Mr. Larabee, Mr. Wilmington, the teacher greeted the two men at the door and quickly ushered them to the classroom. Thank you for coming down here. I'm so sorry for calling you, but I didn't know what else to do."
Chris looked around the room at all the children. Most were crying; some just looked as if they were ready to cry even little JDs eyes were red and swollen. Eli Joe Chavez was sitting in a far corner, facing the wall. Apparently, he must have had something to do with the chaotic situation no big surprise there.
Finally, Chris eyes came to rest on Vin, who was sitting at his desk, looking completely happy and content. Maybe, he thought, the teacher should have called the other childrens parents, because his son looked perfectly fine to him.
What happened? he asked, then noticed that theyd just been spotted by half of their dynamic duo.
Before the teacher was able to open her mouth and explain, JD began sobbing and launched himself from his desk, wailing, Buck!
Hey, now, Little Bit," Buck soothed as he picked up the small boy. "What's the matter?
M-make him t-take it b-baaaack!
Take what back?" Chris asked, looking concerned. He glanced from JD to Vin, who had slid down in his chair. The fair-haired boy was looking at them now; his normally sweet, guileless expression was a mixture of amusement and plain stubborn defiance. That was never a good sign.
H-h-he s-said th-there's n-no S-S-Santa C-Claaauus! Buck rubbed JDs back as JD rubbed his face on Bucks shoulder, leaving a shiny streak across the dark blue material of his ATF jacket.
Using his years of experience, along with his superior skill and ability to break down a crime scene, Chris quickly deduced what had happened. His sweet, thoughtful, good-hearted boy had just informed the entire class of children that there was, in fact, no such person as Santa Claus. When he glanced at Vin again, the boys blue eyes were twinkling and there was a tiny satisfied smile on his face. Chris had to turn away and remind himself that the situation would only deteriorate if he burst into laughter.
A while ago, we read the story Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Afterwards we had the children write there own letters, explaining to Virginia why they thought there was or wasnt a Santa Claus. Mrs. Roquette handed Chris what was obviously Vins letter. At the top it said, No, Virginia, there aint no Santa Claus.
Chris sighed, and the teacher continued, While they were writing, somehow a discussion started up between the children and it . . . well, it obviously got out of hand, she explained, then a look of sadness crossed her face. Vin said he didnt believe there was a Santa Claus, and then Eli Joe said . . . she leaned closer to him and lowered her voice to a whisper, that Santa was real, he just didnt bother bringing presents to dirty, little street rats.
Chris jaw dropped. He said what? That little ba--
Hey, now! Buck cut him off, clapping him on the shoulder with a little too much force.
Chris glared, then nodded at his old friend. No, he didnt want to curse in front of a whole classroom of children. But, hed sure like to take Eli Joe out to the nearest woodshed, if that were possible.
What do you want me to do? Chris calmly asked the teacher. Would you like me to tell him to take it back? Encourage him to lie?
Well . . .. Mrs. Roquette looked around at all the distraught children in the classroom then back at him, with a hint of desperation in her eyes.
Chris shook his head, starting to feel a little of her frustration. Then he motioned to Vin. Cmere, buddy.
Vin hurried up to them, tilting his head back to look up at Chris. If ya want, I can lie to 'em, and tell 'em Santa's real, he offered, squinting his eyes as if daring Chris to give him the go ahead.
No, we can't have him lie, Chris, Buck said, trying to be helpful. Apparently he'd forgotten that JD was right there, in his arms.
Just as the boy finished wiping his runny nose on Buck's shoulder again, he let out a renewed wail. Ya mean its true? S-S-Santas a liiiiie?
Bucks eyes went wide and he hurriedly began shaking his head. "No, no, 'course not, Little Bit. Hush, now.
Vin snorted, and Buck gave him a mild glare that said, This aint funny, Junior,
Vin, however, happened to think it was funny -- real funny, in fact. All this time hed thought he was the dumb one. After all these months of being teased and ridiculed for not being as smart as the other kids, he was only too happy to find out that he did know something that the rest of them didnt, and he was equally happy to offer up this valuable piece of information that apparently only hed been privy to.
Okay, I think I know how to handle it, Chris said, taking charge, like the team leader he was.
