Bob glared while his mother gave him a reassuring smile. “Bobby,” she said, “don’t worry. Just put the cookies there and Santa will find them.”
“I don’t want to. Not yet.” Bob clutched the plate close to his chest. A small bit of frosting stuck to his fire truck pajamas.
His mother laughed. “Why not?”
“Brian said as soon as I go to bed he’s gonna eat up all the cookies I left for Santa and then I won’t get any presents and he’ll get to keep all of mine!” Bob’s little eyebrows furrowed a glare over his mother’s shoulder where Brian stood, sticking his tongue out at him from the kitchen.
Bob’s mother gently pulled the plate of cookies from his hands. “Bobby, that isn’t going to happen. In fact,” she said, turning to look at Brian, “I think Brian is going to bed early tonight just to make sure these cookies stay safe.”
“Mom!” Brian yelled. He held a glass of milk in his hand. On the table behind him sat his own plate of cookies. Bob took a quick count.
“He’s cheating, Mom!” Bob shouted, pointing a finger. “You said we can only give Santa four cookies and Brian has six on his plate!”
“Santa can eat whatever you kids leave out,” his father said from the couch. “Don’t you worry about leaving too many cookies.”
“But then Brian’s gonna get more presents!” Bob squealed. His brother mocked his statement from the kitchen.
“That’s it, Brian. To bed.” Their mother pointed up the stairs. Brian saw his plate on the table and held his tongue. He set the milk down next to his offering and sulked up the steps. Bob’s mother looked him in the eye. “Bobby, Santa isn’t going to give Brian more presents than you, okay?”
“How do you know?” asked Bob.
“Because your brother has been a little shit since 4th of July,” said his father. The channels on the TV set changed over and over.
Bob laughed. It was innocent and genuine and made his mother laugh too. His mother raised her eyebrows in silent question. Bob nodded and hugged her and left her with the plate. He headed upstairs to join his brother. “Night, Dad,” he said.
“Sleep good, boy,” his father replied.
Bob rounded the corner to his room as his father stood up from the couch. As he closed his door he overheard a final statement from his father. “Santa gets ten cookies this year?” he asked. “Finally, Santa is starting to pay off!”