A Short Story for Christmas-Time Reading
Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning. Ps 30:5b NIV
CHAPTER SEVEN (click here for earlier chapters)
As Nick adjusted his passenger seat so that he could lean back a bit, he started to reflect on all that had happened to him thus far. While he was still puzzled on why and how he got from his bedroom at the North Pole to sitting in a minivan somewhere in Iowa, he leaned over toward the window and watched the snow as it slowly fell to the pavement below. The glare of the street lights brought each flake to life as they landed on the frosted plate-glass of the Dodson van.
“So you’re interested in music, Nick?” Pastor Bruce asked.
Nick pulled his attention away from the falling snow and replied politely, “Yes, Pastor. I love music.”
“So you play in a band?”
“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 like 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 on to, 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 now-a-days. 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 on-going 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. Gotta keep going, Nick, regardless of the response.”
“So what’s your Dan-fellow play in this-here 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.”
“Again, I appreciate your willingness…”
“Let him give it try, dad.” Edward said as he was hanging his coat on one of the coat hooks in the church kitchen.
“Yeah dad, Santa can do it!” Joy blurted.
“Well, Nick,” Pastor Bruce relented. “I guess you won them over in the van. OK. Come on in and let’s give it a try.”
Walking into the sanctuary, Nick saw three musicians sitting on the stage. One was at the keyboard, one on a bar stool holding an electric guitar, and another leaned over a drum set in the back corner of the stage. From what Nick could hear and see, the music was pretty solid, but it definitely was missing the bass line. When the trio of men saw Pastor Bruce and the kids enter the room, they stopped the music and looked with interest toward the new fellow who came in with them.
“Guys, sorry we’re late.” Pastor Bruce called out. “Guess Dan can’t make it tonight.”
“Yeah, that’s what Carol said. Who’s your friend, Bruce?” the man with the guitar called out.
“Hi there guys.” Nick said, taking the lead. “My name is Nick. I play a bit of bass. Mind if I sit in with you gents tonight and give you a bottom line to sink your teeth into?”
Motioning to each member of the band as he spoke, Pastor Bruce quickly introduced Nick to the three church musicians. Seeing each of the guys squirm just a bit at the thought of adding Nick to tonight’s lineup, Pastor Bruce explained, “It’s OK guys. Nick has played bass in other bands.”
Looking a bit skeptical, John the drummer picked up on Pastor Bruce’s lead and motioned to Nick to step up on the stage. Nick was up there in a second, shaking each man’s hand, and before you know it, had Dan’s electric bass over his shoulder and was tuning the strings.
“What piece are you doing first, guys?” asked Nick.
“The First Noel. In A.” Dave, the guitarist, quipped. “Know it?”
“Know it? I love it. You playin’ it straight or with a groove?”
“A bit of jazz feel.” Andy, the man at the keyboard, responded. “Something like this…”
Andy played three pickup notes, and John kicked off a slow swoosh with his brushes, supporting Andy’s lead with a steady beat of ¾ time.
Well, before they got through the first verse, Nick was right there, providing a walking bass line that brought this familiar Christmas tune up to a whole new level. Andy, John, and Dave looked at each other with a sense of excitement. Nick was filling in notes that brought the best out of John, the drummer. As John excelled, Andy the keyboardist began filling in with some nice eighth notes in the upper range. Dave played to the center and brought some warm chords to the arrangement, making it all flow together like hot fudge over a bowl of creamy vanilla ice cream.
Pastor Bruce stepped back from the stage and started to smile. Carol peeked into the sanctuary, just to see how things were going, only to be caught up in the warmth of the music coming from the stage.
“Wow, that’s nice, Bruce.” Carol said as she stepped into the sanctuary.
“Sure is.” Pastor Bruce agreed. “Nick’s got the touch, that’s for certain.”
“Gosh dad.” Edward added. “Nick plays bass better than he fixes fireplaces.”
“I told you he was Santa.” Joy proudly proclaimed.
The band finished up The First Noel, and then moved on to rehearse the rest of the evening’s music list. Within 20 minutes, the band had covered all the bases and decided to work on some of the Christmas carols planned for tomorrow morning’s church service.
Over the next hour, the band polished off all twelve songs planned for both the Christmas Eve program and tomorrow’s service as well. Nick swung the bass over his head and shoulders, leaned the instrument quietly on the bass amp nearby, and let out a sigh, “My, my…all this nice Christmas music almost makes me feel like dancing.”
“Well gents,” Nick added. “That was indeed a lot of fun. Hope you enjoyed it. Haven’t played like that for a long time. You guys are very good. It’s certainly an honor to play with you.”
“Sound OK to you, Pastor?” Nick asked as he walked off the stage toward Pastor Bruce and Carol.
“It sounds wonderful guys.” Pastor Bruce responded. “Carol and I think tonight’s going to be really special. Thank you Nick for sitting in. I assume you can join us tonight and tomorrow, right? I guess I should have asked you that earlier.”
“Sure, Bruce.” Nick continued. “May I call you Bruce? Sure wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’ve certainly got nothing else keeping me busy tonight. I’d be honored.”
By this time it was getting close to ten o’clock. The candle light 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.”
Copyright & All Rights Reserved December, 2016