by Amy & HYPERFocused

1. Lap of Luxury

Thin and pale, only recently returned to full health, the boy was standing off to the side of the huge Santa station at Metropolis' most prestigious toy store. He was dressed in an exquisitely-made new suit, a light gray wool, more expensive than most kids would get for a family wedding, or a grandfather's funeral. He wore it like he was used to dressing this way, being on his best behavior. I wore my best suit as well. Plush, deep red with fluffy white cotton trim. My eyes twinkled with merriment and concern, and yes, my belly did jiggle a bit.

There was no fidgeting. The boy's eyes barely strayed to the wondrous displays that made up Metropolis's FAO Schwartz at holiday time. He just stood stock still next to his guardian, Pamela. But I could tell he wanted to talk to me. Pamela tried to encourage him. "Lex, sweetheart. That's why were here. Don't you want to tell Santa what you want?"

"I'm ten years old. Father says that's too old to act like a child. He says Santa's just a nice man in a funny suit who couldn't get a real job. Father says Luthors make their own wishes come true. They don't need some stupid children's fantasy to do it for them. Nothing personal, sir." Lex looked at me, and said this with the disdain mixed with grudging respect of a child well-trained to placate his elders - no matter how ridiculous he found them.

"He's not always right, you know. Your father is a very smart man, but he doesn't know everything. Sometimes it's good to believe in possibilities. How will your dreams ever come true if you don't even bother wish for them?"

"If you know so much, why don't you tell me what I want?" Lex folded his arms across his chest, but drew closer just the same.

"You want a chemistry set. A real one, the kind that lets you design your own experiments."

Lex nodded, and said. "Yeah, well any smart kid would want a gift like that. It's obvious I'm not the type for a football. You're probably getting a kickback from the manufacturer, or you'd have suggested a telescope or ham radio set."

Lex was stubborn, and hard to convince. I liked that. I knew it would stand him in good stead later. I went on. " You don't want to spend another Christmas party in the downstairs cloakroom. You wish Mrs. Bennett wouldn't douse her mink with so much Joy perfume. It makes it hard to breathe in there, even though your asthma disappeared when you lost your hair after the meteor shower."

He looked at me, amazed. Then he shook his head and said. "Any good reporter could have figured that out."

"You want more time with your mother. You think if you were a better boy she wouldn't be sick. You try to do everything she and your father tell you to do, just in case that helps, but she gets worse anyway. It isn't your fault, Lex. You're the kind of son any mother would want."

That got me a dirty look. The kid had quite a killer glare for a ten year old. "I don't need you to tell me what my mother thinks of me. You couldn't possibly know." I knew what he wasn't asking me, what he couldn't ask me for fear I'd say no. The one thing I couldn't promise to give him. My powers lay in video games and Warrior Angel comic books, puppies and stuffed animals. I couldn't do the work of real angels. I couldn't promise a little sister for Susie when one wasn't due, anymore than I could legitimately tell Lex his mother was going to be all right. But oh, God, how I wanted to.

"Here, kid, put this on," One of the store's elves shoved a green felt pointy hat onto Lex's newly bare scalp. Lex bent, dejected, under the weight. "It'll hide signs of the -- you know." The psuedo-elf whispered "cancer" in a voice so loud it made the line of people from my lap to the Barbie display look up in sympathy. Lex flushed and squeezed his fists in mortified fury, and I couldn't blame him.

Temporary idiot. I certainly hadn't hired him. I wish he'd been taken on as a cashier, or better yet sent to Toys R Us, instead of embarrassing poor children like Lex. I'd hate to see what he did when we did get a child with cancer, a missing limb, or some other difference. Clearly I was going to have to speak with management.

"He doesn't have cancer," I told the twit, -- not that it was any of his business. "You don't have to wear that silly hat if you don't want to, Lex. You're a very handsome boy, and you look just fine without it. Besides, having lots of hair can be a pain. Talk about your tangles. Why, Mrs. Claus has to spend much too much time combing it, and I hate it." (I made a silent apology to my dear wife, whose attentions I adored, but I knew she'd understand.)

