The tree and its lights provided the only illumination in the living room. Outside, snow was falling. It was a picture-perfect Christmas Eve. Two small figures huddled on either side of the fireplace.
The larger one whispered loudly to the smaller. “Okay, Kevin, you remember what to do?”
“When the bag drops, you grab it, and I’ll close the flue.”
“I said I remember!”
“Shh! We don’t want Mom and Dad to hear.”
They fell silent, listening for any movement upstairs, but it seemed their parents had not stirred. The boys stayed quiet, just in case, and waited.
It was so quiet and dark and peaceful that it was hard for Kevin to keep his eyes open. Every so often his head would start to drop and would jerk back up. Why was this taking so long? Couldn’t they just go to bed? But he knew better than to ask his older brother, who had spent days planning for tonight. Rob would call him a baby. So he forced himself to stay awake.
A thud in the fireplace fully woke him up. He lunged and grabbed at the large red sack. “Now, Rob!”
But Rob didn’t move. The light, regular breathing indicated his older brother had fallen asleep. Kevin fumbled around for the flue mechanism, but it wasn’t easy. He hadn’t practiced this like his brother had. After what seemed like forever, he found the lever and pulled it closed.
He fell back onto the floor exhausted from the panic. After he recovered his breath a bit, he laughed. Rob had fallen asleep! This was perfect. Finally something he could hold over his brother’s head for a change.
“You know, Kevin, there are other ways into the house. The chimney is just convenient.”
Kevin’s heart stopped. He looked up at a large man, red outfit, white beard.
“And before you ask, you and your brother are not the first to try.”
“Quiet now. We don’t want to wake your brother. Let’s talk over some milk and cookies. You did leave some out, didn’t you?”
Kevin nodded and followed Santa Claus over to two chairs. Between them was a table with a plate of cookies.
“So you were going to take my sack for yourselves?”
“Well, Rob said we would get lots of presents.”
“And what about all the other boys and girls?”
Kevin shrugged. He hadn’t thought about that.
“Hmm. Do you think you deserve a present now?”
Kevin recognized that same tone from when his mother was upset with something she had done. “No.” He didn’t even look up as he answered. “I’m sorry.”
“Well, then, that’s that. I should be going.” Santa stood as he spoke and walked over to his sack. He reached in and pulled out a present, which he then placed under the tree. “Now that stays unopened until the morning, okay?”
Kevin nodded. “But why?”
“Because, Kevin. We all make mistakes. One mistake doesn’t put you on the bad list. And you’re sorry. You admitted what you did and didn’t try to blame your brother.”
“Thank you, Santa, but…”
“What about Rob?”
“Do you think he deserves a present?”
“No less than I do. Sure, he can be a rotten big brother sometimes. But he’s my big brother. I don’t want a gift if he doesn’t get one, too.”
Santa smiled. “Very well. Here’s a gift for Rob, too. And Kevin…”
“Tell him Merry Christmas for me.”
“I will, Santa. Thank you. Merry Christmas.”