“-but when she turned around, she saw the maniac in the Santa suit standing in the doorway, just as he locked the door behind him with the kids still in the house!”
“*Gasp!* Did he kill the kids?”
“Nah. The neighbors saw what was happening and called the police.”
“Oh thank goodness.”
Christmas Eve, 20XX ~ Arizona Desert
Roy Harper and his daughter Lian were on a Christmas camping trip. It’d been an unbelievably upsetting and frustrating year for the two, where nearly everything that COULD have gone wrong DID go wrong.
And then it got worse.
But then thankfully, things got better.
Roy decided he wanted to spend part of Christmas just the two of them, so they’d decided to go camping. Lian was, naturally, worried about Santa Claus losing track of them if they weren’t at home, but Roy promised her Santa would find them.
Camping isn’t normally a thing people do for Christmas, but the Harpers adapted. They brought with them a fake cactus they decorated with summery-style ornaments and an angel dressed like it was going swimming. They roasted turkey over a fire and sang Christmas songs instead of campfire songs. They pointed out the constellations in the starry night sky. And they just finished telling Christmas ghost stories over the fire (although a maniac in a Santa suit isn’t technically a ghost story).
“Alright kiddo, time for sleep.” Roy got up and prepared to douse the campfire before Lian grabbed his arm and tried to make him sit back down.
“No I wanna hear one more story!” Lian pleaded, tugging on her dad’s right arm.
“You don’t want Santa to miss us tonight, do you?” Roy asked, the bucket of water still in his free hand.
“But I’m not tired yet.” Lian moaned, jumping up and down and trying to make Roy sit. “I wanna hear another story.”
“I knew I shouldn’t have let you have three of those gingerbread men s’mores.” Roy shook his head and set the bucket back down. “You definitely did not need the sugar boost.”
“Oh yeah like you’re one to talk.” Lian let go of her father’s arm and pinched his big belly.
“Hey!” Roy laughed, and she started chasing him around the fire.
“Um, actually,” Lian said as she started to calm down, “I wanna ask you something.”
“Please tell me it’s not about whether Santa is real or not.” Roy replied.
“Oh no, Aunt Oracle showed me the JLA security footage,” Lian revealed, “I know he’s real.”
“Well then by all means.” Roy sat down by the fire again and patted the ground next to him. Lian kneeled down next to her father and looked him straight in the eye.
“Daddy, do you not like Christmas?” She asked.
“Where’d you get that idea?” Roy responded, confused. Lian took a deep breath.
“Well I remember whenever we’d go to those Titans Christmas parties or JLA Christmas parties you never really seem happy and it’s that same kind of fake happy you have whenever Grandpa Ollie talks about some of the bad stuff between you guys and you tell him it doesn’t bother you and you always try to plan some camping trip or somewhere we’re not surrounded by all the decorations or presents and stuff, even though you tell me Santa will find us wherever we are.”
It took a moment for Roy to absorb his daughter’s entire quandary.
“You noticed that?”
“Oh I notice a lot of stuff.”
Lian stopped for a moment and narrowed her eyes at Roy.
“Santa DOES know to find us here, right?”
“Um, well, it’s a bit more complicated than that, hon.”
“I told you we should’ve planned this earlier so he’d know!” Lian groaned.
“No not that!” Roy tried to reassure Lian the big man in red knew where they were. “I mean, I don’t hate Christmas, Lian. Granted some of the songs are annoying as Hell, but if anything the whole thing makes me a little uneasy.”
“Is it cuz you grew up on a reservation?” Lian inquired.
“Kinda.” Roy sighed, turning his attention to the fire. “It’s not that Christmas wasn’t a thing Grandpa Brave Bow and the rest of the tribe was into. You gotta understand just because they were Navajo that didn’t mean they hated the season. But the missionary people and their kids would often get really snotty about it. It usually gave them an excuse to seem super charitable when they’d hand out gifts on the 25th because they thought we couldn’t afford to get anything for ourselves. During class they’d make us do Secret Santa and expect us to make stuff in art class.”
