I sat down on my brother Wolff’s bed.
“Wolffie wake up.”
I was worried I had cut it too close. Our parents had only gone to bed a half hour ago—I had watched the red numbers on my clock flip, painfully, counting out every minute to thirty before I crept from my room next door to Wolff’s. It was only 11:30, and if they heard us up, and then found me in Wolff’s room? Then we were in big trouble.
But this was important.
I said Wolffie’s name again, shaking his thin shoulder this time. He whined in his sleep, and I paused for a few seconds to make sure my parents hadn’t woken up. Then I covered my brother’s mouth with one hand and pinched his nose closed with the other. Up in no time.
“You can breathe if you’re silent,” I told his wide eyes. They bobbed up and down as he nodded. The nice thing about little brothers is they’ll listen to just about anything. I let go and he took an exaggerated breath. “Greenwich! Why did you do that?” he asked. He gets pretty worked up when I do stuff like that because he has asthma. But it works. I told him so. He wasn’t grumpy. He likes having me in his room. “What’re ya doing here, man?” he asked.
I wasn’t sure how to answer. I let my eyes roll around the dark shadows of his room at night instead. He let me sit in silence. I waited to make sure he would listen to me. He needed to know I was serious.
“I got something to tell you.”
“Okay, I’m listening.”
“You’re not gonna believe me.”
“I will! If it’s true, I’ll believe it.”
I paused, watching his eyes flash white in the dark.
“I think Santa Claus isn’t real.”
I couldn’t see so well in the dark, but Wolff’s silence was pretty telling. His shadowy form was very still. “That’s not possible,” he said. “Where would all the presents come from?”
Here was the kicker. I didn’t know how the little guy was gonna take this one. I handed him his inhaler in preparation. “I think it’s Mom and Dad.”
Wolff was sitting up now, shaking his head in the dark. “That doesn’t make any sense.” He was getting worked up. I thought about sitting back down on the bed, but pacing felt better. I wasn’t in such a great state of mind myself. “How would Mom and Dad get all that stuff?”
“Listen, I know it sounds crazy! But I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Just listen: I found something. And this is the only explanation.”
“Okay,” said my brother. “I’m listening.”
I sighed. “This morning, I went into the cupboard to get more cereal. I know—” I said, cutting Wolff off, “—we’re not supposed to. That’s not the point. The point is—” I paused to make sure he’d listen. “There was a bag of peanuts in there.”
“So what?” asked my little brother. “Dad eats those all the time! He eats them when he watches football games!”
“Not that kind, you idiot!” I hissed. We still had to be careful about our parents. “The kind still in the shell. The kind we only get…”
“In our stockings.” Wolff gasped. “What the heck. What were they doing there?”
“I don’t know. I thought the same thing. Only Santa can get us those. And then I thought—what if they’re not only from Santa? What if anyone can get them? And then I thought—well, it’s just sort of weird, if you think about it, don’t you think?”
“What is? What’s weird?” Wolff was leaning so far over the edge of his bed I thought he might fall onto floor.
“Just, everything. Everything about Santa. The letters? Those things need stamps, but Mom never lets me put one on.”
“She let me put a sticker on mine.”
“Not the point, Wolff. Letters need stamps. Or else they don’t go anywhere. And the cookies? We put out cookies for Santa.”
“So what? What’s wrong with that?”
“Well, I was just thinking—Mom and Dad could eat those. Dad’s favorite kind and Santa’s favorite kind are even the same. That doesn’t seem weird to you?”
My brother was quiet for a little, and when he did speak his voice was strangled. “That explains why they wouldn’t get us the Super Star Destroyer.”
I sighed. I hadn’t even thought of that. Wolff and I had agreed that we would both put the Lego Super Star Destroyer at the top of our Christmas lists this year. With double the requests for it, we figured, there was no way Santa wouldn’t bring it. But when our mother looked at our lists, “Don’t get your hopes up, boys,” she told us. It hadn’t made a lot of sense until now, when things were all starting to fall into place. “Yeah, Wolffie,” I told him. “That explains it.”
Wolff was quiet again, but I felt him shaking the bed as he started to cry. I had to get him hooked on my idea before he started blubbering like an idiot. “You really think Mom and Dad are Santa?” he asked me.
