Chapter 1: Playing the Waiting Game The young boy sat there slumped into the waiting room couch in his father’s office. He felt like he’d been spending a lot of time there recently since his dad seemed to be working later and later the colder it got, and the closer it got to Christmas. The boy named Sandy would stare up at the maps decorating the walls of the office and marvel at all the different names and places. He knew his dad ran a big delivery service so he thought the maps, filled with all kinds of names and numbers, just went along with the business. Sandy studied each map as he waited for his dad to get done with work. Many days Sandy would walk over to his dad’s office in the Reindeer Express building after school; it was one of his favorite places. Sandy knew his dad ran the company and had to coordinate all the packages. As the weather grew colder Sandy sat longer and longer waiting. He sort of didn’t mind just sitting there thinking and he enjoyed making up stories about all the names and places on the maps. Sandy’s brown eyes drifted across the wall of maps when something caught his eye; a new map of Maine. Still looking at the maps, Sandy slumped back into the black leather waiting room couch. Maine, he thought. Sandy really liked Maine because that was where his grandfather had his tree farm. Every time Sandy went up there, he had a great time. He loved playing with all of Grandpa’s great animals. Over the years he helped to feed the chickens, ducks and other farm animals. Sandy had seen giant herds of deer and even reindeer, but his favorite thing to do on the farm was riding the horses, his favorite being a big chestnut stallion named Blizzard. Sandy remembered the time he was riding Blizzard down a well-worn horse path and a rabbit darted out in front of him and stopped. It took a couple of hops and then sped down a path on the right, a path Sandy had never noticed before. Of course, being the curious kid that he was, he nudged the big stallion onto the new path. Following the rabbit proved harder than he thought. Before he knew it, he was going through huge pine trees and brush. The farther they went under the trees the darker it got; a thick veil of pines overhead blocked much of the sunlight. Sandy worried if he didn’t turn back, he might get lost in this unfamiliar territory. Grandpa’s farm was over a thousand acres and Sandy had only explored the main paths close to the house. He had never dared wander this far off the main path before. His grandfather warned him never to go on any trails he didn’t know, especially alone. Sandy thought about turning back again but just as he was about to rein in Blizzard something darted out from behind an old oak tree. Blizzard snorted, heaved wildly, and took off at once after the little animal. Sandy clutched the reins tightly as Blizzard tore faster and faster through the woods. Branches flew past his head; leaves were flying everywhere. Sandy was clutching the reins tightly holding on for dear life. Finally, Sandy tugged the reins with all his strength until Blizzard got the idea. Just as his horse came to a sliding stop, he noticed what they had been chasing; a fluffy, white-tailed rabbit disappeared into the underbrush. That was the same rabbit he saw before; he was sure of it. Sandy looked around and thought maybe he was in trouble because nothing around him looked familiar. He had gone farther off the trail than ever before and must surely be lost. The big chestnut horse walked slowly ahead as Sandy tried to catch his breath. A short distance ahead he noticed an opening in the dark canopy of the tall pine trees. He slowed Blizzard down and brought him to a halt behind a large willow tree; there was a clearing a short distance ahead. Sandy remained hidden behind the tree looking out to see if he recognized anything in the clearing. Sandy couldn’t believe his eyes, standing there in the small meadow there was a large herd of deer. Never before had he seen so many deer in one giant herd. There were dozens of them, just standing in the meadow. Sandy sat there on Blizzard gaping at the fifty or so adults watching the young fawns playing and romping in the field, those must be the mothers. Across from that group and up on a hill was a collection of at least one hundred of the largest bucks he had ever seen. Some were grazing on the lush green grass and others were wrestling antler to antler. A small group of young bucks formed on the top of the rise lining up like they were going to race. Sandy couldn’t believe it, the whole single-file line of deer took off down the hill. The bucks were gaining speed at an incredible pace and were headed directly for the pond at the bottom of the hill. Then, just as they reached the edge of the water they took gigantic leaps, each one taking their turn, soaring over the entire width of the pond. Sandy watched wide-eyed; he could not believe how far these deer were jumping! They must have been leaping forty to fifty feet into the air and clear across the pond! Sandy didn’t think normal deer could jump like that. He thought what he just witnessed was totally unbelievable. Sandy watched as the herd played for several minutes before he remembered that he was lost. Still hidden behind the hanging willow branches, Sandy decided to return to where he had left the familiar path. He followed the trail of broken branches and fallen leaves he had created during his wild ride through the woods. Thankfully, he reached the well-worn horse path without too much trouble, but the scene he just witnessed was all he could think about the whole way back to Grandpa’s house. That memory would stay with him for a long time. Sandy was suddenly startled back to reality when his father’s office door opened. “Oh, Sandy… are you still here?” Sandy took his focus off the map; it was Mr. Lawrence who worked in the office with his dad. “Still waiting for your dad?” he asked as he passed through an opened door across the room from the couch Sandy was slumped into. The door had ‘DECEMBER ROOM’ written on it. Sandy couldn’t even get an answer out before Henry Lawrence disappeared through the door. He almost got up to follow Mr. Lawrence but remembered he wasn’t allowed in the December Room. Slumping back into the black leather he bunched up a pillow and laid down sideways resting his head on the cushion and the arm of the chair. It had been a long day at school. As he closed his eyes, he thought again of his grandpa’s tree farm. Sandy and his family had taken many trips up there. Every winter they made the trek up to Maine and roamed around the many fields of Christmas trees in search of the perfect one. Sandy loved it when his grandfather took out his old antique sleds, which he did every year. When there was snow on the ground Grandpa would pile everybody into his gigantic sleigh and take them all, Mom, Dad, his brother Nicholas, his sister Britta, and Sandy, on a ride around the farm. Grandpa would get up into the driver’s perch and holler, “Onward Dancer, Onward Prancer,” to urge on two of his favorite and strongest horses. These horses could run like the wind. It didn’t matter if it was ten below or snowing like crazy, he could always depend on these two horses to find their way. Grandpa always bragged that they had never failed him yet. One time, a couple of years ago, Sandy remembered asking Grandpa about the funny names he gave the horses. He remembered Grandpa giving him an even funnier answer. He slowly smiled, winked, and then said, “Sandy when you are old enough, I’ll tell you all about it. For now, just let me say they were names of friends of mine… old friends.” Grandpa would say things like that to him all the time. Things like “I can’t tell you right now,” or, “You’ll find out when you’re fifteen.” When Grandpa said things like that it made him even more curious. He would sometimes sit in front of the huge fireplace in Grandpa’s house and ponder what all these mysteries were that he had to discover. On returning home from a trip to Grandpa’s farm, in winter or summer, Sandy always had a sense of disappointment. He thought it was because he liked being out in the country and because he liked his grandma and grandpa so much. Sandy guessed he liked the town he lived in and he liked the school he was in. Well, he kind of liked school. To tell the truth he liked gym and lunch the best. He kind of liked Math and all the other subjects too, but wouldn’t admit it to anyone his age. Come to think of it, he really liked Geography too. Maybe because he got used to looking at all the maps while he was waiting for his dad to get off of work. Or maybe because his father was always talking about different places and different routes his drivers had to take. Sandy could pick each local route out on the maps. Sometimes when his dad picked him up from soccer practice, he would have to stop at the office afterward and Sandy would watch all the mail and packages come and go in the red delivery trucks. Sandy fidgeted on the couch and sat up, today was really a long wait.