Noelle’s Christmas Crush
MOM IS TAKING ME BLACK friday shopping. Want 2 go? texted Jess.
Busy 2day, Noelle texted back.
U no y! *<<<<=
LOL! You are Christmas crazy.
I no. Have fun shopping!
Noelle smiled and put down the phone. Jess had been her friend since they were little, so she should have remembered that the day after Thanksgiving was a special
one for Noelle. It was the official start of the Christmas season, the most important time of the year! Well, at least to Noelle. And even if it wasn’t the most important time of the year, it was the best time of the year.
I guess I am Christmas crazy, Noelle thought. But she had good reason to be. Not only was she born on December 25, but her last name was Winters, and on top of all that, her parents had named her Noelle Holly. Noelle Holly Winters! She was destined to be Christmas crazy.
“Noelle, are you gonna just talk on your cell phone, or are you gonna help us?”
Noelle’s teenage brother, Andrew, came in through the back door carrying a big cardboard box. She quickly slid her phone into her pocket.
“Okay! Okay! I’m helping!” Then she headed outside into the chilly late-autumn morning.
The Winters family had a shed in the backyard to hold all of their Christmas decorations. Maybe it was because of their last name or because of Noelle’s special birthday, but the whole family liked to make a big deal out of Christmas.
Noelle’s mom frowned when she saw her coming.
“Noelle, where is your hoodie? It’s cold out here.”
Noelle had thrown on some pink leggings, a pale blue T-shirt with a picture of a snowflake on it, and some ballet flats. She’d tucked her curly brown hair into a pink hair band instead of brushing it out, anxious to get the day started.
“I’m not cold,” Noelle protested, but her mom stood firm.
Noelle sighed and headed back into the house, just as Andrew came outside to get another box. He rolled his eyes.
“You’re not even carrying anything,” he grumbled.
Noelle ignored him and went to get her hoodie. Andrew had officially been a teenager for two years, and during that time she learned the best strategies for dealing with him when he got mean or rude. Ignoring him seemed to work the best.
She grabbed a hoodie and quickly went back to the shed. Noelle’s dad stood on a ladder, handing down boxes and plastic bins to her mom, who stacked them by the door. Noelle spotted something silvery shining through one of the boxes.
“Ooh, I want to carry that one!” she said. “It’s the Christmas angel. She’s my favorite.”
“Who gets excited about carrying boxes?” Andrew muttered under his breath.
Noelle forgot her rule. “Of course I’m excited. It’s the first day of Christmas!”
“That makes no sense,” her brother said. “There’s like, only twelve days of Christmas, and Christmas is still a month away.”
“But it’s the first day of the Christmas season,” Noelle pointed out. “It’s when all the stores put up their decorations, and all the Christmas specials are on TV.”
“Technically you’re both right,” Mrs. Winters said. “Now please stop arguing and let’s get these boxes inside!”
Noelle grabbed the box with the angel in it and quickly carried it into the house. She brought the angel into the living room, where it would sit on the sill of the bay window. She opened the box and smiled at the angel’s peaceful face. Noelle’s grandmother had given it to the family when Noelle was born, and every year when she opened the box it was like seeing an old friend.
As she carried in more boxes, it was hard not to peek into each one. There were the ornaments: the one with the tiny handprint she had made in kindergarten;
the one shaped like a pickle, which was supposed to bring good luck; and the tiny plastic tree that opened its eyes and sang a song when someone walked by. Noelle had been scared of it as a kid, but now she thought it was funny.
“Last one,” Noelle’s mom said, handing her a small box.
As Noelle brought it inside, she noticed for the first time that her dad was bringing a box into the family room, a large room in the back of the house with sunny windows. She followed him inside and saw a bunch of boxes stacked up. Andrew was already taking some Christmas lights out of one of them.
“Oh, no,” Noelle said. “Dad, you promised to save this room for the party!”
“What’s that?” her dad asked, putting down the Santa figurine he had been holding. Mr. Winters had the same green eyes as Noelle, but his hair was red, “like Kriss Kringle,” Noelle would always tease him. She gave him a different Santa every year for Christmas.
“My birthday party,” Noelle repeated. “You and Mom said. This year I get to have a separate party from all the Christmas stuff, and I get to decorate this room however I want.”
Mr. Winters scratched his head. “I think we did say that, didn’t we.”
“Say what?” Noelle’s mom asked as she entered the room.
“That I could have my birthday party in here this year, with no Christmas decorations, just birthday decorations,” Noelle repeated.
“Oh yes, yes you’re right,” Mrs. Winters said. “Let’s move these boxes into the living room, then. I’m sure we’ll find a place for these decorations somewhere else. If not, they can go back in the shed.”
“Well, I’m not carrying them back out there,” Andrew said loudly.
“Come on, let’s get these boxes into the living room,” Mr. Winters said cheerfully.
Andrew looked right at Noelle and rolled his eyes. “Why do you have to make such a big deal about your birthday?” he asked.
“Because even though it’s awesome having a birthday on Christmas, it can also be not awesome,” Noelle replied. “Some people are so busy with Christmas that they forget my birthday. And all the decorations that are up are red and green and white, and my favorite colors are pink and purple.”
