Sometimes having the chance to help someone who needs is its own Christmas present.
Matthew screamed at the snow as it piled up on the ground, willing, demanding that it stop, but it continued mercilessly. He could only make out a few feet in front of the car, but even so he pushed on as fast as he could, counting on no one else being foolish enough to be out in the storm.
Yes, it was stupid to try to drive home through the blizzard. He could practically hear Christina’s voice, nastily mocking him for being rash, then moments later haughtily demanding that he fix the situation.
Of course, that attitude was why he was here and she wasn’t. Learning that she’d picked up that particular way of snidely denigrating him from her mother, and spending a meal with the two of them teaming up on him had been the final straw. When he’d left, he must have been planning to drive all the way back to Milwaukee, but then, he hadn’t been thinking so clearly at the time. In this weather, driving at all was dangerous, but driving six hours at night was insane. So he’d cut back his plans to driving to the nearest town and finding a hotel room. But, an hour out, even at the speed he was willing to risk, and he wasn’t even sure he’d made it off their ranch. Town might well be another two hours on.
He passed a house, the first he’d seen since leaving. Even through the snow, the multicolored decorations were visible. He considered stopping for directions, until he remembered that there weren’t any directions to ask for: the only way to go was straight. It would be nice to get out of the cold, but he didn’t want to ruin someone else’s Christmas with his problems, even if they were willing to put up a stranger lost in a blizzard. And besides, lonely brooding is its own kind of pleasure when someone is angry enough.
The decision was taken out of his hands moments later when a tire blew. Matthew hit the breaks hard, and for an instant, as the car veered towards the edge of the road, he thought it might be over. A good foot into the snow on the side of the road, the car stopped, thanks to the combination of the breaks and resistance from the snow. Matthew sat silently for a moment, catching his breath, relieved to have survived. Once it finally sunk in that he was alive but stranded, he let out a long string of swears. When he pulled out his cell phone to call for a tow truck, or perhaps a cab, only to discover that he had no reception, he let out another. Out of alternatives, he trekked over to the house.
Up close, the decorations were striking. Not only did a string of colorful lights wrap around each window, but a large reindeer sleigh with a giant Santa rested above the doorway. Some people would have been impressed; to Matthew’s jaded eyes, the display looked egregiously tacky. Still, he knocked on the door.
A portly man a good twenty years older than Matthew, well into his fourties opened the door. He was wearing striped pajamas, although a bit of stomach peeked over the pants where the shirt bulged. "Good evening. What can I do for you young man?"
"My car blew a tire just down the road, and there’s no cell reception out here, so I was wondering if I could use your tire to call for a tow and a cab ride back to down."
"Well, I don’t know that you’ll have much luck getting anyone to come out in this weather, but you’re free to try." He directed Matthew to the nearest phone, then fetched him a phone book. As Matthew looked up someone who could tow his car, a boy, perhaps ten years old, ran into the room.
"Who is it, daddy?"
"This is Matthew. His car broke down, and he’s trying to call someone to tow it for him." Had Matthew actually told the man his name? He supposed he must have.
"You should let him stay here tonight. ’cause it’s almost Christmas! Mom says you can’t ever turn people away on Christmas."
"Well, of course he’s welcome to stay." The man glanced over at Matthew and made eye contact, long enough to indicate that the invitation was real. "But he probably wants to get home to spend Christmas with his family." In fact, Matthew was fleeing to an empty apartment, but he didn’t bother to correct the man.
"I don’t seem to be getting a dial tone."
The man took the receiver from Matthew and listened. "Hmm. The snow must have taken out our phone line. Well, I guess you’d better stay until they get fixed." Perhaps he neglected to point out that the obstacle was the fact that the phone cord had been removed.
"I hate to impose. I can just sleep in my car. I mean, it still runs, so it’ll be warm enough, and..."
"You must be joking. Let someone shiver all night in a car two days before Christmas? What sort of monsters do you take us for?"
