A Pact

A Pact

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Gift of Christmas

A Pact

Sometimes being a brother is even better than being a superhero.

~Marc Brown

“We have to make sure we’re asleep before he comes,” I said. My little brother’s glance met the floor. I knew he was running something through his head. I was sure of it. It was one of the tiny details that stuck out to me in the four short years since his birth.

We were basically inseparable, me and Nick. It was funny. I was the big brother, the one who was supposed to give him a hard time, beat him up a little, and then abandon him to go play with my older friends. But it never occurred to me. Sure, we fought once in a while, but for the most part we’d been attached at the hip since my parents first brought him home from the hospital.

Of course, things were a little different before his birth. When Mom first told me I was about to get a little brother for Christmas, I told her, and I quote, “I’d rather have a puppy named Brownie.” I didn’t even bat an eyelash. But the whole puppy idea quickly vanished the first time an infant Nick squeezed my finger in his tiny fist. That’s when I knew it’d be my job to protect the little bugger for the rest of my life.

“What time does he usually come?” he asked after mulling my statement a bit.

“I don’t know. It’s way past bedtime, I know that. But I heard if you open your eyes while he’s in your house he’ll disappear until next year.”

“Really?” Nick sounded pretty alarmed.

“I don’t know,” I told him, “but if we’re asleep then we don’t have to worry. Promise?”

“I promise.”

“And don’t forget, first one awake gets the other one up before he goes downstairs.” It was a tradition we’d created together the first year Nick was able to understand the whole concept of Santa Claus. More importantly, it was a pact not to be broken even under the direst of circumstances.

“Got it,” he said. “Now, can we put the cookies out already?” I piled an ungodly amount of Mom’s mistletoe-shaped butter cookies on a plate and watched as Nick picked all the bits of maraschino cherry off and stuffed them in his mouth. We poured a tall glass of ice-cold milk and placed our offering in the usual spot beside the fireplace. “Don’t forget a carrot for Rudolph,” Nick added.

When all the goodies were in place for Santa’s Christmas Eve visit, Mom and Dad tucked us in for the night and the excruciating wait until morning began. That night, I spent countless hours clamping my eyelids shut as tightly as I could and rolling around uncomfortably in my bed. When that strategy failed, I simply stared blankly at the ceiling and traced the tiny cracks in the plaster with my eyeballs. I was sure Santa would be skipping our house, and it’d be entirely my fault. The glowing, red eyes of the alarm clock glared the numbers three, three, and zero into mine and I once again sewed them up tightly.

That’s when I heard something.

It started as some light scratching from the base of the stairs. Then it graduated into a low, raspy creak that sounded like a rusty gate closing somewhere off in the distance. I kept my eyes shut and stayed deadly still in my bed. He couldn’t possibly know I was awake if I stayed in this position, could he?

It got quiet again, but only for a moment before the scratching started up again. This went on and off for what seemed like an eternity.

I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to at least sneak a peek at the clock. Maybe it was morning. I opened my left eyelid so slightly that everything appeared as one big blur, but I was able to make out that it was now 3:45 AM. Fifteen whole minutes had passed? It was excruciating and there was no sign of the noises stopping any time soon.

Santa couldn’t still be down there, could he? I mean, how would he have time to visit all the other boys’ and girls’ houses if he spent so much time hanging around in mine? And that last question’s the one that did the trick.

All of my courage in tow, I crept out of bed without making a sound and slithered past my parents’ room on my belly. Then I stopped in front of Nick’s room. I knew it was much too early to venture downstairs but I couldn’t go another second without discovering the source of the peculiar noises.

So I did the unthinkable.

Maybe I was afraid he’d get us caught. Maybe I was trying to keep him out of trouble, or perhaps I was afraid I’d scare off Santa and he’d be there to witness my mistake. I don’t know why I did it, but I broke the pact.

I tiptoed down the stairs and knelt down beneath the Christmas tree, and that’s when I found the source of all the scratching and screeching. Santa Claus had indeed paid a visit, and he’d left us the most glorious gift any child could ever ask for. Curled up in his tiny kennel was a sleeping puppy. It should have been the happiest moment in my young life, and it nearly was . . . except there was something missing.

I knew exactly what I had to do.

I snuck back up the steps and bolted into Nick’s room. Then I shook that little kid like I was mixing a can of paint. His eyes shot open like he was in a trance and before he could say anything I blurted out something like, “Santa came! We got a new puppy!”

His eyes, still trance-like, widened to the size of cue balls and then he said the only thing a stunned four-year-old could possibly say when met with such an overwhelming surprise. “Holy crap!” he shouted, which woke up the rest of the house and started Christmas morning just a wee bit earlier than my parents expected.

~C.G. Morelli

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