© 2012 Jess Mercer

Santa is Real

While he waited for the electric gate to fully open, Jeff looked once again at the house sitting on the low rise, marveling at how advanced the thinking of his father had been when he designed the dwelling. Not the country farmhouse one would expect on a plot of ground comprised of nearly twenty acres, but a large comfortable interpretation of the A-frame, a style later to become popular wherever there was a pleasing view as there was here, a wooded background overlooking a small meadow and broad shallow stream. The angled wings on each side gave the house the shape of a spreading arrow. As their father often said to both Jeff and Jan before his death, "I know your familial love for each other, but you also need personal space and privacy. The wings provide you with just that, along with a common space to be enjoyed together."

'How prescient his father's words had been,' he thought, now realizing how perceptive their father had been, learning while serving as both father and mother to him and his twin sister after the death of their mother. He waited for the garage door to open, grateful that he didn't have to get out on the icy drive, for this mid-December day an early snow lay in an inch layer. The door open, he drove into the second space, seeing his sister's car already occupying the space nearest the entrance to the house. Hopefully, she was cooking dinner, for he felt pangs of hunger.

Four years earlier, they had thrown the university of their choice into chaos. First, because they had demanded degrees covering every aspect of daily living. Weary of the controversy and pressure from the board of governors, the university had given in and created the degree sequence especially for them. Secondly, because they had completed all coursework and beyond for their bachelors degrees by the age of eighteen. Lastly, they demanded the program be expanded to the doctoral level, from which they both had graduated summa cum laude. Their secondary degrees reflecting their skills in music.

So unusual was their level of knowledge that upon graduation they had been offered positions at the university as associate professors. Jeff positioned to teach areas of business as personal finance; the way to write a cheque properly; proper use of credit; how to buy the various types of insurance and types of coverage needed; the complexities of vehicle purchases, both new and used; the purchase of a home; and other practical aspects of life.

Jan taught courses slanted toward the interests of female students without condescending, but catering to the needs of women in professional positions. A number of courses were jointly taught, such as the buying of quality stylish clothing, including men's, without patronizing Brooks Brothers or designer names, virtual gourmet cooking from items likely to be found on any pantry shelf, and quality in home furnishings. Both she and Jeff enjoyed gourmet cooking, but knew how to put a fine meal together quickly when pressed for time.

Many times, students later returned to tell them how their lives had improved after putting into practice what they had learned. Word spread among the students and to accommodate demand, the university was forced into making a Science of Living degree permanent, as well as finding additional personnel to teach shorter less intensive versions of the courses as electives.

Jeff entered the kitchen and hugged his sister. "Smells wonderful, we're not expecting company are we?"

"Just us. After we eat, I have some papers to read and grade so I can enjoy the break. It'll be half an hour or so."

"Good. I'll have time for a quick shower. The a/c in the small lecture hall is acting up again. I hope they replace the damn thing over the holiday. The heating always goes out when the weather is cold and the air conditioning when it's hot. It's probably older than we."

As he was rinsing off, Jeff's shower slowed to a trickle. He finished as well as he could and stepped out of the shower with muttered oaths.

Seconds later he heard Jan scream, "Damn it, Jeff, why didn't you have the well people here last week? I told you that bloody pump was going to fail again. I'm sick of it."

"I should have replaced that damned pump when it started this crap. I will tomorrow if I can find someone who'll work on a Saturday. I almost didn't get enough water to finish my shower."

"Serves you right," she snapped.

Jeff checked the circuit box, but the breakers were all in full position. Now he'd have to go out to the pump house behind the garage. He slipped out of his robe into a set of sweats. He swore again as he stepped into a pile of snow, some of which found it's way over the top of his slippers chilling his feet. Jan's voice followed him, yelling impatiently for him to get the pump started.

In the utility room he reset the circuit breaker, hearing water begin to splash into the large tank, watching until the pressure gauge begin its climb. He was about to switch off the light and return to the house when a slight motion attracted his attention. He looked behind the large housing of the propane driven emergency generator to see a young boy cringing as far back into the corner of the room as possible.

Jeff stretched out his hand. "Come out, son, I'm not going to hurt you. Let's go in the house and get you cleaned up and warm, then we'll have dinner with my sister." Jeff gently pulled the trembling child to his feet.

