By Lynn M. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: December, 2003
Summary: Five-year-old Emma Kent comes to learn that her parents are hiding some pretty big secrets when she witnesses a shocking interlude between her mother and a man in a big red suit.
Five-year-old Emma Kent wiggled under the heavy weight of her covers, turning this way and that in a vain attempt to find the position that would push her over the edge into sleep. She spared a glance across the few feet that separated her twin bed from her little sister's, wondering how Gracie had managed to fall asleep so easily. Didn't she have any idea what was going to happen that night? What momentous event was about to occur that would forever change the scope of their young lives? For crying out loud, it was Christmas Eve!
Apparently Gracie didn't have a clue, because by the dim glow of their Cinderella nightlight, Emma could clearly make out her sister's dark curls springing from beneath the matching Cinderella bedspread, and Gracie wasn't moving.
"Gracie?" she whispered loudly into the darkness, just to see if maybe Gracie was only pretending to be asleep. "You awake?"
When only Gracie's deep breathing filled the silence, Emma sighed in resignation. How was it possible that her sister's night would fly by, bringing Christmas morning to her in no time at all, while the minutes would drag for Emma simply because she was awake? It must be the same reason that an hour spent at the playground always went by a lot quicker than an hour shopping for a new washing machine at Sears.
Deciding that maybe a drink of water or a change of scenery might be the cure to her excitement-induced insomnia, she crept out of her bed in direct defiance of her mother's warning that Santa would surely pass right by their house if he even suspected that they had not yet fallen asleep. Padding softly to the top of the carpeted stairs, she paused, turning her ear toward the lower level. It wouldn't do for her to catch Santa in mid-delivery, and she certainly didn't want to chase him off before he'd finished, thereby shortchanging her and Gracie of their fair share of the booty in his sack.
When she heard nothing that would indicate a fat man in the process of unloading some of his burden, she tiptoed down four steps until she was able to peer through the wooden banister into the living room. The Christmas tree was blazing with colorful lights. Gobs of tinsel, artfully applied by two pairs of eager hands, shot prisms of light in every direction, a sight that always made Emma gasp when she saw it. She was sure their tree had to be the prettiest one in all of Metropolis.
Suddenly, she heard the gentle woosh of air from the swinging doors that led to the kitchen and her mother's voice came into the living room. With a panicked jerk, Emma pulled back into the safety of the dark stairwell.
"…orphanage. It's a great cause, but for Pete's sake, it's after eleven."
A deep voice responded. "I didn't expect to be so late, but there were a lot of reporters wanting photos."
"But it's Christmas Eve," her mom complained in a voice that Emma knew meant she'd reached the end of her rope. "Don't they know you have a life, too?"
"Honey, Superman and Santa Claus don't have a life."
Curious, Emma risked the danger of discovery by leaning forward to peek through the banister. The sight before her made her breath catch in her throat. Standing right in the middle of her very own living room was none other than the man himself. Santa Claus!
And he looked just like he did in all of his pictures. His red suit was trimmed with cottony fleece, and his hat even had a ball of white fluff on the end of it. He had black boots and a wide black belt wrapped around his tummy, secured by a shiny gold buckle. But most amazing of all was his long white hair and thick, creamy beard.
She'd seen Santa Claus at the mall, of course. But those guys were just helpers. This was the real deal, and he looked even better in person. Emma scanned the room. When she failed to see the infamous sack stuffed with toys, she frowned. Maybe he'd left it in his sleigh while he checked to make sure she and Gracie were asleep.
"Well, at least Santa only has to work one night a year," her mom was saying.
"That's true," Santa said with a chuckle, making his big tummy bounce up and down just like in the story where his belly was a bowl full of jelly. He reached up to stroke the white whiskers covering his chin. "So, you like the beard?"
Her mom laughed, a wonderful sound that filled Emma's small body with joy. She loved to hear her mom laugh. "It has its…merits."
"Come here and I'll stuff your stocking…" he said with a low rumble, stepping toward her mom. Her mom tried to dodge away, but Emma knew for sure that she'd seen her mom move a lot quicker than that.
Emma's large brown eyes widened as Santa Claus grabbed her mother and pulled her into a tight hug. Her mom giggled as he took his thick, snowy beard and rubbed it against her cheek. Suddenly, her mom's hands went to wrap around Santa's neck, and she stopped laughing.
Santa Claus was kissing her mom! Just the same way Daddy kissed her when he thought that Emma and Gracie were busy watching their Rapunzel Barbie video. Holy Cow! And her mom wasn't even complaining.
Confusion warred with horror in her small chest, and Emma backed slowly up the stairs on her bottom. When she reached the top, she placed her elbows on her knees and perched her chin into the cradle of her small hands, trying to wrap her brain around what she had just witnessed.
The funny thing was, this wasn't the first time that Emma had caught her mom kissing someone who wasn't her dad. She didn't understand a whole lot about that lovey-dovey stuff, and it completely eluded her as to why her mom and dad liked to kiss so much. The one time Josh Richards had kissed her after snacktime, she'd just thought it was really gross that his slobber was all over her cheek. If kissing boys was always such a wet proposition, she'd be happy to forgo the whole thing altogether.
