Yes, Takumi, There is a Santa Claus

"Takumi, are you sure about this?"

"Relax, sis, I'll be fine," Takumi tried to reassure his sister over the phone.

Unable to spend the Christmas holiday with her brother this year, Mai couldn't help but feel somewhat guilt-ridden knowing that she'd be enjoying herself on the ski slopes with her boyfriend while Takumi would be stuck home alone.

"I wouldn't feel so bad if I knew that you'd at least be celebrating this time with Akira or some of your other friends," she bemoaned.

"You just focus on having fun during your trip with Yuichi and stop worrying so much about me."

"Oh, Takumi, why didn't you go with Akira when she invited you to spend the holiday with her family?"

"I was going to, but something came up at the hospital that I felt I just couldn't turn my back on. Don't worry, I'll probably join Akira and her family a day or two after Christmas. Besides, you know that she doesn't get to see her father that much as it is, what with her being away at school all the time. So she needs to spend some quality time together with him, and what better time to reunite with your family than at Christmas."

"My point exactly. Christmas is a time to be with one's family and friends and not to be spent cooped up in some hospital."

"Some of the children in that hospital don't even have families to spend Christmas with," he pointed out.

"Yes, I… I know," Mai somberly replied. "Oh, Takumi, you've done so much charitable work for that hospital already, so I really don't think they'll mind if you're not there for this one night."

"But I'd mind. Sis, please try and understand. I know personally what it's like for them; I've been there myself. At least I had Akira there to help see me through my experience, so I'd like to try and do the same for them. Children especially need a lot of extra guidance and moral support. In fact, there's this one nine year old boy that I'm particularly concerned about. He and his younger sister were admitted just the other day along with their mother when they were involved in an auto accident brought on by a drunk driver. The kids managed to escape with just a few minor injuries since they were sitting in the back seat and also wearing their seatbelts, but their mother wasn't quite as lucky. Even though her injuries aren't serious, she's been unresponsive and in a comatose state ever since being admitted."

"Oh, Takumi," she mournfully expressed, "that's so…"

"I know. But at least they managed to locate the children's father, who's currently somewhere in Chicago on a business trip. And last I heard he had been trying to catch a flight back to Japan, but his flight got cancelled due to the heavy snowfall they're currently experiencing. Anyway, needless to say, those kids are both extremely distraught right now, particularly Kenta, the young boy. They haven't even told his sister yet since she's only five years old, figuring it might be best to withhold the information about her mother's condition for the time being. But Kenta is very disillusioned and is extremely bitter toward everyone. It just breaks my heart. So you see I just can't leave them at a time like this, and least of all during Christmas. I mean, don't get me wrong, the nursing staff there is great, but there's no way even they can provide all of the needed attention that some of those kids require. Plus they need someone a little closer to their own age that they can relate to, sort of like a big brother figure. So I feel that I at least owe it to them to try and be that supportive figure, don't you think? I don't know, maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part, but if there's even the slightest possibility that I could get through to or have some kind of an effect on just one child I… Sis? You still there?"

Hearing a muffled sound through the receiver, as if someone had cupped their hand over the mouthpiece, Takumi thought for a second that he had heard a slight whimper emanating from Mai's end.

"Are… are okay, sis?"

After a brief pause, Mai finally managed to express, "Mom and dad would have been so proud of you, Takumi." Sniffling and then clearing her throat she continued, "I certainly couldn't be any prouder. You're a saint, Takumi."

"Sis," he humbly uttered.

"Alright, now don't forget," Mai added in a more composed manner, "I'm definitely going to be there next week to see the new year in with you. Just you wait, I'm going to throw the biggest New Year's Eve party you've ever seen."

"Of that I'm sure," Takumi chuckled, aware that his sister's parties always seemed to get bigger and more extravagant each year. "Well, say hello to Yuichi for me."

"I will. Merry Christmas, Takumi."

"Merry Christmas, sis."

After hanging up the phone, Mai once again wiped her eyes and turned to Yuichi who was standing beside her.

"I told you he wouldn't change his mind," Yuichi knowingly stated, taking Mai into his arms in a tender embrace.

"I know, I figured as much anyway. But as his sister I had to at least try."

"Well, he's lucky to have such a loving and caring sister."

"Aww, you're so sweet."

"Of course, I'm the one who's truly lucky," he passionately remarked, pulling Mai closer in to his body and delicately planting a loving kiss upon her lips.

"Mmmm, so you think you're going to get lucky tonight, huh?" Mai sensually teased. "Have you been a good boy this year?"

"I would say so," he said with conviction. "That's why I hope you'll forgive this one little transgression tonight if I happen to be… naughty."

"Ooo, Yuichi."


