Happy Thursday, Christmas fanatics! Welcome to the sixth official installment of Another Christmas Story!
This week, Gerry Davila of Totally Rad Christmas will read to all of you Chapter Five of our tale, entitled “All I Want For Christmas Is You”. Within this chapter, you’ll catch up with Aaron Rankin and all of his classmates as they prepare for their big trip to New York City!
We hope you like it! If you do, make sure to share this episode and our website, upon which the text of this installment is posted, to get it in front of as many eyes as possible!
Make sure to check your podcast feeds for your regular weekly episode on Monday, in which the elves are joined by Gerry D. once again to discuss the Christmas episodes of the cult smash, Community, and next Thursday for the sixth official chapter of this story – “Chapter Six: White Christmas”, which friend of the podcast and frequent guest, April Ryley, will be reading to y’all and which will introduce two new characters, Elizabeth Meyer and Noah Clarke!
Chapter Five: All I Want For Christmas Is You
December 24th – 4:00 a.m. EST
“Good morning, Tampa Palms students and parents! How excited are we today?”
Cheers and applause broke out amongst Ms. Warren’s third-grade class, which was gathered in front of the Delta Airlines check-in counter at Tampa Bay International Airport. Aaron Rankin stared around at his classmates and their families, an eyebrow raised. It was barely four a.m. on Christmas Eve, the sky was still pitch-black outside, and he was exhausted – he had no idea how anybody could muster such animated energy that early in the morning, but muster they did. Indeed, Ms. Warren, his pretty, young, blonde teacher was so enthusiastic, he was sure that she must have drank an entire pot of coffee before they had all rendezvoused at the airport.
“This is a huge opportunity, and you should all be so very proud of yourselves!” The teacher beamed at her young students, standing modestly in front of their parents and guardians, bundled up tight in winter coats despite it being eighty-plus-degrees outside; it was all in anticipation of landing in a snowy New York City. “Before we go through security to board our plane though, Principal Rodriguez wants to say a few words.”
The school’s middle-aged, Cuban principal stepped forward looking appropriately tired and cradling a large cup of Starbucks in his hand. Though there were enormous bags beneath his eyes, and his smile was weary as he ran one hand through his salt-and-pepper hair, he gazed proudly at his students. “I just want to echo Ms. Warren’s sentiments,” the man stated matter-of-factly. “This is the first competition of its kind that Radio City Music Hall has had, so that makes it an even greater honor that our school – that your class – was chosen to participate in the nativity scene during tonight’s performance. It’s a testament to the hard work that you’ve all put in during band class this year. My only regret is that Mrs. Shackleton couldn’t make the trip with us to witness the end-result of her music lessons with you.” At the words, Aaron stared down at his feet, feeling sorry for his music teacher whom he knew was laid up in bed at home with the flu.
“Now, Manhattan is a very large and crowded place,” the principal continued. “It’s extremely easy to get lost in the city, so it’s imperative that we all stick together while we’re there, okay? And God forbid any of you gets separated from the rest of the group, you go right up to a police officer and tell them who you are, and who you were with so that they can help you. In an ideal world, however, none of you will have to do that.” He smiled warmly. “On that note, I do want to take a moment to thank all of the parents and other family members who’ve agreed to accompany us on this trip as chaperones. Let’s give them a big round of applause, please.”
Applause broke out amongst the students again, and Aaron shifted uncomfortably where he stood, chancing a glance up at his mother, who was standing behind him with her hands on his shoulders, pink in the cheeks due to embarrassment. Beside her, Jake stood holding baby Amy, staring daggers at their mom.
“Now remember, we’re not only representing Tampa Palms, but the entire state of Florida!” Rodriguez stressed. “And not only Florida, but your entire age group across the country as well! As such, it’s essential that we are all on our best behavior. If anybody puts one toe out of line, or embarrasses this group in any way, you’ll spend the trip in the hotel and won’t perform at Radio City tonight. Do you understand?”
There were scattered nods and mumbled assurances in response to the question, at which Ms. Warren stepped forward again and clapped her hands together authoritatively. “Alright, kids! Say goodbye to your parents and let’s get going! Let’s form a line over here to check our bags and instruments!”
Aaron turned to face his mother, his stomach in knots. Megan, meanwhile, knelt down to stare her son directly in the eyes. “Good luck, honey.” She hugged him tight. “Don’t forget how proud I am of you, alright? I can’t wait to watch the video when you get back!”
