Ordinarily Sam actually hated the cold, wet December weather that persisted outside. However, on this day, he was much more tolerant as he stood up, ready to move out the door. It was the weekend before Christmas, and if there ever was a time he liked best in winter, it certainly had to be this. It wasn’t that he would get any presents, and he knew that; he was just too old, far too old. Instead he believed it was the merriness of the season, perhaps the one time of year that, at his age, he could still make a difference in a child’s life, even if only in a small way.
At 10:30 he jumped into his beaten, rusty old pick-up truck after checking his cargo in the rear. After assuring the trees were fixed properly, he started down the muddy road from his house on the mountains leading into Oakdale. Within a half hour, he arrived at the town square and was adding the load to the other trees already in his stall. The stall was one he rented every year and setup at the Christmas Fair, an event where people from all over gathered for crafts, baked goods and other items associated with the holiday season. His stall contained a variety of cedar and pine trees he sold which, unlike the perception maybe afforded by his run down truck or appearance, were very nice and well cared for, primed for use as Christmas trees.
“Hi Millie!” he called to the lady in the next stall. “Make sure you have set aside the quince jelly for me! You are the only one to sell my favourite jelly, and that’s one of the luxuries I afford for Christmas!”
She beamed at him as she replied, “I have put aside three jars for you Sam, but you’ll only get them in exchange for that small Nordman fir you brought in here yesterday.”
Sam laughed. “Ok, you got a deal! Three cans of quince jelly against the fir!”
Every year both Millie and Sam seemed to secure their stalls next to each other at the fair, where the alleyway between the church and schoolyard ran directly into the square. In contrast to Millie however, who sold her various homemade jellies, cookies and cakes throughout the year to mend her pension, Sam only sold Christmas trees the weekend before Christmas itself. He did it mostly for fun to make some extra-money for the holidays. Not for himself, but instead for the presents he wanted to give to children of families who had limited means. With the extra-cash he earned, he bought toys - not just any toys, but toys that these children really wanted.
As he thought about it, it brought a smile to his face. He wasn’t the all-knowing Santa Claus, and he knew even his own means were limited at best, but he drew immense satisfaction and pride at being able to find a way to help grant even the smallest of wishes for children of those less fortunate. He knew the kindergarten teacher at the local school, and she often helped him keep abreast of those families in need, and with the specific wishes each child had. She often had the children writing letters to Santa Claus in class, and upon learning what they wanted for Christmas, she sought out and gave Sam a list with names, addresses and toys they wanted. The fair, and his booth, helped him each year get closer to that goal. He had already figured out that he was going to need about 600 dollars to fulfil the wishes of all 11 kids this year.
By noon he had already sold three of the bigger trees and two smaller ones, earning him a respectful 150 bucks. As he paused at one point, he looked around, feeling himself getting hungry. As an experienced saleswoman, Millie had placed a plate with cookies and small slices of her Christmas-stollen for sampling on the vending board. This combined with the fruity smell of the homemade mulled wine attracted many of her customers, especially young couples who might be out enjoying a stroll through the festivities of the fair.
Sam sauntered out of his booth, mixing with the elated crowd at Millie’s stall. Holding a cup of hot mulled vine in his left hand, he wanted to pick up a particular inviting cookie, but just as he was about to reach for it somebody beat him. Looking up, he caught sight of a young man, probably in his late teens, perhaps 18 or 19 years old. “Excuse me young man, but…” Sam began, but couldn’t finish his sentence because the teen withdrew into the crowd, mumbling something like “Sorry, pardon me...” in his wake.
“Glad you turned up, Sam.” Millie remarked from behind him, a look of relief crossing her expression, “That boy nearly emptied the whole dish! I wanted to drive him away, but to be honest he looked sort of famished and kind of sad. I couldn’t do it, I just thought he looked like he might be in trouble!”
Sam smiled. “What, you got that mum-sy feeling? I would have thought you have more than one grandchild to care about!” He stared at the retreating figure across the courtyard. “Still, you may be right - the boy did look distressed...” As he started walking back to his stall, be stopped and turned back, asking, “Do you know him Millie? He seemed vaguely familiar, like maybe I might have seen him before, hmm?” Millie shook her head, so he returned to his booth.
A little while later, while Sam was discussing with his customers the advantages and disadvantages of the different trees and how to care for them properly, he noticed the teen again several times. He seemed to be cautiously cruising through the market aimlessly, having a look at this or that while making a stop here and there, especially at stalls where free samples of baked goods or other foods were offered. However, to the reluctance of Sam, the teen never returned back to Millie’s stall.
It was early morning when the bus rolled into town, depositing Terry at the bus stop in the cold morning air. The sun had just begun peeking out from an overcast sky, promising to thaw the relentless chill in the air. He had been drowsy, sleeping lightly the last long stretch of the ride, but the brisk breeze immediately awoke him, snapping him to alert. “Finally!” he muttered to himself, greatly relieved. ‘Everything would work out right with the help of Auntie’ he thought to himself. Glancing along the almost barren streets surrounding the town square, he started walking.
Although it was early, he noted that several people passing by seemed to be in an uplifting spirit, and the town square was not one normally found in times past. It was dotted across the lawns and the edge of the streets with booths and lights. As he began walking, his only bag a backpack now weighting down his back, he came across a sign that hinted to what event was going on that day: “Today! Christmas Fair and Bazaar! 9:00-5:00pm!” He smiled, thinking it was quite nice for a change, given the onset of the holiday only days away. He couldn’t be idle though, as he shivered again. He had places to go, or rather, ‘a place’. He only hoped he could remember, or at least find his way to return to a memory once almost long and forgotten.
He stopped and looked closely, recognizing he believed the features in one direction, and as he took to the street, he began to get excited. ‘Aunty’ had lived near the town square when he had been but a boy of 8, spending several holidays with her. He began recognizing buildings as he hurried past and, within moments, actually started to run when the house he remembered from his childhood came into view.
He started across the lawn, but pulled up short as the front door opened, and a man and woman, both middle-aged, exited the house and were making their way to an old automobile sitting in the driveway. So surprised at not only their appearance, but at a seeming hope falling away, he stopped and could only stare. The man, glancing across the yard, hesitated before calling out, “Good morning, can I help you young man?”
Terry, startled out of his reverie, shyly looked at the ground. “Uh, I – I mean, I’m sorry... I was looking for Auntie, she used to live here when I was younger... I mean...” He couldn’t continue, looking at first the man, and then woman who had by now turned her attention to him as well. His face betrayed his anxiety, and it appeared she took pity on him as he waited.
Both the man and the woman looked at each other, before the woman shrugged her shoulders. “I’m sorry young man, but I don’t think we know anyone by that name.”
The man agreed. “We bought the house from the Stellar sisters last year, and I’m pretty sure neither of them had that name.” Seeing the crestfallen look that was rapidly becoming apparent, he added hastily, “But that doesn’t mean they might not know who you’re talking about. You could go ask them if you want.”
“Wh-where could I find them?”
The woman hesitated, studying for a moment, before finally shaking her head. “I’m afraid I don’t know young man, not really. We never did hear from them again, did we Ed?” Her companion simply shook his head and stood by the car in silence.
