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Authors: Kirsten Mortensen

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SAVANNAH

So, I admit it, I got a little nervous on the drive up.

She was so convinced. She was so sure of it—that we
were going to drive up there and get out of the car and walk into the woods,
and there he’d be. Her mysterious Santa hunk.

Next, she’d introduce us. And then, well, who knows?
We’d all go into his little house in the tree and have milk and cookies or
something, I guess.

But that’s not what happened.

We drove to the park. We got out of the car.

She was so excited, she was walking really fast.

I told her to slow down, but she didn’t, so I had to
practically trot to keep up.

The day was warmish. The snow was soggy and slumped
down and dirty, under the trees, with bits of bark and twigs.

“Over here,” she said.

I followed her to this big tree.

We stood there and looked at it.

She walked all the way around it.

“Bear?” she said. “Santa?”

And I have to say. I was relieved.

You know? Confession time: I didn’t
want
him
to be real.

I didn’t want it.

It scared me—the whole idea of mysterious gorgeous
men who don’t show up in photographs and ask women to go away with them …

No. Just no.

On the other hand, when I looked at Clare’s
face—heartbroken is an understatement.

“He’s not here,” she said.

My first instinct was to say something sarcastic.
Like: who’s not here? The guy who doesn’t exist?

But I couldn’t be mean about it.

Not with that look on her face.

“It’s okay,” I said.

I stepped toward her.

She sagged into me, and I
put my arms around her.

“He was
here
,”
she said, her voice muffled into the shoulder of my jacket. “He was
here
,
Savannah.”

“But he’s gone, now,” I
said. I was playing along, by then, but also in the back of my mind I was thinking
this is good.
This is good. Maybe this will help her put the whole thing
behind her.

I offered to drive her
car back to the apartment, and she let me. She wasn’t really in any condition
to drive.

She just sat there, with
her eyes closed, not talking.

When I tried to make
conversation she didn’t answer ...

 
 

CLARE: December 19

Okay, so it’s been a week since I last wrote anything.

Honestly, I’ve been
feeling too low to want to write.

Here’s the thing: until
that morning, I really didn’t believe I could lose him.

Sure, I knew that by
refusing to go with him I’d failed some kind of test. I’d shown him that I
didn’t trust him.

So maybe I wasn’t worthy
of him—of whatever he was offering me.

But in the back of my
mind, I still thought I could have the spooky supernatural version of Can We
Still Be Friends. No, I wasn’t going to follow him through a door that suddenly
appeared in the trunk of an oak tree. But I could still meet him once in a
while to chat, right?

Chat and … maybe kiss a
little more?

And so, idiot that I was,
I figured all I needed to do was show up and he’d be there, just like the first
time.

And he wasn’t.

I felt like I’d been
kicked in the stomach.

It didn’t even matter
that I’d lost my last chance to regain any credibility in Savannah’s eyes. That
was now a completely lost cause, of course. But I didn’t care.

I’d lost the most
important thing in my life. Like the song goes—I knew what I’d had only when it
was gone.

Losing some other stuff
as well didn’t make it worse.

Nothing could make it
worse than it already was.

I don’t know what to do,
now.

I don’t know what I’m
going to do ...

 

SAVANNAH

Oh, the next week was such a struggle!

Poor Clare.

She barely ate. I doubt
she slept. She went to work—at least, I think she went to work, because she
went out to her car every day and drove off—but at night when I got home I’d
find her sitting in the dark.

I made her watch
Christmas DVDs. It’s our tradition. It’s what we did every year. Miracle on 34
th
Street, The Grinch, It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf.

But I’d look over at her
and I could tell she wasn’t really paying attention.

For the first time in my
life, I realized that in a way, it doesn’t matter what’s “real.”

What matters is how you
react to what you
think
is real.

You know? That sounds
spooky, but really, it’s quite logical.

