Chrissy dug her nails into her palms, trying to keep herself from falling asleep. She knew she was supposed to be sleeping already, but she was determined that this year, she was going to stay up as long as she had to to see Santa.
In the hallway, she could hear very very quiet voices—Papa and Daddy going downstairs. They would be putting all her presents from them under the Christmas tree probably, and then Daddy would probably eat some of the cookies she left out for Santa because Daddy was a jerk. And then they would come back upstairs, and go into their room, and then she could sneak down and wait.
In the meantime, she held her breath and named the stars painted on her ceiling to keep herself awake.
She was just getting bored of naming stars when she heard them coming back up the stairs. Daddy laughed at something Papa said, and she quickly closed her eyes, just before her door opened and someone came in.
“Is she asleep?” Papa murmured from the doorway.
“Looks like,” Daddy said. He was standing right next to her bed, and Chrissy tried hard to look asleep as he bent down to give her a kiss. “Goodnight, angel,” he whispered, and she bit her tongue to stop herself from smiling.
He walked away and the door closed, and she cracked open one eye to see the hallway light go out. Their footsteps went down the hall, creak, creak, creak, and their squeaked open and thunked shut so it stayed closed.
She waited a few minutes to make sure no one was going to come back before she slid out of bed and crept out of her room and down the stairs.
It was dark downstairs, except for the lights on the tree, which gave the living room a nice soft glow. Like she thought, there were cookies missing from the plate on the kitchen counter, and so she sneaked into the kitchen to get more for Santa. While she was at it she thought she could maybe take just one chocolate-chip one for herself, too. After all, there were a lot of chocolate-chip ones.
Once she’d replenished the plate of cookies, she came back out into the living room and looked around for a place to hide while she waited for Santa to come. Behind the couch, she decided, would be a good place; she would be all in the shadows like a secret ninja, but she would probably be able to see everything. Hopefully. Holding her breath, she crouched behind the arm of the couch and looked out around the side with just her eyes, watching and waiting.
He appeared so suddenly and quietly she didn’t even notice—like blinking, only when she shut her eyes he wasn’t there but when she opened them he was. She didn’t even think she did blink, but one second the room was empty and then suddenly he was standing there in front of the tree.
The first thing she noticed was he wasn’t wearing red. Well, actually, he had on his red hat with the white fur, but no red coat to match it, just a tan jacket and regular old jeans, and instead of being all black and shiny, his boots were just motorcycle boots like Daddy and Uncle Sammy wore. Curious, she came out a little further to get a better look at him.
He didn’t seem to see her, but when he turned around he did see the plate of cookies. Grinning, he hurried over to them and grabbed two to put in his mouth at once. She put a hand over her mouth not quite fast enough to stifle a giggle.
“Huh?” he mumbled, turning, and she shrank back into the corner, a little scared. He finished his mouthful of cookies, licked his lips, and then whispered, “Is that Christina back there?”
“Yep,” she said, creeping out slowly. “Only Daddy and Papa and Uncle Sammy all call me Chrissy. No one calls me Christina usually.”
“Nice to meetcha, Chrissy,” he said, chuckling, and took another bite of a cookie.
“Are you Santa Claus?” she asked shyly.
“I sure am,” he said.
She looked at the floor, shuffling her feet. “I’m sorry for being out of bed, Mr. Santa,” she said. “I just wanted to see you. You’re not gonna give me coal, are you?”
“I’m not that much of a dick,” he said, and she gasped, trying to hide her grin behind her hands.
“You said a bad word,” she whispered, and giggled again.
“Whoops.” He frowned and licked crumbs off his fingers. “Guess I should watch my mouth, since you’re just a kid.”
“It’s okay,” she said. “Daddy says a lot more badder words than that sometimes. Uncle Sammy always tells him he has to keep it clean enough for natural TV only Daddy isn’t very good at that.”
He laughed again. His laugh didn’t sound much like ho-ho-ho but that was okay, she decided.
“I got you more cookies, by the way,” she added. “Cause Daddy is greedy and ate some himself, so I wanted to put more out for you since I thought maybe you might want some more but not want to be rude and take them without asking.”
“You,” he said with his mouth full of cookie, “are the best little kid I’ve ever met.”
“You’re welcome, Mr. Santa Claus,” she said politely, blushing.
He grabbed the plate of cookies and sat down on the couch, putting his feet up on the table. “You can call me Gabe if you want,” he said. “Here, have a cookie, I’m feeling generous.”