Ever since his heart operation, Takumi had made it a point to donate some of his free time by visiting the children's wing of the local area hospital, the same one that had cared for him prior to his operation. Knowing full well of the isolation and loneliness that children typically experience during their stay, Takumi was therefore determined to make their stay as pleasant as possible. Occasionally Akira would accompany him, but for the most part she chose to remain on the sidelines, preferring instead to help out in a different capacity. Takumi, of course, certainly didn't hold that against her and in fact was most grateful for all the monetary contributions that she and her father's company provided to the hospital, in addition to all the numerous other charities that they also supported. In fact, like clockwork for the past four years, this particular hospital was always assured of receiving, in addition to a rather generous financial donation, a large shipment of toys on Christmas Eve to distribute to all the children. Even though the donor chose to remain anonymous, Takumi knew full well who the mysterious benefactor was.

On this particular twenty-fourth of December late in the afternoon, the festive sounds of children singing could be heard emanating all throughout the halls on the third floor of the hospital.

"Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, you'll go down in history!" Takumi, with karaoke microphone in hand and along with several of the children, sang the popular holiday tune's closing refrain.

"Okay, somebody was a bit off key at the end," Takumi then began to joke. "Was it you, Ayumi-chan? No? Well, you certainly don't think it was me, now do you?"

The children were then quick to all nod in agreement while their visiting family members looked on in amusement.

"Oh, you guys are terrible. Okay, okay, I tell you what, I'll quit hogging the microphone and let someone else sing lead vocal."

"Yay!" they all began to cheer.

"Everyone's a critic," he sighed in jest. "Okay, I'll be right back; I just want to get some water."

"Takumi-san?" a short, dark-haired girl, around five years in age, came up to him.

"Oh, Emi-chan. You didn't think I sounded that bad, did you?" he asked in a light-hearted manner.

"Huh? Oh, ah, no, you were fine," she responded in a rather serious tone.

Crouching down beside her, Takumi concernedly asked, "Hey now, what's with the gloomy look? You look as though you've got the entire weight of the world resting on your shoulders. What seems to be the problem?"

"Well it's…" she hesitantly began, indicating over to a young boy in the far corner of the room sitting in a wheelchair and staring out the window. "Onii-chan."

"Oh," Takumi instantly recognized, being quite familiar with her brother's predicament.

"Every time I try talking to him he keeps telling me to go away and leave him alone," she downheartedly explained. "Why does he hate me? Did, did I do something wrong?" she desperately tried to comprehend, seeming quite forlorn.

"Oh, sweetie, no," Takumi attempted to console, "he doesn't hate you. He's just feeling very sad right now and doesn't like for anybody to see him when he's like this, that's all. It's got nothing to do with you."

"Re… really?" she sniffled.

"Why certainly."

"Is… is he sad because of mommy?"

"Yes, sweetie, he is."

"But the doctor said that she's just very tired after the accident and needs a lot of rest. But once she wakes up she'll be fine, right?"

"Uh," Takumi wavered, being careful in choosing his words. "Yes, that's right. 'When' she wakes up she should be fine."

"Maybe onii-chan doesn't know that."

"Believe me, he knows," Takumi uneasily replied, trailing off as he reiterated, "he knows."

Not wishing for her to continue dwelling on the weighty subject any further, Takumi then changed the topic of conversation by informing her, "Oh, I almost forgot to tell you. Remember how we said that your father's plane couldn't take off because of all the snow?"

"Yeah."

"Well, I just found out that his plane took off last night. So there's a very good chance that he might actually be here as early as this evening."

Immediately perking up upon hearing this news she excitedly exclaimed, "Daddy's coming here tonight? Really?"

"Well he's certainly going to try. And you know who else is coming tonight, don't you?"

"Santa-san?"

"That's right."

Reverting back to her previous disposition she confusingly stated, "But, onii-chan said that Santa-san won't be coming tonight because we're here in the hospital instead of at home."

Sighing in frustration over her brother's remarks, Takumi then attempted to explain, "Listen, Emi-chan, Kenta's very confused right now and may say things that he doesn't really mean. So don't let that discourage you. He's hurting inside really bad right now and really needs our support. So even though he may not act like he doesn't want you around, I need you to keep on being a good sister to him. Can you do that for me?"

"Uh huh," she timidly replied.

"Good girl. And don't worry, Santa-san won't forget you," he reassured her, "I can promise you that. Now I'm going to go have a talk with Kenta, so in the meantime why don't you go back and pick out a song that you like on the karaoke machine. After all, I haven't heard you sing yet."

"You mean you want me to sing in front of everybody?"

"Well, sure. Don't worry, once you get over the initial shyness you'll be fine."

"Will, will you sing it with me?"

"Oh, you mean a duet? Of course, I'd be honored."

"Alright, then I'll go and pick something out. But I'll make sure that it's something that doesn't have too many high notes. They really hurt my ears."

"Aw, Emi-chan, that was mean," Takumi pretended to take offense at.