Terry’s face fell in dismay, and as he watched the other two, his eyes moistened. With an unsteady voice, he tried to smile as he started backing away. “I’m s-sorry I bothered you folks, b-but thanks.”
The man returned the smile. “No bother son, I hope you find your Aunty.” With that both, the man and the woman got in the car and began starting it up, driving away as he returned to the sidewalk.
Terry walked back toward the town square, crushed, a feeling of dread and hopelessness slowly overtaking him. He found a park bench nearby, which he sat down in heavily, doing his best not to break down into the tears that wanted to fall so desperately. His one hope had been to find Auntie, a woman he remembered as being kind and who had always listened to him, had always made him feel important, so much unlike anyone else in his life anymore.
He sat there for some time, his thoughts lost in the disparity he felt. He had little money left, as it had taken most everything he had to get the bus ticket and make it this far. He ignored the chill that creeped inward to his bones, feeling helpless. He did not know who he was going to be able to turn to now, who could help him if anyone.
He finally sighed, as if waking from a dream, noticing for the first time that people had begun to collect in the courtyard and around the square. Not having a watch, he wondered what time it was getting, when suddenly he heard the courthouse bells begin to chime. Looking up, he saw the clock hands displaying 8:00. The air was still considerably chilly, but the sun had now risen and was beginning to take the sting out of the frost of the area. His stomach rumbled, and it only served to make him think, once again, of his plight and how little he had on him now.
Glancing southward, he saw that the building he had been dropped off by the bus was actually the terminal, and with a heavy heart he picked himself up and walked over. When he approached, he saw the building was closed, and a sign over the door actually showed it would not be open until later in the day. On a nearby bulletin board, he looked at what appeared to be a bill that listed the different bus routes available, most of them connecting to the city. With horror, he also noticed it would be two days before the next one would come through. Two days! How was he going to survive that long? He sighed, this time almost in tears. How could he have hoped so much, to gain so little?
Looking back across the town square, he sighed, and then stood tall as he started ambling up the street once again. His problems aside, he knew he could not just stand about, he would have to try and work something out, some way to make it, and then he could only hope he had enough money by then to make it back to the city...
In the late afternoon hours, as dusk was falling in the distant horizon, Sam closed his stall, content with his selling. He hurried across the square to the post-office, a building used also as the bus terminal. He just arrived some minutes before closing time. As he was waiting last in line at the counter, he noticed the same boy he had spied earlier that day sitting on a nearby bench, warming his back on a radiator. Curiosity grabbed him, but preferring to finish his transaction first, he returned his attention to the line and, eventually, the postman behind the counter.
As Sam was finishing and ready to leave, the postman began closing the shop, and he noticed the boy had also disappeared. Once again, he thought on the silent figure, but let it go as he exited the building. While on the way to his truck, he noticed the first snow flakes of this winter, which brought a smile to his face. Happily looking around at the white flakes, his eye fell on a small figure squatting on the bench of the covered terminal boot nearby. Was it the boy? Being curios he walked over and sure enough, found him to be one and the same. “Is this you who snatched away the cookie under my nose?” he asked, his voice rough, but nevertheless he smiled as he awaited the other’s response. When the boy just stared in return and didn’t answer, he looked about at the falling snow once again, before changing the subject, trying a different track. “Do you plan to spend the night in the booth? You may freeze to death, it’s not the time to spend a night outside. You should look for a hotel!” The boy turned his head away, as if to hide in shame. In all appearances to Sam, it seemed as if he was a snail shrinking back in his shell. He spoke again, this time with a softer tone. “I am neither from the police nor am I a man eater. Come on, talk to me, tell me what is the matter. You really can’t stay outside on a night like this!”
Finally the boy answered, his voice small and meek, unsure of himself, but knowing he was going to have to give some sort of answer lest he create more trouble than he wanted to bring to himself at the moment. “I-I’m sorry mister, I h-have to.” Pausing, he let out a big sigh before adding, “I-I have no where to go...”
At the next crossing Sam stopped, the traffic light shinning like a red beacon overhead. Sam looked over to the boy in the passenger seat and studied him. He was holding his backpack tightly to his breast like an airbag, shivering it seemed, although the truck had by now started to warm considerably since they had gotten it started and pulled away from the town square. Although it had taken some considerable persuasion, Sam had finally convinced the boy to climb into his truck. Several had doubts and suspicions had risen since they started the journey home, all of which made him hesitant about how to proceed. Was the boy a criminal on the run from the police, was he mentally ill, was he dangerous? Physically, he was half a head bigger than he himself, and certainly the agility of youth was on his side, comparable to Sam at his age. Aside from these thoughts, one look calmed his mind considerably, given the fact the sight of the frightened boy didn’t leave any room for doubts.
“My name is S A M, like Strong And Mean, not Soft And Mushy,” he tried to joke, chuckling before he continued. “No, actually it’s Samuel Arthur MacLean.” He looked across again, trying to draw the boy out, calming him at least to some degree. “And what might yours be?”
Just then the traffic light went green, and as he started pulling though, Sam heard his young charge reply quietly, something that sounded like “Terry”.
“Well, I’m glad to meet you Terry,” Same replied. They sat in silence for the rest of the trip, watching ahead at the snow that had now began falling steadily. The headlights revealed that it was beginning to stick in the grasses to the side of the road, and Sam surmised that it would not take long before a white blanket enveloped the area.
When they arrived at the cabin, they found the house overheated. Leaving their overcoats in the lobby, Sam turned to the young man. “Make yourself comfortable young man, I’ll go and prepare us a bite of dinner. I would presume you must be hungry, hmm?” When the other nodded, he smiled to himself and started bustling about in the kitchen. After awhile his mute guest joined him, and without asking he began to help by drying dishes that were in the sink and setting the table for the both of them.
Sam was a poor cook, but the sausages and fried potatoes he served were ravenous as he watched his guest demolish them without a trace. Looking pleased, he tried again to draw the boy out, making him feel more relaxed, “So, your name is Terry! Have you been in town before? You look familiar, but I can’t quite place where I have seen you before.”
“Yea!” came a hesitant reply, before continuing. “I used to spend the holidays around here about ten years ago, all my holidays, actually. I spent it with...” He paused, lingering some moments before lowering his eyes with embarrassment. “I used to spend my holyday with Auntie!”
“Miss Stellar? Amy Stellar? I believe she had a nephew or someone who always called her ‘Auntie’. Aha, then I do know where I have seen you! I played Santa Claus there then, too! You must be the blond kid, right!”
Terry nodded, looking back up, beginning to recall a scene many Christmas’s before where he did indeed meet a man who had played Santa, visiting and bouncing him on his lap. He began to feel more at ease now as he thought he could remember some resemblance between them. “I came to visit her, but…b-but she was gone.” The realization once again gripped him, and for the first time since he had met Sam just hours before, the plight of his situation came back to haunt him. Feeling the despair once again, he turned his head in shame, tears freely falling from his eyes as he began to cry.
