I'll Be Home For Christmas

 

home / season five / episode eight / act I

   

Outside Nordstrom Department Store
Baltimore, Maryland

"I'm glad you got back okay, Jarod."

Jarod laughed. "I'd be ashamed of myself if I couldn't fly a plane from Charleston. Besides, Ethan would have told you if anything had happened to me."

"I know. Well, thanks for the call. Both Ethan and I will be fine."

"Thanks, Dr Goetz. Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas to you too, Jarod."

Jarod disconnected the call and slipped the cell phone into the pocket of his jacket. He leaned back against the wooden bench with a sigh of relief and gingerly licked the tip of his ice-cream cone. When tasting a new flavor, Jarod was always cautious, although he hadn't managed to find one he disliked so far. Like the wine taster he had once been for a few weeks, he savored the flavor of the dessert for a moment before nodding. Yes, he definitely liked Rum 'n' Raisin.

Jarod sat and enjoyed the sights of Christmas in the street around him, even the piped Christmas carols that appeared to be annoying other people. He could never understand how something as wonderful as Christmas could possibly annoy some people in the way that it seemed to. It sometimes saddened Jarod that people weren't able to realize how lucky they were to simply be able to experience Christmas. Jarod thought back to the thirty-three Christmases that he had spent inside the Centre, unable to know what was going on in the outside world.

Jarod shook his head to try to rid himself of the memory of those depressing times. His eyes took in the tinsel in the shop windows and the banners that hung from street lamps. He looked with pleasure at the decorated Christmas tree in the doorway to the mall. Happily soaking in the yuletide atmosphere, Jarod was unaware of the looks that he was receiving from passers-by. Certainly people ate ice cream all year round, but sitting outside when it was snowing to do so?

The sounds of bells distracted Jarod from his thoughts and he glanced up the street in time to see a carriage, pulled by two brown horses, making its way up the street. Riding in the sleigh was a group that looked like a family. Two adults sat facing two small children, who were bouncing around on the seats and giggling excitedly. Jarod couldn't help laughing at the sight and nearly choked on his ice cream. The wagon continued along the road in front of him and, as it passed, Jarod spotted a group of men congregated outside the large department store on the other side of the road. Cramming the last of the cone into his mouth and rapidly swallowing, Jarod got up and dusted the snow from his arms and legs before making his way across the street and mingling with the group of men.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

The door to Sydney's office slammed back against the opposite wall and he knew of only one person in the Centre who would behave that way. "Good morning, Miss Parker."

Miss Parker stood in front of Sydney's desk and dropped a bundle of folders, all bearing the Centre's insignia, onto the flat surface. Both Miss Parker and Sydney watched silently as the pile slowly slid sideways and fell onto the floor, scattering sheets of paper all over.

"Those," Miss Parker nodded in the general direction of the mess. "Those are the files you loaned me about my mother. With a few others that I had Broots borrow when your back was turned." The woman settled herself in a chair opposite Sydney and rested her feet on the desk with her hands tucked behind her head. Ignoring her, the psychiatrist turned back to the papers he had been looking through.

The silence continued for a few more seconds until Miss Parker swung her legs down and stared at the other occupant of the office. "You surprise me, Sydney. I came in here expecting a speech about respecting other people's privacy and about the crime of stealing and instead I get nothing."

Sydney sighed and looked up, pushing the papers to one side. "Considering that we both knew what I was going to say, it seems like a waste of my breath to say it and your time to listen to it, wouldn't you agree?"

Miss Parker looked at him closely for a few seconds. "What's the matter, Syd? Is it that we were only a few seconds behind the Grinch at his last lair, because, believe me, that's getting to me more than it's getting to you. At least you don't have to answer to my father when he --"

"It's not that." Sydney broke across the tirade that he had heard from Miss Parker increasingly more often since Jarod's latest escape from the Centre.

"Well, what is it then?"

"I don't know. I suppose it’s just -- well, it's Christmas."

