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Brian came home just thirty minutes later bringing two giant tubs of ice cream with him. When Nick saw the treats his eyes grew big, “What kind did you get?”

“I didn’t go all fancy got chocolate and vanilla”

“Awesome!” Nick grabbed the chocolate tub out of Brian’s hands which caused him to laugh.

“I also bought hot fudge sauce and whipped cream!”

“Did you get the kind in the can or the kind in a tub?” Nick didn’t wait for an answer as he searched the bag, “Score!! Bri you rock!” He held up the can of Redi whip clicking off the top like a pro and sticking it in his mouth.

“Gross Nicky we all have to use that!”

“I bet you have never even done that before Howie”

“Sure I have”

“I don’t believe you” Howie grabbed the can of whipped cream from Nick and sprayed it in his mouth causing the youngest blonde to go into hysterics. Kevin wasn’t watching that scene unfold but staring at his cousin; he was amazed how well he had a handle on things.

Brian was smiling wide watching Nick, who dramatically fell to the floor to make a point that what Howie was doing was the funniest thing he had ever seen. When he felt his cousin’s eyes on him he looked over and winked.

“I’ll get the bowls” Kevin followed Brian to the cabinet, “Brian that was a great idea”

“Don’t you know cousin that ice cream is the universal cure for everything?”

“Hey Brian watch this” Now Nick had the can in his hand again and went about making a moustache on his face before licking it clean.

“See?” He said once more winking at his cousin before walking over and playfully wrestling Nick for the can of cream.

Kevin looked on with pride; Brian would make a great dad some day. Sometimes he was jealous of his cousin’s abilities to turn situations around like this one. Looking at Nick you would never guess just a few moments ago the kid was near tears. Now he looked like the happiest kid in the world as he plopped some chocolate ice cream into his bowl.

They sat around the table eating ice cream and talking about the stupidest things. No mention of rehearsals or touring or even being anything more then the three kids they were at that moment.

It felt just like what everyone needed, even Kevin who had managed to laugh more than he had in the last month it seemed. It helped them get through the next two days which were rough.

Whenever one of them was sick and not able to attend a rehearsal it kind of threw things off a bit. Dance routines were off as well as harmonies. Especially when it was someone with as many leads as AJ had. Kevin ended up singing all of AJ’s parts in practice but it just seemed pointless to rehearse when one of them were gone.

The smile that lived on Nick’s face as he ate ice cream had all but disappeared as he took part in those two rehearsals. He looked tired, pale and just overall unhappy to be him. Depending on his own mood, either Kevin felt bad for the kid or didn’t want to be anywhere near him. The same could really be said for the other two guys as well. Funny how everyone reacted to being overworked differently.

Brian just became all business minded, like “Look the quicker we get this done the quicker it’ll be over”

Howie for some reason just became a work out nut, choosing to spend any time they had off which was maybe ten minutes here or five minutes there, at the gym lifting weights. And Kevin, well Kevin just would stand in one place and practice the same thing over and over again.

Nick of course would just whine and pout, sometimes grumble under his breath but it’s when he was being completely quiet, that’s when you knew he was really upset and the last hour of rehearsal on that second day without AJ he was as quiet as can be.

When they got back to the apartment that night there were two big boxes waiting at the front door which caused Brian to gallop up the steps in order to reach them.

“Presents!!” He squealed in delight as he unlocked the door and made his way in with the first package. Kevin brought in the second one with Howie and Nick following behind.

“It says our landlord signed for them…he rocks” Brian said searching for a knife to open the boxes with. “Maybe we should wait until Christmas” Brian gave his cousin an incredulous look which made the older boy laugh, “Oh stupid me... what was I thinking”

“Don’t you think we need a little Christmas now?” He said singing the famous carol. “Brian you’re worse than a little kid”

“Haul out the holly…put up the tree before my spirits fall again” He sang dancing around the two boxes like a complete idiot making Nick and Howie laugh. Kevin walked over to Brian’s box with the box cutter in hand, “Give me those”

“No way Brian, let me do it because you’re acting like such a fool you’re bound to rip your finger off or something”

“Fine….way to bring down my good mood” Brian plopped down on the floor by the box, sitting pretzel style. Kevin shook his head and rolled his eyes.

Once Kevin managed to cut open the box, Brian carefully started lifting out the contents, “Hey Nick, you want to help me out?” He looked over at his friend who was sitting at the table holding his head up by his hand.

“Nah that’s okay…actually I think I’m going to go watch some TV” The boy said standing up and walking over to the living room.

Brian looked over at Kevin who gave him the leave him be look. “Let’s see what you got cousin”

Brian pulled out about six boxes a few small ones and two pretty decent sized ones. “Aren’t you going to open them?” Howie asked sitting there trying to look more interested then he actually was. Brian kind of wished that Nick would have done the same but he also understood why he wouldn’t.

Kevin noticed Brian looking over in Nick’s direction again, “Brian, just open them he’ll be okay”

“Well why don’t you open yours?”

“You first”

“Okay if you insist” He tore into the first package which was a sweater with a big Christmas tree on it. “Okay, well I hope they aren’t all like this”

“Who is that from?” Brian read the label, “Oh it’s from grandma guess you’re going to have a matching one as well Kev”

He looked at the next package, “This is from my brother” He tore the package open and gleamed with excitement as he took it out! “Nick man he bought me a new Basketball! Dude we have to go play, I just need to pump it with some air” Nick turned around from the couch, “Cool”

“Come on Nick come over here with me, you’re making me feel bad” Kevin gave Nick a look, he had many Nick looks but this one said “you know he’d do the same for you” So out of guilt Nick trudged back into the kitchen and sat on the floor next to Brian as he opened the next present. “This is from my parents” He opened the box to see two shirts and a pair of jeans.

