Klara couldn’t believe that she was standing in Santa’s office. It was bigger than she ever imagined. He was bigger than she thought. She wondered how the giant of a man had ever fit through chimneys – even in his younger days.
“Isn’t this great, T.E.” She whispered to the little elf, who was still shaking. Santa had set him down and he had darted behind Klara.
Santa settled into the big chair behind his desk. He put his hands behind his head and smiled at Klara. “You came all of this way to talk to me. What’s so important?”
“It’s about my sister, Aria. All I want is for you to take her off of your naughty list.”
“I’m sorry, child. It’s too late. The presents have already been delivered.”
Santa’s words were like a punch in the stomach. Suddenly Klara felt very tired. Tears filled her eyes. She thought about Aria’s frowning face – the face that she always wore on Christmas. She remembered her sister’s hurtful words as she had been brushed aside time and time again. All Aria loved now was her computer and the social life that she’d built for herself online from fake photos with plastic smiles. Klara had had a chance to change all of that. But it was too late. She’d failed.
The tears rushed down her cheeks in a torrent. She tried to stop them. She didn’t want to cry in front of Santa and T.E., but they continued to come.
“What’s wrong?” Santa asked, his voice kind and his eyes filled with concern.
Klara slid to the floor and hid her face in her hands. Between sobs, she said, “I just want my sister to love me again. She’s been miserable ever since my daddy died from cancer. She used to love Christmas and she would get so excited. But now she doesn’t. She’s never happy, because she’d on the naughty list. I just wanted to get her off so that she would smile again…so that she would love me.”
Klara hung her head. She missed her dad. She longed to feel his arms around her shoulders, and his gentle whispers telling her that she was loved, safe and found. She wanted Christmas to be special this year. But it was too late.
Klara looked up and saw, through her blurry eyes, that Santa had knelt to her level and was holding out something small and round. It was wrapped in red-and-green paper and tied with a burgundy bow. She wiped her nose on her sleeve and took the package gently.
“This package is filled with Christmas Cheer. It’ll make your sister happy for the whole day.”
“Really?” Klara jumped to her feet and threw her arms around Santa’s neck. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” She twirled around the room and then said, “Can you eggnog me back home, Santa?”
“Bye, T.E.” Klara waved at the elf. “I’ll see you next year!”
Santa poured a drop of eggnog onto her head and she vanished in a flurry of sparkles. Then Santa turned to T.E., who had retreated to the corner of the room and was furiously biting his nails. The big man gave a belly laugh that lasted thirty-seconds too long. T.E. knew that no good could come from that. Powerful people laughing was never a good sign. He steeled himself for banishment. He wondered what other elves he would find there. All criminals most likely. Since he wasn’t a criminal, he’d probably be hunted by them for sport.
“I’m not going to banish you, T.E.”
T.E.’s head darted up. He blurted, “What?”
“You made a very great mistake. If it happens again, you will most certainly be banished. But you are young and this was your first mishap.”
T.E. hoped that Santa wouldn’t find out about the cookies that he had stolen or the presents that he had accidentally destroyed in a failed attempt to make Christmas fireworks, or-
“As a punishment, you will spend Christmas in the coal cellar. When you get out, I will place you in training under my best elf, Red. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Santa.” T.E. hurried towards the door, wanting to get out before the big guy changed his mind. “Thank you, Santa.”
Santa opened the door and T.E. ran towards the elf police, who would carry out Santa’s sentence. Spending Christmas in the cellar seemed like paradise in comparison to banishment. He may have been the only elf to sit on a pile of dirty coal, on Christmas Day, with a smile on his face.
Even though Klara stood in the cold snow, she was warm inside. Santa had saved her Christmas. Aria would be happy again! She had done what everyone said was impossible, and she had brought back a gift from Santa himself. She did a little twirl before quietly opening the door to her house and tiptoeing inside.
She carefully set the little gift on top of the huge box that T.E. had brought. Cookies, happy to see his owner, whined and tugged at her sleeve. She turned to pet the dog, but tripped on a corner of the rug (which T.E. had pushed up in his mad dash to escape).
Klara fell and slammed into the big box. To her horror, Aria’s gift teetered and then crashed to the floor. The carpet cushioned it and it didn’t break. Klara was breathing a sigh of relief when Cookies, thinking that it was a ball, pounced on it and tore it open with his teeth.
But it was too late. Sparkles shot out and spun in the air for a moment before settling on Cookies head. The dog blinked three times and then wagged his tail wildly, ran around the room and began dancing with joy.
