One Friday, in a college classroom that had seen a hundred years, Brent Oberhauser stood in front of his class, a tall and lean man in jeans and an ice-blue sweater that matched his eyes. He ran a hand across the side of his head, a habit he retained from before he’d started shaving his head against his prematurely and fast-receding hairline.
Students, heads bowed, wrote rapidly in examination books, answering questions about Medieval and Renaissance European history. History, Brent considered as he proctored the exam, wasn’t just about what happened, but what one had learned from what happened. More than once, he wondered what he had learned from his twenty-nine years thus far. He’d think about that later, when his obligations were over and before he settled down for the night. First, he would need to go to the office to pick up a couple books, then drive into Denver to work his barista shift at the Book Nook. If he timed it right, he could have a cup of espresso Romano before work.
The exam proceeded uneventfully, with students silently scribbling, and he wished his students a happy holiday as they wandered off one by one toward winter break. He gathered up the exams and walked briskly down a hallway with its dark wood and stark white walls, dodging students who waited for the next exam. He passed the statuesque Renee Porterfield, also a PhD candidate, who wished him a happy holiday in her rush down the hall in the other direction.
Soon, Brent stood in his cubicle in the small grad students’ office, putting books into his worn leather messenger bag in which he’d already stuffed the last of the exams for the semester. One book he packed to help him double-check the last-minute corrections his dissertation committee requested after he defended two weeks before; the other book was a history of Father Christmas he had written a few years earlier and published on Amazon, and it was that volume that caused him much frustration at the moment.
Brent pulled on his fleece-lined denim jacket and slung the messenger bag over his shoulder. Father Christmas, he thought as he turned off the lights of the office on his way out. Survival of old pagan customs. Symbol of English Christmas. Topic of endless Victorian postcards. But which Father Christmas?
His cell phone rang. He checked the readout to find out who his caller was, and he answered the call. “Kris.” He felt his cheeks flame. “I don’t know if I can do it.”
The pleasant voice on the other side spoke calmly. “Brent, you wrote the book. You understand Father Christmas better than anyone else in — in the world, perhaps.”
That was the rub. Brent’s medieval reenactment group had lost their Father Christmas when Kris Kriegel moved to Missouri to be with his true love. Kris, the former Father Christmas, had decided that Brent should take over as Father Christmas for the Yule Ball.
It was two weeks till the Yule Ball, and Brent didn’t know how he could fit in Kris’s boots.
“You can do it,” Kris repeated. “I have a sense about you.”
“A sense,” Brent echoed.
“Yes. I’ve been playing Father Christmas long enough that I get a sense of who would be good at playing him. And that’s you, Brent. I can’t explain it. Trust me.”
“But I’m not you. They’re used to you.”
“I can’t come back and do it. Marcia’s going to have that baby any minute.”
“Oh, yeah.” Brent seized upon the change in conversation. “How’s she doing?”
“Fine. She thinks she’s huge, but that’s the way pregnancies happen. She’s healthy, and our daughter Noelle should show up right on time. Whenever that is.” Kris chuckled. “I’m doing Santa gigs with my phone at hand in case she goes into labor.”
Ten minutes later, after closing the call, Brent didn’t feel any better about playing the spirit of Christmas for the medieval reenactment group that hosted the Yule Ball, of which he’d been a member for ten years.
I am not Kris. Brent grimaced. I am not Father Christmas.