Carey rested his face in his hands, propped elbows on the windowsill, waiting.
The radiator beneath him was cold. He knelt on the bed and nestled his feet inside a blanket, though, that tucked warmth around his toes, and that was what made him feel like it was Christmas.
The sky stretched out above him like a thrown navy sheet: speckled with winks from the eyes of stars that he knew were looking out for him. He tried to wink back to every one, but that was impossible.
He was supposed to be asleep. The murmur of the television gloamed upstairs. Papa was probably the one who was actually asleep, folded in two on the couch like he did every night after his shifts, after Mrs Howell had gone home for the night with her four dollar babysitting bill. Although Carey could also hear the soft, sleep-breathing of his little sister in the cot in the corner. He had gotten to know her breathing sounds, and this was definitely the low rasp of somebody's dreaming.
When Papa had tucked him in, Carey struggled to settle, and Papa wordlessly put the blanket around him with old, tired eyes. But tomorrow's Christmas, Carey had said, as Papa closed the bedroom door. It's just any other day, Papa had said as the door clicked shut.
Carey knew he was wrong. How could it be just another day? Everybody knew that Christmas was some kind of magic. Carey yawned. He rubbed his eyes and kept watch. It had to be soon.
His eyes drooped. Was this the latest he'd stayed up? Melissa, the baby, stirred slightly. Her blankets rustled; not as soft as when they'd been Carey's. He looked over, but she was still asleep, her hands clenched in tiny fists.
The TV sound faded. The picture must have been turned off for the night. He knew that it meant it was late. His elbows ached from resting on the wooden sill. How much longer? Just as his dry eyes almost gave up, he saw it.
A flash: so fast you'd almost miss it. A whizz of light. He couldn't be sure, but wasn't that streak of starry light in fact a sled being pulled by eight reindeer? And wasn't that Santa? Sure, Carey wasn't able to confirm that he'd seen a red suit exactly, but it could only be it. He slid down into his bed, pulled the blankets up under his chin and smiled. His stomach grew into a blooming rose-glow of happiness as he drifted into sleep. It had been worth the wait.
Of course, in years to come, Carey would have forgotten all about this night. He would be working at the Stop and Gas on Christmas Eve at thirty eight years old, another night shift just like his father. He would be waving off his co-workers who had kids, who were going home to wrap last minute gifts, and fill stockings with cheap toys. He would look up and see maybe the third shooting star of his life.
And he would hurtle back into that room, that cold and empty room. That room where at five years old with icy fingers and cosy toes, he'd seen a shooting star and been convinced that he'd seen Santa Claus.
As he watched his coworkers drive away in their family cars, he would recall that feeling in his stomach. And Carey would think to himself, it's amazing what an imagination and hope can do. And he would wave to the people lucky enough to get away for the night, and he would crack open a beer on his staff tab, and wish himself Merry Christmas. And he would pick up the phone and call his little sister Melissa after all these years, and tell her a story which she would never have heard.