Professor Alec Alexander wouldn’t win any type of beauty contests. He had scruffy salt-and-pepper hair, a equivalent spade-shaped beard and an unkempt moustache. He was barrel-chested; what girlfriend might speak to a rotund presence. His gentle tenor voice, however, with its faint Scots accent, had actually real charm and his sort heart was unquestioned.My seven-month-old daughter Janet had recognized his sterling characteristics from their an initial meeting, and when he walked right into the Chez Prentice B&B this morning, she grinned widely, exposing a tiny bud the a tooth on she bottom gum. Additionally, she began what she daddy dubbed “baby calisthenics,” including flexing both her arms and also legs simultaneously. It was her dance of joy at seeing she Grandpa Alec.He extended his arms. “Come to me, mine wee angel!” Janet, still clad in her nighttime onesie, reasonably leaped native my grasp to his large chest and immediately began tugging top top his beard. It had to be somewhat painful, but his just reaction to be a hearty laugh that bounced his tiny load up and down. “What a pleasure she is, Amelia!” he claimed to me.“You’re holding increase well, considering,” i said, introduce to the current loss that several big research grants. Alec had actually long to be obsessed through seeking out evidence of the famed Lake Champlain monster. Currently his research had to it is in curtailed in the interest of earning a living.“Whoopsie! up ye go!” the lifted a giggling, squirming baby above his head. “I’ll execute all right,” he stated over his shoulder. “I’m teaching four classes at the college and also the speak engagements are start to mountain up. Whee!” He spun around.“Alec, you’d better take that easy,” i warned him. “She’s been recognized to—“A gush of white liquid flowed from Janet’s laugh mouth under on Alec.“Serves friend right,” stated someone native the kitchen. It to be my friend Lily Burns, who had apparently entered through the earlier door. She easily pulled off her gloves and hat and also reached the end for Janet. “Here, offer her to Aunt Lily while you clean yourself up,” she instructed curtly.Alec obeyed with a wink in ~ me, heading for the an initial floor powder room. She satellite the baby on her lap and also inspected she carefully. “What do you know, no a fall on her?” She smiled and also stroked the velvety hair. Lily to be beautifully rotate out, together usual. She perky quick blonde hair to be meticulously disheveled and also her makeup was subtle however unmistakable.I envied she slender figure. Ns was still utilizing Janet as an excuse because that a stubborn extra fifteen pounds.Lily looked up in ~ me. “Neither that you room dressed,” she said. “Get through the program! We’ll be late!”“Neither that us is dressed,” ns corrected wearily. “Neither one is implied.” even though ns was in the interim on leaving from the classroom, just tutoring, that was necessary to maintain appropriate grammar standards. “Besides, ns think Janet is too young to sit ~ above Santa’s lap.”Lily rolled her eyes. “Honestly, you’re the mother. Why do I need to teach you these things? One word: pictures!” She lifted Janet increase so the smiling baby was framed by a Christmas wreath hanging top top the wall. “Just look in ~ her. It’s her very first Christmas. You’re walk to want pictures.”“Well, all right, however nobody’s walking to it is in late. They can’t open up Santa’s Workshop in ~ the Mall without Santa, without Alec.”“I’m fear they can, m’dear.” Alec arised from the powder room, dry his hands on a towel. There to be a substantial water spot on his jacket, and also the ends of his beard to be damp, yet he looked nobody the worse for his experience. “I came by to tell ye. T’won’t be me playin’ Santa today. I have a speech to provide in Malone in ~ noon, climate one in the evening.”“Won’t be I,” Lily corrected.I sighed. “No, Alec’s correct. It’s me.”Alec beamed and blew a kiss at Janet.Lily frowned, dipping she perfectly-drawn eyebrows. “Oh, I provide up. We’ll nebber gain the cave of this stupid ol’ grammar, will certainly we, Tweety Pie?” She kissed the baby on the back of the neck.“Lily, don’t you dare speak come my kid the way you speak to her cat!” ns retrieved mine daughter and headed because that the stairs. “We’ll be under in a minute.”Alec put his arm approximately Lily protectively. “Don’t be too difficult on miss Lily, Amelia. She’s together a pretty small thing, there’s no must bother through minor details, is there, wee angel?” He in reality chucked Lily under her chin.Lily blushed, climate slapped Alec’s chest. “You odor of baby spit! obtain away indigenous me!”I paused halfway increase the steps. “Alec, will there also be a Santa in ~ the shopping mall today?”