“They always assign the crazies to the newbies, huh?” the guard says.
“Crazies?” I ask as I sign into the visitor log. The case seemed to be your standard open and shut B&E. Nothing was taken, though, according to the police report. No one was hurt, apart from a scared shitless thirteen-year-old who had fallen asleep on the couch while watching TBS’s A Christmas Story marathon.
“Guy thinks he’s Santa Claus.”
“Well, it is that time of year.”
The buzzer rings, and the door to my right clicks open.
“You can go back.”
I walk down the end of the hall to the meeting room, where my client waits alone at a gray round table handcuffed to a hook in the center.
I’m immediately taken aback by how he looks. I’m not sure what I expected to see. Surely not a jolly old man with all white hair in a big red suit. But I don’t think I expected to see this guy either. He’s young and, well, hot. His skin is a deep tan, as if he spends his summers in Southern Italy when he’s not in the frigid North Pole. He has sandy brown hair and eyes the same color. His eyelashes are long and curl up as if he’s wearing mascara. His beard is trimmed short, and his lips are full and pink. He licks them right before he speaks.
“Hi there. You’re my lawyer?” His voice is deep and intimidating. I wonder how his “Ho, ho, ho” sounds. Thunderous, I imagine, it could shake this whole room.
I nod and sit across from him. “I’m Jenny.” I reach over and shake his hand. His grip is strong. “So, you’re supposed to be Santa?”
“Not quite what you expected, hmm?” He leans back and crosses he left leg over his right knee. “I’ve always been curious about how these myths start. For example, how does a morbidly obese old man who probably has a breathing problem squeeze down a smoky chimney?”
“Good question.” I click my pen and open my notepad to an empty page. “So why don’t you tell me how you got into the Wilkinson’s house.”
“Right to business, huh? Okay.” He clears his throat, uncrosses his leg, and sits straight. “I was invited in.”
“That’s how I get into every house. As long as there is someone there who believes.”
“Is that your defense? The girl who called the cops on Santa Claus believes in Santa Claus?”
“Please, call me Nicklaus. Don’t know how ‘Saint’ became ‘Santa.’ It sounds like baby talk, doesn’t it?”
“In any case, I’m no saint. Another common misconception. There was a Saint Nicholas. And he was a very charitable man, no doubt. But I was around long before him.”
I’m at a loss for words, but in an effort to turn the conversation back to the case before he tries to tell me he’s Jesus or something, I ask again, “Who invited you in?”
“She has a younger brother.”
I shuffle through my stack of papers. “The boy was sound asleep the whole time. You mean to tell me he got out of bed, opened the door to let you in, and then returned to bed, all without being noticed?”
He chuckles, “Of course not,” then taps the side of his head with his index finger. “In his dreams.”
“Yep, a Miles Morales Spiderman suit he was dreaming about, if I’m not mistaken. I was able to deliver it under the tree before they came and arrested me.”
“You’re serious?” The guard was right about the “crazies.” Even his good looks can’t save him. I straighten my papers and return them to the manilla folder and then into my briefcase as I get ready to leave, my visiting time almost over. I’ve stayed longer than I was supposed to anyway. The purpose of this meeting was simply to introduce myself and inform him we were pleading guilty. Like the guard said, the newbies get the crazies, and the crazies are always the easy cases. No need to waste taxpayer money on a lawyer who only passed the bar a month ago after six tries, were my boss’s words. Plead guilty, take the 90-day jail sentence and community service, move on to the next crazy.
“You stopped believing in me at a young age.”
I stop, mid stride to the door, and spin around to face him again. “What?”
“Single mom working double shifts as a waitress. Five other siblings in a two-bedroom apartment. You were forced to grow up quickly.”
“How did you—” I start, and then, almost defiantly, I slam my briefcase back down and lean over the table, beyond the center point and dangerously close enough for him to reach up and wrap the chain of his handcuffs around my neck and squeeze, if he were a violent criminal. The jury’s still out on that. Crazies tend to get physical when you don’t accept their absurd logic.
“It’s kind of hard to believe when Christmas has only every been what my mom’s wages could afford. And after bills, that wasn’t much.”
“Is that why you spend so many sleepless nights in the public defender’s office? The best years of your life wasted on this fruitless job?”
“It puts bacon on the table.”
“But does it keep your bed warm at night?”
“Listen old man,” I say, despite the fact that the only signs of age on him are a few strands of gray sprinkled in his beard. But you have to be close to him to see it, and I’m not really that close, although, I can feel his warm breath on my bottom lip. “If you’re trying to offer me your ‘services,’ my fee is covered already.”
“The service I want to give you is the Christmas you never had.”
“I’m a little past asking for toys, Santa.”
“Again, it’s Nicklaus. And what is your wish as an adult then?”
“Christmas is over.”
“Given that I’m the guy who invented it, I think I can decide when I can and can’t deliver presents.”
An army of church folk would beg to differ, but then the Christmas we celebrate today really isn’t all that Christ-centered either, so I play along.
