ALL I WANT
A special wish at Christmas and
one Santa Claus can't ever hope to give. Or can he?
Author's Notes: Life is
precious. Never take anything you have for granted. Live every
moment as if it were your last. As you read this epilogue
please take the time to remember Lynne L. Inouye...a
beautiful, gentle human being with a kind heart and wonderful
soul who died unexpectedly in October this year. Lynne
affected me and so many other writers on this site with her
words of support and encouragement. Rest in peace, dear
friend, and Merry Christmas to you all from Australia...
He had to
be the worst rendition of a Santa Claus the world had ever
the more she stood there and thought about it, the more she
was convinced anyone could have done a better job. Where in
the world had he come from? Wherever it was, he should have
been well and truly left there. The suit didn't fit, his beard
was all crooked and for the love of God...where were the bushy
department stores pay attention to the details any more?" she
frowned in discontent. "Children aren't stupid nowadays.
They're intelligent and they notice these things."
Tracy moved restlessly from one foot to the other and heard
to see Santa Claus hadn't moved for over ten minutes and quite
frankly she'd had enough of that pathetic little man. At least
the Santa Claus they used to have in Kansas was life-like and
his "ho-ho-ho's" were from the heart.
there's an understatement," she thought to herself,
reminiscing of happier days in the past. "Not only was old
Jeremiah Jensen a character, he was the closest thing to Santa
Claus the world would ever see."
glanced over at "the best Boston had to offer" and shook her
head in disgust.
This...this...man... for want of a better word, was hopeless.
Jeremiah hadn't needed to shove a pillow down his front and
pray to the Lord he wouldn't have to stand up when a child
came running over to see him. Jeremiah's girth had been all
his own and no-one had been prouder of it than he was.
southern cooking and one too many "root beers" on a Saturday
night. That was Jeremiah's secret, even if it did get him into
trouble with the gallstones every now and then.
irrespective of how he got to be the man he was and how he
managed to stay that way, Jeremiah Jensen was real, every last
inch of him, and he could make any child who saw him believe
he was really Santa Claus.
of his had been real too. Jeremiah had possessed the most
amazing whiskers, ringlets of white silken hair, which varied
in length depending on the season.
summer he trimmed it back to cope with the dry Kansas heat but
by December he made sure it was long again so the children
could to reach out and touch it, eyes wide apart with awe,
while he chortled a merry 'ho-ho-ho' and asked what Santa
Claus could bring down the chimney for them for Christmas.
Claus and a child's unconditional belief in his abilities...
the combination had spelled happiness in Kansas for as long as
she could remember.
reality hit her squarely in the face and her smile faded.
...something that had certainly taken a back seat in the lives
of these little ones this year.
Tracy's eyes grew sad as she looked down at the five little
boys beside her who had all been entrusted to her care. Her
precious Grandsons were the only reasons she was still
standing in this God-forsaken line and even though "Santa
Claus" was driving her crazy, she'd stand here all day for
them if she had to.
promised them since Thanksgiving she'd take them to see Santa
Claus so they could tell him what they wanted for Christmas.
you're good for Daddy," was the condition. "And you let him
get on with his work."
watched their impassive little faces as they stood waiting for
their turn in the line-up and became more determined than ever
to honour that promise.
contemplated them in silence.
such precious little boys, each and every one of them. The
eldest three were well mannered, respectful and polite and the
two babies never stopped smiling at anyone who cared to give
them their attention.
wasn't the babies she was worried about.
It was the
been well over nine months now and even though she'd tried to
keep their day to day lives on track and as normal as humanly
possible, the nine year old was still guarded and solemn, the
six year old remained quietly aloof and the four year old with
the big blue eyes hardly opened his mouth at all.
her lips together and remembered the earlier conversation.
He was a
wonderful Father to his children but he still wasn't coping
well with what had happened to his wife.
want her to bring them here and expose them to a man making
promises he mightn't be able to keep. He didn't understand why
she had to take them there in the first place. He'd make sure
there were presents for them under the Christmas tree. What
more did she expect him to do?
please." he almost pleaded. "I've been through enough this
year without feeling like I've disappointed the kids at
Christmas time, too."
told him he was being silly and the children would be happy
with whatever they got for Christmas, his jaw set in exactly
the same way his Father's used to do.
the point, Mom..." he said defensively. "I don't want them to
he added, somehow trying to justify himself. "The five of them
are a handful whenever I take them out together and John's a
real worry when he starts his dreaming and wanders off."
year." He finished feigning a half-hearted, preoccupied smile.
"The babies will be older then and I might be able to wrangle
a day off work so I can take them over there myself."
not to let him see her shaking her head. If only he realised
how often he said "next year" when it came to his five little
things would be better.
he'd have more time.
he would make things up to them.
year...next year...next year.
exhaled and leaned forward to squeeze his shoulder. She knew
he was still grieving and appreciated how fragile his emotions
were when it came to her, but even though it hurt him to hear
it, he needed to understand why taking his sons to see Santa
Claus this Christmas was so dreadfully important to them all.
"Jefferson...honey...please listen to me," she said, trying to
say things as gently as she could. "Lucille always made a
point of taking the children to see Santa Claus and it was
very important to her that they went. Their Christmas won't be
the same if you don't allow them to go this year and that's
not a good idea."
terrible as he swallowed, averted his eyes, and literally
shrank away from the argument. For a few minutes he grappled
to compose himself before he finally mumbled inaudibly into
all that, ma'am, and I don't mean to sound ungrateful for your
offer or anything. But my boys need to understand a lot of
things around here aren't the same for them anymore and while
I have to work day and night to keep our heads above water, I
can only apologise for being away from them and try to do my
taken some delicate manoeuvring; once Jefferson Grant Tracy
made up his mind about something he very rarely budged; but
eventually she'd managed to convince him that her taking his
sons to see Santa Claus was one of the few things that didn't
have to change if he really didn't want it to. If it would
make the little ones happy, she was more than willing to do it
for him, and then "next year," when he was feeling better, he
could take the time to do it for them himself.
handsome young man in the business suit hung his head in
defeat. He was tired and miserable and lonely and all he
wanted to do was what he thought was best for his five
right, Momma...you win." he said. "Take them to see Santa
Claus if you think it will mean so much."
the top of his head with quiet satisfaction.
using good sense, sweetie." she assured him. "Trust me. It's
the right thing to do."
he straightened up, called the eldest three children into the
lounge room and sat them down to face him. They were going out
with Grandma, he said, trying not to sound gruff, and they
needed to listen to his instructions. When he was sure he had
their attention the stern lecture about behaviour began,
followed by the warning to stay "close to Grandma" and the
final directive to "help out with their two little brothers."
before you start with the wish lists..." he rumbled, watching
Virgil and John's eyes grow round. "I don't want you going
overboard and asking for everything in sight."
clear, boys?" he reiterated, deliberately looking each of them
up and down.
"Yes, Daddy," sounded respectfully in return.
thoughts returned to the present and this slow-moving,
never-ending line. If she could ask for just one thing for
Jefferson right now, she knew what that would be.
been the same since he'd lost her and it was a real God-damn
been standing here for over an hour now and Alan was starting
to become restless. Newly mobile and liking nothing better
than to drag himself across the floor from one place to the
other, he wasn't taking too kindly to being restrained. His
blue eyes silently demanded his freedom and the demand was
quickly escalating towards more than a wail or two of protest.
Alan; Daddy said we have to be good." Scott began anxiously,
crouching down beside the pram and offering him his teddy
bear. "Don't cry. We won't have to wait much longer."
complaining stopped as he smiled at the attention and happily
began to chew on the ear of the bear.
wouldn't have to wait at all if "Santa Claus" had some sort of
restrictions," she grumbled, listening to the continuous
prattling of the little girl situated on his knee. "I swear
that child over there hasn't taken a breath for ten solitary
a tiny voice piped up.
