The first thing Emily heard was the crinkle of wrapping paper, and by that time it was too late. Stupid! How could she miss him? She’d stayed awake the whole time, she was sure of it!
She peeked from under her bed covers at the faint glow from the downstairs light. If she didn’t hurry, she’d miss her chance. Santa would be gone and she wouldn’t be able to tell him what she needed to, what she would have told him in her letter, if Daddy hadn’t thrown it away.
Cloaking her shoulders with her blanket, she reached down the side of her bed and grabbed her cricket bat.
Santa Claus had it coming, no matter what her Pap said.
“He’s a nice old man.” Daddy said whenever he talked to her at all, “He brings you presents. Without him, you would only get presents once a year.”
Can’t I have two birthdays instead? she thought, The Queen has two birthdays. Is she afraid of Santa too?
Better yet, Santa should leave the presents on the doorstep, or at the post office, or anywhere that meant he didn’t come in the house. It was bad enough that he had appeared at the market three days early and beckoned her to sit on his lap. She’d refused, of course. She didn’t care how many presents he offered.
It made Daddy sad.
But Emily didn’t want to be near the man in red, she especially didn’t want him creeping about her house at night, not with her baby sister who woke so easily.
Emily paused outside her sister’s room and peered through the gap in the door. Luckily, she was still asleep. Had she been a good girl? Emily didn’t think so. She was loud and annoying and took up all her parents attention, with none to give to Emily.
But that was her business, butt out Santa!
Tip-toeing on, Emily went downstairs. From the lounge, there came a muffled sneeze. She froze, heart thundering. A terrifying thought occurred to her: If Santa knew when you were awake, did he know she was coming for him?
She had to do this. For her baby sister, if no one else. As she raised the bat, her blanket slid from her shoulders and the cold settled there instead. She shivered, but didn’t dare lower the bat. She walked into the lounge.
Santa’s head was jammed under the tree. As he arranged the presents in a neat circle, he huffed and grumbled to himself. Loose threads from his suit tangled in the branches .
“Get out, intruder, or I’ll clobber you!”
Santa jumped and knocked a snowflake off the tree. He said a naughty word, quietly, but Emily heard.
“That’s a bad word!” she grinned wickedly, “You should be on the naughty list.”
“You should be in bed.” His voice was strange, deep but oddly familiar. He slowly shuffled out from under the tree and faced her as he stood.
The fake beard didn’t fool her. She could see the elastic where it was fastened over his head.
Emily frowned, confused but very much relieved. The intrusion wasn’t scary, knowing it was Daddy. But the market Santa must have been someone else, Daddy was stood next to her the whole time.
She couldn’t help but think about how Daddy was always tired, and barely had the time to kiss her forehead before bed.
That must be the reason. The market Santa must have his own silly job and pesky baby – and so did all the grown ups of the world, always so busy, never, ever taking time to play or daydream.
Emily put down her weapon with a smile.
Suddenly Daddy looked very scared. No need for it, his secret was safe with her.
“It’s okay.” She was too happy to be mischievous, “I won’t tell anyone you said a naughty word – but I want to help with the presents.”
“Wha – Uh, ho-ho-ho!” he coughed, and Emily rolled her eyes. “Of course you can, little one. Quick now, before your parents wake up.”
As quietly as they could, they put the rest of the presents under the tree. Once the biscuits were shared and eaten, they went upstairs holding hands.
“You’re a very good helper, Emily.” Daddy said in his silly deep voice, “Will you help me next year?”
Emily squeezed his hand, avowing silently that she’d keep the secret. “Every year, Santa.”