Pages

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Visit by Stuart R. West

Sometimes the best Christmas gifts are the most unexpected ones...

* * *

The snow fell outside Aubrey’s window. Ice webbed across the panes. Veins of Old Man Winter, her father used to call them. She blew condensation on the glass, wrote with her finger. I miss you.

Christmas Eve used to be fun, one of Aubrey’s favorite times of the year. Even if it was impossible to go to sleep. But it wasn’t excitement keeping Aubrey awake, not this year. Rather, she missed her father, couldn’t stop thinking about him. The first Christmas she wouldn’t spend with him since she was a baby.

In the hallway, Aubrey’s mother called out, “Aubrey, are you asleep?”

“Yes.” She scrambled into the covers, pulled the sheet over her head.

“Doesn’t sound like it to me.” Her mother came in, sat on the edge of her bed, peeled back the sheet and giggled. “Sleeping girls don’t speak.”

“I’m trying to go to sleep.  It’s just…I miss Daddy.”

“I know you do, honey. I miss him, too.” Aubrey’s mother turned away, drew in a deep breath.  “But you know he has a job to do. An important job.”

Aubrey nodded. “Uh-huh. In Aghaffastan.”

“Afghanistan.  Fighting for freedom.”

“But…I really wish he was here. For Christmas.”

Her mother placed her hand along Aubrey’s cheek, gave her a comforting pat. “I wish he was, too. Now get to sleep, Aubrey. We can’t have you awake when Santa Claus visits.”

Santa Claus. Another reason she wasn’t in a Christmas mood. Last month Tommy and some of the other boys told her Santa wasn’t real. They said it was just their parents pretending. It couldn’t be true, they were teasing her, she just knew it. But…how can one man bring toys to children in the whole wide world in just one night?

“Mommy?”

“Hmm?”

“Is Santa Claus real? Or is he make-believe?”

Her mother blinked at her, puckered her lips like she’d just bit into a lemon. “Why would you ask such a thing?”

“I dunno. Some of the boys told me he wasn’t real.”

“What matters is if you believe in Santa. Do you?”

No. “I guess so.”

“Well, there you have it. He’s real, then.”

* * *

Aubrey dreamed of her father, how he used to swing her high in the air, tossing her onto his strong shoulders. His handsome smile. How he made her feel safe, protected. Loved. A dream so sweet, yet sad. She woke up, tears stinging her eyes and an empty gnawing at her stomach.

Then she heard her mother yelp. 

“Mom?”

Footsteps clicked down the hallway. Her door opened.

“Dad?”

“Hey there, pumpkin! Merry Christmas!” Dressed in his military uniform, he swept off his hat, tucked it beneath his arm.  Still dreaming?

“Daddy!” She jumped out of bed, ran into his waiting arms. Nope, not a dream! He hoisted her high, nearly banging her head into the ceiling. 

Behind him, Aubrey’s mother grinned, the happiest she’d looked in a while. “Honestly, you two!” 

“I can’t believe it, can’t believe it, can’t believe it! It’s a Christmas miracle. Daddy I’ve missed you so much! Can’t believe it, can’t believe it, can’t believe it!”

“Slow down there, pumpkin. It’s really me. Let me get a good look at you.” He set her down, smiling at her. She bounced on her toes, doing the bathroom dance. “Yep, my little girl’s growing up. Now let’s get you back in bed.”

“Oh my gosh, I’m way too excited to sleep, Daddy!”

“Let’s give it a try.”

“How long are you gonna be here?” She climbed into bed but sat up. No way was she sleeping now. “Do you get to stay for Christmas?”

He sat next to her. “Afraid not. It’s a short trip, sweetheart. But I couldn’t just stay away from my two girls. Not on Christmas Eve!”

“How’d you get here? I mean, I thought you were in Gaffannastan!”

He laughed. “I was. In Afghanistan. But, ah…a friend gave me a ride. Best Christmas gift ever!” 

“You’re the best Christmas gift ever, Daddy!”  Afraid to lose him again, she clung to him, burying her face in his chest. “Please don’t leave, Daddy! Please.”

“Sorry, sweetheart. Afraid I have to. In fact…” He squinted, looked out the window. “I think my ride’s wanting to get going. But know that I miss you and your mother. And I love you both very much.”

“Daddy…please don’t go.” She wanted to be a big girl, she really did. But she couldn’t stop the tears no matter how hard she tried. “Please…please…”

“Oh, hey now, let’s have none of this. Where’s my big girl?”

“Here?”

“I need you to be strong, sweetheart. To help look after Mommy. I’ll be home for good before you know it.”

“Promise?”

“Cross my heart. And speaking of hearts…” He tapped on hers. “I’m always with you, right inside your big ol’ heart. When you miss me, just look inside. That’s what I do when I miss my two gals.” He kissed her forehead, gently put her back in bed. “Love you tons and tons and bunches and bunches.”

“Love you, too, Daddy.”

“Now, I’ve got to go.” He stood, cleared his throat. Aubrey’s mother went to him and hugged him. “Love you too.”

“I know.”

“Goodbye.”

He dabbed at his eyes, put his hat back on. Quietly left, hushed as a whisper.

Aubrey’s mother climbed into bed next to her. “No more tears, honey. This is a happy occasion.”

“Okay.”

“Now…let’s watch Daddy leave.” Her grin grew, the kind that said she had a secret. With the palm of her hand, she cleared a spot on the window.

Through the falling snow, her father stepped into the sleigh and sat next to a fat bearded man. Reindeer clomped their hooves, crunching the snow. Ready for lift-off.

“Mommy? Oh my gosh! Mommy!” Her mother laughed and waved out the window.

“Merry Christmas, Aubrey!” yelled Santa. Her dad held his hand up, waving. Santa tugged on his reins, knocking her father into the seat next to Santa. Still laughing his wonderful, deep laugh, loud as thunder. The sleigh lifted, shot out of sight, leaving behind a swirl of magical snow.

“Best Christmas ever, Mommy!”

* * * 

There you have it, folks! Stuart R. West here and I am done with twelve short stories for the Lightning Quick Reads Blog! Yay! I'd like to thank Kai Strand for hosting the blog and all of the other wonderful writers I've been sharing the blog with.

Okay, folks. I'm either committing career suicide or writing my funniest novel yet:

Bad Day in a Banana Hammock.


I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. My first straight-up comedy. Sorry, sorry, sorry...