"Great. Another damned day when the shops are shut. What's so wonderful about it?"

Sydney eyed Miss Parker closely. "So if that wasn't the reason you gave Broots the long weekend off to spend with his daughter, I wonder what was. Could it have been that you were feeling particularly generous that day? No, that wouldn't be like you at all. Perhaps you were unwell? But then you don't look that sick."

"All right, all right!" Miss Parker shifted uncomfortably in her chair. "He asked for it and it's only fair that one of us gets to spend time with family this year." Suddenly she looked up, pain and embarrassment obvious on her face. "Family. Of course. That's it. It's only been two years since your brother -- God, I'm sorry Syd. I didn't realize."

"It doesn't matter, Parker."

"Yes, it does. And you're here, working, instead of..." Feeling uncomfortable, Miss Parker sought to change the subject. "Funny that we haven't heard anything from Jarod as of yet about our last mishap. Usually he likes to rub it in when we’re that close."

"Maybe he doesn't know."

"Very funny, Syd. Of course he knows. Somehow, he always knows." Miss Parker got up out of her chair and was about to leave Sydney's office when the door opened and Sam looked in.

"A package, Miss Parker."

"For me?"

"No ma'am. For Sydney."

"What are you waiting for then? Give it to him."

Automatically Sydney stretched out his hand and took the package, putting it down on the desk in front of him and staring blindly at it, recognizing immediately the bold printing on the mailing label. Still, much as he wanted to see what it contained, something held him back. He tried to focus on the object and block out thoughts that Miss Parker's comments had brought to his mind.

"Well," Miss Parker's voice made him jump. "Aren't you going to open it?"

* * * * * * * * *

Outside Nordstrom Department Store
Baltimore, Maryland

Jarod introduced himself to the group of men standing around the doorway. As he had approached, a sign on the wall had told him their purpose. 'Santa school. Novices welcome.' Jarod had tried not to grin as he thought that few of them could be as much of a novice about the dealings of Santa as he was.

"So, Jarod, what do you do?"

"Oh, this and that."

"Ah, Jack of all trades."

Jarod tried not to let the confusion show on his face. "No, not Jack. Jarod."

The man laughed. "Fine. I'm Peter, by the way. Peter Stevens."

Jarod shook his hand. He was about to make a further comment when another man came up and tapped Peter on the shoulder. "Have you seen Wilson?"

Peter looked puzzled. "Charles Wilson? No, now that you mention it. I haven't seen him since last Christmas. But he must be here somewhere. He wouldn't miss a year. He never has." Peter looked at Jarod, who had stayed silent but was listening to the conversation with flattering eagerness. He was about to say something when the door next to the group opened and a woman stuck her head out.

"Santa Class of 2000? Come on in."

She propped open the door and the group of men shuffled their way inside, Peter pulling the door shut as he entered.

"For those of you who are new, I'm Rose Clark and I'll be teaching you all how to be Santa. Could all of you line up at the table and..."

Jarod joined the rest of the group as they went to register. The non-appearance of Charles Wilson had him intrigued and he figured the best chance he had to work out what was going on was to join the group.

"And so you want to be Santa?"

Jarod came out of his thoughts with a start, realizing that Rose had spoken to him. "Er, yes. I guess so."

She looked him up and down for a moment before looking at the pages on the table in front of her. "Usually we have people in an older age range, Mr. Noël.…"

"Don't worry, Rose," Peter Stevens stepped forward. "I'll make sure he comes up to scratch."

"We-ell," Rose spoke warily, "if you think you can, Peter. Mr. Noël --"

"Jarod."

"Okay, Jarod." She smiled. "If you'll just fill this form out for me and then we can begin."

* * * * * * * * *

During the break for lunch, Jarod listened while the other men discussed the fact that Charles Wilson still hadn't turned up.

"Every year without a break since 1988 and now, this year, he doesn't show."

"I talked to him a fortnight ago and he said then that he would be here."