Aaron nodded, blinking back tears. “I’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you too.” Megan took a shuddering breath. “You’ll have a blast though, okay? I promise you! Have fun! Have a Merry Christmas! And don’t forget, Santa will have gifts waiting for you under the tree when you get home.” Aaron nodded uncertainly, remembering the conversation they had the night before as Megan stood up. “Right. Tell Grandma I said hi, alright?”
“I will,” Aaron assured her.
“Good.” Megan smiled down at her son before ruffling his hair and nodding in the direction of the check-in counter, in front of which students and parents were lining up with their luggage. “Go on. I’m going to have a quick word with Ms. Warren and Principal Rodriguez.”
Aaron’s stomach sank. “About what?”
“Just to let them know you won’t be staying at the hotel with the rest of your class, and that your grandparents are taking you back to their house after the performance,” Megan replied nonchalantly. “Also, that you’re not to be alone with, or go anywhere with, your father if you happen to run into him by happenstance. I also want them to keep an eye on the Anderson and Reed boys while they’re at it.” She shrugged.
Aaron rolled his eyes. “Chris and Daniel don’t bother me, mom.”
“But they bother me,” Megan insisted, throwing the young boys in question a look from across the room.
Aaron glanced over his shoulder at them. Chris was black, extremely tall and lanky for his age, and had short, dark hair, while Daniel was on the shorter side and had extremely pale skin, sandy hair, and freckles. They were standing in line with their luggage and instruments – a trumpet and a drum respectively – laughing at some unheard joke, as they glanced in Aaron’s direction, their eyes full of mischief.
“Let me do it for my own peace of mind, please?” Megan asked. Aaron surveyed his mother, exasperated, before reluctantly nodding, fully aware that she was going to talk to his teacher and principal regardless of whether or not he gave his permission. “Thank you.” Then, swooping down to kiss him on the cheek, she added, “Now go. I love you.”
“I love you too.” And Aaron watched as his mother hurried over to Ms. Warren without another word. With a small sigh, he turned to face his brother – who had remained silent the entire time – and smiled at the baby in his arms. “Bye, Amy.’ He smiled wide at his sister, who reached lovingly for his face. “Merry Christmas! I love you!” Kissing her atop the head, he added, “I hope Santa is good to you!”
Jake rolled his eyes, flipping his hair back out of his eyes. “Jesus Christ, Aaron! Grow up! Santa isn’t—”
“Merry Christmas, Jake,” the boy cut across his older brother quickly, taking him by surprise, before hurrying away – dragging his luggage behind him – toward where his best friend, Kevin, was standing in the check-in line, waving him over.
“You look tired,” the small Asian boy noted when Aaron released his baggage with a loud sigh, coming to a stop beside him.
“I couldn’t really sleep last night,” Aaron admitted.
“Nervous about blowing it on stage in front of the Rockettes?” Kevin asked, clapping a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry, pal. I understand. I had a nightmare that I forgot how to play the keyboard!”
Aaron shook his head with a laugh. “Nothing like that,” he insisted. “I just have a lot of things on my mind.” He stared straight ahead, noticing the pair of pretty girls chatting animatedly a few people in front of them. As he studied the back of their heads, the sounds of Kevin’s ramblings began to fade into a static sound in his head, akin to the unintelligible speak of Charlie Brown’s teacher. “It’s going to be fun!” he was insisting. “It’s New York City! Don’t you want to see where your mother grew up?”
“I’ve been there before,” Aaron admitted absentmindedly. “I can’t really remember much of it though. I must have blocked it out.”
“Oh!” Kevin’s eyes widened behind his thick, black glasses as he slapped a hand to his forehead in realization. “This is about your dad, isn’t it?”
“Huh?” Aaron blinked in surprise. “Of course not! Why?”
“Well, it’s just…you know.” Kevin stared down at his feet awkwardly. “Doesn’t he live in New York nowadays?”
“Even if he does, what’re the odds that I’d run into him? He doesn’t know I’m going to be in town, so it’s not like he has any reason to try and find me at Radio City.”
“Then what is it?” Kevin demanded. “Why are you so distracted?” And then he noticed the two girls standing a few feet away from them, whom Aaron was still staring at. As a smile unfolded on his face, he noted, “I get it. You’re making yourself sick over Holly, aren’t you?”
“I am not,” Aaron replied a little too quickly, as his face turned pink. It was true; he wasn’t making himself sick over Holly Turner – the cute blonde girl talking to her best friend, Margot Graham – even if he did have a massive crush on her. He had thought she was cute ever since he had first laid eyes on her in kindergarten, while Kevin and his other male classmates still believed girls to have cooties.
