"C'mon honey, must I even get into this stupid outfit? It itches, and I doubt Bobby would even wake up and see me as —"
"Nick, just do it. He could be staying awake peeking from his bedroom, and if he sees you as you are sneaking presents, what would he think?"
"Honey, he's already ten. He should know by now that the big red guy doesn't really exist —"
"— and crush his hopes like that? He's still a boy! Let him believe what he wants for now. Just quietly put the gifts underneath the tree dressed as Santa - shouldn't take more than ten minutes - and you can come back into bed with me and snuggle under the sheets."
Her warm reassuring smile mismatched her cold stern stare into Nick's eyes. Still, the reward of huddling together with a loved one in bed, while the cold snowy weather raged on outside, was a strong enough incentive for him to oblige.
As she made her way back into the master bedroom, he clumsily manipulated his body to fit into the dust-ridden red suit and put on the grey beard. Ugh! The prop reeked of sweat and alcohol. When was the last time that was washed?
Nick himself knew just how unconvincing of a Santa he was: he doesn't have the reputed large frame required to fill up the red suit, and he couldn't pull off an impression of a jolly fat old man to save his life. Any nearby mall Santa would be a good replacement! Surely Bobby would know he wasn't the real deal, so why waste the effort? Nick didn't have to grow up believing in a big fat guy delivering presents, and he turned out just fine! She's just too soft on her son, that's what it is.
Still, to prevent his wife from getting aggravated any further, he quietly hauled the large sack of presents onto his back, valiantly attempting to ignore the stench from the beard. He cursed in his mind again as he silently made his way down the stairs. Doesn't she know how bloody hard it is to walk down steps in clunky black boots without stirring a sound?
The door to Bobby's bedroom was slightly ajar. Peeking inside, the boy was sleeping like a log. "Told you he wouldn't stay awake long enough. Waste of time to change into this costume!" And Nick moved on with an even more disgruntled look on his face.
Standing in the living room now, only the soft moaning of the cold winds outside could be heard. The clock on the mantle showed 11:15pm. "Hmph, if it weren't for this blasted snow, I could be outside hanging with my friends at the pub having a good time. Instead I'm living out the part of a fictitious character with no audience to watch my horrendous performance..."
The tree stood opposite him, sloppily adorned with cheap ornaments, waiting to accept the packages. Nick emptied the bag bit by bit, carefully placing the gifts in a neat fashion underneath the tree. But why was he putting effort in that? Bobby would just race towards the tree, unleashing his wrath upon the boxes and disintegrate the packages like a bloodthirsty beast might undo its captured prey. And every year Bobby would hold interest in the gifts for at most a month. He always seemed disappointed somehow; it wasn't that he didn't like the expensive toys or the fancy clothes or any of the other presents, but he always appeared to be unfulfilled in some way...
All right, now for the milk and cookies.
He turned back towards the dining room. The chocolate chip cookies and warm (well, previously warm) milk were sitting on the marble table. Nick wondered if he should have gotten the table at all; they hardly ever had family dinners, the last one being last last Thanksgiving. Now it just served as a pedestal for the offering to Santa Claus.
Something was different this time; there was a piece of paper stuffed under the glass of milk. Nick was almost ready to toss the paper aside, knowing it a secret message from Bobby to Santa alone; his parents shouldn't need to know the contents of the message. Alas, Nick's curiosity piqued and with unsteady hands concealed within thick gloves, he unfolded the letter.
The room was really dark, and the handwriting was somewhat atrocious for a ten-year-old, but Nick could make out the words:
I hope you like the milk and cookies I left you. I know how tired you must be travelling to so many houses delivering so many presents!
(Tired, yeah right. The journey from upstairs to here took SO MUCH effort.)
Anyway, I'm grateful for the gifts you send to me every year. I like them very much. But I hope that I could ask for something more this time. It's not that I want even more gifts this year, you'd surely say no!
Now Nick was even more intrigued. What could he possibly want from Santa this time?
It's my dad, you see. Every time during Christmas he's so grumpy! I don't know why, but I think he doesn't like you very much! Whenever I said your name he just gave me "the look".
I'm not even asking you to deliver some fancy gift to him. I just want you to pay him a visit and tell him you're real. I want him to believe in you. I want him to be happy on Christmas. I want my family to become happy again!
That's all! Good luck delivering the rest of your presents!
Nick was stunned. That's what was on his son's mind all along? He wanted to run up to Bobby and apologise, but realised he'd blow his cover and ruin Bobby's dreams. No choice but to retreat.
The journey up the stairs seemed even more agonising, his feet being weighed down by an extra force. At the top, he took even longer to get himself out of the "stupid costume", as though it were chain-mail.
She heard the door click open. "Not so bad, right honey? Didn't take long after all."
He knew the process took an eternity, but he was too tired to disagree with her.
"Are you alright, sweetie? Come to me, and I'll make you feel better!" She opened her arms anticipating an embrace.
He simply shuffled to the bed without batting an eyelid, and just sank into the bed, his back facing her. He wasn't in the mood to even get cosy any more. It just felt wrong.
"Nick? Do you need a drink? Is something the matter?"
"No, honey. Everything'll be okay tomorrow. Just sleep."
Reluctantly she switched off the lights and closed her eyes. Being through much shopping earlier that day, she easily fell into a deep sleep.
Her husband, however, stayed awake for a while longer. His face and pillow were tear-stained, and his mind kept conjuring the image of the letter. When he was sure she was sound asleep, he quietly muttered to himself:
"Don't worry Bobby. Everything'll be okay. We'll be happy again..."
And on the Night before Christmas, the family slept soundly and had beautiful dreams. Dreams of ringing sleigh bells, of Christmas carollers, of dancing snowmen, of flying reindeer, and of a jolly big man in a red suit with a white beard, spreading joy to children all over the world...
Wow. That turned out to be way longer than I expected. Anyway Merry Christmas, and have a merry time with friends and family! :)