The bright red nose of Rudolph, his very favorite reindeer,
blinked on and off until Douglas’s eyes were dazzled.
He tried to entertain himself by counting the red dots that
swam in front of his eyes, the way the Count counted on
One, two, three! Three red dots! Ha ha ha ha ha!
But it made him feel a little bit sick.
The mall was full of noise, the blasts of Christmas music
that added to his impatience, the shouts of other children,
the crying of babies.
He knew all about crying babies now that he had a little
sister. When babies cried you were supposed to pick them
up and walk around with them singing songs, or sit with
them in the rocking chair and pat them on the back till they
Babies could burp right out loud and nobody made
them say scuze me. Because, dummy, babies couldn’t talk!
But Jessica wasn’t crying now. She was sleeping in the
stroller and looked like a doll baby in her red dress with the
white frilly junk on it.
That’s what Grandma called Jessica. Her little doll
baby. But sometimes Jessie cried and cried and her face
got all red and scrunched up. Nothing would stop her from
crying, not the singing or the walking or the rocking chair.
Douglas didn’t think she looked much like a doll baby
then. She looked mean and mad. When that happened,
Mama got too tired to play with him. She was never too
tired to play with him before Jessica got in her belly.
Sometimes he didn’t like having a little sister who cried
and pooped in her pants and made Mama too tired to play.
But most of the time it was okay. He liked to look at her
and watch the way she kicked her legs. And when she
grabbed his finger, really tight, it made him laugh.
Grandma said he had to protect Jessica because that’s
what big brothers do. He’d worried so much about it that
he’d snuck in to sleep on the floor beside her crib just in
case the monsters who lived in the closet came to eat her in
2 _ Nora Roberts
But he’d woken in his own bed in the morning, so
maybe he’d only dreamed he’d gone in to protect her.
They shuffled up in line, and Douglas glanced, a bit uneasily,
at the smiling elves who danced around Santa’s
workshop. They looked a little bit mean and mad—like
Jessica when she was crying really loud.
If Jessica didn’t wake up, she wasn’t going to get to sit
on Santa’s lap. It was stupid for Jessie to be all dressed up
to sit on Santa’s lap, because she couldn’t say scuze me
when she burped, and she couldn’t tell Santa what she
wanted for Christmas.
But he could. He was three and a half years old. He was
a big boy now. Everyone said so.
Mama crouched down and spoke to him softly. When
she asked if he had to pee, he shook his head. She had that
tired look on her face and he was afraid if they went to the
bathroom they’d never get back in line and see Santa.
She gave his hand a squeeze, smiled at him and promised
it wouldn’t be much longer.
He wanted a Hot Wheels, and a G.I. Joe, and a Fisher-
Price garage, and some Matchbox cars and a big yellow
bulldozer like the one his friend Mitch got for his birthday.
Jessica was too young to play with real toys. She just
got girl stuff like funny dresses and stuffed animals. Girls
were pretty dopey, but baby girls were even more dopey.
But he was going to tell Santa about Jessica, so he
wouldn’t forget to bring stuff for her when he came down
the chimney at their house.
Mama was talking to someone, but he didn’t listen. The
grown-up talk didn’t interest him. Especially when the line
moved, people shifted, and he saw Santa.
He was big. It seemed to Douglas, on the first ripple of
fear, that Santa wasn’t so big in the cartoons or in the pictures
in the storybooks.
He was sitting on his throne in front of his workshop.
There were lots of elves and reindeer and snowmen.
Everything was moving—heads and arms. Big, big smiles.
Santa’s beard was very long. You could hardly see his
BIRTHRIGHT _ 3
face. And when he let out a big, booming ho ho ho, the
sound of it squeezed Douglas’s bladder like mean fingers.
Lights flashed, a baby wailed, elves grinned.
He was a big boy now, a big boy now. He wasn’t afraid
of Santa Claus.
Mama tugged his hand, told him to go ahead. Go sit on
Santa’s lap. She was smiling, too.
He took a step forward, then another, on legs that began
to shake. And Santa hoisted him up.
Merry Christmas! Have you been a good boy?
Terror struck Douglas’s heart like a hatchet. The elves
were closing in, Rudolph’s red nose blinked. The snowman
turned his wide, round head and leered.
The big man in the red suit held him tight and stared at
him with tiny, tiny eyes.
Screaming, struggling, Douglas tumbled out of Santa’s
lap, hit the platform hard. And wet his pants.
People moved in, voices streamed above him so all he
could do was curl up and wail.
Then Mama was there, pulling him close, telling him it
was all right. Fussing over him because he’d hit his nose
and made it bleed.
She kissed him, stroked him and didn’t scold him for
wetting his pants. His breath was still coming in hard little
gasps as he burrowed into her.
She gave him a big hug, lifted him up so he could press
his face to her shoulder.
Still murmuring to him, she turned.
And began to scream. And began to run.
Clinging to her, Douglas looked down. And saw Jessica’s
stroller was empty.