Thursday, December 23, 2010

Secret Santa

Joey felt his pulse quicken as he read the name on a crinkled piece of paper: Sarah Getty. Of all people, he got Sarah in the Christmas grab bag. Sarah, the most beautiful girl in creation with long red hair that cascaded and bounced in the sun like jewels. But a ready smile that illuminated even the darkest day was her finest feature. He crunched the paper in a sweaty palm and stuffed it in his shirt pocket. How in the heck could he buy her a gift when he couldn't even afford lunch money? And she deserved the most fabulous gift in the world.

After school he took a walk around town, just to look. The streets hummed with busy shoppers, pushing and shoving, rushing, their arms weary from dragging packages. He surveyed them and wondered how they had so much money to buy all that stuff. His fingers pushed around in empty pockets, except for a few coins and $5.00, a part of which was already spoken for to buy groceries for his mom. It was only the middle of December, so he had two weeks to go on his scrawny finances. His mom did her best to give him a few bucks. But being a single mother with four kids was a challenge. He had learned to grow up early, filling in where Dad used to be, helping around the house and taking care of his brother and sisters. Mom worked two jobs, so someone had to keep an eye on the kids, make them meals, help with their homework. Even now, he didn't have long to linger before he needed to get home before the younger ones got in from school.

He walked further, lost in thought, bemoaning his miseries, when to his surprise he walked right into a red kettle Santa, knocking the fellow off his feet and slamming to the pavement.

"HEY! What the heck!" the guy yelled.

Joey, red-faced, extended a hand to help him to his feet. "I'm sorry, Mister. I wasn't looking." He uttered the apology in breathless gasps. Santa was a portly fellow to lift.

Whimsical, button eyes peered back at him and a smile scampered across Santa's face. "No harm done, sonny! We're all busy. Ho, ho, ho!"

Joey chuckled. "You take your job seriously, I see. What with the ho, ho, ho and all."

"It's not a job. It's a calling."

Joey stepped back. "I see," he said, smiling. His eyes wandered to the red kettle where a twenty-dollar bill peeked out from the contents. What a great gift he could buy with that twenty dollars! What was he thinking? Ripping off Santa!

"It's a bad idea," Santa murmured.

Joey looked back in surprise. His mind raced and the urge to steal was quickly replaced by humiliation and confusion, confusion as to how Santa knew what he was thinking. It was all more than he could handle. He turned on his heel and sped away.

On Christmas eve, Joey walked to school like an inmate heading to the chamber, head bowed, dragging his feet which shuffled as though in chains. He had no present for Sarah Getty for the grab bag. There was bound to be an awkward moment coming when no gift would be found with her name on it. Stunned silence would fill the room as everyone looked around in horror. Maybe he could stand up and give her whatever he got. He could step forward like a gallant fellow saying, "Who is the jerk that didn't buy you a gift? Here, take mine!" He would look like a hero and no one would suspect him as the creep who left Sarah empty-handed. Joey grunted. No way he could pull that off! He ached with guilt and a host of other unsettling emotions. His embarrassment would surely betray him.

As Mr. Findley, the teacher, picked up the final present, Joey fought back the urge to go screaming from the room. Sarah Getty sat expectantly, and he knew she thought that last package was hers. But it wouldn't be. He fingered the gloves he had been given by Jean Hardy. They were a nice gift, but he could hardly offer them to Sarah. What would she do with a man-sized pair of gloves? His heart rat-tat-tatted in his chest. If only he could disappear.

The teacher glanced at the gift tag and announced, Sarah Getty.

That girl rushed to the front to receive her gift. Joey watched, his blood freezing in his veins inch by inch as his panic lengthened. Who gave her a gift?

She tore into the tiny present, ripping off wrapping paper, tossing ribbon aside, finally to uncover a jewelry box. She opened the lid and smiled. Lifting a gold necklace for all to see, she read her Secret Santa's name, which prompted her to smile at Joey and toss him a kiss.

"Thank you, Joey! It is exactly what I've been wanting," she said.

Joey grinned like a lovesick sailor. And then the mystery hit him. Where did the gift come from? And why did the card say it was from him? But memories of that kiss took over his mind, and he walked home thinking of nothing else. As he passed the red kettle Santa, that portly fellow chuckled and murmured, "Ho, ho, ho!"

And people don't believe in Santa! Go figure! Ho, ho, ho!

Copyright 2010 JO Janoski

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