I could see him assessing me; probably wondering if my hair and beard were real, but too polite to tug on it. "And don't get me started on the beard. I get food stuck in it -- just last week I was enjoying a cherry Chupa-Chup, and one of the elves wanted to know if a particular model train would be a good gift for Tommy in Michigan, or Mikey in Indiana. I had to think about this, and I stuck the sucker in the most convenient place: my beard -- and it got so tangled Mrs. Claus had to cut it out."

It was true. Only creative grooming -- and a little magic-- had me looking my normal self for the holiday. It wouldn't do to have Santa with a big old chunk missing from his beard. My suggestion that as long as the old beard needed trimming I modernize just slightly, and try a nice poetic goatee for a change, had not gone over well. "No, sweetheart," she'd said. "The children need you to be consistent, a constant presence they can trust to stay the same when their world is always changing." Deep down, I knew she was right. The Mrs. always knows best.

I could see Lex take all this in, and steel himself not to laugh. I was having none of it. "Go ahead and laugh, honey. I know I did. I looked terribly silly."

The boy gave a rusty chuckle. It had been a long time since he laughed, even longer since he'd been encouraged to do so. It was a nice look on him. Just the sight of it transformed him, and I hoped he'd have more occasions to let loose so freely

"One time my father had a piece of lettuce in his beard, and I didn't tell him. He had a meeting with the mayor, and he didn't catch it." We shared a laugh at that. Lionel Luthor was no favorite of mine. If anyone deserved coal in their stocking, he did. Of course, knowing Lionel, he'd probably get ideas to force school children to mine it.

Lex paused a moment, and I knew he was thinking about that train set. "So who got the train? Was it a nice one? I have a very good train set. My father says it will be good practice for when I inherit his shares in Metropolis Rail." He looked bored with the prospect, a future that seemed a long way off. "I -I wish I could just play with things, rather than learn from them."

It was often like this once they got past a certain age. But I could tell he wanted -- needed -- to believe. I could hear the silent entreaty of the red haired woman who brought him, nearly echoing his own strong wishes. "Make my mother better." "Please let Lillian be all right." I knew miracles could and did come true, but I also knew there were some powers God had not granted me. I ached to put my arms around the boy, but I knew he didn't trust me enough to let me.

I couldn't promise him everything, but I did have a gift for him, if only he'd accept it. I beckoned Lex closer, and spoke quietly to him. "You'll probably forget about this day, as your life becomes richer and more exciting.. But I want you to remember what I tell you now. It's the most important secret you'll ever hear."

Lex's eyes grew wide. "What is it?"

"It's all right to believe in miracles. In fact, it's essential. It's even more important to believe in love. You're going to have so much of it in your life, Lex. It will come when you least expect it. Miracles and love, both."

He looked a little puzzled at that, but he let me give him a quick hug. I could feel him relax into my arms, and had a quick flash of him years later, wrapped in the warm embrace of a most remarkable young man. His life was sure to be complicated, but he was due some very merry Christmases.

Meanwhile, there were other children to greet, so I released the boy into Pamela's care. She shot me a questioning glance, clearly expecting me to point her towards an area of the store. "He needs some one on one time with his mother. Perhaps an art kit, or some other quiet activity he could do in her room, or they could do together."

"That's an excellent idea. Thank you. I can tell you helped him. I don't know how, but thank you for that, too. He's - He's a very special boy. I couldn't love him any more if he was mine biologically."

"He's the child of your heart," I told her, though I was certain she already knew. She smiled as she led him away.

"And what would you like from Santa, sweetheart?" I asked the next little girl as she climbed up to my lap.


2. Miracle on 34th Street

She was eager, definitely, a tiny blonde ball of fire as she stood in line impatiently. "Dad!" she kept exclaiming. "Did you see this? Did you see this?"