I started to feel bad
about how I’d handled the whole thing. I mean, it wasn’t my job to convince
Clare that her blue-eyed Santa person was a figment of her imagination.

My job was to be her
friend. To fix her breakfast in the morning and remind her to eat it. To sit
next to her on the couch in the evening and put the Christmas afghan on her lap
when she looked chilly.

My job was to keep a
semblance of our old lives in place, so that however much she was dying inside,
at least she had something on the outside that was safe and normal.

I will admit that I
called her mother and told her I was worried.

Of course I didn’t tell
her what had
really
happened. I made up a fibby version instead—something
just real enough so that her mom would be on the alert. I should explain: every
year we spent Christmas Day with our families, and by then, Christmas Day was
fast approaching. I wanted to make sure that when Clare showed up on her
parents’ doorstep, her mom would be ready to do what moms do best.

“I don’t think she’d want
me to tell you this,” I told her, “but Clare’s been through a bad break up and
she’s feeling kind of low.”

Clare’s mom is great. She
agreed that it was good I’d told her, and she promised not to tell Clare that
she knew anything was wrong.

But I knew that she’d
find ways to make Christmas Day special.

Because what Clare needed
more than anything was a special Christmas.

 
 

CLARE: December 25

It snowed again last
night.

And I’m finally feeling a
bit better …

Snow on Christmas Eve …

This never happens. You
know? The songs, the whole White Christmas thing, it sets us up—and because we
want it so much, we watch for it, and nine years out of ten—nothing.

Not a flake.

But this year, we’ve had
so much snow the whole month.

And then, last night, we
got another fresh layer.

And it was the perfect
amount, too. Not so much that last-minute travelers were in any trouble. Sure,
the plows had to salt the roads, but the snow was light and cold and fluffy.
Once the plows made a single pass, the roads were clear.

And the snow did exactly
what it was supposed to do: it cleaned everything up. The rooftops were all
pure white, the tree branches were frosted, the morning sun on the snow made a
million little diamond flashes, and if you looked closely you noticed the
flashes were actually colored, all the colors of the rainbow.

 
So Savannah and I got up on Christmas morning
and went out to our cars and I looked around and for the first time in days I
felt a little better.

Because the snow did was
it was supposed to do. Christmas snow.

Everything seemed like maybe
it was a little magical.

We brushed our cars off.

We were on our way to
visit our parents. It’s what we do every Christmas, since we went off to
college. I spend the day with my family, Savannah spends the day with hers.
Then, come evening, we meet back at our apartment and give each other our
gifts.

Savannah gave me a big
hug before we left.

“You’re feeling better,
Clare? A little bit?”

She kind of whispered it,
like she was afraid that saying it would make it not real.

And I thought wow. She
loves me. She cares about me—and she’s been worried about me.

And I felt bad for
worrying her.

“I’m gonna be okay,” I
said to her. “I love you, Savannah.”

“I love you, too, Clare!”

And I cried a little bit,
driving to my folks. But in a way it was crying from happiness.

She’s my best friend.

I’m so lucky, to have a
friend like that.

And it was a wonderful Christmas.
Almost perfect, really. My parents went through a rough time a few years back,
but they’ve smoothed things over and now they seem really happy. My one
brother—Kyle, the middle one—just finished up a four-year stint in the Army, so
that’s nice. We don’t have to worry, any more, about him being sent over to the
Middle East again, and smart as he is, he’ll have no trouble finding work. And
my oldest brother, Stefan, brought his girlfriend Emily and—get this. He proposed
to her at dinner—on his knee, with a ring. The whole smash.

It was one of those
moments … I’ll never forget it. The look on my parents’ faces, the look on
Emily’s face.

And my mom! She is soooo sweet.
She loves Christmas just like I do. She kept coming up to me all day and
hugging me and stroking my hair. I mean, it’s not like we never see each other.
We live in the same town. I guess with it being Christmas, and her so happy
about Stefan and Kyle—it just made her feel all warm and affectionate.

