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(NEW YORK) —  A Marine recently gave his wife the ultimate Christmas surprise with his early return at a Florida mall, where he quietly sneaked behind her as she took a photo with Santa and his mother and young cousin.

Marine Lance Corporal Peter Allen explained to ABC News Friday that he wanted to do something special for his wife, Kellie Allen, whom he had to leave behind in Florida for his station in California right after they got married this past September. Kellie was waiting until February to move in with him, and he had told her the earliest he could come back to visit was in late January.

“She thought she was going to have to spend this Christmas without me,” Peter said. “I just wanted to surprise her for Christmas and make her happy. I think all guys should never stop surprising the girl they love. Keep that fire going even in the smallest of ways.”

 But the 20-year-old Marine was himself surprised when he carried out his plan this past Wednesday at the Mall at Wellington Green in Wellington, Florida.

When Santa asked Kellie what she wanted for Christmas, she answered, “For my husband to come home.”

“I was just so happy to hear her say that, and it was just so genuine ’cause she didn’t even know I was there yet,” Peter said.

After the picture was taken, a mall employee showed the photo to Kellie, who then realized Peter had been standing right behind her the whole time.

 She turned around in “disbelief” and started laughing and crying, according to video her father caught of her reaction and their first hug in months.

“Of course, I was crying, too,” Peter said. “I was so happy to see her.”

The couple will be spending Christmas together with both their families, Peter said. He added he felt grateful for the time he’s gotten to spend with her the past few days to make up for the months apart.

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