The Boy Who Lost His Christmas Spirit by honey
Chapter 1 by honey
Kevin was taking his wife and Mason home to Kentucky to spend Christmas with him mom. He was really excited to have a white Christmas this year.

Howie and Leigh were spending it with her family… Her entire family. It sounded kind of crazy, but for some reason they were really, really excited about it.

Brian and Leighanne were actually staying home this year to spend Christmas with just them and Baylee. Brian’s favorite thing in the world is his family time, and of course, if no one is around to witness it, he can go just as crazy over all Baylee’s new toys as Baylee himself. According to Brian, Baylee always gets cooler presents than him.

Then there’s AJ. Usually, he could count on AJ, but this year AJ had a new girlfriend and he was taking her home to meet his mom. He was a nervous wreck about it, but he was still so happy before he left that he was practically glowing.

That just left, well, no one. Just Nick. Everyone had plans. Everyone had someone to make plans with. And Nick? Well, Nick had… Nick.

Once upon a time Christmas was Nick’s favorite holiday, but over the past few years, as his friends all started families of their own, every year Christmas became more about all the things Nick didn’t have, instead of those he did.

Nick didn’t have someone to take home to his parents. He didn’t even have parents that he’d want to bring someone home to. He didn’t have any kids to spoil with presents. He wouldn’t be having a huge Christmas feast. There would be no singing carols around a warm fire. And he wouldn’t be kissing anyone beneath the mistletoe.

Nope. Not Nick. Nick had nothing. No one. Nick was cursed. Nick simply couldn’t have a good Christmas. Nick hated Christmas. Christmas just plain sucked. So what was Nick going to do for Christmas?

Drink.

Christmas Eve came around and Nick found himself perched on a stool in an all but deserted bar, nursing shot after shot. “Can I get another?” he mumbled to the bar tender when he realized the glass in front of him was empty.

“No need,” a deep voice chuckled to the bartender, and then a shot glass filled with a thick crème-colored liquid slid in front of Nick.

Nick picked up the glass and laughed. “This egg-nog better be spiked.”

“Oh, it is,” Came a jolly reply. “With sugar and spice and everything nice. Plus the Mrs.’s special ingredient.”

Nick looked up at the stranger sitting on the stool next to him and laughed at the big red suit. “Santa?”

“Nicholas?” The man laughed back. “It’s good to see you again, son.”

Nick tried to focus his blurred vision and see past the rosy cheeks and snow-white beard. “Have we met?”

“Have you forgotten? Christmas Eve 1988? You were hiding in the corner, and you woke up when I tripped over your mom’s light-up frosty the snowman? We shared the milk and cookies you left out.”

Nick’s mouth fell open. He’d never told anyone that story. Ever. It was the year his parents told him that Santa Clause wasn’t real, and he was determined to prove them wrong. He was eight and he’d snuck out of his room and hid in the corner in hopes of catching Old St. Nick in the act. And he did.

He was sure he’d dreamed it. In fact, he was sure he was dreaming now. He’d passed out on the bar and was now dreaming about the last Christmas he remembered liking. “Oh man, I have got to lay off the juice!” he groaned.

“Just one more,” Santa urged, pushing the egg-nog closer to Nick.

“What the hell, I’m already hallucinating.” Nick picked up the glass and smiled sarcastically as he raised it to the jolly man. “Merry Christmas, dude.”

“Merry Christmas, Nicholas,” Santa replied with a knowing smile as Nick threw back the egg-nog shot.

Nick closed his eyes as the drink slid down his throat. It definitely tasted of sugar and spice, but whatever Mrs. Clause’s “secret ingredient” was it sure had some kick to it. As he swallowed it, he felt all warm and toasty and then suddenly cool crisp air was cutting across his face, chapping his cheeks and making his nose run.

Nick opened his eyes and was immediately met with a beautiful night sky like he’d never seen before. A sky so clear, with stars so bright that Nick felt as if he could reach out and touch them. Then he realized he practically could. Because he was up there with them. In a sleigh. Being pulled by flying reindeer. “What the – ”

“Fudge?”

Nick was startled from his trance to see Santa holding out a plate of Christmas candy. “The Mrs. Makes the best fudge in the whole world.”

Nick was in too much shock to respond. “No need to try and make sense of it, Nick” Santa laughed pushing the plate closer. “Just go along for the ride. And eat up! We’ve got a lot to do tonight!”

Nick looked around again and then had no choice but the sit back, enjoy the ride, and eat fudge. He popped a piece in his mouth and was unable to stop from smiling at the surprisingly heavenly taste. Santa saw Nick’s face light up and shook the sky with a jolly, “HO! HO! HO!”