“We do that in school too!” Lian explained, although she still hadn’t been re-enrolled in school after all that previously mentioned unpleasantness. “Only the teachers call it ‘Holiday Elves’ because they don’t wanna offend anyone.”
“The teachers at my school could’ve learned something from them; we often had to talk about all that Jesus sacrificed for us. Anyway, we did celebrate Christmas. It wasn’t super flashy, but it was nice. Tasteful, I guess. I never expected a lot from Santa, but Grandpa Brave Bow came through with stuff, homemade archery stuff, books, clothes, stuff like that. It was only after I started living with Grandpa that things got a bit…,” Roy struggled to find the right word, “Awkward.”
“Suddenly there was always so much stuff.” Roy motioned with his hands. “The decorations, the tree, the music, the TV specials, the stores, the gifts, all of it on that scale overwhelmed me a bit. I’d never experienced stuff like that before, and Ollie was trying to, I dunno, spoil me or something. Every 25th there’d be this mountain of gifts and stuff. I should’ve felt grateful, but, he was too overbearing. It was really the only time of the year when I was living with him that I felt like I was just some reservation charity case he decided to take pity on. Granted, this was before he decided to become champion of the downtrodden.”
“Did you ever tell Grandpa Ollie about how you felt?”
“You know your Grandpa and his idea of quality time. I’d wake up to all the gifts I could want, but he was rarely there to actually say ‘Merry Christmas.’ I’d get lucky if there was some bad guy causing trouble in Star City, but I don’t remember even having Christmas dinner with him until Grandma Dinah entered the scene.”
“What about Grandpa Roy Sr.?” Lian was now referring to her biological grandfather, Roy Harper Sr., a forest ranger who died when Roy was 3. “Do you remember ever doing anything with him?”
“Nah, I was too young.”
“So, Christmas makes you uncomfortable because…?” Lian wanted to hear a concrete reason from her dad. Roy thought for a moment.
“It makes me feel a bit weird because I remember how weird I felt during those first few Christmases with Grandpa Ollie. It was the entire sensory overload, and the feeling that I was supposed to be grateful or something that the great Oliver Queen chose me out of all the poor reservation children to shower with wealth. It’s not that big a deal, but,” Roy sighed in frustration, “I dunno. I might be over thinking stuff.”
“How come you let me celebrate Christmas then?” Lian wondered. “We decorate trees and put up decorations and you take me to see Santa at the mall. Why do it if it makes you feel weird?”
“Hey, just cuz it makes me feel a little weird doesn’t mean I’m gonna deprive you of the fun.” Roy messed up her hair. “That’s one thing a charity case like me can do.”
“Well, I don’t think you’re a charity case.” Lian asserted. “You’re a good dad.”
“You’re a good daughter.”
“And you’re SUCH a good dad you’ll let me open a gift early tonight, right?” Lian beamed. Roy opened his mouth but then Lian suddenly added “Kidding! I’m kidding! But wait a sec.”
“What’s up?” Roy asked as Lian suddenly pulled her overnight bag out and began rummaging through it.
“The other reason I wanted to ask you about Christmas is this.” Lian pulled out a framed photo from her bag and handed it to her father. “Sorry I didn’t wrap it.”
“What is…” Roy’s words seemingly died on his lips when, by the light of the fire, he could make out the image behind the glass. It was a group photo taken years back on the Oljato reservation of what seemed to be a small Christmas party. In the photo Roy could recognize Brave Bow alongside his birth father, and it seemed as though Roy Sr. was holding a baby in his arms.
“That’s not the only gift I got for you, but I had Aunt Oracle look for something like this. I was gonna try to find one that had your mom, but, it was kinda hard, even for Oracle.” Lian finished explaining.
“Geez, I can’t believe how young he was.” Roy turned to Lian. “Why’d you-“
“I thought maybe you missed your first two dads or something around Christmas so, I dunno, I thought this might help.”
“When did you get so introspective?” Roy mused.
“I died. This stuff happens.”
“Well, thank you hon.” Roy kissed her forehead.
“So that means I can open a gift early right?”