Confused, wanting to help but unsure of what or how he should proceed, Sam decided he should leave the boy alone so that he could recompose himself. Sam retired to the living-room, mulling over his thoughts now that he had garnered a little more information. That the young man was in trouble, he had no doubt, but whatever was troubling him was from deep inside. He had never been an expert in comforting another, as he himself didn’t like to be comforted. He figured however he would need to have a little patience, and eventually maybe he would be able to provide a little rudimentary help in some way. Giving the young man a place to stay for the evening would at least provide him some means of safe shelter, long enough to get his thoughts together. While mulling these thoughts over, the kitchen door opened and Terry entered, sitting with him on the other end of the sofa. “I-I’m sorry, I hope you aren’t mad at me, Sam? I mean, I know I behaved like a little boy, but I couldn’t help!”
Sam smiled back at him, encouragingly. “It’s ok! Did you like Auntie very much? Do you miss her? She sure was a lovable lady as I recall.”
The answer surprised Sam, “Yes, I loved her a lot. But that wasn’t the reason I broke down in there. I mean, I sort of betrayed her! Believe me, that’s why I was crying, I was….” Terry trailed off and pausing. When he continued, his voice was nearly a whisper, “I was crying because I wallowed in self-pity.” After a long time he added, “You must despise me, I ----I better leave now!”
Sam was so taken aback by this confession that he sat in shock and missed Terry’s sudden departure. Only when the front-door slammed shut did he realize the boy’s flight. Jumping up and running after him barefoot, he reached the porch and flew down the driveway, catching the young man at the end. Gasping for breath, for the flight had taken a considerable toll on his elder age, he took Terry by the scruff of the neck. Between sharp breaths, he stuttered: “I told you, my name is Strong And Mean! Now come back inside with me, this ain’t going to be a fit night for anyone out in the cold!” Seeing the young man shirk and cower in fear before him, his voice softened. “You can stay here, with me. No, I don’t hate you, and I don’t despise you, but you have understand, I was overwhelmed by your self-awareness back there.” As gentle as he could, yet firmly, he guided the young man back up the driveway, urging him along so as to get his feet back inside to the warmer floor!
Feeling frozen, having wandered aimlessly about for the whole day at the Christmas fair, Terry shivered at the chill in his bones. He knew he had to find some heat somewhere, as the weather was changing, clouds rolling in from the west. The cold December night would not be kind to him while he awaited the departure of the next bus, still two mornings away. He had entered the station, finding a bench in the far corner where he could sit with his back pressing against a warm radiator, and as he sat there drawing strength, he noticed the line of people on the far side of the room. It was not until that moment he realized the station also served as a post office. He had already noticed, reluctantly from the sign on the door, that it did not remain open overnight, so as such he tried to store as much heat in his body as possible.
He saw the elder man walk in at the last moment, and recognized him he thought from one of the booths earlier that day. He didn’t think much of it until the short once-over he received made him feel uneasy. The man looked weird, white-haired and spry, but also with something he could not put a finger on. As the closing hour drew near, he decided he didn’t want to be there when the man finished, and as such Terry left and settled down in the covered booth of the bus terminal outside, closing his eyes. Shrinking back into a corner and pressing the backpack against his breast, he attempted to save as much of the heat he had soaked up as possible.
It wasn’t until he felt the light from the street lamp blocked off, that caused him to look up. There he was, the queer looking man from the post office scrutinizing him. An inquisitive voice asked something, which Terry didn’t quite grasp at first. Terry shut his ears and eyes and tried to melt into the shadow, in the corner of the booth, hoping that by ignoring the other he would be left alone. But the man kept on asking, and when the word “police” sank in, Terry’s brain was alarmed and suddenly he was wide awake. But the weird man’s voice was calming, even mesmerizing, and he finally was able to hear and understand probably the first comprehensible sentence that had been uttered thus far. “You really can’t stay outside in a night like this! Come on, you can stay in my house.” At the moment, he felt that possibly staying anywhere would be better than bearing the hours to come with the snow that was now lightly falling. He shakily nodded his head, still uncertain, but chiding himself with the fact that he here he was, 18-years old and still scared, acting as a 10-year old would. He slowly rose to his feet…
In the old pick-up Terry began to feel uneasy again. His uneasiness lessened as he heard the old man try to joke, but it returned again when the car left the well lit main avenue and began to rumble along a dark lane up into the mountains.
The ride ended in front of a small house. “This is my house here. Go on, the door is open,” he heard the other. Standing in the small hall, Terry had to wait some time until the man arrived. “Oh, I’m sorry, go ahead and take off your coat. Make yourself comfortable young man, I’ll go and prepare us a bite of dinner. ”The appetizing smell of the fried potato enticed Terry to walk into the kitchen. Seeing plates and silverware piled in the sink he took a towel and began to dry them off. Sam smiled approvingly. “The dishwasher has been broken for long time now, but as a single man I don’t really need one anyway. Just set the table there, yes, that would be good! Thank you!”
When the table chat turned to Auntie, Terry broke down crying silently in anguish. The past weeks and even days had come back to haunt him, and he had been so sure that, finding Auntie, she would help him pull his life back together again. He didn’t even become aware of the comforting slap on the back Sam gave him as he left the room, and it wasn’t until a little while later he realized he was alone Getting up, unsure of himself, but better composed, he went into the living room to find the older man, and had attempted to explain. His emotions though were confusing, and he felt great shame at once again having fallen apart. For that reason alone, he grabbed his backpack and ran from the house.
He began stumbling down the driveway, his sight partially blinded by the tears he was fighting to bring under control. The snow had started falling thicker now, and a breeze had started to pick up. Stumbling through the dark, he was surprised when he suddenly felt someone taking him by the neck of his coat. “Come back into the house, boy. You will not find your way to town in the dark, especially on a night like this!” The few words that came from the older man made him stop and realize he was in a useless situation, and thus sullenly, he returned to the cabin. Directing Terry back, Sam made a point chuckling, “This time I had to catch you barefoot, and that is not easy for a man such as me! If you run away while I am in bed, I warn you, you can just get lost, I will not run after you bare-assed!” He laughed, and his jovial mood made the younger lad begin to feel more at ease. Once inside, Sam shut the door tightly before turning his attention once again. When he spoke, it was not unkindly, but there was a firmness in his voice, one that suggested it might be better to listen and accept what I, at least for the time being. “Now go and get a shower, through that door –“ he indicated with a wave of his arm, “-and then get some sleep. You can sleep here in the living room, because I haven’t opened the second bedroom for more than twenty years. Besides, you will stay warmer here.”
Later that night the barking of dogs outside startled Terry out of a dream, causing him to moan out loud. It had been a dream of Dave, his Davy, the reason of his being in the mess he was currently in, the reason for his misery. It seemed his whole life, from the time since they met in the kindergarten until the present passed by like a movie of sorts. He recalled while in preschool Davy introduced him to Doktorspiele, a sort of doctor and nurses games, in the cool shade of hidden bushes. Their first sexual knowledge was acquired while together as cubs. In summer camps, circle wanks was their favorite evening fun. As time passed, Terry got addicted to Davy in a much larger extent than the other way around, and it had begun to strain parts of their relationship as friends. At fifteen, Dave’s interests turned to girls, and although Terry had tried, he could never get a kick out of the petting and kissing they did after dark. Soon they dated what many believed were the best looking girls in school, twin sisters with very strict parents. At every date, Dave tried to make out with his gal, but he never succeeded and in frustration he would make out with Terry afterwards. It was because of this that Terry was sort of blindsided for a time, and he misinterpreted this sexual diversion as love.
