A Night to Remember
By Paulette Keister
Admiral Harriman Nelson, looking quite handsome in his formal dress blues, was pacing the foyer, checking his watch. Tonight was the annual NIMR Christmas Gala. The Atlantis Room was once again transformed for an evening of fine dining and dancing. This year an adjacent lecture room was turned into a Winter Wonderland for the children, including a visit from a special guest.
"Jennifer Nelson, are you ready? We should have left ten minutes ago. How would it look for the Host and Hostess to be late for their own party?
"I'll be down in a minute, Harry." She yelled from the top of the stairs.
"That's what she said twenty minutes ago," mumbling to himself. Within seconds he heard the sound of footsteps coming across the room. "Finally." He turned to say something but the words didn't come. Before him stood a vision of loveliness. She was wearing a strapless gown of Royal Purple velvet. A strand of pearls graced her neck and pearl comb kept her upswept hair in place. Jenny smiled. The expression on his face reminded her of a deer caught in a car's headlights.
"Harry, close your mouth and say something."
He moved towards her and took her hands in his. "My darling, you are so beautiful."
She curtsied, then replied. "Why thank you kind sir. You're not so bad yourself," imitating Scarlett O'Hara. She ran her hand gently down his cheek then gave him a lingering kiss. He took a step back and looked into her big brown eyes. "Hmm she keeps that up we'll miss the whole party."
The Grandfather clock finished chiming 6:00 pm. "Oh my, look at the time. We better get going."
He shook his head and smiled as he placed her wrap around her bare shoulders. "Yes dear." He had a feeling this was going to be quite an evening.
Lee and Edith had arrived early to greet the families. It was Chip and Angie's job to escort the children to their own little party.
Lee was nervously keeping an eye on the main doors. "Where are those two? They should've been here by now. Knowing my sister, Harry probably had to wait on her."
Edith chuckled. " Oh Lee, be patient. They'll be here any minute." A few seconds later, they came through the front doors. Edith poked Lee with her elbow. "See I told you." She waved her hand in order to get their attention. As they approached, Edith whispered to Lee, "Those two make such a lovely couple...and they get along so well, don't you think?"
"Yes, I do. " Lee raised an eyebrow as he thought to himself. "Until they disagree about something. Then it's like two Billy goats butting heads. Neither one will give an inch."
Jenny smiled at both of them. "Hi Lee, Edith. Sorry we're late. Harry had to wait on me. Impatiently I might add."
"But it was worth it." Replying as he took her shawl.
"I can see that." Lee kissed his sister on the cheek. "Sis, you look stunning."
"Thank you Benjie. You look quite dashing yourself."
"Admiral, if you two are ready to take over here, Edith and I are going to go help Chip and Angie with our younger guests."
"Sure Lee, go ahead. See you in a little while."
Harry and Jenny continued to greet crewmembers, staff and associates. Everyone was in attendance. Admiral Jiggs Starke was the last to arrive. He took Harry's hand and shook it briskly. "Harriman, Merry Christmas." Turning to Jenny, he took her hand and kissed it. "Jennifer, you look marvelous."
She was caught off guard for a moment. "That's a first, a compliment from the man who's known to eat Junior Officers for lunch." Quickly she replied, "Why thank you, Jiggs."
"Harry, you're a lucky man."
"Yes I am, Jiggs, very lucky."
"Jennifer, may I have the pleasure of a dance later on?"
Before she could answer, Harry quickly replied. "Sorry Jiggs, all her dances are promised….to me."
She gave him a 'be nice' look and turned to Admiral Starke. "It would be my pleasure to save a dance for you."
"Great. Oh, I see Admiral Johnson is here. If you will excuse me.."
Harry motioned towards the bar. "Please Jiggs, go and enjoy yourself."
The Admiral smiled at the sight of Chip and Angie as they returned, looking a little worse for wear. Lee and Edith were a few steps behind them. When they were all together he asked, "Angie, am I correct in assuming that the children are enjoying themselves?
"Yes, Admiral…and are they excited. A little Elf told them there would be a surprise guest later on." She put her arm through Chip's and gave it a little squeeze.
Harry looked straight at Chip.. "I wonder who that could've been?"
He tried to look innocent, but failed miserably. " What can I say, I'm a sucker for little kids…especially at Christmas."