The moment they crossed the kitchen threshold, Jan took a startled look at the boy and let out a little cry as her maternal instincts took over. She hugged the child feeling him relax a little.

"Darling, let Jeff show you where to wash your face and hands, then we'll have something to eat."

Taking the boy by the hand, Jeff led him into the bathroom off the back hall, but when the boy simply stood staring at him, Jeff soaped a warm wash cloth and gently washed the child's face, arms, and hands. He marveled at the transformed beauty for a moment, realizing the boy was older than he first thought. Taking him by the hand when he still stood comatose, Jeff led him back to the round table at the window looking out over the snow covered side yard and had him sit at a place between him and Jan.

The boy, with wary glances at both of them, ate heartily. Jeff finally asked, "Can't you speak, son?" His answer was a nod. "Won't you tell us your name? We've told you that I'm Jeff and she is my twin sister Jan."

Eyeing Jeff warily, he whispered, "Michael. Please don't hit me, sir."

"Why would I hit you, son? You don't have to whisper either."

"My daddy always hits me if I make any noise or say anything; my mother, too."

"But why?" Jan asked.

"They say it disturbs their concentration. They work at home a lot so they don't want me around."

"Two nights ago I broke a dish when I was washing them. He hit me, then threw me out in the back yard and told me not to come back." He put his face down, his shoulders shaking with sobs.

"I'm sorry, Michael. Jeff and I make a lot of noise sometimes." Jan moved over to hug him. "How old are you, dear?"

"Almost nine, ma'am."

Michael, comforted at last, accepted small second helpings when Jan offered. Jan opened the freezer and took out three ice cream sandwiches. "This is what you get for dessert for letting the water run out," she said with a grin as she handed one to Jeff. "And you get one for being such a nice young man," she told Michael.

"What is it?"

"An ice cream sandwich, dear. Haven't you ever had one before?"

He shook his head, watching as Jan tore the wrapping off, taking it when she extended it.

A smile crossed his face as he savored the first tentative bite. "Good," he said softly, then took a bigger bite.

"I'm glad you like it, you may have another tomorrow, if you like," Jeff told him. "What is your family name?"

"Whitman." Michael yawned widely, then cringed. "Please don't hit me. I'm sorry."

"Why would I want to hit you?" Jan asked.

"It's impolite to yawn like that, but I'm sleepy."

"Then let's find you a warm bed. Where would you like to sleep? There's a room next to Jeff's, or a room next to mine. I know all this is strange to you, so pick whichever room will be most comfortable for you."

The boy looked at each of them, then nodded towards Jeff. "I think the room next to his, if that's all right."

"That's fine. I'll get a towel and other things you need for a shower, then I'll tuck you in, if you wish," Jeff said kindly. "Be sure to wash the chocolate off your face."

Michael followed Jeff down the hall, stopping as he opened the door to a large bedroom. "This will be your room. The bath is through that door; let me show you where things are."

Once he was assured the boy could manage on his own, Jeff left him to undress and bathe. "Call me when you're done," he said before partially closing the bedroom door.

"Can you believe parents can be so uncaring about such a beautiful child?" Jan asked Jeff when he returned to the kitchen where she was starting the dishwasher.

He shook his head sorrowfully. "This day and time I can believe almost anything. I hope we can give him good food and a warm place to sleep, at least for a few days before he's missed."

"From what he's said, I doubt his parents will even notice he's gone. In fact, I hope they never notice." She stared at her brother with a serious expression. "I know neither of us has even thought of marriage because of our low sex drive, but I would love to have a child to raise as much as you. There's just something about Michael that makes me want to keep him."

Jeff pulled his sister into a hug. "Yes! If I had a choice of a hundred, Michael is the one I'd choose."

"But how, since he has parents?"

"From a few things he said, I think they're at the University. Let me check my copy of the directory." He walked into his study, returning with a smile. "I was right. They're both professors of theoretical mathematics; that says to me that they're somewhere in outer space most of the time. Pure luck, but one of our former students is assistant head of campus social services. I believe he can get some information on Michael for us without getting us involved with the county people. Let me check with him first, then ..." He would have continued but Michael was calling.