Tracy startled. It wasn't often John made the effort to speak,
particularly in a public place where he knew people would
notice him. She looked to where the two big blue eyes gazed
solemnly up at hers.
it, sweetie?" she asked attentively, reaching out her hand to
stroke his hair and exquisite little features.
"Grandma..." he faltered. "How come that girl is allowed to
ask for everything she wants?"
Tracy rolled her eyes. She should have figured that one was
coming. John was a terribly analytical child and it stood to
reason he would eventually make the observation, especially
with the words of his father banging ever so loudly in his
Scott spared her the pain of a response. It may not have been
exactly appropriate, but his rudimentary observation of women
was better than nothing in a crisis.
it's like this..." he said, his voice equally as serious as
his brother's. "Girls have to ask for lots of things at
Christmas because they change their minds so often they don't
know what they want."
her head in surprise and fixed her full attention on the
do you suppose you came to that conclusion, young man?" she
demanded, preparing herself for the explanation. "I believe
I'd like to know."
haired nine year old reddened and became guarded.
Daddy say it to someone a while back," he said, carefully
selecting his words. "So I guessed it must be true. Is that
Tracy went to deny the statement but then thought better of
it. "Daddy" was their hero and what "Daddy" said went.
if Daddy said it, he must be able to back himself up," she
John nodded his head, satisfied with the explanation.
"I wish I
was a girl, then." he commented glumly. "If I was I'd be
allowed to ask Santa for everything I wanted for Christmas,
wouldn't, Virgil," Scott instantly interjected. "Daddy told
you not to."
pouted and folded his arms in defiance.
'member what Daddy told me, Scott. I'm not dumb."
remember, Virgil," Josephine Tracy said firmly, taking the
time to correct his current flaw of speech. "Now start again
and say the word "remember" for Grandma."
Virgil obliged, still glowering at Scott.
better," she replied. "And the next time you go to say that
word, sweetheart, I want you to think very carefully before
nodded his head obediently, but before long his emotions ran
away with him.
Scott," he sulked, glaring at him up and down. "I wasn't going
to ask Santa Claus for everything I want. I heard Daddy tell
us no and I know I'm not allowed."
you know, Virgil...I was only reminding you," Scott glowered
weren't..." Virgil snapped. "You were bossing me like you
wasn't bossing you."
were. You always boss me."
how close they were and the warning they had received from
their Father about behaviour, she could sense an altercation
brewing between those two. She watched their eyes flashing and
their faces reddening and knew she wasn't wrong. Scott hated
his authority being challenged and Virgil hated being told.
the unmistakeable traits of their Father..." she murmured
quietly to herself "...even if the second one does live and
breathe Lucille every waking moment of the day."
guessed she couldn't blame them for becoming aggravated. It
wasn't exactly exciting for a child to stand dead-still in a
line of faceless people, especially when they'd had to do it
for well over a blasted hour.
then," she intervened, trying to provide a distraction. "Have
you young men given proper thought to what you're going to say
to Santa Claus?"
glanced over to see the child with the never-ending list
finally waving her goodbyes.
so," she warned, pointing out the obvious. "Because it's our
turn to talk to Santa next."
veil of grey seemed to lift from overhead and for the first
time in nine months she witnessed both John and Virgil smile
at each other in unison.
Grandma!" Virgil enthused, trying to resist the urge to jump
up and down with excitement.
Grandma." said John.
Alan simply grinned at each other, egged on by the eagerness
of their brothers.
you think, Allie?" Virgil encouraged, crouching down on the
other side of the pram and smiling at his baby brother. "You
want me to ask Santa Claus for something good for you, too?"
boy beamed at him widely and reached out to touch his face
with chubby, inquisitive fingers.
a new teddy bear," Scott said solemnly, indicating the
tattered and frayed looking object lying face down on the
floor. "You should ask Santa Claus for that."
will!" Virgil exclaimed, forgetting all about being angry at
his "bossy" older brother.
face became serious and he looked to his big brother for
about Gordie, Scott? He still can't talk good enough to ask
for something he wants and I don't want him to miss out from
Scott could reply, the timid little voice piped up.
attention riveted in John's direction.
you know that?" he demanded imperiously. "Gordie doesn't talk
good enough to say."
old John didn't hesitate to defend his suggestion.
need them because he's always giving mine to Alan."
continued almost with distaste. "And then Alan puts them in
his mouth and they go all slippery."
Josephine Tracy grimaced, picturing the somewhat sordid scene.
"None of it sounds too good to me from a Grandmother's health
reached out and tousled John's hair again as he nodded gravely
at her in agreement.
going to be the one to ask Santa for the blocks, sweetheart?"
she asked the little boy.
looked apprehensive and immediately shook his head.
ma'am. Not me."
Tracy found herself becoming unhappy again. It was obvious the
child was worried he would be disobeying his Father if he
asked for more than what he wanted for himself. Jefferson
didn't mean it but sometimes his generic instructions were a
little too generic for his own good. They certainly weren't
any good for the children. But Virgil soon lightened things up
by placing both hands on John's shoulders and looking him
squarely in the eye.
allowed to ask Santa for 'em, Johnny, cos the blocks aren't
something you want for you." he explained patiently. "It works
like this, see...if you ask for something for someone else,
that something else doesn't count as something else for you."
brown eyes looked towards her for affirmation. "That's right
what I'm saying, hey, Grandma?"
that's quite a few something elses from one very small young
man," she laughed, trying to fathom what on earth he was on
about. "But you are absolutely right when it comes to John
asking Santa for blocks for Gordon, sweetie. Daddy won't mind,
and I'll tell him all about it for you if you're worried it's
smiled at John.
Johnny, I told you so. Grandma says Daddy says you can."
agreed reluctantly. "If Daddy won't get mad, I'll ask."
But it was
the six year old whose eyes now danced with life.
Christmas, Grandma," he said happily, taking a deep breath and
looking about with joy. "We had so much fun with Daddy last
year. I can hardly wait to have fun with him again."
moment all the warmth she was feeling in her heart somehow
seemed to die away.
Yes it had
Jefferson had romped and played with his children until all of
them fell to the floor in exhaustion.
Jeff and Lucille had sat in front of the fire with their arms
around each other when the children had finally gone to bed.
she had sat nearby watching Jefferson and Lucille.
there would only be Jefferson.
would have to sit and watch that, too.
thankfully there was little time to dwell upon how she was
going to deal with Christmas. They were finally being motioned
forward towards that pathetic excuse for a Santa Claus and the
little ones could hardly contain their joy.
mind yourself, Josephine," she warned, reluctantly leading the
children in his direction. "Lucille's more than likely
watching all this from heaven and she wouldn't take too kindly
to you spoiling the moment for her sons by telling the
management what you think."
Ho-Ho," said Santa in his pitifully unauthentic tone. "Merrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry
herself and looked heavenward. "On the other hand, Lucille..."
as always, she heard herself reply.
Christmas to you, too, Sir."
thank you, ma'am, " he replied, before looking jovially at
each of the children. "My goodness..." he acknowledged,
"...what handsome little boys."
are," she said matter-of-factly, ignoring his compliment
completely. "These are my Grandsons and each of them has
something they'd like you to bring for them this Christmas. I
hope it's all right that they tell you."
should straighten your beard a bit before they do, you foolish
man," she mumbled to herself.
"Ho-Ho-Ho," Santa boomed out again, obviously not hearing her.