All had went on until the day came when Dave put forward a master plan: he wanted for Terry and himself to pull off a simultaneous engagement for both sisters. Terry was caught off guard and confused, but to preserve what he could he tried to put the public engagement off till the day of graduation. However, Dave wanted to announce the engagement at the graduation dance, which was only a few short days away. Backed against a wall of sorts, Terry had to act and he finally confessed his love to Dave.
The reaction was far from what he had expected, however. Dave, dumbfounded and irritated, went and confided it to the twins. The girl Terry had been dating for so long went berserk and spread the news even further. Before long the rumors seemed to be broadcast all over the small town. Upon hearing and then confirming what she had heard foremost, Terry’s mother resorted to the church they attended and tried to get Terry to change by attending nightlong litanies. His father even retained a psychologist in the next town, hoping to find some assessment, some breach of free will that could be vexed and manipulated to bring his son back into a normal life, one expected to follow normal society. After only three sessions however, the far-seeing doctor decided not to carry on with the sessions, telling Terry’s father instead one night on the phone, “Your son is healthy. He is a also a very clever young man. He is a good son - he loves you and your wife very deeply. Although he is confused at times about the way he is treated, he is happy with the way he feels. I think it would do you, and him, far more harm if you continue down this path. Attempting to turn him straight will break him the wrong way and I know, you don’t have to want a freak instead of a son.”
Neither Terry’s father, nor his mother could accept this advice. They begged and threatened until the day came Terry could not deal with it anymore. In the end he didn’t see any other way out, so he began to search for help at the only place he could bring his mind to find security and safeness. It was in the confident arms of a woman from his childhood, Aunty Amy. So finally, one night he took off to find her without calling ahead first.
The smell of coffee, fresh-backed rolls and fried eggs aroused Terry from his sleep the next morning. He awoke groggily, needing some moments to recall his new situation and where he was. Looking around he saw the door to the kitchen ajar and after a moment Sam peeked through the gap. “High time to rise boy, I have to go and cut more Christmas trees, probably some Juniors or better yet even Seniors, so hurry up, breakfast is served!” He turned away from the door, his attention focused back to the food. When Terry didn’t appear immediately, he bellowed out “You can get dressed later!”
Towards the end of the breakfast, when Terry scoffed down the last crumbs, he smiled. “I haven’t enjoyed a breakfast like that for along time, thanks Sam. Do you know the way to Rockport? I was thinking of heading up there, maybe I could find Auntie Amy.”
Sam studied for a moment, thinking carefully. “Sure, but Rockport is somewhere in the middle of nowhere. If I’m not mistaken, to get there, you’ll need a car or somebody to drive you down. Taking the bus back to the city won’t help you much either I don’t think.” He cleared his throat before he continued. “I can’t help you today. It’s the last day of the Christmas market today and I need to sell as many of the trees as I can.” A thought occurred to him. “By the way, do you know where she is staying?” When Terry shook his head, he chuckled, then stopped as he realized how serious the young man was about finding her. “Ah, well, I think it would be best to find out first, don’t you think? Let me think! Maybe - Millie! You remember Millie, from yesterday, the market woman? We’ll google her later today, she will probably know how to find out!”
Half and hour later, with Terry fully dressed and both bundled up, they began heading up into the mountains with the pick-up. Not long afterwards, some twenty minutes or so, Sam stopped, pulling up into a clearing surrounded by varying tree’s of different types and sizes all the way around. “That’s my tree nursery! I bought this place when I started selling Christmas trees a long time ago. Every spring I replace the trees I sold by a number of saplings, so as you can see, I have baby trees, first graders, second graders and so on up to Juniors and Seniors. Today I figure I need five Seniors, so let’s see if we can get these.”
Terry laughed as they walked, crossing the clearing. “Now I get it, in the kitchen I got scared because when you talked about cutting down Juniors and Seniors, I had no idea what the heck you were talking about! You are a tree murderer not a teen murderer!” Terry laughed heartily, and was soon joined by the elder man who just shook his head.
When they carried the last tree to the pick-up, Sam suddenly lurched and knelt downward to the ground, grabbing his ankle, screaming as in terrible pain. “Damned, I forgot to put on my blasted hiking boots! Now my damned ankle is sprained again!” As he continued to swear, Terry tried to help Sam rise until he was sitting on the back of the truck. “You know boy, I sprained my ankle this past summer and the ligaments are still weak, and now crap, bad luck it is!”
Terry had to drive the pick-up back to the cabin while Sam sat in silence on the other side, moaning occasionally while massaging his ankle, half propped in the seat. In the kitchen he helped Sam out of the shoe and began to examine the injury closer. “Umm, your ankle is already red and pretty swollen. Do you have any sort of dressing material, something I can use to make you a bandage?”
Sam hesitated, wondering at Terry’s skill, before replying and showing him where the first aid supplies he kept were stored. As the young adult administered and gauzed the ankle, he was surprised at the level of skill Terry displayed. “You are bandaging me up least as perfect as a nurse, I think!”
Terry was flattered, “I always thought I would like to become a doctor someday, to tell the truth. I did my first First-Aid-course at twelve and I was part of the training team in school the last few years.” Once finished, Sam found he could walk somewhat with a little assistance and, with much of the morning hours rapidly slipping by, insisted he could continue on into town.
After arriving in town once again at the Christmas market, Sam flopped down in a folding chair to prop his leg up for resting. Terry looked about, searching for Millie, and found her coming down the street in short order towards them. When the woman arrived to open her booth, she addressed her neighbors teasingly, “Well hello there Sam, old boy, what, are you enjoying the pleasure of seniors and letting the brood work for you? Who’s the boy?” She squinted as she looked closer. “Ah, a nice kid! Not as ugly and wizened as you. Your nephew?”
Sam laughed. “Can’t you keep your tongue, old hag? Don’t abuse me and my guest! I got my ankle sprained here and he is helping me about for the day!” he ranted back playfully. “If you have a moment, though, better if you would to come over here. Young Terry here needs some information I think you might be able to help him with.”
Terry looked at her full of anticipation, and she was surprised as she came closer, recognizing him as the young man from the day before. Terry hesitated, but quickly blurted out, “Do you know where Aunty Amy is living now? The one down on the street across behind the courthouse? I was told she moved out last year, but the man and woman there didn’t know where she might have moved to…”
Surprise crossed Millie’s face. “Are you one of her boys? One of the boys she looked for during the holidays years ago? The boys she had locked up in her big heart?”
Terry got excited even more as he replied, “Yes! I mean, well, I was here for a few years but that’s been years ago! I need to see her and came looking for her! I was hoping she was still here but… Do you know? Do you know where I can find her?”
Millie suddenly put on a solemn face, lowering her eyes to the ground. Staring into the muddy soil for a moment, she finally replied, a hoarseness in her voice., “You don’t have to walk far son,” pointing to the churchyard that could be seen not far away. “The good heart is over there, I’m sorry... She died last September.”
