Men in Santa Hats

It was the week before Christmas. Most people would be out shopping, rushing to get the last perfect gift for their friends and family.  That is not what Annabelle is doing. She is sitting in a bar, an elf hat on her head, gripping onto a beer bottle.  She let her brown eyes scan the bar around her.  Her mother was at the end with three of her friends taking shots, Elizabeth was closer to the live band, reindeer antlers adorned on her head as she swayed to the music. Lena sat next to her a sour look on her face.

“This is pathetic.”

“We haven’t even started yet. This is the meeting point for everyone.” Annabelle explained taking a sip of her beer. “Get a drink and relax. It’s going to be a long night.”

Lena gave Annabelle a look before calling over the bartender.  Annabelle swung herself around on the bar stool to watch Elizabeth sway to the band who were playing a rock version of ‘O come all ye faithful.’

“Who is paying for this?” Lena asked loudly as the bartender made her vodka soda for her.

Annabelle turned around in her chair to look at the bartender. Leaning in she whispered, “Men in Santa Hats.”

The bartender nodded and walked away to take care of another customer. Lena looked at Annabelle a big smile growing on her face. “Is that how I should have been paying all this time? Why have money?”

“No. It was set up in advance. Each bar we go to will have that code. They will bill my mom later.” Annabelle explained taking a long swig of her beer.  Lena raised her glass towards Sarah in appreciation before downing her drink in a few gulps.

“Bartender!” Lena called out all excitedly as the bartender made his way back to the two girls. Lena leaned in suggestively towards the bartender. “Men in Santa Hats.” The bartender winked at her as he took her glass.

“I need to reevaluate how I’m writing you these days,” Annabelle muttered under her breath as she finished her beer. As the bartender came back with Lena’s drink, Annabelle pointed to her own. The bartender grabbed her beer from the cooler without breaking eye contact with Lena.

“4.50.” The bartender said to Annabelle leaning against the bar towards Lena.

Annabelle stared at him in amazement. She had ordered from him just five minutes before. She looked around quickly to make sure no one was close enough to hear. “Men in Santa Hats.” She said flatly. The bartender didn’t respond.

“She’s with me,” Lena said to the bartender moving in closer across the bar.

“Who is me?” The bartender flirted back.

Annabelle sat there for a moment before grabbing the beer from the bar and slipping off her seat. “Jokes on him. I have never written a sex scene with her in it. God knows if she knows what she is doing.” Annabelle muttered as she walked towards Elizabeth on the dance floor.

“HEY!” Elizabeth yelled over the music. The band was now playing ‘Hotel California, ’ but Elizabeth was still swaying to a nonexistent beat.  Annabelle playfully rolled her eyes as Elizabeth put her arm around Annabelle’s shoulder forcing her to sway to the music with her. Annabelle laughed as they swayed to the music, the band appreciative of their participation. Annabelle felt herself relax for the first time today as she took a sip out of her beer bottle.

“Annabelle! ANNABELLE!” a screeching voice came from behind the two, Annabelle tensed up, dragging her beer bottle back to her lips, chugging what is left.  She moved away from Elizabeth and made her way over to her mother, who was flanked by two of her best friends.

“Hey, mom,” Annabelle said as she walked over with her empty beer bottle. She placed it on the bar.

“Annabelle? Your buddy is keeping the bartender busy. Can you get him to come back over here?” Sarah asked with a big smile.

Annabelle gave a strained smile back as she looked down at the other end of the bar. Lena was practically sitting on the bar now as she twirled her hair and batted her eyelashes at the bartender.  He was talking animatedly about something that Annabelle was sure Lena didn’t understand.  She was like a newborn in so many ways. Taking a deep breath she walked towards the two of them, trying to work out a way to get the bartender back to her mother and her friends.

“Hey, bartender guy,” Annabelle said as she walked up. Lena looked over at Annabelle with a disgusted look.

“Annabelle! We are in the middle of something here.” Lena said through gritted teeth.

Annabelle cocked her head in amusement. “Do you want me to call J.D.?”

Lena’s demeanor changed as she hopped off the bar.  She gave a brief smile at the bartender before running off towards Elizabeth.  The bartender yelled after her.