“I’m not sure, Wolff,” I said, sitting down on his bed again, rubbing the bridge of my nose. “But I have a way of finding out. Are you in?”
My baby brother would be in on anything as long as I was there.
The hardest part was getting Chloe not to follow us upstairs. She always played with us after she drove us home from school. But the next day, when she started up the steps after us, I turned around to face her matter-of-factly. “Actually, Chloe, my brother and I would like some privacy today.”
Chloe looked surprised. “You guys aren’t planning something sneaky, are you?” she asked, narrowing her eyes at us. Wolff hiccuped nervously, but I was pretty sure she was just playing.
“Nope. Just need to do some guy stuff. You understand.”
She looked like she needed to laugh. “All right, have fun. I’ll be watching tv. No scissors or anything okay? And no mess we can’t clean up.”
“Wait, you get to watch tv? No fair!” Wolffie burst out. I glared at him. He quieted down with another burpy hiccup. We went upstairs, faking like we were going to my room or Wolff’s. But instead, we headed past them and slowly opened the door to our parents’ room.
We weren’t allowed in our parents’ room unless one of them was with us. We weren’t even allowed in there with Chloe. That’s because their room was full of Nice Things. It also meant, though, that if our mom and dad were hiding something, this is where it would be.
“Okay, Wolff, spread out. There’s gotta be some evidence somewhere. Check anywhere you can think of. If you see anything you asked for on your Christmas list, tell me right away.”
“All right,” said Wolff. He looked ready to wet himself with nervousness. We needed to get this stuff quick and get out of there before Chloe came to check on us.
I headed for my mom’s closet. It was so big that even she could walk around in there. I looked in all the corners and behind all her shirts and dresses. I looked through all her shoe boxes. I was standing on top of her hamper trying to see onto the highest shelf when I heard my brother speak.
“Oh. My. God.”
My mom would kill him if she heard him say that.
“Greenwich. Come here. Now.” His voice was dead serious and really wobbling. I was already scrambling my way off the hamper. I burst out of the closet.
Wolff stood by our mom’s bedside table. The drawer of it hung open, and in his hand my brother held a small cloth bag. I ran over as quietly as I could.
Wolff was basically crying. “Look,” he choked out. “Look inside.”’
I took the bag from him. It was too little to be anything I asked for. But when I stuck my fingers inside its puckered top and peered inside, I knew why he had reacted the way he did.
A tumbly little sackful of tiny baby teeth.
“Why does she have this?” Wolff asked me breathlessly. I needed to go snag his inhaler quick. “What does it mean?”
“It means,” I said, “that this is bigger than we ever could have imagined.”
Chloe could tell something was wrong when we came downstairs, but I guess she knew better than to ask what we’d been up to. I’m pretty sure she went and checked around in our parents’ room after she’d gotten us set up for dinner, but we’d cleaned up really well in there…other than the teeth, which sat shifting around in the pocket of my pants.
We were still eating dinner when our mom and dad came home from work. Chloe went to the front hall to say hi to them and get her coat. Wolffie couldn’t look up from his hotdog. I kicked his foot. “Keep it together,” I told him.
Our parents came into the dining room. “Hi, boys!” my mom said, leaning down to kiss my head, but I wormed away. She moved on to Wolffie, who sat petrified in his seat. “What did you do today?”
Neither of us said anything.
“Everything okay, guys?” my dad said, sitting down at the table across from my brother. My mom looked a little concerned.
I figured it was up to me to start this one.
“Mom. Dad. We have something we need to talk to you about.”
My mom sat down. I looked over at Wolff. He was about to start crying. I pulled the little bag out of my pocket and set it on the table. My mom went white. Wolff started letting out little snuffles.
“You guys aren’t allowed into our room, you know that,” my mom said, going to snatch the sack off of the table. I didn’t bother to stop her. “It’s a little too late for that, Mom,” I said.
My mom stood up to comfort Wolff. She walked over to try and hug him, but he pulled away sharply—not like Wolffie at all. He was red and his tears and snot were mixing halfway down his face. “Don’t touch me!” he yelled. Even I froze.
“Wolff—” my dad said.