He took Nick from house to house, all over the world, leaving gift after gift and eating cookie after cookie. Nick was amazed at how he was able to eat every cookie, every piece of fudge, and drink every glass of milk pushed his way throughout the night without ever tiring of the sweets, or feeing sick, or even full.

Then there was the mystery of how time seemed to wait for them as they went on hour after hour, always as if they were holding back the sunrise that would bring so much joy to the world.

But all of this was nothing compared to the way Santa knew each and every package he left under the tree. And he didn’t just know what he was leaving, he’d had picked them personally, because he knew each and every person in each and every house they visited. Everyone had a story, and each was more fascinating than the next.

Finally they found themselves back in Nick’s own neighborhood, and landed on none other than the roof of Nick’s next-door neighbor. Nick lived in an exclusive neighborhood where each estate had its own gate with its own security guard and he’d never once met the people who lived there – he didn’t even know their names. As he climbed his way out of the chimney, and dodged the three hanging stockings, he read the names on each and found himself very curious. “David, Rachel…”

“And little Geoffrey,” Santa finished pointing at a picture on the mantle of a little boy.

Nick wrinkled his nose. “Who names their kid Geoffrey?”

Santa chuckled to himself as Nick wandered the room looking at other pictures of the family that lived just a few hundred yards from him. Nick waited for Santa to open up his bag and start leaving gifts but was very confused when Santa pulled a single letter from his bag and stuck it in little Geoffrey’s stocking. “That’s it?” he protested when Santa headed back to the chimney.

“That’s all he asked for. Geoffrey didn’t want any toys this year.”

“A gift certificate?”

Santa shook his head with a smile. “Come on Nicholas, one last stop to make tonight.”

“Seriously,” Nick asked as he climbed into the sleigh with Santa. “What kind of kid doesn’t want any toys for Christmas?”

“The best kind,” Santa laughed. “Geoffrey’s a very privileged kid. He already has every toy in the world. All he wanted for Christmas this year was to make sure that someone who didn’t have a lot of toys got his instead.”

“Whoa,” Nick laughed. “I bet you don’t get that request very often.”

“Sure don’t. Geoff’s a special kid,” Santa sighed. “A lot like you always were.”

Nick was surprised by the compliment. He thought back to how this evening began – him in a bar hating life – and was overcome with embarrassment. Santa guessed Nick’s thoughts and threw his arm around Nick’s shoulder. “Do you remember when you were eleven, and you heard your parents fighting about how there was no money for Christmas presents that year?”

How could Nick forget? That was the first year that Nick began officially hating Christmas. The only thing that saved it was that his younger brothers and sisters didn’t seem to know what really happened. “Mom took the Christmas fund and disappeared for two days,” Nick replied bitterly. “Never did find out exactly what she spent it on.”

“No, but you went through all of your stuff and picked out something for all of your brothers and sisters and wrapped them in newspaper so that they would have something under the tree.”

Nick looked at the picture on the mantle of the happy child, and then let his eyes drift to the floor. “You’re still a good kid, Nick,” Santa said throwing his bag back over his shoulder. “Come on, one last stop.”

Nick was very quiet as the sleigh made it’s way across town. He suddenly wasn’t feeling full of holiday cheer anymore. Even Mrs. Clause’s famous hot cinnamon apple cider didn’t warm him up quite the way it should.

He headed over to the last chimney, suddenly surprised by how big the roof was. “What is this place? It’s not a house. It looks more like an old warehouse.”

“It was a warehouse. It’s been converted into a group home.”

“An orphanage?”

Santa nodded and then, with a twinkle in his eye, disappeared down the chimney. Nick followed curiously and was startled by how dark it was when he landed. Most homes had been well lit by the twinkling trees, but here, Nick could barely see where he stepped. “What’s the story here?” he asked Santa in a whisper.

“The homes budget got cut this year and they decided to give each child a new hat and gloves instead of having a Christmas party or decorations.”

“They don’t even have a tree?”

Nick couldn’t imagine a Christmas without a tree, and he suddenly realized that no matter how bad he seemed to have it, there would always be someone who had it worse. “Ok,” he said rubbing his hands together with anticipation, “Where do we start? You want me to decorate or pull presents? How many kids do we have here?”

Santa sighed, and pulled one small package from his sack. “No decorations, Nick. This is it,” he said sadly.

“What?”

Santa shrugged helplessly at Nick and dumped his sack upside down. The bag was empty.

“No!” Nick hissed. “There has to be more! There are a ton of kids here who aren’t getting anything this year! They don’t even have a tree!”