"Of course it's all right to tell me! Now who wants to go
immediately raised his hand.
please, sir!" he shrieked, before scurrying hurriedly into his
world's worst rendition of a Santa Claus listened attentively
as Virgil carefully said his name, spelt it twice and reminded
him that he was six years old now and not five like he had
been last Christmas.
you are," observed Santa. "And you've gotten bigger since last
time I saw you, too."
eyes grew wide.
sir?" he breathed.
laughed. "At least six inches or my name isn't Santa Claus."
smiled the chestnut haired Tracy child with the beautiful big
brown eyes. "I must be getting real, real big."
been real good all year too, Santa," he announced. "You ask my
Grandma. I always set the table and I go to bed right whenever
she tells me. I don't ask for anything, neither, after I go
there... not even a drink. That's the truth, Santa Claus. "
looked over and waited expectantly for her confirmation.
has been good, Santa," she agreed readily. "He's been a very
you knew just how good they've all had to be," she thought
silently to herself. "Especially this little one, when his
Daddy can't cope with who he looks like."
very glad to hear that, Virgil," Santa replied, proceeding to
draw him close and asking what he wanted for Christmas.
special secret whispered and the teddy bear for Alan
requested, Virgil dutifully went to move off Santa's lap for
one of his brothers to take their turn. But before he did, he
sat perfectly still and asked the inevitable question.
he said, tilting his head to one side and analysing him
carefully. "Do you really land your sleigh on our roof and
bring presents down our chimney?"
of course I do!" boomed Santa as sincerely as he could.
Santa, do you think that's a very good idea? You see our Daddy
lights the fire on Christmas Eve so he and M...oh..."
eyes grew sad.
floundered for a few moments, not knowing what to say.
you won't get burnt, Santa," he finished quietly, preparing to
move away. "I forgot that Daddy doesn't sit near the fire no
looked after him before fixing his probing eyes on hers.
John. It's your turn now," was all she said, encouraging the
little blonde towards Santa's knee. "Mind your manners and sit
up straight, now."
expression was a mixture of apprehension and delight as he
happily climbed into Santa's lap and gazed up at him with
name's John, then?" Santa smiled.
old are you, John?"
sir," he said, in his even little voice.
you have anything special you'd like to tell Santa Claus about
how good you've been?" he coaxed. "Santa likes to hear things
the blonde head shook from side to side.
It took a
lot of encouragement but in the end Santa breathed a sigh of
relief when John finally opened up to tell him what he wanted
all?" he asked incredulously, hardly believing a child of four
could only want a book about the stars for Christmas.
sir," he nodded solemnly. "I like stars very much and that's
all I want you to bring me."
He bit his
lip and slowly built up his courage.
blocks, please," he blurted, before his face began to fill
for my little brother," he added hurriedly. "Please, Santa, I
don't want them for me."
probing eyes of the man masquerading as Santa Claus asked her
for the answers.
John from his lap, she deliberately avoided his gaze and
motioned Scott forward with the two babies. She was sure at
age nine Scott wouldn't want her to hear what he had to say to
Santa Claus and using the babies as an excuse for him to do so
seemed to be a very good plan.
dutifully wheeled his baby brothers forward as instructed,
totally unaware of her intentions.
smiled and leaned forward to tweak the chins of youngest Tracy
children. Normally they were social and smiled at everyone,
but at the sight of Santa Claus in all his unrealistic glory,
all Gordon could do was stare and all Alan could do was
suspiciously look him up and down, ready to dissolve into
tears at any moment.
really, really sorry, sir," Scott floundered as Alan, as
usual, didn't let them down. "My little brother doesn't mean
to be rude to you. He wasn't born last year when we saw you
last and he doesn't take too well to strangers."
behind the Santa suit looked with admiration at the tall,
good-looking nine year old with the impeccable manners and a
maturity far beyond his years. He recognised what his
Grandmother was trying to do. Most of the children around his
age were the same and they needed special encouragement. They
wanted to confide in Santa Claus but they didn't want anyone
else to know about it.
all right, son," he assured him, raising his voice above the
din. "Santa's used to things like this. Now... how about you
letting me know what you want for Christmas while Grandma
takes the little ones away."
motioned Josephine Tracy forward to remove the babies and when
he saw that she had, he looked back at Scott in expectation.
right, son. It's safe for you to tell me now."
shuffled his feet, looked about awkwardly and finally shook
want anything from you this year, thank you, Sir."
Santa quizzed. "Come now...that can't right. Every boy and
girl wants something special from Santa Claus at Christmas."
respect, sir... I know that you're not real. I found out all
about that last year."
Claus listened without emotion.
he eventually said. "And are you sure what you found out last
year was absolutely true?"
shrugged and looked at the floor.
For the most part I think it is."
obvious the child wasn't sure, or still wanted to believe in
to hear you feel that way." he offered cautiously. "May I ask
you how it is that you found out?"
supposed to be awake last year when he saw them and he'd never
told anyone what he'd managed to see.
been his parents who had placed their presents under the
Christmas tree last year. They had waited up until midnight
and thought everyone was asleep. He'd been too excited to
think about sleeping and had crept downstairs for an
unforgettable glimpse of Santa Claus. But instead of seeing a
jolly old fat man with a great big sack, he had only seen his
parents in their pyjamas floundering around in the firelight.
watched as his Father screwed up his face and bravely ate the
Christmas cake he and Virgil had made for Santa Claus. He had
watched as his Mother reluctantly ate the carrots they'd left
out exclusively for the reindeer. And then he had watched his
Father laugh and lovingly kiss his Mother in the darkness as
the flames of the open fire smouldered and began to die down.
Jeff...the baby..." she had whispered, pulling away.
understood why she had said that as the two of them made their
way to bed.
the intensity of his memories he knew he was expected to
consider the feelings of others, and that included "Santa
Claus". He wasn't allowed to say things which hurt or offended
anyone else. It was the Tracy way, his Mother had told him,
and even though she wasn't here to tell him anymore, he would
never forget his Mother.
rather not say, sir," he said with extreme difficulty. "But
the way I figure it, if you really were real, you wouldn't
need to ask me what I wanted for Christmas. You'd just go
right ahead and bring it for me."
see, sir, I know you can't do that for me even if you wanted
A set of
dark blue eyes looked with childhood honesty into the eyes of
a Boston Santa Claus.
December night was bitter and the air around him had bite.
Almost without thinking he pulled his collar up to protect his
face and block out the rest of his upper body from the
more snow was expected tonight and the falls in Boston would
be heavy. More than likely he wasn't going to get to the
business meeting tomorrow as most of the roads would be
I need," he sighed despondently. "Snowed in with five kids and
a half million dollar contract at stake."
looking around the darkened neighbourhood, and took a moment
to reflect on the one piece of good news he'd had in the
business all month.
He was so
happy he'd finally scored himself the contract, even though
payment was to be made in increments and not guaranteed for
Christmas. The Air Force was a very important customer and
he'd really missed their business when he fell apart after
Lucy died. The call last week had been unexpected, but the
news it conveyed was welcome. His designs were the best
available on the market at the moment and they were prepared
to forget the inefficiency of his past few months and give him
up the path, he congratulated himself for finally pulling
himself together. If nothing else the contract eased the
financial position, something which worried him constantly
from the moment he opened his eyes in the morning to the
moment his head hit the pillow.
thoughts ran away with his finances the guilt began to work
meant more work and more work kept him away from his children.
But more money also allowed him to indulge the children a
little more and bring some much needed smiles to the house
coldness of the air matched the coldness of his heart as his
mood changed and he remembered a time when there were nothing
but smiles in this house...smiles, hugs, and a cheery hello
before she let the rabble loose on him to play their games
another huge, unhappy sigh.
Daddy didn't have time to play games with anyone.
reached the end of the pathway and stepped gingerly onto the
darkened concrete porch. Pausing, he made sure he took extra
care. He didn't want a repeat of last night's painful
experience and equally painful aftermath.
he'd damn near killed himself, somehow slipping on the icy
concrete and ending up on his back. He still didn't know how
he did it and he was lucky he hadn't broken anything when he
did, but lucky or not, twenty four hours later his tailbone
still hurt like crazy and he sported some very nasty bruising.
his eyes, he mentally prepared himself for what he knew he was
about to face inside.
wonderful kids but after twelve hours of business meetings,
difficult clients and problems they were the last thing he
needed to deal with at the end of the working day. It didn't
help that he was tired tonight and all he wanted to do was
stand under a hot shower, eat a decent meal and have a little
bit of time to himself before he went to bed.
as reality told him in no uncertain terms that none of it was
actually going to happen. When he walked through that door,
whether he was in the mood for it or not, he would be
bombarded with three little voices all vying to tell him about
their day and two babies who didn't understand why he was
exhausted and couldn't give them his undivided attention.
resignation marred his handsome features.
five he hadn't expected to be left alone to cope with five
children, but the cold hard fact of the matter was he could
feel as sorry for himself as he liked. Jeff Tracy had been
left alone and there was nothing Jeff Tracy could do about it.
pictured the faces of his five little men. It wasn't their
fault he'd been left alone to raise them, and no matter how
bad he felt about things sometimes, he would never lose sight
of the depth of the love he had for them. With that in mind he
tried to look on the bright side before he opened the door to
he had his Mother to lean on in all of this, he supposed.
