By this time it was getting close to ten o’clock. The candlelight service was scheduled for midnight. Carol looked at her watch and said, “Bruce, it’s getting late. The kids probably need a little break before coming back to the church by eleven-thirty. I think we should take them home for a bit. Is that OK, with you?”
“Sure, dear.” Pastor Bruce called back from across the room. “Let me grab a few of my notes for tonight’s service before we leave.”
Turning toward his office, Pastor Bruce remembered that he had brought Nick to the church in his van. “What now?” Pastor Bruce whispered to Carol. “Should Nick stay at the church? Is it safe to leave him here alone by himself?”
Before Pastor Bruce could even get a response from Carol, Joy spoke up, “Nick, do you wanna come over to our house?”
Nick noticed the look of surprise that came over both Pastor Bruce and Carol’s eyes.
“Maybe you good folks could just drop me back at the shelter.”
“No, no, Nick.” Carol interrupted. “Why don’t you come over to our home. Maybe you’d like a bite to eat before tonight’s service?”
“No, Mrs. Dodson.” Nick replied. “I appreciate your generous offer. I’ve eaten enough already tonight. I really need to retrieve my coat and gloves back at the shelter. We left so quickly earlier tonight, I plum forgot them. Maybe you can be so kind to drop me off there on your way to your house. That would be wonderful.”
“Alright, Nick.” Carol said. “If you say so. Let’s go kids. Out to the van.”
The Dodson family quickly piled into the van. Pastor Bruce and Carol in the front, of course, with Edward and Joy insisting that Nick ride in the back seat right between them. Just as Pastor Bruce turned on the ignition, Joy leaned over her car seat and yelled out, “Mom and Dad, hurry up, Santa has to get back to his workshop so he can bring us our presents.”
“Joy, I’ve told you before,” Pastor Bruce said as he strained his neck to look behind him. “Nick is not Santa Claus. Santa lives up at the North Pole. Right, Nick?”
“Well, Joy,” Nick said calmly, “you know what? I don’t really know all that much about ole Santa Claus. Why don’t both you and Edward tell me everything you know about St. Nick?”
Now that one question opened the kids up to talk nonstop about Christmas for the next six blocks. Nick listened carefully as Joy ticked off every known fact about Santa, all of course, from the unique perspective of a six-year old. Unlike the pattern in most conversations between six- and eight-year olds, Edward sat quietly in his seat, waiting for his turn to tell Nick his own unique thoughts about Santa.
As the van rolled down Main Street, the Dodson kids took their delegated turns telling Nick all they had personally experienced at Christmas and all that Santa Claus meant to them. Between the two of them, there were fourteen years of Christmas past that proved without a doubt that Santa had an honored place in both of these young children’s hearts.
At one point, Carol interrupted the barrage of Christmas talk and said, “Kids, I think Nick has heard quite enough about Santa. Haven’t you, Nick?”
“Well Mrs. Dodson,” Nick replied. “I just can’t tell you how meaningful it is to hear your children’s perspectives on ole Santa. The older I get, the more I need to be reminded of why Santa does what he does.”
Just as the Dodson van turned into the shelter’s parking lot, Edward noticed that Nick brushed away a tear as he talked.
“Nick, are you crying?”
“No, son,” Nick said, trying to call attention away from himself, “just fighting off a bit of a head cold.”
“Well, Pastor,” Nick continued. “Looks like there are still a few folks here at the shelter. Thank you so much for the ride. I’ll pick up my gloves and coat and meet you back at the church by eleven-thirty.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to just run in, grab your things, and then come over to our place before the service tonight?” Carol asked.
“Please, Nick! Come with us!” Edward pleaded.
“Santa, please come.” Joy cried out.
“No, No.” Nick sighed. “Gotta touch base with a few friends here before I go over to the church. Besides, you kids need to get a bit of rest before tonight’s big candlelight service.”
Nick hopped out of the van quickly so no one could see the second tear that was forming in his eyes. “Goodnight, all, and thanks again.”
The Dodsons pulled into their driveway at about ten-thirty, and by the time they got all their snow boots, mittens, and hats removed, it was nearly ten-forty-five. Pastor Bruce stuck his head into the refrigerator, looking for a bit of food. With the emergency at Mary’s duplex, he had not had a chance to eat dinner down at the shelter. Carol took the kids upstairs to clean up and put on some fresh clothes. Pastor Bruce found a leftover chicken leg and a piece of cheese, and just as he was pouring himself a glass of milk, the phone rang.