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Authors: Darryl Nyznyk

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BOOK: Mary’s Son
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SARAH dressed quickly. All thoughts of a morning bath disappeared. She threw on the blue denim and tried to brush through her tangled curls before she gave up and tied her mass of hair in a ponytail.

 

Sarah had been to circus acts and “magic parties.” As a very young girl, she loved those events. But her mother’s death ended her fascination with magic. The car accident that took her mother also took the magic out of her life. By the time she’d reached her eleventh birthday, not only did she not believe in magic, she was actually able to explain how magic tricks were done. She could no longer be fooled, even
for a moment…at least until this very morning when the plump little man appeared at her gate.

Sarah’s mind told her the man had been carrying the umbrella from the first moment she’d seen him. How else could he have been completely dry when he entered the house? As for the shoes, she’d simply been mistaken the first time she saw him. He’d worn the hard-soled oxfords the entire time. Yet Sarah’s interest was piqued. She had to find out who this little man was.

 

MYRA Grundick entered the library as Nicholas was completing the form. She was a thin, sharp-edged woman with dark hair pulled back tightly, uncomfortable in the tension it brought to her face, which despite the pull appeared pinched as if it was in a constant battle with the tightness of the hair. She was stiff, cold, businesslike and unsmiling. Upon her entry, Nicholas stood and extended his hand in greeting.

 

“Good morning, Miss…Grundick, I believe. Myra Grundick, is it?”

“May we help you?” she asked. Her face pinched even more as she stared disdainfully at Nicholas. She did not take his hand. Although he continued to smile, Nicholas withdrew his, a little puzzled.

“Actually, I thought perhaps I could help you, Miss. I understand you need a man to help care for the little girl of the house. I’ve filled out your form,” he said, and handed it to her.

“How did you know of our need? I’ve only just prepared the notice to go to the agencies tomorrow.” She took a folded paper from her dress pocket and held it up for Nicholas to see. His smile faded.

“Yes…well…” Nicholas stammered for a second before he again smiled broadly. “Well, your man, Brockton Smith, quit last night. I learned of your need as a result of his departure. Apparently the girl is quite a handful. Spirited you might say.”

Myra Grundick frowned as she began to review the application. “Well, Mr.…er, Mr. Nicholas.… What is your first name?”

“That’s it. You’ve said it…only the ‘Mr.’ is not really necessary.”

“What is your last name, then?”

“I was afraid you’d ask that. You see, I haven’t used it in so many years, I’ve really quite forgotten it,” Nicholas frowned. His voice trailed off.

Myra Grundick didn’t hear his last statement because she was shocked by the rest of the information she read. Nicholas spoke quickly and tried to distract her from the form.

“I’ve had many years of experience with children. I’m really quite good with them.”

“Is this some kind of a joke?” she demanded.

“Joke?… Why, no. I am here to help you care for the girl.”

“You say here that you are also known by the names Kris Kringle…and Santa Claus?” She stared hard at him and drew out the last words with a slow, angry exhalation.

“It is the truth, Miss Grundick. All of it. I am…” Nicholas stammered.

Miss Grundick turned to Stevens, who was standing at the library’s entry.

“Stevens, show this man out,” she commanded.

“Yes, Miss. This way,” Stevens said as he strode into the room and took Nicholas’s arm.

Nicholas chastised himself silently. He wondered if he would ever learn. This seemed to happen every time he filled out one of those forms or tried to explain his history to someone. They never believed him, yet he never learned. Part of it was that he could not lie…it was a part of his very being that he could only speak the truth. Perhaps it would have been better if he’d simply refused to fill out the form.

Nicholas frowned as Stevens led him through the library doorway. He glanced up at the taller man and then sadly over his shoulder at an angry Myra Grundick. When the woman turned sharply to walk away, Nicholas called out to her.

“Myra…you really should smile, my dear. You had such a pretty smile as a child,” he said, hoping to touch a nerve. And he did. She turned on him.

“Leave this house immediately!” she shouted. “Don’t waste our time any longer!”

When Stevens and Nicholas entered the foyer, Sarah came bounding down the stairs.