She'd been a tower of strength from the beginning and was
great with helping him deal with the kids. She did a pretty
good job of holding his head together, too, when things
started to get the better of him and life became too tough.
But it was the little things she did that made his life seem
better. She could always be relied upon to have supper on the
table when he came home from a meeting, a bottle of warm milk
ready to give to Alan and the laundry washed and sorted so he
didn't have to do it himself.
little better, he slowly turned the door handle and began to
were, all sitting eagerly on the couch. All three of them in
their pyjamas...all three of them with smiles on their
faces...all three of them waiting to tell him about their
cue the excited chorus went up.
they shrieked happily, rushing forward to hug him.
there," he said, removing his coat and trying to hug all of
them in return. "You're being very good for Grandma by the
look of things. Where is she at moment? In the kitchen?"
over at them expectantly while he moved to hang the coat in
the closet. It didn't go un-noticed that Scott and Virgil
quickly exchanged worried glances.
in the bathroom, Daddy." Scott eventually informed him with
reluctance. "Gordie kind of fell over a few minutes ago and
she thinks he's split his lip."
not to show his aggravation but after building himself up for
the inevitable ever since he left the car, the words escaped
from his lips before he had the chance to check them.
again!" he growled, shutting the closet with a bang and
striding in the direction of the bathroom. "What the hell was
he doing this time?"
A trail of
blood along the carpeting and some very unhappy sobbing soon
confirmed the inevitable diagnosis.
what's happened? Is he all right? " he demanded as he rushed
through the bathroom door in alarm.
you know in a minute," Josephine Tracy replied stonily, trying
to restrain the hysterical red haired toddler in an attempt to
get a look at the injury.
extended towards him.
that cloth, will you?" she directed above the screaming.
ma'am," he mumbled, rummaging through the endless items of
children's clothing before holding up the only recognisable
cloth he could find
sure you want this one, Mom? I think it's kind of dirty," he
cloth's fine when the child is bleeding half to death," she
quipped, snatching it from his hand and pressing it to the
little boy's lip. "Thank you. Hopefully now I might be able to
see what he's actually gone and done to himself."
baby." she comforted, holding the cloth firmly and trying to
rock him in her lap. "These things happen when Grandma's boy
tries to climb chairs when she isn't looking..."
he frowned. "Since when has he started climbing on chairs?"
now, Jefferson, I'd hasten to say," she frowned back. "What
the hell do you think?"
had heralded the start of his evening...his Mother feeling the
need to develop her sarcasm and him trying to eat his supper
one handed and comforting a traumatised Gordon on his lap.
evening didn't get any better either, with him taking business
calls one handed and trying to settle a restless Alan.
just when he thought he might be able to sit back and relax in
peace and quiet for a while, he was held to ransom on the
couch and forced to hear all about Santa Claus...
have only been six and four but they certainly made sure he
was listening to each and every word they said. They carefully
balanced themselves, one on each side of his lap, fixed their
big Tracy eyes on his and began whether he wanted to hear what
they had to say or not.
Daddy, are you listening?"
Virgil, I'm listening."
Santa I was six today, Daddy."
"He knew I
was four, too, Daddy."
said I'd got big."
did you know Santa knew my name?"
didn't, Johnny. Grandma had to tell him."
"He did so
didn't. You're making that up."
"He did so
know, Daddy. Daddy? Daddy are you listening?"
John. Daddy's listening."
know his name, Daddy. I heard."
voice intervened. "Boys..." he warned. "Don't argue, please."
saying sorry, too, Daddy. But not to you, Virgil."
Daddy, I said to Santa then that I'd been real good."
said I was real good, too."
didn't, Johnny. You didn't hardly say nothing."
didn't. You just sat there."
voice intervened again. "Boys, for the last time, stop
that..." he rumbled. "Daddy's tired."
you can sleep in my bed."
you can sleep in mine, too."
enough about the sleeping arrangements. Can we just get back
to Santa Claus?"
Daddy. Did you know that he really does land a sleigh on our
said he comes down our chimney, too!"
please say you won't light the fire this year."
don't light it, Daddy. Santa will get burnt real bad if you
then the barb pierced him and despite the innocence of those
childish words, a lump like concrete began to form in his
Eve, eleven years ago.
crackling of wood in the silence...the warmth of the
brandy...her body snuggled lovingly into his...an engagement
ring hidden under the pillow in their bedroom...a proposal
about to happen.
boys..." he said quietly, swallowing the lump and deliberately
shutting out the memories. "I won't be lighting the fire at
all this Christmas, so you can be assured Santa Claus is quite
the two of them from his lap, signifying the conversation
about Santa Claus had ended.
that's enough for today, OK?" he directed, grimacing at the
pain in his tailbone as he rose slowly to his feet. "It's past
your bed time and Daddy has work he has to do."
Daaaaaaddy." they objected.
Daddy nothing." he warned. "I said it's time for bed."
Daddy." they then said obediently, each hugging him in turn
before doing the same to their grandmother.
know, Grandma," they giggled, scampering towards the bathroom
before she opened her mouth to remind them.
means you, too." he emphasised turning towards his eldest.
"Unless of course you've got something else to add about
today's big visit to Santa Claus."
stood up and dutifully began to fold the blankets Virgil and
John had discarded on the couch.
he murmured quietly. "I don't have anything to say."
watched him, puzzled. There had been something very different
about Scott's demeanour tonight and he'd noticed it as soon as
they sat down to supper. Normally Scott conversed well, too
well sometimes for a nine year old, but tonight he'd been
distant and hadn't eaten much of his food.
feeling all right, son?" he asked, brushing his hand across
Scott's forehead. He hoped the boy wasn't coming down with
anything, especially this close to Christmas. In the Tracy
household illness was a catastrophe. One usually meant two,
and then numbers three, four and five came down with it and
the whole house ended up in uproar.
he heard his mother groan when he commented Scott seemed a
little warm. "Don't tell me...."
eyes flickered past his Father and straight towards his
grandmother. Past experience had taught him that if Grandma
thought an epidemic was looming, he'd be confined to his
bedroom in an instant with nothing but a thermometer sticking
out of his mouth.
"I...I...I'm not sick, Grandma," he stammered. "I'm just
voice between them seized the obvious opportunity.
that's the case, then..." it rumbled, "... Bed!"
eyes moved to his father's.
Daddy. I was just going."
between them was brief and he seemed to linger afterwards more
than he usually did. Initially he thought Scott was waiting
for his brothers, but when Virgil and John said their
goodnights and headed off to bed without him; Jeff Tracy knew
there was something else. Scott only lingered when he had
something on his mind. His eldest son was so much like himself
he couldn't help but recognise the signs.
insistent finger under Scott's chin, he tilted the troubled
little face to his.
to tell me what's on your mind, then, or do I have to guess?"
his lip and looked everywhere but at his Father.
sir..." he faltered.
answer mean 'no, sir, you won't tell me' or 'no, sir I have to
For a few
moments he could see Scott struggle with how he was going to
express himself. The words finally came with difficulty.