“Who is J.D.?” The bartender asked giving Annabelle a confused look.

“Her husband.”

“She didn’t have a ring on.”

“Yeah well, I’m not there yet in the book,” Annabelle responded leaning against the bar. “I’m going to need you to go back down the bar towards those three ladies. They will be giving this fine dive bar lots of money tonight so you better start sucking up for a great tip.” Annabelle told him, slightly surprised at her candor towards the stranger.  Looking confused he nodded at Annabelle as he made his way towards her mother. Annabelle watched as her mother mouthed a ‘thank you’ before giving the bartender her order. Annabelle felt herself smile.

“Lena, that’s not how normal people dance,” Elizabeth yelled before falling into hysterics. Annabelle couldn’t take her eyes off her mother. She was proudly showing off her ring to the bartender, a bright smile on her face as he took her hand to look closer.  She hadn’t seen her mother that happy since she was a little kid.  Her mother let her hand drop to her side as she grabbed her Cosmo to take a sip.

“You don’t have a drink.” A voice asked breaking Annabelle’s thoughts.  She turned towards the voice and came face to face with a stranger. He looked like the guys she saw coming out of the frat houses in the morning.  Skinny jeans, a button up shirt and meticulously styled hair.

“Nope. I don’t.” Annabelle answered.  The bartender made his way back to them grabbing a beer from the cooler underneath and handing it over to Annabelle. “Now I do.”

The stranger laughed as he took a sip of his drink. “So, what brings you here?”

“It’s my mom’s bachelorette party,” Annabelle told him pointing over at her mother at the end of the bar.

“Congratulations are in order then. What are the plans for the night?” the stranger asked leaning in closer to Annabelle. Annabelle leaned away.

“We are just hanging out here. Maybe we will bar hop around. It’s all up to the bride.” Annabelle told him taking a swig of her beer. She saw the other two bridesmaids walk through the door, their hats on their heads, Annabelle waved at them as they passed, hoping they would stop. They didn’t.

“Sounds like a fun time. Excited to have a stepdad?” The man asked moving in even closer to her.

Annabelle gave a polite smile and moved back. “What are you up to tonight?”

The guy sighed and looked down at his drink. “I’m waiting for some friends. Decided to get here early. Check out the talent.” He said, winking at her.

Annabelle tried to keep her polite smile up. “Talent?”

“I have to admit, I didn’t expect to find anyone, but I see things are looking up.” The stranger said to her with a low voice, moving closer again.  Annabelle let her smile fall, her mind scrambling to find a way out of the conversation when a godsend appeared.

“THE MEN IN SANTA HATS HAVE ARRIVED.”  A familiar voice yelled out into the bar.  Eli and his groomsmen walked into the bar all wearing the same pair of Santa Hats that had lights on the ball at the end. Annabelle could see out of the corner of her eye her mother perk up.

“Oh come on! How come he can yell out the secret code word!?” Lena shouted to Annabelle, her hands on her hips in annoyance.

“What code word?” Annabelle yelled back giving Lena a dirty look. Lena gave her a dirty look back as she turned her attention to the men walking into the room. Annabelle’s eyes quickly searched for one person.

“Ethan! Hey, baby! Come here.” Annabelle yelled once she spotted Ethan wander in.  He stopped short and looked at her from the door.  He looked at her with one eyebrow raised as she waved him on.  He pushed through and slowly walked towards Annabelle, his puzzled look still present on his face. Annabelle wrapped her arm around his waist and gave him a quick kiss on his cheek.

“What are you guys doing here?” Annabelle asked with an extra sweetness in her voice.  Ethan looked down at her and wrapped his arm around her shoulders in response. He looked up at the guy who was still standing a little too close.

“You know Eli. He can’t stay away from Sarah for too long,” Ethan told her as he looked the stranger over, “Hi. I’m Ethan Cooper.”

“My boyfriend.” Annabelle quickly added to the end of Ethan’s sentence. The stranger backed up a bit and put out his hand for Ethan to shake.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Harry. I was just keeping your girl company. Have a great night.” Harry said backing off and walking away.  Annabelle and Ethan stood there, their arms still around each other.

