She stood in line, with hundreds of other children. It seemed the line would never move forward.
As she looked around she saw mom's tugging at the clothes of the children at their feet. "Stand still, you are messing up your hair." she heard from one mom. "Why can't you be quiet for just a few minutes" said another mom to an energetic little boy. But even as she saw the mom's nagging and correcting their children the little girl smiled.
A child just a few people in front of her turned and stared back. The little girl looked down, afraid to keep eye contact. "Mommy, why is she dressed like that? Why isn't she in a Christmas outfit like us?" she heard him ask. The mom quickly shooshed him and pulled him closer in front of her in line.
She looked down at her clothes. She had dressed in her best and she was sure they had been clean enough when she put them on. A part of her wished she had a nice dress, but she had picked her best multi colored shirt and she had the hair ribbon that Mrs. Jilly had made for her just before she went away to live in "the home".
She blinked back the tears that always seemed to be right at the edges of her eyes whenever she thought of Mrs. Jilly. How she used to light up whenever she entered the room, and always took the time to ask about her day and show her the new things she was knitting and sewing.
She shook her head to clear her thoughts. This was not the day for tears. It took weeks of begging to get Mr. Don to bring her with him when he came to do his part-time job at the mall. Today was her special day to meet Santa Claus. She just knew if he knew what she really wanted for Christmas that he would make sure this year was different.
The line started inching forward. She was finally near enough to see Santa sitting on his red throne. He smiled as each child sat on his lap and listened as they rattled off the list of toys that they wanted to find under the tree.
Oh he looked so jolly! Her eyes danced with excitement and she jumped from one foot to the other in eager anticipation, then it was her turn. A lady in a snowy white costume held her hand and walked her up the candy cane lane, and then she was standing right in front of Santa Claus!
"Well, come up here little one. Wouldn't you like to sit on Santa's lap and tell me what you want for Christmas?" She tried to speak but couldn't find any words in her head, so she nodded yes.
As Santa helped lift her onto his lap she noticed how soft his coat was. And how white and soft his beard was. She longed to touch it.. and tentatively reached out. She expected to have him pull away but he leaned in and whispered "Go ahead tug on it, it's real."
Oh, She couldn't do that! But she did brush the sides of his whiskers with the palm of her hand. Santa smelled like peppermint. She snuggled closer into his arm and tried not to notice all of the impatient looks from those waiting in line. This was her time!
"What would you like for Christmas little lass? What can Santa bring to put a smile on your face?" Santa asked as he drew her even closer, as if sensing that she needed the extra touch.
"I want you to bring my mommy back to get me. She went away for just a little while, but it has been so very long now. I like the people at the home I was taken to, but Santa... can you please tell my mommy I am ready for her to come back?" With that she withdrew a piece of paper with a hand drawn map and a sketch of a face. She handed this to Santa. "Here is a picture I drew of my mommy and here is how to get to the home."
She started to hop down from his lap, but turned around and gave him one last hug and whispered "I know you can find my mommy, I believe in you."
The lady in the snowy white outfit gave her a candy cane and the little girl walked away to find Mr. Don to tell him she would soon be going home.