Jeff turned back the covers for Michael to slip into bed, tucked the covers around the boy, and impulsively kissed him on the forehead. "Sleep well, son. I'll leave the nightlight on in your bathroom in case you have to get up. Call me if you need anything." He was surprised to see a tear trickle down the boy's cheek. "Is anything wrong?" He asked anxiously.

Michael shook his head. "Nobody ever kissed me goodnight before. I like it. Thank you."

Now it was Jeff who shed a tear.

"Well, lazy, you did get up," Jan chided the next morning as Jeff shambled over to the coffee maker and poured a mug, taking the first sip and sighing. "Aaaaah, good."

"Now that you're awake, what are we going to do about our guest?"

"Make him feel wanted and loved. If ever a child needed affection, this one does. So long as there's no report of a missing child in the news we'll make him a home until school reopens and we can check his parents out."

Jan smiled. "I'd love to keep him, but I know we can't, nor do we want to get into trouble. If your guy doesn't work out, one of my former students works in social services, but not with the childrens division. I'll give her a call and see what she can find out. I'm certain she'll be discreet."

"Hi, Michael, did you sleep well?" Jeff asked, as the boy hesitantly entered the kitchen.

"Yes, sir. I like it here."

"Would you like waffles for breakfast?"

"Oh, yes, ma'am. I've only had them once."

"Be sure to eat a lot, because we have a job after breakfast," Jeff said.

"What, sir?"

"I know Jan wants to go to the mall and she'd like to have you with her. Then after lunch I want you to help me and Jan pick out a Christmas tree and decorate it."

"A real tree?"

Jeff nodded. "A big one."

"We never had one, less I put up a little fake one I found. Thank you, sir."

Michael looked presentable in his now clean clothes and appeared content to go with Jan. Jeff busied himself calling a former student who had established a swiftly growing plumbing firm. To Jeff's amazement, the man promised he would be there to install a new pump within an hour.

By the time Jan and Michael returned burdened with bulging shopping bags, Jeff had finished making his calls and had enjoyed a hot shower, the higher pressure making the spray sting slightly just the way he liked.

Jan whispered a few suggestions in his ear and they rejoined Michael. "Shall we go have some lunch then find a tree?" Jeff asked the boy.

"Oh, yes, sir," he answered with a thrilled expression.

Replete after a hearty lunch of cheese/broccoli soup and a BLT, they drove to a tree farm not far from the house.

"Go pick out the tree you like," Jeff urged as Michael stared open mouthed at the vast field of Fraser firs.

"But, but there's so many."

Jan smiled. "I think I'd like a tall one. What about you, Jeff?"

"Right. It's got to be special for our boy's first real Christmas. Let's look over here, Michael; these are the taller trees. We want a nice full one."

After some minutes of letting the boy simply walk down the rows of trees to enjoy the experience, Jan pointed him towards a tree she and Jeff thought perfect. "But it's kind of flat on one side." Michael protested.

Jeff pretended to look. "A little, but if we put that side up to the window, the beautiful parts will be where we can see them and it won't take up as much room, right?"

"I guess. It's really nice besides that." He looked up at Jeff. "Maybe you can get it cheaper because it's flat."

Jeff looked at Jan, the both of them imagining Michael's parents haggling over prices of anything they bought.

"Where's our tree?" Michael asked, disappointed when they returned to Jeff's Volvo with no tree.

"Jerry will cut it and bring it to our house in a little while. He always does this with big trees like we bought. While we're waiting, you can help Jeff and me bring all the lights and decorations up from the storage room, okay?"

His smile returned. "Oh, yes, Miss Jan."

With the three of them bringing up boxes of lights and ornaments, the job was completed just as Jerry and a helper arrived with the ten foot tree. They soon had it in the stand filled with water. Michael stood by jiggling on his toes, impatient to begin helping Jeff straighten the strings of lights preparatory to hanging them on the branches. Over three hundred C-5 bulbs of clear colours began to stand on top of the branches, Jeff, being a perfectionist, hiding the green wiring as much as possible.

Michael was ecstatic, barely enduring the break Jan called for with mugs of hot chocolate and Moravian ginger cookies. He was almost overwhelmed as the last old world ornament was hung and Jeff steadied the ladder, while Jan handed him a treasured item from their parents' past: an old angel with a light blue cloth dress, hand painted porcelain face and hands to place on the top.