But still, in five years, enough of the world's wisdom had filtered through for her to know that when a man and a woman were a mom and a dad, and when they hadn't gotten one of those divorce thingies, they were only supposed to kiss each other. Unless, of course, it was your grandpa or grandma or your uncle or aunt and you were visiting. But they weren't supposed to kiss other people's moms or dads. She had a slight suspicion that it was that kind of kissing that led to people trying to find one of those divorces.
Now, with the image of her mom kissing Santa fresh in her mind, she pulled forth the other time she'd seen something like this. That time, because she'd been a much younger kid just turned five instead of the now- worldly almost six, she'd been equally shocked. Because then, the man that her mom had been kissing had been none other than Superman.
She'd come home directly from kindergarten instead of going to Megan's house for their playdate because Megan had called her a butt-head right in front of Mrs. Barker. Completely outraged by such an insult, Emma had burst into the kitchen, looking for a sympathetic ear in the form of her mother, when she'd been stopped dead in her tracks. Her mom had been sitting on the counter — an outrage unto itself in that Emma was strictly forbidden to do such a thing — and standing in front of her had been Superman! He had been kissing her, and her mom's feet had been kicking his long red cape so that it had billowed out behind him. Her arms had been wrapped tight around his big shoulders, kind of just like the way her mom was kissing Santa Claus right downstairs.
When her mom had seen Emma standing in the kitchen, she'd stopped kissing Superman and had turned nearly as red as his cape. Superman had flown away really fast. Then her mom had asked her if she wanted to help make special cupcakes and had promised her that she could lick both the spoon and the bowl and have a whole scoop of chocolate frosting. She also got to put the sprinkles on all by herself.
It was shortly after that afternoon that her mom and dad had sat her down on the couch and told her that she was growing up. And that sometimes families had secrets that they could share only with each other. And because she was old enough and could be trusted, it was OK for her to know the biggest secret in their family.
Now, as she pondered the enormity of that one family secret, she wondered if perhaps that was only a little part of it. Maybe the fact that Daddy was Superman wasn't the real secret, at least not the most important one. Was it possible that, in addition to being Superman, her dad was also…?
Her mind spun. There was no way her dad could be Santa Claus. Santa had white hair and a beard. And he was fat. Her dad was just big with a lot of really hard muscles. He didn't have a big tummy like Santa.
Still, Superman could fly and Santa's sleigh flew. Maybe that was how it made its way across the sky. Maybe it wasn't magic reindeer at all, but instead just another Superman trick.
And Superman was really strong. She had trouble even carrying her Barbie townhouse up the stairs to her room when she wanted to keep Gracie from bugging her. If Santa's bag was full of toys and stuff for every single kid in the whole wide world, it would have to be really, really heavy. So he'd have to be super- strong to carry it.
As she thought of all of those toys, another realization caused her heart to pound fast inside her chest. Santa sure had a lot of toys to deliver, and Mrs. Barker was always pointing to the globe sitting in the corner of the kindergarten room and saying how big the world was. Santa would have to be super-fast to get to all of those houses. Superman was super- fast.
All of the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. It all made perfect sense, and Emma wondered how she could have been such a dummy for all of these years. That was how Santa knew if kids were sleeping or if they were being good or bad. He used his x-ray vision. And when he needed to go down the fireplace, he just used his cold-breath to put the fire out and then lit it back up again with his hot-eyes.
Of course, none of that explained why Santa was fat and had a snowy white beard. But then again, Superman wore a costume, so why couldn't it be that her dad just had another different one for when he was Santa?
Besides, if all of that evidence wasn't enough, it had to be the reason why Daddy always wanted them to leave the chocolate chip cookies on the plate next to the milk instead of the gingersnaps. He said it was because he'd heard that the chocolate chip ones were Santa's favorite, just like his. And Emma knew for certain that Daddy never ate gingersnaps.
Well. That was it. The S stood for Superman and for Santa Claus.
Satisfied that she'd solved the riddle and that her mom and dad probably wouldn't have to buy one of those divorces just because Mom kissed Santa, Emma returned to her bed. All of that thinking had actually made her kind of sleepy. Besides, now that she knew that Santa was in actuality her dad, somehow it seemed like a little-kid thing to not be able to sleep just because it was Christmas Eve. She flipped her pillow over and laid her cheek against the cool pillowcase.
She wouldn't tell Gracie what she'd figured out. Gracie was still way too little to keep such important secrets, so Emma would wait until she had turned at least four before breaking the news to her. After all, as the big sister, it was her job to teach Gracie the really important stuff.
As she drifted off into sleep, Emma smiled to herself. Maybe she'd better not tell Mom or Daddy that she'd figured out about Daddy's other job. They were always giving her worried looks, and she guessed they were scared she might accidentally tell everyone their family secrets. But she'd show them. She could keep secrets.
After all, they still didn't know that she could fly.