Bobby Belden scowled into his mug of hot chocolate. Not even the whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and fluffy white marshmallow toppings could erase his disappointment.

Well, at least not entirely.

“But--” he began, only to be interrupted by his mother.

“Bobby, darling, you know that it's already past your bedtime.”

He nodded glumly, staring at the red and white checked tablecloth covering the kitchen table.

“And you did spend the day with Larry and Terry building snowmen and tobogganing.”

Bobby's shoulders slumped.

“And Trixie baked cookies with you before supper.”

Bobby swallowed, thinking about the reindeer-shaped cookies with lavender and orange icing, and how his sister had let him glob on the icing any way he wanted. And how she hadn't been angry with him, even when he managed to fling purple icing in her hair.


Helen Belden knelt beside her youngest son's chair. “Bobby, the Bob-Whites are counting on you.”

“They are?” Bobby asked, his bottom lip beginning to tremble.

“Of course we are!” Trixie said brightly, bouncing into the cheery kitchen. “Who's going to watch for Santa Claus while we're at the clubhouse?” Gently lifting the sulky little boy onto her lap while her mother returned to tidying the kitchen, Trixie continued. “We wouldn't want Santa to miss our house because no one was watching for him, would we?”

“Moms and Daddy can watch for him,” Bobby protested.

Trixie shook her head. “Grown-ups don't work,” she explained. “It has to be a kid watching for Santa.”

Bobby stared at her, a doubtful expression on his face as he tried to decide if she were telling the truth. His brothers were easier to read. Brian always told the truth. One word from his serious oldest brother, and Bobby always knew he could trust what he was hearing. Mart was a little trickier. It was usually safest to assume that he wasn't telling the truth. Sometimes a little truth sneaked into his stories, but it seemed to Bobby that this generally fell under the category that Bobby himself used: “accidentally on purpose”.

Bobby scowled and reached for a cookie to dip in his hot chocolate. After dunking it, he carefully scooped some of the whipped cream onto the cookie, and watched as the dark liquid of the hot chocolate seeped through the sugar cookie. A single drop rolled off the end of the cookie and landed with a plop on his race car pyjama pants.

“I bet Mart brings home some of Di's fudge,” Trixie whispered as she wiped at the stain with a napkin.

Bobby brightened. “You think he'll save some for me?” he asked, thinking of his brother's famous appetite.

“I'll make sure he does,” Trixie promised, squeezing his arm. “Now,” she continued. “Can I count on you?”

Bobby chewed his bottom lip. His sister might play fast and loose with the truth, but she always kept her promises. “Okay,” he sighed.

“And when I get back,” Trixie continued, “I'll come and check on you, so that you can tell me all about watching for Santa Claus.”

“What if I don't see him?” Bobby wondered. “Will he skip Crabapple Farm?” Visions of Santa giving their gifts to other children filled his head.

Trixie shook her head gravely. “It's enough that you watch for him, Bobby. Most people don't actually see him.”

Stuffing the rest of the cookie in his mouth, he nodded. Despite his disappointment at “the big kids” leaving him on Christmas Eve, he couldn't help but feel a twinge of excitement. “Tomorrow really is Christmas, isn't it?” Bobby squirmed on Trixie's lap, suddenly impatient to begin his important duty.

Trixie's bright blue eyes sparkled. “It sure is, Bobby!” She poked his ribs, tickling him gently. “And if you brush your teeth quickly, I'll have time to read The Night Before Christmas to you before you go to bed.”

Bobby scampered out of the kitchen, narrowly avoiding a collision with his brothers. Brian scooped him up in his arms and held him high while Mart tickled his feet.

“What's the hurry?” Brian asked, a wide smile on his face.

“Stop it!” Bobby howled though his giggles, kicking at Mart. A startled bark of laughter escaped the eldest Belden sibling as Bobby's slippered foot connected with Mart's stomach.

With an exaggerated oomph, Mart slid to the floor while Brian released the little boy. Bobby tried to scoot past his brother. “Where's the fire?” Mart demanded, reaching out to snag Bobby around the waist.

“No fire,” Bobby told him, struggling. “I have to get upstairs so I can watch for Santa. On account of Moms and Daddy are too old, and you guys are at the clubhouse.” He wrenched himself free and clambered up the steps. “Trixie said so!” he called over his shoulder, missing the confused expressions on his brothers' faces.