I'm sorry...it's all my fault... I wasn't watching... I should
have been but he wasn't doing it when I was... He waited till
I wasn't...and then he fell... I should have noticed..."
real sorry about Gordie, Daddy. I'll take better care of him
softened immediately. So that was it. He probably should have
guessed. Scott was terribly protective of his little brothers,
particularly the babies, and if they were ever hurt or unhappy
he blamed it on himself.
tousling the nine year old's curls, he smiled and tried to
not go beating ourselves up too much about that, huh? The lip
didn't need any stitching and Grandma's pretty sure he'll
around to look at his mother, who was sitting bolt upright on
the couch worrying about an epidemic.
that right, Grandma?"
Tracy's face relaxed and in the end she smiled, too.
he said, turning back to Scott with satisfaction. "If Grandma
thinks your brother's going to live, we both know for a fact
that he will. No-one goes and disobeys Grandma around here
without a pretty good excuse, do they?"
and gave Scott a wink. "Not even Daddy, if he's smart."
tear filled eyes still gazed worriedly up at his father. "Yes,
Daddy, if you say."
that's exactly what Daddy says," he stressed, giving him a
longer hug and shooing him off in the direction of his
was out of earshot, Josephine Tracy made the observation that
a thermometer might still be a good idea, just in case he'd
gone ahead and caught something. The little boy hadn't been
himself all night and in her opinion there had to be more to
it than Gordon.
enquired, folding his arms defensively. "What makes you say
was simple. The child had been acting strangely long before
Gordon had fallen off the chair tonight. In fact he'd been
acting very strangely ever since his conversation with Santa
Claus. She didn't know what that man had said to him, but no
matter how many times she'd asked him what it was, he'd
refused to tell her anything thing about it.
bothers me, Jefferson." she stressed. "It bothers me a lot."
shrugged his broad shoulders.
Mom. He's nine now and pretty bright...more than likely he's
worked out the truth about Santa Claus this year and he's
feeling a bit disappointed."
not true, Jefferson," she snapped, hotly denying his words. "I
know for a fact you still believed in Santa Claus when you
were Scott's age. Why should your son be any different to
statement took him back to a Kansas Christmas and his own
upbringing as a child. Christmas on the farm had been magic
but the only reason it had, sat directly opposite him on the
couch. His father had no time for Christmas when there was
work to be done in the fields. Fortunately his mother had
refused to listen to him. She made the house festive, baked
herself to a standstill and even though they couldn't afford
any luxuries, always made sure "Santa Claus" left a present
for him underneath the Christmas tree.
glistened at the memory of those times.
gone a long way for him since then.
maybe I'm wrong, Mom," he conceded, dismissing the subject
completely. "I'm wrong about most things to do with the boys
these days. Now I'm going into the kitchen to make myself some
coffee. You want some?"
you, dear, I do," she said, pulling the blanket on her lap
further up to encase her shoulders. "It's very cold in here
tonight, and a hot drink will do me good."
her subtle hint about the current state of the temperature and
disappeared in the direction the kitchen. He hadn't made the
effort to light the fire once this winter, not even when the
snow storms came and he began to shiver himself. Her hands
fidgeted nervously at the thought of broaching the delicate
subject. It wasn't as if she didn't understand how he felt
about it but if the weather got very much worse tonight she
was really going to have to insist.
moved towards the fireplace, visualising Virgil's worst
nightmare...Santa Claus rocketing up the chimney with his fur
trimmed pants on fire... She began to laugh at the image and
the fact that Virgil was worried sick it was really going to
she berated herself. Laughing at the child's fears wasn't what
a good grandmother should be doing...
But it was
your thoughts, Grandma," he smiled, setting the cup down
beside her and moving to sit next to her on the couch.
"Dreaming of making your escape out the back way, are you?"
that, dear?" she queried, her thoughts a thousand miles away.
smiling at something, Mom." he pointed out." I thought you
must have found a way out of this nightmare and had decided to
make a run for it."
I want that, then?" she frowned, reaching for the cup. "For
your information I might be quite happy being in this
nightmare with you, Jefferson. And besides even if I didn't,
we're both in this together, remember? I told you that nine
months ago. "
Mom," he admitted, feeling foolish at the tasteless joke. "I
sipped their coffee and watched the snow drift downwards from
a darkened sky. He took so much solace in her strength and
determination. He could be as negative as he liked but she
never stopped telling him things would get better. When he
started losing faith in himself she always said she believed
in him. She never stopped telling him he was a good father and
wonderful man, and Lucy would be proud of the way he was
raising their five little boys.
your blessings, not your troubles," she told him, "And if your
math is half as good as mine at the moment they should both
add up to five."
But as the
night wore on, and with only five days to go until Christmas,
they couldn't dwell too much on how they were battling to cope
with life without Lucille. It was time to talk about Santa
Claus and what he was going to "bring down the chimney" for
the children for Christmas. Fortunately the trip this morning
to the Department Store wouldn't cause too much damage to his
to find a Teddy Bear of some sorts that's suitable for a
baby...not white, I swear, Jefferson because it won't stay
white for long. You also need some plastic blocks for Gordon
that look like John's - mainly in yellow. He has a fixation
for that colour at the moment. Now, you can get those from the
Department store where I took the children today. Third floor,
aisle two, " she directed. "Are you with me, son?"
his head and tried to look like he was remembering.
moved from there to the book store. "The name of the book is
'Bright Sky, Big Star.' Don't know who the hell wrote it but
it's on the bottom shelf...blue with a big gold star on the
cover. That's all Johnny wants, so for goodness sake make sure
you find it."
Bright Sky," he repeated.
Bright Sky. Big Star. Get it right."
had him imagining himself in the art supply store which was
three doors down on the right. "They have all the colours
Virgil likes on the fourth shelf - and if you buy the full set
of browns they throw in a sketch pad for free."
Scott..." she paused. "Scott, I'm not so sure about."
going to get him a model plane," he offered, making the best
suggestion he could. "He used to like building those."
thinking," she agreed. "More than likely they're on the third
floor, too, then."
in the toy store?"
don't think you'll find them in the book store, son."
Mom. Guess not."
He made a
mental note to himself to write all that down once he finished
his coffee. He'd never had to shop for the boys before and he
felt really nervous he was going to make a mistake. Lucy had
always handled that side of things at Christmas. Until now he
only had to go out and buy the Christmas Tree.
feeling comfortable the children would be attended to, he
finished his coffee and continued to sit and watch the snow.
said in the silence.
for taking the kids to see Santa Claus for me today. I'm sorry
I was such a pain about it when you offered."
all right, son. You've been more painful than that in the
thanks a lot for the compliment."
you're always welcome, dear."
continued to fall.
said, once again breaking the silence.
them happy, did it?"
did, dear. Very happy."
that's all I want for them for Christmas, Mom."
all either of us wants for them, Jeff."
became sad and his handsome features grew distant.
about me, Momma? Do you think I'll ever be happy again?"
Instinctively her hand closed over his.
sweetie." she whispered. "All I want for Christmas this year
is to see you happy again."
sadly, I know it's something I can't give you."
on the door was insistent, and by the number of bangs to the
minute, whoever it was had very urgent personal business.
right. All right," she muttered, scurrying as fast as she
could with a baby in her arms. "Hold on to your hairpiece."
three days to go until Christmas, the world as she knew it
seemed to have gone mad. The queues in the Department Stores
were excruciating and even a simple shopping expedition to buy
diapers and some baby formula for Alan had turned into the
survival of the fittest.
for "Santa Claus," this included the queue to see him. She
swore if she saw that man even looking like he had five
minutes to spare she'd be over there like a rocket demanding a
very long minute of his time. She was still unhappy about how
quiet Scott had been since the day he'd been to see Santa
Claus, and even though Jefferson kept telling her otherwise,
she knew it had something to do with him.
if Scott was saying nothing, Virgil's enthusiasm was more than
adequately making up for things. After months of grieving day
and night for his mother, Virgil had literally come alive
since the visit to see Santa Claus. He played the two
Christmas carols he knew on the piano, drew rendition after
rendition of Santa Claus, all with the poor man's pants on
fire, and when he wasn't being creative, happily chatted to
his little brothers about the fun they were going to have at
reaching the door, she looked around with dismay at the
current state of things in the lounge room. He'd taken the
eldest two out to help him with the Christmas tree and to
appease John for being intentionally left behind, had allowed
him the privilege of "unpacking" all the decorations.
at the little boy who was methodically removing the ornaments
from the boxes and his helper, "Hurricane Gordon," who was
just as meticulously spreading them from one end of the lounge
room to the other.
whoever was on the other side of the door wasn't expecting any
her relief the door opened to only reveal the mailman, who
stood on the porch like a frozen statue clutching a large well
ma'am," he shivered, stiffly extending his pen and book in her
direction. "I've got another package for Mr. Tracy this
morning. Do you mind signing here?"