"He can sleep in my bed!" the kid piped up.
"That’s very generous of you, Todd. I’m proud of you for picking up the Christmas spirit. I’m sure that’ll make Santa very happy." The boy grinned broadly.
"That’s really, really generous of you, but..." The man winked at Matthew while patting Todd supportively on the head, and Matthew realized that, awkward as it made him feel, the polite thing to do was give the kid a chance to be generous. "...it’s really generous. Thank you. Your dad’s right, very Christmas spirit."
"Now, let me throw on some clothes and we can move your car off the road so the plows can get by."
Matthew nodded, and waited in the atrium with the boy while the man went upstairs. "When you get back, I can show you my room! It’s really cool, and has tons of toys and stuff."
"Um, yeah, I’m sure it does." Matthew lacked Todd’s enthusiasm, and was still distracted by the situation.
"Maybe you’ll play a game with me? Since you’re staying in my bed?"
"Sure, whatever you want."
The father came back downstairs, dressed in heavy looking clothes, and the two went out. A great deal of pushing later, the car was safely by the side of the road, and both men were absolutely soaked from standing in the snow as more piled up around them.
When they returned, a woman who must have been the man’s wife was standing by the entrance. "Well, don’t you two look bedraggled."
"Ah, Matthew, this is my lovely wife, Margerie Hampton. Margerie, this is the guest I mentioned, Matthew."
"Hello, Matthew, it’s nice to meet you. It’s delightful to have a guest this time of year, even if the circumstances are so difficult for you. I’m sure you want to shower and get out of those clothes. I’m afraid my husband’s clothes won’t quite fit you," she patted her husband on the stomach, "but I’m sure I can find something for you to sleep in, and in the morning when there’s more light, I’ll send him up to the attic to see if we don’t have some old clothes in the right size."
"That’s very kind of you. But I’m sure..." Matthew realized he hadn’t learned the man’s name, so he fell back on the last name "...Mr. Hampton would like to shower first."
"So polite. Your parents must be proud." The man actually patted Matthew on the shoulder and then gently pushed him towards the stairs. "But I won’t be comfortable until my guest is. Go on."
"The bathroom is the first room on the left."
Matthew went upstairs and stripped--literally, as the wet clothing clung to him--and stepped into the shower. Only a minute after the water had started, he heard the door open. "It’s just me," announced Todd. "Mom sent me in to give you your towel and clothes. I’m not looking or anything."
"That’s fine. Thank you, Todd." Matthew felt a bit weird having the kid barge in on him, but the shower curtain was opaque, and it was true that he would need a towel when he got out.
When he was done showering, he got out and dried himself off. He discovered that Todd had taken all his clothes, and replaced them with only a large shirt, one which looked like it would be large, but not oversize, on the boys father. On Matthew, as was no doubt intended, it fit like a nightshirt, drooping to his knees. He was somewhat embarrassed to find that he’d been left with nothing else, but the shirt at least protected enough of his modesty to go out and ask for some oversized pants and a belt to hold them up.
He walked downstairs, and found the Margerie sitting at a dining room table with Todd, who was drinking something which looked like a pile of marshmallows from a mug, although there was probably some actual liquid in there somewhere. The smell of the hot chocolate filled the room, making Matthew realize just how chilled his time outside had left him.
"Hello, Matthew. I made some hot cocoa to warm you up, and Todd wanted some too. He also insisted that I give you some marshmallows with it."
Matthew could see that Todd’s cocoa looked more like a cup of marshmallows with some liquid to fill the cracks, but his own, at least, was more balanced. He lifted the mug. "I really appreciate the hospitality." He took a sip of cocoa. "But I wanted to ask you..." The chocolate was warm and penetrating; he felt it swimming through him, warming his whole body. The feeling was calming, and he momentarily lost his train of thought.