Bobby barrelled into his bedroom, closing the door on the animated conversation he could hear taking place in the kitchen downstairs. Inch by inch, he pushed the antique rocking chair closer to the window, panting as he strained against the solid, heavy wood. With a final grunt, he manoeuvred the chair directly under the low window. Seconds later, he was kneeling on the thin home-made cushion of the rocker, straining to look out the window.

“Not on your knees, Bobby.” His sister's voice surprised him, causing Bobby to jump and the chair to rock. He reluctantly tucked his legs underneath him and continued to peer into the dark night.

Trixie tucked a blanket around his shoulders, and then settled herself on Bobby's bed. “Would you still like me to read to you?” she asked.

Bobby nodded, his eyes never leaving the window. Trixie read while Bobby rocked, the monotonous motion soothing him and quieting his excitement. By the time the poem was finished, Bobby was completely relaxed.

“I'll see you in a few hours,” Trixie promised in a soft voice, ruffling his curls.

Bobby stifled a yawn and nodded. “Don't forget the fudge,” he reminded her without turning his head.

As he heard his bedroom door close, he settled in to wait. For the first ten minutes, he stared into the dark yard, trying to make out the shape of the garage, chicken coop, and other assorted outbuildings on Crabapple Farm. The porch light off the kitchen cast a soft glow over a small circle of the yard, but it left most of the area in darkness.

When he tired of trying to make out Reddy's dog house, Bobby turned his attention to the sky. It was with great satisfaction that he spotted the The Big Digger. During astronomy lessons, Mart had tried to convince him that it was supposed to be called the The Big Dipper, but since it was clearly a pail like he used when digging at the beach, Bobby refused to believe it. He felt his eyes start to droop, and blinking became a drawn-out process, but Bobby gamely forced himself to pay attention. If he could just stay awake, he knew that he would see Santa Claus. The only reason the other kids hadn't was because they fell asleep, and he certainly wasn't going to fall asleep. No siree. No siree Bob. Bobby snickered at the clever use of his name. No, he was wide awake, and he was going to stay that way until Santa made a visit to Crabapple Farm.

Some time later Bobby felt his head jerk, and his eyes flew open. His momentary horror at having fallen asleep disappeared as he caught a faint sound. He rubbed his eyes, as though it would help him to hear more clearly. The quiet musical tinkling grew louder with each passing moment. Bobby pressed his nose against the window, ignoring the cold.

He blinked rapidly when the source of the sound came into view. As a horse drawn sleigh skirted the edge of the Belden property, Bobby's jaw went slack. He caught a tantalizing glimpse of horses, a sleigh full of something (he couldn't tell what), and, wonder of wonders, a man in a red suit.

A red suit!

Bobby jumped up from the chair so quickly that he tumbled to the floor, landing on his backside. He scrambled back to his perch, only to see the sleigh disappear into the preserve.

Eyes wide, Bobby realized that he had actually seen Santa Claus. A delighted grin covered his face, and he squirmed in the chair, doing his version of a victory dance. Christmas was safe! He had seen Santa!

A horrible thought occurred to him, and he sagged back onto the thin cushion covering the seat of the wooden rocking chair. Had Santa seen him? Bobby's stomach clenched. What if Santa didn't know he'd been watching? Trixie hadn't really explained how the whole process worked. Maybe he should check with Santa. Make sure that he hadn't forgotten Crabapple Farm.

Bobby nodded to himself as he hastily pulled on a pair of socks. Surely Santa hadn't gone very far yet. If he could just catch up to him... Cautiously, he edged his way through the bedroom door and out into the hallway. He could hear the stereo playing downstairs, and knew that his parents were in the den. Most likely with the door closed. And locked. Bobby thanked his good fortune, and the fact that his parents seemed to spend an awful lot of “private” time together when the older kids were out of the house. Bobby didn't see how it could be private time if they were together, but tonight, he was grateful for the privacy afforded him.

He held his breath as he tip-toed down the stairs and straight through the kitchen to the back door. He hastily thrust his feet into his warmest winter boots, threw on a jacket, and loaded up with mittens, a scarf, and a toque. With quiet stealth that would have shocked his mother, he slipped through the back door and closed it noiselessly behind him.