“I know,” Santa sighed. “Sometimes this job breaks my heart, but I can’t do anything about it. I don’t have presents for those who don’t believe.”

“You can’t do anything?”

“It’s just the way the magic works. Without any holiday spirit, there is no Christmas – no Santa. Just like you, Nick. I haven’t been able to visit you for years and years. But I never forgot about you. Every year I hope that I’ll find your name on my list.”

“So why this year then? Why am I here with you now? I was drunk in a bar. That’s not exactly being filled with the Christmas spirit.”

Santa grinned from ear to ear. “I lucked out. Your name showed up on a different list this year, so I was able to pull a few strings.”

“What list?”

Santa only answered Nick’s question with a wink. “Here,” he said instead, and handed Nick the box. “Sixty-two kids in this place, and this year, little Suzie is the only one who never lost her magic.” Santa opened the box and pulled out a doll. “Suzie’s parents were killed in a car accident this year. They were the only family she had, so she asked for a doll to be here family in this place because she was lonely and scared.”

Nick was normally tough as nails, but suddenly there were hot tears streaming down his cold, rosy cheeks. Santa smiled at the sadness he displayed and held the doll out at arms length. “Why don’t you do the honors?”

Nick shivered as he took the doll. He did feel honored. It was a joy to think that such a simple little toy was going to bring some poor girl so much joy, and Nick was never more proud about anything than he was that he got to be the one to bring that joy. “Where?” he choked through his emotions.

Santa smiled that same knowing smile and pointed a finger to a dark corner near the fireplace. Nick’s tears returned at the sight. Suzie had snuck out of her bed upstairs and fallen asleep in the corner hoping to catch a glimpse of the man in red the same way he’d done many years ago. He crept toward her quietly and carefully placed the doll in her arms, but as he stepped back he lost his balance and fell to the ground with a soft thud.

The little girl’s eyes popped open and for a moment Nick panicked, but when Suzie saw him she smiled so big that Nick forgot about everything. “Santa!” Suzie cried in a whisper.

Nick was startled by the name and started to shake his head, but suddenly realized that he was now wearing a fuzzy red suit and a floppy hat. He smiled as he put a white-gloved finger to his lips. Suzie giggled as he shushed her and nodded enthusiastically. “Merry Christmas, Suzie!” Nick whispered.

“Merry Christmas, Santa. Thank you for my doll.”

“What are you going to name her?” Nick asked.

“Sally,” Suzie whispered reverently. “Like my mom.”

Nick had to swallow the lump in his throat so that the sweet child wouldn’t have to see him cry. “That’s a beautiful name.” Nick smiled at the doll clutched tightly in Suzie’s arms. “Merry Christmas, Sally.”

Nick stood up to leave, and stopped when he felt a tiny hand clutch his coat. “Santa?” Suzie chimed. “I’m sorry I didn’t have any cookies, but I saved my milk from dinner tonight.”

The little girl held up a tiny carton of milk and Nick couldn’t stop his eyes from glistening over this time. With a smile he sat down on a sofa and graciously took the milk from the girl. As he opened the carton, he felt a bulge suddenly form in his pocket and with a huge smile he pulled two cookies from his pocket. He handed one to Suzie and winked as he took a bite of the other.

Once Nick and Santa were back in the sleigh Santa chuckled. “Rookie,” he laughed and handed Nick a tissue.

Nick laughed and thanked Santa, yet again, for the most amazing night of his life and the next thing he knew he was waking up in his bed on Christmas morning. His heart sunk as he recalled last night and realized it had all been a dream, but there was just no other way. It wasn’t possible.

Nick heaved himself from bed and headed straight for a nice hot shower, but as he let his muscles soak, he was surprised by how good he felt. Not only did he have no hangover, he felt as if he’d just got the best night’s sleep of his entire life.

Nick went down to pour himself a bowl of cereal for his Christmas breakfast, but even though he was alone, and there were no presents waiting beneath the tree, he couldn’t shake the dream he’d had, and the feeling it left in his heart.

Two minutes later the buzzer from his front gate was ringing to life. “Hello?” he asked curiously. Who would be coming to visit him so early on Christmas morning?

“Mr. Carter?” the tiny voice asked.

“Yes?”

“I’m Geff, your next door neighbor and I got a note from Santa saying I should come talk to you.”

Nick stumbled back from the intercom. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. And he didn’t understand it. It had all been real! It had to be; he’d watched Santa put the letter in the boy’s stocking himself. But why would the note say to talk to him? Nick stood there for a moment in complete and utter shock, and slowly he started to figure it out. “Geoff!” he called through the buzzer, “I’m so glad you came!”