Tracy smiled, juggled Alan on her hip and immediately obliged
with the signature. Jefferson had been getting lots of
packages to do with the business since he'd been trying to run
things from home.
cold today, isn't it?" she commented, handing him back the
mailman glanced behind him at the bleak winter's day.
got that right, ma'am," he agreed. "I swear the temperature's
dropped another ten degrees since I made my rounds yesterday.
Can't even feel my feet anymore."
either," she admitted, looking downwards at her slippered
feet. "And unlike you, I haven't even left the house."
the door with the package tucked awkwardly under her arm. Much
to her dismay she noticed Alan was shivering a little, too.
Her determination grew. No matter what excuse he was able
muster up this time, when he came through that door with the
Christmas tree he was going to be informed he was about to
light the fire. She understood they had other heating and she
understood the fire wasn't necessary, but she also understood
it was absolutely freezing at the moment and if there was a
fire available to be lit, he should be going ahead to light
it. If nothing else, he had to consider the children.
to what she knew would end in an argument for sure, she went
to lock the package in his study; the small cluttered room at
the end of the hallway which doubled these days as his office.
well," she thought, placing the package on the desk, "the
issue of the fire had to come to a head eventually."
turned to relock the door, the origin of the package somehow
managed to catch her eye. Hardly able to believe it, she
quickly did a double take, examined the writing carefully and
as her blood pressure soared to the point of complete and
utter explosion; tried her best not to feel angry.
hadn't even given him a telephone call since the day they
walked away from him at the cemetery. No calls to check how he
was coping with the children, no calls to ask if he needed
her to move on with things and forget about it; he guessed
they had to blame someone for what had happened to their
daughter. She told him that was all very well for him to say
so. She'd never been a judgmental person, it simply wasn't
part of her make up, but she swore if she ever got the
opportunity she would be telling them exactly what she thought
of the way they had treated her son.
closed the door to the Study, she smiled sadly at baby Alan
and decided against insisting he do anything with the fire.
The arrival of the package would push enough of his buttons
without her pushing his other more intimate ones too.
brown eyes sparkled above a bright red button nose.
this tree the best in the world, Grandma?" he breathed in
exaltation, forgetting how cold he'd been in the sourcing.
"Daddy said 'what the hell' to the man when he asked which one
we wanted and then he let us get the biggest one."
you weren't supposed to tell Grandma I said that!" Jeff Tracy
grumbled hauling the pine tree through the door. "What are you
trying to do? Get me into trouble or something?"
to ignore the little boy's words.
she exclaimed instead, casting an eye towards a mischievous
Gordon. "Mark my words, Jeff, there'll be more than trouble
around here if we don't find somewhere safe to put it."
big brown eyes grew wider.
put it over there, Grandma," he indicated, pointing at the
large vacant space near the piano. "That's where Daddy put it
for us last year!"
sure it was there?" she frowned. "I thought Daddy put it over
near the fire."
shook his head.
didn't, Grandma. I 'member good. Daddy put it over there."
and immediately corrected himself.
care where the hell we put it just as long as I can put it
somewhere," Jeff Tracy moaned from underneath the branches.
"Can you please make up your mind, Mom? This thing's heavy."
right, put it over near the piano, then." she instructed, "and
hurry up dear before you go and give yourself a hernia."
you mean, before?" he huffed, heading towards the piano.
said the solemn little voice.
moaned again and dropped the tree to the floor in fatherly
eyes lifted warily to his.
he said. "Maybe it would be a better idea if we put the
Christmas tree near the door."
lip dropped immediately.
Scott." he pouted. "If Daddy doesn't put it near the piano we
can't sit underneath it and sing songs."
the atmosphere in the lounge room plummeted to almost match
Tracy's lips tightened at the image he'd rather not
remember...perched on the edge of her piano stool, arm
affectionately draped around her shoulders, winking at three
giggling little boys and one grinning baby... trying to master
the words of her infamous English carols...
think we'll still put it near the piano, Scott," he finally
said, struggling to hold himself together. "It's a little too
draughty by the door."
the tree into place without another word.
lovely there, dear," she complimented him hesitantly.
ma'am," he agreed, still grappling to hide his emotions. "Yes,
decorating began soon after, in an atmosphere of sadness. They
were all affected by their loss and trying hard not to show
it. Fortunately, for once Gordon's mischief was a welcome
diversion. As fast as the ornaments were being put on one side
of the tree, Gordon was busying himself with the task of
removing them and carrying them around to the other.
believe how many silver bells I found in that box," Jeff Tracy
commented in amazement.
Daddy...there was only one."
down at John, who had unpacked the ornaments earlier.
one?" he exclaimed, hardly able to believe it. "No way, little
guy. I know for a fact I've put at least twenty five on this
of the tree by everyone failed to locate the evidence.
he mumbled, peering into the branches for the tenth time and
shaking his head in disbelief. "I'm absolutely sure I did."
you did, Daddy. But I think they were the same one."
and cast a glance at his candid second son. "What do you mean,
giggled again and pointed at a busy Gordon.
dear," she laughed, watching him redden right to the roots of
Scott and John began to giggle too.
In the end
he surrendered to a real and deep seated need to be happy and
forget about the worries he had in his life for a while. It
started as a chuckle but after a few moments it grew to a
laugh before he proceeded to chase the little red haired
offender around the Christmas tree and grab him from behind.
glanced heavenward and said a silent thanks for the first
sound of genuine happiness she'd heard in the house in over
couldn't bring his Lucy back.
couldn't take away his pain.
could try to help her son through Christmas and to enjoy his
little boys again.
she needed a miracle to happen, she sure as hell needed a
miracle to happen now. The little boy hadn't stopped crying
for over two hours and for the first time in her whole life
she didn't know what to do.
quiet again all through supper.
himself to bed early.
let her take his temperature three times without as much as a
she began to search his bedroom for the elusive missing
Christmas Star, he dissolved into tears completely, and
finally told her what was wrong.
which adorned the top of the Tracy family Christmas tree was
something very special. It had come to them from England as a
gift from Lucille's grandmother.
It was the
last thing placed at the top of the Christmas tree.
used to tell them the star was a sign they were a family and a
sign that no matter what came their way each year, they would
always be together. His father had noticed it was missing once
they'd finished with the decorating of the tree.
all heads turned to Gordon, but a quick search of the Tracy
lounge room soon revealed he hadn't been involved.
now looked to John. He had such a special devotion to the
evening star he was immediately suspected for the star's
to cry at the inference.
take Mommy's special star, Daddy. I didn't. It wasn't in the
had come from the bottom of his heart.
was given to John and a search immediately launched to find
the missing star.
hours later and every inch of the house overturned, there was
still no sign of it to be had.
don't cry, kids," Jeff Tracy pleaded with his three devastated
little boys. "Daddy will go to the store tomorrow and find one
exactly the same."
bothered her immensely that something so precious to Lucille's
past could have possibly gone missing in the house. She was
determined to find it no matter what, and launched her own
personal search of the Tracy residence. But in doing so had
inadvertently stumbled on the most private and personal memory
her eldest grandson possessed of his mother.
facing the wall with his head crumpled into his pillow when
she stole quietly into his bedroom. She didn't think he'd have
it, but she had to assure herself she'd covered the
possibility. As she sifted through his neat dresser drawers
and carefully checked the back of his closet, he turned around
to look at her and immediately began to cry.
