Ben muted his cell phone, scrunched back in his recliner and sighed sadly, remembering other years and the excitements of the season. He winced as he stretched his back, replaying the just-finished conversation.

“We need you, Guy. No one does it better. You have a way of enchanting kids, pleasing their parents and making Santa real. You are a tradition, man!”

“Tradition smadition,” Ben muttered. He just didn’t give a damn this time around. He was hurting too much. Jefferys death was still too close, too vivid. That changed everything. He knew when he shaved for the funeral that he wouldn’t be doing his Santa thing this year at the veterans’ post. His anger had him tied up in knots. Christmas was nowhere in sight for him. So when Pete called, he knew what he had to say. Not easy but…necessary.

“You gotta do it, Ben. You need Santa even more than the kids this year. Do it for Jeff, okay?”

Jeff, his grandson, was 9. Three weeks earlier he had been killed while biking to the grocery store for his mom. The truck came out of nowhere, its driver, a witness said, with a map over the steering wheel. Jeffie was gone, just like that. It didn’t seem fair. He and “gramps” were joined at the hips, Ben would say, and the loss of his best buddy was unbearable.

“Sorry Pete. No way,” Ben whispered to himself. His phone vibrated; he saw his daughter’s name and took the call.

“Hi, Pops,” Kate said, “How ya doin’?”

“Pete just called…”

“I know. I just hung up with him. Can I say something?”

Audible sigh. “Kate…”

“Pops, your anger. It’s been almost a month. Jeffie’s in our hearts forever. He loved Christmas, especially you as Santa. He’ll be there this time, too.”

“But what about the kids who’ll be asking for bikes, Kate? You…”

“Jeffie’s bike didn’t kill him,” she cut in. “A distracted driver did.”

“Maybe so, but…

“Pops, Christmas is still Christmas for the kids at the post. Pete says your Santa Claus bit can help you get past your anger, maybe find some peace if you do it for Jeffie. I think he’s right.”

A long silence. “You’re incredible, Kate. You’ve got to be hurting 10 times more than me. Where’s your anger?”

“Anger doesn’t solve anything. It just complicates what happened.”

“It sure doesn’t help the hurting,” Ben admitted.

“How’d you guess?” She was crying. “We’ve got to get through this, Pops, and Pete and me think Santa can help.”

Another, longer silence. Then, a deeper sigh. “I think you need Santa more than those kids, too, Kate.”

Soon after, “I’ll call Pete…  I need to find a beard. Just don’t expect too much, okay?”