Part Six: Judgement Day
Blair left the party immediately after Santa, too embarrassed and upset to face anyone. He locked eyes with Jim, shooting him a grateful look, then disappeared. He spent hours staring at the Aurora Borealis and wondering if his life could get any worse. Finally, he decided to find Jim.
Blair appeared in the dormitory, but Jim wasn't there. His bed hadn't been slept in. I should have known, Blair thought and appeared in the woodshop. Jim was sweeping up the last of the sawdust.
"Hey," Blair said tentatively, relieved when Jim smiled at him.
"I guess you couldn't sleep either."
Blair shook his head. "Jim, I'm so sorry for the trouble I caused. You shouldn't have said that to Santa--you weren't to blame at all." He looked in Jim's eyes. "Why'd you do it?"
Jim shrugged. "Knee-jerk reaction, I guess. When I saw Santa looming, yelling at you for no good reason, I had to step in. He was being a bully, and I've always hated bullies." He gave Blair a crooked smile. "Besides, you're my friend."
Blair grinned, impulsively throwing his arms around Jim. Surprised, Jim returned the hug. Blair stepped back and looked around.
Seven wooden toys sat on Jim's workbench, all beautifully carved and in various states of finishing. A large tugboat was complete--its cheerful colors and gleaming finish catching Blair's eye. "Wow, this one is spectacular! Can I touch it?"
Jim nodded. "Yeah, the final coat is dry."
Blair turned it around and around, touching every part before putting it back with the others. "Even an old grouch like Santa is going to love these, Jim. He won't fire you." He sighed. "It might be different for me."
"Well, if he fires you, I'm quitting!"
"You can't do that! You were the one who wanted to come here. I'm just a tag-along."
Jim pulled on one of Blair's curls. "A tag-along who's a lot of fun. We'll find something else to do. Maybe go back home for a while. We could look up Mrs. Claus and tell her how sad Santa is. I'll bet she doesn't know."
Blair looked at him curiously. "Find Mrs. Claus? What do you mean?"
"Didn't H say she took her son to Cascade? That's where I live. I bet my mom could use her magic to find her."
"You're joking! How amazing is that? She might be living right next door! I'll bet--" Suddenly they heard Santa's distinctive rumble. "They're coming! I've gotta get out of here before Santa sees me." He gave Jim's arm a pat. "I'll be back soon."
Jim came to attention when Santa and H entered the woodshop. Santa was dressed in a red tracksuit; H wore his usual green uniform. They immediately gravitated to the table where Jim's toys were on display. They huddled together, picking up the toys and talking softly between themselves. Jim, of course, heard them quite clearly and felt relieved. They were impressed with his work and probably wouldn't fire him. Santa straightened, pulling out a cigar and a lighter.
Emboldened by what he'd heard, Jim put out a hand. "I'm sorry, Sir, there's no smoking here. Sawdust, you see."
Santa put the cigar away and looked around. "I don't see any sawdust at all. What I do see is some damn fine workmanship. I haven't come across toys of this quality in decades. You could give lessons." He put down the train he'd been holding. "We'll forget about last night. Keep up the good work." He opened the woodshop door.
"Wait! Santa--Sir. What about Blair? Many elves like the changes he made to the menu and he's a hard worker. He didn't mean to offend you."
"It's true, Sir," H confirmed. "Blair has raised the spirits of the kitchen staff and I've gotten great feedback from the diners. Yesterday's breakfast frittata was great."
Santa looked at both men. "I suppose he thought he was being helpful. Tell him he can stay, but no more booze! Everyone has to stay sharp until Christmas Eve!" He turned to go. Before H followed, he gave Jim a wink.
Jim blew out a relieved breath. He and Blair were safe--for now. He chose a block of maple for his next creation.
After Blair left the woodshop, he headed for the stable. He sat cross-legged on a hay bale and closed his eyes, concentrating. In moments, he felt a touch on his arm, and opened his eyes. "Naomi!", he cried, getting up and giving her a long hug.
"Sweetie, what are you doing here? I left you in Canada."
"It's a long story," he answered and caught her up on the situation. "It's important, Ma. I don't know whether I'll still have a job here after today, but something has to be done."
Naomi smiled, patting his arm. "Of course, dear. We'll get this squared away in no time. And when that's done, I want to meet this Jim. He sounds very interesting!"
Before Blair had a chance to reply, she was gone.
Naomi looked through the window at the woman and her son, listening to their conversation.
"But we have to have a Christmas tree. Where will we put the presents?"
"We can put them on the hearth, Daryl. I just don't want a tree this year. It--"
"It reminds you of Dad, right? Why'd we leave? I liked it there, it's our home."
"Please, Daryl. This is our home now. We'll discuss it later."
"That's what you always say!" The boy stomped out of the room.
Naomi moved closer to the window and felt a frisson. How interesting, she thought. A force field--a magical force field. Putting out her hands to find the edges, she realized it went all the way to the roof--but no further. "Well," she said, "what's good for the gander is good for the goose!" She closed her eyes, shrunk herself and dropped down the chimney.