Running up and giving him a hug she giggled, "Just kidding."

As he watched her then playfully run off, Takumi couldn't help but smile, touched by her enchanting childhood innocence. That pleasant moment, however, was short-lived when he spied Kenta over by the window.

With his left leg in a cast, which he had elevated in his wheelchair, Takumi approached the downtrodden little boy, glanced out the window at the newly fallen show and lightheartedly remarked, "I don't think this little bit of snow will deter Santa, do you? After all, he's been through blizzards far worse than this and still managed to complete his rounds."

"What do you want, Takumi?" Kenta coldly snapped, "Shouldn't you be over by the karaoke machine mangling another Christmas song?"

"Ouch," Takumi cringed. "Listen, I just wanted to talk to you about…"

"I don't feel like talking, alright? Why can't you guys just leave me alone?"

"Well it's kind of important. You see it's about your sister. She…"

"Emi?" Kenta reacted in a bit of a panic. "What happened, is she alright?"

"Relax, she's fine," Takumi assured him, yet was rather intrigued by his show of concern. "I just wanted to let you know that she's worried about you, that's all. And judging by your reaction, I'd say you were worried about her too," he smiled.

"Uh, no, it… it's not like that" he embarrassingly replied as he turned his head off to the side.

"If you say so. So tell me, why did you tell her that Santa wasn't coming this year?"

"Well, duh, isn't it obvious? With us stuck here in the hospital and our parents not here, how do you expect them to give us our presents? I mean, it's not like I told her that he doesn't exist. I… I just didn't want her to be disappointed, that's all," he awkwardly admitted.

"Oh, I see. So I take it then that you don't believe in Santa Claus?"

"Give me a break, of course not," Kenta pessimistically retorted. "I'm not a kid anymore you know. He's just a fairytale that parents tell their kids about when they're little. Emi-chan's still pretty young so I'm not going to spoil it for her. But at the same time I didn't want her to get her hopes up this year when she finds out that Santa didn't bring her anything. She probably would have been better off had my parents told her right off that he didn't exist."

"Oh you mustn't say things like that," Takumi cautioned.

"Are you kidding? Wait, don't tell me you actually believe that there is a Santa Claus?"

"Did someone mention my boss's name?" an all too familiar voice emanated from behind Takumi.

"Hey, who's the dork in the elf costume?" Kenta bluntly inquired.

"No way, it can't be," a stunned Takumi thought as he turned around and observed, "Akira!"

"Merry Christmas, Takumi," she wished him before greeting him with a warm, welcoming hug.

Sporting a green, sleeveless dress with scalloped edges, a faux fur collar and a wide black belt, Akira, much to the surprise of Takumi, was apparently able to put aside her dislike of cosplaying for this particular evening since she clearly went all out in selecting her outfit. She also seemed rather meticulous in her choice of accessories which included a pair of knee-high green and white stripped stockings, green curly-tipped shoes along with a matching hat, both of which were accented with red trim along the edges and topped off with small red pom-poms at the tips.

"Akira, wha… what are you doing here? I mean, why aren't you back home spending Christmas with your father?"

"Well now there's a stupid question. Did you really expect me to just leave you here to spend Christmas all by your…" Akira's explanation was cut short by the sudden outburst of laughter from Kenta. "Something funny, little boy," she seethed through gritted teeth.

"Yeah, hahaha, you are," Kenta mocked. "You look ridiculous. Hahahaha."

"Uh, Akira," Takumi anxiously then introduced, "this is Kenta, the young boy who I was telling you about."

"Charming," she sarcastically remarked.

"Kenta, this is Akira, my… my fiancée," Takumi announced with hesitation, unaccustomed to introducing her in such a manner.

"Fiancée? What, so does that mean you're going to marry an elf? Ahahahaha! Oh that's a good one."

"Why you little…" a now fuming Akira began clenching her fists.

"Akira," Takumi looked to dissuade her as he calmly shook his head. Then leaning closely over toward Kenta he confided in a whisper, "Actually, don't tell anyone I told you, but she's really a ninja."

"Yeah, right," he cynically said aloud. "What, so now you're going to try and tell me that Santa has ninja elves working for him? Look, would you just give it up already. I already know that there is no Santa Claus. And if he really existed then he wouldn't have taken our mom away from us!" he cried out in anguish.

"Kenta," Takumi dishearteningly replied.

"So why don't you just leave both me and my sister alone!"

As he angrily spun his wheelchair around in the opposite direction, Kenta was startled when he came face to face with the now tear-filled eyes of his sister.

"E… Emi."

"O… Onii-chan," she tearfully attempted to utter. "Why did you…"

Too distraught to continue, Emi then ran off to the other end of the room where she was immediately intercepted by one of the nurses.

"I'd better go and see if I can calm her down," Takumi somberly said to Akira.