“Is he gone?” Annabelle whispered as she leaned in closer to his ear.

Ethan looked around and leaned down slightly. “He is behind us. Hold on, baby.” Ethan whispered in her ear making her laugh.

“I’m so sorry for that. I owe you one.” Annabelle whispered back into his ear.

“Eh. This one is on me, honey.” Ethan whispered back. Annabelle squeezed his waist in response.

“So, seriously, why are you idiots here?” Annabelle asked as she watched the groomsmen wander around the room.  Annabelle craned her neck to see J.D. and Lena having a conversation on the dance floor, every so often J.D. looked over at them.

“I wasn’t kidding. Eli missed Sarah. It’s sweet.” Ethan told her.  He let his fingers rub at her shoulder. The two of them stood there in comfortable silence as the two parties mingled around them.

“Hey, you two. What’s going on?” Elizabeth asked as she came over.  The two of them broke apart, Annabelle a bit faster than Ethan.

“He saved me from a real charmer. Where the hell were you?” Annabelle asked crossing her arms.  Ethan smirked as he walked over to lean against the bar.

“I was listening to Lena talk about the bartender. I thought she and J.D. see each other?” Elizabeth asked looking back at where J.D. and Lena were standing.  “Also, I could have sworn J.D.’s eyes were brown.”

Ethan’s head snapped over to J.D. Annabelle looked over to trying to see J.D.’s eyes. “Maybe he has the type of eyes that change color. It does happen.” Annabelle reasoned as she heard Ethan huff in response.  J.D. looked over at her giving Annabelle a good look at his face.

“They are green,” Annabelle said. J.D. noticed Annabelle staring and waved over at her.  Annabelle waved back before turning to Ethan, who was now staring down at his beer bottle. Before anyone could talk again, Jack popped through the doors of the bar. “Hey! Next time warn a guy when the whole party changes location.” Jack yelled as he noticed the three of them standing next to the bar.

“Ah. The ladies of the hour. How are you two doing on this fine night?” Jack asked slightly stumbling into the side of the bar.  Elizabeth laughed as he grabbed onto her shoulders to steady himself.

“We are good. I see you are doing good too.” Elizabeth said to him still laughing at his antics.  Annabelle gave a smile as she turned back towards Ethan who was staring at Jack.

“Maybe you should call it a night,” Ethan suggested.

Jack shook his head. “Nah. I just need some water and coffee. I have to be here for my dad.”

The four of them turned their attention to the end of the bar where Eli was hugging Sarah, big smiles on their faces. The bar had gotten considerably louder, but you couldn’t tell just looking at them.  They were in their own little world.  Annabelle felt herself smile at the couple as they stood there oblivious to their looks.

“It’s been a weird month, hasn’t it?” Ethan asked Annabelle quietly.  Annabelle broke out of her trance.  Elizabeth and Jack had moved down the bar to order their drinks, leaving Ethan behind with her.

“Really weird. I didn’t change his eye color. I don’t think I did.” Annabelle said to him.  They both looked over at J.D. who was still looking at Annabelle.

“You know J.D. has a crush on you,” Ethan said suddenly, taking a long sip out of his beer.  Annabelle looked at Ethan with a big smile on her face.

“No, he doesn’t!” Annabelle said to him laughing at his serious expression.

“Yes, he does. I can tell.” Ethan told her moving in a little closer towards her.

She leaned in closer to Ethan looking at him with fake outrage. “Explain yourself then.”

Ethan wrapped his arm around Annabelle’s shoulders again, pulling her in close to his body.  She let him do that, melting into him.  He leaned down and pressed his lips against her temple. It was a simple sweet act that sent shivers down her spine.  Annabelle looked up at J.D. who had a scowl on his face.  She saw him put his hands into his pockets as he watched Ethan.  She saw a similar flash in his now green eyes.

“Oh my God,” Annabelle whispered.

Ethan pulled his lips away from her temple and put them near her ear. “Told you. Somehow, your creation has a thing for you.”

“No. Well, yes but I know what is going on now.” Annabelle whispered back.  She looked down and then back up at Ethan biting her lip. “I’m turning J.D. into you, Ethan.”

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