By Cindy Rae
Inspired by the artwork of Sandy X, of course!*
Writing a piece of
fiction to go with this terrific piece of art
"I'll believe in Santa the day I see Vincent in a red hat!" Eric's voice was argumentative, and from just outside the dormitory entrance, Vincent could tell he was near tears.
The exchange had been going on between Eric and Geoffrey for the last five minutes or so, as Vincent stood with Catherine just out of sight.
They were at the point where Vincent knew a timely intervention was called for. Many of the youngest tunnel dwellers still "believed," and it was customary to allow for that at this time of year.
He entered the boy’s sleeping quarters with Catherine quietly bringing up the rear.
"Geoffrey. I wonder if you wouldn't go and see if Father needs help catching Arthur. I believe I heard Mouse mention he was loose in the gallery, again." Vincent’s voice had that adult tone which meant it was not open for discussion, and Eric had the good sense to look crestfallen, knowing he'd been heard.
Geoffrey bounded off the bed, grateful to be free of the disagreement.
"You will help with this?" Vincent whispered to Catherine, sotto voce, as she nodded and held out her hand. "Come on Geoffrey. I think I know his latest hiding place. Afterward, we can go make a tray of hot chocolate and bring it back, okay?"
"Sure." Geoffrey's young lip was mutinous. "But there is a Santa, isn't there, Catherine!? Eric's just wrong!"
Catherine exchanged a look with Vincent, correctly guessing that the protocol here was much the same as it was, Above.
"I count on him coming to see me every year. Red hat and all," Catherine breezed, tugging the younger child out of the doorway - and out of earshot.
Vincent settled his huge body on the small bed next to the little boy. The child sized bed creaked under his weight a little, and it brought the youngster sliding closer to his great frame as the mattress dipped.
"Eric, I know you feel Ellie's absence at Christmas more than at other times..." Vincent began gently.
But Eric interrupted before he could even finish the first sentence.
"Ellie told me. I kept believing, but she had to tell me. Because of the times we didn't get nothing." He was angry, and it showed. "Catherine thinks she's doing Geoff a favor, but she isn't. It's just a lie, Vincent! A lie grownups tell to little kids. One day he'll know it, too." At that, Eric did brush away a tear.
Vincent put an arm around the youngster who had known too much loss in the last year.
"One day he will." Vincent's voice never lost its patient tone. "One day when he's older, and... ready for it. Childhood is a thing not to be given up lightly, Eric.” Vincent searched for the right words. “I know ... that Ellie would have spared you the harsher times, if she could."
"Santa's not real." Eric’s lip was as mutinous as Geoffrey's.
"Perhaps. But believing is real. Geoffrey needs that, right now. He won't, always. But right now he does. Some of the others too. Kipper still believes, and he's older than you."
"He's stupid, then."
"No. Not stupid. Not even wrong. Eric, believing in Santa is more than just... thinking that a man dressed in a red suit is going to come down a chimney and bring you gifts. It's part of the magic of childhood. A part you're still a part of, believe it or not." He let the words swirl, and settle.
"You're going to make me apologize to Geoffrey, aren't you?" Eric was still spoiling for an argument, and Vincent could sense his anger. Not at Geoffrey, but at fate, for taking his sister away, and at the even larger fate that had declared he could not hold on to a fantasy he needed, right now.
"No. I'm not going to make you apologize. I'm just going to ask you that if Geoffrey chooses to believe, that you respect that. I would ask the same thing of you if you were an adult. As big as Ellie. As big as me."
The voice stayed gentle, and slowly, Vincent felt some of Eric's anger go.
"Even though it's a lie?" Eric asked.
"Even though it's not the same truth you're embracing. Father once told me that there was a truth beyond knowledge. Some days, when I feel very wise, I think I understand what he meant." Vincent sighed, sorry for the lost child beside him. He tried to give the little boy a nudge.
"Eric... it's all right if you want to believe in it again. Or at least believe in the spirit of it. Just for a little while." His voice was beyond soft.
Eric blinked up through his thick glasses.
"You mean... believe in the spirit of Santa... like I believe in the spirit of Ellie?"
The conversation had taken an unexpected turn.
"Something like that," Vincent said cautiously.
"But Ellie's real. I know she's near me. Sometimes in class. Sometimes at bedtime. She's real, Vincent. Not like Santa."
