Authors: Wendy Delsol
There was one thing, and one thing only, that could coax me into striped red tights, a fur vest, and an elf cap: Jack Snjosson. Make that Jack Snjosson in a Santa suit. Our high-school paper’s for-charity lunchtime food drive offered an up-close-and-personal with the old fellow in exchange for a nonperishable. Jack, as the paper’s editor in chief, was the unanimous choice for the red suit. Never the look-at-me type, he resisted, digging in deep the heels of his old work boots until he devised a scheme requiring company in his misery. My current ensemble was the result. As the paper’s fashion editor, I found playing elf more than a little embarrassing, but at least I got first crack at Kris Kringle.
“Uh, Santa,” I said, “aren’t you going to ask me what I want for Christmas?” I scooched my striped limbs into the velvety folds of his lap.
“Tell me, what is it you want from old Saint Nick?”
“Santa”— I buried my face into his beard and whispered into his ear —“all I want for Christmas is . . .”
I couldn’t help drawing out the moment. It was just too much fun and too surreal, even if my definition of
had all-new meaning since September. It was still hard to believe everything that had happened in just three short months. I really thought I was losing it when, shortly after the move from LA to Minnesota, I discovered that I was a Stork: a member of an ancient flock of soul deliverers. Things only got more complicated when I met Jack. Turned out he had a pretty nifty talent of his own. As a modern-day descendant of Jack Frost — uh-huh,
Jack Frost — he had the ability to control the weather. All the same, had you told me three months ago that I would ask Santa — and not even the real thing, instead my seventeen-year-old, bony-kneed, mahogany-haired, gem-eyed boyfriend — for what was possibly the only thing you couldn’t get at the Beverly Hills Neiman Marcus, I’d have said you were cracked.
“A white Christmas,” I said.
“And have you been good?” fake-Santa asked.
He groaned. Because of his special ancestry, heat was Jack’s kryptonite. The heavy costume was uncomfortable to him; my proximity made it worse. Not to mention he wasn’t really the PDA type and there was a line of at least twenty can-donating do-gooders — all girls — waiting their turn.
“Thanks, Santa,” I said, kissing him briefly on the cheek and springing from his lap.
His face went candy-apple red. It was, as always, our combustible combination that tested his abilities. He made it through the rest of the lunch hour without incident, while I, his elfin helper, handed candy canes to both the naughty and the nice. When his lap was finally girl-free, he stretched, peeled off the press-on whiskers, and headed in my direction.
“Were you trying to kill me?” A much younger Jack seized me by the shoulders.
“What?” I asked, all innocence. “I was your helper.” I shook my satchel of goodies as proof.
“You were no help at all.”
“Ungrateful,” I said.
“Unworthy,” I countered.
“Unbelievable,” he said, though his tone had softened considerably.
“Ahem.” I looked up to see Penny standing behind us. “I just wanted to thank you guys for all your help. We collected ten boxes of food.”
“That’s great,” I said.
“Are you two still gonna help us load the van after school?” Penny asked.
“We’ll be there,” I answered for both of us. In the three months since our fateful Homecoming adventures, Jack and I had become a unit. Nothing like almost getting sucked through a portal to another dimension by an evil soul-snatching Raven to fast-track a relationship.
I watched Penny walk away with a Prancer-like lope. She deserved the bounce in her step. She’d worked hard to promote and organize the food drive. I was glad it had been successful and was happy to have assisted by printing up flyers and plastering signs throughout the school.
Jack took advantage of my diverted attention and coiled a thick swath of my hair around his fist. “And what’s this about wanting a white Christmas?”
“I do. Now that I’ve embraced living a stone’s throw from the North Pole, I actually do.”
“You? The California Girl? Not liking this mild winter?”
“It’s wimpy,” I said, laughing. It was true. Now that I lived in Minnesota, the recent start-of-winter warm temps and lack of snow seemed pathetic.
He arched his eyebrows. I loved the way it flared the blue of his eyes. “Wimpy, huh?”
