By Chet Cornman
The floorboard creaked and Amy froze. Someone was out there all right. Carefully, oh so carefully, she extended her neck and peeked around the corner.
A man, a large man, was sitting with his back to her, rooting under the tree. She held her breath, but was sure he’d hear her pounding heart.
Her mind raced. What if she got caught? Her parents had forbid her to try this; even her little sister had called her a fool. But that nasty Kayla Swenson had dared her, double dared her in front of her friends. And, Kayla aside, some part of Amy just had to know.
Gathering all the courage she could muster, she prepared to step forward. But the man turned and, in that one motion, Amy’s world came crashing down. It wasn’t Santa at all, it was just Daddy.
Her chest heaved and her eyes welled with tears. The older kids were right. She turned toward her bedroom, but hesitated. Something was wrong. She looked again.
Daddy was holding an old toy and he was crying. Her daddy was crying. She had to go to him, but as she took her first step, an arm shot out of nowhere and stopped her.
Amy yelped and turned. Her face went white and her mouth dropped open.
The big man looked at her and grinned broadly. This was not her uncle Joe in an ill-fitting suit or that skinny fake at Morgan’s Department Store. This was Santa, the real Santa, and he was everything she had ever imagined, from his fiery red suit to the shiny black boots.
“We should stay here, Amy.”
“But my daddy, he’s crying.”
“Your daddy’s fine, Amy. He’s remembering the Christmas when I gave him that train. He and his father played with it for hours. That memory is my Christmas gift to him. Do you understand?”
“I think so. My daddy is crying because he’s happy.”
“That’s it, honey. That’s it exactly.”
Amy suddenly remembered who she was talking with.
The big man roared with laughter.
“Of course I’m real. You didn’t really doubt me did you?”
“Well, maybe a little.”
Santa pointed to her father, who was somehow unmindful of their presence.
“He believed in me long after his friends stopped. He believed in this farm when most others would have walked away. And he believes in you, Amy. Oh, how he believes in you.”
“Yes, he’s always saying I’ll do great things. And that, Amy, is faith.”
Amy’s nose crinkled in puzzlement.
“But why do the older kids say you aren’t real? Why doesn’t everyone believe in you?”
“That’s a complicated question child. As young children, we believe easily. As we grow and don’t get everything we want from our parents, from Santa, or even from God, we begin to doubt. Some lose the ability to believe in anything at all. I feel very sad for them.”
“Well, I’ll never stop believing in you, Santa. I promise.”
“Now that’s the best present you could possibly give me child. Now let’s just sit here and relax for a spell. Delivering all of these presents does make a soul weary.”
Amy leaned back and watched as her father wiped the tears from his eyes and arranged the presents surrounding the tree. Mommy came in from the kitchen and paused to run her fingers through his thick unruly hair. The little girl had never felt so warm and happy. Her eyes drifted shut.
When Amy awoke, she was in her bed. She had vague memories of floating up the steps in strong arms and of a gentle kiss brushing her forehead.
She crept to the window and stared at the winter moon. A streak of light coursed the brilliant night sky. Kayla would say it was a falling star, but she’d be wrong.
Amy pressed her hand to the glass.
“Good night Santa and Merry Christmas.”