“Oh, certainly. They dubbed Dr. Stickley. He’s grown fairly the beloved white beard, I’ve heard. Doesn’t require a fake one, as I do. It’s perfect.”I blinked in surprise. “Dr. Stickley? Really? He was my significant professor in college. ‘Stickley, the Stickler,’ we offered to call him—behind his back, the course. He fear me to death for 2 years. He constantly locked the great door exactly on the hour so if you were late, you’d have to take a cut. I hardly dared to speak a indigenous in prior of him, for are afraid of make a grammar mistake.”Lily grinned wickedly. “Kind of like somebody else ns know.”Alec glanced at she affectionately. “I listen he’s mellowed in his latter years, Amelia.”I shook my head. “I’ll need evidence of that.”Janet struggled in my arms and also I remembered whereby I to be headed. “We’ll be appropriate back.”It was nice, I believed as I changed from mine bathrobe right into a winter sweater and wool slacks, to have a friendly ar like Chez Prentice to stay while my husband Gil was the end of city at a journalists’ convention. “And since I’m component owner through your Uncle Etienne,” ns told Janet, “we have the right to stay at this classy B&B for free!”I played peek-a-boo with her as I traction on the small red jumper appliquéd with a environment-friendly plaid Christmas tree. “You look at perfect,” i told her, “except for this.” i fastened a tiny eco-friendly bow to among her downy curls by method of Velcro. “There.” i gazed in ~ my daughter when she contentedly suck the paw of she stuffed bunny. To be there ever before such a beautiful son as this?“No matter just how much you try to decorate these things with flowers and what all,” Lily said a few minutes later on as we headed for her car, “I tho feel prefer a fill mule transporting it.” She change the diaper bag to her various other shoulder and also unlocked the automobile with a chirp. “I don’t just how you carry out it, work after day.”“It’s not easy. I evaluate the help. This thing weighs a ton, too,” ns pointed out, fastening the basket-shaped infant carrier into the back seat.Janet, warmly bundled right into the form of a tiny snowman, had settled down for a mid-morning nap. Usually, at this time of day, ns would try to take a few winks myself, but the prospect of a beautiful picture of my tiny girl as a Christmas present for she daddy superseded rest time.“I assumption: v Alec has actually left because that Malone,” I stated as Lily rotate the ignition. “I expect you were nice come him.”“Amelia, of course i was. I wish you’d avoid hounding me about the man.”“He adores you.”“That’s sufficient of that subject. By the way, that told me something an ext about Stickley. He retired from the college two years ago. They offered him a party and also everything. Go you understand he was one of nine kids? His mom turned lock out like peas in a pod, then up and also died. And also he was the only one that stayed about here together an adult.”“No, ns didn’t. It’s solid the sort of thing a professor would share with his students.” But exactly the type of details that gossip experienced Lily Burns would collect, I added silently.“His dad squirreled away a huge wad that money and also willed it every to him. The father passed away two years ago at the ripe young period of ninety-nine. Didn’t leave a coin to everyone else. Every I can say is, I’m glad i wasn’t at that family’s table in ~ Thanksgiving!”“So that didn’t re-publishing the money through them in ~ all?” i asked. Alec had definitely told Lily a lot of in the brief time that we were upstairs.“Couldn’t uncover ‘em! They’re scattered everywhere this country and also Canada, follow to Judith Dee.”“Oh, so you didn’t hear every this from Alec.” Judith Dee was the part-time high college nurse, likewise famous for her gossiping skills.“Just the component about when he retired. They offered him a party and everything.”“I simply hope Dr. Stickley’s much more cordial 보다 he used to be as soon as he taught united state in college. I never felt together though he also liked me. Walk you have him in English?”“Me? Hah! ns was simply a poor home ec major, remember?”“I fairly wish I had actually been, now,” i said, thinking around my complete lack of kitchen skills. Gil loved me, anyway, say thanks to the Lord.As us pulled right into the shopping center parking lot, a unique odor had started to pass through the car’s interior.