“So you play in a band?” Pastor Bruce asked.
“Yes, whenever I can.” Nick continued. “We have a pretty good group where I come from, and a friend and I alternate playing. Switch off, you know. Sharing makes it good.”
“So kids . . . do you two play any instruments in the church band?” Nick asked, quickly changing the subject so Pastor Bruce wouldn’t ask too many more delicate questions about where Nick was from.
Well, that did it. Joy and Edward took the reins from that one question and talked much of the fifteen minutes of travel time over to the church. Joy sat strapped in her car seat in the rear seat of the van but kept trying to poke her head toward the front to get a better look at Nick. She was still fairly convinced that this just might be the real Santa sitting in the front seat of her car, but as with any six-year old, no one took her too seriously.
Edward, on the other hand, eventually changed the subject and asked Nick a few pointed questions about fireplaces. Pastor Bruce’s oldest child was just about at the age where the idea of believing in Santa Claus was pretty hard to hold onto, so Edward thought that since he had a fireplace expert in the car, he’d ask a few practical questions on how Santa actually squeezes down all those fireplaces around the world.
“Well, Ed, I’ll tell you.” Nick said, turning so he could see the children as he talked. “It’s not easy for old Santa to get down every chimney nowadays. He’s a bit older now and has picked up a little weight over the last one hundred years, so you’re right in asking how hard it might be for him to do just that.”
Nick winked at Pastor Bruce as he continued. “I’m thinking, Edward, that Santa must get some special help from his reindeer. Or maybe the elves. You know, I’ve heard that Santa is considering retiring soon and turning the whole thing over to his elves. Santa’s getting pretty old, and it’s not as easy as it used to be to get all those homes taken care of. But the elves. They’re small and quick and don’t age nearly as fast as ole Santa. I’m just thinking that, before long, Santa may turn the whole thing over to them. That’d be OK with you, right, Ed?”
Before Edward could speak a word, Joy piped in and in a demanding tone that only six- year olds can use, yelled out, “No way, Nick. You’re wrong. No way Christmas can come without Santa!”
“Joy, don’t talk mean to Nick.” Pastor Bruce interrupted. “He’s just kidding around with you. Santa will always be the one to bring the gifts, right, Nick?”
“Whatever you say, Pastor.” Nick sighed as he turned back to look at the snowflakes. “Whatever you say.”
Well, by the time the Dodson van pulled onto Main Street and into the church parking lot, it was ten minutes after eight. There was a light dusting of snow on all of the cars, and with Pastor Bruce’s quick prompting, everyone hopped out of the van quickly and ran to the church’s back door entrance.
“Don’t want to be late, kids, let’s go.” said Pastor Bruce. They ran up the back stairs, with Pastor Bruce carrying Joy so they could make better time.
“You’re late.” Carol called down the hall as Pastor Bruce, Edward and Nick shook the remnants of snow off their boots and gloves.
“Sorry, dear.” Pastor Bruce responded. “We got Mary taken care of. Is everybody here already? I don’t see Dan’s car. Is Dan here?”
“No, Bruce.” Carol said as she poked her head around the corner. “Dan’s not here. His wife called me about a half-an-hour after you left the shelter. Seems he’s not doing well again tonight. He can’t make the rehearsal. Mrs. Jackson apologized for him not being here.”
A look of frustration came over Pastor Bruce’s face. “Oh no, not again.”
“An ongoing problem?” Nick asked.
“Yeah, Nick.” Pastor Bruce explained. “Mr. Jackson has some personal problems that can really get the best of him some times. Know what I mean?”
“Ah, yes, Pastor.” Nick sighed. “Know exactly what you mean. Being in the people business, I run across a lot of situations like that where people will let you down. Seems to be a bit of an increase in that lately, don’t you think? Sometimes makes you just want to quit. I’m telling you, Pastor, there are times . . .”
Pastor Bruce cut Nick off, “Nick, I’ve found that if I let folks control whether I show up or not, I’m setting myself up for failure. You gotta keep going, Nick, regardless of the response.”
“So what’s your Dan fellow play in this ‘ere band?”
“Bass. Guess we’ll just be a trio tonight. We’ll make it work.”
“Well, Pastor,” Nick piped up. “You sure can say no, but I’ve played a bit of bass in a few bands over the years. Mind if I sit in and take a crack at it?”
“Honestly, Nick,” Pastor Bruce explained. “I appreciate your offer, but . . .”
“Hey Pastor,” Nick interrupted. “I fully understand your hesitation. Sometimes when people come up to me saying they can do this or that, I’m always a bit hesitant to take their word on it. Tell you what, let me take a look at the music and if I can’t handle it, I’ll not pull the wool over your eyes.”