My wings snapped open, leaving the green shirt in shreds and falling to the ground instead of me. Despite the cold air, I was pretty hot. Being dumped out of a sled unceremoniously had that effect on a god.
Noel had looped around and came back, hovering next to me. “You all right there, Hermes?” he asked me with a grin on his face. “Didn’t Clive tell you to put on the seatbelt before you got in?”
I was pretty sure one of the reindeer snorted, and I resisted the urge to smite it on the spot. “This is not funny, Fat Man,” I growled.
“Don’t get your shirt in a twist…oh, you lost your shirt. Sorry about that. We dump all the new elves out of the sleigh on their first run. It’s tradition.”
“I’m not an elf, and let me tell you what you can do with your tradition.”
“Tell me later,” he replied. “I’ve got a schedule to keep.”
Reluctantly, I got back into the sleigh, folding my wings around me to keep me warm. Santa reached behind him and handed me a red jacket. “It’s all I’ve got, I’m afraid.”
I put my wings away and slipped on the oversized red jacket with white fur trim. Instantly, it shrunk to fit me. Yeah, nothing odd about that at all, right? “What’s the big deal about giving away the toys? You’re throwing a lot of good drachma down the drain.”
Snapping the reins, Santa gave me a sad look as the reindeer took off at top speed. “Not everything in life is about drachma, Hermes.”
“That’s just blasphemy! I’m the God of Commerce; how dare you say something like that to me?”
“You can’t see beyond your ledgers,” Santa continued. “If you’d look up every once in a while, you would find out what life is really about.”
“Hmpf,” I responded, crossing my arms.
The night flew by as he made his rounds. He stopped at every house, rich or poor; he did not differentiate between the economic classes. Every child received the same well-made, beautiful toys.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Santa said at one point.
“I highly doubt it,” I scoffed.
“You’re wondering why I’m leaving toys for the rich children when their parents can afford to buy them whatever they want.”
There was no way I was going to admit that thought had crossed my mind, so I simply shrugged.
“Just because a family has money does not mean that they get the same amount of love and attention,” he pointed out. “For one night, I want them to feel that they are loved just for themselves, not for who their parents are.”
We continued on his rounds, going to places where families barely had coal to heat their homes. Again, the same gifts were left for the children. However, he left food on their tables for Christmas morning. Once, he knelt next to a brown-haired little girl, gently stroking her hair and touching her nose. She giggling in her sleep and sighed.
When we got back into the sleigh, I said, “Why did you do that?”
“She reminds me of my daughter when she was that little,” he said quietly. “She became very sick one year, and we lost her. Her name was Noelle.”
The rest of the night flew by, and I was surprised to find myself helping him lay out gifts and meals. I even started to enjoy what I was doing. The lesson was not lost on me. Did this mean I was going soft? Nike would say it meant I had a heart.
We arrived back at the North Pole as the dawn broke on the horizon. I got out as Clive and two other elves came to put the reindeer in the barn. “So, Hermes,” Santa said as he led me into the house, “do you understand now why I’m not worried about the ‘drachma’, as you said previously. It isn’t about that; it’s about the children.”
“Yes, I get it.”
“Do you really?”
I nodded. “I’m going to do something that nobody at home would believe if you told them.”
“Really? And what’s that?”
“I’m going to make a donation of the materials you need each year. Use the money you have for coal as well as meals for those in need.”
“Well,” Santa said, sitting down in his chair and picking up his pipe, “this is a surprise. I accept.”
“With one caveat.”
I tilted my head slightly. “What caveat?”
Listening, my mouth dropped open as he explained his one stipulation. “That’s the deal,” he said when he finished. “Take it or lose the drachma every year.”
That was really hitting me in the drachma belt. I rubbed my hand across my face and decided to look at the bigger picture for once. Holding out my hand, I said, “Deal.”
The Fat Man leaned forward and shook my hand. “No welching on this, agreed?”
“I am a God of Olympus. I never go back on my word,” I retorted.
“Good to know.”
Which brings me back to the present…
I arrived at the department store and walked inside. A young woman asked me if there was something in particular I was looking for, and I bit back the urge to make a snarky remark. Instead, I said, “No, my dear, I know which way to go.”
Strolling to the elevator, I pushed the up button, and when the car arrived, I stepped inside and punched the number three. I straightened my shirt and popped my neck. The car stopped, the doors opened, and there stood Clive. “You’re late,” he snapped. “We’ve got a schedule to keep. You’re not all that and a bag of chips, you know.”
Little prick. When he turned around and walked off, I had to resist the urge to smite him. It was the same thing every year. He was lucky he was still alive after all this time.
The Fat Man was waiting in a room for me, wearing his red suit. “Good to see you, Hermes!” he said, coming over to shake my hand. “For a minute, I didn’t think you were going to make it. Good thing I had Clive call that lovely secretary of yours to remind you.”
“You should have him do this, you know,” I said.