When Sam looked over to Terry, he saw the crestfallen look, the shock that betrayed a wide variety of emotion across his features. He waited for Terry to take off, perhaps run away, maybe break down somewhere. Other than for the look of pure shock, nothing happened for some time. The boy seemed to be rooted to the ground, his face turning emotionless. He dropped his eyes to the ground and leaned against the side of the truck but for a moment, with both Sam and Millie watching him closely. “The m-man and woman… they said they bought the house from…” He didn’t finish the sentence, so Millie, understanding the point filled in. “It’s true young man, your Auntie had two sisters she left the house to, and they in turn sold it to a nice couple, the Harpers I believe were their names.” Terry nodded, then turned to the five trees they had just brought along. Surprisingly, Sam watched as first one after another he picked up the firs, the only sign of life in a cold hard time, and placed them in a row with the others that had not already sold the day before. He did this very slowly with a face of stone. When every tree was in his place, he turned to Sam and weakly smiled. “Her heart was too big, I guess. She’s up there,” he said, pointing skyward, “but I know she still cares.” A strange thing to hear as it was, but Sam could feel the emotion of it. Millie, who had been silent all this time, turned and stepped back to her booth, obviously moved by the scene and the words spoken.
The rest of the long day Terry helped Sam show the trees to the customers, and as he learned of them himself, he discussed the pro and cons of the different firs with different people. He helped advise them and finally carried the trees to their various vehicles. He worked as if nothing had happened. He even smiled, asking many of the children for their holiday wishes and promised some that Santa Claus would be on time. It was a strange scene to Sam, one which bothered him from time to time; and one more point troubled Sam as the day dragged on: Terry refused to eat.
The news of Auntie’s death hit Terry with a hammer, leaving his mind as if he was walking in a haze. He wanted to run, take off to somewhere, anywhere - but his legs would not move. It was only after Millie had told him about the sisters and the Harpers that he finally accepted the inevitable. Staring at the ground and the truck in which he was leaning, he then noticed the trees still waiting to be carried and placed on display. With a tremendous effort and force of sheer will, he went over, picked up one after another and began arranging them in the back pitch.
Terry felt Sam’s eyes resting on his back, and he felt his concern, his empathy -even his nervousness. For a while Terry felt helpless, unable to turn and meet the other’s eyes for fear he would lose it, break down once again. He instead steeled himself for the day to come, knowing he needed to help the elderly man as best as he could, given the help he had already received in return. The first family arrived at the stall a little while later, a mother, father and two children. The girl, about five or six years of age, ran to Terry and took his hand, “Show me the trees! I want a big one!” Then, continuing in a lower voice, “Mammy wants only a small one, so PLEASE make her take a big one!”
Terry looked down at the girl and knew he had to smile. He wiped his eyes and though it was a faint one at first, it worked. He was able to smile despite the pain he was feeling in his heart.
When the boy, who seemed to be younger than his sister, dared to come closer, he took Terry’s other hand and pulled him to the biggest tree in the booth. “How about this one? Man, it’s so big, I bet I can make my bed under it!”
In the course of the day, Terry began to relax. Only once when Sam asked, “Would you like to visit Auntie?” pointing to the graveyard in the back of the church, did he tense up. Terry shook his head vigorously, “I don’t need to, honest. She lives in here,” he would reply, his hand covering his chest.
Around four o’clock in the afternoon only one fir was left, a big one with the label tagged on it as “Dr. Madsen”. It was then the good Dr. Madsen arrived, a balding man, towing along after both a boy and a girl between the market stalls. “Well, hey Sam, wrecked your ankle again, I see?” he hollered, already at a distance. “I told you that you would have to wear a bandage up to six months, did I not?” He chuckled as he arrived, shaking Sam’s hand before eying Terry standing nearby. “Ah, thank heavens, you got an assistant this year! Will he assist you performing as Sa..…?” he stopped abruptly, looking at the many youngsters wandering nearby. “You know - on Christmas Eve, will he be assisting you? You know, you need to do your job Sam. You know how many kids are waiting for you this year. Even Ron does at sixteen!” Terry tuned out as they continued chatting for some time.
After talking at some length, he finally bid Sam goodbye, telling him “I’ll see you at the ambulance later and have a look on your ankle, okay?” Sam smiled and nodded as the good doctor walked off.
After another half hour or so, Sam turned to Terry. “Do you think you can you drive the car, Terry? My ankle hurts like hell! Do you feel fit enough to concentrate on the traffic?
“Sure Sam, I am fine now, I promise!” was Terry’s short reply. He said it forceful, almost annoyed, but understood it was concern coming from the other that emboldened the remark. He took a deep breath and tried to calm down. They loaded into the truck and Terry backed out, pulling onto the street.
At the ambulance of the small local hospital, Dr. Madsen in person took off the bandage from Sam’s ankle. “I bet you didn’t do this yourself, Sam! Did you consult a nurse? It looks quite professionally done I think!”
“The bandage was Terry’s masterpiece, Doc. He wants to become a doctor!”
“Well, young man, you are welcome for a traineeship in my ward if you like, I am always looking for skilled students! If you like you can start at the beginning of the new year!” Terry was stunned at the invitation and at first said nothing as the doctor continued examining his patient.
Checking the leg carefully, he grimaced. “Well, all things considering, I have to say that swelling looks bad! I would like to prescribe you bed rest!” Not waiting for Sam’s negating reply, he forged ahead, “I know, I know - you can’t, not two days before Christmas!”
Turning his attention, he studied Terry closely, his face suddenly brightening. “Young man, you will have to help your uncle, that’s all there is to it! You and Sam will be the greatest Christmas surprise for the children! Imagine an old whitebeard with a crutch and his young assistant elf, singing “In Betheleem, that noble place….” and bringing the presents this year!” Dr. Madsen, caught up in the cheer of the moment, began to sing and dance around.
That evening Terry had to prepare dinner for the both of them, as Sam directed him while sitting in a nearby chair, his injured foot supported by a cushioned footstool. When they had finished, some of Sam’s concern abated. Sitting in the living room afterwards in the shine of candles on the Advent wreath, Sam commented quietly, “I am glad you have eaten. This afternoon, I was afraid you were going to take it upon yourself too hard, by refusing to eat.”
Terry looked at the other thoughtfully for a moment before replying. “I-I guess this was just my way of dealing with it, that’s all. Her heart really was big to me! You have no idea the times she made me feel so much the better, no matter how unimportant it was or how much I needed her, you know?” His eyes had moistened over, but he remained in complete control of himself. After a little while longer, he continued. “I really do not want to see her grave, okay? She lives inside me now, forever!” Getting up, he walked over to the window and stared out into the night sky. “You always asked me what I wanted to do here, who I was looking for, but you never asked why.”
Sam grunted. “I wanted to help you get along here, that is for certain. You seemed like a nice young man who needed a little help, but it wasn’t my business to question your reasons. Still, if you want to tell me, you can do it, I will listen if you like.”
Terry didn’t move for a long time. Then his shaking voice said, “You will despise me!” Then, almost in a whisper, he unloaded himself before the man. “You will despise my, I am gay.”
This plain confession took Sam entirely by surprise. Looking into the flickering lights of the Advent candles, he collected his thoughts before speaking. “Terry, you are 18, you are bright, you are talented, you are determined and you are also empathic, helpful, modest and reliable. I have seen that just in the time we have had together thus far. And you are not, and I say this most strongly because it counts also, you are not vain, not shallow, not pretentious; i do not believe you drink, you do not smoke, nor take drugs, of that I am sure. I would like to have a son like you, regardless of that fact. I envy your parents.”
