For the past twenty years, James’ dad had volunteered to play Santa for the children’s holiday party at the Civic Center. When George passed away, the guys at the firehouse asked—begged—James to take his dad’s place. He hadn’t given them his answer and the party was a week away.
Josie and Mark were home for the semester break. We hadn’t told them about the letter. In fact, we hadn’t talked about it since we came home that devastating day three weeks ago. I was decorating the tree when the phone rang.
Several minutes later, Mark walked into the family room with a puzzled expression. “That was Steve at the firehouse. He needs to know if Dad is taking Grandpa’s place as Santa this year.”
“He has to,” Josie said as she handed me one of the sequined ornaments my mother-in-law made. “It’s our family tradition.”
“Yeah, that’s what I said to Dad and he bit my head off.” Mark fisted his hands on his hips. “He said you threw out the Santa suit.”
“What?” Josie dropped the Shrinky-Dink ornament she’d made in second grade. “Mo-ther. How could you?”
Oh, right. Blame me. James and I were going to have that talk a lot sooner than planned. Whether he wanted to or not.
“Your father is mistaken,” I said with extreme patience. “I had to repack the Santa suit in another box. It’s out in the garage.” Hidden among the myriad boxes and furniture from my in-laws’ house.
Once James got motivated—his anger toward his parents had one positive effect—in three weeks we’d emptied the house, had the estate sale, hired a cleaning crew, and put the house on the market. Thanks to staging the house for Christmas, it sold yesterday.
One of our problems solved. Now onto the next one. Getting James into the Christmas spirit. He didn’t want anything to do with it. He hid in his office watching football while I decorated our house.
Before I could warn the kids to leave their dad alone, they both rushed downstairs to his “man cave” aka his office.
“Dad, Dad,” they hollered.
“You can be Santa,” Josie yelled. “Mom said the Santa suit wasn’t thrown away.”
“Yeah, Dad. The suit’s in the garage,” Mark added.
Seconds later James tromped up the basement stairs. He went straight to the front closet and yanked out our jackets so hard the hangars clattered on the floor. The kids followed, bewilderment on their faces. When he threw my jacket at me, the two gave each other wary looks.
“We need to talk, Megan.” He frog-marched me out to the deck, slamming the slider behind us.
I slipped on the snow-covered deck and had to grab the railing instead of James who was already halfway down the steps. When I pulled on my jacket, I saw Josie and Mark staring through the glass door. I held up a finger and smiled. Everything’s fine. Mom will handle this.
When I reached the bottom of the stairs, James grabbed my arm and trudged through the snow. Real considerate, my husband. He had on boots. I wore my fuzzy Yoda slippers.
As soon as we got to the edge of the woods, he whirled me around. “I told you to throw out that damn Santa suit.”
“Yeah? Well, I don’t have to listen to you. That suit is part of your family tradition.”
“Obviously, not my family.”
His sneer made me so mad all my pent up anxiety over his anger at his father exploded. I slugged him in the jaw. He reeled backward and landed in the snow.
I shook my hand. Damn, that hurt. “You are a jerk.”
After I pounced on him, I grabbed a handful of snow to soothe my swelling hand.
As Josie and Mark came running outside, without coats, I had a better idea of what to do with the snow in my hand. I smushed it into James’ face.
“Mom? Dad? What’s going on?” Josie cried.
“This means war.” Jamie rolled me over and shoved snow down the front of my open jacket, into my V-neck Doctor Who T-shirt with a wreath on the front of the TARDIS. I never even saw him scoop up the wet stuff.
I squealed and tried to get up. He snagged my ankle, making me fall facedown into the snow.
Mark ran up and stood over us. “Have you two lost your mind?”
I glanced at Jamie. A twinkle glinted in his eyes. I knew what that meant. As I scooped up some snow, he helped me to my feet. We each let go of a snowball. Our mental telepathy was dead on. He got Mark in the chest while mine hit Josie’s arm.
Ten minutes later, we were all laughing as we tromped up the deck stairs. We probably should have gone in through the garage and shaken off the snow. Jamie took my wet jacket into the half bath and returned with a towel. Instead of throwing it at me, he gently rubbed my wet hair before making me sit at the kitchen island while he rubbed my even wetter feet.
“What were you so mad about?” That was our Josie. No keeping things inside for her. “Dad? Why did you drag Mom outside?” Then she aimed her narrowed eyes at me. “I can’t believe you hit him.”
That sobered everyone.
“Your mother and I need to talk.” Jamie took my hand, gave it a gentle squeeze, then led me into our bedroom. After he closed the door, he leaned back against it. “You were right. I was being a jerk earlier. I’m sorry, but I—”
“Don’t go spoiling a good apology by trying to justify it.” I sat on his mother’s cedar chest at the foot of our bed. “It is time we talked.”
After crossing his arms, he pursed his lips the way he always did that meant he wasn’t going to like what I had to say but would listen.
“I kept the Santa suit for Mark. You had no right to take that away from him. He loved your dad.” When James started to speak, I held up my hand. “George was your dad. He was Josie and Mark’s grandfather. By his actions, he proved he was a better father than you are.”
He snapped his head up so fast it hit the door. “What the hell—”
“You’re a great father because those children we’ve just scared half to death are your own flesh and blood. George was a great father when he didn’t have to be. He didn’t have to marry your mother. He did so because he loved her. And he loved you because you were part of her. Do not take away our children’s heritage because of your pity party.” I walked toward him. “Now please move so I can go out there and reassure Josie and Mark that we’re not getting a divorce.”
“Divorce? Who said anything—”
“Think about how you’ve been acting.”
I told the kids their dad was still having a hard time losing Grandpa. And that I would call Steve at the firehouse and tell them to get someone else to play Santa this year.
“No,” Mark said. “I want to do it. It’s our family tradition. If Dad doesn’t want to play Santa, I will.”
On Saturday morning, I offered to help Mark with Santa’s beard, mustache, and wig.
He gave me an odd look. “Thanks, Mom. Josie said she’d help me.”
I was arranging the nativity set on the mantle when “Santa” came up behind me. In the mirror, I could see Josie had done a great job helping Mark with the whole shebang. But then he put his arms around me and said, “Have you been a good girl this year, little Meggie?”
That wasn’t Mark’s voice nor Mark’s arms.
Oh my gosh. “Jamie?”
He shook his finger at me. “Why aren’t you dressed, Mrs. Claus?”
“Yeah, Mom. How come you aren’t dressed?” Mark smirked. He and Josie were clad in elf costumes.
“I don’t understand?”
“Here, Mom.” Josie held out a red and white costume.
Jamie clasped my shoulders. “I thought about what you said. I won’t muck up my apology this time. This was Dad’s.” He waved his hand over the Santa suit. “I thought it was time we made our own family tradition.”
That afternoon, we all rode the fire truck to the Civic Center. Mark and Josie stood on either side of us. I held Santa’s hand as he “Ho-ho-ho’d” and waved to those along the way. Jamie didn’t look the way his dad had in the Santa suit.
He looked even better.
Come back tomorrow to read Margo Hoornstra's story, Santa's Second Chance.
Diane Burton writes science fiction romance and romantic suspense. "The Santa Tradition" is her second short story since high school, *mumble* years ago. Read about Diane’s books at her website: http://www.dianeburton.com/