She said her name was Allyson, but that I should call her Ally. I knew right then she was a mighty little thing. Especially precocious, eight years old, dressed in a plaid jumper and matching headband, woolen socks pulled taut at her knees. Blonde hair, still baby fine, slipped casually over her shoulders. Her father instructed her to be seated in a chair in our office's reception area and she started for it - pausing just long enough to peruse our reading material. I pointed out the most recent Highlights magazine to which she replied,
"No, thank you," and then selected the latest edition of People, instead.
"Are you getting excited about Santa?" I asked.
Ally dipped her chin and squared one cross brow in my direction. "I'm eight. That stuff is for little kids."
"Ahh - I see. Well, then I suppose that's that," I said.
She paid me a patient smile exposing a quarter of a front tooth dropping from her gum at a razor-sharp angle. Her father's cell phone rang and he stepped out into the hallway to take it.
"You know," I began, "Santa Claus isn't so much a person as he is a feeling."
The child looked up from the open pages in her lap. I went on,
"Like a wish coming true or your favorite memory playing in your mind. Something that makes you warm on the inside. Like puppy-dog kisses."
"Like pizza?" she asked.
"Sure - I guess. If pizza makes you super-duper happy."
I watched her silently weighing it out. Was pizza really as special as a wish coming true?
At that moment her father came back into the room. "That was Mommy," he said, folding into the chair beside hers. "And guess what? The doctor told her that she will definitely be home with us in time for Christmas."
Every bit of the light around her filled Ally's eyes. "Goody, Daddy! I'm so glad!" The magazine slid off her lap to the floor and her father lowered to retrieve it, a grin spread wide along his jaw.
I looked over once more before I headed for my office. Ally's gaze met mine. Without a word she admitted that the pizza had been trumped. We shared a smile.
"Merry Christmas, Ally."
"You too," she said. And just like that Santa Claus had come and gone.