Before he could finish his sentence, Mrs. Hampton interrupted. "I’m afraid I couldn’t find any pajamas in your size, so I thought you could just wear a nightshirt for tonight." With the cocoa floating through him, Matthew felt relaxed and grateful, and the thought of spending the night in these strangers house without pants suddenly seemed unimportant.
"That’s okay. It’s fine."
"I told mom you could wear some of my pajamas, even if you had to stretch them, but she said they’re too small."
"Yeah, I think they would be. But thanks for the offer, Todd."
They made light conversation as he finished the drink, answering the usual questions about what he did and where he lived from Mrs. Hampton, and the occasional question from Todd.
Todd finished his chocolate first, and sat, not particularly patiently, while Matthew finished his. The moment Matthew was done, Todd was eager to move on to something more interesting than listening to adults discuss jobs. "Todd, you’re free to go upstairs and play if you want."
"But I want Matt to come with me. He promised to play a game with me."
Mrs. Hampton chuckled. "Oh, I see. Well, I suppose I can’t stand in the way of that. But not anything long. Bedtime isn’t too far away."
Todd ran up the stairs, and Matthew followed slowly. Todd’s room was in the transition from a young child’s to a pre-teen’s. The bed had a sedate stars-and-spaceships bedding and the posters around the room were a mix: the recent transformers movie, pokemon, but also a picture of the Apollo taking off. However a few items suggested the transformation was not quite complete: the dresser was still in the blocks of primary colors so common with young children, and two teddy bears sat on a shelf above the bed.
"Do you want to play with my GI Joes?"
"Sure. Whatever you want."
"Cool!" Todd grabbed a pile of action figures out of the toy chest (decorated in cartoon-y insects that Matthew suspected Todd was eager to replace). Matthew guessed that, living so far other houses, Todd had to play alone a great deal, so he did his best to participate. Even so, it was a mixed success; it had been a very long time since Matthew had played something so free-form. He ended up controlling the villains as they attempted to thwart Todd’s heroes, letting most of the initiative come from Todd, and fighting just long enough to make it fun, giving up right before Todd got frustrated. He felt somewhat exposed, wearing only the long shirt with no underwear, compared to Todd’s complete outfit of spaceship themed pajamas, but Todd, unsurprisingly, seemed completely unconcerned about it, and every time Matthew thought about asking for something else, he remembered that he’d discussed this already, and agreed that it was fine.
After a while, Mrs. Hampton poked her head in. "Okay, boys," she said, inflecting the last word into a joke. "It’s Todd’s bedtime, and since you’re sharing his room, Matthew, I’m afraid we need you to be settled in so we can turn off the lights."
"Can we stay up a little longer? Please, mom?"
"Don’t make this hard Todd. Remember, we told you if you were extra, extra good, Santa would bring you that gift you wanted so much."
Todd visibly wrestled with the matter. "Okay, but...I bet it’s not Matt’s bedtime yet...so maybe we could do something quiet, like watch TV a little, or something? And then I’ll go to bed, I promise."
"Alright, only because you’re being so nice to let Matthew use your bed. You can watch half an hour of television."
"Come on, Matt!" Having apparently been conscripted to watch television as well, Matthew followed Todd downstairs to the living room, wondering why the boy had picked up on the shortened version of his name he’d long left behind.
Todd picked out a Christmas special Matthew wasn’t familiar with, and settled in on one end of the small couch facing the television. Matthew sat down next to him. It quickly became clear that it really had been Todd’s bedtime; Matthew was surprised when Todd leaned his head against Matthew’s arm, half asleep. By the time half an hour was over, he seemed to be asleep.
Mrs. Hampton and her husband came in and turned off the TV, and the man was about to carry Todd up when he groggily raised his head and walked up himself. They’d apparently set up a sleeping bag next to the bed, which Todd crawled into, and Matthew got into Todd’s bed. After the Hamptons had turned off the lights and left, Matthew noticed that it was a bit short for him, and he ended up sleeping at a diagonal, feet slipping off the edge out of the covers.