“The answer is still the same,” he replied. “We have a deal.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I muttered, stepping behind the screen.
A few minutes later, I came out in that same stupid green outfit I had first worn all those years ago. Clive stuck his head in the door. “Are you two ready? We’ve got a big crowd this year.”
“There’s a big crowd every year, Clive,” the Fat Man pointed out. He slapped me on the back. “Let’s go and greet the children, shall we?”
Grumbling, I followed him out to the main area, where a big golden chair was set up, a fake Christmas snow scattered around, two plastic reindeer, and a sign that said “The North Pole”. A huge bag sat to one side of the chair, and on the other side was a smaller bag full of candy canes. The Fat Man did his famous laugh, and all the children cheered. I walked over to the side where the candy canes were, the bells on my shoes jingling as I moved.
“Why does that elf look grumpy?” a little boy asked his mother.
“Maybe he doesn’t like the warm weather,” she told him.
“Maybe it’s because he looks like an idiot in that get-up,” an older kid said.
I looked up and located him; he wasn’t hard to find, because he was grinning from ear to ear. He was holding up his phone, probably shooting a video of me. A flick of my wrist, and his pants fell down around his ankles, showing everyone his Rugrats boxer shorts. Bending over, he grabbed his pants, pulled them up and ran out of the room.
“That wasn’t very nice, Hermes,” Clive said as he stood next to me.
“Keep talking, and I’m going to do worse to you, pointy ears.”
Clive’s eyes widened and he moved away from me and to the other side by the big bag.
We spent hours handing out toys and candy canes. One little boy tugged at my heart. He climbed in the Fat Man’s lap. “Hello, Barry,” the Fat Man said to the little boy. “How are you doing this year?”
“I’m okay, sir. How are you?”
“Well, Mrs. Claus has told me I can’t have any more cookies.”
“That’s not very nice,” Barry replied. “I’ll make sure and leave some out for you tonight.”
“I’ll keep an eye out for them when I’m at your house. What would you like me to bring you?”
“Nothing for me, thank you. But could I ask for something for my mother?”
“Well, that is an unusual request,” he said, “but I’ll see what I can do. What does she want?”
“She really needs a job, Santa. She’s been out of work for three months. I hear her cry herself to sleep every night. The other night, I heard her on the phone, saying she wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to stay in our house much longer.”
“That’s a pretty big request. I’m not sure if I can make it happen right away, but I’ll do my best. Are you sure you don’t want anything for yourself?”
“No, sir,” Barry said, shaking his head. “I just want my mom to stop crying and be happy again.”
The Fat Man gave him a gentle hug. “You are a very special young man, Barry. I have never met anyone so selfless. I’ll see what I can do, just for you.”
“Oh, thank you, Santa!” Barry cried, throwing his arms around the Fat Man’s neck. “I knew you’d take care of it!” He hopped down and ran off to find his mother.
We were there for another thirty minutes before it was all over. As we wandered back to the room so I could change, I said, “How are you going to keep your promise to that little boy?”
“I’m not,” he replied in a matter of fact way. “You are.” He stopped and looked at me. “I could see the wheels in your head turning as you listened to him. You already have a plan, don’t you?”
I shrugged. Of course I did, but I wasn’t about to admit that to him. Quickly, I changed clothes. “Do you know where Barry lives?”
“I know where all the children live, remember?” He gave me the address. “Always a pleasure to see you, Hermes. Same time, next year, right?”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” I muttered as I left.
The next morning, Barry woke up to the sound of a yip coming from the living room. Jumping out of bed, he ran to the living room and found a little golden retriever puppy in a box under the tree. As he was kneeling down, he saw an envelope with his mother’s name on it. Grabbing it in one hand, he picked up the puppy and hurried to his mother’s room. “Momma, look what Santa brought me!” he exclaimed, putting the puppy on the bed next to her.
“Oh my goodness!” she said, stroking the puppy’s little head.
“And this was on the tree for you!” Barry continued, handing her the envelope.
The return address was the Olympus Administration. With a quizzical look on her face, she opened the envelope, pulled out a letter and read it. Putting her hand over her mouth, she gasped and started to cry.
“What’s the matter, Momma?”
“I…I have a job,” she sniffled. “I’m to report to someone named Mr. Hermes on January 3rd. He’s going to put me to work as a bookkeeper.”
“He did it! Santa did it! I asked him to get you a job and he did!” Barry jumped up and down.
“I guess he did, sweetie. I guess he did.”
I listened to their conversation through the little bug in the puppy’s collar and smiled. It felt good to do something for someone else, I thought as I crushed the listening device in my hand.
But I wasn’t going to make a habit of it.
As I headed back to the OA building, I wondered if Clive was enjoying the baby dragon I had sent him as much as Barry was enjoying his new puppy. I really needed to remember to send him the owner’s manual on how to take care of that dragon.
I’d have to take care of that…