After he departed, Akira looked in disgust at a most troubled Kenta and remarked, "Nice. You always this cheerful around her?"

"I… I didn't know she was there," he said in distress before recanting, "I didn't really mean it though, and I certainly didn't mean to make her cry!"

Sighing heavily, Akira then assured him, "Look, don't worry too much about it. Takumi's with her now and he's pretty good at cheering people up. Just make sure you apologize to her later… and to Takumi too."

"What? Why should I apologize to him? He's the one who started all of this in the first place, trying to convince me that Santa Claus really existed."

"Oh, so that explains why you're so miserable," she began to comprehend. "You stopped believing."

"Oh no, not you too," he said in disbelief while rolling his eyes.

Deciding not to engage him in any further arguments, Akira instead just quietly looked on at Takumi and felt somewhat relieved when she witnessed Emi giving him a hug.

"She'll be alright," Takumi announced as he came back over, "but she's still a little upset that you don't believe in Santa Claus, Kenta."

"Well what do you want me to do about it?" he proposed, "Lie to her and pretend like I do believe?"

"No, of course not. I just want you to try and be a bit more understanding of her feelings, that's all. And making her think that Santa took your mom away certainly didn't help."

"But I didn't really mean it like that!" he agonizingly tried to explain. "And I certainly didn't know that she had overheard me!"

"I know, I know," Takumi sympathized. "Look, Kenta, we realize that you're going through a lot right now."

"Yeah," Akira empathized, "and never really knowing for sure what's happening with your mother's condition can be extremely frustrating. Believe me, I can relate."

"I know it must seem to you like the whole world just caved in around you and completely betrayed you," Takumi added, "yet that's precisely the moment when you need to stand up and fight back. You mustn't allow despair to win out and overcome you. You just need to regain your confidence and have a little more faith in what lies ahead. Now I obviously can't make any promises to you in regards to your mother's condition; I'm afraid that's simply out of my hands. But the one thing you must never do is give up hope."

"I… I know. I mean, I'm trying not to," he struggled to get out, "but it's hard."

"You need to be strong," Akira stressed, "and not just for yourself but for Emi-chan. She really needs for her big brother to be there for her."

"That's right. And I know you'd never let her down. Right?"

"N… no, I'd never do that," he timidly replied before finally coming to a realization, prompting him to sternly declare, "That's right, I… I can't let Emi down. I have to protect her!"

"Now you're talking like a big brother," Akira was happy to hear, giving Kenta a supportive pat on the back.

"Pardon me, Takumi-san?" one of the nurses motioned for him to come over, apparently not wishing for Kenta to overhear their conversation.

"Yes, what is it?" he anxiously inquired as he approached. "Is it about Yukimura-san? Has her condition changed?"

"Uh, no, I'm afraid I haven't heard anything recently regarding her status," she regretfully informed him as Akira now joined them. "Actually, there's a gentleman outside dressed like Santa who says he's here to see the children. Do you know anything about this?"

"Why no, I…"

"I do," Akira chimed in. "I hired him to come over to hand out the presents to the children."

"You did?" Takumi was surprised to learn. "Oh, Akira, that was so thoughtful of you. The kids are going to be absolutely thrilled."

"They are indeed," the nurse concurred. "I'll go send him in."

"By the way," Akira questioned, "did the store deliver all the presents?"

"Why yes, as a matter of fact they arrived early this morning and are sitting behind the nurse's station right now."

"Excellent," Akira was pleased to hear. "Then go ahead and give our Santa those gifts and send him in here so he can hand them out."

"Oh, but you see this gentleman came in with his own…"

"HO, HO, HO, Merry Christmas, children!" a portly gentleman wearing a most elegant Santa costume loudly proclaimed in a rather deep register.

"Santa-san! Santa-san!" the children all excitedly shouted as they ran toward him.

Carrying a significantly large red velvet sack, the larger than life bearded figure immediately proceeded to dole out presents to all the eagerly awaiting children.

"Akira," Takumi expressed as he looked on in amazement, "where on earth did you find him? He looks so, so real."

"I know, right? When I was out shopping for the toys the other day I happened to run into the old guy in the store. I mean, he wasn't wearing the suit at the time, but when I saw the beard and his build I just couldn't get over the resemblance. So I told him what I had in mind and asked if he'd be willing to help me out, not for nothing of course, I offered to pay him handsomely for his trouble. And lucky for me, or should I say the children, he jumped at the opportunity."

"Aw, thank you, Akira, that's a wonderful thing you did. You've made those children so happy."

"Yeah, well," she modestly replied.

"Wow, the old guy looks pretty convincing in that getup," Kenta commented as he wheeled himself over.

"But… not convincing enough to win you over, huh?" Takumi surmised.

"Ah come on, let's not start that again," he implored. "Look, I'll go along with the ruse to keep Emi happy but that's it."