Matt was awakened by the smell of bacon. He had vague memories of strange dreams, and a distant memory of not fitting in the bed properly. Apparently in his sleep he’d found a better position, since he seemed to fit comfortably now. Todd was also waking up, stretching.
"Good morning, Todd. Thanks for letting me sleep in your bed. It was very comfortable." Matt sat on the edge of the bed and hopped off, noticing that his feet didn’t reach the floor from the bed. He walked down to the bathroom, feeling slightly groggy and off balance. In the bathroom mirror, he noticed that the nightshirt he was wearing looked like something Todd would own--a big Spiderman figure was on the front--even though he remembered it having some tractor manufacturer’s log before. Indeed, a trick of perspective made it look like it was the right size for Todd, even though it reached Matt’s knees.
He went downstairs for breakfast with the Hamptons. Todd was giddily happy about something, probably the fact that it was Christmas Eve. In addition to bacon and pancakes, Matt could see that he and Todd had mugs of hot chocolate set out for them. As Matt walked up the table, for a moment it seemed strange that his head barely came to the height of the table, until the smell of the cocoa distracted him. He had to climb onto a chair, one leg at a time, suddenly not bothered by how tall it was, or the fact that he had to flash his bare bottom at the rest of the table in the process.
A few bites, and several sips of cocoa in, Mr. Hampton brought up the concern of the day. "The snow has let up, but I’m afraid it’s still a mess out there, Matt."
"We still don’t have phone service, and the radio says the roads are treacherous. I doubt you’ll have any luck getting anyone to drive out here until tomorrow."
Feeling so relaxed and comfortable, Matt was secretly pleased at getting to spend another day. His desire to be polite, however, mandated a counteroffer. "Well, it’s only ten miles or so to town, right? I can just set out and get there by evening."
"Yes, that’s a good idea. We’ll kick you out on Christmas Eve, and you can wander through the snow and hope to make it to town before sunset. That’s what good Christians do, you know." Todd looked at his mother in horror. She sighed. "That was sarcasm, dear. It’s a joke. Of course we’re not letting Matt go out in this weather." Matt didn’t mention that, like Todd, he hadn’t picked up on the sarcasm, although it seemed obvious now that it was pointed out.
"But...you’ll let him go out and play in the snow with me, right?"
"Yes, of course." She smiled. "But then he’s going to come back and have a nice meal with us, and sleep here one more night."
"I really hate to impose on you yet again..."
"Matt, you’re still young. When you’re older, you’ll understand that sometimes having the chance to help someone who needs it is its own Christmas present."
"Yes, I’m sorry. Thank you. Thank you all for your hospitality. I really do appreciate it. Um...why don’t I do the dishes for you."
"But you’re not tall en..." Mrs. Hampton cut Todd off. "I think Todd likes playing with you. The biggest help you could be is keeping Todd entertained outside?"
Matt smiled. "Sure." He hated doing dishes anyway.
"We got two boxes of clothes down. Let’s go upstairs and see what we have that fits you." Matt followed Mrs. Hampton back upstairs and stood, feeling somewhat embarrassed as she dug neatly folded clothes out of the box and held them up to him, eyeballing the size. She went through them rapidly and systematically, and, before Matt thought she was finished, handed him a pile of clothes. "These should fit decently. I have your clothes drying in the bathroom, but it’s just not as fast as a dryer."
Matt went to the bathroom to change and looked at the clothes she’d picked out. They turned out to start with tiny looking plain white briefs whose waistband was so faded he couldn’t identify the brand. Out of curiosity, he tried to take down his boxers to compare the size, only to notice that they were well above his reach. Mrs. Hampton must have had to stand on something to hang them that high; still, it was convenient not to have to worry about ducking under them. He pulled the briefs on, and found that they were the right size, so he wrote it off to another trick of perspective. Besides, he hadn’t worn briefs in a long, so maybe they always looked small compared to boxers.