There certainly were plenty of things for her to see.

Most of the children were there with their mothers, who held bags containing every possible thing they might want or need. They wore perfectly matched outfits, neatly pressed, sometimes a whole family of children wearing nearly identical holiday clothing.

She stood with her father, who carried nothing but his wallet. He had braided his daughter's hair, but it was already coming out of the elastic. Her striped leggings had every color of the rainbow, as did her polka-dot shirt, and several mothers were looking at her and her father in distaste. But he knew, as did I, that they were her favorites, and she'd picked out the outfit herself to look good when she would meet Santa.

Even if she didn't quite believe in me.

"I love your outfit!" I said as she came into the little room meant to represent my home. "It's beautiful."

She blushed. "No one else thinks so."

"They just don't have good taste," I assured her. "You look wonderful."

She looked at me suspiciously, but I could tell that she wanted to believe me.

"Now, why don't you tell me what you want for Christmas?" I suggested.

She glanced at her father, who smiled. "Am I not supposed to be in here?" he asked with a grin.

"Get out, Dad," she said. It wasn't too common for kids to not want their parents to hear their requests to Santa, but sometimes they wanted something for a parent. So when he agreed, one of the elves escorted him out.

"Now!" I said cheerfully. "What do you want for Chri-"

But I couldn't continue, because she was tugging at my beard. She stared up at me coolly, collectedly.

"What are you doing?" I asked her.

"Last year's Santa had a fake beard. I'm trying to see if you do, too."

"Last year was just one of my helpers," I explained. "This year I decided to come and do the job myself."

She rolled her eyes. "Right. Santa Claus exists, and he decided to spend the busiest part of the season in Kansas."

"I thought people her needed me more than anywhere else in the world," I explained.

"More than the kids at Macy's in New York City?"

"I'm there a lot. They can take a back-up Santa Claus for one year."

"I don't think I believe you."

I smiled. She really would become quite the investigator someday. "I'll tell you what. Why don't you do whatever you want to prove me wrong, and then I'll do my best to prove me right?"

She eyed me warily. "You promise?"

"I swear on my reindeer and Mrs. Claus," I said honestly.

"Don't swear on that. Swear on something real."

"What's real?"

"I don't know. A Bible or something."

"I don't have one."

"You're not a very good Santa, you know."

I had to hide my smile. "I can give you my word, then."

She sighed dramatically. "I guess that'll do."

And with that, she poked me in the stomach. Not too hard, but not too soft, either. I winced, but tried not to show it. I guessed it was part of her plan. "What was that for?" I asked.

"To see if your tummy's like a bowl full of jelly," she explained.

"Well, is it?"

"I'm not really sure what a bowl full of jelly feels like," she admitted. "But it does feel like I imagined it would feel like."

"I'm pretty sure that if you haven't felt a bowl of jelly, whoever wrote that story wouldn't have either," I offered her seriously. "So I think you can go on instinct."

She nodded slowly. Then she started her series of rapid-fire questions. "Okay. So how do you get into houses?"

"The chimney, of course."

"Okay, but you're much bigger than I am, and even I can't fit into the fireplace. How do you get down the chimney?"

"Magic," I said simply.

"So what about if someone doesn't have a chimney?"

"I come in through a window, or a door, or a crack in the wall."

"So you could fit in that box right there?" She pointed to a small present under the tree, roughly the size of a Barbie doll box.

"If I wanted to, yes."

"Then why don't you? Why don't you travel around in a tiny box? Why do you need eight reindeer and a gigantic sleigh?"

"Some things are about tradition."

"Don't different countries have different traditions?"

"Of course."

"So what do you do?"

"I only look like this because it's what you expect. Sometimes I look different, depending on what the child wishes to see."

"Do you know what I want for Christmas?"

"Of course I do."


"I know what every little boy and girl wants for Christmas. That's part of my job."

"So do you read our minds?"