“But I am gay!” Terry insisted.
“So? Do you know Jesus? Have you studied what is written about Jesus in the Holy Scripture? No? Let me explain something. Some said Jesus was married. He was married to one of the Marys, Mary Magdalene, they say. And they say also that she was a whore, because a married saviour didn’t fit into her conception of Christianity. And just this Mary was the one whom went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, to tell them of the empty grave. It is also told Jesus loved a youth in Bethany, a youth that stayed with Jesus for the night, because Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. So, was Jesus straight or was he gay? Was there more than that? None can say for sure. Don’t forget also one simple fact: he was a human! That’s for sure!”
The Advent candles already burned low as Sam finished. Terry face reflected his pondering. The elder man sat in silence, watching him closely. As Terry thought it over, he realized he had never heard of the tale, not in the way it had been put to him. After a long-reigning silence he replied, “This thought is new to me. Give me some to time think it over some, okay?” The other nodded at him, and Terry searched his face for any hint of malice or change. He found nothing, if nothing more than perhaps an expression that reflected an even softer side of the older man.
Sam had to lean heavily onto his young guest when Terry helped him up the stairs. He thought about the upcoming days ahead, and the task he would have to perform. “Will you stay with me Terry, and be my assistant on Christmas Eve? Without you, Christmas may be sad for some of them.” Terry knew now the deeds that Sam performed, and understood the emphasis the small community put upon the man’s shoulders. When Terry nodded his agreement, Sam posed his next question carefully, fearing he already knew the answer, but need to reaffirm it nevertheless. “Have you called up your parents? Do they even know where you are now?”
Terry only shook his head, “Give me a day or two, Sam. I have to think some of this through.” He looked at the other, seeing the hesitation, so he added “Please?” Finally the other nodded his ascent, and they continued up the stairs.
On Monday, the day before Christmas Eve, they traveled to a nearby shopping mall to do some of the shopping for which they had collected their money. On their way down to Oakdale, Sam started singing. “We have to rehearse Christmas carols, the kids expect us to sing along with them. You surely know the usual sing-alongs, right? Lets try ’Jingle Bells’”, or ’Silent Night’!” Terry indeed knew the songs and after a bit joined the elder. His tenor voice and Sam’s bass voice fitted together very nicely. After a while Sam banged the seat with his hand, obviously overjoyed at how well it was working out. “Now let’s try my special In Betheleem, that noble place! You do not know it? I will teach you because that’s the song we will be singing when we enter the house!”
In Betheleem, that noble place,
As by prophesy sayd it was,
Of the vyrgyn Mary, full of grace,
Salvator mundi natus est.
Be we mery in this feste,
In quo salvator natus est.
“But that not English, at least part of it!”
“It’s very simple, however; I bet you remember the lines in a whiff!”
The parking in the small mall was jammed with cars, and Terry had trouble maneuvering the pick-up into one of the parking spaces in front of the sports store.
“Lets get the football boots first, a pair of pinks and one of blues!”
“Pink boots?” Terry asked, very surprised.
“Sure! Terry, Jonnies role model, is the French player with the pink boots!”
“Pink boots? In this small size?” the salesman shook his head as he looked over the request before declaring, quite loudly, “Pink boots are for gays!”
“Yes? So what?” Sam snapped back, “The French player is the best soccer sportsman of the world, and he is famous for his pink boots! He was three times soccer player of the year!” The salesman threw up his hands in resignation.
Unfortunately they couldn’t get pink as they wanted, so instead they settled for a pair of red and a pair of blacks. Then they bought a pair of roller skaters, and a pair of ice skates and a sleigh complete their purchase.
When they entered the toy store, the puppet department was overcrowded. A blond sales girl asked Terry, “Hi Honey, do you want to buy a puppet for your little sister or do you want a rubber doll? You can get those gadgets round the corner!”
Terry blushed and could not speak, so Sam had to order the presents a Baby Born puppet, two Barbies with all the trimmings, a Lego Fire Station and a Zoo Super Set. They completed those purchases and then continued on.
In the clothes department they ransacked the sweatshirts rack, colorful designs for the girls and simple ones for the boys. When Terry pushed the shopping cart to the counter, the cashier - a wrinkled spinster - asked, “Are these all for your kids, young man?” and turning to Sam, she added, “Now days half the kids get married and do nothing but make babies! What a shame!”
Sam’s eyes twinkled as he replied to the woman. “Oh Lady, but you are not up to date. You see, I am the father and he is the mother! We had some problems first, but thanks to the genetic engineering, he gave birth to ten beautiful babies in a single blow!”
Before the startled lady could reply, the department manager arrived behind them. “Hi Sam! Getting Christmas presents for all the kiddies?” Turning to the thunderstruck cashier, he confided to her. “Sam gets a discount on every item he buys today. He is the Santa Claus for the needy kids!” The look of relief on her face caused both Sam and Terry to burst out laughing, and she herself even chuckled at the good humor. She finally cheerfully rang them up and they were soon on their way again.
Back in Sam’s house, Terry fell lengthwise into the entryway. Five brown bags were cluttering the narrow room at his feet, filled with assorted boxes of wrapped goods. “You got Christmas presents!” he shouted to Sam, who meanwhile was crawling slowly out of the passenger seat. When the elder man appeared in the doorway, Terry looked up. “Look at the labels! These presents are not for us. Parents brought the presents, so Santa Claus can give them to their children tomorrow.”
Sam grinned. “Read the names on labels, then!”
“Miller, Borg, McNair, Bradley and Madsen. Is this Dr. Madsen?!” Sam nodded.
Both Santa were busy throughout the rest of the day. Sam wrote stickers while Terry wrapped the unwrapped gifts in colored paper. He was not only perfect in bandaging up a sprained ankle, Sam noted; the present she wrapped looked as if they had been professionally done, complete with ribbons and bows that would make most women envious. At the end of the day the living room was cluttered with various presents, ready for delivery. Because of the stickers, there was no problem preparing the bags they needed for the different families. And all the time they rehearsed the carols until their voices were hoarse.
Terry had been happy and full of activity all day long, but when Sam wished him a goodnight, he noticed the young man had became heavyhearted. With a pensive face, Terry approached Sam that night and offered more insight as to what troubled him so deeply. “Sam, Dave was my best friend, he was straight and I played the straight one for a long time. We dated twins, really nice girls, for a long time too. I dated the girls though just to stay close to him, you know? He was my best friend, but I didn’t keep dating the girl for her, I dated her for him. I never loved her, so I -betrayed him, and I betrayed the girls.” Looking Sam straight in the eyes, he asked solemnly, “Do you still think good of me? Aren’t you despising me, Sam?”
When the other only smiled, but without responded, he shook his head, confused. Walking over to the window, he stared out into the dark night for a long moment before it broke out of him. “My parents learned the truth. They wouldn’t accept a gay son. They just couldn’t in our small village. They tried to change me, mother by praying and my father by sending me to the shrink. It was just a waste of time. My last hope was Auntie. I can remember how she always seem to know, she knew what to do, you know?. Now she is gone and I have to find my way by myself.” After a profound sigh, “I have to get my head clear. Can you help me Sam, please?”
