GEORGE FLOATED IN the suds with the jets puckering bubbles
toward his lower sacroiliac and sciatic nerve. The hot tub in the bathroom
was the only modern upgrade the owner had done to the early
twentieth century home. He apparently had a bad back and gutted
the bathroom, replacing the tub with a whirlpool. George rarely used
the tub, but now he was thankful for the whooshing bubbles swirling
around him, moving his beard like seaweed.
Mary called in. “George?”
“I have your ibuprofen.”
He sat up and moved bubbles over him. Not that he minded being
naked around Mary, but she was strangely prudish about such things.
She often averted her eyes when he would walk through the house
naked in search of a towel. George didn’t see the big deal about being
naked and suggested to Mary they go to Hawaii and try a couple of
nude beaches. She told him he could go if he wanted to.
She walked in and set his ibuprofen and water on the hot tub.
“How’s your back?”
“Feels better in here.”
Mary sat on the tub and looked at the black boots and the pink
heap on the floor. Santa had had a hard day. The day would have been
comical if George’s back didn’t hurt so much. He had risen from the
snow like a quarterback knocked cold that everyone is amazed can
still play. But when he took his first step he had screamed out in pain.
His father and McGruff helped him to the car, and he rode home like
a man in a straitjacket. Dean had been in movie heaven.
“STUPENDOUS, MATE! I think I will use some of this for the
promo trailer! You were HILARIOUS!”
George nodded with his eyes closed.
“Glad you got what you needed.”
“You just get better, mate. Three days and it’s showtime! Don’t
worry about anything. I’ll take care of everything … Oh, mate, do
you have that check?”
He had managed to hand him the check, and then he walked
into the house. His only hope was that heat and massive amounts of
ibuprofen would allow him to be Santa.
He opened his eyes, realizing he had been dozing in the tub.
Mary was looking at him, and he moved more suds over his middle.
“We received a notice from the bank. They reduced your credit
line to forty thousand.”
He knew this already. He knew it when he received the TEXT
ALERT that said he had reached his limit. The voice on the phone
was apologetic, but the value of his house had fallen, and they had
to freeze the line.
“Yeah, I know. They sent me a text.”
Mary paused and adjusted her glasses.
“George, your accountant called too. He just was asking if everything
was alright, because he heard you had cashed out your Roth
IRA.”George positioned his back into the churning jets of water.
“Yeah, I needed to pay Dean and the carpenters, and the reindeer
guy wanted more for the sled.”
Mary rubbed her hands, fingering her wedding ring.
“George … I never have questioned what you do. I believe when
people marry later in life they have to give each other a lot of space.”
“Me too,” he murmured, turning on the hot water with his toe.
“But my house is covered in dust. I have people on my roof and in
my chimney, and my husband has spent forty thousand dollars in less
than a week, and now he just cashed out a fifty thousand dollar IRA.”
George nodded slowly. “I think that about covers it.”
Mary tipped up her glasses.
“I guess, my question is,” she continued, “what the hell are you
“I think you know very well what I am doing. I am trying to extend
our daughter’s childhood by allowing her to believe in Santa.”
“That is all well and good, George, but you can’t take us to the
poorhouse to assuage parental guilt.”
He silenced the hot tub. George looked like a dripping wet dog
with the suds sliding down his chest and clinging to his beard.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
Mary stared at her wet and steaming husband.
“I think you know.”
“No, I don’t think I do know, Mary.”
“Your relationship with Jeremy and Jamie isn’t good, and from
what you said, there were a lot of problems in the home and—”
“Spare me the drugstore psychology. My relationship with my kids
is fine! And I am not doing this out of guilt. I am doing this because
in this crappy world we live in, a kid can’t even believe in Santa Claus
anymore without some idiot teacher trying to pierce her beliefs. Well,
I’m not going to let that happen this time!”
George saw his wife’s cheeks turn red. She pulled off her glasses
and wiped her eyes then looked at him. Her undereye circles shocked
“I can’t sit by while you put us in the poorhouse. You don’t have
a job, and I have worked hard to get where I am—”
“I’m not using any of your money,” he snapped.
“It is our money now, George.”
“Could have fooled me,” he muttered.
Mary paused. “What are you going to do when you go through
this money, Clean out your 401(k)?”
“If I have to.”
Mary looked down and put back on her glasses.
“Then you are going to do what you want to do, regardless of
George looked up at her and wished he had some clothes on. It
was hard to fight in a hot tub covered with suds.
I’m going to be the Real Santa … like I promised to Megan.”
“You didn’t promise to be Santa for Megan, George. You promised
it for you.”
“Is it? Why do I think if you hadn’t lost your job none of this
would be happening? Megan would either believe or not believe in
Santa just like every other child.”
“Losing my job has nothing to do with this.”
She raised her eyebrows. “No? Some men go have an affair when
they turn fifty, others buy a fast car, you, George, you decided to
become Santa Claus!”
“This is not a midlife crisis. I had one of those after my divorce,
for your information.”
“Oh? And what did you do?”
“I screwed a lot of women.”
Mary stared at him dully.
“Is that why you joined every online dating site?”
“Really? I didn’t know I married a stud muffin.”
George looked up and raised his eyebrows. “There are a lot of
things about me you don’t know.”
“Apparently,” she murmured.
His wife stared down at her ring again, turning it slowly.
“I think we should rethink our situation after Christmas.”
“Fine with me,” he shrugged, feeling his back stiffen again.
George felt he was back in those days after his divorce, with
lawyers and therapists and ultimatums. One thing people didn’t understand
about him is that if pushed, he would dig in like a mule.
His wife’s eyes welled up. “I knew you were stubborn, but I always
trusted you would do the right thing in the end.”
“And I thought you would support me, so I guess we were both
wrong,” he replied, shrugging.
Mary stood up stiffly and looked down. George didn’t bother to
cover himself up.
“Your bulge is showing,” she said, walking out of the bathroom.
George looked down and felt himself go soft.
“My bulge,” he grumbled, sliding back into the warm water.
George pushed the jets on, angling himself toward the pulsing
warmth. He stared darkly at the water, muttering above the bubbles,“I didn’t join every online dating site.”
Order Your Copy of Real Santa....Holiday Special 1.99
STARRED REVIEW BOOKLIST
"If somebody doesn't make a movie out of this book, there's something wrong with the world. This could have been played as an out-and-out slapstick comedy, but instead the author approaches the story like a character study: a portrait of a man with the best intentions in the world watching those intentions collide with reality. It's a steamroller of a story, starting small, with George's idea, and getting bigger and bigger as George tries to put the elements together, as his obsession takes him further and further away from reality. Beautifully done."
David Pitts Booklist
"The author marries the everyday dramas found in the novels of Tom Perrotta and Nick Hornby to the high camp of Carl Hiaasen or Dave Barry. Adults looking for a funny holiday-themed tale that doesn't lose its sense of wonder in the face of realism will find a treat here. A lovingly crafted comedy about the madness that fatherhood inspires."
Best-selling author Hazelgrove (e.g., Ripples; Tobacco Sticks) captures the human need to believe in something good. This book will satisfy readers looking for a happy Christmas story.-- Library Journal
"Hazelgrove's lively improbable narrative will appeal to the readers in the mood for holiday fiction."