*The usual disclaimers apply--don't own 'em--just taking them out for a test drive and will put them back where I found them--I promise :) *

The Best Present

December 25, 1994

What was he doing here?

Lee stood in the toy aisle of the store, his eyes scanning the shelves. He wasn't really sure what he was looking for—but once he found it he would know.

"But Mom, I said I wanted the Spacestation."

The kid looked to be about Jenna's age, Lee reasoned—maybe a little older. He was wearing a red backpack, arms crossed in stubborn defiance as he faced his mother. "You said I could have anything I want."

His mother sighed. "I know what I said, honey, but the Spacestation is too expensive. Can't you pick another toy?"

The boy shook his head. "Don't want another toy."

"Well then you can go home and play with the toys you've already got for Christmas."

"But that's not fair—you said I could have one more toy."

Lee tuned the voices out, shaking his head bemusedly and running one hand through his hair.

What was he doing here? Amanda had sent him to pick up some gravy for the turkey—nothing else—and yet he couldn't shake the feeling that there was something—

That was when he saw it.

It was lying on the bottom shelf, neglected, dusty and almost completely covered by pairs of red and green socks. Lee picked it up and carefully brushed it off. The scarecrow's stuffed face smiled up at him and Lee found himself smiling back.

"Merry Christmas, buddy," he said softly. "I'm taking you home."

Lee noticed the little kid staring at him, shaking his head in disgust.

SMK SMK SMK SMK

"Philip, I don't care what you say, Detroit's going to win." Jamie sat on the sofa, his eyes glued to the game on the set.

"Well it doesn't look like they're winning now, does it wormbrain? Miami's going to take them from behind—just you wait. Hey Lee."

"Philip, don't call your brother a wormbrain." Amanda came into the family room, turkey baster in hand.

"Sorry Mom," Philip said. "But I'm telling you—this is Miami's game."

"In your dreams, maybe." Jamie said. "Detroit rules. Want to watch the game, Lee?"

"Yeah sure—in a minute," Lee said.

"You were taking so long that Mother and I were beginning to worry," Amanda told him. "The turkey's just about ready to serve. You got the right kind, didn't you? The kind that you just pour out of the jar?"

"Sure," Lee said—part of him wondering what his wife was talking about. "Where's Jenna? She was down here when I left."

Amanda's face clouded. "Well her legs were still hurting her so I gave her some more Tylenol and hot compresses and put her to bed. If she's still feeling like this in the morning we should take her to the doctor."

"Yeah, I agree." Lee's heart sank as he looked at the presents under the tree—the presents that Jenna had unwrapped but was still too sick to enjoy just yet. The weight of the bag he held in his hand reminded him of what he'd brought home. "Amanda –ahh—I'll be right back down, okay? There's just something I have to do."

Without waiting for an answer he went upstairs.

SMK SMK SMK SMK

Jenna was sleeping as Lee entered her bedroom. Her cheeks were still flushed, blond hair damp against her too-warm skin.

"Hey there." Lee took the stuffed scarecrow from the plastic bag and put it beside Jenna. "I got you this for you—hope he'll make you feel better." Jenna didn't open her eyes, but she did put one arm around the stuffed scarecrow, holding him close.

Bending down, Lee kissed his daughter's forehead.

"Merry Christmas, munchkin."

Lee turned around and saw his wife in the doorway, watching him.

"You're a wonderful father, Mr. Stetson," she said.

"Thanks," Lee said.

"But you did forget the gravy—didn't you?"

The End