Klara stared at Cookies in shock. Aria’s gift…all that was left of it was shards of wrapping paper. The Christmas Cheer was completely gone. No more elves would come until next year. She had no magic eggnog. There was no way to get back to Santa.
In a few hours, when Aria woke, there would be no Christmas.
Once again, Klara had failed. She ran to her room and sobbed until she had no tears left. Then she fell into an exhausted sleep. She dreamed of wild dogs, screaming elves and a purple Santa who yelled at her for ruining World Peace and Happiness.
Paige Pegus absent-mindedly flipped the heart-shaped pancake. Christmas was hard. She had tried her best to keep her spirits up for Klara’s sake. Her daughter deserved to have a happy Christmas. She glanced towards the living room where Aria sat, texting. Paige’s forehead wrinkled. Klara wasn’t up yet. Normally on Christmas she was awake at five, begging to open gifts. The house was strangely quiet.
“Hey, Aria, is Klara awake?”
Aria shrugged. She didn’t take her eyes off of her screen.
“Go get her. Breakfast will be ready soon and I don’t want the pancakes to get cold.”
With a groan, Aria stood and walked upstairs.
Klara rubbed the sleep from her eyes. Christmas Day! She could already smell Mom’s M&M pancakes. Then she remembered the events of the previous night. T.E., the magic eggnog, the Christmas Cheer and how Cookies had eaten it. She curled up in bed again, tears making their way out of the corners of her eyes.
Aria’s voice filled the air. Klara rolled over. Her sister looked just as miserable as she normally did on the holidays.
“Are you crying? What’s wrong?”
More tears. Klara wailed, “I stayed up last night so that I could talk to Santa, but I kidnapped an elf instead because Santa ate too many cookies and couldn’t fit down chimneys anymore. Then T.E. poured his magic eggnog on us and we went to the North Pole. We met Santa and he gave me Christmas Cheer for you so that you would be happy, but Cookies ate it and now Christmas is ruined.”
Aria looked at Klara like she was insane. Maybe she was.
“You saw Santa?” Aria’s voice was mocking.
“What’s taking you so long? Pancakes are getting cold.” Mom walked into the room and stopped when she saw Klara’s tearstained face.
Klara repeated her story, this time with more detail. Mom and Aria exchange confused glances. Why didn’t adults ever believe kids? She had seen Santa. They could tell her she was dreaming all they wanted, but she knew the truth.
“Honey, I don’t understand.” Mom said. She brushed a strand of hair from Klara’s cheek.
Klara looked at her sister with downcast eyes. “I – I just wanted you to love me again.”
Aria’s face registered surprise.
“We used to play together all of the time. Do you remember how you’d be queen and I’d be your puppy? We’d run around outside for hours.”
Aria lowered her head and picked at the hem of her shirt. “Yeah.”
“I miss you. Ever since Daddy died, I’ve missed you. I wanted to make this Christmas special. But I’ve just messed everything up again.”
At the mention of their dad, Aria broke down. Mom wiped her eyes. Klara cried. No one was supposed to be sobbing on Christmas. They should be laughing or having a snowball fight. This was all her fault.
Then she felt warm arms around her shoulders. She looked up and her eyes met Aria’s. Klara leaned into her sister. Aria hadn’t hugged her for years. Mom wrapped her arms around the two of them. In quiet, hoarse voices, the little family shared their favorite Christmas memories – times when Dad had been with them.
Between sniffles and running mascara, Klara realized that Christmas doesn’t always have to be filled with laughter and bouncy happiness. Sometimes true Christmas spirit was shown in this – the tears, the memories, the heartbreak….and being together in the midst of it.
With Mom’s delicate hands rubbing her head and Aria smiling softly down at her, Klara felt safe. And loved.
“This is the best Christmas we’ve had in years.” She whispered, and wiped her cheek with the back of her hand.
Just then, Cookies darted into the room. His tail was wagging so fast, it’s a miracle that it didn’t fall off. He looked the picture of festivity.
“Whoa, what happened to Cookies?” Aria asked.
“I already told you!” Klara said. “He drank Santa’s Christmas Cheer spell!”
Mom and Aria burst into laughter.
“No, I’m serious!”
Cookies jumped onto her bed and licked her face. He smelled just like Santa’s office.
Did you like the story? Who was your favorite character? What is important to you during the holidays?
P.S. I just want to stay HAPPY SECOND BIRTHDAY to my little brother Dovid! You’re the cutest, little guy!