Nick panicked when he got no reply, so he dashed out the door in his bare feet and ran down to his gate. It seemed as if it were never going to open, but when he finally got out, he saw a boy being ushered home by two angry parents. “Wait!” Nick called.

The man and woman saw Nick standing there and immediately hurried back. “We are so sorry!” the woman apologized. “He should never have bothered you on Christmas morning. He told us he was going to his room to play with the new toys we got him.”

“No,” Nick said, still shocked. “It’s ok, really. Geoff, is it?” he asked smiling down at the familiar face. “You get a lot of presents from your mom and dad this year?”

“A lot,” Goeff confessed.

“How about from Santa? Did you get anything good from Santa?”

“Just a letter saying I should come talk to you.”

“Mr. Carter, I am so sorry,” Geoff’s dad said chagrined. “We have no idea where that came from.”

“It’s ok,” Nick assured them again and then winked at Geoff. “I got a little something like that from Santa myself.”

Geoff smiled so brightly up at Nick that that warm fuzzy feeling was overtaking his heart again threatening to make him cry in front of his neighbors. He looked up at Geoff’s parents and then said, “You know, I’m really glad you stopped by. I was going to make a trip over to the Holbrook Group Home in a little while. There’s a lot of kids over there who didn’t get much of a Christmas this year and I was going to take some of my stuff to them. I could actually use a little help dropping it off, if you guys would be interested.”

“Oh, Mr. Carter, that’s sounds nice, but…”

“Can I give them some of my stuff too?” Geoff interrupted, filled with excitement.

“Well, if it’s ok with your parents. I’m sure there are a lot of little kids who would really like that.”

The boy looked up at his parents with the most excited eyes they’d ever seen and a few hours later Nick, Geoff, and Geoff’s parents were unloading everything from books and cars to blocks and games. Nick brought some of his CD players and CD’s and movies, sports equipment, even a couple of his old guitars – anything in his house he could find that he thought the kids might like – and he topped it all off by bringing his own Christmas tree.

The kids ravaged the presents, and as the last gift was handed out one of the children cried out, “Ms. Sherman! What about Ms. Sherman?”

Everyone looked up to see a woman in her late 20’s standing in the back of the room turn beet red from the attention. “Who is Ms. Sherman?” Nick asked curiously.

“I’m the social worker assigned to this home,” the woman answered shyly as she was dragged toward Nick by all of the children.

“We love Ms Sherman!” the kids chimed. “She’s so nice! She needs a present too!”

“Oh, no,” Ms Sherman hushed the kids. “These gifts were for you. I didn’t want anything anyway.”

Then, little Suzie, of all people, still clutching Sally tightly, jumped into Ms. Sherman’s arms. “That’s not true!” she accused sternly. “When I asked you what you asked Santa for Christmas, you said you wanted a Backstreet Boy!”

Nick smirked, but not because of what the child had said, but because he finally realized what Santa meant by having him on a different list. He wasn’t on the naughty list, or the nice list. He was on the wish list.

“What’s a Backstreet boy?” one of the other children asked, startling Nick from his thoughts.

He looked up to see that Ms. Sherman’s flushed cheeks were now white as a ghost. He smiled at the humiliated woman, and then laughed to all the kids. “I’ll show you what a Backstreet Boy is. You guys like music?”

They children all cheered and Nick picked up one of the guitars he’d brought and sat down in front of the fire. He tugged Ms. Sherman alongside him and made her sit next to him as they all sang Christmas carols around the fire. Then, Nick told them all a story about a boy who’d once lost his Christmas Spirit, and how Santa’d helped him find it again. The kids hung on his every word and promised with all their hearts that they would never lose their Christmas spirit.

When the story was over Nick sat smiling at a bunch of angelic faces that he knew he would never forget. He was once again startled from his thought when a child raised her hand in the crowd. “Yes, suzie?” he asked, surprised by the love he felt in his heart each time he looked at the doe-eyed little girl.

“Do you still have your Christmas spirit?”

Nick thought for a moment and then grinned from ear to ear. “Yes, I do.” he answered. “I lost it, just like the little boy in the story, but I found it again. All of you guys helped me find it.

Nick’s heart pounded in his chest as he thought of his previous night. He thought back to the bar and all the things he’d been wishing he had – the presents, the kids, the songs, the feast… So he didn’t have the woman, but now that he had his Christmas Spirit back, there was always next year.

“Hey!” one of the children cried out. “What’s that?”

Nick looked up to see what the child was pointing at and smiled at the Mistletoe he and Ms. Shannon were suddenly sitting beneath. “Santa,” he laughed to himself, “you sly dog!”


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