"Okay, okay, fair enough," Takumi conceded. "But you're really missing out. I just think it's a shame that you've completely lost faith in the magic of what Santa represents."

"What's faith got to do with it?" he questioned. "I already know what the truth is so believing in something that I know for a fact doesn't exist isn't going to change anything. It's just common sense."

"Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to," Takumi enlightened.

"Huh?"

"Just because you can't see something doesn't mean it doesn't exist. There, take a look over at all those children," Takumi pointed out. "What do you see?"

"Uh, a lot of happy kids smiling and laughing as they receive their presents."

"Okay, that's one way of looking at it. But do you know what I see? Innocence. Pure, unadulterated innocence. Just one of the many things you can't physically see along with hope, joy, kindness and love, yet all of which represent the true spirit of Santa Claus. You see, Kenta, the most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Those intangibles that I just mentioned: kindness, hope and love, are some of the most basic virtues that humanity needs to survive. Can you imagine what this world would be like without them? And yet, just look at what happens to them during this time of year. They bloom and they thrive ten times over. And why do you suppose that is? It's because it's at this time of year when the spirit of Santa truly comes alive; you can't help but to see it nearly everywhere you go. All the department store and corner Santas that you see, including this elderly gentleman here, who's to say who the real one is? It doesn't really matter though because all of them embody him in spirit, helping to spread those virtues to all mankind. That's why I say that this would be a dreary world indeed if there were no Santa Claus. But thankfully he lives, and he lives within each and every one of us. But only… if we believe."

Kenta now just stared blankly on at Takumi, utterly speechless, as his words gradually began to sink in. "I… I think I under…"

"Onii-chan, onii-chan!" Emi excitedly raced over to him, clutching a huge, stuffed cat-like figure. "Look at what Santa-san brought me!"

"Oh, it's Totoro," Kenta observed, referring to the classic mythical creature created by Hayao Miyazaki. "Wow, he's almost as big as you, Emi. Uh, listen, Emi, I'm really sorry about…"

"HO, HO, HO!" Santa suddenly announced as he approached Kenta. "I was getting a little worried there because I still had one extra present left over and no child to give it to. Here you go, Kenta."

"Uh, th… thank you, S... Santa-san," Kenta hesitantly replied as he received the gift and anxiously tore off the wrapping paper. "Whoa, these are those two awesome Nintendo DS games that I've seen some of my friends playing, only…"

"What's the matter, Kenta?" Takumi inquired.

"Well, it's just that I don't have the actual system to… You know what, it doesn't matter," he selflessly stated, looking up at Santa. "The important thing is that you made my sister happy, and that's good enough for me."

"Onii-chan."

"Thank you, Santa-san," Kenta gratefully avowed.

"Onii-chan!" an emotional Emi sobbed as she ran up to embrace her brother.

"Emi, I'm so sorry for what I said before; please don't hate me," he tearfully beseeched.

"Oh, onii-chan, I could never hate you."

"Emi."

"HO, HO, HO, Merry Christmas, Kenta, Merry Christmas, Emi!" Santa heartily wished before taking his leave of them.

"Oh, ah, Santa-san, wait up," Akira called, finally managing to catch up along with Takumi just as he had entered the hallway. "Here you go, as promised. Thanks for everything."

Receiving an envelope from her, Santa briefly glanced inside at a rather significant amount of cash before handing it back to her and affirming, "Thank you, but I could never accept this."

"Oh, but I insist. Really, it's okay. I…"

"Akira," Takumi interjected, smiling as he shook his head, fully appreciating where he was coming from.

"I tell you what," Santa suggested. "You take that money and put it toward whatever charity you see fit. I'm sure it'll go to a worthwhile cause, just as all of your other generous donations throughout the years have. Well, Merry Christmas, Akira, Merry Christmas, Takumi!"

"Merry Christmas, Santa!" the two cheerfully bid him.

"What a nice old man," Takumi remarked.

"Yeah," Akira said with a slight tone of suspicion in her voice as she pondered, "Only, how did he know that I had made other 'generous donations' in the past?"

Simply shrugging his shoulders, Takumi opined, "A reasonable assumption, I suppose."

"Hmmm. And you know there's something else that's been bothering me too."

"Oh yeah, what's that?"

"Those videogames and stuffed animal that Kenta and Emi received."

"Yeah, what about them?"

"I can't for the life of me ever remember buying either of those."

"Really? I'm sure you just forgot," Takumi reasoned. "After all, you did buy quite a few things and plus it was a couple of days ago."

"Yeah, I suppose."

Just as they were about to reenter the entertainment room, they spied a dark-haired, slender young man, about in his early thirties, carrying a briefcase and wandering the halls. Even though he seemed well-dressed, the elegant navy blue suit that he wore now appeared quite wrinkled. In addition to having his top collar button undone and his tie loosened, his hair also seemed a bit unkempt.

