Girl trains a substitute reindeer

Joy stood off to the side of the tall jump ramp and gave Maxy an encouraging smile. He stood at the far end of the field preparing for his practice run.

Suzette had been delighted at Joy’s suggestion and had procured a large blowup mat that would ensure minimal discomfort if Maxy fell.

Joy smiled, remembering the look of pride on Santa’s face.

“Ho ho ho, what a great idea!” he’d exclaimed. “A safety catch! It’s the perfect solution!”

She’d asked Santa to clear out all the reindeer and elves, leaving her and Maxy alone for his practice. Even though no one was in sight, she had a feeling they were watching — they had a lot of hopes pinned on Maxy.

“You can do it!” she yelled to Maxy. “Come on, you’ve got this. Deep breaths! Clear your head! It’s just you and me, you know you can do this.”

Maxy slowly nodded, and even from several hundred feet away, Joy was sure she saw a glint of determination in his eyes.

“You can do it,” she whispered, wringing her hands as Maxy took off in a sprint.

In a flash, he was at the ramp, dashing higher and higher and higher, until …

He stopped.

“Oh, no,” Joy said, her stomach sinking.

Maxy sat and slid down the ramp, tumbling to a halt in front of her. He shook himself off and sighed.

“Can we pretend that one didn’t count?” he asked hopefully, and Joy laughed.

“Of course. Now go give it another try. I know you’ll get it this time,” she said.

Maxy bounded back across the field stomping in the snow to pump himself up. He took off again, racing toward the ramp, then up it, higher, higher, and then …

“You did it!” Joy clapped and jumped up and down, watching Maxy prance through the air. “Oh, Maxy, I knew you could do it!”

“This is so much fun!” Maxy called, flying in loops over the field before galloping down the the ground. As he landed, he was joined by his father and the rest of Santa’s reindeer, as well as Santa himself.

Rudolph’s nose glowed almost blindingly bright as he gently butted his head against Maxy’s. “I knew you could do it, son. I’m so proud of you!”

The rest of the reindeer chimed in, expressing their pride and excitement. Donner, with his hind leg in a splint, gave Maxy a big smile. “I’m sad I can’t help pull the sleigh this year, but if anyone has to take my place, I’m glad it’s you. I know you’ll do a great job.”

Joy knelt next to Maxy, wrapping her arms around his fuzzy neck in a big hug. He nuzzled his nose into her cheek.

“Thank you,” he whispered, and she hugged him tighter.

“Any time,” she said with a grin.

Santa placed a hand on Joy’s shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. “Well done, Joy Noelle. Well done.”

Joy beamed, stepping back as Maxy took off again into the sky with the rest of the reindeer. They pranced through the air, dropping down to bounce one at a time on the big inflatable mat. Joy laughed as she watched them play.

“We really should get back to training,” Suzette said worriedly, shaking her head as Cupid did a somersault off the bouncy mat. “They could get hurt doing that.”

“Ah, let them have some fun,” Santa said with a chuckle. “They’ve been working so very hard, they deserve it. After the next cookie break, they can get back to work.”

“And as for you,” he added, smiling as he looked at Joy, “I have a special surprise in store for you.”

“A surprise?” she repeated with a giggle. “You mean, something more surprising than all this?” She held her arms out and twirled in a circle, taking in the magical beauty of the North Pole that surrounded them.

“I suppose that will be for you to judge,” Santa said, his eyes twinkling again.

“Thank you so much for your help,” Suzette said with a warm smile. “Maxy really took to you, you were great!”

“Thanks. And you’re welcome!” Joy waved at Suzette as she followed Santa back toward the village.

“We really appreciate all you’ve done to help us,” Santa said.

“I just did the first things that came to mind,” she said.

“What you did today could very well have saved Christmas. And that’s why I’m giving you a special treat.”

Joy’s eyes widened; she couldn’t imagine anything more special than the things she had already done and seen. “What kind of treat?”

“Well, I thought I’d bring you into my workshop and ask you to help finish the rest of the toys for the boys and girls.”

“Your workshop!” Joy exclaimed. “Oh, Santa, I’d love to!”

Santa chuckled as they approached the stairs that led up to the massive workshop door. “Good, good. I was hoping you’d say that. Because Joy, this is a special thing. You see, you are the first child to ever visit inside the Toy Workshop.”

Joys eyes were as round as the moon. “Really? You mean, the first this season?”

Santa bent down and touched her nose with his finger.

“The first ever.”