Bobby barely felt the cold air as he scurried across the yard. Within seconds, he was outside the protective circle of light from the yard light and thrust into the deep darkness of a winter night. He swallowed hard as he stepped into the preserve on the path Santa's sleigh had followed. He stumbled the first five feet along the path, then froze when he heard the mournful call of an animal. Heart pounding, he waited. When the call repeated, Bobby realized that it was the hoot of an owl, thanks to his wildlife lessons with Jim. The delay had also given his eyes time to adjust to the darkness, and he saw that the moon and stars were shining brightly, and illuminating the path in front of him.

He took a deep breath and continued into the preserve, his pace quickening as he thought about the man dressed in red in the sleigh. If he could just catch up... For what felt like miles, Bobby trudged along the snow-covered path. His breath grew shorter and his chubby legs slowed. It was becoming a struggle simply to place one leg in front of the other. When he spotted a fallen tree just to the side of the path, Bobby sank down on it gratefully. Without the physical exertion of walking, though, he felt the cold more acutely. The wind seemed to whip straight through his down-filled jacket, and his feet were painfully cold. A single fat tear rolled down his cheek, chilling him even further.

His body sagged in defeat. There was no way to catch up with Santa. He was probably miles away, delivering toys to other children. He dashed away another tear before it could freeze to his face. He knew that he should probably go home. But Crabapple Farm seemed so far away, and it was so cold. Surely it would be okay if he rested a while before the long trip back. It wasn't as if he were going to fall asleep, or anything. Jim had told him that falling asleep in the cold was very dangerous, so he for sure wasn't going to do that. But it couldn't hurt to close his eyes for just a few seconds. Just until he was rested enough to walk home.

For the second time in one evening, Bobby was awakened by the sound of jingling sleigh bells. He sat up, confused about why his body was stiff and cold. By the time he remembered where he was, and why, the jingling had grown closer. He sucked in a breath when the sleigh he had seen from his bedroom window came into view, not twenty feet away.

“Santa!” he breathed.

Almost simultaneously, the driver of the sleigh spotted him. “Whoa!” he called, and the horses obediently halted.

Bobby stood stock-still as the figure in red dropped the reins and jumped down from his seat in the sleigh.

“Santa?” Bobby asked, his eyes wide and his voice small.

“Bobby?” Santa ran towards him. “What are you doing out here at this time of night?” he demanded. “Are you okay?”

Bobby's teeth began to chatter. “I'm c-c-cold. And I m-m-might be l-l-lost.”

Santa scooped him up in his arms, deposited him in the sleigh, and hastily wrapped several blankets around him. From a leather pouch he retrieved a Thermos and poured a mug of hot chocolate.

“Your mom is going to kill me,” he muttered as Bobby's hands shook and he spilled hot chocolate on his snow pants.

Bobby shook his head. “I already spilled hot chocolate on my pyjama pants and she didn't get upset,” he told him. “And Moms would never get mad at you, Santa.”

The older figure started at Bobby's matter-of-fact statement. He fingered his white beard. “Er, Bobby...”

“You know my name!” Bobby realized. “Cool! Can we go for a ride now?” Without waiting for an answer, Bobby settled himself beside the driver of the sleigh and picked up a reign. “I can help, you know. Regan is teaching me to ride.”

The figure in red covered a cough. “Sure, Bobby. We can take a ride all the way back to Crabapple Farm.” He paused. “Does anyone know that you're not in bed?”

Bobby shot him a glance as if to say, “Would anyone actually give me permission to be out by myself at this time of night?”

“Right.” Santa nodded and made a clicking sound with his tongue. The horses started forward on the snowy path.

“You sound just like Regan!” Bobby exclaimed. “Do you know him? Did you already bring presents to him? He has an apartment over the Wheeler's garage. Did you know that?” Gripping Santa's arm, he continued his barrage. “You didn't forget Regan, did you? He's been real good. He taught me how to ride, even after I accidentally tied knots in all the reins.” Bobby glanced behind him at the empty sleigh. “Hey! Did you deliver all the presents already? I don't see any gifts. Have you been to Crabapple Farm? What did you bring me? Did you see me watching from the window? Trixie said that someone had to stay home and watch for you while the Bob-Whites were having their Christmas party at the clubhouse, and Moms and Daddy are both too old. But I'm not. So I stayed home and watched. And I saw you! Did you see me? Does that mean you already delivered the presents? I didn't see you stop at the house. Of course, I was kinda asleep when I saw you at home, but it still counts, right? You knew that I was watching, and you brought the presents, didn't you?”