To their surprise, Michael fell down on the sofa, tears flowing, when Jan switched on the lights. "What's the matter, darling? Don't you like it? I think it's beautiful."

"It's so pretty, Miss Jan. I've never seen one beautiful as this, and I helped fix it, too."

"Indeed you did, and that makes it even more beautiful to Jeff and me. You enjoy looking at it while Jeff and I fix us some supper."

"Do you believe in Santa Claus, Mr. Jeff?" Michael asked.

"Of course I do." Jeff sat down beside the boy. "You see, many years ago there was a real man by the name of Nicholas. He had a lot of money, but secretly gave it to people in need. There's a lot more to the story, but after he died the church made him a saint. The Dutch call him SinterKlaas, that's why we call him Santa or Saint Nicholas."

"I don't guess he'll ever come to see me, then." Michael said forlornly.

"He comes to most everyone who believes in him," Jeff replied, hugging the boy. "Why would you say that?"

"My mother and father said it was all a fairy story so stores could make more money. They didn't believe he ever existed, so he never came to our house."

"I think he'll find you if you can stay with us."

"I hope so. I wish you were my parents."

"Dinner," Jan called.

While they were eating, Michael said softly, "I wish I could stay here forever. Nobody misses me."

"Surely ..." Jan started.

Michael shook his head. "My parents didn't ever want me. Father said I was an accident, always in his way. When I got home from school, I mostly went to Miss Trudy's house. She always had something good for me to eat and drink. When she found out I loved music, she taught me to play the piano. She only had one pupil besides me, because she had arthritis and it hurt her hands to play. Three years ago she started me on the organ; I really loved that. I wish I could keep on with my lessons, but father found out and told me he'd break my fingers if I kept on wasting my time with music. I hate math, so he and mother hate me." He wiped a tear. "Do you play, Miss Jan?"

Both Jan and Jeff were accomplished musicians, often asked to play concerts, but to them music was a pleasant relaxation after a hard day at school. "Yes. Both Jeff and I play. Didn't you see my piano?"

Michael nodded. "But I didn't think you'd left me play it."

Jan and Jeff started at each other unbelievingly. "After dinner, Jeff and I want you to play something for us, if you would."

Once the dishes were in the washer, Jan and Jeff led Michael back into the great room, stopping by the piano. Michael stared at the maker's plate and gasped, "It's a Bosendorfer!"

Astonished at his delighted recognition of the superior instrument, Jan asked, "How do you know the name?"

"Miss Trudy had a Steinway baby grand, but she told me she hoped that she'd get to play a Bosendorfer before she died. She said they were the finest pianos made."

"Sit down and play for us," Jeff said.

The twins were astounded at the skill with which the boy played Chopin's Black Key Etude, then segued into Mussorgsky's The Great Gates of Kiev, utilizing the additional bass notes provided on the instrument.

"Bravo!" Jeff called. "You said she also taught you organ?"

The boy nodded as Jeff pointed out the large four manual custom built Johannus across the room from the piano. With an expression of joy he climbed on the bench, lowered it enough for his feet to reach the pedals, and selected registrations for each of the manuals and pedal. A mischievous grin spread across his face as he began Joplin's Entertainer, changing manuals making each repetition louder, ending with a flourish, his left foot adding a window shaking bass note. He then began a fantasy on Christmas Carols, using most of the instrument's resources.

Jan and Jeff looked at each other in recognition of a musical prodigy. 'Why?' Jan mouthed at Jeff. He could only shrug in answer. How could anyone not want such a charming talented child.

Jeff was surprised when his cell phone rang. Other than Jan, the dean at the university, his lawyer, and the number in the phone Michael would find in his Christmas stocking, no one else had the number. "Yes?" He answered.

A few moments later he called for Jan to get her coat and join him in the Volvo. Telling Michael they would be back home soon, Jeff made a return call to their lawyer and drove on to Michael's home, the lawyer parking his car behind them.

"Who the hell are you and what do you want?" Doctor Whitman yelled.

"I'm Doctor Johansen and this gentleman is my attorney. We wish to speak to you for a few moments regarding your son Michael."

"I have no son. He's run off and it's a relief not having him around to bother us when we're working."