“You are,” Kevin teased. “You love her. You want to marry her, and kiss her, and you’re so afraid that she doesn’t feel the same way about you that you’re making yourself sick.”
“Shut up.” Aaron rolled his eyes.
Laughing, Kevin insisted, “It’s okay, dude. I get it! Your secret is safe with me.”
Aaron sighed deeply as he stared at Holly, who flipped her blonde hair over her shoulder, while Kevin in turn stared at him, expectantly. Even though he wasn’t making himself sick over the girl, he decided to let his friend believe that rather than admit to him what was truly bothering him. “You got me,” he lied.
“I knew it!” Kevin nodded sympathetically. “But just think – you’re going to take the stage as the little drummer boy tonight! You’re the only one of us who has an actual part to play besides Holly, Chris, and Erin, and those three are only going to be reading the Christmas story! That’s sure to impress her!”
Aaron allowed himself to be momentarily distracted from his wavering belief in Santa Claus and his desire to stay in Florida and spend Christmas with his mother and his siblings in order to contemplate his friend’s words. Kevin had a point; he had never thought about it like that. “You should just tell her how you feel. What’s the worst that could happen?”
“Abject humiliation at the hands of Daniel and Chris?” Aaron replied sarcastically.
“Well, there is that,” Kevin admitted. “Look, all I’m saying is there should be plenty of mistletoe strung up all around the city for you to make a move on Holly under if you really wanted to.”
And as the two boys continued to creep forward a few inches every couple of minutes, Aaron had no choice but to exasperatedly continue to listen to Kevin’s rambling advice about girls.
* * *
It was still dark when Megan, Jacob, and Amy left Tampa Bay International Airport after saying goodbye to Aaron, and the roads were blissfully empty as it was still too early for rush-hour traffic. As Megan hummed along to the Christmas music playing softly on the radio, Amy dozed in her car seat in the back seat and Jacob sulked beside her up front. With his arms folded across his chest, he kept sighing heavily and pointedly, finally eliciting an eye-roll from his mother. “You’re mad at me,” she stated wearily.
“I am not,” her son replied angrily. “You’re mad at me!”
“I’m annoyed, yes,” Megan admitted, taking the teenage boy by surprise. “Why did you have to tell Aaron that there’s no Santa Claus?”
“Because he’s nine-years-old, mom,” Jake answered bitterly. “It’s time for him to grow up.”
“Jake…” Megan began hesitantly. “Just…give him this last year, alright? He deserves it. He’s grown up so fast—”
“And I didn’t?” her son snapped, causing his mother to visibly wince, as though she had been smacked in the face.
“Of course you did,” Megan said apologetically. “I shouldn’t have said—”
“God, Megan!” Jake rolled his eyes. “It’s always Aaron! Aaron, Aaron, Aaron! What about me, huh? Or Amy?” He jerked his head at his sleeping sister in the backseat. “You always spoil him! What about us?”
“Jake, that’s unfair,” Megan replied, her voice stern now.
“It is not! We can barely afford new notebooks for school, but somehow you scraped together enough money to send Aaron to New York for Christmas!”
“On a school trip! It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for him!”
“You would never do that for us,” Jake continued, as though his mother hadn’t spoken up. “You don’t care about us! Definitely not me, anyway.” He laughed bitterly. “That’s why you only grew the balls to force dad to get help when Aaron was old enough to realize what an abusive prick he was to you, not when I—”
Jake immediately went silent as his hand shot up to touch the cheek his mother had just struck. Megan, meanwhile, shook with anger as she glanced sideways at her oldest son, her hand still raised in the air. As he stared at her, his mouth agape, she informed him through gritted teeth, “Don’t you ever insinuate that I don’t give a crap about you or Amy. Do you understand me?” Jake nodded, still stunned that she had raised a hand to him. “You said that I don’t spoil you or your sister? What if I told you that we’ll be spending the holidays in Manhattan with your brother?”
“I’d say you were lying.” Jake gave a snort of derision.
“Well, get ready to call me a liar then, because we are.” Jake glanced at her in surprise as she gave a nonchalant shrug. “I had to swallow all of my pride and beg your grandmother to help fly us out, but we’ll be spending Christmas through the New Year in New York with Aaron and your grandparents. We’re flying out in a few hours to surprise your brother at his show. It’s a big moment for him, and we shouldn’t miss it. Besides – you two deserve a special treat for Christmas too.” She glanced in the rearview mirror at her sleeping daughter.
