Sixteen-year-old Paul Nicholas is a self-confessed Christmas fanatic. That’s why he’s so smitten with Sarah—a girl who smells like peppermint and thinks picking out presents to the strains of “Winter Wonderland” is the ultimate afternoon activity.
But when he catches Sarah making out with Santa Claus at the Paramus Park mall, his dad’s over-the-top lights catch the Nicholas house on fire, and his mom gets fired from Fortunoff’s because of something he did, Paul gets caught in a downward spiral of holiday gloom.
This year, the spirit of Scrooge has settled in—and it’s not going to be pretty. Or will the spirit of the holiday prevail?
|Random House Children's Books
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LAST CHRISTMAS, I GAVE YOU MY HEART. . . .
Here’s the thing you have to understand: My family has more Christmas traditions than an elf has pairs of pointy earmuffs. Most of them came from my dad’s side of the family. Some of them came from my Mom’s. A few of them originated during my formative years as a clueless, round-faced, asthma-plagued shepherd in the church play. But each and every last one of them is sacred.
Leaving carrots out for Rudolph? Sacred.
Waking my parents up by blasting John Denver & the Muppets—A Christmas Together from my stereo at five A.M. every Christmas? Sacred.
Alternating tree toppers each year so that Dad gets his star and Mom gets her angel? Sacred.
Having the brightest, most elaborate, most electricity-consuming light display in Bergen County? Not just sacred, but our claim to fame. Our lights have gotten us on the Saturday-after-Thanksgiving WB11 News at Ten for five years running. Dad is convinced that the field reporter lives to interview us from our rooftop while we’re setting up. I, however, think the woman is just addicted to Mom’s hot chocolate.
But the most important tradition of all? No matter what, I have always, without question, gotten everything I asked for. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve never abused the privilege—asked for fifty DVDs or sweaters in every color or a complete library of PlayStation games with a flat-screen TV to go with it. Nothing greedy like that. So I figured my years of responsible son-dom were ready to be cashed in. This year I had only asked for one thing. My Jeep. It’s gonna be so cool, looking out my window on Christmas morning and seeing it there in the driveway, all shiny and new, with a nice huge bow on top. And once I have it, I won’t have to do this anymore:
“Holly, can I have a ride to the mall?”
It was Friday afternoon, November 24, the day after Thanksgiving, and it was time for my first Christmas mall run. I was on the phone with Holly Stevenson, who has been my best friend ever since we won the water-balloon-throwing contest together at day camp. Believe it or not, she hates Christmas. She used to love it when we were kids, but for the past couple of years? Forget about it. (I know, the name is ironic, right? I mean Holly hates Christmas? It’s just wrong.) But she does have a good reason. Her father left her and her mother two years ago on Christmas Day for a department store elf. You’d think that her being so anti-Noel and me being so, well, me would cause problems in our friendship. But hey, you don’t just give up the girl who pulled you a mile and a half through the snow on a sled the day you broke your arm in three places. We manage. We just don’t talk much about Christmas. Which was reason number one why asking her to come to the mall with me to shop for her least-favorite holiday was a serious risk.
Reason number two? Holly is also the only girl in my particular reality who hates malls. She buys all of her clothes at the Salvation Army store on Route 17, mainly to avoid the crowds. And here I was trying to get her to do the unthinkable—dive into Paramus Park on the biggest shopping weekend of the year.
“I’m sorry. I thought I just heard you ask me to take you to the mall,” Holly said in a sugar-sweet tone. “Did someone spike your eggnog?”
“Why don’t you ask Marcus and Matt?” she asked.
“They’re playing basketball at the Y,” I told her. They’d called earlier and asked me to come, but today I was on a mission. “Besides, I want a girl’s opinion.”
“Come on,” I said desperately. “I’ll buy you waffle fries at Chick-fil-A.”
“Throw in a coffee milk shake.”
“You got it,” I replied with a grin.
“I’ll be there in ten minutes,” Holly said. “And you’d better not be wearing that stupid Santa hat or the deal is off.”
I looked up at the furry white rim of the chapeau in question and pulled it from my head. “I wouldn’t even think of it.”
After hanging up with Holly, I jogged downstairs, still clutching the hat. I just couldn’t bring myself to leave the Holly-offensive accessory behind. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I never leave the house without it. In fact, I pretty much never leave my room without it. I honestly don’t know how this habit started and believe me, I’d break myself of it if I could, but I’m a little bit OCD about the Santa hat. Whenever I try to put it away, I get this horrible, overwhelming feeling that somehow Christmas will be destroyed if I do.
I know. I should seek professional help.
I came around the corner into the kitchen to find my father leaning over the Formica table, studying the blueprints for this year’s light extravaganza, tentatively titled “Santa in Space.” It included a flying Santa saucer, nine NASA-outfitted reindeer, and a few aliens pieced together from costumes he’d bought at the Party City post-Halloween blowout. Yes, post-Halloween. I told you, we take this holiday seriously, and if that means planning in advance, well, that’s what my father will do.
As always at this time of year, Dad was sporting an L.L. Bean flannel tucked in over a turtleneck and a pair of thick cords. His semibald head reflected the dim light from the chandelier above as he cleaned his glasses. When Dad was a kid, he wanted to be a lumberjack, but unfortunately he’d been cursed with the build of an accountant and the brain of an astrophysicist. These qualities had combined to make him the third-most-visited orthodontist in northern New Jersey.
“Hey, Dad,” I said.
He looked up, startled, and knocked over his Frosty the Snowman mug full of peppermint tea. (The klutz factor may have also gotten in the way of the lumberjacking career. Of course, it’s not that comforting to the metal-mouthed kids in his chair, either.) Luckily he managed to grab all of his plans before the tea lake spread too far. I quickly mopped up the mess with some paper towels.
My father took a deep breath and reverently laid out the blueprints again, smoothing down the corners. “Sorry, son,” he said. “Did you say something?”
“Yeah . . . I’m going to the mall to pick up a gift for Sarah,” I told him.
This got his attention.
“I like that Sarah,” he said, straightening up and giving me one of those fatherly smiles. “She’s got the spirit, that one.”
“Yeah, she does,” I said.
Sarah Saunders has now been my girlfriend for exactly twenty-eight days, ever since we had our first kiss under the mistletoe at Macy’s. And it has been the best twenty-eight days of my life. I love everything about Sarah. I love the fact that she’s always interested when I talk about my Jeep, even though everyone else is getting sick of it. I love the fact that she’s systematically attempted to taste everything on the cafeteria menu—however unidentifiable—just to find out what she likes the best. I love that she takes my varsity soccer jacket from me every morning at school and wears it around all day. There is nothing sexier than a beautiful girt wearing your clothes.