We were on the playground. It was chilly out and the swings were even squeakier than usual. All the were teachers huddled up near the blacktop, looking ready to call us inside when Veronica cranked up with the nonsense again.
“I mean come on, he goes all the way around the world? In one night?”
Paris and Aniyah followed along, looking wary but too afraid to challenge the great Veronica Rogers. Poor Archie tried his best. “My dad says it might be two nights, considering the rotation of the—”
Veronica swung around, jet-black curls taking flight. “Knock it off, Archie. I mean, one night, two, three nights. What does it matter? Like he can fit all the toys in a bag, toys built by elves and piled in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer? It’s insulting, really.”
Archie and Silas glanced over to me. I really didn’t want to get involved but once again Veronica was being Veronica, which meant someone had to stop her. I stepped out from the slides and wiped myself off.
“So let’s get this straight, Ver-ahhhh-nica,” I said, placing my arms behind my back, circling her like the lawyers did in those courtroom shows Mom was always watching. “You’re saying that there is no Santa Clause, is that right?”
Veronica tilted her head, her smile curling like a ribbon off a blade. “My, you’re a quick one, Kevin.”
Some kindergartners scuttled past. I waited them out. They certainly did not need to hear this. When they were gone, I resumed. “So you’re telling us, that our parents are buying the toys and making up the whole thing about the North Pole? The naughty and nice list?” I glanced to my counterparts with a smile. “Is this what you’re claiming?”
She fixed her glasses, set her eyes to the left in thought before debunking my claims one by one on her fingers. “Yes. Yes. And um, well, yes! The North Pole is Amazon. The naughty and nice list? Nothing more than invoices.”
“Wow,” I said, still playing for my audience. Paris and Aniyah were on the brink of tears. I knew I had to keep Silas and Archie from folding. I set a finger to my chin, shaking my head. “This is crazy, Veronica, really. Even for you.”
“Yeah,” Silas said, picking up a stick and tracing it through the mulch. “You’re going to wake up and find nothing underneath the tree.”
“Oh, Silas, don’t be silly. Under the tree I’ll find a telescope, a chemistry set, and Matilda—hopefully a first edition. It’s already arrived, via Fed Ex. My dad tried to hide it but, alas…I’ve been told I’m very observant,” she said with a shrug.
“Don’t forget your Barbie,” Archie teased.
“Imbecile,” Veronica sighed.
She was good. And I was losing ground, getting desperate. I connected the dots, getting down and dirty. “Okay, so I guess you think it’s our parents snatching loose teeth and leaving money under pillows? Or filling our Easter baskets with chocolate eggs, is that right?”
“Oh Kevin. You poor thing. Do you believe all those fairy tales, too? Oh I’ll bet you cried after you read Humpty Dumpty, didn’t you?”
I took a step back. Because how could she know that? How for almost a year I couldn’t even look at scrambled eggs without breaking into tears. Yikes. It was creepy, and not for the first time I suspected Veronica Rogers of witchery.
She planted her hand on her hip, shaking her head the way she did in class when she knew the answers before everyone else. “A shame, really.”
The teachers called us in. Veronica giggled, shaking her head at my futility. I could only watch, mouth hanging open, backtracking as she snapped her fingers and off they went.
“Now come on, girls, I’ll show you how to locate order numbers and track shipments.”