“Where are you going?” she asked Nicholas. Then, before he could respond, she turned to Stevens. “Where are you taking him?”

“I’m showing him out, Miss Sarah.”

“No!” she shouted and ran to the door, where she spread her arms to block their path. “I don’t want him to go.… Stop!”

“Miss Grundick ordered him out,” Stevens explained.

“I don’t care! I want him to stay!” Sarah’s voice grew louder.

“But, Miss Sarah, I don’t understand.”

“I want him to stay here. Leave him!” Sarah continued.

“Sarah! Stop this foolishness!” Miss Grundick commanded when she entered the hall. “This man will not stay in this house!”

At first, Sarah was taken aback by Miss Grundick’s sudden appearance, but she recovered quickly. She turned on the lady with an even louder shrill cry.

“Yes, he will! I want him to stay!”

Sarah ran to Nicholas’s side and grabbed his free arm. Miss Grundick stepped toward Sarah with a look on her face near rage. She grabbed the girl, who now clung tightly to Nicholas. Nicholas leaned toward Stevens for balance as Miss Grundick tugged at Sarah. The girl screamed. Nicholas and Stevens cringed from the ear-splitting sound. Miss Grundick pulled and tugged with more urgency, and Sarah, wrapping her legs around Nicholas’s leg, screamed even louder.

At the far end of the foyer, a door suddenly burst open. A tall, athletically built man stormed through. He was in his early forties, with dark hair graying slightly at the temples, distinguished looking in every way that enormous wealth could buy. Everyone turned to him; silence suddenly reigned. Jonas Stone, Sarah’s father, stared at the scene, Stevens holding one of Nicholas’s arms, Sarah clinging to the other, and Miss Grundick trying to dislodge Sarah.

“What’s going on here?” he demanded as he strode angrily toward them.

Miss Grundick, Sarah, and Stevens spoke at the same instant as Nicholas stood placidly, looking the part of a reasonable man being put upon by three unreasonable people.

“This man is a fraud, Sir, who…” Miss Grundick started.

“I’m trying to show this man to the…” said Stevens.

“I want him to stay, Daddy.… I want…” Sarah begged.

Jonas Stone stopped his advance about ten feet away from them, dropped his head, and held up both hands for silence.

“Miss Grundick, I am trying to conduct a very important meeting. You are here to maintain order so I can concentrate on my business affairs. Can’t you take care of an eleven-year old girl?”

“Of course, Sir,” she responded testily, releasing Sarah and standing upright.

“Then please do so,” Jonas instructed as he stared hard from one face to the other, before he turned back sharply toward his office.

Sarah’s chance of winning the day faded with each step Jonas took toward the office; but she’d been in this situation before. Her father was so busy, he didn’t have time to deal with anything other than his meeting. She knew how to handle these scenes because she’d done it so often over the years.

“Daddy!” she shouted before Jonas could regain the safety of his office. “Don’t let them send him away!”

“Sarah! Your father is busy. Now.…” Ms. Grundick again pulled at Sarah, who was still clinging to Nicholas.

“No, I won’t let go! I won’t be quiet until you say he can stay.”

Jonas Stone whirled around and marched back to the
group. He searched their faces for some sanity. “Stevens, what’s going on here?” he finally demanded.

“This gentleman came here to apply for the position that was left open by Mr. Smith’s untimely…retirement, Sir. I was showing him to the door when Miss Sarah stepped in to prevent his departure,” Stevens explained quickly.

Jonas glanced at a smiling Nicholas as his daughter clung tightly to the man’s arm and leg. She stared at him pleadingly. He shrugged.

“What’s the problem, Miss Grundick?” he asked, recognizing that the only way he’d complete his meeting was to satisfy his daughter.

Miss Grundick released Sarah again, stood, and regained her composure. “He says one of his names is Santa Claus, Sir,” she said with a look of triumph.

Even Sarah was stunned by that revelation. She loosened her grip on Nicholas for an instant, stared up at him, and then resolved that the new fact only made things that much more interesting.