I want for Christmas, Grandma," he sobbed in her arms over and
thought that he was crying because he wanted to have his
mother back, and tried her best as always to give what little
comfort she could. Even though it was all he wanted, she said,
no-one, not even someone who could work miracles, could give
him something that God was saying was impossible.
she can't come back, Grandma." he heaved desolately into her
shoulder. "But only Mommy knows where the star is..."
it all tumbled out of him... a ritual and a special bond of
love only he had been allowed to share with his Mother.
seven days before Christmas, she left a special note telling
him where she had hidden the star that would adorn the top of
their Christmas tree. The note was always placed lovingly
underneath his pillow. It was never easy for him to guess
where it was because the note always contained a puzzle.
of the puzzle were well thought out and they got harder and
harder every year. Sometimes she had to help him but
irrespective of that, he was eventually rewarded with the
honour of retaining her beautiful silver ornament until
Christmas Eve, when Daddy was asked to place it on the top of
the Christmas tree.
under my pillow every night, Grandma," he hiccupped. "But
there isn't any note..."
to cry again.
she can't write me notes from heaven, Grandma, even though I
want her to."
"I know, baby," somehow paled into insignificance as she
searched the depths of her soul for something else to say to
those tragic little words.
I want for Christmas, Grandma," he sobbed to her again.
star means that it's Christmas...and Santa isn't real enough
to bring it to me."
He had to
admit the place felt warmer, but he hadn't given in without
one hell of a fight. Every reason he could offer as to why he
shouldn't light the fire was matched with every additional
reason as to why he should.
was warm enough...no it wasn't, it was cold.
other heating they could use...they were using it already and
it wasn't nearly enough.
more blankets than they knew what to do with...yes, well, they
had a fire, too, if he cared to think about it .
finally when the other thirteen excuses were all
systematically dismissed, he offered the worst and most fatal
excuse of all...
couldn't light the fire because Santa Claus was coming down
their chimney tonight and he'd promised the children he'd make
sure that Santa would be safe.
son!" she almost choked, unable to believe he'd try to get out
of it with something as pathetic as that.
me, Mom," he argued with his usual stubborn determination. "I
promised Virgil and John I wouldn't light the fire at all on
Christmas Eve, remember? I can't go breaking promises I make
to the kids...especially promises I make to them at
Well you broke your promise about buying them another star,
didn't you now?" she frowned pointing an angry finger at the
Christmas tree. "Too busy to get out of the house today, you
busy, Mom." he thundered. "The new contract's important. I
told you that."
started to become angry.
children are just as important as that contract," she
stressed. "And so help me if you can't find the time to go and
make them happy with a star to put at the top of their
Christmas tree, at least find the time to do something to keep
them warm while they're the hell not looking at it."
not fair, Mom. You know how hard I work to provide for those
Jefferson, I do know how hard you work, but it's not fair to
them and I'm sorry if it offends you to hear me say it. It's
Christmas Eve and it's cold, and of all nights of the year
when they should be feeling happy and safe and warm, it's
tonight. Now I'm asking you one last time to light the fire
before I finish in the kitchen with your babies. If you don't,
I'll go ahead and light the damn thing for them myself."
been the end of the argument... or at least the argument with
her. Virgil only needed to take one look at what he was doing
to launch into a major panic attack.
Daddy!" he pleaded in alarm. "You can't light the fire.
Please, sir...Santa Claus is coming down the chimney tonight
and his pants'll catch on fire."
that to your grandmother," he replied in a huff, ignoring the
frantic pulling on the tail of his shirt. "She's the one who
wants the damn thing to be lit tonight, not me."
boy looked towards the kitchen but in the end thought better
of arguing with his grandmother.
Daddy..." he complained. "Santa Claus won't come to any of us
if he knows we got a fire."
to control his growing aggravation but it certainly wasn't
easy. Of all the Tracy attributes his second son possessed,
determination to get his own way was definitely one of his
"Virgil..." he swallowed, trying to keep his temper in check.
"He came last year. He'll come this year."
Daaaaaddy...you promised. You promised me and Johnny. "
Tracy's eyes glanced to where the star was missing at the top
of the Christmas tree.
promises have good reasons to be broken, Virgil."
boy began to wring his hands in desperation at the visions of
a smouldering Santa Claus.
down, Virgil. I'm telling you, Santa Claus won't get burnt.
I'll make sure the fire I'm lighting is well and truly out
before I go to bed. You can count on it."
to ten, looked down at the little boy who was the spitting
image of his wife and said slowly, carefully and
Grandma wants this lit and she's not going to get off my back
until I light it."
the flames were ignited, leaving Virgil devastated, his mother
appeased and...as the evening wore on and he sat staring into
the flames with a scotch in his hand...him...a very long way
Houston...Texas...eleven years before.
had a special talent and he could really play a mean
enjoyed his music and they often came here for a meal in the
evenings to relax and talk about his day. The manager always
gave them special consideration and provided a darkened corner
with a back door entrance so he wasn't recognised too freely.
He didn't like being asked questions about the impending moon
landing and she didn't like their private life exposed.
their first Christmas Eve together since she had left England
to be with him in America and tonight, they sat together as a
couple, hands intertwined, enjoying the music of the saxophone
in the most exclusive corner of the restaurant.
had been wonderful and the bottle of wine they'd shared had
been good. As he looked at her in the candlelight and inhaled
the scents and aromas which surrounded him, he told himself he
was the luckiest man in the world.
couldn't remember a time when he'd felt quite so mellow and
She had to
be the most beautiful woman on this earth and he couldn't have
been any more in love with her if he tried. He couldn't take
his eyes off Lucille Amanda Evans that night. She was his
everything...she was his world...and tomorrow when he woke up
next to her on Christmas Day he was going to ask her to share
that world with him forever...and one day be the mother of
saxophone played sensually in the background as their eyes met
in the candlelight.
yourself...a Merry Little Christmas," he serenaded, gazing
deep into those eyes. "Let your heart...be light..."
and leaned forward towards him, the flames of the scented
candle between them, illuminating her perfection.
terrible," she whispered.
towards the candle too until their lips almost touched through
the transparency of the yellow flickering flame.
you're beautiful," he whispered in return.
serious," she whispered.
"So am I,"
he whispered in return.
evening wore on as their eyes continued to meet in the
saxophone played sensually in the background.
dance with me, Luce?" he breathed, his body craving to be
yeah," she breathed.
up with her in the darkness and moved to meld her into his
arms in the most intimate corner of the dance floor.
bodies moved as one as he held her.
saxophone played sensually in the background.
murmured, his body now craving more. "Let's go home now."
you'd never ask," she murmured.
Houston air was cold that night but as they left the
restaurant together his whole being throbbed with the love
that he felt for her. That Christmas Eve all he wanted was to
hold her in his arms...now...and for the rest of his life.
together on the couch.
glasses of expensive brandy.
of her lips against his.
fingers tracing the perfection of her features.
you too, Lucy."
where he craved it the most.
of her body next to his.
it just seemed so right for it to happen.
this night would never end," she murmured as her eyes began to
won't," he murmured, picturing the engagement ring tucked
underneath her pillow.
kiss to her sleeping forehead.
have to do is say yes to me, my princess."
eleven years later.
couldn't deal with the memories of how it used to be any
couldn't deal with how she made him feel.
couldn't deal with one thing going wrong after the other when
all he was trying to do was make Christmas a little more
bearable for his children.
debacle of the missing star...then the issues with the
fire...and to make matters worse his five little boys were
soon going to have to find out that Santa Claus didn't shop
too well in Department stores either. Alan's teddy bear was
bright pink, it was the only one left that was safe for a
baby, Gordon's blocks were red not yellow, they'd run out of
stock, Virgil's art equipment came without any browns, it was
a new shipment and they seemed to have omitted the brown, and,
after forgetting the name of the book for John he hoped to
hell the one he got was right.
thing he was sure about was Scott's model plane and from the
way the kid had acted all day he didn't even want it. All he
wanted was a letter he couldn't give him from his mother to
find a star that was nowhere to be found in the house.
have some space, Momma," he told her, striding tearfully
towards his study. "I'm sorry. I just can't look at that fire
My name is
Scott Carpenter Tracy and I live a long way from the North
Pole. I live in Boston. I'm nine now and very good most of the
time. I only want one thing for Christmas this year, Santa,
and if you are real like Grandma says you are, you will work
out how to get it for me. Please leave my letter from Mommy
underneath the Christmas tree. If you do, I'll know Mommy and
Daddy were just helping you last year and you are a real
found the hand written note hidden in the branches of the
Christmas Tree. A tree he couldn't really afford, but all he
wanted to do was to see his children happy.