Next was thick beige turtleneck shirt. These also looked small, but, if anything, were a bit baggy once he put them on. Indeed, the sleeves had to be pulled back a bit so he could pull on the black socks. Finally, rather than ordinary pants, she’d included a set of waterproof ski overalls, confirming that she expected him to go outside with Todd. Looking at himself in the mirror, with the clothes slightly too long here and too baggy there, he realized that he was wearing hand-me-downs, and giggled at the thought.
Going downstairs, he found Todd decked out for winter, with similar ski overalls, black boots, a thick coat, gloves, a scarf, and a hat tugged so low that it concealed his eyebrows. "We did find a coat for you, Matt, since yours is still too soaked to do you much good." She handed him a coat, then handed him some bright yellow boots. "I checked your shoe size, and this is the closest we have." He tugged them on. "It’s pretty bitter out there, so you’ll want these, too." She handed him a bundle which proved to include another scarf (with, randomly, a pattern of ducks knitted in), a hat and, not gloves, but mittens. "I’m afraid we didn’t have any real gloves in your size, so those will have to do," she explained as she pulled them on.
Matt was more amused than annoyed. "It’s no problem. I’m amazed you’ve found so much. I was expecting to just use my own gloves."
"Oh, those. They’re worse than nothing when they’re that wet. They’ll just hold the cold in."
Matt put on the scarf, then the hat, and then the mittens. Then, realizing that he hadn’t zipped the jacket yet, he began taking off the mittens to zip it. Before he could, Mrs. Hampton moved in and zipped it up, then tugged the hat down around his ears. "There you go. What sort of hosts would we be if we let our guests catch a cold?" For a moment, Matt was taken aback by the fact that she’d had to lean down, a lot, to zip his jacket, but before he could think about it, Todd was racing out the door, shouting for Matt to follow.
They must have played outside all morning, and Matt quickly lost track of time. After making snow angels for a while, and a brief snowball fight, they started in on a snowman. At first Matt was having fun, but after a while, he began to get frustrated at how much the mittens restricted his dexterity. It was embarrassing that Todd had to do anything that required fingers, just because he had gloves. Matt also noticed that Todd was having a much easier time moving around, as if the snow were conspiring to make Matt seem small and uncoordinated. Indeed, it even looked like it only came up halfway to Todd’s knees, while covering Matt’s knees, making each step a huge effort, and causing him to fall into the snow more than once.
When they were called in, Matt decided that perhaps he’d had his fill of playing with a young kid, and resolved to try to get out of it. When they got in, Mrs. Hampton came over carrying two mugs of hot cocoa, causing the smell to fill the small area by the front door. Once again, Matt realized that he hadn’t even noticed how cold he’d gotten outside. Todd was clearly in a rush, and dropped his coat and other items in a pile near the door next to his boots. Matt intended to put his away more neatly, but realized he wasn’t sure where the closet for such things was, and with Todd urging him to hurry, ended up doing the same.
"Just a second. You can’t go sitting in kitchen chairs in those wet overalls. Take those off too."
"Um, I don’t have any pa..." As Todd pulled his pants off, leaving him wearing only a black tutleneck shirt, white briefs, and black socks, Mrs. Hampton handed him one of the mugs of cocoa, moving the other practically under Matt’s nose. As the smell filled his nostrils, the familiar feeling of warm relaxation filled Matt’s body, and he couldn’t even remember what he’d been about to say.
Pulling off his own pants, he received his own mug and took a few sips as he followed Todd to the kitchen. It seemed perfectly natural to sit at the kitchen table in his underwear, sipping chocolate and eating sandwiches. Matt noted with pleasure that his had as many marshmallows as Todd’s now. As soon as they were both done, they headed to the door, eager to go outside again.
