Nikki, good as her word, showed up at my place Christmas morning. She didn’t look her usual stunning self. She looked tired and run-down, and lacked the usual sparkle in her eyes. Given all that, though, she had attempted to be in the spirit of the day, dressing in a red and white dress straight out of White Christmas, the part at the end. The dress flattered and hugged her without revealing. As usual, she was elegant.
I took Nikki by the hand and brought her inside, as direct an invitation as was possible to give.
“An interesting sweater,” she commented.
I wore my jeans, but also had an overly-large Christmas sweater. Instead of the usual Santa or reindeer, Ebenezer Scrooge proclaimed “Humbug. Bring me more humbugs!”
“Cassie’s present. When she learned what humbugs were, she insisted.”
Nikki smiled as I showed her to the couch.
“Well, Matthew, it has been some time since I have been anywhere for the yule holiday. I’m unsure of the etiquette, now.”
“Not like I have a huge family and routine, here. Jen and I usually do something. Jessie’s family always invites me over, but they’re going upstate to see some other relatives. I’ll call Cassie and my parents sometime, but other than that, I usually just watch some movies and enjoy the day. Sometimes my neighbors will invite me over or send their kids over with a present.”
“No other strange goings on?”
I shrugged. “I have a different barometer for strange than most people.”
“I sensed you were hesitant to speak about some things in front of Jessie. Is there more to the story?”
“No,” I said quickly.
“Matthew, in case you haven’t noticed, I am tired. I’m sure you can play games and manage to obfuscate the truth in my current condition, but is that in the spirit of the day?”
“That is a low-down dirty trick.”
“Okay, there’s nothing more to that story, but there are other . . . stories is the wrong word.”
“No, that’s not it, either.”
“Good a word as any.”
She sighed, heavily. “Please tell me that you will not be as long in the telling of these incidents as the last.”
I shook my head. “I don’t remember all of them, to be honest. And they’re just tiny little things. That was the first of them, but they kicked into high gear after I found Jessie one Christmas. After that, for a few days leading up to Christmas, and usually a day or so after I will do something, and then see this kid.”
“Just small things. Participating in a Secret Santa, stopping a thief from making off with one of the buckets of a bell-ringer, singing carols to some of the elderly from church. Even telling some kids that Santa’s real and they should write letters. Sometimes I see the kid out of the corner of my eye. I’m not always sure he’s there or I’m seeing things.”
“Who is this child?”
“I don’t know,” I shrugged.
“Matthew, you went out of your way to keep me from touching him, and he also dodged around me. You must know something.”
“I suspect, but I don’t know anything. I think that’s kind of the point. I know more about Nick than the kid.”
“It is a strange thing to know a man who actually knows St. Nicholas.”
“Well, when I say know, I mean he has at least communicated with me.”
“You have seen him in-person?”
“Seen, yes. Talked to, no. He was at the department store a couple of years ago. You remember? the one with the Russian dad?”
I had never seen Nikki caught entirely by surprise. Her eyes goggled, and her mouth hung open in disbelief. “He was there? I stood not fifty feet from him and did not know it?”
I shrugged. “It’s not like there’s a radar for supernatural-types.”
“You misunderstand, Matthew. Around certain churches or even people I will become weak. I can use that as, as you say, a radar. I should have noticed such as he was that close by the belief energy surrounding him.”
“Guess you know what it’s like to be me, now.”
“That’s a discomfiting feeling.”