Home for Christmas
by Stephanie Ayers
The song played loudly over the external store speaker, and Katelyn stopped walking to listen. The last strains of I’ll be Home for Christmas brought tears to her eyes. It had been eighteen months since Kevin left on his tour of duty; eighteen months without R&R, scant letters, and rare phone calls. Last year, she had wished him home for Christmas. They set him up to come home, but then roadside bombs slaughtered the 101st infantry and his troop had to take their place. She spent the next twelve months in worry. They had denied his repeated requests for R&R. This Christmas did not look very promising, either. It would be another six months, at least, before the powers that be would even consider bringing his unit home.
She whisked the tears off her face and walked again, faster than before, distancing herself from the storefront music. She had made promises to him, and she intended to keep them all. So far, she had been successful. This one proved harder for her though. She was not in the holiday spirit at all. She had promised Kevin that she would decorate and put a tree up every year regardless of whether he was there. Christmas had always been a big deal to Kevin, and now they shared a son, she knew it was even more important to him now. She blinked the last of her tears away as she opened the door to her son’s daycare, punched in the security code, and planted a smile on her face.
“Mommy!” Parker screamed, as he always did when she picked him up. His chubby arms wrapped tightly around her neck as she hugged him close. She looked into his big blue eyes for a moment before putting him down and helping him get ready to go. It always amazed her at how much Parker looked like his father though Kevin had never laid eyes on him. He was born two weeks after Kevin left, a rough birth he almost did not survive. She longed for the day her two guys would finally meet, and she held hope that the next time he came home would be the last time he would have to leave.
“Shall we stop and see Santa on the way home, my big boy?” She smiled at him as she placed his red knitted cap tightly on his head. Golden curls stuck out from underneath. His big eyes grew larger in his excitement of seeing Santa. She took his hand and led him out of the center.
The bustle of the busy city never ceased to amaze Parker, so she walked the three blocks home to their small but comfortable apartment. She never hurried him, always allowing him time to explore to his heart’s content along the way. She took a detour today and led Parker through the park towards the large department store two blocks in the opposite direction.
Halfway through the park, Parker pulled at her arm, breaking her out of her reverie. She had been wallowing in self-pity over Kevin again. She stopped, looked down at him, her eyes following the direction his finger pointed. Lights and ornaments decorated one of the evergreen trees partially hidden behind a small sleigh. Santa sat in the sleigh, clasping the reins of the twelve reindeer in front of him. A large red sack took up the space behind Santa in the back of the sleigh.
“Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!” Santa grinned from his perch. His eyes sparkled brightly from behind his round silver frames. Fat, rosy cheeks hovered above an angel white beard, and his red faux fur-covered belly jiggled as he laughed. “It’s Christmas Eve, cheer up! I think I have just the thing to do it.” He reached out to the evergreen tree, removed a beautiful red and gold jeweled ornament off the tree, and handed it to Katelyn. “Take this ornament and make a wish on it. If you do this at precisely midnight tonight, your wish will come true.”
With a look of disbelief, she took the ornament from him and put it in her pocket. She let Parker sit on his lap and whisper his wishes into Santa’s ear before leading him out of the park the way they came in. She headed for home now, her detour to the department store Santa forgotten as her fingers played with the satin on the ball in her pocket.
As they reached the front steps of their apartment building, Katelyn swooped Parker up into her arms. “Oh, my darling. I forgot to ask you what you asked Santa for?”
“Snow.” He answered in his quiet baby voice, just as snowflakes fell from the sky. He laughed as he looked up, pointing. “Snow!”
She hugged him again, drinking in his baby scent, and enjoying the sound of his laughter.
“Yes, Parker, snow! Let’s hurry upstairs so we can watch it from our window.” She smiled brightly at him. She wished her requests were so easily met.
After a small but festive chicken dinner, Parker went willingly to sleep, his excitement about Santa’s expected visit fresh in his mind as he dozed off. She sat on her couch wrapped in her favorite blanket with only the soft lighting from the Christmas tree and watched the snow fall outside her window. She grasped the bejeweled ornament in her hand, turning it around, and marveled at its beauty. She spun it gently as it dangled from her fingers, and she laughed as the jewels caught the light of the tree and left little pin pricks dancing along the walls. Her mind wandered back to Kevin. No matter how hard she tried, she could not stop thinking about him. She drifted off to sleep, dreaming of days filled with memories of him.
The sound of sirens outside her window woke her abruptly, and she jumped off the couch. She glanced at the clock. 11:59 PM the digital display said. Her fingers itched over the ornament. As foolish as she knew it was, she whispered her wish, gazing into the red gemstones as if they hypnotized her. So mesmerized was she in her wishing she almost did not hear the doorbell. Brought back to the present, she drifted to the door, wondering who could be there this time of night. She looked through the peephole. It was the Santa from the park.
“What do you want? How did you know where I live?” She cracked the door, but left the chain lock hooked.
“I’m sorry it’s so late, but I have another package to deliver before I head back to the North Pole.”
“Another package? Where is it?” Skepticism laced her voice. Santa stepped back to make room for another.
“Kevin O’Shea reporting for Operation Christmas Spirit. Mission accomplished.” The voice came from the mouth she had traced with her own lips so many times. She flung the door open and leaped into his arms.
As he carried her over the threshold, a voice called from a distance, “Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”
Her eyes left Kevin’s face long enough to look for Santa, but he had left. She looked for the ornament, carefully set upon the table as she went to the door, and noticed that it too had disappeared.
“Now that’s what I call Christmas spirit!” Kevin studied his wife’s face. They have been apart too long, but he still knew every line by heart.
Katelyn just smiled and smothered his face with hers. “Mmm,” she said when she resurfaced. “There’s definitely magic in the air.”