Old Man Christmas, as he was lovingly known around town, had been playing the role of Santa Claus in the town square for nearly 30 years. Even as a young man he had been perfect for the job. No one had ever exuded the spirit of Christmas from their very being like Chris did. From his twinkling eyes to his naturally white beard he was the kindest, jolliest, most generous and most loving person anyone in town had ever met. He genuinely loved the kids; all kids; and he had a way of talking with them that seemed to calm even the most difficult children. Chris loved Christmas so much that for him it just came naturally to be Santa; it had never been like playing a part.
This year was different. Maybe it was time he hung up his red coat. He felt old and tired, and couldn't quite shake the uneasy thoughts that had begun to creep in over the last couple of Christmases. Was it his imagination, or were kids losing their belief in Santa at a much earlier age? He had seen an increasing number of children whom instead of bright faces filled with wonder and awe had come to him with attitudes of distrust and indifference. Maybe he had outlived his usefulness as Santa. He would retire before he became anymore disillusioned with the thought that children no longer believed in the magic of Christmas.
Chris was out on his regular morning walk around town. Halfway through the park he stopped to rest on a bench overlooking the pond, as he did every morning. Suddenly, movement from the bushes caught his attention. Not sure of what he was seeing, he got up to take a closer look at what was huddled under the biggest bush. "Well, hello there," he said to the wide-eyed little girl.
"Are you going to hurt me?" she whispered in a frightened voice. "Oh no, I would never do that. I love children, Chris said calmly. "My name is Chris and I would like to help you if you will let me. Won't you come sit on the bench and talk to me?"
Even in her young years, 6 year old Chy (short for Chyna) had learned to be a pretty good judge of character. Deciding that Chris was someone she could trust, she slid out from under the bush and walked to the bench. Chris immediately removed his coat and laid it around her shoulders to stop her shivering.
Wanting to find out who she was and why she was in the park alone so early, Chris asked Chy a few questions. He soon learned that getting information from her would not be a problem because she was quite a little talker. She told him that she and her parents had moved into the homeless shelter last year after her dad had lost his job and couldn't find another one to support his family. He was working at the local hamburger place but barely made enough money for a little food and keeping her in school. Her mom helped out with cooking at the shelter. Chris felt the tears in his eyes as this tiny creature told her story. Suddenly, with a startle, he realized her story had taken a turn. She was almost bubbling, her whole face beaming, as she told him that things were going to change soon for her family.
"Can you keep a secret?" she asked Chris. "Of course", he said, intrigued. "I sneaked out this morning to go see Santa Claus. I know if I ask him he will bring my dad a new job and we will be able to move into a house again! Santa will help us!" Chris was taken aback at the sincerity in that little angel's face. What could he say to her? His mind was racing. All he could think of right now was to tell her that she was too early. Santa wouldn't be in town until next week. And he couldn't tell her that he was Santa and he might not be there at all this year. Right now he needed to think. First he must get Chy back to the shelter.
When they arrived at the shelter, Chy's parents were frantic with worry. It wasn't like her to run off. They were so thankful and relieved when Chris walked through the door with her. The four of them sat down with steaming mugs of hot chocolate and talked for nearly an hour.
Chris thought of little else for the entire week. The day came for the Christmas parade and he knew, without a doubt, what he must do. He buttoned his coat, pulled on his boots, and laughed a jolly ho ho ho as he closed the door behind him.
Following the parade, Chris took his familiar place on Santa's throne. The doors were opened and it was no surprise to him that Chy was the first in line. As she sat on his lap and whispered her wish list, Chris couldn't help but grin from ear to ear. He wished her a Merry Christmas and gave her an enthusiastic belly laugh as she slid down. Her faith had never wavered. She believed in Santa with all her heart. Chris's heart, too, was filled with the spirit of Christmas. He had a secret he couldn't wait to share!
The idea had been forming in Chris's mind all week. He was getting up in years and he had no family. His wife had died before they were able to have children. The huge house and grounds where he lived was getting to be more than he could handle. It all made perfect sense. He had formed an instant bond with the Sims family from the moment he found little Chyna in the park. They had fallen on hard times through no fault of their own and were good people. Helping them would fill a void in his own life that he hadn't even realized was there. It was simple; the Sims family would move in with him. Mr. Sims would take care of the grounds, gardens and house repairs while Mrs. Sims cooked and did the housekeeping. In return, he would provide them a place to live, free of charge and a decent salary for their work. They would be like the family he never had. He just knew Chyna would keep him on his toes and, therefore, keep him young.
Most days Chris hated to see the last child come through because it meant he had to go home to his big, empty house. Tonight was different. He couldn't wait to meet with Mr. & Mrs. Sims to present his proposition. He just knew this was going to be the merriest Christmas ever.
This story is complete fiction and was written in response to the GBE 2 picture prompt. The picture, seen at the beginning of this story, is courtesy of morguefile.com.