Seven-year-old Joe Hardy sat in the waiting room of the doctor's office playing blocks with his brother. They'd been waiting for an hour while their parents were in the back talking to the doctor. Eight-year-old Frank had been having severe headaches the past few weeks and Doctor Berlin had said he knew why.
Joe was getting restless. He wanted to go home and write another letter to Santa. He'd thought of three more toys he wanted. Christmas was only two weeks away so he needed to hurry if Santa was going to have time to make them!
Suddenly, he heard the voices of his parents down the hall. Finally, they could go home. Something was wrong though. His mother had been crying; her eyes were red and puffy. His father's eyes were shining with unshed tears. What was the matter?
"Mom?" Frank asked. "Are you ok?"
"Yes baby, I'm fine. Come here," She pulled him into a big hug. "Let's go home." Fenton turned and told the doctor good-bye. Then, the foursome walked out to the car.
Joe knew better than to tell his parents about the toys he'd thought of while waiting. Their faces were frightened. His mom had wet streaks across her pale cheeks. His dad just stared straight ahead as if concentrating really hard on the road in front of him.
Once they were home, Laura told the boys to go play, then she prepared dinner. She made Frank's favorite meal; fried chicken with potatoes and mushrooms. Joe looked around the kitchen and on the stove.
Why did Frank get his favorite food? Joe liked pizza better. Laura usually made pizza when she made fried chicken. She forgot about me! The thought tore into Joe brain. Frank's sick so he gets all the attention and they forget about me!
"Come eat boys!" Laura called. Joe reluctantly sat down at the table and promptly stuck his tongue out at Frank. Frank retaliated by kicking Joe under the table.
Joe started to say something then stopped, remembering the last time something like this happened. Joe told on Frank and then Frank told on Joe and Joe got punished. Nope, Joe thought smugly, I'll get even later. Maybe he might steal Frank's computer game. Entertaining this thought, he quietly finished the meal.
After dinner Laura and Fenton ushered the boys into the living room. Joe climbed up on his father's lap. "Boys, there's something we need to tell you." Fenton began.
"It's about my headaches isn't it?" Frank asked suddenly. Joe looked quizzically at his parents waiting to hear their answer. He had been thinking the same thing Frank was thinking. His bright blue eyes locked with his mothers, waiting for her to answer.
"Yes, it is. Frank dear, you get headaches because there is a lump in your brain that shouldn't be there," stated Laura pulling Frank onto her lap and running her thin fingers through his thick brown hair.
"What kind of a lump?" Frank asked his eyes going wide: fear creeping into them.
Suddenly, Joe cut in, unworried by his parents news. "Can I feel it?" Joe cut in. "Chet got a lump when he fell off his bike last week and it got bigger than an egg!"
"No sweetie," Laura gave a sad smile. "It's a lump under Frank's skull."
"Will it go away?" Frank asked wide-eyed.
"Not by itself. It needs some help." Fenton told him.
"He needs an ice pack," Joe stated as if he had solved the problem. His parents flashed him a questioning glance and he explained, "That made Chet's lump go down."
"An ice pack won't work with this kind of lump." Laura again looked at Frank. Joe wished she'd stop doing that. Every time she looked sadder and sadder. That scared him.
"How do I get rid of it?" Frank looked at his mother with frantic eyes. Joe hopped down from Fenton's lap.
"It's ok Frank. Dad can get rid of it just like he gets the bad guys. This lump is bad too, so Dad can get it good and put it away." Joe grinned.
"No Joe. It's not that simple." Fenton took a deep breath and looked at his younger son. "This isn't like the bad guys. I can't make it go away. The only person who can is Dr. Berlin."
"The test that Frank took today gives Dr. Berlin an idea of how big and what kind of lump it is. We'll know more in about a week." Laura hugged Frank and kissed his forehead. "Now why don't you and Joe go play? There's nothing for you to worry about."
