A Christmas Secret Chapter 2
By Susan Molthop
Copyright (c) 1998 by Susan Molthop
Jason finished first. He folded his paper and dropped it in the bowl while Todd and Nicole were still thinking.
Todd tapped the pencil on his head a few times, then chuckled. He grabbed a piece of paper and scribbled three letters on it. He folded it as many times as he could and dropped it into the bowl.
"C'mon, Nicole. You aren't writing one of your poems," said Jason, aiming his pencil at her like a hand phaser. "Pshee, pshee." Nicole ignored him. She needed the perfect name and wouldn't be rushed.
Finally she made up her mind, wrote a name, and folded her paper. She walked slowly to the couch, held her paper over the bowl, waited until Jason yelled at her, then dropped it in.
Mom stuck her hand into the bowl and mixed up the papers. She let Jason pick first, since he was the first one finished. She held the bowl over his head so he had to reach up and over.
Jason opened the paper, read the name, then groaned.
"Did you get the name you wrote?" asked Mom.
"No," said Jason, "but I sure wish I had. This one is worse. I got Mrs. Blake."
Nicole smiled and noticed the look of admiration on Todd's face. Mrs. Blake lived across the street. She and Mr. Blake argued a lot. Nicole could hear them yelling at each other when the windows were open. Mrs. Blake never spoke to any of her neighbors. On the Fourth of July, when everyone else came out to have fireworks and play with the kids, Mr. and Mrs. Blake stayed in the house. Making her laugh wouldn't be any fun at all.
Next it was Todd's turn to pick.
"Got my own," he said. Mom took his paper and let him draw the only one left.
"No way," said Todd. "Nobody on the planet could make Mrs. Griffin laugh. She gives us all dirty looks when we walk by her house -- ever since Jason trampled her pansies, trying to get his football."
"That was your fault. You throw like a girl."
"Then a girl would've caught it," said Nicole.
Mom rolled her eyes, then settled her gaze on Todd. He had opened his mouth to come back at Jason, but closed it again when he saw that look.
It was Nicole's turn to pick. Mom still had Todd's paper in her hand. She put it back in the bowl. Nicole stuck her hand in and grabbed it. She unfolded it, read the short name, then burst into tears.
"It's not fair," she cried. "He never laughs. He doesn't even smile anymore." She wadded up the paper and ran out.
"It was supposed to be hard, wasn't it?" asked Todd. "It was supposed to be someone who needed it, right?"
Nicole heard him yelling after her, but she didn't stop. She ran into her bedroom and slammed the door. She opened the crumpled paper and stared at the name, then dropped it into the waste basket. It landed with the writing side up. Three letters were scrawled across it in Todd's sloppy writing. "D-A-D".
Nicole lay on her bed with her pillow wrapped around her head. The tears had stopped. She thought about her father, trying to remember what he had been like when he was happy. It had been a long time.
Dad and Mom each owned a business. Mom's was a party shop and it was doing great. Dad's was a computer school and it wasn't doing so well. Dad told her he might have to close the doors and lay off his employees. That made him sad. Her friend, Michele, said her father got laid off once and they had to move in with her grandparents.
"Hey, Tail-face," said Todd from the doorway.
Nicole glared at him. He'd called her butt-head once and she'd told Mom. Now he made up names as close to that as he could get -- close enough to make her mad, but not close enough for tattling.
"Aw, don't get mad. I just came to tell you that Jason's up to something. Let's spy on him and see what's going on."
Nicole sighed and slid off the bed. Spying on Jason was Todd's favorite game. Nicole was too old for it, but she didn't want Todd to think she was pouting. She followed him down the hall to Jason's room. The door was closed but they could hear him talking on the cordless phone. They couldn't understand what he was saying, so Todd turned the knob, carefully, and pushed the door open just a crack.
Jason laughed. "That's a good one, Tim. I think that'll do it. Bye." He switched off the phone then threw himself back on his bed, grinning at the ceiling.
"C'mon in, creeps. The master already has his plan worked out. I'll have old Mrs. Blake laughing by bedtime tomorrow night, with almost a week to spare."
Nicole looked at Todd and shrugged. Todd went in, but Nicole knew Jason would only brag about his plan and she didn't want to listen. She wandered into the family room and sat on the floor, leaning against the couch. She was trying to think of a way to make Dad laugh.
A few minutes later Todd came in, dragging a piece of yarn. It didn't take long to get Avery's attention.
Watching Avery reminded Nicole of the day they found him. It had rained that day, too. They had been shopping for a Christmas tree when they stopped for a red light. Nicole saw the kitten first. He was on the median strip, soaking wet, yelling his head off. Dad had an awful time trying to rescue him from the middle of the busy road, without sending him into traffic on the other side.
Dad said the kitten had to sleep in the garage. Avery got tangled up in some decorations out there and made an awful mess. Dad was really mad. He caught Avery and got the stuff off him, but then Avery got loose, again. He climbed the Christmas tree and broke two ornaments. She remembered Dad chasing Avery all over the place. Dad finally caught him, put him in Nicole's room and shut the door. Avery had slept with one of the kids ever since.
Nicole slumped farther down against the sofa. Her chin nearly touched her chest. She would never be able to make Dad laugh.
Todd ran through the room, then stopped and changed direction. Avery jumped, did a back flip, then scrambled after the yarn again. He batted at it with his little black paws, but Todd was quicker. Nicole giggled, in spite of her bad mood. Todd ran the yarn over Dad's chair. The kitten climbed the chair then disappeared over the back. Nicole laughed out loud. Suddenly, Todd stopped and stared at her as if she had said something important. Before she could figure out why he'd looked at her like that, he grabbed Avery and ran out the front door.
Nicole scrambled to her feet and followed her brother. She watched him go straight over to Mrs. Griffin's house, next door. He put Avery down on the front lawn and started playing. Avery flipped, jumped, chased, and ran after the yarn, while Todd giggled and tried to stay ahead of him.
After a few minutes, Mrs. Griffin came out, waving a dish towel at Todd, but then stopped to watch. Before long, she was smiling, then snickering a little. Finally, Avery made a high twisting back flip that brought a roar of laughter from Mrs. Griffin.
Todd grinned at Nicole, then turned to Mrs. Griffin. "You want to play with him?"
She shook her head, then shrugged and nodded. "Why not," she said, and took the piece of yarn from Todd. She traced circles and figure-eights with the yarn, while Avery scrambled eagerly behind. He followed whatever pattern Mrs. Griffin designed. After a few minutes, the neighbor and the kitten tired of playing. Mrs. Griffin smiled at the children. "Merry Christmas," she said, then walked back into her house, still chuckling.
"Well, that's that," said Todd, as he led the way home, dragging the yarn. Nicole and Avery followed. Nicole wondered if that yarn trick would work on Dad. "Not a chance," she mumbled and kicked a pine cone as hard as she could.
Go to CHAPTER FOUR