Are you sure? both Buck and Mrs. Roquette asked at the same time, both looking a little apprehensive.
Chris just smiled grimly and turned to face the class. Okay, listen up guys, he called out, trying to make himself heard over the wailing children. Hey, if I could have a moment of quiet, please?
Vin smiled and leaned against Mrs. R's desk. This ought to be good, he thought as he flicked his wiggly tooth back and forth with his tongue. Wiggly teeth sure came in handy when there was nothing else to do. He wondered how long it would take before the vein on the side of Chris forehead started to bulge out. He kept an eye on his dad, then he remembered the prize he had gotten earlier and shoved his hand deep into his pocket to fish out his new, sparkly blue yo-yo.
Children! Please, listen up! Mrs. Roquette said in her I mean it voice that usually made everyone quiet down right away. This time it didnt seem to be working.
Vin wondered how much practice it would take to become a professional yo-yo guy, like the guys who had come to their school yesterday. Theyd given a speech about selling magazines and fundraising stuff, which had been very, very boring, but then theyd given a yo-yo demonstration, which had been very, very cool.
A lot of the kids had never seen a yo-yo before, but theyd all been mighty impressed with the cool tricks you could do with them. The yo-yo guys had given everyone a little order booklet and told them that anyone who brought it back with at least ten names and addresses would get a prize yo-yo. It had taken a while, but with Chris help Vin had finally managed to come up with the ten names and addresses required to get the prize. Hed been a little worried that JD had used the same names and addresses as he had, but Mrs. R said that it was okay, and gave JD a red yo-yo, and Vin a blue one.
Vin thought he was well on his way to becoming a yo-yo expert, like the guys whod done the demonstration yesterday. He could already make it go up and down and up and down and up and down, unlike the rest of the kids, who could only make it go down.
Okay, now, everyone quiet down! Mr. Beidler took his turn at trying to silence the classroom. If they didnt listen to Chris, or Mrs. R, Vin doubted they would listen to Mr. B. Maybe they should try blowing the whistle they used to signal recess was over?
Slipping the loop of string around his finger, Vin glanced up at the adults. They werent looking at him; they were paying all their attention to the bunch of crying babies in the classroom. Mr. B had said it was okay if they played with their yo-yos at recess and during free time and since nobody was doing any schoolwork, he figured this must be free time.
When Chris whistled loudly, the way he did when he called the pups in, Vin smiled. If that didnt quiet everyone down, nothing would. Sure enough, almost immediately a hush fell over the room.
Now, that I have your attention, I want to try explaining something to you all. I know Vin here, told you all that Santa Claus doesnt exist, he explained loudly, finding it hard to believe that the words were coming out of his mouth. A couple of hours ago, if anyone would have told him that hed be telling an entire classroom, Yes, children, there is a Santa Claus, hed have thought they were crazy. But thats not necessarily true.
Vins mouth fell open, his eyes went wide and his yo-yo spun idly at the end of its string.
We all know that when folks get to be a certain age they begin to feel theyre too old to believe in Santa Claus. Usually when that happens, they no longer get presents from him, although they still get presents from their family and friends. Often, by the time kids stop believing in Santa . . . well, he has new little ones to add to his list. Its a . . . revolving process, of sorts . . .. His voice trailed off as he realized every child in the room was gazing at him intently. He cast a nervous glance toward Buck and received a thumbs-up signal, encouraging him to continue, so he cleared his throat and went on, My point is, if you dont believe in Santa or dont want him to come to your house, he wont come. Not everyone celebrates Christmas, and some folks do celebrate it but they dont believe that its Santa that brings them gifts.
Thats right, Mrs. Roquette jumped in. Remember, yesterday Isabella told us that her family celebrates Christmas on the 6th of January? They believe that the Wise Men bring presents, not Santa Claus.
So, is there a Santa or not? Freddy Chaney hollered out.
Freddy . Mr. B said in a warning voice.
The boy rolled his eyes, but dutifully raised his hand.
Freddy sighed. Is there a Santa Claus?
Well now, Chris answered. Id say that depends on what you believe.