Sam sighed before he spoke, but when he did, it was not unkindly. “I can support you Terry. I can help give you some comfort that you are not alone. But I can’t solve your problems, those are things you need to do for yourself.” He got up from the chair and hobbled over to stand in front of the young man, staring him eye-to-eye. “Try to straighten out the relationship with your friend, and with the girl you betrayed. I know that must be hard, but if you do not, I believe you will have this hanging over you for the rest of your life. Just apologize formally. It will not repair the Relationship, but it may smooth things somewhat better.” He paused before finishing. “And Terry, there is one more thing you should consider doing at least, if not tonight then at least by tomorrow night: You should call your parents! Don’t let them spend the holiday worrying about you, where you are, whether or not you are safe! It is a time of year they deserve to at least hear from you, for the merriment of the moment comes only to those who seize it, keep it in their hearts, and make it a part of their lives! I know they love you at least, do not fail in that regard!”
“Wake up, wake up!” Terry called and bumped against Sam’s bedroom door. “It is already nine!”
“Slowly with an old and invalid man, boy!” Sam grumbled back at him good naturedly.
“Invalid yes, but not old! Get up Santa. It’s your great day that has arrived and you have work to be done!”
“Our great day, Terry! And yes, we both have work that will be done! Come in here you ball of energy, the Santa cowls are in my dresser. I have two in there I think…”
After breakfast they tried out the Santa suits. Sam’s did fit pretty well, but Terry’s outfit was a slight bit too short, mostly because he was taller than Sam. Sam also had two wigs and beards, but when Terry was trying the beard he had a fit of laughter, exclaiming, “This beard is tickling me! I will have to laugh tonight all the time!” Shaking his head, he proclaimed, “No, I can’t wear a beard! I am too ticklish!”
Sam contemplated a second. “Have you heard of father and son Santa Claus? No? Me neither. I bet that will be a world premiere!”
At two o’clock they began loading the bags into the pick-up according to a plan Sam had worked out. At hour later they had tea with Christmas-stollen and at half past three they started. Driving down the hills they rehearsed “In Betheleem, that noble place!” a last time. It now sounded as the two voices blended nicely together.
The first stop was at the edge of the Oakdale. It was only a small house and when they entered singing their carol, the little girl seemed to be under a spell. When Terry presented her the bag, she tried to hide behind her mother. From this safe place she started to recite:
Dear Santa Claus, I'll let you know
The few things that I need,
And if you'll bring them to me
I'll be much obliged indeed.
“An Angle told us, your greatest wish is--- Oh I forgot!” Sam scratched his head, “Can somebody tell it to Santa Claus?”
The girl was shy like a mouse, so her mother answered instead, “A Baby Born, she wants a Baby puppet!”
“Ahh! Well, let’s see!” turning to Terry. “My dear son, Santino, open the bag!”
Terry poured out the presents and there she was, a new Baby Born, still in the cardboard box. The little girl couldn’t contain herself anymore as she cried with joy.
Exactly the opposite happened at the next stop, as there were two boys lying in wait for Santa Claus in their darkened hallway. As soon as Sam opened the door, the two little rascals came running. They obviously wanted to snatch the bag with the presents. But Santa didn’t have the bag, but instead a crutch! He shook the crutch at them as they approached. “I’ll have you know I have heard you were really bad boys this year, always plaguing smaller kids, never being home on time, never being obedient to your parents!” Turning around, as if he wanted to leave, “Let’s go Santino, these little rascals do not deserve Christmas presents!”
Suddenly the rascals turned into rueful little boys, “Please Santa, please Santino!” they cried. “We promise to be good boys, the whole year long! Please do not leave! Please give us at least a small present!”
Sam turned back and looked each sternly in the eye. “Only, if you obey your mother and father; clean up your room and be nice to the neighbor kids!” he asserted forcefully. When they both promised to be good boys, they got their soccer boots they had been asking for.
Late in the evening as they drove down a road on the far side of town, Terry let out a huge sigh. “Oh Sam, just one left bag left! Thank God! I am sssooooo tired,too! I didn´t anticipate being Santa AND Santino Claus would be that hard!”
Sam laughed. “Do you regret having joined me? The effect of two Santas was just overwhelming! But wait until the next visit. It is the last and the highlight, I promise you!”
“No Sam, I will never regret being a part of this event! But who is it? Where are we going next?”
The house was back in a dark garden, medium-sized and hidden behind big trees. At the front-door, they began to hum their introit:
In Betheleem, that noble place
As by prophesy……..
The door opened as if by magic and voices inside the house took up the humming as five other voices joined those of Santa and Santino. The living room looked like a picture book. Dr. Madsen was sitting in a wide-armed chair on the left, Mrs. Madsen on the right in a corner of the couch. Beside her were three children seated, a teen and the two small children whom Terry already knew from meeting at the Christmas market. After the introit song the small one began to sing ‘Jingle Bells’, and then afterwards all together they began to sing ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’. The light of the chandelier dimmed and the candles on the Christmas tree began to fill the room with a soft light.
Each of the children got only one present. The little girl a doll carriage with a brown bear instead of a puppet, and the small boy roller-skates with knee and arm pads. Then Sam, Santa Claus himself, turned to the teen. “Ron!” he addressed the young man with an unusually stern voice. “Ron, why did you run away from your parents without telling them only one word? Ron, couldn’t you imagine your parents would go crazy waiting for you or at least a word of you? And when you came back after two days, you didn’t tell them why.”
Ron blushed, and with a wavering voice he asked, “Have I to tell it? Really to tell it?” Looking from father to mother, he then let his eyes fall to the floor. “I- I ran away, because Troy went with his parents to Japan. I couldn’t imagine being without him.” Then he smiled shyly, “I wasn’t that far away really, I was always close by. I was sitting in our old tree-house down in the wood. I’m sorry, I just, I didn’t want to accept losing him. He was my best friend and…and more… On the third day I knew my refusal of reality wouldn’t change anything.” Looking up to his parents “Forgive me Father, the heartache I have caused you and mother!”
After a moment of silence his father said, “We only found out on the second day you were away son, but the reason you left us, well, it is now obvious. I agree, losing a best friend is hard.” Mrs. Madsen added, “You just have to try and find one again, and believe me honey, you will find someone!”
Satisfied with the result of his intervention, Sam took Ron’s hand and placed in it a small parcel as his mother rose, gliding over and kissed her son. Dr. Madsen rose as well, embracing his son, before asking, “Can you guess its content? It’s the digital camera you wanted already for a long time. Unwrap it, because I want to take photos of you and the Santas.” Then with a twinkle in his eye, he withdrew an envelop from his pocket, handing it over to his son as well. “This came for you today as well, and I think you will be pleased it is from Troy.” Grinning, Ron accepted the gift, his eyes filling with tears as he again embraced his parents.
Santa was asked to take the seat between the two smaller Madsens, while Ron took Santino by the hand. The two teens lined up behind the settee. Terry attempted to wandered, but Ron held his hand while his father took at least half a dozen snapshots. When he handed over the camera, he told his son, “Now, when you get some of those printed and developed, why don’t you send some to Troy.”
When Sam and Terry left the house, Ron escorted them back to the pick-up carrying a basket of roast, baked potatoes, salad and chocolate mouse packed by his mother. Just when Terry started the old car, Ron asked through the still open window, “Will you be staying around Santino? I would really like to meet you!”