“Whew! readjust that baby’s diaper, and also quick!” Lily ordered.It take it a few minutes to with the restroom, but finally us emerged, clean and also smiling.Lily had been waiting at a table in the food court, tapping her manicured nails to the piped-in holiday music. “There you are! The line’s starting to get long, but Santa’s not right here yet.” She command my gaze to the sparkling fairytale town nestled in ~ the base of a towering Christmas tree.She was standing abruptly. “Wait, I watch him!”Strolling towards us was the really image the Santa Claus together pictured in countless Coca Cola ads: white hair, white beard, red cheeks, rotund belly, red suit, and a big black belt. A pipeline dangling indigenous one corner of his mouth to be the only thing about him the reminded me the my previous professor.I whispered to Lily, “Is that Dr. Stickley? He’s so much heavier! and his hair is for this reason white!” i remembered him through a gray valve Dyke goatee, standing ramrod-straight and also frowning in ~ the prior of the classroom.Lily whispered back, “Hush. Us all obtain old part time, Amelia.”As that was around to pass, i gathered my courage and stepped forward. “Dr. Stickley?” I held out my hand. “Amelia Prentice; Dickensen, now. Ns was among your English majors about two decades ago. It’s good to see you again.”He blinked numerous times, straightened his posture and lifted his moustache in a vast smile. “Oh, yes. Ns remember you. English major. You to be a fine student, my dear.” he shook my hand through his mittened one. “Always an excellent to view a student.” His ice cream blue gaze to be familiar, however not the heat expression. How I supplied to fear his frown!“This is my friend, Lily Burns, and my daughter, Janet.”“Will Stickley,” he said, amiably shower Lily’s hand. “Are girlfriend bringing your small one to see me?” that asked, leaning end the infant carrier.My daughter slide her eye sideways at him and her lower lip started to tremble.“When it’s our turn,” I said hastily. “But we must let you get to work.”Santa looked around, supposedly surprised. “Oh! five yes! should do my duty for the kiddies.” that turned towards the elaborately-decorated throne that awaited him. “Look at that line! in between you and I, much as I enjoy these little ones, this is going to it is in a long day.” the sighed, waved cheerily and walked slowly in the direction that Santa’s Workshop.A slim teenaged elf, clad every in green frowned in ~ him together he passed and also looked pointedly at she watch.“My goodness,” i told Lily as he ambled away, “the guy has certainly changed.”The line to check out Santa was long. “I told girlfriend we need to have lugged the stroller,” Lily admonished as I lifted the basket-like, lead-heavy infant carrier one an ext time and moved forward a few steps.“It’s okay.” Lily was right, yet I wasn’t walk to offer her the satisfaction of admitting it. We’d well-known each various other all our lives and bickered choose blood sisters. “By the way, about Dr. Stickley. Doesn’t the seem--”“Amelia! Lily! Hi!” In the distance, numerous dozen civilization ahead of us in line, ns spotted our girlfriend Dorothy O’Brien and her six-year-old daughter, Meaghan, that was headed our way. My cell phone rang.It was Dorothy, gesturing elaborately. “She just had actually to go back there to check out Janet. I told her she can stay in line v you for simply a small while. Is that okay?”“Of course,” i said. “Send she along.” Meaghan and also I were old friends.When she arrived, the little girl didn’t garbage time on society niceties. She automatically knelt through the infant carrier and also began play peek-a-boo behind her hands.“That’s a beautiful dress, Meaghan,” i said, gesturing in ~ the gorgeous green and also red plaid taffeta crinoline v puffed sleeves.The kid rolled her eyes. “It scratches. Mommy says ns only have to wear it for the picture. I dislike these shoes, too,” she added, pointing to her shiny patent leather mary janes.“Aren’t friend looking forward to seeing Santa Claus?” Lily asked.She shrugged. “Sure. Friend know, few of the kids say Santa’s not real, but I think that is. Ns asked Mommy and also she said, ‘What carry out you think?’ and also I chose I still assumed he was real. And also getting toys space good.”Getting playthings is good, I want to say, in this case, “getting” is a singular gerund, the is, a noun.