When Bobby stopped to breathe, he heard a queer choking sound. “Are you okay, Santa? Do you want to come to my place for milk and cookies? Trixie and I made really good cookies. Reindeer cookies. They're lavender and orange. Hey! Why don't you have reindeer? These look like regular horses. In fact, they look an awful lot like Honey's horses. She has a horse named Lady that looks just like that one. And that other could be Susie. Trixie kind of owns Susie, but really Miss Trask does, sort of. And that one looks like Strawberry! Wow! The Wheelers have the best horses ever, and you have horses just like them! That's so cool! Are you coming in for cookies?”

Santa stared at the little boy, having lost the thread of the conversation some ways back. “Um... what?”

“Aren't you supposed to say, 'Ho, ho, ho?' Although I don't get it. It's not like you're gardening. Why would you need a hoe? Maybe you should say, “sleigh bell, sleigh bell, sleigh bell'. That would make more sense, right?”

“Okay...” Santa said slowly.

“Hey! Are you lost? These paths can be kind of tricky. I once got lost looking for a kitty in the preserve. Only, it wasn't a kitty. It was a catamount. And I lost a shoe. But Trixie found me, so everything was okay. Only I never did get a kitty. Hey! Did you bring me a kitty for Christmas?”

Santa was starting to sweat.

“Are we there yet?” Bobby demanded. “Not that I'm in a hurry. Maybe I could help you deliver some presents! Have you gone to the Lynches' yet?” He looked around for a sack of toys. “You can show me what you got Larry and Terry. Promise I won't tell,” he wheedled.

Santa glanced nervously over his shoulder at the empty passenger/cargo area. “Sorry, Bobby. All the presents have been delivered.”

“Oh.” Bobby was clearly disappointed. “Well, how about you take me back to the North Pole with you? I mean, you can fly really fast, right? So you could show me around and bring me back before morning! No one would know!”

Santa cleared his throat. “It's a pretty long trip, Bobby, and the horses, er, reindeer, are tired.”

“They don't look tired,” Bobby protested. “See? Even Lady wants to keep going.”

It was true. The horses that had pulled the Bob-Whites, and now Bobby, on a Christmas Eve sleigh ride were enjoying the exercise.

“And you don't have to worry about getting lost,” Bobby continued. “All you have to do is aim for the North Star. It's really bright, and you can always find it by following the path of the bucket part of the Big Digger. If you ever get lost at night, all you have to do is look at the stars to figure out which way is north.” He flushed, thinking of how Santa had found him lost in the preserve. “I mean, it can be kind of tricky when you're in trees, but we'd be in the sky, right? It would be really easy to find the North Star and follow it.” He looked up at Santa, his big blue eyes pleading. “Please?”

“I don't know, Bobby. We should probably get you home,” Santa said, his eyes straining to catch a glimpse of Crabapple Farm through the trees.

Bobby slouched in his seat. Santa eyed him uneasily for several minutes before asking, “Problems?”

“The Bob-Whites get to do everything,” he complained. “They're always leaving me behind to do something fun. For once, I want to do something special.” He squirmed under the thick blanket. “They'll never believe me when I tell them that I got a ride with Santa Claus.”

Santa blew out a puff of air. “I'm going to regret this,” he muttered under his breath.

Bobby's eyes lit up. “Are you taking me to the North Pole?” he asked, bouncing with excitement.

“No.” Santa carefully guided the horses at a crossroads. “I'm taking you to the clubhouse.”

“Again! Again!” Bobby's childish voice was even more high-pitched than usual, and a giggle escaped his lips.

Santa looked at him out of the corner of his eye. “I thought you were going to make this hard for them.”

Bobby continued to snicker, quivering with excitement. “I can't help it! Go around again!”

With a shake of his head, Santa guided the horses to circle the clubhouse again. On their fifth circle, a familiar face appeared at the window. Bobby chortled with glee as Trixie pressed close to the glass, then gestured frantically for the rest of the Bob-Whites to join her.

“Quick! Quick!” Bobby shouted, a grin stretching from ear to ear. “Go!”