She took the sugar cookie he was holding and climbed up to sit next to him, even though her feet wouldn’t reach the table. “But I thought your name was Santa Claus,” she said, confused.
“Nope,” he said, shaking his head. “Being Santa Claus is a job. They don’t tell you that, though, cause you can’t just be Santa when you grow up, you have to get picked for it.”
“Ohhh,” she said, nodding, and nibbled at the edge of the cookie. “So do you got a day job too? Daddy and Uncle Sammy got day jobs doing stuff. Daddy does stuff with cars and Sam does stuff with bad guys, like a superhero but more boring.” She thought. “I dunno what their night jobs are, but I think it’s what they do when they go on trips.”
“I guess you could say I have a day job,” he agreed, with a funny halfway smile. “Or something like that, anyways.”
“And then on Christmas you’re Santa Claus!” she said, beaming. “And you bring presents to little boys and girls.”
He nodded, grabbing another cookie and biting into it. “But only the ones who are really good,” he added.
She stared at him with wide eyes. “Was I really good? Really good enough to get presents?” she asked, blinking up at him.
“Of course you were,” he reassured her. “You even went out of your way to get me more cookies. You’re like a real little angel.” He laughed. She wasn’t sure what was funny, but she did too even so.
“That’s what Daddy calls me,” she said proudly. “His little angel. And Papa is his big angel!”
Gabe looked like he wanted to say something, but he shook his head and had another cookie instead. “You’re both great angels,” he agreed. “And I have plenty of presents for you.”
“Can I open one?” she asked, sitting up and beaming.
He folded his arms. “Nope. Not until tomorrow morning, that’s the rules.”
“Aww,” she complained, and yawned. “But that’s nn—nnah—not fair.”
“It’s totally fair,” he argued. “That’s the way it works.”
“Hmpf,” she complained, and tried to cover up another yawn. He chuckled and ruffled her hair up.
“Shouldn’t you be in bed, kiddo?” he asked her.
“No,” she protested. “I’m not tired.”
“Okay,” he said, shrugging. “If you say so.”
She grabbed another cookie from the plate when he got up, and nibbled at it as she watched him stack up some more presents under the tree. I can’t wait to tell Daddy and Papa about this tomorrow, she thought sleepily, and then, Tomorrow—that’s Christmas!
She didn’t even notice when she fell asleep.
It was early Christmas morning she woke up on the couch, with a blanket thrown over her to keep her warm. Bewildered, she sat up and looked outside the window to see snow falling softly, lit by the yellow lights on the tree.
“Daddy!” she called as she came up the stairs, and padded down the hallway to her parents’ room. “Papa! Daddy! Wake up, it’s Christmas!”
“Nngh,” Daddy muttered, sitting up. “It’s not even light out.”
“But it’s Christmas!” she insisted, jumping up and down in the doorway. “Get up, get up! I wanna open presents!”
“Okay,” he muttered. “Okay, I’m getting up.”
“I saw Santa,” she said cheerfully as he shook Papa awake and got out of bed. “He gave me a cookie!”
“You saw—what?” Daddy asked, lost. “But Santa isn’t…”
“I saw him!” she told him again, beaming. “I saw him and we ate cookies and he said he had lots of presents for me!”
“I think you were dreaming, angel,” he told her as he followed her downstairs.
“No!” she said. “I wasn’t dreaming, he came! And we talked about how he has a day job and a name that’s like his secret identity! And look, he ate all the cookies, even the ones I put out after you ate them!”
“Oh,” Daddy said, blinking. “So he did.”
“And then I fell asleep but I think he musta put a blanket on me so I wasn’t cold, wasn’t that nice of him?” she said cheerfully. “And he did bring lots of presents, see, he was here, I told you he was!”
“Yeah, I see,” Daddy agreed, giving her a little grin. “I got you.” He looked around the room, at the counter, at the tree. “Looks like he helped himself to some chocolate and candy canes, too. Go figure.”
“Go figure?” she echoed, curling up in her blanket. “Like you say when you’re not surprised cause you expected it already?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t suppose his secret identity was Gabriel, huh?”
She frowned. “Is Gabriel the long way how to say Gabe?”
“That’s him,” Daddy said, rolling his eyes, but he was laughing. “Now, run upstairs and wake up Sam and Cas. I’m not gonna be the only one who’s up early for Christmas.”