[Part three of a four part story for Christmas. In case you missed it, here is part one.]
The next day was the last of kindergarten before winter break. Jeremy felt as if the entire year had built up to this day and he was so excited he couldn’t get his socks to match. He even put his favorite shirt on backwards, twice. In a last ditch effort, he let his mother straighten things out and take him to school.
No one had been told what was going to happen that day. His teacher Miss Murray had kept it all a secret. He loved secrets. This was going to be the best day of kindergarten yet.
When he entered the room, it was filled with music. Christmas seemed to ring from every corner. Red and green streamers crisscrossed the ceiling as if they’d been strung by elves piloting tiny biplanes. The tree they had been trimming sparkled with ceramic ornaments and lights.
He ran to the tree and found the clay sled ornament he’d been working on the week before. Miss Murray had taken it last Friday to “get it fired” so it wouldn’t break. He’d painted it every color he could find and had carved his name as neatly as he could on the back. It sparkled like a jewel as it caught the light. It was more beautiful than he had hoped.
Miss Murray came up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder, giving him a half-hug. “You did a nice job on that, Jeremy.”
Collin, Jeremy’s best friend, and Zach, his other best friend, were busy building something out of the giant building blocks over in the play area. “Com’on, Jeremy!” Zach hollered. “We’re building a Christmas castle!”
Jeremy ran off to help them before Miss Murray would have a chance to see him blush. Then, when she wasn’t looking, he ran back to snag a candy cane from the tree before going to help his friends.
For Halloween the three of them had built Count Dracula’s castle, and on the last day before Thanksgiving, they’d built a pilgrim castle. A Christmas castle seemed like a great idea. All three of them thought so, which was why they were best friends.
The day passed so quickly they had hardly gotten the first wall of the castle up before things started rolling. They played “Pin the Star on the Christmas Tree,” had some good races (Collin and Jeremy won the three-legged race), and, for rest time, Miss Murray read them a long poem about some mice, sugarplums, a man who wore a hat to bed, and Santa Claus. Then, during snack time—as Zach, Collin, and Jeremy saw who could bite the heads off the most reindeer cookies-they got an unexpected surprise.
In all of his glory, rosy-cheeked and laughing merrily, he came strolling into the room. Nobody looked more surprised than Miss Murray. It was Michelle Michaels who finally cried out, “Look! It’s Santa!”
Jeremy muffled his surprise. He had to act fast; this might be his only chance. “Collin! Zach! We’ve got to get him to sit with us! I’ve got to talk to him!” Jeremy whispered as softly as he could. “Santa! Santa! Come sit with us!” he hollered. “We’ve got the best cookies!” To emphasize this, he waved a decapitated Rudolf.
Santa saw his enthusiasm and started to make his way towards them. “Collin! Zach! We’ve got to find out if he’s the real Santa. If he is . . . if he is . . . I’ve got to tell him something.” Jeremy’s eyes glowed as he knew that’s all he would have to tell them, considering they were best friends and all.
Santa sat down and Miss Murray brought him some punch. She looked at the tray of cookies, then at the three boys with an expression of slight concern. Santa gave her a reassuring wink and a shrug. “A little Christmas mischief?” he whispered. She smiled in agreement and made her way over to help another table where one of the boys had stuck the frosting side of bell-shaped cookie to his forehead and was looking around trying to find admirers.
The boys turned their attention immediately to Santa Claus. Zach spoke first, “Santa, how many reindeer have you got?”
Santa looked a little surprised at the sudden question, but he chuckled and answered, “Eight, of course—unless you want to count Rudolf, too, then it would be nine. But he only works on really bad Christmases nowadays.”
The boys looked at each other: that seemed an okay answer. Jeremy thought he heard a note of something familiar in this Santa’s voice. Had he talked with him before somewhere, without even knowing it?
“Where do you live?” Collin shot at Santa.
“Why, the North Pole. It’s the best place. No one to bother us there except the occasional explorer, and they’re usually pretty friendly.”
The boys looked at each other again and nodded. The questioning continued like this for a while until Jeremy finally dropped the question he knew would prove whether he was the real Santa or not, “Santa, how do you get to all of those houses in just one night?”
Santa looked at Jeremy with a twinkle in his eye. “Well, I actually don’t have to. Some countries don’t want me to come until New Year’s, but in the United States I have the advantage of the time zones to give me an extra hour for each area.” Santa looked at him a little closer. “You do know about time zones, don’t you?”
Jeremy almost clapped his hands with excitement, “Of course I do! My dad was just telling me about them the other day, which reminds me,” he said in a slightly more confidential tone, “I’ve got a secret for you, Santa. Want to hear it?”
Santa leaned back a little for a moment and seemed to be studying Jeremy’s face. Then he nodded hesitantly. Jeremy jumped up from his chair and whispered into his ear all about his dad’s trap and the peppermint candy. Santa listened, nodded knowingly, and looked at Jeremy with surprise when he had finished. “But why are you telling me this? Your father is obviously a genius! I would have been caught for sure! And then all of the presents I carried would be yours! How can you pass up all of those toys?!”
Jeremy turned to Zach and Collin for help, but they looked even more shocked than Santa. It was as if their eyes flashed in neon “PASS UP ALL THOSE TOYS?”
Jeremy glanced at the ceiling, his eyes following a streamer to the corner of the room in thought. “It’s just that . . . well . . . you see . . .” he faltered, “it’s just that I don’t want all those toys. I just want what are my toys.” Again he paused. “And I want my dad home instead of in jail for stealing them.” Jeremy let his eyes wander from the ceiling to Santa’s eyes. For an instant, their gazes locked. “I just want my toys and my dad . . . home for Christmas.”
Santa looked away. His eyes seemed to glisten a bit. “Thanks, Jeremy,” he said dryly. “I’m glad I got the chance to talk with you.”
“How did he know my name?” Jeremy thought. “This must be the real Santa!” He tried to catch Santa’s eye again, but he was making his way to talk with some of the other children.
“You had better be good now,” he was telling the boy who still had a smudge of green frosting on his forehead. “I don’t want to have to take any presents back.” His voice sounded slightly gruffer than it had before, and the little boy laughed as Santa ran his finger across his forehead and then tasted the icing.
* * * * *
Jeremy played happily for the rest of the day. He felt as if a million pounds had been lifted from his shoulders. Zach, Collin, and he returned to building their castle as the mothers started to come in. Santa had stayed, so they worked fast to try to finish it before they left. They put the last block in place when Jeremy’s mother walked in. He ran to her, threw his arms around her neck, and kissed her on the cheek.
A little flushed she said, “What’s all of this for?”
“Oh, nothing,” he blushed, he was so happy he’d forgotten himself. “Look at our castle!” he said trying to cover.
They examined it together and she remarked on how sturdy it looked. Miss Murray came over to greet his mom, and the boys asked her if they could leave it up over the vacation. She agreed, grudgingly, as long as they put all of the blocks away the first thing when they got back in January. Of course, they agreed wholeheartedly, hoping she’d forget.
As they left, Jeremy thought he saw Santa Claus wink at his mom. He looked at her and she just smiled.
“You know Santa Claus?” Jeremy inquired.
She looked into his eyes and smiled again. “I was little once, too, you know.”
(To read on in Part 4, click here)