Laughing, Santa waved over his shoulder to the group huddled at the window, then guided the horses out of the clearing and back onto the trail that would lead them to Crabapple Farm. “I thought you wanted everyone to see you with Santa,” he said.

Bobby's eyes twinkled with mischief. “Well, yeah, but I don't want to get in trouble for running away,” he explained.

Santa narrowed his eyes, and Bobby had the distinct feeling he was being considered for removal to the “naughty list”. “But it's not running away if you take me home,” Bobby explained in a rush. “Right?”

“Mmm...” was Santa's dubious reply.

The little boy sighed heavily. “It's probably time for me to go home, isn't it?”

Santa glanced at the dark sky and nodded. Bobby slouched on the bench and leaned his head against a red felt-clad arm. With a wide yawn he asked, “So, do you really stop time so that you can deliver all the presents on Christmas Eve? Or do you use worm holes?”

Santa remained silent, but his grip on the reins tightened. “Worm holes?”

“Yes, worm holes. Mart tried to explain it to me. He said it's kind of like a secret tunnel that gets you places really fast.”

“Mart should probably stop hoping for anything more than a lump of coal in his stocking,” Santa muttered. A little louder, he continued. “It's more like,” he paused, “Santa Savings Time.”

Bobby frowned. “I've heard of Daylight Savings Time,” he said. “That's when I get to stay up an hour later in fall. But I've never heard of Santa Savings Time.”

“Really?” Santa asked, surprised. “You should get Mart to explain it to you,” he suggested, a crafty smile on his face.

Bobby yawned again. “That's a good idea,” he agreed, snuggling further under the blanket. “Man, they won't know what to think!” he said. “I mean, they saw me, but they'll never believe I got a ride with Santa Claus.” His lips curved in a smile even as his eyes drifted shut. “I bet Trixie is going nuts trying to figure what's going on...” His voice trailed off at the end of the sentence, and he fell asleep safely tucked under Santa's arm.

Bobby snuggled deeper under the covers, pulling the home-made quilt tightly around him. He was having the most wonderful dream where he rode through the preserve with Santa on his sleigh. But it had felt real, much more real than his usual dreams. He blinked sleepily, trying to get back into the dream. Maybe if he fell asleep again right away... Bobby squirmed as he tried to get comfortable. It would be easier to go back to sleep if he didn't have straw poking his back, he thought. His forehead wrinkled as he pulled a piece of straw out of his pyjamas. How had he managed to get straw in his bed? His eyes widened. The dream couldn't possibly have been real. Though, he did have a hazy memory of Santa carrying him to bed, and his mother tucking him in...

Still drowsy, Bobby realized that he could hear voices coming from just outside his door.

“Are you sure he didn't sneak out?” a girl whispered.

“Now, Trixie,” his mother answered. “Does it look like he's been out of his bed?”

“Well, no, but...”

Bobby scrunched deeper under the covers in order to hide his grin. The dream had been real!

“I saw him, Moms! I know I did.” Trixie's voice was both frustrated and confused.

“Did any of the other Bob-Whites see him?”

“No,” Trixie answered. This time, there was definitely more frustration than confusion. “They got to the window in time to see something disappear into the preserve. They couldn't see what it was.”

“Well, then,” Moms said, ending the conversation.

Bobby heard one set of feet retreat down the hall. Seconds later, the side of his bed dipped. A soft hand smoothed his curls.

“I know something happened tonight,” his sister whispered. “And someday, you're going to tell me all about it.”

Bobby drifted back to sleep with a smile on his face and visions of Santa in his head.

Author’s Notes

  1. Merry Christmas, Trish! I can't tell you how excited I was when I drew your name for my first ever Secret Santa story. It was an honour to write for you, and I hope this story gives you a smile or two. May you have a wonderful holiday season and a prosperous new year.
  2. The title “I'd Like to Hitch a Ride With Santa Claus” is based on the song of the same name, as performed by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters.
  3. Thank you, Mary N, for designing these incredible graphics and editing this story at the last minute. *hugs*
  4. Curious about how Mart managed to teach Bobby anything about constellations? Click here for the tutorial he used. It's awesome!
  5. Is the clearing around the clubhouse really big enough for “Santa” to drive a sleigh and horses in a circle? Probably not. Think of it as a Christmas miracle. *wink*
  6. Merry Christmas!

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