"Did he say anything that might have indicated…?"

"What's been happening to him…?"

Gradually the talk changed to other subjects but Jarod kept thinking about the man and wondered what could induce a person who obviously liked children so much to fail to appear from something that he had done for so long. He picked at the meal he had bought at the store's canteen until Peter took the fork out of his hand.

"Something on your mind, son?"

"You could say that."

"Well, what is it?"

Jarod paused, thinking as he did so that no one could look much more like Santa that Peter Stevens, even without the costume. "Tell me what you know about Charles Wilson."

"Wilson? He's in his late forties, never married, no children. Loves kids though. He must or he wouldn't have done this for so long. He lives with his mother as her care-giver."

"Care-giver?"

"She started developing dementia several years ago -- Alzheimer's Disease, actually. As it became worse, she needed more and more care."

Another man leaned across. "He had to put her into a home several weeks ago. It got too much for him to deal with." The man moved closer to them but then turned to another group. "Cochran!"

A man looked around at the three of them. "What?"

"Didn't Judy Wilson get put into your nursing home several weeks ago? Allan Cochran's a male nurse at an aged care facility," the man added in explanation to Jarod.

Allan Cochran got up and came over to join them. "I don't really know," he said in answer to the question. "I started my Christmas vacation at about that time. I did remember hearing something about it though."

"So you wouldn't know if anything happened to her to upset Charles then?"

"I don't think she's dead, if that's what you mean. Besides, we take care of the people at our home." He spoke defensively and Peter patted him on his shoulder.

"Cool down, son. No one's accusing you of locking her away somewhere, never to see the light of day again. Of course you take care of your clients. You'd have to, or you'd have no clients." He laughed and turned back to Jarod. "So, Jarod, you say you're fairly flexible in your work. You must have done some interesting stuff then."

"Sure." Jarod saw the amusement in his eyes and decided to play along. "I've done everything from thoracic surgeon to an FBI Agent." He joined in the laughter that greeted his statement. "Sometimes it feels like I have a new identity every other week."

* * * * * * * * *

Jarod looked down in consternation at the pile of items that had appeared in front of his seat during the lunch break. With a somewhat helpless air, he picked up a couple of objects, only to replace them and sit staring at the pile for a few seconds.

"Kind of overwhelming, isn't it?" Jarod turned to see Peter smiling at him. "I felt like that the first time that I was here too. But it all sorts itself out." He leant over and plucked the false beard from the pile. "Here Santa, let's try this on."

Jarod grinned in reply. "I thought I was only getting four foot helpers, not six foot ones."

Peter laughed with the deep hearty amusement that Jarod had already noticed and picked up the list of names that came with the outfit. "Now let's see. Golly gee, would you look at that! No 'Jarod' on my 'Nice children' list. You've got a nasty surprise coming to you on Christmas Day, little boy."

"Oh, no!" Jarod joined in the game. "Please Santa, I want a train set and a bike and a puppy and a new computer game and..." Jarod stopped to draw breath and Peter took advantage of it to slip the elastic supports over the back of his head and position the beard carefully on Jarod's face.

"Wonderful!" Peter proclaimed. Jarod sneezed and rubbed his nose violently.

"You aren't allergic to it, are you?" An anxious voice from across the room startled both men and Jarod looked up at Rose with twinkling eyes.

"Oh no, ma'am. The only thing I'm allergic to is pistachio nuts."

"Are you sure?" She came across and resettled the beard on his face.

"Positive. I had all sorts of tests for allergies when I was small. I think I'll just have to get used to it, that's all. And it might be a bit dusty." Jarod picked up the glasses and settled them on the end of his nose, as it had showed him in the picture on the walls. "And what do you want for Christmas, little girl?" Jarod deepened his voice in an imitation of Peters and Rose laughed.

"Well, maybe you were right. Maybe you can play Santa after all."

"Ma'am, I can play anything you want me to!"

