“Rudy, a Christmas tree by itself is just a tree.”
I set down my colored pencils and imagined the biggest, brightest tree imaginable.
“Each soul who hangs a bauble from its bough, or threads a string of lights through its needles, or tops it with a shining star, is teaching it to sing its own unique song of joy. A Christmas tree, when it’s finished and all lit up, with lots of presents cuddled underneath, reflects the magic inside each person who trimmed it.”
I waited for a scoff while his unblinking gaze confronted me, urging me to go on, to enlighten him.
“The tree that you and I create together will expose our very hearts to the world. No one else will ever be able to duplicate that.” I leaned forward, tempted to reach for his hand. “Close your eyes, Rudy. Picture it.”
He folded his arms and did as I said.
“You have to really think. See it in your mind’s eye.” I waited again, giving him space for his tree to flourish. “Now tell me, what’s in your heart. What does Christmas mean to you?”
He was quiet. I held my breath, ready for something special, something magical, to bubble out of him. Goosebumps sprouted up and down my arms.
Then he spoke. “I see our grades. They’re threatening to jump off a tall building if they depend on me buying into all this ’Tis-the-season jazz.” He opened his eyes and grinned.
I knew he’d never take this seriously.
“You’re a poo-head! I’m not talking to you anymore.” I swiveled my chair, only pretending to be angry, when my eyes landed on the picture on his dresser. I went over and picked it up for a closer look. I half-waited for him to stop me, but he didn’t. The woman’s eyes were so much like Rudy’s, I had to ask, “Is this your mother?”
“Uh huh,” he answered quietly.
“She’s very pretty.”
“Cancer. When I was ten.”
Hearing Rudy’s mother was in heaven made me appreciate never having to worry about that, since my parents would live forever. But the sadness overwhelmed me. “What kind of Christmas tree would she want to see?”
I’d obviously opened a door I shouldn’t have. Not knowing how to go back and close it, I quietly stood his mother’s picture back up on his dresser. “Maybe we should take that milk-and-cookies break now,” I said.
“I was kidding about the milk and cookies.” He got up and tucked his mother’s picture into a drawer. “Maybe we should call it a night.”
“If you say so.” I went back to the desk and carefully slipped my drawings into their portfolio. “Rudy?”
“I don’t care what you think of me, or my friends, or my family, or my town. But what exactly do you have against Christmas?”
“It’s getting late. Why don’t we save this for later.”
My heart beat faster. I should have gotten out of there. I should have run. But I couldn’t let it go. “I think you’re here—you and your father—for a reason. One that you’re not even aware of.”
“Go home, Candy.”
I almost melted when I heard him say my name, so softly, so at odds with the way he said almost everything else. “At least tell me you’re not one of those people who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus.”
“I had dinner with him. Remember?”
We both smiled. He wasn’t a heretic.
Relieved, I started packing the rest of my stuff into my backpack.
“I just happen to think your father’s ideas are ridiculous,” he added.
Our game went into pause mode.
“What ideas? Spreading joy to the world?”
“What do you know about the world?” he snapped. “You live up here in a fantasy land, and once a year, your old man flies around the globe handing out toys—‘One for you, and one for you, and one for you.’—as if an electric train set could make up for all the wars and death and misery people suffer in the real world.” He hovered over me, his words so forceful. His hot breath hit me like a right hook with every disgruntled thought he threw at me. “I have news for you, princess. The world doesn’t work that way.”
He made me scared and confused and curious all at once. “What do electric trains have to do with suffering and death?”
He didn’t answer. Whatever he’d been ranting about, clearly he hadn’t meant to direct his anger at me. For in another five seconds, he was almost certain to make a pass.If you want to find out what happened next, you'll have to read my book, North Pole High: A Rebel Without a Claus.
Related content: See the tree Jenna Edwards made for me, inspired by this chapter!