“Nick, you out here?”
He could hear them calling but he wouldn’t come out of the barn. He lay practically under the haystack where Brian and his father couldn’t find him. It was time for lunch but Nick didn’t want to come out. Christmas Eve was here but Nick didn’t want to be with any of them….he was just a burden, he would only get in the way.
Once they’d left he emerged from the haystack and brushed himself off, setting down the book he’d been reading. A noise startled him and he noticed the horses. A brown one with a white spot on it’s nose was nearest to him.
“I didn’t know anyone was here.” Nick whispered. He took a step forward and all of a sudden the horse reared, Nick falling back in surprise. Several more whinnies came from the back of the barn, they all started to run towards him.
“No….stop!” Nick shouted, but he fell down as they charged. He lay on the ground as the animals came at him, covering his head with his hands. Nick didn’t move, his heart beating quickly as he feared something else would happen….until he heard footsteps. Someone grabbed him by his shirt, pulling him up.
“What did you think you were doing in here, boy?” Jerald growled at him, holding him by his collar.
“But nothing. I knew you were nothing but trouble the minute I saw you. You’re useless! Now I have to round up the goddamn horses before they get away.” Jerald snapped, his hand raised over him. Nick flinched, bracing for what was coming next.
“PUT HIM DOWN!” Harold yelled, running over. Nick was shaking and Jerald threw him to the ground, glaring.
“I don’t want him here. He riled up all of my best horses….”
“That is not a reason to lay your hands on him, and you know it. Damn it, Jerald. I told you why he came to live with us-” Harold started until Nick stood up, shaking still.
“You….you TOLD him?” he said. Harold looked at him in remorse, he hadn’t meant to fight in front of Nick.
“Did it ever occur to you that the boy was punished for a reason? He is a troublemaker. Some kids deserve to get beat once in a while.”
That had done it. Harold jumped on Jerald and pretty soon the whole family was outside, caught up in the scuffle. Nick stood and watched in disbelief, Jackie and Ann begging their husbands to break it up as they rushed the kids back inside.
“I told you he’d get in the way. Ruining our Christmas.” Ann muttered.
“You were right, Ma. Something isn’t right with that kid.” Kevin agreed, shaking his head. Nick just looked at his feet the whole time, shuffling into the house. Jerald and Harold wouldn’t talk the rest of the night and Nick kept to himself, fighting off tears.
“Nick, don’t mind them. The grownups are just cranky…” Brian offered, but Nick ignored him, burying his head in his knees.
“They’re right.” he whispered.
“No they aren’t. They don’t know you like Amanda and I know you….you’re awesome. You’re my best friend.”
“You’re just biased.”
“Just go away. I’m better off alone. I want to go home….MY home. I’ve ruined your Christmas, I’m sure you feel the way they do. You just don’t know it yet.” Nick snapped.
Brian put his head down and just walked away, leaving Nick to his thoughts as the tears came again.
Harold made them all leave before Christmas Eve supper was on the table. Nick didn’t speak to anyone other than half mumbling he was sorry for ruining Christmas.
“You didn’t do anything wrong, sweetie.” Jackie told him kindly, moving to hug him, but Nick pulled away and just shuffled to the car. When they finally got home he went to his bedroom and slammed the door behind him.
“I know it isn’t Nick’s fault, but he could have tried to get along with them.” Harold said wearily. Nick could hear them talking, he pressed his ear to the closed door.
“They didn’t give him a chance. He really is a nice boy.” Jackie protested as Nick smiled.
“He needs to be more like Brian. Brian never had trouble fitting in with anyone…..and what is he going to do after high school? He’s not staying with us forever, Jackie.”
Nick had heard enough. He knew he was a burden and everything had just confirmed it….
“No one will ever love you.”
Nick flinched the voice away and went to the bed, pulling the covers over himself and breathing deeply to calm himself down.
Christmas was uneventful, Nick stayed in his room, not even coming out to have turkey. He’d never had turkey before but didn’t want to bother anyone. He would just get in the way like he always did.
“Nick? Are you at least coming to open presents?” Brian called as he knocked. Nick lay in bed and just ignored him, wiping his eyes. He heard Brian walk away and fell asleep, wishing he would just disappear. He knew everyone would be better off, he just wished for a way he could do it.
Later that night, Nick got up to use the bathroom and nearly tripped over the box by the door….it was a christmas gift….from Brian. The box was wrapped in Star Wars gift wrap and Nick smiled at it although he didn’t know what it was. Opening it carefully, he found a cell phone.
“You can keep in touch with Amanda easier with this. Thought you could use it.” Brian said suddenly. Nick looked up at him, smiling.
“This is the only gift I’ve ever gotten.” he whispered.
“I couldn’t think of anything else, really.” Brian smirked.
“Liar.” Nick chuckled. Brian was never good at telling lies.
“Merry Christmas.” Brian said. The two of them exchanged looks and Brian went back to his room, leaving Nick with the cell phone.
Nick spent the next few weeks teaching himself to text Amanda, he seemed happier keeping in touch with her. Brian liked to see a smile on his friend’s face for a bit.
Little did he know this reprieve for Nick wouldn’t last very long.