Appearing lost, Takumi then instinctively went up to him and offered, "Can I help you?"

"I certainly hope so," he helplessly expressed. "They told me that the children's entertainment room was supposed to be around here and… Wait, is this it here?" he suddenly realized, glancing through the glass of a nearby door.

"That would be it," Akira happily informed him.

"Huh, how do you like that, it was right under my nose the whole time. Sorry, I'm still a bit disoriented right now. I haven't exactly had much sleep for the past forty-eight hours, what with being stranded in an airport and then stuck on a plane for over twelve hours. And then I just spent the past hour talking with doctors about my wife's… Oh, I'm sorry, where are my manners, I haven't even introduced myself yet. My name is…"

"Yukimura-san," Takumi deduced.

"Uh… yeah, that's right. How did you…"

"Please, just come with us," Akira insisted as the two anxiously escorted the young man inside the room, properly introducing themselves along the way.

Quietly coming up behind Kenta's wheelchair, who was currently glancing through his games' instruction manuals, Takumi indicated to the others with a finger placed up against his lips before finally stepping out and appearing before Kenta.

"Hey there, wouldn't you rather be playing with the others instead of just hanging around here all by yourself?"

"Oh, hey, Takumi," a somewhat more upbeat Kenta greeted. "Yeah, I'm going to join them in a minute; I just wanted to look through these for a minute."

"That's fine. You know I promised Emi earlier that I'd sing a duet with her; maybe you'd like to join us. Besides, I'm sure your singing voice sounds a lot better than mine," he lightheartedly remarked with a smile.

"Uh, yeah," Kenta uneasily replied. "Listen, Takumi, I'm sorry for what I said earlier, you know, about… well, about everything really."

"Don't worry about it. Already forgotten."

"Thanks. You know I've been thinking a lot about what you said and… well maybe there really is something to it after all."

"You mean you're finally starting to believe?" Takumi was happy to hear.

"I… I don't know. A little, I guess."

"Hey, it's a start."

"Uh, by the way, Takumi, there's something I've been wanting to ask you."

"What is it?"

"It's about Akira. Earlier you said that she was a ninja. You weren't serious about that, were you?"

With a huge beaming grin, Takumi just looked at Kenta and posed, "What's the matter, don't you 'believe' me?"

Kenta's initial expression of amusement quickly turned to one of confusion, prompting him to quizzically ask, "Wait, so then does that mean she really is a…"

Maintaining his silence, Takumi just smiled and gave him a wink before finally suggesting, "You know what, how about if we start with something that you might be a little more inclined to believe."

Motioning for Kenta's father to now reveal himself, Takumi and Akira relished the expression on both father and son's faces as they reunited.

Crouching down before him, his father delighted in greeting, "Hello, Kenta."

"Dad!" an overjoyed Kenta cried, excitedly then throwing his arms around him. "You're here! You actually made it!"

"Oh, Kenta, you have no idea how happy I am to see you. I actually travelled through a blizzard just so I could be here with my family this Christmas."

"Dad."

"Oh my, look at your leg," he then worriedly expressed while observing his cast.

"It's nothing, really, just a fracture," he bravely asserted. It doesn't even hurt."

"Well that's good. Oh, I almost forgot," he then mentioned, reaching inside of his briefcase. "Sorry that I didn't have a chance to get it wrapped but… here you go. Merry Christmas, Kenta."

Glowing with elation at the gift he now preciously clutched in his hands, he excitedly exclaimed, "It's a Nintendo DS! Oh wow, this is… Thanks dad, you're the best!"

"Aw, you're welcome. Now I wasn't sure what kind of games you liked so I figured we go shopping together after Christmas to pick some out. Sound good?"

"You bet! Oh but you know what?" Kenta suddenly realized, "Santa-san actually already brought me two games for… Wait a minute."

"Santa-san?" his father said with a puzzled look.

Attempting to rationalize, Kenta began, "So does that mean he knew all along that you'd be bringing me…" Trailing off, he then looked to Takumi who simply shrugged his shoulders while continuing to smile down upon him. While momentarily pondering the possibility, he then abruptly changed over to a more somber tone as he asked, "Say, dad? Have you… visited mom yet?"

"Um, well actually," he uncomfortably began to explain before unexpectedly being interrupted by a young girl's blissful cries.

"Daddy! Daddy!" Emi came racing into his arms.

"Emi!" he happily cried, proceeding then to embrace the young girl and pick her up off her feet. "Oh, my little angel, I've missed you so much!"

"I missed you too, daddy," Emi expressed while wiping a tear from her eye. "Wait till I show you what Santa-san brought me."

"Santa-san was here?" he once again curiously questioned as he then set Emi back down.