"I just know."

"What if kids don't want you to know what they're thinking?"

"I only know what you want me to know."

"But what if we don't think about that?"

"You're talking thinking here," I explained, pointing to my head. "But I know what you want here." And I patted my heart twice for emphasis.

She frowned, as though she were processing that, and then she switched topics abruptly. "How do you visit every house in the world in one night?"

"Luck, and magic. And different time zones."

"How do you know what houses to go to?"

"I go to any house with love and kindness."

"What about the families where the parents don't love the kids?"

"I bring them as much love as I can."

"Why don't you give things to the Jewish kids?"

"They celebrate different holidays in different ways. They celebrate Chanukah, and they get some of my spirit through that."

"Why don't you bring things to poor kids who don't have anything? Why do the rich kids get all the presents?"

"They get different kinds of presents. I can't always bring them material goods, but I bring them love and joy for the holidays."

"Why don't you bring them food? Don't they need that more than they need love?"

"I can't give food to all the children in the world. But sometimes people donate goods for the holiday season. When they do that, they're giving in my name."

"How come you don't solve world peace or something?"

"I give people the joy and love to do that themselves. If I did it for them, would it really be worth having?

"If you're so magic, how come you let my mom leave me?"

That was what she'd come here to ask, and she wasn't looking for an answer. She was looking for a hug. So I held out my arms and nodded encouragingly. Shyly she crawled into my lap. "It's okay, Chloe," I whispered. "It's okay."

I held her for a few minutes. The line was long, but the rest of the kids could see one of my helpers. Chloe needed me now.

She sniffled. "Mom's not coming back, is she?"

"I don't know, Chloe," I said honestly. "I can't make decisions for people. But I do know that she loves you, and she wants you to get what you want for Christmas."

"I want her to come home."

"I know."

"But if she's not ready to come home?" she added hesitantly. I saw shades of the shiny, happy girl who had walked in here, and I felt my heart soar, although I kept myself from showing just how overjoyed I was.

"Yes?" I said.

"Maybe you could get me a Junior Reporter kit instead?"

I smiled at her. "It's already in the sleigh."

"And maybe, someday, I could get a big important news story? Like a real one?" She was positively glowing. "And maybe Mom could see it, in the papers. And say, That's my daughter. That's Chloe."

"I think you can pretty much count on it," I said.

"Thank you," she said, and impulsively she grabbed me for one more hug. "Thank you, Santa." Then she jumped up to leave.

"Merry Christmas," I said to her.

She grinned at me over her shoulder as she was walking out. "Merry Christmas."


3. Star of Wonder

The auburn-haired woman with a young boy attached to each arm was dressed for the city, in an outfit that had been stylish and current a few years ago, but was a little bit past its' prime now. It didn't matter. She carried it well.

Martha Kent looked tired, but undeniably happy; happier than I had seen her in years. It had been decades since she'd stood in line to see me. She'd grown from a quiet, lovely little girl into a strong and loving woman. I was sorry it had been such a long wait since her last visit, but I knew she'd felt it was worth it.

I could tell she had been working hard. She was the kind of woman who'd kept herself busy, so as not to feel the gap in her life caused by her childlessness. It hadn't completely worked, but the town in which she lived - Smallville - was all the better for the care and concern she poured into it.

I remembered her as a girl; she was one of the special ones. Of course I kept an eye on all the children, but some of them warranted an extra bit of notice. When little Martha Clark saw the obviously disadvantaged child a few kids behind her, she pulled on my shoulder and whispered "you can give that little girl some of my toys, but don't tell her it was my idea," I knew she was one of them. I hugged her tight, and commended her for being a caring, sweet person. I knew she'd never lose those qualities, as long as she lived.

I also knew she wasn't going to have the easiest life. She'd wanted to be a mommy more than anything in the world. Sure, she'd had dreams of being a lawyer like her father, and even once a chef on TV. (I knew Martha Kent would never have had the scandals Martha Stewart had had.)

