“Daddy I don’t understand.”
Jim glances up from the Christmas tale lying open in his hand with a confused expression. At this hour four year olds should be fast asleep with choreographed fruit prancing though their dreams; not pondering philosophical questions as her tone suggests.
“Well…Rudolph. You know how all the other reindeers teased him for his red nose?”
He nods, his expression mirroring the serious one on his daughter’s face because she seems to be concentrating intensely. Tess’ eyebrows are furrowed together in the same contemplation that her mother attains in front of an easel or that one time she tried to make bread.
“Yeah, what about him?”
“Why did he just make friends with them after he saved Christmas? If they were so mean to him for so long, why would he do that?”
Jim’s limbs go slack as his mind’s wheels attempt to drum up an explanation that could suffice for the girl, which is a difficult proposition considering he has no idea.
He’d never really thought about it that much.
Pam doesn’t remove her eyes from the tray of sugar cookies on the counter, but she hears Jim close the door to their daughter’s bedroom behind him and his footsteps approach. They pause behind her as he leans against the opposite countertop.
“Your daughter is one of the most inquisitive people I have ever known.”
She groans as her wrist hits the cookie sheet and the loose red sugar atop the cutouts sprays to the other end, but her tone is still mild.
“Oh, so now she’s ‘my daughter’, huh? Last week when she made that jump shot you were taking all the credit.”
The proud, wistful smile reappears briefly on Jim’s face. She could play pro if she keeps up this speed… but he shakes himself out of it as Pam lowers the tin into the oven.
“It’s like she searches out that one weak spot of things I don’t know and smacks it. Hard.”
She wipes her hands on a towel and smirks.
“Are you comparing our kid to a tank?”
Jim strikes one of his signature looks, pushing off from the counter and folding his arms over his chest, an expression of mock-seriousness taking over.
“Oh no, she’s much more dangerous than that. She could be the next Terminator. Or Godzilla. Only her weapon will be confusing her enemies to death. It’ll be catastrophic, you just wait and see.”
Pam bites her lip to help swallow the smile and shakes her head gravely, stepping forward and resting her palms on Jim’s chest.
“This is much more serious than I’d suspected.” Only Jim breaks and Pam follows soon after, an amused grin on her face as she asks, “What did she want to know? I was hoping we could wait out the ‘where babies come from’ conversation until the New Year.”
Jim shudders at the premonition. “No, she wanted to know why Rudolph made nice with his fellow-antlered bullies when they were sucking up to him at the end of the story.”
Her face puckers a little in distaste, then awe at her daughter’s analytical abilities. At this rate she’d become a lawyer or a CSI or something. Pam doesn’t find the idea all too unappealing.
“Yikes. I’m glad it was you in there and not me.” Jim shoots down a ‘gee, thanks’ expression but she continues with a plastered innocent face. “What’d you tell her?”
“Something about turning the other cheek and fish or… something. I think she drifted off halfway thorough my explanation, so that’s a plus.”
“Or she’ll spend the rest of her life expecting other people to slap her with a trout.”
Jim’s eyebrows dip toward his nose. “Well, I guess we’ll never realize all the ways I’ve irreparably messed with her head until she becomes an adult. So until then I plan to live in blissful ignorance.”
Pam frowns. “Don’t say that. You’re a great father and you know it. However modesty hasn’t ever been one of you’re strong points so you should stop it now.”
The timer dings as if to emphasize her point and she disentangles herself for Jim’s long limbs, stretching her fingers into one of Phyllis’ oven mitts and removing the hot tray from the rack to set it onto the counter. Pam spatulas them onto a decorative plate as she adds; “Besides it’s not like Tess is exactly a problem child. We got lucking mister.”
“Boy do I know that.”
Jim’s eyes widen as he thinks over to Dwight and Angela’s three little mongrels, each of them as belligerent and opinionated as their parents. He could only laugh as Dwight’s face turned beet red while they swarmed around the office, knocking over papers, because he doesn’t think they could have been bestowed upon a more deserving father. Of course he also remembers how pale Angela had looked the last time he’d seen her, so he thinks better of that particular curse.
Pam turns around, the cookies arranged haphazardly on the plate, and raises it to chest level.
“Tess made me promise to make these and leave them out for Santa. I guess you fit the figure head since you are the bearer of presents, so here you go.”
“How many did you make?” his eyes growing larger at the mound of confectionary.
“Geez, by the time Christmas is over I’ll look like Santa.”
Pam shoots a quiet laugh over her shoulder.
“So you’ll finish up wrapping and I’ll take bow duty? Since I know you can’t figure out how to do the curl thing with the ribbon.”
Jim shakes his head lightly as they both move towards the bedroom. “Still can’t let that go, huh? It’s not as easy as it looks.”
Pam squints as if she’s trying to calculate a difficult math problem. “Actually, speaking as someone who can do it, it is in fact as easy as it looks.”
Jim rolls his eyes and instead of replying, points toward the pile at the foot of their bed.
“Is this the stuff that still needs to be wrapped?” he asks, sifting through the boxes of pink and orange and purple. “Barbie Arabian princess, Astronaut Barbie… Is there a Punk Rocker Barbie that I’m not seeing?” Jim jokes, grabbing the mistletoe wrapping paper from the bedside table.
“Very funny.” Pam states deadpan, “That model was sold out.”
Jim does a double take but he figures that if the plastic blonde can work at MacDonald’s and ride horses, she can slap on some fishnets and pierce her nose too.
“Almost done,” Jim declares a few minutes later, the redheaded bob of the molded space adventurer disappearing inside the fold of paper.
Pam grins down on the shiny string in her hands, “Then can you take the ones that are ready and put them under the tree?” She leans over and kisses him on the cheek. “Santa.”
Jim smirks and attaches the tape to one end of the last box, securing the other end and handing it off to Pam for a bow. “After you, Mrs. Claus.”
Outside it’s snowing, and as the frosty mixture dusts the suburban street a milky white, the world goes quiet to listen for the jingle of bells and for the moment nothing’s wrong at all.