The truck’s radio crooned Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.” The song worked on two levels: not only was it Christmas Eve, but the drive to Jack’s family farm felt like going back in time. I always knew when we were close, because my watch began to spin counterclockwise. The numerals even changed to Roman. At the road, stone pillars fronted the entrance with a carved wooden
sign strung between them. We pulled down a long gravel driveway. Apple trees dotted both sides of the narrow lane. They were barren, but I remembered them leafy and heavy with fruit. Even now, with their silvery bark set against the hard frosty ground, they were an impressive sight.
Jack parked in front of the house, and we got out. I filled my arms with wrapped packages, gifts for his family. I took a deep breath, lingering by the passenger side of the truck. I had been to his house many times and shared many meals with his parents. I had, however, never been for a holiday dinner. Reluctantly, my mom had agreed to a trade-off. I got to spend tonight at Jack’s; in exchange, she got us both for Christmas dinner. A win-win, I’d thought, until, standing there, my nervous system lived up to its name.
Jack walked around to me and pulled my suddenly cement-bottomed feet toward the house. “Come on,” he said.
I was mostly freaked about meeting Jack’s grandmother, who was visiting for Christmas. The few things I knew about her hinted at an unusual woman. For starters, she had been the one to suspect and then advise Jack of my rightful membership in the Icelandic Stork Society. This, years before even I knew of my soul-delivery-service future. And she had recognized Jack’s immunity to the cold as something extraordinary, even for one of the Veturfolk, the Winter People, a Norse race of arctic descent. Moreover, she had intuited our unique connection, the heightening of powers created by our predestined combination.
“We’re here!” Jack called out.
“Finally.” Jack’s mom, Alda, met us in the small foyer, wiping her hands on a dishcloth. She had Jack’s sky-blue eyes and dark hair, though hers was streaked with gray.
We stamped our boots on the mat inside the front door. The house had old wooden floorboards throughout, even upstairs. They were scuffed and more warped than the Coen brothers, but I liked the colorful rag and braided rugs that cozied up each individual room and that no one was ever expected to remove their shoes. Besides, they kept the thermostat at, like, forty — below. Footwear, at its most basic design, was protection against the elements, one of which was cold. I’d come a long way from the girl who had once thought that shoes needed to match the outfit, not the season. You still wouldn’t catch me sliding my polished toes into a pair of Birkenstocks, but I’d made serious progress. I was currently wearing the Timberland boots Jack had once broken in with a rock. With pink-and-brown argyle laces tied ankle-to-toe, they were both stylish and comfortable.
Jack’s mom was joined by Jack’s dad, Lars, a tall man with dull blond hair that thinned on top and was cropped neatly above his ears and through the sideburns. Alda hugged me and took the packages, while Lars, a man of few words, took my coat.
’s waiting to meet Kat,” Alda said to Jack.
I swallowed what felt like a golf ball — with an accompanying divot of turf.
Jack took my hand and led me through the kitchen and into the family room. His grandmother was seated on a chair near the Christmas tree with a needle and thread in one hand and a large bowl of popcorn on her lap. As Jack and I crossed the room, she set her things on the floor and stood to greet us. She was small and thin and wiry. Her eyes darted quickly to me, and though she wasn’t one of the Storks, she was definitely cut of the same homespun cloth. I immediately brushed my hair off my face and straightened my shoulders.
“Amma,” Jack said, “this is Kat.”
“I’d have known her for one of Olaf’s clan,” she said, approaching me with a shuffle.
I extended my right hand. “Pleased to meet you.”
She took my hand but didn’t shake. Instead she ran her right index finger along my palm and then, curiously, into the groove separating my thumb from my fingers. Seemingly confused with what she found, or didn’t find, there, she released me. “The power of three,” she said with surprise. She scrunched her face into an impressive network of worry lines and stared at me hard and long. Then she turned and headed for the kitchen. “I think I’ll make some tea.”
When she was gone, Jack pressed his fingers to his forehead. “Sorry about that. She’s a little unpredictable.”
I was still holding my hand out in front of me, staring at it, as if any sense could be made of what had transpired. I’d heard of palm reading but didn’t know the opposable thumb factored into the road map of one’s life lines. “No worries.” I shook it off. Hulda, our wise-woman leader of the Storks, had hacked a trail for me through what I would have once considered weird and wacky. “Does she drink the tea, or just read the leaves?”