The woman Martha Clark had become was a little bit different than the girl she had been, but still had the same heart. Even I couldn't predict every experience a child would have, and she had had a doozy.

In fact, her most interesting "experience" was currently tugging on her hand, saying, "Mama, I sorry. I broke it. Santa mad?" He held a much-loved Matchbox car in his other hand - a rather crumpled Porsche. I knew it was to be a familiar motif for him, though of course I didn't tell him that.

"No, Clark. Santa's not mad. He knows you didn't break it on purpose, and that you'll try to be more careful in the future. Right Santa?" She winked at me.

"That's right, Clark. Why don't you scoot up here? There's lots of room on my lap." Oof! I felt it when he jumped up there. He was deceptively heavy for a little boy. I didn't tell Martha that I knew his secret, though I could feel his difference in every part of me. She and her husband had truly been blessed to be able to raise him. They'd never have 'a simple farm life' again, but I didn't think they'd be complaining.

Martha's hands were a bit chapped, and there was a baking burn on one of her fingers. She seemed like the kind of person who had her hand in a lot of pies. I bet myself if I could see her appointment book it would be full of holiday related charitable events. Not parties, but actual charity work. Blankets for the homeless, homemade apple tarts for shut-ins, and the like.

But now, finally, there was Clark, keeping her busier in a day than a week full of volunteer work ever had. The dark haired little boy was a new arrival to the Kent family, and indeed, to the world. He was their miracle child, borne of tragedy, but as loved and wanted as if he had been their flesh and blood.

I knew that she and Jonathan would bleed for him, and go through more trials than most families ever imagined. I also knew the return on their loving investment would be a thousand-fold, and they'd never be bored. No parents could be prouder of the man their son would grow up to be.

I gave all my attention to Clark, now. He wore his favorite red and blue plaid flannel shirt, a brand new pair of jeans from Fordman's, and his favorite pair of bright yellow sneakers. The sneakers would probably have to be replaced soon. He'd practically run off the rubber.

Clark had an unusual voice, it sounded almost unused to speaking, and clearly new to American English. It didn't matter. I communicated with my heart, and could hold my own in any language - even one this little boy didn't remember the name of. Someday, I knew, he would do the same, becoming almost as big an icon as me. With his future skills, I might even borrow him to give me a hand on the route. Communicate with all the peoples of the world - and beyond. A voice for truth, and all that can be good about humanity.

Right now, however, he was a little boy who wanted "a rocket, and a telescope, and the really big box of Legos and a football so me and Pete (he pointed to his friend) can play for the Sharks. Oh, and a big yellow tractor like my Daddy's. Except not rusty, like his is. And can you bring him one too? A real one?" He leaned in close to me, and confided, "I was bad, and I picked it up when I shouldn't have, and now it's a little bit bent."

I made a show of not gaping, and said, "Oh, well, your mommy said you'd be more careful from now on. You're a strong little guy."

"I'm almost six! I'm a big boy, and big boys know how to play safely. That's why my mommy said I could play with Pete now. He's my best friend that ever was." He tugged on his friend's hand, and said "Right Pete? See? This is Santa. Say 'hi, Santa'!"

"Honey, Pete gets to have his own time with me in just a minute. I bet he'd like that, with all the brothers and sisters he has."

I looked over at Pete, who grinned at me. That kid was irresistible, and I bet he knew it.

"It'll be your turn soon, sweetheart," I told him. "I just need another few minutes with Clark. I've got something very important to tell him. It's a secret."

Pete looked at me wide-eyed. "Okay! Will you tell me a secret too, when it's my turn?"

"You bet I will!" He went and waited with Mrs. Kent, while I motioned Clark to lean in closer, so absolutely nobody could hear.

"Clark, I'm going to tell you something now, and I want you to remember it always."

"Okay. I have a really good memory. What is it?"