Tracy fought back a tear, knowing there was nothing more she
could do to grant Scott's special Christmas wish.
boy would wake up Christmas morning and there wasn't going to
be any letter from his Mommy.
wouldn't be any Christmas Star.
Daddy would have the additional pain of having to sit there
and watch him cry.
He had to
be the worst rendition of a Santa Claus the world had ever
seen. The suit didn't fit, his beard was all crooked and his
eyebrows weren't even remotely white.
But as she
watched him from the darkness, Santa Claus moved with silent
efficiency from one end of the lounge room to other.
have a clue what he was doing, actually by the way he kept
stopping, starting and scratching his head she didn't think he
had much of an idea either, but irrespective of that, he was
methodically counting his paces, double checking them again
and trying to get something right.
In the end
the stoppings and startings inevitably found him standing,
perplexed, right beside the Christmas Tree.
she heard him mutter unhappily. "Damn it. That can't be
blasted well right."
watched him more closely as he went back to where he started
from and began the whole process over again.
he ended up beside the Christmas tree.
well," he shrugged, reaching into what looked like a very
large sack. "Here goes nothing, then."
couldn't have been more enthralled at what she was witnessing
from the darkness. From the sack came presents, each carefully
wrapped and lovingly placed underneath the Christmas tree.
sack was empty he stood back to admire his work.
stillness of the room she saw the world's worst rendition of a
Santa Claus walk towards the fire and reach into his pocket
for something else.
down at it for a long time. He ran his fingers over it, slowly
at first and then gently as if it meant the world to him.
lifted it to his lips, lowered his head in front of the fire
and quietly began to cry.
"I hope I
got it right for you, Luce," he whispered.
turned to plunge the white envelope he held right into the
depths of the Christmas tree.
better make sure the fire's out," she warned him softly from
the darkness. "You promised your son ten times that you
turned hesitantly as she came to stand beside him in the
half-light of the fire.
Momma. I was going to see to that next," he acknowledged.
"Only... I'm not quite ready...yet."
Tracy's head nodded in the firelight.
father's eyes met hers.
you think I'm stupid wearing this." he shrugged. "I only wore
it in case Virgil or John were watching me...you know...doing
this. They've lost enough this year without losing their
belief in Santa Claus."
and placed her arm around his waist.
you look rather believable, Jeff."
his smile was sad, he responded with an affectionate arm
around her shoulders.
the star tonight."
sweetie," she breathed, her eyes shining with joy and relief.
"That's wonderful. Where on earth did you did you find it?"
in his voice was evident as he set about trying to explain.
he sat in his study feeling sorry for himself, he finally
decided to open the package he had received from England
several days before. Until tonight, he had left it
unceremoniously thrown in the corner of his office, feeling
bitter and trying to overcome how he felt about Lucy's parents
sending presents to his children where they hadn't cared a
dime about them in over nine months.
been presents in the package as he suspected. Five in all.
also been a box wrapped in a special silver paper.
been a letter for him from Catherine Evans, Lucy's mother.
that letter there was an envelope addressed to Scott...
distinctive handwriting of his Mother.
strange reason Lucy had sent the star to her mother three
weeks before she died. The star had been accompanied by a set
of hand written instructions clearly intended for Scott's eyes
only. Lucy hadn't offered an explanation for the unusual act
and Catherine Evans had assumed it was because Scott was
getting older and too astute for her to leave the star so
easily locatable in the house. Lucy had asked her to return
the star and the instructions to Boston in plenty of time for
the last three hours reading the instructions over and over
again so I knew where to put the star for Scott to find, but
somehow I always end up getting it wrong and I finish up
standing right back next to the Christmas Tree."
Tracy smiled sadly in the firelight. She was sure Lucille had
somehow known and had planned all this from the beginning.
think you might have found the right place to put it, Santa
Claus," she said, stroking the side of his face with love.
"What do you think?"
so, for Scott's sake, ma'am."
You are such a good daddy," she told him. "And don't you ever
beside her in silence, gazing longingly into the dying embers
of the fire.
want to talk about being a daddy right now.
word, she knew it was time to leave him and slipped away into
done everything to give his five little boys the very best
Christmas that he could.
to be alone now...
the memories of what he had before and knew he couldn't have
again this Christmas.
alone hours later in the semi-darkness of the lounge room.
instantly he felt himself shiver.
was cold in here without the fire.
his eyes and yawned.
said five past five.
have fallen asleep on the couch.
shadow on the couch beside him caused him to startle and open
his eyes wide.
he exclaimed. "What are you doing up?"
shadow didn't flinch.
to see if Santa Claus was real, Daddy."
he mumbled uncomfortably in his disarrayed "white beard." "I
you were him for a moment, when I first saw you sleeping on
shadow moved closer, seeking the warmth and security of his
Claus? No, son, I just dressed up like this in case he wanted
someone to help him again this year. Guess I must have fallen
asleep before the action, huh?"
shadow nestled closer to his fur trimmed chest.
stay up to help Santa Claus with our presents every year,
tightened around the sturdy little body. What to say, without
saying anything. How to lie without really lying. How many
times had he needed to do that to protect his children from
the sadness of their reality in these past nine months?
years I try to stay awake to help him out, Scott. Saves time
with the delivery...you know."
used to stay awake to help Santa Claus, too?"
but he had to force himself to talk about her.
Scott. Mommy always did."
little head nodded with understanding, now comfortable with
what he had witnessed from the stairwell last year.
Instinctively he lowered his head to his little boy.
know...I wish Mommy was here too Scott."
look at what Santa Claus brought us for Christmas?"
should know better than to ask me that. Grandma will bust her
nut if she catches us peeking at the presents."
that I need to know before the others wake up..."
rose from the couch and walked towards the Christmas tree with
his eldest son in his arms.
won't tell Grandma if you don't," he whispered.
wanted for Christmas was to see his children happy and in the
few minutes that followed with his precious eldest son, his
only wish for Christmas was granted to him tenfold.
Scott breathed, holding out the only thing he wanted for
welled in Jeff Tracy's eyes as he acknowledged the exquisite
handwriting of his precious Lucille.
letter you wanted from Mommy," he nodded, trying his hardest
not to cry. "Looks like Santa Claus came through for you after
all, huh?" .
Scott, I don't think your Grandma would mind if I let you open
something Santa brought to you from Mommy."
year old child with a face of joy cautiously opened the
envelope and went on to savour each and every word of the
really wrote this to me, Daddy...she did...look...see...she
called me pumpkin."
swallowed, tearfully remembering how much he used to detest
Lucy calling his eldest son "Pumpkin." "Mommy really did."
little boy wanted for Christmas.
our special journey my pumpkin needs something big...
He makes a
special wish and prayer and remembers there's a twig...
five paces to the left and that's as far he goes...
ten paces to the back and tweaks his cute little nose...
the way his fingers work and walks diagonally back...
is where my pumpkin is and where Santa Claus leaves his sack."
hands rummaging eagerly underneath the Christmas tree.
special gift of giving that had allowed this moment to happen.