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yet if I had thought Meaghan rolled her eyes before, this would definitely reason her, Lily and perhaps even Janet to jointly roll their eyes.Actually, speak from experience, it would most likely fetch a loud, juicy Bronx cheer indigenous Lily, too. For this reason I said nothing.My mobile played an electric phrase.Dorothy had actually texted: “Tell her to come back.”After Meaghan’s reluctant departure, i said, “I’m not as well sure about this Santa Claus thing. Ns mean, as soon as Janet gets old enough to understand. It appears too lot like lying.”Lily relocated the baby carrier a few inches forward. “Nonsense! It’s tradition! The stockings, the cookies left the end for the jolly old man, the reindeer…” she pointed to a heat of display reindeer that developed a kind of fence around Santa’s throne. “Who doesn’t love Rudolph?”The mall’s box music occurred to be play the really song to which Lily referred, “…join in any type of reindeer games,” she sang softly. “Then one foggy Christmas Eve--” She lugged the infant carrier front a couple of more inches. “Oh, this is impossible! I’m going come the automobile to obtain that umbrella stroller. Provide me the carrier thing, I’ll rod it ago in the seat.” us extricated a delighted Janet native the carrier and Lily departed.Now, every I had actually to execute was kick the diaper bag front a few inches every time the heat moved. Janet remained in my arms, gurgling with pleasure over the sumptuous surroundings.Though Santa’s area to be colorful, the genuine centerpiece the the shopping center courtyard to be the large Christmas tree, towering at the very least two stories over us. Festooned v twinkling lights, playthings that actually relocated and vast artificial candies, it retained the infant blessedly occupied. Other children didn’t find it therefore fascinating, and my heart went the end to number of mothers who had actually to address a selection of child-sized meltdowns.We rounded the tree and also Santa’s throne came right into view in ~ last. Only about eight mothers left in line. Ns watched through amusement as three boys, every under the period of five, scrambled like chimpanzees over Santa and also his chair. The photographer had a time getting them to resolve down.I watched Dr. Stickley’s reaction come the melee and also was surprised. He actually appeared to be enjoying himself, laughing heartily in ~ the children’s antics. Together the mommy consulted with the photographer around which shots she want to buy, he reached behind his chair, pulled out a vacuum coffee mug and also took a sip.He had certainly mellowed in his latter years, together Alec had said. I couldn’t imagine the stern, stiff-necked professor I’d studied under in reality enjoying this. Absolutely he didn’t require the money, with his inheritance and all. And also the remainder of the family members was scattered come the far winds.Could this jolliness be senile dementia? I’d check out that some of the illness that plagued old period brought about changes in personality, but did it do one jolly? that would have ever thought that Stickley the Stickler would certainly use the word kiddies, or to speak between you and also I, a clean mistake in grammar? i hefted Janet to my other arm. Strange. It was definitely strange.All at once, it was our turn. I scanned the courtyard for Lily. She’d dislike to miss out on this. It was every her idea, after all. Yet the photographer beckoned impatiently to us, and also I stepped forward, transporting the endowment of my life in my arms, prepare to hand her over come a relative, albeit jolly, stranger.Just prior to he reached for her, Santa took an additional swig native his coffee mug and replaced it.I handed a surprisingly compliant Janet right into his arms and said, smiling, “Was the Earl Gray?”Santa opened his eyes broad and hefted Janet ~ above his shoulder. “Earl who?”“You know, her signature drink, Earl Gray tea—never mind.” ns backed away, out of the heat of the camera, preparing to encourage the infant to smile.But Santa wasn’t smiling. He to be staring at me.And every at once, facts, ideas, arbitrarily thoughts overfilled my head favor pieces the a jigsaw puzzle:Between you and also IKiddiesEarl GrayBetween you and IEarl who?KiddiesThe professor ns knew would never enjoy playing Santa Claus.Santa sat frozen with my infant in his lap.Our eye locked. He had actually the same piercing blue eyes the had regularly skewered me in the classroom. Yet they were softer, somehow--I shuddered and also my mouth dropped open. “You’re no Dr. Stickley!” I said with a gasp.All at once, Santa shot the end of his seat and ran straight at us, the photographer and also me. I reached for Janet, who seemed to be enjoy it the ride, yet he shoved me about to the ground.I choose myself up and also began chasing him.I might hear a collective, shocked groan run v the assembled crowd together Saint Nick ran across the courtyard, carrying an infant—my infant-- favor a football. Someone shrieked. Numerous children started crying again.It was clear wherein he was headed: the exit doors past the food court.Without regard because that anyone in his path, Santa pushed human being aside, knocked end displays and jumped end obstacles. Bags complete of gifts flew into the air. Shoppers stumbled and fell. Everyone seemed too surprised to stop him.As ns ran desperately, the thought flashed through my mental in much less than a second: How might I ever have assumed this male was Dr. Stickley?In the distance, I experienced Lily, start the mall with the umbrella stroller in she hand.I screamed she name. It to be a helpless heart’s cry. Obviously, mine small-boned girlfriend was no match for the juggernaut that was speeding her way.Please! ns prayed. Please! It’s mine baby!All at once, there was a metallic rattle, a huge thump and the heart-tearing sound the a baby crying.I ran, mine chest heaving, tears streaming under my cheeks, in the direction that the doors.Somewhere at home, i owned an shown child’s Bible. The scene I come upon was reminiscent of several of the pictures: David, stand triumphant end a beat Goliath and also Miriam, lovingly holding the child Moses in her arms.Several men, including a uniformed protection guard, were vigorously restraining Santa, whose legs to be tangled in the ruined umbrella stroller. Lily walked forward v my screaming tiny girl in she arms.