"Your Mommy and Daddy will always love you, and always be proud you're their son. No matter what happens, what adventures you have in your life, you can always go home again. Can you remember that?" He nodded.

I knew our time together was nearing an end, at least for this year, so I hugged the little boy, who I already loved more than I could possibly tell him, and added one more thing.

"You know how I just told you a big secret?"


"Well, it's very important to keep secrets, but it's also important to know that sometimes the best thing you can do is share one. When it's someone you really love, who you know loves you right back, or a secret that could hurt someone if you don't tell, it's just fine to do so." I thought about the little bald-headed boy I'd met earlier, and the bond they would someday share. I thought about the young poet Clark would one day rescue from a life of secrets and shame. I thought about a thousand children over the years, who would have Clark (or his alter-ego) to thank for their lives.

I wished the little boy, and his family, a very merry Christmas.

"Okay, Mr. Ross," I said to the round cheeked little tyke, "hop on up."


4. The Littlest Angel

"Hello, Pete," I told him. 'You've grown a lot since I last saw you!" I pictured the magic marker lines on the basement wall - a different color for each child. Pete's was racing car red, his favorite.

"A whole two inches," he confirmed. "I can reach the pedals on my brother's bike now, but I'd really like a Huffy Sportser of my very own. It's on page 73 of the Toys R Us Wonder Book." I knew the store that was hosting me wouldn't be thrilled at mention of our competitor, but I didn't care. Christmas was about magic, not merchandising - despite all the advertising. It was a lesson little Pete here could stand to learn, as well.

He went on with his long list, complete with colors, page numbers, and even occasionally advertising jingles. I made a mental note not to encourage his parents to give him his wish for his own TV set when he turned ten in a few years.

Still, despite the commercial-induced acquisitiveness, I knew Pete was a thoughtful, sweet little boy. And he couldn't have had better role models than his lawyer dad, and judge mom - not to mention the Kents. He had every reason to grow up into something wonderful.

I wasn't surprised when he, too, asked me for something intangible, though I had to prod him a little to get that request to come out.

"Pete? Is there something else you'd like? Something you can't find in a catalog, or on your TV? You know you can tell or ask me anything."

"I wish - I wish my own Mom had taken me to see you today. I hate that she works and I never get to see her when I want." He said this with a little stamp of his foot, and a pout that I was sure drove his mother to needless feelings of guilt whenever he used it on her. I was having none of it.

"Pete, your mom loves you very much, and she works hard to provide for you and your brothers and sisters - so you can have a nice home, and toys, and new clothes, and yummy food whenever you want it."

"But I don't like that I have to go to daycare, and sometimes the other kids aren't very nice, and I don't get to say anything, and nobody notices I'm there. Clark doesn't have to go. His mommy stays home all day with him. She doesn't work at all."

"She doesn't? Isn't she busy a lot of the time? Helping people who need it, and making sure her family is safe and happy? Don't you see her taking care of all sorts of things that need doing on the farm? I bet you've even seen her driving the tractor."

Pete pondered this. "I guess you're right." "Well, that's very hard work. Clark is a very active little boy, and running a farm is difficult, too. And don't you think Clark sometimes wishes he could go to daycare with you, and play with all the other little boys and girls?"

"Uh huh. I know he can't wait until we get to start school together next year, and once - once I overhead his mommy say that raising him must be like raising all of us Ross kids at the same time." He giggled, showing the kind of grin that would get him a job as "cute waif" on a sitcom if he'd been in Hollywood. I was glad he wasn't.

"I bet you're looking forward to it, too. It'll be nice to have your best friend right there in school with you."

"Oh boy, it sure will!"

I went on, "And you know what else? The work your mommy does is very important, and she gets to do it because she studied hard when she was in school - just like I know you will. She and your father both help ensure that other little boys and girls have safe and happy homes to grow up in, and that your town is a good place to live. Your mom works hard to make sure that the laws (those are the rules good people make up for themselves and others to live by) are fair and just for everyone. Do you understand?"