Chuckling, Harry replied. "Well, I believe everyone is here. Shall we get the evening started?" Everyone agreed and proceeded to the head table. Fr. Patrick O'Leary, NIMR's chaplain, said grace. Everyone sat down and began to enjoy a fantastic meal of prime rib, baked potato and all the trimmings.
The Admiral and Jenny had the pleasure of having the first dance of the evening. After a few minutes, other couples joined them on the dance floor. As they danced, he spied Chief Sharkey, wearing a frown, coming towards them. "Oh no, now what's wrong?" He knew that look all to well. They stopped dancing as the Chief approached.
In a low voice Harry asked, "What's the matter, Francis?"
"Sir, Captain Crane would like to see you both out in the lobby."
"Can't it wait?"
"No Sir. Skipper said it's very important."
"Very well Chief, lead the way." Leaving the dance floor and upon entering the lobby they found Lee, Chip, Edith and Angie in quiet conversation.
"Is someone going to tell me what the problem is or do I have to guess?"
Lee hesitated a moment before saying, "Well, our 'special guest' can't make it. He has the flu."
Harry shook his head. "Great. Now what are we going to do."
"The only thing we can do." Lee replied with a mischievous look. " One of us is going to have to put on the suit." All eyes were on Harry.
He realized what everyone was thinking and started to pace the hall. "Me? Oh no, I can't be Santa. I'm not the right size. "
"But Admiral," Lee retorted. " Chip and I are too tall, and I don't think Edith or Angie's ho, ho, ho's wouldn't be deep enough."
Harry scowled at him. "Very funny Captain Crane."
"What size is the suit, Lee?" Jenny inquired.
"It's a 42 short. "
"Well, I wear a 40 short. So you see.."
Cutting him off in mid sentence, Angie smiled sweetly and said, "They sent extra padding along with the suit, Admiral." Harry knew this was one argument he was going to lose.
Sighing, he said, "Ok, ok. Guess I don't have a choice. We don't want a small mutiny on our hands. He ran his hand through his hair. "Where is the suit, Lee?"
"In the Pacific Room, hanging in the closet."
Jenny snickered. "Don't worry my love. You'll make a wonderful Santa. Besides, it's almost time for the children to join their parents and there is no one else to step into his shoes…so to speak."
Shaking his head he said, "Jenny, you stay here with our guests while I'll go change. The rest of you gather the children and escort them in here."
"Alright Harry. I'll go find Jiggs and let him have his dance while you're changing."
Harry snorted. "Now that's something I'd like to see. Jiggs dancing."
"For goodness sakes Harriman, be nice." Jenny rolled her eyes. "What am I going to do with you?" With a 'I'll see you later' look on her face, she kissed him on the cheek and strolled back to the party to find Admiral Starke.
Edith took her brother's arm. "Let's go Santa. We don't want to disappoint the children."
Chip and Angie had escorted the last of the children into the room. Lee sat down in the large ornate chair. Since the Admiral was otherwise occupied, he was given the pleasant task of reading 'The Night Before Christmas' to them. The youngest ones sat cross-legged on the floor before him, impatiently waiting for the story to start. Lee kept glancing at the doors, waiting for Edith to appear. A few minutes later, he saw her standing next to Chip and Angie. Seeing all the eager little faces before him and assuming Harry was ready, he began to read.
Lee closed the book as he finished. "Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night." The children squealed with delight. Adults' young and old smiled and yelled "Merry Christmas." Suddenly, the double doors flew open. Jenny, who had been standing along side Lee, smiled and said, "Children, look who' s here."
Everyone turned and stared. The kids shouted out in unison, "It's Santa!"
'Ho, ho, ho… Merry Christmas, children." He carried a large sack of presents over his shoulder as he made his way through the crowd.
Jenny was puzzled. "Hmm, I don't remember telling Harry where the gifts were. I guess Edith must've told him." She'd ask him later.
Santa placed his bag beside the chair and sat down. Excitedly, the children formed a line in front of him. He addressed each child by name as they climbed up onto his lap. He talked briefly with them and listened to their list of 'I wants'. A big hug and gift were their reward when they had finished.