"Yes, Ellie is real, and I'm sure you can sense her presence. She loved you, Eric. And I think if she could have given you one gift before she left us, it would have been permission to believe in things like Santa, again. To believe in things she felt she had to take from you, but didn't want to. I think she would have wanted you to believe. Just a while longer."
The words sat between them, and they both heard footsteps in the hallway. Catherine re-entered the room with Geoffrey, standing a moment in the doorway with the tray, seeing if it was safe to enter. Vincent nodded, and the two of them came in.
Geoffrey clambered up on the bed on Vincent's other side as Catherine set the tray down and served. She brushed a soft kiss across Eric's head as she handed him his mug. After a few sips, Eric spoke up.
"I'm sorry, Geoffrey. I was just being mad. You can believe if you want to," he said, then blew on his drink.
"It's okay." Geoffrey replied. "Everybody gets mad. Besides, I got it all fixed."
Catherine had just enough time to shoot Vincent a warning glance. What?
Setting down his mug, Geoffrey reached down the front of his patched overalls and produced a large Santa hat.
"What's this?" Vincent asked, praying he wouldn't look as silly in it as he feared he was about to.
"It's a Santa hat. So Eric can believe again, Vincent." Geoffrey's literal interpretation of Eric's wild claim was about to be tested, it seemed.
"Ah, I see," Vincent said, taking the hat from his young friend.
"So if I wear this..."
"Then I have to believe in Santa. And miracles. And all that kind of stuff." Eric prodded Vincent, a bit of mischief in his young eyes. He was smiling for the first time. And an unspoken agreement passed between the big man and the little boy.
"When I woke up this morning, I'm sure i didn't think that putting on a Santa hat would be part of my day."
He knew his dignity was about to suffer a bit. And he didn't care. It was worth it to see the almost delighted twinkle in the eyes of all three of his companions.
"It could be worse. We could have needed the whole suit," Catherine said, as he carefully donned the hat. Catherine adjusted it so the soft white ball was hanging to one side. Perfect.
"I think you look jaunty," She commented, as the boys' laughter pealed inside the cozy room.
She had to set the mugs away from them, lest spillage occur, in the excitement. Both boys hugged him, one on each side, and he could feel the welcome pressure of their affection; Geoffrey for proving him "right," and Eric for, well, for much the same thing. There was a Santa. Or at the very least, there were still Christmas miracles to be had.
"I believe this might look better on Catherine," Vincent said after a moment, handing her the large cap. It was so big her eyes were nearly covered by the white fur that ran across its bottom.
She modeled it for a few moments, amid much boyish laughter, including a deep chuckle from Vincent. She then passed it on to Geoffrey, who had to cuff it twice, just to be able to see, and the young boy finally passed the hat over to Eric, who gleefully put it on.
"It's not so bad, believing in something," Eric declared. "Come on,” he tugged Geoffrey’s hand. “Sebastian said he's bringing down three boxes of candy canes for the tree." He tugged on Geoffrey's hand. "If we show up early, maybe he'll do some magic."
"I love magic!" Geoffrey enthused, the two boys tearing out of the room like the little whirlwinds that they were. Catherine and Vincent watched them go.
"That was a very sweet thing you did," she commented, making sure everything was back on the tray as she made ready to carry their mess back to the kitchen.
"I'd say you were more to thank than I," he took the tray from her hands and set it back down on the dresser.
"Me?" Her green eyes were all guile.
"You. One wonders where Geoffrey managed to find a Santa hat on such short notice. A very large one."
Her lovely voice was sheer innocence. "It may have been in a box of things I brought down for everyone," she confessed. "And Geoffrey and I might happened to have walked by it on the way to the kitchen."
"And you may have given it to him?" Vincent prodded.
"That's a leading question, your honor. I may refuse to answer on the grounds it may incriminate me." Her smile was meant to disarm.
"You'll plead the fifth? Santa's watching, Catherine." He brushed her soft cheek with his thumb, and his slight smile let her know he was not done with her, yet.
"I'm counting on it.” Catherine returned his gentle caress. "And I want you to know I've been mostly good, all year, Santa." She stepped closer to him, and it seemed the most natural thing in the world that he would tip her chin up for a soft, Christmas kiss.
"Do you still believe in Christmas magic, Catherine?" he asked, as her breath left on a happy sigh.
"Every time I think of you," Catherine answered, sealing the reply with another kiss.
No matter where you are on your own journey of believing, I wish you love, ~Cindy
*Many thanks, as
always, to the inspiration of Sandy X’s terrific art,