"Yo, Bear! You and your friend better get a move on or I'm going without you!" shouted James Kincaid. "I can't believe mom's making me take you and your dumb two-year old friend to the park. It's Christmas! I should be out with Charlotte!"
"Don't call me Bear!" retorted Claire. "Anyway, Charlotte's probably glad to be away from you. And Sara is six, like me. Not two!"
"Yea, well you're about as smart as a two year old!"
"Oh, shut up. Hurry up!"
Ten minutes later, James, Claire and Claire's friend Sara were at the special place in the park. Every family on the Upper West Side knew about the place. It was deep in Central Park, behind the museum, and four minutes cross-town from Claire's house. The special place had four places for sledding. If you were scared, you could sled down the bunny hill. If you were brave, you could go to the top. If you were adventurous, you could steer through the trees. Big kids, like James, sled or snowboarded down the rock and snow mush.
This year, Sara and Claire were finally going to slide down trough the trees. Sara had a light pink Barbie sled that both of them could fit on. Claire sat in front and steered, and Sara held the carrots and grapes for snowman making.
"Scram, babies!" yelled James as he climbed up the rocks to join his friends. Claire and Sara huffed up the hill until they reached the top of the trees.
"I think we should make a Christmas tree."
"I want to make a snowman!"
"We can make a snowman next week, Sara. We can only make a tree today."
"Oh, all right."
Giggling, the two girls decorated a small evergreen they could touch the top of on tiptoe. When they were done, the tree was adorned with grapes, carrots, Claire's hat and Sara's scarf.
"Now can we go sledding?"
Pulling the sled behind them, they went to the edge of the sled slope. Claire got in front and sat between Sara's legs.
"On the count of three, you push, OK, Sara?"
"One, two, three!"
Claire and Sara were off like the wind. They jetted around tree after tree. Sara was turning pink with laughter, and Claire's hair was falling out of her braid. They went over bump after bump, until they hit a big drop. Their squeals of delight turned to screams of fear as Claire couldn't control the sled any more. Faster and faster they went, until suddenly, they hit a rock and Claire was jolted forward toward a tree!
"Claire!" shouted Sara.
Claire screamed and closed her eyes. Before she could hit the tree, the biggest, strongest hands Claire had ever seen grabbed her out of the air.
The second Claire got her wind back, she began to cry. Her ears were cold, and she was scared.
"Shh, it's OK," said the brown haired man who had saved her. "Are you cold?"
Trembling, Claire nodded her head. The man gave her his hat, which looked like something a homeless man might wear.
"Claire! Are you OK?" asked Sara, who had come over.
"Uh huh," Claire sniffled. "This man saved me."
"That's an ugly hat."
Chuckling, the man told her it was his and as long as it kept his head warm he was fine with it. Skeptically, Sara looked over the man.
"Aren't you a little old to be sledding?" Sara asked
"Sara! Don't be rude!" Claire hissed. Sometimes Sara was so embarrassing.
"Actually, I'm here with my wife and daughter. She's two. How old are you?
"We're six. I'm Sara, and the one you caught is Claire."
With a chuckle, the man set Claire down.
"You have big hands, mister. They're strong, too. I can sit in them like a chair...." said Claire. The man's face darkened, but it soon returned to its smile.
"My father had hands like that. I used to fall asleep in them."
"Here's your hat," Claire said as she pulled it off her head. Claire's cheeks were very red by now, and her hair was messy.
"Merry Christmas, Sara, Claire. Run along and be more careful!"
Giggling, Claire and Sara trotted off. The man went back to his wife and child.
"Jack, where in the hell have you been?" she asked.
"Drop it, Cora. I was just helping some kids."
"Oh sure. Jack McCoy, of all the things to do! Leaving me here with Mary! She's only two! What if she scampered away? That's very irresponsible."
Wearily, Jack began to console his wife. Cora and him fought very often these days and he was beginning to dread being near her.
Now, if only all girls were sweet and polite, yet smart and self confident, like the child he just saved. As he walked out of the park with his family, he looked back at the two girls laughing in the snow.
"Merry Christmas, Claire. I hope to see you again."