"That's right," Takumi verified. Then turning to Akira he cunningly requested, "Um, Akira? Why don't we show Yukimura-san what Santa brought for Emi-chan. Do you mind?"

"It'd be my pleasure. Be right back."

Before any of them even had a chance to blink, Akira had returned with the huge Totoro plushie, which seemed to magically appear in front of Emi and her father. And while Emi delighted in being reunited with the huge cat-like creature, Kenta and his father just looked on in complete bewilderment.

Now standing alongside Kenta, Akira looked to him with a somewhat serious expression and remarked, "Hopefully that clears up any doubts that you may have had."

"Uhh…" Kenta attempted to utter with his mouth agape.

"You know you really should learn to trust people more when they tell you something. Oh, I forgot something. Be right back."

Once again vanishing before his eyes, only then to reappear in what seemed like merely a split second, Akira had used that brief moment to retrieve a large red ribbon that she had spied earlier and tied it in a neat bow around Totoro's neck.

"There," she satisfactorily stated to Kenta. "That looks much more festive, don't you think?"

"Tha… That was amazing!" Kenta shouted with exhilaration. "I can't believe it!"

"Ah, what was that?" Akira scolded.

"Uh, heh heh, I mean… I guess I do believe it."

"That's better."

"Um, Akira?" Takumi concernedly started to point out, "You do realize what you've started."

Indicating over to several mesmerized children who had witnessed her recent feat and were now anxiously making their way over toward her, Akira simply shrugged her shoulders and nonchalantly expressed, "Meh, it's Christmas. Better give 'em what they want. Don't want to disappoint them."

"That was so cool! Can you do that again?" numerous children's voices came all at once as they began clamoring around Akira. "Are you really a ninja elf?"

"A ninja elf," Yukimura uttered in disbelief. "Now I've seen everything. I must be delirious. It's gotta be the jet lag."

"Excuse me, children," a doctor attempted to make his way through the crowd. "Yukimura-san?"

"Uh, yes, doctor?"

"Would you please come with me," he seriously requested. "It's about your wife."

"Mom?" Kenta expressed with concern.

"Mommy?" a frightened Emi huddled up alongside her father.

Placing a hand upon each of his children's shoulders, their father hesitantly asked, "Wha… what happened, what's wrong?"

"You see the thing is… she's requesting to see her family."

"Re… requesting? You mean she's awake?"

"And quite talkative, I might add," the doctor happily informed him.

Overcome with emotion, Yukimura elatedly hugged both his children, tears now overflowing from his eyes.

"Come on, I'll take you to her," the doctor cheerfully offered.

"Thank you. Come on kids."

Following closely behind the doctor as he held Emi by the hand, Yukimura turned around when he observed that Kenta had fallen behind.

"Kenta? What's wrong?"

Glancing over at Takumi, who had then begun helping Akira set up for her little performance, Kenta thought for a moment and then requested of his father, "Give me a minute, dad, there's something I need to do."

"Oh, ah, okay."

As he proceeded to wheel himself over, a rather surprised Takumi then crouched down beside him and curiously asked, "Kenta? What are you still doing here? Don't you want to see your mother?"

Unable to respond, Kenta just looked sadly on at Takumi as tears began welling up within him.

"Kenta?"

Without warning, Kenta threw his arms around Takumi and tearfully conveyed, "You… you were right. You were right all along. Thank you, Takumi."

"Aw, you're welcome. Glad I was able to help."

"I promise," Kenta then seriously stated while looking Takumi straight in the eyes, "I promise I'll never stop believing."

Bringing a huge smile to his face, a relieved Takumi proudly proclaimed, "That's the spirit."

Turning then to Akira, Kenta remorsefully expressed, "Sorry I made fun of you earlier."

"Yeah, well…" Akira uncomfortably retorted.

"I mean, you're actually a pretty cool ninja elf."

"Huh? No, wait, I'm not really a…"

Unexpectedly giving her a quick hug, Kenta then began to blush as he glanced into her eyes and bashfully confessed, "You're also one of the prettiest ninja elves I've ever seen."

"Uh…" a now speechless Akira uttered.

"W… well, gotta go," a now ill at ease Kenta announced as he swiftly began wheeling himself back over toward his father and sister.

"But I'm not a ninja elf!" Akira finally managed to declare.

"I don't know, Akira," Takumi attempted to articulate with a straight face, "he's got a pretty strong belief system there, so I'm inclined to believe him."

"Oh fine," she said rolling her eyes.

Proceeding to place his hands upon her waist, Takumi then added, "But there's certainly one thing I can't argue with him about."

"Oh yeah? What's that?"

"You're certainly the prettiest..."

"Takumi."

"…my little ninja elf."

"You know," Akira sensually began to suggest as she gradually inched her way closer toward Takumi and proceeded to run her hand along his chest, "if there weren't any children present I'd…"

"Oh, um, pardon me, Takumi-san?" one of the nurses from earlier suddenly approached.