I know that’s how I felt.

Warm and loved.

In fact, I considered
texting Savannah to tell her I wasn’t coming back to the apartment until the next
day. It was so nice, being there with my family. Part of me didn’t want to
leave.

But I know the situation
with Savannah’s folks isn’t quite the same—she’d be itching to get out of there
by the time the dinner table was cleared.

And I couldn’t abandon
her on Christmas night.

So about 5 o’clock I said
my goodbyes.

I gave my mom an extra
long hug on the doorstep before I left.

Now I’m back at the
apartment, waiting for Savannah.

I hope she likes the gift
I got her.

So it’s okay. It’s all
okay.

Because you know, inside,
I’m still sad. My heart is broken …

But I’ll make it, somehow

I’m going to go for a
walk, now, I think, while I wait for Savannah to get home …

A walk outside on
Christmas evening in the snow …

 

SAVANNAH

Okay. That’s the end of Clare’s journal: an entry she
made around six o’clock or so on Christmas Day.

It’s up to me to tell the
rest of the story …

 

SAVANNAH

I got back to the apartment and she’d left a note that
she’d gone for a walk.

She’d turned on all of her
Christmas lights and she’d lit all her Christmas candles.

It was so pretty. She
really knew how to transform the place with all those lights and ribbons and
statues and—what do you call it—bunting, right? Bunting. Draped on the
television, draped on the bannisters, draped across the back of the couch.

I texted her to let her
know I was back.

I put some milk in a
saucepan. I wanted to make homemade cocoa from scratch.

Ten minutes later I heard
her stomping the snow off her boots inside the apartment door.

“Hey,” I said. “I made
cocoa.”

She looked so great.
She’d put on one of her favorite holiday dresses: it was red, with red and
green plaid trim and a flouncy skirt. She wore red tights with it, and had
knotted a scarf around her neck. The scarf was gold with a red window pane
check pattern.

She looked like a human
Christmas present. The red of the dress set off her perfect skin, and I
remember her cheeks were rosy from being out in the cold—so, okay, I know I’m
looking back on a special evening, but I don’t think I’m exaggerating. She was
a good-looking girl on her worst days. That evening, she looked stunning.

“Let’s open presents,”
she said. “I brought some of mom’s ginger cookies.”

Normally, we were the
sort of gals who just eat stuff right out of the box.

But not on Christmas. She
put the cookies on a plate. And of course it was a Christmassy plate—printed
with a scene of a sleigh in the woods, with kids waving from underneath a thick
fur blanket.

I poured our cocoa into her
Christmas mugs. They’re shaped like reindeer heads. The antlers are bent back
to make the handles.

We took our cocoa and
cookies into the living room and sat down.

“You first,” she said.

So I opened her gift. It
was a scarf. Very soft—I think it’s cashmere.

“Hey,” I said. “We were
only supposed to spend ten dollars!”

“I work in a mall,
remember?” She smiled at me. “When stuff goes on sale, I’m the first to know.”

“It’s beautiful,” I said.
“I love it. Now, your turn.”

She picked up the little
box I’d set on the coffee table and slowly unwrapped it.

Very
slowly!

That was Clare—savoring
every Christmas moment.

“C’mon,” I teased her.
“It’s not like you’re going to save the paper!”

“I might,” she said.
“It’s really pretty.”

It was foil paper, the expensive
kind. Green with ornaments embossed on it. I still have some, left over from
that day.

Finally she got the paper
off and opened the box and lifted out the gift.

It was a mug, a coffee
mug.

Only it wasn’t the mug
I’d picked out.

“Wait!” I said. “What?”

She didn’t realize, at
first, that anything was wrong. She was holding the mug in her hands, looking
at it. Her eyes were enormous. “SAVANNAH!” she said.

“That’s not right!” I
reached for the mug. “It’s not—that’s not the right gift!”

She noticed, finally, that
I was upset. “What do you mean?”