~ * ~
It wasnt until much later in the evening that most of their Santa Claus issues were finally settled. Chris had thought that maybe Vins mother had told him the truth about Santa to save him from being disappointed by the realities of their life, but Vin had explained that he remembered having his doubts, and asking his momma flat out if Santa was real. Up until then, apparently she had gone along with the tale, but when confronted, shed felt she had to tell the truth. In turn, Vin had gone along with the tale for JDs sake, but when Eli Joe had taunted him hed been unable to hold back any longer.
Chris made sure Vin understood that it wasnt for him to come right out and offer information of that sort. It was up to parents to explain to their children about Santa Claus when they thought the time was right. Vin had asked if he was supposed to lie, and Chris told him, no, but that it might be best if he were evasive. He suggested that Vin tell anyone who asked that he simply didnt know.
Vin had seemed okay with that idea, and even admitted that he hadnt meant to upset everyone, that hed just been mad at Eli Joe. Chris confessed that that if hed been in Vins place, he probably would have done the same thing. Then he took the boy in his arms and hugged him for a long time, feeling proud and, at the same time, sad that his little boy was missing out on one of the biggest wonders of childhood.
Buck had managed to reassure JD that Santa would visit them, as long as JD believed in Santa. That just because Vin didnt believe in Santa, didnt mean Santa would skip their house, altogether. Vin had apologized to JD for upsetting him, and that, along with his explanation of being mad at Eli Joe, somehow fixed everything, as far as JD was concerned.
Now, it was almost bedtime and the boys sat with their fathers, watching the Grinch on television. Vin had his mouth open as his tongue absently flicked at his dangly front tooth. Buck, who was seated on the couch with JD, watched with a sort of mixture of revulsion and fascination, wishing the darn thing would just come out already. Every day the boy had to show them, and anyone else he happened to corner, how wiggly the tooth was getting. To be honest, it was enough to make the toughest of ATF agents shudder and he was pretty sure that was why Vin insisted on showing them each day.
Hey look! Vin shouted a few moments later, looking amazed as he held his tooth out for all to see.
Well, all right! Buck said, sounding congratulatory. He knew it wouldnt be long before another one would become loose, and theyd have to endure the process all over again, but for the moment, he was thankful for a reprieve.
Vins fingers were bloody, and the gap where his tooth had been looked to be bleeding still.
Lets go rinse your mouth out, Chris said, hustling the boy off to the bathroom.
A few minutes later, Vin was back, proudly holding out his tooth for their inspection. He wore a beaming smile, which Buck couldnt help but return. The boy was absolutely adorable with his front tooth missing.
JD leaned close to get a good look at the tiny tooth. So, what ya gonna do with it? he asked in wonder.
Put it under my pillow.
Under your pillow? What for?
Vin looked at him as if he was crazy. So the Tooth Fairy can find it.
Both Chris and Buck looked at Vin and then each other with surprise. After everything theyd gone through that day, Vin couldnt actually believe in the Tooth Fairy, could he?
Oh. JD nodded, still looking puzzled. Whats the Tooth Fairy?
Shes who comes to get your teeth when they fall out. Vin shrugged then headed for their bedroom.
JD squirmed off of Bucks lap to follow his brother. Vin? What does she do with falled out teeth?
The men tried to stifle their laughter as they heard Vin explain, I dunno what she does with em, JD. All I know is she comes while your sleepin and takes your tooth from under your pillow and leaves some money in its place.
Wow, how does she get in?
Dont know that, either, but I reckon shes real small, like Tinkerbell.
Cool! Hey, Vin does my tooth look wiggly?
No, not yet, JD.
Howd ya get yours wiggly?
It just got wiggly all by itself.
Oh. JD sounded disappointed.
See, like this one.
Hey! You already got another wiggly one! Youre gonna be rich!
In the living room, both of the men listening let out a groan. So much for their reprieve.
So, Tinkerbell . . .. Buck said with a big grin. Whats the going price for a tooth these days?
Call me that again and youll be finding out real soon.
Buck let out a long-suffering sigh then gestured to the television. How bout that, Chris, theyre playing your song.
Youre a mean one, Mr. Grinch . . ..
Chris grinned then turned a playful glare on his old friend. You know, I got some rope and a pair of antlers out in the barn. You keep it up and I might put them to use.