Jonas smiled. “Well, he certainly looks the part, doesn’t he? He seems harmless enough.”

“He has no references, Mr. Stone. We must look into his history,” Miss Grundick stammered, stunned at Jonas’s carelessness.

“Well, Mr.…” Jonas turned to Nicholas.

“Nicholas, Sir.”

“Well, Mr. Nicholas, have you ever worked with children before?”

“Oh, yes—for many years. Working with children has been my life.”

Jonas glanced at his daughter, who continued to cling to Nicholas. He looked again at Nicholas’s round, smiling, cherry-cheeked face and sparkling blue eyes before he turned to Miss Grundick.

“Miss Grundick, come with me, please.”

When they were out of earshot of the others, Jonas whispered, “I see no reason why he can’t stay for the day.”

“But, Sir,” she protested, “we know nothing about the man. He could be anything at all.”

“He’ll keep Sarah quiet today. That’s what I need. I cannot have any further interruptions.”

“But, Sir…” the lady tried again.

“He will stay today, Miss Grundick,” Jonas commanded. “Have Stevens drive Sarah and this Mr. Nicholas to the mall. Make sure Stevens stays with them at all times. He can sleep in the guest quarters tonight. Tomorrow, we’ll talk further about him.… Now, I must get back to work.”

- 3 -
 

Heavy black clouds dumped torrents of rain on the pock-marked streets of the Sink. The once thriving Main Street business area of town was devastated. Except for the few pawnshops, an iron-barred market, two all-night liquor stores, three bars, and a Goodwill store, the dreary, gray buildings were boarded up, gutted, and in a state of complete deterioration. Homeless people huddled amid scavenged blankets in the few doorways, which provided a semblance of protection from the rain.

 

Off Main Street, the ramshackle residences of the Sink described a haphazard patchwork of disintegrating corrugated metal roofs, crumbling chimneys, leaking window frames, and heating and electrical systems that worked only when they weren’t needed.

It was in one of these residences, albeit somewhat better kept than most, that Mary Roberts stood in front of an old gas range, mixing a small pot of oatmeal. Mary was thirty-five
years old and still pretty despite her hardships over the past year. She smiled through tired eyes and tried her best every day to look past the poverty surrounding her.

It wasn’t really that long ago that her family had actually laughed together despite hard times. They had laughed with the knowledge that things would one day be better. Although it seemed an eternity since Joe’s disappearance, it had been only a year—a period of anguish and fear for Mary and of loss and abandonment for her children. Although the youngest children were spared Mary’s personal pain as she worked hard at maintaining the fiction that their father would “be home soon,” it was upon the older two that Mary unintentionally leaned for support. Even with them she tried to be strong, but Amanda and Jared knew better. They had seen the changes in their mother. They witnessed the swollen red eyes in the morning, the downward turn at the sad corners of her mouth, and the droop in the shoulders of the once strong woman.

Now, as another Christmas approached without any word of Joe, Mary had given up hope he’d ever return. She had resigned herself to raising her five children alone. Like so many other families in the community, hers was without a husband and a father for her children. She needed to be strong to provide her young charges with hope.

“Come on, kids,” she called. She tried to be cheery but
knew her voice sounded heavy. “We’ve got to eat now, or we’ll be late.”

She spooned the steaming oatmeal into six bowls and placed them on the table. Within seconds Amanda bustled into the kitchen, carrying her fidgeting brother, Billy. Both kids wore their best clothes, frayed and a bit tattered but clean and as pressed as possible given the kids’ age and rambunctiousness.

“How do we look, Momma?” asked Amanda.

“Beautiful, honey.” She smiled at her daughter and took Billy. “And you’re so handsome,” she cooed at the boy. “I’ll feed Billy, Amanda. You get your sisters and Jared, okay? We don’t want to be late for services.”

Amanda returned within minutes with Kayla and Katie in tow. Although they were twins, the only resemblance between the two was in their black hair worn in tightly braided pigtails. Kayla was lean and quick, a half head taller than Katie. Katie was a good ten pounds heavier than her twin, and her gait was slow and deliberate.

BOOK: Mary’s Son
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