Those were just some of the reasons. Peppermint and gumdrops were nice, but by the time her birthday came around she was a little sick of them; she wanted a regular birthday cake, not a gingerbread one. And there was something about celebrating her birthday and Christmas on the same day that made each thing feel just a tiny bit less special.
“Mom, can we get the party decorations today?” Noelle asked.
Mrs. Winters shook her head. “The stores will be crazy today, hon. And we’re getting the tree. We’re going to concentrate on Christmas first. But soon, I promise. It’s a little early to be decorating for the party, anyway.”
Noelle looked around the family room. “I have some awesome ideas,” she said. “Lots of balloons. And streamers. And in the flyer for the party store I saw this whole decoration kit with pink and purple flowered plates and stuff. I want everything to be perfect!”
Her mom sighed. “It will be lovely. But remember nothing is ever perfect, honey.”
“If you try hard enough it can be,” Noelle insisted. “And I plan on making this the perfect party.”
Mr. Winters stuck his head through the door. “What
do you say we get that tree? I want to get there before the good ones are gone. And we need some place to put all these ornaments!”
Noelle laughed. “We’ll probably be the first ones anywhere to get our tree,” she said, but she was excited. Once the tree was up, it would feel like Christmas for real. And that would mean her birthday was getting close too.
The family bundled into the car and drove to the fire station in downtown Pine Valley. They always got their tree from the parking lot next door, because some of the profits went to the firehouse. Mrs. Winters popped a Christmas music CD into the dashboard.
“Might as well get into the spirit,” she said.
It seemed to work, because Andrew and Noelle didn’t argue at all on the drive (which only took ten minutes), and when they pulled up into the lot with all the trees stacked up by the metal fence, Noelle felt a big surge of Christmas spirit.
A car pulled out past them, with a Christmas tree tied to the roof.
“I knew it! They got the best one!” Mr. Winters joked.
“I guess we’re too late then, Scott,” Mrs. Winters teased.
“They didn’t look hard enough,” Noelle said. “We’ll find the best one.”
They climbed out of the car and searched the lot. Mrs. Winters stood back and watched; she knew her family well. Noelle and Andrew would each quickly find a tree that they were certain was “the best,” but Mr. Winters would examine just about every single tree in the place until he found the perfect one.
And that’s exactly what happened. Right away, Noelle found a tree with a round, fluffy shape, and Andrew went to the tallest tree in the lot.
“Dad! Dad! Over here!” they yelled.
But Mr. Winters methodically went through the lot, stopping to touch the needles of a tree, or standing back from it and looking at it with squinted eyes. Everyone waited impatiently until he finally called out, “I’ve got it!”
They circled around the tree he had propped up. It was tall, but not as tall as the tree Andrew had picked. It was round and fluffy, but not as wide as Noelle’s tree. It was the very best of both. Everyone had to agree that it was perfect.
“You’ve done it again,” Noelle’s mom said, grabbing his arm and kissing him on the cheek.
By the time the tree was tied to the roof, everyone was hungry, so they stopped at the drive-through and ordered a sack of burgers and four peppermint milkshakes, a special treat for tree-trimming day.
They spent the rest of the afternoon putting up decorations and hanging ornaments on the tree. Noelle carefully went through the box and picked out her favorites to hang, and Andrew did the same. It was kind of an unspoken agreement between them. Andrew got to hang the little wooden train and the pinecone ornament that he made in second grade, and Noelle got to put up her handprint and the little birds in nests that clipped onto the branches. The only one they ever argued about was the pickle.
This time, they reached into the ornament box for the pickle at the same time. They both stopped, and then Andrew shrugged.
“Go ahead,” Andrew said.
Looks like someone has found the Christmas spirit after all! Noelle wanted to say, but she knew better. She just smiled and hung the pickle on the tree, right in the middle.
Mrs. Winters stood in the middle of the room with her
hands on her hips and looked around.
“Everything looks beautiful,” she said.
Noelle looked around. A garland of green branches and berries was draped across the fireplace, and her dad’s Santa collection adorned the mantel. The tree was lit with dozens of tiny white lights, and a big glowing star shined at the top. Mr. Winters had hung white lights in the window, and their glow illuminated the silvery angel standing beneath them.
“It’s perfect,” Noelle agreed. “See Mom? Some things can be perfect.”
Her mom smiled and shook her head. “Well, it will be perfect once we get all these storage boxes put away.”
Mr. Winters sank into the armchair next to the tree. “Can we do it later? I was thinking of heating up the leftover turkey for some sandwiches for dinner.”
“Yeah, we’ve been doing stuff all day,” Andrew added.
“Fine, then,” Mrs. Winters said. “Let’s take a break. I’ll call you when dinner’s ready.”
“I can work on my party planning!” Noelle announced, and then she ran up to her room.
Last year she had received a laptop for her birthday, and it was the perfect gift—not just because it was pink.
She had started right away planning the party for this year. She’d saved pictures of party decorations and cakes, and made lists of what she would need. She had also bookmarked a free site where she could make awesome e-mail invitations to send out to her friends.
She sat on her bed and turned on the laptop, going right to the invitation site. She had a tentative guest list working, but she hadn’t hit send yet. She stared at one name on the list: Noel Shepherd.
Just hit send, she told herself. What’s the worst that could happen?
But she chickened out, just as she had yesterday and the day before that.
Maybe tomorrow, she thought, and then she clicked over to the birthday recipe site.