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

"Sydney, you've been staring at that thing for twenty minutes. For God's sake, open it or I'll take it from you and do it myself!"

Sydney looked up and gave Miss Parker a weak smile. "Patience was always one of your virtues, Parker."

"Just open the damned thing, Syd."

Sydney sighed and picked up the postaged parcel. Picking up a letter opener, he slit the package and tipped the contents out onto the desk. A small, square parcel fell onto the desk, wrapped in brightly colored paper. As Miss Parker shifted impatiently in her chair, the psychiatrist carefully unwrapped the object, eventually revealing a square jeweler's box.

As Sydney opened the parcel, the light of his desk lamp fell on the contents, briefly dazzling him with a golden light. Turning the box slightly, Sydney gasped as he took in the golden medallion that lay there. The front held an engraving of a building that Sydney instantly recognized and Miss Parker heard him mutter the words 'Mount Pleasant Home' under his breath. Sydney's eyes widened as he looked more closely and realized that words had been engraved on the face of the medal, around the edge of the picture. The words were familiar - the same as those that had appeared on the cross at Jacob's gravesite. There were figures as well, dates: 1934-1998. With reverent, hesitating hands Sydney gently picked up the gold chain and allowed the medallion to spin in the light for a few seconds. Eventually, he held it still in the palm of his hand and turned it over to look at the back.

Sydney's eyes filled as he absorbed the image and he sat still for one brief instant before lunging for his desk drawer and extracting two sheets of paper. Laying them flat on the table, Sydney compared the picture and the drawing that Jarod had made of his and Jacob's First Communion with the detailed, engraved image that appeared on the back of the medallion. It was identical in every detail, even to the crucifix that appeared behind them. With an impatient hand, Sydney wiped away the tears that were threatening to fall and he carefully put the golden disk down on his desk on top of the pictures, the chain spread out behind it like some mystical tail. Then Sydney folded his hands and sat staring at his Christmas present from Jarod.

* * * * * * * * *

Outside Nordstrom Department Store
Baltimore, Maryland

Jarod packed the last of his Santa gear into a bag that the school had provided as Rose came over and handed him a slip of paper.

"Congratulations, Santa. You've got one of the toughest assignments for your first year."

Jarod looked at her with a smile. "Ready and eager. Where is it?"

"Right here at Nordstrom. It's one of the busiest shopping centers in Baltimore. I wouldn't have given it to you except for the fact that everyone else has been here for at least one year and is familiar with their teams."

"It's no problem," Jarod promised with a grin. "I'm sure I'll manage." He paused. "Who was doing Nordstrom last year?"

Rose sighed. "Charles Wilson. That's been his regular store for years, and he does it well." She smiled. "You've got a high standard to aim for."

Jarod saluted at her in true military style. "I'll do my best."

"And saints can't do more." She hugged him. "Thanks Jarod. And if you get stuck, my number's on the sheet."

"You're welcome. And don't worry. Everything will be fine, I know." Jarod picked up the bag and left the room.

Outside the room, he found Peter waiting for him. The two men left the building together and headed out into the lightly falling snow.

"Trying to get on the good side of the teacher now, are you? I never would have picked you as the 'sucking-up' type."

"The what?"

"Never mind." Peter shook his head in amusement. "Are you planning to visit family for Christmas?"

Jarod shook his head slowly. "I don't think so. I'm not sure that it's possible."

"So what will you do on Christmas Day?"

"I don't really know. Just hang around, I guess."

Peter looked at him. "You could come and have Christmas dinner with us."

"Who's us?"

"Myself, my daughter and grand-daughter. Since my son-in-law died four years ago, they always come over and we have a great time. I'm sure that they'd love to meet you."

"That sounds wonderful. I'd love to." Jarod paused. "Should I bring anything?"

"What can you make?"

"I can make a great fruitcake." Jarod's lips twitched as he remembered the revenge a few years earlier that had necessitated his learning how to do just that.

