Val grabbed her workbag out of the backseat of her sedan and ducked her head against the sharp wind blowing through the carport. She wished for the hundredth time that her patio home had come with an attached garage as she trudged through the built-up snow to her door. The place had started its life as a one-story sprawling ranch that an aspiring developer had split into two attractive homes. The front door nearly butted up against the neighbors', but it was cozy and it was actually hers.
The blinking multicolored lights strung around the eaves, however, weren't. The sight of them brought a half smile to her chapped lips as she kicked snow off of her boots. Having a second home attached to hers wasn't so weird when the neighbors were like Rick and Sean: amicable, cute, and prone to do things like hanging Christmas lights.
It was too late to thank them. Their windows were already darkened. Instead she unlocked her door and slipped inside the warm privacy of her home. Her damp boot scuffed something on the floor. She flipped the foyer lights on and found a white envelope under her foot.
"Damn it," she said.
There was a wet shoe print on the bottom corner when she picked it up, but the letter seemed otherwise undamaged. Her name was scrawled in black ink across the heavy paper. She ran her fingers across the glossy letters, tracing the simple V-a-l. It was otherwise blank.
"Huh," she muttered and tucked the letter under her arm.
She slipped off her boots in the foyer before padding farther inside, toes cold and tingling. The light she'd left on in the kitchen cast a glow through the darkened living room. Val unbuttoned her coat and dropped it with the mysterious envelope on the sofa. The house was silent and shadowed, pleasantly empty. For the first time since she'd stepped into work that morning, she let out a sigh of pure relief and rolled her shoulders to ease the tension.
The season of joy was such a misnomer. Her clients were all more stressed, more weepy, more everything the closer the holidays came. The two couples' sessions of the night had both ended in yelling matches she could barely moderate. Therapy certainly wasn't a boring profession.
After a moment's deliberate consideration staring at the letter lying on her couch, she picked it up and turned it over in her hands. The season seemed to encourage anonymous goodwill and good wishes, so it wasn't as odd as it would have been at another time. She walked into the well-lit kitchen and leaned against the counter, sliding her thumb under the seam of the envelope. It parted easily. Inside there was a scarlet card with black embossed spirals on it, no other visual clues. She bit her lip and sat the card on the counter, teasing herself with the anticipation.
Val didn't get many surprises. She wanted this one to last. The shiny, lurid card beckoned her, but she ignored it in favor of opening the fridge and digging out her leftovers from the night before. She found herself casting glances at the anonymous gift as she served out a helping of beef stroganoff onto a disposable plate and slid it into the microwave. While the food was heating, she picked the card up again.
This was the moment, the big reveal. She smiled as she flipped open the cover. The card held a single sheet of paper with more of the looping, curvy scrawl in the same thick black ink.
This is your very secret Santa.
You've been working too hard,
So here's your chance to let off some steam:
Write your most favorite fantasy
And leave it behind the wreath on your door.
Your Santa will make it come true.
Val raised her eyebrows and read the note again, but it still seemed to be some kind of erotic invitation from a stranger. That had been left under her door. They knew her name, but that didn't mean anything. They also knew where she lived, which was alarming, but it could mean a friend was playing a joke. She didn't know anyone who was likely to do something like that, though. The microwave beeped, startling her, and she dropped the card. It bounced harmlessly off of the cabinet and fell to the floor with a shushing sound.
She looked down at the thing for a moment, resting near her foot. The red cover seemed especially suggestive now. She bent to pick it up, sighing, and carried both it and her dinner back into the living room. She propped the card up on the coffee table and balanced the plate on her knees. A quick press of a button turned the television on. She relaxed into the softness of the sofa and flipped channels until she found a goofy enough ghost-hunting program.
She did miss the old haunted-hotel specials, before the reality TV craze, where every ghost show needed to be about some team with a psychic wandering around in the dark. The replacement shows would just have to do, though, if she wanted her creepy fix. The hijinks and night-vision camera takes onscreen distracted her from the card long enough to enjoy her supper and start to really unwind.
When she leaned forward to put her empty plate on the coffee table, though, she couldn't help taking the glossy card in her hands again. She furrowed her eyebrows in a scowl. There hadn't been anyone in her life who would give her something like this for at least a year or two, and that was before she'd bought the patio home. Running her own practice and being a homeowner took up more time than she ever thought possible. It didn't leave much room for dating, casual or not.
Val opened the missive again, eyes tracking down the message. The person wanted her to confess her fantasies--they wanted her to open up. It struck her as especially ironic, given that her day job was making other people admit and come to terms with their own psyches. To be honest, there was a small part of her that found the thought of having a fantasy fulfilled for Christmas a bit romantic and sexy, but not when some stranger offered it via an anonymous note under her door.
Still, she gave it a moment's consideration. What would they do? Who was it? She'd heard of erotic vacations, designed to fulfill your desires, but not mysterious secret-Santa sex. That was a whole new ballgame.