"In that case, are you and Mrs. Whitman willing to sign custody of Michael over to Doctor Johansen and his sister who is also Doctor Johansen?"

"My wife is Doctor Whitman also and you will address her as such," Whitman snapped.

'Ego ridden self-aggrandizing bastard,' Jan thought acidly. 'No wonder Michael feels unwanted.'

"Very well," Jeff snapped back. "Sign these documents which my attorney will notarize and you'll not be bothered by either my sister or me, nor by Michael ever again."

A thin woman as unkempt as her husband appeared by his side. "I heard them. Let'm in and sign those papers." She reached for the forms and quickly scribbled her name on all five pages, shoving them at her husband to do the same. "Now leave and don't come back," she said, opening the door.

"Gladly. Have the holiday you deserve!" Jan couldn't resist retorting as the door closed in their faces.

Early Christmas morning, Jeff and Jan had just poured their first cups of coffee when shrieks of delight came from the great room. "He came! He came! Just like Jeff said," Michael stood looking at the gifts beneath the tree trying to decide which to open first.

When his presents surrounded him and torn wrappings littered the floor, Jeff handed Michael the stocking hanging from the mantel. Michael held it upside down, chortling in glee as candy, a wrist watch, and the cell phone landed in a pile. "Ooooh, a real watch." He held out the phone, looking at Jeff, "Can I really call you on this phone?"

"Yes, son. Any time you need to talk to me." He pushed a button. "See, both my number and Jan's are right here. I'll show you later. Did Santa bring you everything you wanted?"

Michael looked at them solemnly. "I just wish Miss Trudy could be here with us. She doesn't have any family."

"Then get your coat and we'll all go get her." Jan said to Michael's back as he hurried to his room. For unbeknown to him, she had several days before invited Miss Trudy to have Christmas dinner with them. She had also purchased a gift for the elderly lady, marking it as from Michael.

Miss Trudy was tearful with joy as she joined them. "Michael, how wonderful to see you," she said, hugging him. "This really makes my Christmas."

A short time later she was exclaiming over the beauty of the house, but she was all but overcome when Michael led her over to the Bosendorfer. "Will you play something with me, Miss Trudy? I've missed playing with you."

"Oh, yes, darling." She rummaged in her purse, put on her glasses, and looked at the book of carol arrangements. "Let's do the Fantasy. I remember how you liked it."

"Yes, please."

She looked a little surprised when he didn't sit down beside her, until she realized he had seated himself at the organ console and nodded at her to start.

Jan and Jeff sat by the fire, enjoying the music filling the room with the happiness of two people exuding love.

"Oh, my," Miss Trudy said, "my dreams have come true. What a magnificent instrument this is. I never dreamed I'd get to play one, especially with the finest student I ever had playing a wonderful organ with me. Thank you for enduring my playing when I know both of you are far superior to my poor efforts."

"Not at all," Jeff replied. "You play beautifully, Miss Trudy, and it's a pleasure for us to just sit and listen for a change. Yes, you are correct, Michael is a prodigy, a joy to teach. Jan and I love him so much. Now, after that wonderful prelude to dinner. Shall we go in."

Though stuffed from the Christmas feast, Michael and Miss Trudy managed to play several more pieces. Finally, Jan realized the elderly lady was tiring when Miss Trudy stood and said, "I shall always remember this Christmas as the most wonderful I've ever had, the company, the delicious dinner, and the music. The joy playing your magnificent piano gave me, especially when," she hugged Michael, "my special student and dear friend joined me. Thank you all so much, but now I must be going."

The new family, with Michael seated between them on the sofa, watched two Christmas specials of Michael's choice on TV before his yawns brought mention of bed. Once he was tucked in, Jan and Jeff kissed him on the forehead, then handed him a last Christmas stocking. Michael reached inside and pulled out several sheets of paper. "What's this?" He asked.

"What did you want most for Christmas?" Jan asked.

"To live here with you and Jeff forever. Why?"

"That's what those documents say, Michael. You're our son now and this is your home forever. Merry Christmas, Michael. Jan and I love you."

Michael hugged Jan and Jeff together. "Now I've got a momma and a papa just like I wanted. Santa Claus is real, just like you said, Papa Jeff."



Christmas 2012


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