Trent glanced at his watch. It read, “12:14.” His feet tapped the floor like a drummer. Trisha patted him on the shoulder and kissed his cheek.
“Don’t worry. We’ll make it in time.”
He titled his head at the line. It looked as if it could circle the mall three times over. He and Trisha and Ophelia were in the middle.
“I told you we should have left sooner.”
Trent glanced at his watch again. The minute hand advanced two spaces. Ophelia, dressed in a cherry red dress with black fringes barely sticking out, tugged at her dad’s coat.
“I’m hungry,” she cried.
“Are you that hungry?”
Ophelia nodded. Trent looked at his watch again. He peeked out the line, but there wasn’t a food station close by.
“Trish, do you have anything for her to eat?”
She rummaged through her purse. She found a mini Snickers she saved from Halloween. Trent scowled.
“Do you have any napkins?”
Trisha dug through her purse again. She shook her head. Trent threw up his hands. He unwrapped the square bar and gave it to Ophelia.
“Be careful with this. We don’t want you getting dirty.”
“Okay, Daddy,” Ophelia replied. She bit into the square, grinding her teeth to get every last morsel. Ophelia tugged on the coat again.
“What is it, honey?”
Ophelia stuck out her hands. The tips of her fingers were covered in chocolate. Trent looked down at the tail of his coat and saw the imprints. Trent sighed. Ophelia’s eyes started to well up. She sniffled and stuck out her lower lip.
“No, no, Ophelia. It’s okay. Don’t worry about Daddy’s coat. I can clean it.”
Ophelia wiped her eyes, then smiled. Trent flicked his wrist, peeking at his watch. Ten minutes passed. More people were lining up, but he felt the line hadn’t budged. Trent observed children standing at their parents’ side, growing impatient as they moved forward. Some stomped their feet, while some screamed at their parents. Though he could relate, it offered no comfort.
Trisha hung up her cell phone.
“Who was that?”
“Alexis. She said she and Johnny are at the food court.”
“Great,” Trent said. “They’re probably wondering what’s taking us so long.”
“I told them we were getting pics with Santa. She said they’re willing to wait.”
Trent hated making people wait. Trisha understood this, and palmed Trent’s shoulder. Ophelia danced around.
“What’s wrong, sweetheart?”
Ophelia covered the snowflake in front of her dress.
“Really? Can you hold it? We don’t have much longer.”
Ophelia shook her head. The dancing grew more feverish. Trent twisted and turned, searching for any signs of what could be a bathroom. He found one on the upper floor. Trent tapped Trisha and said, “Honey, could you take Ophelia to the bathroom?”
Ophelia pulled herself toward Trent. She wrapped her arms around his leg. Trent kneeled down to Ophelia.
“Sweetie, we’ve talked about this. Daddy cannot go into your bathroom.”
Ophelia hugged her daddy, squeezing his neck as tight as a three-year-old could. He tried to pull her off, but she held on tighter.
“Okay,” Trent said. “I’ll go, but we got to be quick.”
Trent grabbed Ophelia by the hand and galloped up the escalator. They ran to the women’s restroom, passing an elderly lady who looked puzzled. Ophelia wiggled and squirmed. Trent squatted down to see if the stalls were empty. They were clear. Trent took Ophelia to the stall closest to the door. He pulled down her underwear and lifted her up onto the seat.
“Okay. Have at it.”
Ophelia swung her legs up and down, proceeding about her business. Trent stood in the stall, fidgeting as if he had to follow Ophelia. The door opened. Trent squatted to see who was coming in. He saw two pairs of high heels entering the bathroom. Trent peeked through a hole where a latch used to be, but he couldn’t see who was where. There was a slam alongside the stall where he and Ophelia were. Trent breathed a sigh of relief. Ophelia jumped down from the toilet seat and pulled up her underwear.
Trent hushed her. He could feel the blood rushing up his cheeks.
“Daddy, can we go now? I don’t want to miss Santa.”
“Sure,” Trent whispered, “let’s go see Santa.”
There was no easy way out. Trent lifted Ophelia and exited the stall. He kept his focus on the door so as to not appear to be staring at the woman in front of the mirror. He walked out the bathroom, then set Ophelia down. They raced down the escalator.
“Good job, Ophelia.”
They smacked hands in a high five. Trent looked at his watch. It was “12:46.” They hurried back to the line, but there was no sign of Trisha. They walked to the front, then to the back. Nothing.
“I don’t know.”
There was a squeal coming from the front of the line. Trent looked up and saw a waving and bobbing hand. Trent and Ophelia walked to the makeshift loghouse. Ophelia gave her mom a hug. Trent and Trisha pecked each other.
“Thank goodness,” Trisha said. “I was afraid I was going to have to go to the back of the line.”
Trent turned to his daughter.
Ophelia smiled and nodded. Trent carried her up to the chair where Santa sat. She looked up at him with his dark red cheeks and snowy beard. Ophelia’s smile turned to a frown. She shivered and mumbled. The tears started to reappear in her eyes. Trent walked to Ophelia. He wiped the year away.
“You’ve been so good thus far. We’re almost done. And then, you can have your ice cream.”
Trent wiped another tear. Ophelia hugged Daddy and went back to Santa’s chair. Trent walked back to where the photographer stood. He and Trisha made gestures to get their daughter to smile. Trisha stretched her mouth and stuck out her tongue, while Trent opened his eyes wide. That always made Ophelia laugh. He bared her teeth and the flash went off several times. When the photographer he was done, Ophelia jumped down and ran to Trent. She jumped and jumped.
“Good girl. Now, what kind of ice cream do you want?”