’m still on the bone-marrow transplant list.’ He didn’t sound nearly as breathless as he had before. He gave a weak smile. ‘They told me today that there’s a possible match. In the next few days I could be a new guy.’ There was such hope in his voice—the possibility of an end to all this sickness—that Mitch wanted to reach over and hug him, but instead he squeezed his hand. ‘That’s the best news you could give me.’
Brian nodded towards the present. ‘Santa’s brought me a guitar.’ He glanced around the room. ‘Is it midnight yet? Can I open it?’
‘Absolutely.’ He was trying not to let tears form in his eyes. He knew what this little guy had ahead. A bone-marrow transplant could be the gift of life, just like it had been for his brother. If the match was confirmed, sample collected and things went well, Brian Flannigan could be walking out of here to a whole new way of life.
Testing for the next few years would be inevitable. But after that? No more avoiding every single friend with a sniffle or sore stomach. No more worrying about sports and activities he couldn’t take part in. Mitchell couldn’t help but smile and say a silent prayer that Brian would be as lucky as his brother had been.
Brian ripped at the gold paper, tearing it off in a few quick strips. His eyes grew as wide as saucers. ‘Oh wow! A Fender.’ He hugged the black guitar towards his chest. ‘It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen. Is it mine? Really?’
Mitch nodded. ‘Really. Once this bone-marrow transplant is done, I expect to hear that you’re practising all the time.’
For the first time in a long time Brian’s cheeks actually looked flushed. ‘Oh, I will. I promise. This is the best Christmas ever!’
; Mitch stood up, giving him a tap on the shoulder. ‘I’ll see you some time in the next few days, buddy. Meanwhile, Santa has other presents to deliver.’
As he left the room Brian was already starting to strum the guitar strings as he lay in bed. Samantha was waiting by the door, the expression on her face matching entirely how he felt. She placed her hand over her chest. ‘Oh, Mitch, I thought I was going to cry. That’s such great news for him. I hope it works out.’
‘So do I.’ He’d whispered the words. A whole host of memories was flooding around him, reinforcing just how important all this was.
Sam walked over and laid her hands on his chest. ‘I get why you do this, Mitch. I really do. I just wish the world could know you like I do.’ She wound her hands around his neck and stood up on tiptoe.
He responded immediately, his whole body in tune with hers. Nothing and no one could get between them now. Their lips made contact, hers soft and sweet with a taste of warm orange. The girl had more lip balms than he had guitars. His hands went automatically to her hips, pulling her towards him. Everything about this felt so right. She was the girl who was meant to fill his arms. He’d never felt this way about anyone before. No one else had ever come close.
This wasn’t meaningless press-associated passion. This was heartfelt and true. And the more he kissed her, the more he resented the barriers in his way—they were in a corridor in the children’s hospital, and all items of clothing had to stay exactly where they were. Imagine the scandal if a partially dressed Santa Claus was found in a compromising position!
No. It was the other kind of barriers. The emotional ones that made him feel as if he’d had to build a fortress about himself. His diabetes. His tour. His responsibilities. And the ugly, black fact that he’d been quite willing to try and charm her, to manipulate her to keep his tour on track.
He didn’t want her to go. The thought of Sam getting on a plane to go home when her contract was up made him want to pull her even closer. He didn’t want to let her go.