That was all Joe needed to hear. He was out the door in a flash. If his parents said not to worry, then he trusted them. He felt a bit unsure though. Why were they upset? Oh well, parents did weird stuff all the time, like making you eat vegetables and saying they were good. Joe sighed and waited for Frank.
Frank watched Joe as he quickly exited the room. Then he turned back to his parents pondering what they had told him. "Is it really bad?" he asked.
"We don't know yet. But," Laura paused, "You don't need to worry. Let Dr. Berlin examine the results. You go enjoy this break from school." Well, if they said he didn't need to worry then he wouldn't. Giving Laura a grin he followed Joe. However, he kept wondering why his parents were so upset earlier.
The next week flew by, and found Joe humming 'Jingle Bells' as he cleaned his room, a rare occurrence. A few minutes later he went out to the mailbox and came back inside just as the phone rang.
"What were you doing outside?" Frank asked as Joe stomped the snow off his boots.
"I was mailing a letter to Santa. Did you write one yet? You'd better hurry. He might not have time to get all your things together if you don't mail it soon!" Joe cheeks glowed.
"Why would I waste time writing to Santa. He doesn't exist," Frank turned to go back up stairs.
"Yes he does!" Joe shouted his blue eyes turning ice cold. "If you say that he won't bring you anything!"
"No he doesn't." Frank replied. Joe never answered him. Instead he tackled Frank. The two boys went down hard and began wrestling on the floor. They rolled this way and that. Suddenly, they rammed into a lamp table and the light came crashing down, shattering into millions of tiny pieces. Fenton and Laura came running into the room.
"What on Earth is going on here?" Laura exclaimed, pulling a kicking Joe off Frank.
"He said there ain't no Santa Clause!" Joe pointed an accusing finger. "He can't say that or he won't get any Christmas!"
"But there isn't one." Frank stated simply. Joe started to say something.
"That's enough!" Fenton demanded. "Joe go to your room. Frank come into the kitchen." He left the room with Frank in tow.
"Joe dear, obey your father." Laura gave Joe a gentle nudge towards the steps then followed Fenton into the kitchen. Joe acted like he went up the stairs but stayed hidden around the corner.
"Frank, I know that Santa is not real," he heard Fenton say. "But why did you tell Joe that?"
"But it's true!" Frank complained.
"I know but let him be little for a while. He's going to need that," Laura broke off. Joe was stunned. His parents said that Santa wasn't real, but before they always told him Santa was. He was getting ready to go upstairs when he heard his father mention the doctor.
"Frank, the doctor just called with the results of your test. We're not going to lie to you. We think you're old enough to know. The lump in your brain is cancer. It needs to be removed as soon as possible."
"Cancer?" Frank questioned. He knew what cancer was. Grandpa Hardy had it before he died two years ago. Frank gasped, "Am I going to die?" His voice was almost a whisper, and his eyes were frightened.
Joe peered around the corner terrified. Frank had actually asked the same thing Joe wanted to know. What would their parents answer?
"There is a possibility that if they don't get the lump out soon enough that you may die. We're going to do everything in our power to keep that from happening. Chemotherapy also might work along with an operation." Fenton couldn't go on any further.
"Frank," Laura spoke, trying not to shed tears, "You can't tell Joe."
"You mean he won't know?" Frank asked bewildered.
"We think it's best that he doesn't know. We'll just tell him that you are going to spend a few days at the hospital where they will make your headaches go away." Laura prompted
"What about that I might die?" A stunned and confused Frank plopped tearfully on the floor with a thud.
"No, we don't want him to know that." Fenton stated firmly. Joe couldn't listen anymore.
"You LIED," he screamed, emerging into the kitchen. "You said that Santa was real. You said that Frank would be okay. You lied to me. You were going to lie again. I hate you! You ruined Christmas! There isn't any Christmas!" Joe's little body shook with emotion. He ran out the back door and slammed it behind him.