Terry grinned. “Call Sam, I’ll stay with Santa a few more days at least!”
Big white snowflakes were slowly tumbling from a low sky when they left town, returning to the cabin. As they moved along up the hill, the snowfall became got thicker, creating a whitened blanket in the open space about them. When they finally turned into the small side road that led up to Sam’s house, the wipers were having a hard time keeping the windshield clear.
Inside the Santas stripped off their wigs, yelly bag caps and cowls before setting down at the kitchen table. Both were tired and quite ready to attack the scrumptious feast awaiting them. Mrs. Madsen’s roast was perfect, the potatoes just baked to the right point, and the mixed salad unbelievable tasty. Terry couldn’t get enough of the chocolate mouse and ended up wangling off most of Sam’s mouse as well. With a cup of tea they retired to the overheated living room. As each relaxed, unwinding from the day, Sam finally broke the festive silence some minutes later, watching Terry who had once again arose and was standing at the window, looking out into the white night, “You promised to you would decide tonight. Will you call up your parents?” When a moment went by without a response, he rose and handed the young man the nearby phone. “I will go in the kitchen and leave you alone.”
“No Sam, please stay!” Terry meek voice stopped Sam at the door. He stared at the phone in his hand for some time before sighing deeply, and then began punching in the numbers to dial the long distance call. The phone initially rang about ten times before someone took up the receiver at the other end of the line.
“Hi Mom! It’s me. It’s Terry!” A long moment passed. “No Mom, I am fine, I am in Oakdale!---------- Merry Christmas to you, Mom! ------ I-I miss you so! ------- I’m sorry, I wanted to visit Auntie.” At this point, there was obvious silence on both ends of the conversation before Terry took a deep breath. “Oh Mom, why didn’t y-you tell me she passed away? ----- I- I wanted her advice, she always could talk with me, and I always could talk with her...------- No Mom, really, I’m fine. I really am perfectly fine. ----- I am with a friend of Aunties’.------- No, I don’t think you know him. When I was a boy here a long time ago I called him Santa Claus.”
There was a pause again. Something seemed to happen at the other side of the line as Sam returned to his chair and watched, waiting. Then Terry again shyly started talking again, in a subdued voice. “Hi Dad! ---- Merry Christmas to you, Dad! ----Are you still mad at me?“ It was at this point Sam detected a change in the whole tone of the conversation. Terry was beginning to panic, he could see it in the young man’s eyes. “Please Dad, Please Dad, no, don’t! I had – I had to get my head clear!” ------- “But Dad, I’ve discussed it with you over and over, I just can’t change, although I tried!”
There was a long pause this time, and Sam could make out the makings of a much bolder, louder voice on the other end, although he could not discern the words that were being spoken. Terry listened, but he himself began to rise from his initial panic, becoming more emboldened and self assured. “No Dad, I am not sorry! ------ Remember what the psychologist told you? I’m sorry we can’t agree but – I will never be sorry for being who I am!” Another long pause. “I promise Dad, I am still your son, I always will be!”
At this point, a long discussion seemed to take place on the other end of the line. Terry started looking worried to Sam, but before long, as he seemingly listened more intently than before, his face suddenly beamed. “Y-you promise? Y-you’re not mad anymore? Honest, you are accepting me for who I am? ----- Can I stay here? ----- There is a small medical college in town here, and – and I would like to enroll next term, if you’ll agree! I have an offer to carry out my internship in the hospital here too, starting soon, maybe even in January!. ------ Please Mom, please Dad...”
It was an intense moment for both Terry and Sam, the latter being as much in suspense to the drama unfolding before him as the former awaiting the answer from the other end of the line. Within seconds however, Terry sighed, a huge weight seemingly lifted from his shoulders as he closed his eyes and smiled, really smiled like he had not done for days. When he spoke again, his voice was barely above a whisper, but the emotion he conveyed was as if he could have shouted it across the room. “Thank you Mom! Thank you Dad! Thank you for everything! Merry Christmas again, to both of you!”
Sam was smiling, already knowing the answer as Terry hung the phone back up, returning it to the elder man. “It’s all right with my parents! I mean, I can stay in Oakdale and study medicine! Thank you Sam, because of you, because of you pushing me to call, it means everything now! I can live my way of life now! I don’t have to be afraid!” And for the first time since the two had met, Terry pulled Sam from his chair and embraced him, warmly conveying his gratitude. At first Sam was embarrassed, not being used to such show of emotion or pampering, but he gave in for the moment and returned it, until the other separated and stepped back.
With a twinkle in his eye, Sam spoke the young man before, recognizing that he truly was a changed individual, no longer the ‘boy’, the unsure, shy individual he had met only days before. “That wasn’t my accomplishment, Terry, you won it, you deserved it!” Smiling bashfully, he continued. “I also have a little surprise for you, Santino, since it is Christmas Eve!”
He moved slowly across to the steps and ascended them, motioning for Terry to follow. In the upper floor Sam pointed at the door opposite his room, with a newly made nameplate hanging on the panel that held but one word: TERRY. “This is your room now, Terry. You can stay here any time you like, and as long as you like.” Watching Terry doubting face narrowly, Sam chuckled before he continued. “It was the room of my friend from a long time ago. This room has not been used for over twenty years.”
“Where is your friend then? Did he leave you, Sam?”
A wistful expression crossed the elder mans face as he drew back and leaned against the doorframe of his own bedroom. “No Terry, he has not left me! Like your Auntie, a small part of him is down at the churchyard in town, a bigger part is over in the hills and mountains, even higher between the stars! But the biggest part,” he paused, pointing to his heart, “The biggest part is in here, and he will be in here forever!”
Comprehension dawned as Terry did not know what to say. He slowly opened the door and entered the room. Finding a small desk across the floor and next to the window, he walked to it, taking in the bookshelves that surrounded it. He looked out the window for some time, then he turned to the twin-bed and sat down. Stretching out on the bed, “It’s so soft!” he mused, before turning back and seeing the elder watching him from the doorway, a big smile beaming its appreciation. Terry hesitated, thinking. “Sam, can I ask you a question? Or rather, a favor, I guess? Can I invite Ron over for a sleepover? Would that be ok with you? I think, I dunno, I think he and I could become good friends, you know…”
“You are of age now Terry! For that you will have to decide for yourself! You are free now! I will give you a place to stay, to be safe, and I will help you while you are in enrolled as best I can. All else is now for you to decide, to choose. I know you will be happy, and that will make me happy as well as long as you are careful. Always remember who you are, where you have been and where you are going, and everything else will work out.”
Terry rose and for the second time that night he hugged Sam, this time for a long time. “I nearly forgot to wish you a Merry Christmas, Sam, my Santa Claus.” Both smiled and stated, with one voice, “Let’s be Santo and Santino again next Christmas!”
This story is a collaboration of a young American and an old European. It’s our Christmas present to all our readers around the world.
Other stories of the authors:
Ruwen Rouhs: Buzzards, Hawks and Ravens (2007, ongoing) Fate and Fortune (2008 ongoing); Palm Sunday Magic (2007)
Sean E.: Lifes Road of Discoveries (2008); The Bully and the Bullied (2008)