"Sounds wonderful. Sure. Bring it along. I haven't tasted good fruitcake since my wife died."

"When was that?"

"A little over ten years ago, now."

"I'm sorry."

Peter smiled. "Don't be. She suffered so much at the end that it was a relief for everyone when she passed away. "He slapped Jarod on the back. "Well, this is my stop. I'll see you around. Don't forget, though. Christmas Day."

Jarod grinned. "I sure won't. Have a good time."

"You too. And good luck."

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

"So what do you think it means, Syd?"

Sydney looked up from the pendant and smiled weakly. "Isn't it obvious, Parker? You said it yourself, just before. It has all to do with family. Jarod's reminding us of the importance of this time of year."

Parker was about to respond when the phone on Sydney's desk rang. Miss Parker pressed the speaker.

"What?"

"Oh, M...Miss Parker..."

"What is it, Broots?"

"You...you won't believe it!"

"What won't I believe?"

"It's...it's weird."

"Yes. Weird. What else is new?"

"It's..."

"Broots, if you don't tell me what this weird thing is, I'm going to reach through the phone and wring your scrawny little neck!"

"I...I got a Christmas present."

Miss Parker slumped down in her chair and buried her face in her hands before looking up again. "Hate to break it to you but it is that time of year again. If you don't want one, you can always come to work and I'll..."

Sydney leaned over and put his hand on her arm. "Who is it from, Broots?"

"Jarod!"

"What?!" Miss Parker leapt to her feet and stared at the phone. "Jarod sent you a Christmas present?"

"Yeah."

"So what is it?"

"It's a Shaggy doll."

"A what?"

"You know. A doll of the character Shaggy. He was in the cartoon series called 'Scooby Doo, Where Are You?' that started airing in 1969 and has gone through a whole heap of changes..."

Miss Parker slammed her palms down on Sydney's desk. "All right, Broots, we don't need its case history!” Sydney suddenly laughed and Miss Parker looked at him, derision on her face. "You watched an inane cartoon from the late sixties?"

"It wasn't inane." Miss Parker could hear the indignation in Broots' voice and she struggled not to smile.

"So are you going to bring that Christmas present in for us to look at or keep enjoying your vacation?"

"Uh, I get a choice?"

"Yup, but make it snappy."

"Okay, I'll see you after Christmas. And Miss Parker, Me --"

Parker hit the button that disconnected the call and Broots' voice died into sudden silence. "Okay, so who made up the Scooby gang?" Miss Parker was thinking aloud to herself but Sydney answered for her.

"Four humans and one dog -- Shaggy, Velma, Fred, Daphne and Scooby."

"So Jarod is trying to tell us…?"

"Maybe nothing -- but there had to be a reason that he would send Shaggy to Broots. Shaggy's a bit of a coward, runs away from danger -- but is very loyal."

"I know that, Syd! So Jarod got that personification right. What else?"

Sydney turned to his computer as a voice alerted him to incoming mail. He opened the attachment and both he and Miss Parker stared at the picture of Velma that appeared on the screen. Sydney began to laugh helplessly.

"So if you're Velma and Broots is Shaggy, that leaves..."

"You and Lyle."

Miss Parker suddenly turned and, followed by Sydney, the two ran down the hall to her office. She, too, had a new message and it showed another cartoon figure. Miss Parker looked at Sydney, who was looking puzzled.

"It's neither Fred nor Daphne. More like a hybrid of them both."

Miss Parker sat down suddenly in her chair. "So that leaves Lyle."

"And Scooby," Sydney added, his lips betraying his amusement. Miss Parker looked at him sharply.

"Scooby would live in a dog house, wouldn't he?"

"We-ell, I guess."

"A tin dog house? Like a tin shed?"

Sydney picked up on her train of thought and, biting his lip, tried not to betray his amusement.

"Hmm," Miss Parker fought down her own giggles. "I hope baby brother finds his dog house comfortable."

On to Act II

 
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