“You’re serious?” Jake asked, eyes wide. When his mother gave a curt nod, he pumped his fist victoriously. “Yes!” And without another word, he removed his phone from his pocket and began texting furiously.
“When we get home, we need to pack quickly so that we can be out the front door within an hour,” Megan insisted. “If we miss our flight, there’s no way we’ll get in today with Elsa about to hit the tristate area. Jake? Jake, are you listening to me?” She glanced sideways at his son, who was still engrossed in his phone.
“Absolutely,” Jake mumbled, distracted.
Sighing wearily, Megan turned away from her son to concentrate on the empty road in front of her, praying silently that she could get through the holidays without strangling her kids or her parents. Grumbling to herself, she mumbled softly, “A thank you would have been nice.”
* * *
When finally aboard the plane, Aaron found that he was sitting in an aisle seat beside Kevin, who was gazing excitedly out of the window at the dark airport runway. Immediately across the aisle, an arm’s length away, Holly sat beside Margot. The moment the girls had taken their seats, Holly had turned to flash Aaron a wide smile. “Excited?” she asked him.
“You have no idea.” Aaron felt himself blush, as he avoided the girl’s eyes. “Are you?” “I’m nervous,” Holly admitted. “What if I choke in front of the crowd?”
Beside her, Margot rolled her eyes. “You’re not going to choke, Holly,” she insisted.
“Margot’s right,” Aaron spoke up. “You’re going to nail it. You’re at a sixth-grade reading level in the third-grade! You’re not going to mess up reading the Christmas story!”
“What if I get stage fright?” Holly asked breathlessly.
“Doesn’t Margot step in then?” Kevin asked, leaning forward in his chair to stare around Aaron at the two girls. “Isn’t she your understudy?”
Before either of the girls could answer, their teacher – who had been walking down the center aisle of the aircraft with a stack of paper in her hands – was upon them. “Nobody’s going to get stage fright.” Ms. Warren smiled wide, staring between Kevin, Aaron, Holly, and Margot. “Relax, alright? You know what you’re doing, you’ve practiced this a million times.” Then, licking her index finger, she separated four pieces of paper from the pile in her arms and handed a sheet to each of the kids. “Our itinerary for the day once we land in New York,” she informed them. “It’s going to be a busy day, with no time to rest before the show this evening, so try to get some sleep while we’re in the air.” And before any of the four could respond, she continued down the aisle to give handouts to the next row of children.
Aaron stared down at the piece of paper in his hands to read it, noticing that once they landed, a bus would be picking them up from the airport and take them to Radio City musical Hall to drop off their instruments. After which, they would go see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, visit Santa Claus at Macy’s Herald Square, head back to Radio City to see the two-o-clock showing of the Christmas Spectacular, after which they would remain at the theater to rehearse with the Rockettes until their eight p.m. performance. “Sweet, dude!” Kevin elbowed him hard in the ribs to get his attention. “We get to meet the Santa Claus today! Yes!” He fist-pumped excitedly. “I have a whole list of things I want to ask him for!”
Aaron raised an eyebrow. “It’s Christmas Eve, Kevin. Shouldn’t you have already sent him your letter and asked him for what you wanted already?”
“Oh, I did,” Kevin reassured him. “But I want to lay the puppy-dog eyes on him in person as insurance.”
Aaron laughed despite himself, but his smile quickly faded away as he glanced down at his itinerary again and stared at the word ‘Santa’. Mulling over what Jake had said to him during his outburst at dinner the night before, he decided to ask Kevin nonchalantly, “Do you ever have doubts that Santa Claus is actually real?”
Kevin turned to stare at him, blinking in confusion. “Why would you even ask that? Of course not! Who else could possibly deliver all of the presents?”
“It’s just…” Aaron sighed deeply, shaking his head. “Jake said something to me last night at dinner—”
“He’s not the most reliable source, Aaron.” Both Aaron and Kevin turned to peer at Margot, as she leaned across Holly to address them. “I happen to know for a fact that Santa’s real. I actually saw him in my living room leaving gifts a few years ago.”
Margot nodded, as Holly chimed in. “And I’ve heard sleigh bells on my roof on Christmas Eve before.”
“Really?” Aaron asked, refusing to allow himself to feel even a modicum of relief just yet. Holly flashed him a warm smile. “I think your brother is probably just messing with you.”
“See?” Kevin asked, clapping a reassuring hand onto his shoulder. “Nothing to worry about.”