Todd’s mother supervised them getting ready. To Matt’s embarrassment, she seemed to spend as much time fussing over his own clothes as on Todd’s, insisting, over his mild objections, on rewrapping his scarf "properly" and, when he had some difficulty getting the boots on with his mittens, helping hold it and guiding his foot into it. Matt noticed that the mittens were clipped onto the coat, to prevent them from getting lost, which he vaguely remembered not being the case before. Before they went out, she handed them a bag with two buttons and a carrot, for the snowman.
They spent much of the afternoon finishing the snowman. Since Matt’s mittens made him pretty clumsy, Todd handled placing the carrot and buttons in place. Once it was done, they decided they’d done enough building for one day, and settled into a long game involving fighting off pirates who were coming to destroy their snowman, primarily by throwing snowballs at the hypothetical pirates. When they were finally called in, Todd expressed interest in building a fort tomorrow, and Matt didn’t have the heart to point out that he’d probably be leaving that day.
When they got in, Mrs. Hampton was there and took their coats from them. "You two are pretty wet. Head directly to the bathroom, and take those off. Please don’t drip them anywhere else. I’ll bring some fresh clothes."
Matt entered the bathroom and was slightly surprised when Todd followed behind him and began undressing. He was a bit uncomfortable, but of course, Todd was still had a pre-teen’s ignorance of the issue, so Matt decided not to make a big deal about it. In minutes they were both naked and shivering.
The door abruptly opened, and Mrs. Hampton stepped in, handed Todd, who was nearer the door, a small pile of clothes, and walked out, closing the door again behind her. She’d barely looked at him, but Matt still felt it was a bit invasive, especially given that he was now slightly embarrassed by his memory of sitting around in front of her wearing only briefs earlier in the day. He decided to politely raise the issue once he was dressed.
Todd sorted out the clothes; one was a solid blue with some white lines as highlights, while the other matched the space theme Todd seemed so attached to, so it wasn’t a surprise when Matt was handed the plain blue one.
It was more of a surprise when Matt went to put it on and found that it was a single piece, with padded feet. Indeed, as he pulled it on, Matt discovered that it was a footed sleeper. With the sleeper half on, he hesitated for a moment, wondering whether to even put it on, or to just ask Todd to go out and request something more appropriate for him. Todd, however, apparently interpreted his hesitation differently.
"Yeah, those can be tricky to zip up on yourself." And before Matt could respond, Todd had started zipping it up for him, even arranging the neck guard at the top to shield the zipper. This time, there was no mistaking it; Matt should have been much taller than Todd, putting his neck out of Todd’s reach. But Todd had, if anything, stooped.
Slightly creeped out, Matt raced out of the room and downstairs, where he was greeted by the smell of more hot cocoa. "Marg...Mrs. Hampton, I think there’s something weird going on." She walked over, carrying a mug (which, unlike the plain one he’d used earlier, had a colorful winter panorama with snowmen and smiling kids). The smell seemed to make it hard to concentrate.
"Have some cocoa. What’s the matter, Matt?"
Matt took a sip of the cocoa, hoping to steady his thoughts. Instead, he felt a warmth spreading from his stomach, and his concerns seemed to melt away. "Um...I don’t remember..." He took another sip. "Oh yeah! I couldn’t get my sleeper on, and Todd helped me."
"Well, that was very nice of him. You should thank him when he comes down." Now, Matt couldn’t remember why it had bothered him before, and indeed, thanking him seemed the only appropriate thing to do. "I hope you like the sleeper. I know you liked wearing Todd’s shirt last night, but it’s colder tonight, and this was the warmest thing I could find in the right size."
Todd’s shirt? How could Todd’s shirt have been so big? Before he could ask, Todd came down the stairs to collect his own cocoa. "Go on, Matt. Thank Todd."
"Thank you for zipping me up, Todd."
"You’re welcome, Matt." Like Matt, Todd was wearing a one-piece sleeper, although he was wearing socks under it, since it didn’t have feet like Matt’s. Apparently, he’d zipped his own without difficulty.