Someday, I knew, he would follow in similar footsteps, and I wanted to put the bug in his ear now.

"Oh!" he said, "That does sound important. My mommy and daddy do all that. Wow! I really am lucky." He hugged me one last time, and hopped off my lap, with a "see you next year, Santa. I love you!"

"I love you, too, honey."

Then he hopped back on. "Oh! The secret. You said you had a secret for me, too."

"You're right! Thank you for reminding me." I told him the same thing I had told each of his brothers and sisters in turn. "Your mommy and daddy love all you kids bunches and bunches. But don't tell anybody this: I know they love you just a tiny bit more." He preened a little at that, just like his siblings had. Sometimes being youngest meant feeling small in more ways than the physical. I knew that one day, the Ross children would be grown, and would compare Santa stories. I knew they'd understand why I told them all this, and they wouldn't hold the "lie" against me.

I kissed him one last time, and sent him off with Martha and Clark. When Clark dragged Pete off to look at the Big Wheels (still right in parental view), Martha came up to ask how it went.

"Clark likes space stuff, but I'm sure you already knew that." I suggested a few inexpensive toys he might like, and suggested she encourage his interest in science and the arts. "He has a great imagination. I bet he's a wonderful story teller, whether it's with words or pictures."

She agreed. "What about Pete? Any hints for his parents?"

I laughed. "You aren't trying to tell me he hasn't circled stuff on every page of our competitor's catalogs, are you?"

She laughed. "No. Of course he has, complete with color-coding for how much he wants each item. I just thought you might have other suggestions. I'm sure they'd like him to have something that's a surprise."

I thought about it a moment. "Well, the store did get in a whole new section of children's books based on real life African-American heroes. I bet you - or Mr. and Mrs. Ross - could find something suitable there."

"Oh, that's a wonderful idea! That kind of thing isn't easy to find in Kansas, even today. It's the kind of thing Clark should learn about, too."

She was right. These were achievements that any child could grow up to make, if they set their goals high enough. It was a lesson worthy of us all.

I wished her a very Merry Christmas, and laughed as she extricated her little space monkey and his friend from the obstacle course he and Pete had already scooted into.

"Come on, scamps. Take my hands, and we'll go get ice cream."


5. If the Fates Allow

At first glance, the little girl looked like a doll.

Her dress was pink, with white lace. The bow in her dark, carefully brushed hair matched the dress perfectly. Her thick stockings, which she hated but her aunt made her wear, were white. She didn't fidget, didn't run. She just stared solemnly at me from her place on line until it was her turn to sit on my lap.

That was when I saw that she wasn't doll-like at all. Her eyes were red-rimmed, and her lips were raw from where she'd been biting them. The poor child.

"Hello, little girl!" I said cheerfully.

She didn't say anything, and turned red. I could see her aunt debating whether to pull Lana away from me or not, and I smiled at her. Nell was a good woman. She'd be a good influence on Lana. I was glad she'd managed to find the time to take her niece to see me.

"What's your name, sweetheart?" I asked her.

"Lana," the little girl whispered. "Lana Lang."

"Well, I'm Santa Claus. It's nice to meet you."

She looked up at me, wide-eyed. "Pleased to meet you," she said automatically.

I've met a lot of sad children in my time, but she was the one who was the biggest contrast, so eager to ask me something that she could barely sit still and yet so scared to ask that she didn't dare. "You're very pretty, Lana," I said.

"Thank you."

"You look like a fairy princess!"

She smiled at me for the first time. It was shy, and it was hesitant, but it was definitely a smile. "I want to be a fairy princess when I grow up. Or a reporter on the news that Aunt Nell watches."

"If you work really hard, I bet you could." I winked at her.

"Which one?"

"Whichever one you really want with your heart," I said.

She laughed a little bit. She sounded very adult. It broke my heart. "I'll never get what I really want with my heart."