“What are you two nerds talking about?” Chris, who was sitting in front of Kevin, stood up in his seat to peer down at the two boys behind him.
“Nothing,” Aaron replied tiredly, unaware until that moment that his tormentors were sitting directly in front of him. Indeed, Daniel turned around in his seat in front of Aaron and asked, “You don’t believe in Santa anymore, Rankin? What, are you a bigger idiot than I already thought you were?”
“Nobody asked you, Daniel,” Holly said pointedly.
“Aw, what, you need your girlfriend to stick up for you?” Daniel teased Aaron, who rolled his eyes in response.
“They’re not dating, dummy,” Kevin replied, as he kicked the seat in front of him hard. “Sit down and turn around.”
“Make me,” Chris replied, reaching over the seat and slapping Kevin on the top of the head.
“Don’t worry, Rankin,” Daniel began matter-of-factly. “Santa’s real. But that also means that Krampus is real too.”
“Who’s Krampus?” Aaron asked, glancing from Kevin to Holly and Margot, all of whom looked as confused as he felt. Even Chris, still peering over his seat, looked uncertain of what his friend meant.
“You’ve never heard of Krampus?” Daniel asked, a wicked smile spreading across his face. “He’s Santa’s evil twin! While Santa leaves gifts for the nice children – the ones who believe in him – Krampus comes to punish the naughty ones; the ones who don’t believe in Santa.”
“Bro, are you serious?” Chris asked, wide-eyed.
“Give me a break.” Margot scoffed. “What, is this one of those German fairytales your grandmother tells you every time she visits?”
“I’m serious!” Daniel insisted, surprising Aaron by how genuine he sounded. “He’s real! He’s a half-goat, half-demon monster with hooves, horns, and a forked-tongue! He’s terrifying!”
Aaron’s stomach constricted uncomfortably, as he gripped his armrests tightly and his heartrate increased. Could it possibly be true? Sensing his fear, Daniel’s smirk widened. “So if I were you, I’d get rid of whatever doubts you have about Santa Claus quick! You don’t want Krampus showing up tonight to punish you!”
“Yeah,” Chris added. “Focus on how you’re going to blow it on stage tonight with the Rockettes instead!”
Before Aaron could reply, Principal Rodriguez walked down the aisle toward them, his expression stern. “Christopher! Sit down and turn around! Daniel, you turn around too,” he barked. Reluctantly, the two boys settled in their seats as instructed, allowing the principal’s expression to soften as he stared down at Aaron. “If they bother you again, let Ms. Warren or myself know, alright?”
“They weren’t bothering me,” Aaron insisted. “Honest. They—”
“Now, now.” The principal interrupted, holding up his hand to silence him. “Your mother talked to me inside and let me know they’ve been giving you a hard time. It’s unacceptable, and I won’t allow it to continue.” He glared down at Daniel and Chris, who were sulking in their seats.
“So if either of you even glance at Aaron the wrong way today, you won’t be performing on stage tonight. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” both boys grumbled.
“Good. Now, fasten your seatbelts. We’re taking off soon.” And without another word, the principal walked away down the aisle.
The moment Principal Rodriguez was out of earshot, Daniel turned around in his seat once more to hiss at Aaron. “You need you girlfriend and mommy to defend you?”
“Daniel, I swear, I didn’t—”
“Save it, Rankin,” Daniel interrupted him. “If you get me in trouble, I swear to God…” He punched his fist into his open palm before smiling. “But I probably won’t even get a chance to do that; Krampus will have taken care of you by then.” And before Aaron could reply, he turned around in his seat to face forward again.
Aaron bit down on his lower lip, his mind racing. He turned to glance at Holly, who flashed him a nervous smile before turning away to engage Margot in conversation. When he turned to face Kevin, he asked quietly, “Is he right? Does Krampus exist?”
“I don’t know.” Kevin shrugged. “But if Santa does, it sure makes sense that Krampus would, doesn’t it?”
“I thought Santa just left coal for the naughty kids!”
“Turn on a T.V. every once in a while, Aaron.” Kevin rolled his eyes before informing him knowledgably, “Coal’s a dying industry. Santa can’t leave coal anymore! He probably outsources the naughty work to Krampus!”
Before Aaron could debate the point, a flight attendant’s voice sounded over the loudspeaker. “Ladies and gentlemen, we’d like to welcome you aboard Delta Airlines.” As she began to run through her announcements, Aaron settled back into his seat and closed his eyes as thoughts of Krampus ran through his mind, mingling with his lingering doubts about the existence of Santa Claus.