Jenny was thoroughly confused. She didn't have a clue as to how he knew each child's name. He didn't have time to check the list of attendees let alone learn all the children's names. After the last gift was in the hands of a very excited little girl, Santa stood up to leave. Jenny moved closer, put her arm through his and spoke in a hushed tone.
"Thank you Harriman. You made all of them very happy. I'm so proud of you."
He turned and with a twinkle in his eyes, gave her a wink. She gave him an alluring smile. "I'll show you my appreciation later, after the party."
Santa picked up his bag. He hesitated for a second, then said, " My, my, there's one more present here." Digging down to the bottom he pulled out a small package wrapped in silver foil paper topped with a small green bow. He handed to her and smiled.
"Merry Christmas, Commander Nelson."
"For me? Jenny was caught off guard. She smiled and said, "This is a surprise. Thank you Santa."
She hesitated for a moment. "I wonder why he didn't wait until Christmas Day?" Quickly, she tore the paper off the small box and lifted the lid. "Oh my!" Nestled inside lay a lovely locket on a serpentine chain adorned with emeralds, in the shape of Seaview.
"This is so beautiful. How did you know..." She looked up just in time to see him walking towards the lobby door. "Why did he rush off like that? 'Santa' Nelson has some explaining to do." Clutching the precious gift in her hand, she made her way through the crowd after him.
Jenny stood in the lobby, searching for any sign of Harry. Suddenly she spotted him briskly walking towards her.
Before he could say anything she asked, "Why did you leave in such a hurry.,. and by the way, how did you change out of the suit so fast?"
Harry ran his hand along side his head. "Change? I never had it on. It wasn't in the closet so I went to leave the room and the door wouldn't open. Someone had locked me in! I tried everything to get out...even picking the lock."
"But Harry, I stood right by your side as you gave the children their gifts. Why you even gave me this." She lifted the lid and showed him her Seaview.
He shook his head. "It's beautiful Jenny, but it wasn't me!"
"Then how DID you get out?"
"That's the strange part. After about 30 minutes, I heard foot steps. The door opened by itself and I rushed out into the corridor. That's when I saw you standing here."
"But who would do…"
He held his hand up for her to be quiet. "Listen, do you hear that?"
"Hear what? Harry, I don't hear anything."
" It was a loud scraping sound. See, there it is again!" This time she heard it.
"It's coming from the roof. Come on!" Harry grabbed her hand and practically dragged her out the main doors. They stood out in the cool night air, trying to see where the noise was coming from.
Jenny crossed her arms, trying to stay warm. She looked around to see if anyone was watching. "I hope no one sees us standing out here staring up at the roof, they'll think we've gone off the deep end."
What they saw next was inconceivable. A sleigh and eight reindeer were sitting up on top of the building. Climbing into the seat was a man in a red suit. The bells, which hung on the reins, started to jingle.
"Uh, Harry, please tell me you see Santa and a sleigh on up there. Because if you don't, then I'm drunk as a skunk."
He put his arms around her. As he pulled her close, he whispered. "No, my love, you're not drunk. He's real." "
Santa waved at them. "Merry Christmas Admiral and Commander Nelson. Bless you both." With a jerk of the reins, the reindeer started their ascent. As he disappeared into the starry night sky, they heard, "Happy Holidays to one and all."
They stood in silence for a moment. Harry spoke first. "I don't believe what we just saw. Is not possible."
Jenny shook her head. "Considering we've seen mermaids, rock monsters, aliens and who knows what else, believe it. We actually saw Santa Claus."
Harry felt his wife shaking. "You're getting chilled. We better get back to the party." Slowly, they walked back towards the lobby door. Just before opening it, He stopped. "Jenny, do you think we should tell Lee and Edith what we saw?"
"Absolutely not! They'll have us committed to St. Francis so fast it will make your head spin."
He opened the door and guided her in. Arm in arm, they headed back to the party. All of a sudden, Jenny stopped dead in her tracks. "Oh my god! I just remembered…I propositioned Santa Claus!"
"WHAT???" Harry roared.
"Well, I thought you were Santa and…Oh, never mind. I'll explain later. Let's go enjoy the rest of the party. As I recall, you and I have some serious dancing to do."
Authors note: I had every intention of finishing this story before Christmas. As you can see I'm a little late….maybe I'm just really, really early.
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