There were two more presents from his parents, a watch and a gift certificate to Tower Records. At the bottom there were two cards. Brian bent into the box to get them out and ripped the first one open. He read the card and smiled, and then he hugged it close to his heart. Kevin began cutting his box open as he looked at the other card, “Hey this one is for you Nick” He said smiling and handing it over to his friend who looked confused. “Me?”

“Yup that is your name on the envelope isn’t it?”

“Wow maybe my mom sent your mom a card to give to me” For some reason that almost broke Howie’s and Kevin’s hearts hearing him say that.

“Yeah maybe” Brian knew better as he tousled his friend’s hair, “Open it”

Nick looked at the envelope than opened it up. It was a picture of a reindeer standing next to Santa. When he opened it up he sighed seeing it wasn’t from his mom or dad at all but from Brian’s parents.

A little note fell from it along with a $50 dollar bill.

Dear Nick,

I wasn’t sure exactly what to get you for Christmas because I know what you most want I can’t give you and that’s your family there with you. We are so sorry that you boys will be so far away from us over the holidays but know that we all love and care about you.

You make my son so happy Nick, he loves you very much!

And we do too!

Merry Christmas make my nephew take you to the store to pick out anything you would like. Maybe one of those Nintendo Gameboy games you enjoy so much!

Much love,

Mom and Dad Littrell


Nick stared at the letter for a while because he was too embarrassed to look up. He felt like crying.

“Wow man that’s awesome” Brian said looking at the money Nick was holding in his hands. “What are you going to spend it on?”

“I don’t feel right spending it on anything; it’s your money Brian”

“Uh no it’s not Nick. If it were my money they would have given it to me not you”

“It’s still not right” He tried to hand the money to Brian who pushed it away.

“Look Nick, just take it okay? My parents would be upset if you refused their gift”

“I feel bad…I didn’t get them anything”

“That’s okay maybe next time” Brian winked which caused Nick to smile.

Now Kevin was rummaging through his first present and laughed when he did in fact open the same exact sweater that Brian had gotten from their grandmother.

“So what do you plan on getting?” Howie asked Nick as he watched Kevin open up another box. This time it was a pair of sneakers.

“I don’t know. She said I should buy a game for my Gameboy”

“Oh…well I guess that’s out of the question huh?”

“Maybe not” Everyone looked over at Kevin who had a small box in his hand. “Seems like my Mom has something for you in here as well Nick”

“Jeez talk about being spoiled” Howie kidded as Kevin handed the present over to the excited 13 year old.

“What is it?”

“I don’t know but I have my suspicions” Nick smiled and ripped the wrapping off the box to find a brand new Gameboy with just a small note saying.

Merry Christmas Nick,

I heard my son owes you one of these! Have a blessed Christmas

Love,

The Richardsons


“I don’t know what to say” Nick managed to squeak out. Now he was getting very emotional as tons of thoughts were racing through his mind. He was so grateful and felt so blessed to have such wonderful friends with equally wonderful parents, but at the same time he was feeling like his own parents had continued to do nothing but let him down.

Kevin opened up his final two gifts which were money and a new jacket as the boys looked on. He then found a letter from his mom at the bottom under some of the Styrofoam peanuts. “I’m going to go read this in private if you guys don’t mind” He said standing up and ruffling Nick’s hair. Then he went over and squeezed his cousin’s shoulder and pat Howie on the back.

“I hope you don’t feel too left out D” Brian kidded as Kevin left for the bedroom, “I can always lend you the sweater”

“It’s okay Brian I’ll just go roll myself up in a ball and cry under the table”

When Kevin closed the door he laid on his belly and read his mom’s letter.

Hi Sweetheart,

I just wanted you to know we really miss you here honey! Christmas just won’t be the same without you. If there was any way we could come down there we would but you know how hard it is these days to just pick up and leave town.

I just wanted you to know how loved and missed you are by all of us. Not just me in fact your brother Tim just confessed to me the other day that he was sad you weren’t closer to home. He said he really misses you.

I hope you enjoy your presents. I’m sending you a care package that you will receive Christmas Eve with some food that Jackie and I made for you. It’s not home but we want the three of you to feel like you can at least have a semi great Christmas dinner.

I also saved your butt and decided to buy Nickolas that Gameboy. Watch him Kevin; I know this must be hard on him. I’m glad you told me about what’s been going on with Nick. He needs you and your cousin right now to be his family. I was thinking about maybe calling Jane and giving her a small piece of my mind. What are your thoughts on that?

Watch out for each other as well.

I love you more than anything! And I miss you like crazy!

Hugs and kisses!

Mom


Kevin felt tears in his eyes. He knew he missed them, but it wasn’t until he felt these little kisses from home that he yearned to be back there more than anything else. He sat up and placed the letter from his mom in his nightstand. He knew he would be reading it more than once today. In fact he knew that that letter would help him get through the holidays until he got to see his family again.

Walking back out into the kitchen he saw that everyone had now made their way into the living room leaving that Christmas morning look on the floor. He started to clean up the mess but stopped himself. He kind of liked that look. He sat on the couch in between Brian and Nick as he played with his Gameboy. “Your mom was awesome to give me this Kevin…I mean both of your moms”

“Well when we call them later you can say thank you”

“Okay”

For no real reason he wrapped his arms around Nick and hugged him. “We’ll have a great Christmas lil man. I promise”

Nick didn’t answer, only continued to play his videogame as the others sat listening to it beeping.
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