My friend Max has graciously written us a holiday story for my 2fer blog. He's a great guy, the writer of novels as well as short stories. Enjoy.
Bobby Naughton was fifteen; next Thursday. He didn't believe in Santa any more, if he ever really had. Two men in his building played Santa. They were both drunks, and one bugged him. It was the way the man looked at him when no one else was looking. His mom had said the guy was probably just gay, but Mr. Tarlton was gay, and he didn't make Bobby uncomfortable.
around Bobby's place was just another day when the heat didn't work and his mother didn't come home. He got a few days out of school, but Bobby liked school. He had friends there, and he ate a good breakfast and lunch every day. There wasn't much to eat at home. Christmas was just a week without food as far as Bobby was concerned.
He had a real Christmas once, when he was seven. He was living in a foster home while his mom was in jail. The people he stayed with had a tree, wrapped presents, and everything. They cooked a big special dinner on Christmas and people came over with more presents. It was pretty cool. Bobby figured Christmas was for rich people. They spent a lot of money, bought a lot of stuff, and gave it to each other. It was just another excuse for them to buy stuff.
Bobby left and walked toward the corner store. He didn't have any money, but he was hopeful. He was getting a little old for the sad-lost-child ploy, but the student-who-lost-his-bus-fare had been working out pretty good. Walking toward him down the sidewalk was another of those fake Santas. His suit looked a lot nicer than the ones he had seen. He must work at one of the expensive stores.
"Knock it off," Bobby jeered. "Save it for the kiddie crowd."
"A cynical young lad," Santa said jovially. "And a Scrooge."
"Scrooge was a rich guy. I'm no rich guy."
"So you are familiar with the old miser."
"I read the book, in the library. Not a bad read."
"So what would you like for Christmas, young Cratchit?"
"I'll just take a couple of bucks now, if you can spare it."
"I generally deliver presents on . I don't think I have anything on me."
"Of course not. Santa doesn't visit poor kids anyway."
"Of course he does. In the very early days I dropped coins down the chimney into poor childrens' stockings. The poor are most important at Christmas."
"I asked my mom once why Santa never came to our apartment and she said because we don't have a chimney."
"How old are you, young Cratchit?"
"Fifteen, why? Gonna say I'm too old now?"
"No. I just don't know how you never got on my list." Santa rubbed his beard.
"If you could have anything in the world, anything at all, what would it be?"
"Why? I won't get it."
"Humor me. I feel I owe you fifteen Christmases."
Bobby thought for a moment.
"A ticket to New York."
"Odd request. What is in New York? A very wonderful city, but very dangerous for a young man all alone."
"It's not for me. It's for Heather."
"She's my, ah, friend. She lives about a block from me. We're in art class together."
"So why does Heather need a ticket to New York?"
"She applied to art school there, but she has to go to an interview and show them her work. Her mom can't afford the bus ticket. So she can't go. That bus ticket would be her ticket out of here. She's good, man, real good. All she needs is a break and she'll be famous some day."
Bobby stopped himself. He didn't know why he was opening up to this Santa-want-a-be. The whole thing with Heather had been eating him up. He'd sell body-parts if he could to get the money, but there wasn't much hope. Heather was the coolest girl he had ever known. He just wanted her to be happy, and get out of this trash-dump of a neighborhood
"I'll see what I can do, young man. A noble request deserves serious consideration."
"Yeah, right. Whatever. Merry Christmas, man."
Bobby walked on past and down the street. He was feeling a lump in his throat and he wasn't going to lose it in front of the supermarket Santa. Life really sucked when someone as talented as Heather was going to lose her big break because her mom couldn't afford a lousy bus ticket to New York City. This Christmas was going to be worse than usual.
Bobby spent the next couple of days mostly at home, hungry and bored. Heather hadn't come around and he was starting to get worried. On Christmas Eve, someone knocked on the door. Maybe it was the police looking for his mom again. He went to the door and opened it cautiously. It was Heather.
"Heather! Where have you been? I went by your place and no one was there."
"I've been in New York, with my mom."
"New York? How did you manage that?"
"Some old guy came by the other day and handed me tickets and enough money for a hotel. Mom went with me, and they accepted me, Bobby! Were moving to New York in a couple of weeks. Mom found a job while we were there and everything. Can you believe it? I'm going to art school!"
She wrapped her arms around Bobby's neck and kissed him square on the mouth. He was stunned to say the least.
"But I haven't told you the best part. Remember that old camera you found and gave me for Christmas last year?"
"I took pictures of all the stuff you painted in the ally behind my building, in case someone painted over it. I showed them the pictures and they want you to apply. You've got better grades than me, Bobby. They are sure to accept you. They already like your work. They said as long as your grades were good, they would give you a full scholarship."
The sound of Christmas bells rang out from the old church on the corner. Bobby didn't know what to say. Then it hit him.
"God Bless Us Every One."