“I’m sure you want to hear me say I want a husband who doesn’t disappoint. He’s fiercely loyal. Would do anything for me. Fulfills my every want and need. I would lack nothing because he’s a provider. His love is unconditional, and he supports me and my dreams, no matter how improbable. And we’ll have a couple kids, perfect little angels, and we’ll be one big happy family.”
“That’s not my wish.”
“Tell me.” He leans closer to me. “What do you want?”
His voice is barely above a whisper, almost seductive. Maybe that’s why I say, “To be naked on somebody’s beach.”
His eyes widen. “Oh, really?”
Not really, though it would be nice. What I really want is to be confident in my own skin. I don’t want to have to rely on what a job or a man can give me. I want to already have it myself. I want to make it. I want to live my own life, not what society has written out for me. I want to be independent. Free.
I feel myself lifting off the ground as I think about it, and when I look at him, he seems to be reading my mind. He smiles, and it feels as if every weight of the world has finally relinquished its pressure, but then the announcement that visitation is over echos from the speakers overhead, and everything comes crashing back down, and I backtrack and say, “I don’t know.”
Once again, I turn to leave, but he stops me with one word.
“Alright?” I repeat.
He smirks. “You’ll see.”
When the door buzzer rings, I rush out, feeling flustered. I don’t make eye contact with the guard at the entrance as I exit. I don’t want him to think that the “crazy” has gotten to me, that even I’ve started to believe him. I’m supposed to meet with my boss back and the office to give a report, but the case is the furthest thing from my mind right now. I decide to go home for lunch instead. Maybe if I get something on my stomach, I can clear my head and get back to business before my boss starts to demand where I am.
When I walk through the front door, I can’t help but look at my pathetic attempt at a Christmas tree. It stands at only three feet tall, an artificial tree, and it hardly has any decorations, save for the ones I added last year and never bothered to put away, just like the tree, which has stood in that same corner between my patio door and the couch since last Christmas.
Santa, or, Nicklaus, or whatever his name is, was right. All those hours I spend at the office while my Christmas goes on unfulfilled. A whole year it stood and not a single present underneath—only, now I spot a red envelope caught in the branches.
“To: Jenny. From: N,” it reads.
“There’s no way,” I say, as I tear it open. Inside is a folded flyer that says “Fourteen-day all-inclusive stay at the Cap d’Agde resort on the French Mediterranean.” Could this be…
Before I can finish that thought, my phone rings. I fumble around in my briefcase for it and answer on the fifth ring.
“Jenny, where the hell are you?” It’s my boss.
“Did you go see the Santa guy?”
“Yes. Actually, I just left.”
“What did you say to him?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean he’s gone. I just got the call.”
“That, that’s impossible!” I look down at my flyer, shaking in my hands.
“You need to get down here ASAP. We need to figure out what’s going on. And you may have to answer some questions since you were the last to see him.” He hangs up without getting a confirmation from me or even bothering to say bye. I stand frozen in the middle of my living room. My bewildered gaze shifting from my phone and its shocking news and my all-inclusive resort vacation, an apparent gift from Santa.
None of this can be real, can it?
Just then I hear what I can only describe as jingle bells jangling right outside my door. I swing it open, and there in my front yard is Nicklaus sitting in a reindeer-drawn sleigh.
I cautiously step toward him. “I must be dreaming.”
“I did say that’s when I appear.” His eyes lower to the envelope and flyer in my hand. “How do you like your gift?”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Well, I didn’t include plane tickets, so I figured you might need a ride.” He slides over, making room for me in the sleigh. “And maybe, if you were feeling generous, you could invite a tired old man who’s been hauling presents for good little boys and girls across the world all night, just spent the last twelve hours in jail, and could really use a vacation.”
“And what about Mrs. Claus?”
“Ah.” He turns ahead, leans back, and crosses one leg over the other as he did in the visitation room. “Also a myth. Contrary to popular belief, Santa Claus has been a bachelor for a very long time.”
“I thought you didn’t want to be called that.”
He shrugs. “It’s growing on me. So, are you coming?”
I stare at him, unsure of what my “yes” will mean. That my mind has finally cracked and this is all an elaborate hallucination? I don’t know, but as I drop my phone on the last step of my front porch and it splits in half, I wonder, what could possibly be worse?
He is grinning from ear to ear as I settle in next to him. He drapes his arm over my shoulder and pulls me even closer to him. I think for a second he’s going to kiss me. It seems weird, especially given that he’s apparently this ageless being who knew me as a child, but I wouldn’t be opposed to it if he made a move. Instead, he turns his head and takes the reins in both hands, preparing to mush the reindeer. I count only eight.
“Where’s Rudolph? Don’t tell me he’s a myth too.”
This time, he does kiss me, but it’s only on my ear, and really, it’s just a whisper for me to look up, his lips enunciating the words. Then he breaks away. “Clear skies,” he says. “Rudolph and his bright red nose had the night off.” And with that, he whips the reins.
“On Dasher! On Dancer! On Prancer and Vixen…”
This hour’s story was inspired by the Twilight Zone episode “The Night of the Meek,” but you may notice some similarities with a certain Living Single episode too. Can you guess which one?