"Why's that?" I asked her.

"Because what I really want isn't something I can have."

"What do you really want?" I asked, although I knew. She had to say it, though. She'd been avoiding the topic the whole time she was on my lap.

She gestured that I lean forward, and I did. She whispered into my ear. "Did you hear about the meteor shower in Smallville?" She paused. "Have you heard of Smallville? It's a town a little while away from here."

I smiled gently. "I know all about Smallville. I know about all the boys and girls. And yes, I know about the meteor shower. It was a tragedy."

"My mommy and daddy were-" She stopped, and then started again, all in a rush. "Mommy and Daddy were there and then the meteors came and then Mommy and Daddy weren't there anymore and I don't have a mommy or a daddy anymore, just my aunt, Nell, and she's really nice but she's not my Mommy or my Daddy and I miss them and I know I can't have them back because it's not possible but you're Santa Claus and you can do lots and lots of things and maybe if I'm a really really good girl you could bring my Mommy and Daddy back for me? Just for a little while? I promise I'll be the best girl ever."

Well. No one's all-powerful, not even Santa Claus. But if there were ever a time that I wished I could be omnipotent, that was it. Lots of kids stop believing in Santa if their wish doesn't come true, but she believed in me wholeheartedly. Her problem was believing in herself.

"I'll tell you what, Lana," I said. "You told me a secret, so I'll tell you a secret. Okay?"

"Okay," she whispered.

"I can't bring your mommy or daddy back. But you can."

She looked at me warily. "How can I do that? I've tried hard, but no matter how many stars I wish on, they never come back."

"But I haven't told you the special magic way to bring them back yet."

"Magic?" she repeated. "Like a fairy princess?"

"Exactly like a fairy princess."

"What would I have to do?"

"You have to remember them."

She looked at me, incredibly contemptuous for a five-year-old. "I always remember them."

"Listen to me, all right?" I asked. She nodded. "Every time you really miss your parents, talk about them. Tell people all about them. Your mommy and daddy were very special, and no one can take that away from you. Not even a meteor shower. And if you talk about them, then they'll always be in your life. You'll never forget them, and you'll never lose them."

"Do you think Aunt Nell would be mad?" she asked.

"Why would Aunt Nell be mad?"

"Because she's taking care of me. I should think of her first." She looked at me uncertainly. "Right?"

"I think Aunt Nell loved your mommy and daddy very much, and I'm sure she'd be happy to know that you miss them, so long as you love her too."

"I do."

"Then you're fine. I promise." I gave her a hug, and she hugged me back. When she smiled, she really was an adorable kid. "What else do you want for Christmas, Lana?" I asked her.

She smiled, the first real smile she'd given me. Judging by Nell's own smile, I could guess that it was the first real smile she'd had in a while. "Barbies," she said. "Lots of Barbies. Especially the ones with the pretty hair. And an EZ Bake Oven. And maybe some My Little Ponies. The pink ones."

I laughed. "You like pink, Lana?"

"Pink is pretty. All fairy princesses wear pink," she explained to me.

"Oh," I said. "Of course. Thank you for teaching me something."

"I-" She glanced at me hesitantly, like she wasn't sure if she was doing the right thing. "I learned it from my daddy. He told me before the meteor shower that all fairy princesses wear pink."

I smiled encouragingly at her. "You had a very smart daddy. And you seem like a very smart girl."

She positively glowed. "Thank you, Santa." Then she leaned closer again. "Oh, and Mr. Claus?"

"Yes?" I replied, suppressing a laugh.

"Maybe you could get Aunt Nell a boyfriend. I think it would make her less cranky."

I smiled, knowing how she'd feel about that in a few years. "I'll do my best," I said to her.

"Thank you." She flashed her smile at me again. "I'll see you next year?"

"Count on it," I said.

She waved goodbye to me. Then she ran off towards her aunt, shouting "Aunt Nell! Aunt Nell! Guess what Santa said?"


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