“The woman’s a hero,” among the men dubbed out come me. “She threw the contraption at him and also caught the baby prefer it to be a forward pass.”“I can’t take every the credit,” Lily whispered to me as she handed end Janet, who was sobbing and also hiccoughing. “Janet upchucked on the floor ideal in former of him and he slipped.”Sure enough, the bodice that Janet’s lovely Christmas outfit to be coated through the acquainted white liquid.Lily stroked she hair. “Brave girl,” she said. All of a suddenly she looked around. “Whew! My legs are offering out! permit me sit down!” She took a seat at one of the food court tables. Emotion none as well steady, myself, i joined her.Dorothy O’Brien, Meaghan in tow, approached transporting my diaper bag. “Here friend are. Gosh, I’m sorry the happened. What acquired into that guy?”“He wasn’t that he seemed,” I said absently.“You typical he wasn’t the real Santa?” Meaghan observed. “I already knew that!”Needless come say, the was quite a while before anything felt faintly normal. By that time, Gil had returned home from his convention and also we 3 were back at ours snug lakeside house, preparing because that Christmas.I had actually answered scores of questions about the incident at the Mall: did I understand the identity of the man in the Santa suit? No. Did I recognize why he would want to operation away through my baby? No. Why was i in the mall in the an initial place? The concerns went on and on in this vein till the officials were satisfied.A mainly later, with much groaning and also gnashing that teeth, Gil collection up our artificial Christmas tree. I had actually put Janet come bed and was popping corn to string on the tree as soon as there to be a knock at our door. Ns looked through the peephole and jumped ago as though scalded.“Honey, what is it?” Gil joined me at the door.A muffled voice called, “Miss Prentice, please, it is I, Dr. Willard Stickley.”I heaved a substantial sigh the relief. “It’s the real one. Let that in.”Gil frowned. “How do you know?”“I simply do,” I stated impatiently and pulled the door open. “Dr. Stickley, it’s an excellent to see you doing so well after your ordeal.” I expanded my hand to be shaken.“I came to thank you,” he stated as he take it a seat on our sofa. “I recognize that were it not for her perception, my brothers would have usurped me.”“You mean--”He nodded and his snowy eyebrows dipped into a frown. “That’s correct; my very own flesh and also blood. I’d sought him out through the aid of a exclusive detective. It to be a necessity of my father’s will. William involved stay with me. We weren’t compatible, I must say. He’s a slovenly individual. And he want to obtain a cat!” The professor shuddered. “Sir, why did friend volunteer to be a substitute Santa?” Gil asked, his reporterly instincts ~ above alert.“That was all William’s doing. I had no expertise of it until the mall civilization called him to come in. I adamantly refused to enable him to take part in together a ridiculous charade.” Dr. Stickley straightened his posture and also continued, “All at once, that shoved me into a closet and locked the door. It’s my id that the male planned to perform away with me and also take my location in this community.” The eyebrows shot increase his forehead, creating a curiously breakable expression.“Did he actually say so?” i asked, shocked.The vulnerability automatically disappeared and also Dr. Willard Stickley resumed the frosty tone i remembered for this reason well. His piercing blue eyes narrowed. “Not in so many words, yet it is certainly a logical assumption.”Gil leaned forward, and also I can tell that his fingers itched to organize a pad and also pencil. “What happens now, sir?”“I presume he’ll stand trial. Obviously, he has forfeited any type of claim to my familial affection or, for that matter, any part of the inheritance.”“Does he have a lawyer?” ns asked, reasoning of Santa’s warmth chuckle as he played through the children.The temperature in the room reduce a few more degrees. “I have actually no idea. Absolutely there are public defenders available.”Are there no prisons, no workhouses? i recalled the native of the pre-ghost Scrooge.He stood. “Well, I need to take mine leave. Again, I should thank you for recognizing the difference between us. My brother claims he had forgotten there to be a baby in his hands. I trust your infant has actually sustained no vestigial trauma.”“No,” i said, “she’s fine.” us escorted Dr. Stickley come the door.From the bedroom, sounds of the abovementioned infant were heard.“Stay here.” Gil patted me top top the back. “I’ll see about the kid. G’bye, sir.”Stepping the end onto ours front porch and replacing his alpine felt hat on his white head, Dr. Willard Stickley turned to me. “I know you have made a career of teaching English.”“Yes,” i said, gratified by the recognition.He hosted up a gloved finger and his eyes bored into mine.

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“Then ns trust you will hasten to instruct your husband in the proper meaning of the word kid. Great evening.”The End