Mr. Hampton came down soon after, and the four of them sat down for dinner. They said grace, and then set into an excellent turkey dinner. After, Todd ran into the living room and turned on the television, and Matt sat down next to him. Minutes later, Mrs. Hampton brought in yet another round of hot cocoa. A few sips in, it seemed perfectly natural for Matt to pull his feet onto the couch, curl up, and lean his head against Todd.
After a couple hours of watching various Christmas specials, Matt was almost asleep. He was awake enough to notice, though, when Mr. Hampton came in and turned off the television. "Okay, boys. Almost bedtime, but we have one last thing to do for Christmas Eve." He moved towards the couch, and Matt, only half awake, tried to move over to make room for him. Instead, he picked Matt up easily, sat down, and rested Matt on his knee. Matt struggled through his foggy thoughts to piece together why that was so strange, but was interrupted when Mr. Hampton pulled out a book and began reading from it.
"Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring..."
Matt woke up in the middle of the night, to the sounds of movement downstairs. For a moment he was disoriented, trying to remember where he was, until he remembered that he was in Todd’s bed tonight. Confused, not entirely sure if he was in a dream or not, he quietly made his way down the stairs. Despite the fact that his thoughts were weirdly slow, the rest of the world seemed unusually clear. He was acutely aware of how short he was, that he needed to reach up to grip the stair bannister for support. He remembered being this small for all of Christmas Eve, but somehow getting distracted every time he tried to think about it. It seemed so obvious now that his clumsiness and inability to move through the snow was because of his strangely reduced size, which he’d somehow overlooked at the time, and for the first time recognized how out of character his own behavior had been through much of the day.
Now, though he could clearly recognize how strange it was to be the small, he just couldn’t pierce the fog to figure out how it happened or what it meant. Instead it combined with the strange noises and the dark to make him feel scared.
When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he could see a large man, obviously Mr. Hampton, wearing a red Santa outfit, putting presents under the tree. Part of him suspected that Mr. Hampton was partially responsible for his shrunken state, but it competed with sudden, powerful feeling of warmth from his stomach, radiating trust in the man.
"Mr. Hampton..." Matt spoke quietly, then trailed off, not sure how to express his concerns.
"Matty, you’re supposed to stay asleep if you want Santa to bring you gifts."
"But...I woke up, and I’m sm..."
"How about I let you open just one present now?" He handed a box to Matt. Matt looked at it, wondering why there was a gift for him at all, and why the label read, "To Matty." "Go on, Matty. Open it."
Matt ripped open the wrapping, revealing a brown teddy bear inside. "His name," the man explained, "is Coco."
"Coco," Matt repeated. He examined the bear for a moment, then impulsively hugged it. A sudden wave of sleepiness came over him, and he yawned...
Matty was woken up by Todd hugging him. "Thank you!" he exclaimed, although Matty couldn’t tell to whom. Todd kissed Matty several times, on the cheek, the forehead, and ears. "This is the best Christmas ever!"
Matty tried to remember what had happened last night. "I saw Santa," he explained. "He gave me Coco." He held out the bear he was still clutching to demonstrate. Looking around, he must have fallen asleep under the Christmas tree right after seeing Santa, leaving Todd to find him in the morning. Their parents were sitting on the couch, watching the two of them and smiling.
He noticed that there was something tickling his ear, and pulled it off. It was a loop of string with a tag attached, with indecipherable symbols. He showed it to Todd. "What’s it say?"
Todd pointed out the letters pedagogically. "That’s an F, and that’s an O, and that’s an R, so that says ’for’. And then there’s my name. T, O, D, D, Todd. So it says ’for Todd’."
"Oh." Matty wasn’t sure why he had a tag on him, but it seemed to have something to do with why his older brother was being so affectionate, so he figured it must be a good thing.
Todd smiled up at the chimney. "This was exactly what I wanted. Thank you, Santa."