Immediately taking a step back from Akira, Takumi embarrassingly responded, "Uh, yes?"

"Sorry to interrupt, but I was just wondering if you wanted us to pass out the presents now or after the children have had their dinner?"

"Well I suppose after dinner would be… wait, what are you talking about? We've already handed out the presents."

"Oh I'm not talking about the ones that the elderly gentleman Akira-san hired brought in with him; I'm talking about the ones that were delivered this morning."

Looking to Akira with a baffled expression on his face, a rather perplexed Takumi corroborated with the nurse, "Wait, he brought his own gifts in with him?"

"That's correct. Uh, didn't you know?"

"Uhh…"

"Um, after dinner would be fine," Akira impulsively informed the nurse.

"Uh, yes, ma'am. Thank you. Oh, there's one more thing," she recalled, retrieving a thin letter-sized package that she had placed beneath the clipboard which she carried. Handing it to Takumi she said, "Just before he left, the elderly gentleman asked me to give this to you."

"To me?" Takumi was surprised to hear, finally coming out of his stupor.

"Yes, sir," she confirmed.

"Uh, thank you."

As the nurse departed, Akira was able to conclude, "Well that at least explains why I didn't recognize any of those presents. So, what'd the old man give you?"

Carefully undoing a singular red ribbon, Takumi then slowly removed the top of the box and folded back a thin layer of tissue paper.

"Huh, it's a picture frame," Akira observed, "and a pretty nice one at that."

Admiring the intricate detailing of the wooden frame, Takumi then noted, "Wait, this looks like a newspaper article inside the frame, and a pretty old one at that."

"That's weird; I wonder why he would give you something like that. Are you sure it's just not the paper that the frame manufacturers stick in there for display purposes?"

"No. In fact, I don't think this is even a store bought frame. It's handmade."

"Wow. So what's the article about?"

Putting his knowledge of the English language to the test, Takumi carefully looked over the tiny newsprint and observed, "It appears to be a clipping from an old New York newspaper called The Sun and it's dated September 21st, 1897. Hmmm, I think this is from an editorial column. Let's see, it says, "Dear editor: I am eight years old. Some of my little friends say that there is no Santa Cla…"

"Takumi?"

Briefly then scanning the rest of the article to himself, Takumi stated, "Akira, I've heard about this letter. It's pretty well-known in America. It's from a little girl who writes a letter to the editor asking him to verify if there really is a Santa Claus. And this article is his response to her letter. It's called, "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus."

"Say, I think I do remember hearing something about that," Akira recalled. "Anyway, it was pretty nice of the old guy to give you that. Seems pretty appropriate too considering how you also managed to make a believer out of a child, just like that editor fellow."

"Yeah but… he was passing out presents to the other children when I had my little talk with Kenta. And then when Santa did come around to him, he really didn't have a reason to suspect that Kenta had any doubts about his existence."

"Maybe Emi mentioned something to him."

"Hey, that's right. Yeah, that has to be it," Takumi said with relief, seeming satisfied with that assumption, yet still wondered, "Still, was it just a coincidence that he happened to have this framed article with him?"

"Hey, there's something else on the back of this thing," Akira discovered upon turning the frame around. "It's a small brass plate with something engraved on it."

"Uh, engraved?" Takumi said sounding a bit troubled.

"Yeah. Here, I'll read it; at least it's in kanji. "Takumi, thank you for helping to open the eyes of an impressionable young child and for helping me keep the spirit of Christmas alive all throughout the year." Uh, then it's simply initialed… S.C."

Looking completely flabbergasted at each other, Takumi stammered as he tried to reason, "A… Akira? Th… there has to be a logical explanation for this."

"Yeah?" she apprehensively began to speculate, "Like maybe the guy carries an engraving tool around with him wherever he goes?"

"Or maybe, he's really…"

Now just staring wide-eyed at one another, the two remained speechless as Akira then slowly handed back the framed article to Takumi, who then took another cursory look at both sides of the frame.

Still reaching only one possible conclusion in his mind, a newly enlightened, yet somewhat on edge, Takumi finally uttered, "M… Merry Christmas, Akira."

"Merry Christmas… Takumi."


Author's Note: I've been working effortlessly this past week on this special story just so I could bring it to you in time for Christmas. I took great pride in writing it and it's just my way of saying thank you to all of my loyal readers for your dedication and support through all the years that I've been on this site. I should also mention that I quoted a line from the classic 1947 film "Miracle on 34th Street" when Takumi says, "Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to." Also quoted was a line from the response to the above mentioned "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" letter when Takumi states, "The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see." And clearly both the film as well as that famous letter served as my inspiration. So I hope you receive as much enjoyment out of reading it as I did while writing it. And may it bring a smile to the child that is inside each and every one of us. Merry Christmas!

Kurt