Lee made sure to keep his steps light as he inched his way through the kitchen towards the illuminated sitting room. The door was ajar, so there was no need to worry about any squeaking hinges.
As he rounded the corner, the brightly lit Christmas tree came into view. He looked down to see a mountain of presents. His eyes lit up with veritable glee at the sight. It was majestic. The baubles and tinsel reflected the fairy lights to cause a kaleidoscope of colour all around the large sitting room. One might have been mistaken for thinking this was a Santa’s grotto.
Ensuring not to forget to remain deathly silent, Lee approached the cavalcade of gifts and knelt down before them. With slightly trembling hands, he lifted a large rectangular box with snowman themed wrapping paper and a gold bow around it and adorned it with hungry eyes. There was a gift tag on it and he took a second to read it: “To Lucas. You have been a very good boy this year. Mummy and Daddy are very proud of you. From Father Christmas”. Lee felt a touch guilty on reading the tag—only a touch.
He removed a large, empty sack from his shoulder, opened it up, and slowly slipped the present inside. He then began to do the same with as many of the others as he could. It wasn’t long before the sack was as full as he could get it.
With no room left for presents, Lee started fitting in smaller household objects that could have been construed as valuable. It wasn’t long before the sack was brim-full, so he started to fill his pockets with whatever he could find. Once they were full as well, he looked down to the fireplace where a mince pie sat next to a glass of milk. He grinned as he sank to his knees and scoffed the mince pie down.
His work thoroughly done, Lee returned to a standing position and surveyed his handiwork. Half of the gifts were gone from under the tree and almost no mantlepiece ornaments and cabinet trinkets were left. “Merry Christmas!” he muttered cynically.
Just as he was about to head back through the kitchen door, he felt a presence and turned his head. There stood a little redheaded boy in pyjamas themed around Disney Pixar’s Cars, squinting and rubbing his eyes. He couldn’t have been older than five. Lee went wide-eyed and momentarily dizzy with apprehension.
“Father Christmas? Is that you?” the little boy asked.
Lee was quick to it. “Yes, Lucas. It’s me. I’m just bringing you your presents.”
“But… you don’t look like Father Christmas.”
“Ah… uhm… well, nowadays, I have to dress differently. Too many people recognise me, you see.”
“Will I still get what I asked for now I’ve seen you? I know I’m not supposed to get out of bed on Christmas Eve, but I’ve been a good boy all year.”
Lee felt a lump form in his throat. He felt absolutely dreadful. “Go back to bed and wait until morning to find out. Father Christmas can’t be giving away all his secrets now, can he?”
Lucas shook his head and emitted a gaping yawn.
“Off to bed with you, young man,” Lee said, forcing a smile through the tremendous guilt that consumed him.
“Okay. Merry Christmas Santa.”
Lee smiled, trying to look as genuine as he could. “Merry Christmas Lucas.”
Lucas wearily trotted off in the direction of the stairwell while Lee waited a moment until he was certain the young boy was gone.
The thief shook his head and failed to prevent a tear from rolling down his cheek. He wished it could be another way, but he was a poor man and needed to ensure his own children received gifts this Christmas. He’d had everything taken from him via a messy divorce and a business venture that saw his partner and supposed best friend leave him without a penny to his name. He wasn’t about to allow his misfortune to ruin the happiest time of year for his young son and daughter. It had to be this way; he loved his kids too much to let them down.
Satisfied Lucas had returned upstairs, Lee made for the kitchen and towards the back door of the house that he’d forced entry through.
Just as he got to the door, a thought crossed his mind and he paused. Quietly, he took the sack from off his shoulder and began rummaging through it until he found the big box that he’d first put in there. He read the tag again and smiled before creeping back into the living room and placing the gift back under the tree.
“I’m sorry kid. Merry Christmas!”
A noise alerted him and he went quickly back to the kitchen, retrieving the sack from the floor as he went through the back door. The bitter winter chill hit him face-on, but he didn’t have time to think about that now. He needed to make it to his van parked nearby and get the hell out of range.
Five minutes of brisk walking later, a sweaty and exhausted Lee reached his van, placed the sack in the back, and then got into the driver’s seat with a heavy sigh. He couldn’t dally, however, and soon fired up the engine to drive as slowly and inconspicuously away as he could.
Driving along in the direction of home, the guilt hadn’t alleviated; he still felt bad. The family would wake tomorrow morning absolutely mortified that their house had been burgled on Christmas Eve of all nights. At least he knew, though, that the innocent redheaded boy, who thought he’d just met Father Christmas, would still receive the one gift he truly wanted. At least Lucas would have a reason to smile.