She let me take the mug from
her hands and I stared at it.

I couldn’t believe it.

It was black.

The mug was black.

But the mug I’d
picked out was bright red.

A bright red mug with a
green holly leaf printed on it, and the caption “Have a Holly Holly Christmas.”

And the mug Clare had
taken out of the box? Instead of a Christmas greeting, it was printed with a
single word in white: the word BELIEVE.

“Savannah,” she said,
taking it back from me. “It’s okay. I
like
it.”

“You don’t understand,” I
said. “This isn’t the mug I bought for you.” I remember staring at the mug in
her hands as I spoke. “And Clare, I watched them put it in the box at the
store—I paid for it and watched them put a
red
mug in the box. And
then they wrapped it, and then I took it home.”

I stopped talking.

Clare’s eyes locked onto
mine.

My mind whirled.

Could I be mistaken? Was
there some logical explanation for this?

No.

It made no sense.

But I knew what I’d seen.

I’d carried the mug to
the counter to pay for it.

I’d stood there and
watched
the clerk put it into a box and wrap it. Right there in front of my eyes!

“Savannah.” Clare spoke,
breaking my thoughts. “I—I think I know what happened.”

Have you ever had one of
those moments when something kind of clicks?

Like … hmmm. How can I
describe it …

It’s as if there was a
machine running in the background. It’s been running, humming, your entire
life. And you’d long since stopped paying attention to it, long ago you’d
gotten so used to it that you stopped noticing it, stopped hearing it, even.

But then suddenly it
stopped running and instead of that low hum: perfect silence.

And for a moment you
don’t know what happened. You only know that something is really, really
different.

Something had changed—and
you’re baffled because you can’t quite put your finger on what it is.

That moment, sitting
there with Clare on the couch—it was just like that.

Like suddenly everything
around us was perfect silence.

Waiting.

And then Clare jumped to
her feet.

“He said I saw him
because I believed,” she said.

“What?” I said. “Who said
that?”


Him.
Santa!”

And then I realized what
she was talking about. The blue-eyed fantasy guy.

But before I had a chance
to react, she started talking—almost too fast for me to keep up. “I didn’t understand
what he meant. He said I could see him because I believed—and what else was it?
Something about doubt. That my doubt would be my test. Savannah!”

She was clutching the mug
to her chest. Now she held it up, kissed it, and turned it so that the word
BELIEVE faced me.


He
did it!
He
put this mug in the box! Don’t you see?”

 
I stared.

It was all far too crazy
for me to do anything
but
stare.

“Savannah!” Clare’s eyes
were now wide open—huge. “I have to go back!”

And before I could answer
she’d darted to the door of the apartment and was pulling on her boots.

“Clare!” I yelled.

I was thinking I needed
to stop her.

But something stopped
me
,
instead.

Because there really was
no rational explanation for how that black mug could have gotten into that box.

And for the first time,
the thought crossed my mind:

What if Clare’s Santa
hunk … is real?

“Clare—I’ll drive,” I
said.

She was pulling on her
coat, but at my words she paused and looked at me. “Okay,” she said. “But on
one condition.”

I zipped up my jacket and
pulled my gloves out of its pockets. “What?”

“You have to promise me
that you will try to believe, too.”

I frowned. “What do you
mean?”

“Savannah—don’t take this
the wrong way. And it’s not like I can really be sure what happened that last
time, when we went to the grove together. But—”

I nodded.

Somehow, I understood
where she was headed. “You think my being there interfered, somehow.”

“Yes.”

“But I
don’t
believe,
Clare—I don’t.”

“Just try,” she said. “I
think if you just try, it will be enough.” She broke into a grin. “Because I
do—I do believe. I was starting to doubt, last time, but—” She was still
holding the mug, and now held it up at me, her grin widening—“now I know
differently. Now I know he’s there—and he’s waiting for me, Savannah. He’s
waiting for me.”

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