“Shut up!” my brother screamed, words that would usually get him in huge trouble. But neither of our parents moved. Wolff was breaking down. “I can’t believe you did this! Why? Why?!” he demanded of our parents, who remained motionless and silent. “How could you lie to us like that? The Tooth Fairy? Santa Claus?” He was really bawling.
“Listen, Wolff, honey,” my mom said, trying to reason with the kid. “Those things—Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny—”
“Oh God, the Easter Bunny?!” Wolff collapsed into a new wave of tears.
“—honey, those are things that parents do to get closer to their kids. We do those things to make you boys happy!”
“Does he look happy, Mom?” I said, standing up to put my hand on Wolff’s shoulder, help him get it together a little bit, but he had really lost it, his sobs rolling out of his body without control. I tried to continue our case. “I just can’t believe it. All the lies!”
My mom spoke up, “Honey, we never lied to you—”
“Oh, really?” I countered. “Then what did you mean when you told us how Santa climbs down the chimney? Hmm? What did you mean? What did you mean when you told us that he gives us all the presents and fills our stockings up?”
“Yeah!” Wolff chimed in. “What did you mean when you said Santa couldn’t afford the Lego Super Star Destroyer?”
Even I knew he’d gone too far.
My dad stood up, his body stiff like a tree. “Go to your rooms. Both of you. This conversation is over.” We stood very still. “Boys, now.”
We turned, together, to go, and I laid my arm across my baby brother’s shoulders. “Don’t worry, Wolff,” I said to him, glaring back at our parents. “They can’t hurt us more than they already have.”
The next few days till Christmas were pretty bleak. Wolff and I spent a lot of time together alone, but not really doing anything. None of our games seemed fun anymore, and playing with toys left us feeling sick. Our parents tried to talk to us both a bunch of times, but every time we went to our rooms and shut the doors. And with all that Christmas music playing all the time, I have to admit even I lost my composure a few times. I had to ask Chloe to turn off the radio in the car on a couple of occasions.
On Christmas Eve my parents made a big show of hanging the stockings and setting out milk and cookies, encouraging us every step of the way to help them. Wolff and I ignored them. We went to bed solemnly, and I definitely heard Wolffie wheezing in his room that night as he fell asleep. The next morning, I made sure to be in his room when he woke up, with a comic book ready for him. We sat in our beanbag chairs and ignored Christmas.
“Boys, come on downstairs,” my mom called up at some point. We remained silently glued to our comic books in protest.
A few minutes later our mom came up and cracked open the door. “Guys, please come downstairs. There’s something you really need to see.” She waited in the crack. I looked over at my brother, who was having difficulty hiding his curiosity. That kid was a total sucker. I sighed and put down my comic book. “Fine,” I said to my mother, then turned to Wolff, “but don’t get your hopes up.”
We walked downstairs, not even trying to keep up with our mom’s sock feet. We turned the corner into the living room…and a silence—a good silence—fell.
The usual presents were scattered all underneath the Christmas tree. But in the middle, not even wrapped, still in its unopened box, stood the Lego Super Star Destroyer.
Wolff turned to me in shock, and I turned to my parents. “I thought you couldn’t afford it!” I asked. Mom shrugged and turned to Dad. “It wasn’t us,” she said.
I was about to call them out—did they think we were that dumb? To fall for that Santa stuff again after Mom had admitted that she was the one who had done it?—but then I caught sight of Wolffie. He could hardly take his eyes off of the Destroyer. And when my mom said that, he turned to look at me with eyes big and trusting.
I looked back at my mom and dad. It was too late for me. I couldn’t forget how they’d lied to us for so long. But why ruin it for Wolffie, for my baby brother who had cried when we discovered the truth? Who trusted me, and me alone, so much that whatever I said, at this very moment, would form his opinion on the entire topic of Santa?
I had already ruined it for him once.
I turned to my brother, putting a hand on his shoulder. “I think we jumped to conclusions, man.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means—” I took a breath. “Santa’s real, Wolff. And that Super Star Destroyer is all ours.”
Wolff’s face shone hopefully up at me. “Are you serious?”
I smiled down at my brother. “Yeah, man.”
And with that, we both ran for the Legos.