Kathy Coatney

Santa Comes to Snowside

Santa Comes to Snowside
What music do Santa’s elves like the best? Wrap music!

Annie Murphy, a transit bus driver in Snowside, Vermont, loves scavenger hunts and the corny jokes her riders share. She has a heart as big as the city and gave up college to raise her orphaned nephew without a second thought. But so far true love has eluded her.

A downturn in the economy five years ago sent Jack Davidson down a path to enlightenment. Giving up a lucrative career in finance and his swanky high-rise apartment, he invested all his savings to start Job Hunters 4 You, a nonprofit that helps the unemployed find work. The only thing missing is that special someone in his life.

Jody and Nick Claws arrive on Jack’s doorstep in matching red and green plaid flannel shirts, the spitting image of Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus. The pair are on a mission to work their Christmas magic on two lonely hearts—Annie and Jack.

Grab your copy today because nothing kicks off the holidays like a match made in heaven.

Thirty days to Christmas

Annie Murphy ran the pre-check over the forty-foot, fifteen-ton Snowside city bus she affectionately called the Hope Express. Grabbing the hammer she kept next to her seat, she tapped each tire listening for a flat thump that indicated low air pressure and then checked every light. Satisfied everything was in good working order, she went inside and adjusted the mirrors, then checked the rear door before returning to her seat to log in and start her day.

As she put the bus in gear, she headed to her first stop. Only a few passengers were waiting as streaks of orange and yellow broke across the pre-dawn sky. 

Mid-morning, Herman Stein laboriously climbed on board, leaning heavily on his cane. Catching his breath, he shifted the bag of groceries in his arms and asked, “Have you heard anything about Tony’s college applications yet?” 

A retired construction worker, he was crusty as two-day old French bread, but beneath all that gruffness beat the heart of a thoughtful, caring man, especially when it came to Annie’s nephew, Tony. Herman had been part of Annie’s support system since her first day driving a transit bus ten years ago. 

“Nothing. Still waiting to hear back, and it’s early,” she reminded him as he eased into the front seat.

“They’d be fools not to accept that boy. He’s smart as a whip,” Herman continued.

Annie glanced into the mirror attached to the visor, then focused back on the road. She totally agreed with him, but that didn’t necessarily mean that colleges would. “There’s not much we can do except wait at this point.”

Two stops later, Herman pushed out of his seat, lugging his bag of groceries. He paused beside her and handed her two cans of baked beans. “For your donation box.”

Annie blinked back sudden tears. He might be cantankerous as an old mule, but he always brought food for the shelter. Even though he might have needed it as much as the people who received his donation. “Thank you.”

He swiped a hand in the air and muttered something unintelligible as he climbed down the steps.

She watched him make his way up the sidewalk before greeting new riders with a smile and welcome aboard. She might live and work in a major metropolitan hub, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t interact with the people she served. Some smiled, some nodded a greeting, and some said nothing at all, but she never took offense. More often than not she wore them down with her persistent friendliness. To Annie’s way of thinking, a girl couldn’t have too many friends.

That afternoon Tony waited with several other riders at the stop a block from the school. He could walk home, but most days he chose to ride her bus and do homework. 

Climbing on the bus, he pecked her cheek with a perfunctory kiss, the most she’d received since he’d become a teenager without initiating it herself. He took his usual seat directly behind her.

She closed the doors and set the bus in gear.

“So, how was your day?” she asked, glancing in the rearview mirror.

Giving her that slouch shrug he’d acquired recently, he said, “It was a day.”

His comments had become more and more vague in the past few months. She’d taken it in stride, but some days it tried her patience more than others. Today was one of those days. “What exactly does that mean? Did you have a run-in with your history teacher, get benched for Friday’s basketball game, or did a girl make googly eyes at you?”

His cheeks glowed redder than Rudolph’s nose. “Why do you have to embarrass me?” he hissed.

Annie offered him the same insolent shrug. “I can’t help myself. I just had the urge to torment you today.” 

She eased to the curb and opened the door, catching the roll of his eye before she focused on riders climbing onto the bus. Offering them each a bright smile, she asked how their day was going. She received mostly grunts in response, but got a huge dimpled grin from Bonnie Keen as she and her mother got on the bus. 

The preschooler’s dark eyes sparkled with merriment as she stepped close to Annie and whispered shyly, “I have a joke.”

Annie smiled as she picked up the clipboard she kept next to her seat. “Tell me.”

A giggle escaped. “What kind of ball doesn’t bounce?”

Annie pressed a finger to her lips as if deep in thought. Finally, she said, “You stumped me. What kind?”

Bonnie clapped her hands in delight and screeched, “A snowball!”

Annie roared with laughter as she wrote it down on the sheet of paper underneath Holiday Humor printed in bright red, then high-fived the little girl. “Keep those jokes coming. We have thirty days until Christmas.”

She hung the clipboard next to her seat so anyone could read over the day’s jokes. After work she saved the sheet in a binder and started a new one for the next day. She did it for every holiday, but Christmas was always her favorite and the children loved it. 

She closed the door and moved on to the next stop, focusing her attention back on her nephew. “What are your plans for this beautiful afternoon?”

Tony’s mood had lightened after hearing Bonnie’s joke. With a groan and grimace of distaste, he said, “Homework while you drive me around the city.”

Annie had loved school, loved college, loved education in general when she’d been his age. While her nephew was an exemplary student, he didn’t have the same passion for it she’d had. 

Annie had been brokenhearted when she’d left college and the humor research she’d loved to take care of a seven-year-old after her sister and brother-in-law died in a car crash—the sister she’d adored and who’d sacrificed her own youth to raise Annie after their mother abandoned them. Ironic that Annie should sacrifice to raise her sister’s child, but she had no regrets. Tony was the light of her life. 

What was she going to do when he left for college next fall, and how would she fill the long, lonely evenings without him? 

Annie pushed the worrisome thought aside, something she’d done frequently the last several months. Classic avoidance, but it was her coping mechanism at the moment.

She came to the next stop and several of her regulars got on, including three teenagers and a middle-aged couple. The teens high-fived her and waved to Tony on their way to the back of the bus. She set off again, cracking her window to let in the unseasonably warm air. It certainly didn’t feel like late November, but a cold snap was predicted tonight with snow in the forecast.

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