I lay absolutely still, my eyes pinched shut tight, while she crept into my room. She came closer, closer, daring me to be awake. My heart pounded a frantic rhythm. I was prey. One arm was under my pillow, and my head rested on that arm. This is the way I always slept, so she could never know. I could hear her breathing as she crept closer in the night. What would become of me if she discovered I was alive? Would she eat me? Take another? I held my breath and feigned sleep even harder, as if that were possible.
Then I felt the hand reach under my pillow, sliding coldly, silently in, silently out. And the presence left. I could hear the sweep of her faerie wings as she exited out my bedroom door.
I breathed again, once I was sure it was safe. Eventually I fell asleep.
In the morning there were 4 whole quarters under my pillow and the tooth, secured inside and envelope under my pillow, was gone.
“I fooled the tooth fairy!” I told Brett the next morning. My chest puffed while the bus hauled us to school. “She thought I was asleep the whole time, and she left me a dollar! I saw her!”
He rolled his eyes. “You still believe in the tooth fairy?” he said.
Brett was one of those guys from picture books–the ones in the white tabard with a red cross. The knight who corrected errors, and killing the hopes and dreams of those who believed differently. An nine year old crusader for truth and justice. Only he was the shortest guy in our class. Shorter than some of the first graders.
“Well, yeah,” I said, scornfully. “Who else would take teeth out from under our pillow? She wore a night gown”
“Duh. Your mom?” He said, with equal scorn. His forefinger circled his ear three times and he stuck his tongue out, the universal symbol someone belonged in the looney bin. The bus stopped to pick up Luke.
“Hey Luke! Brian still believes in the Tooth Fairy!” Brett shared with the skinny kid before he was even seated.
“Really?” Said Luke “Cool. And do you believe in Santa Claus, too?” Luke didn’t care. To Luke, everything was kind of cool.
“Of course I do! Who else brings me presents on Christmas eve?”
Brett had an answer ready. “Maybe the tooth fairy?”
“How could it be my mom?” I demanded. “It couldn’t be her. She wouldn’t lie to me.” Could she?
“You’re a dummy,” said Brett. Luke didn’t say anything. He was good that way. Maybe he was even still a believer.
Somehow I made it through the rest of the school day. I knew that, at any point, I could be laughed at. I liked little kids. They were nicer. My sister understood about Santa, and Tarra would understand how it made my heart warm when Rudolf soared over everyone’s house, when Saint Nick delivered presents to all the good little boys and girls.
On the bus later, Brett started a chant. “Brian believes in San-ta!”
After a few seconds of this, I shouted, “Fine! I don’t believe in Santa! But I believe in the elves.”
“Elves? Elves?” Brett demanded, dripping with derision.
Even the kids who might have been on my side, laughed at me after that.
I cried all the way up the long steep driveway home.
I barely made it inside our house before I confronted my mother. “Was it you? Santa, and the tooth fairy, and all the rest?”
“Oh, Brian,” she sighed.
She brought me into my room, and sat with me on my bed, the one where the tooth fairy had been just the night before, and told me she had been tricking me for all the years of my life.
Santa, she told me, wasn’t real. He was a real person, a good person, but he lived hundreds of years ago. And it’s tradition. “But don’t tell Lori,” she said. “She’s too little to understand.”
“What about God? And Jesus? I can’t see them but we believe in them, right?”
She sighed again. I think made her do that a lot. “Of course we believe in God. He is real. And Jesus is risen, the way the Bible said.”
“Okay,” I said. I could feel my lower lip quivering.
Of course, I immediately went to find Lori and tell her the news. I didn’t want her to go to Pistol River School, and have her friends laugh at her, the way they made fun of me.
She nodded thoughtfully, sucking her fingertip like a lollipop, and said “Okay.” She was a smarter person than me.
I wasn’t angry or sad to lose Santa. Well, maybe a little. I knew I would keep getting presents. And Granny and Grandpa would come every year, and fill stockings. But I felt small. Very small. Why am I always being tricked? And Brett was right. He had every reason to be right. He had a good family, and his mom knew everything about God, and everything. But why are the people who are right always so mean about it?
If Brett could have killed me right there with his words, he would have. Maybe, he even did, just a little.