For the last few days before Christmas, Milo was practically on pins and needles. He absolutely loved Christmas and couldn’t wait for Christmas eve. Following the storm, Danville lay buried in a fluffy white mantle. There was almost a foot of snow in Milo’s driveway and it took Milo and Martin an entire morning to shovel it out. Martin would have used his snowblower, and been finished in less than twenty minutes, but the gasoline in the gas tank had frozen solid as a result of Murphy’s Law, and Milo and Martin were forced do the job by hand. By the time they were finished, Milo was hot in his heavy winter coat, despite the still cold temperature, and his palms were sweating in his heavy gloves. Slightly red faced, more from exertion than the cold, Milo jammed his shovel deep into a snowbank that was taller than he was. I think I should have asked for a heat wave for Christmas, he thought, as he stiffly flexed his numb fingers. His hands often got very, very cold in winter weather due to Murphy’s Law. Ordinarily, winter was Milo’s favourite season. True, there were more opportunities for slip and fall accidents, but just as Milo usually wore body armour out of general habit, in winter he made a point of wearing traction spikes on his winter boots, which minimized the possibility of mishaps and accidents. Unlike concrete, which was the worst thing ever, snow was soft and easy to fall on. He also enjoyed seeing the city covered in a pristine white blanket. Frost sparkled on the roofs of the houses in Milo’s subdivision, the bare branches of the tree in Milo’s backyard were edged in delicate white tracery and the thick white blanket that over the city turned the few cars that had been left out in the storm into snowy hummocks and shone brightly in the late December sunshine.
After the traditional Murphy family Christmas Eve dinner of turkey with all the trimmings, Milo gathered with his family and friends around the Christmas tree. There were three piles of gifts for Zack, Melissa and Amanda under the tree, in addition to the gifts that he had bought for his parents and Sara.
Sara opened the card, which read. “To my wizardy big sister, Merry Christmas from your little bro, Milo.” Sara ripped off the wrapping paper and immediately let out a squeal of delight as a sleek looking cylindrical object fell out of the wrapping paper and into her lap. “Oh, Milo!” she said excitedly, “This is the Doctor’s chronotronic drill-,”
“-from your favourite episode,” he finished for her, laughing at her obvious delight.
Sara looked at the prop in her hand and then looked her brother again in amazement. “Really?” she asked slightly stunned, “This is from Trashcandroid’s Revenge?”
Milo nodded. “Screen verified and everything.”
“Really?” Sara was positively beside herself. She flew across the room and wrapped Milo in a hug, momentarily lifting him off his feet. She hugged him so hard that he thought his ribs might break. “Milo, you are the best little brother anyone could ask for,” said Sara. She lowered her hapless brother back on to his dangling feet. “Don’t ever stop being you.”
Milo stood momentarily confused in the middle of living room. His face was scarlet. He had not expected to Sara to react like that. He was startled out of his stunned confusion by the sudden repeated pinging of his phone. He pulled his phone out of his pocket. Zack, Melissa and Amanda had all posted pictures of Milo in the middle of Sara’s bear hug to Facebook. Everyone was laughing. Chuckling along with everyone else, Milo turned his attention back to the pile of gifts under the tree. He bent down and pulled two gifts out from the pile and handed them to Martin and Brigitte, along with a card labelled “Mom and Dad.”
Brigitte opened the card, which read, “Merry Christmas from your loving children, best wishes, Sara and Milo.”
Martin took the wrapping paper off of the little midnight blue satin box. He opened the lid to reveal a pair of glinting silver cuff links sitting on a little cushion. Martin looked up in surprise. “Milo, these are wonderful. How did you afford these?”
Milo shrugged and nodded appreciatively at Sara. “Well, Sara kicked in a little bit, and I saved my allowance and kicked in the rest.”
Martin looked at his children with a look of heartfelt appreciation on his face at the gift they had given him.
“You’re welcome, Dad,” said Milo.
“And Merry Christmas,” said Sara.
As Martin had been unwrapping his cuff links, Brigitte had been running two beautiful silk scarves through her fingers. One was a delicate shade of lilac and the other was a pale green with a floral pattern. Brigitte got up and thanked Milo with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “These are beautiful,” she said.
Milo shrugged again. “I went into Reflections a couple of weeks ago and I thought those colours looked nice,” he said. He turned his attention to the three piles under the tree for Zack, Melissa and Amanda, handing one to each of them in turn. “These are for you.”
The three cards bore the same message. “To the three best friends in the world, Merry Christmas and best wishes, Milo.”
Zack, Melissa and Amanda burst out laughing as they unwrapped the three matching sky blue hard hats that Milo had bought for them at Safety Barn. Zack took his out of the box and put it on. He grinned at Milo from under the brim. “Thanks, buddy,” he said. He turned to the second gift that Milo had give him. It was soft and shapeless. It felt like clothing. Zack ripped off the wrapping paper, revealing a blue and gold Danville Thunder home jersey. He started to say, “hey thanks Milo-,” but stopped as he held it up. He gasped, “oh, wow, a signed Buck Sanderson jersey!”
Meanwhile, Melissa and Amanda were examining their gifts. Melissa was flipping through Understanding the Universe, which was a large hard cover book full of full colour astronomy photos. “Thanks, Milo,” she said, “this has some gorgeous pictures.”
“Oh, Milo,” said Martin, pulling out a large flat gift from behind his chair.
Milo looked up. “Yeah, Dad,” he said. He had been in the act of unwrapping a Tobias Trollhammer sixth scale figure from Melissa. “Hey, thanks Melissa,” he said excitedly, “This is from Krillhunter X: The Krilling Game.”
“This one is for you, from Reggie,” said Martin.
Milo looked surprised, and suddenly felt slightly embarrassed. He had not thought to send anything to Reggie for Christmas. He set aside Melissa’s half unwrapped gift and took the large present from Martin. He placed on the floor, balancing it on its edge and felt for the edge of the wrapping paper. He immediately found it and tore off a long strip, revealing something under glass and in carved wood frame. Intrigued, Milo tore off the rest of the wrapping paper. He gaped. He would have recognized Reggie’s drawing style anywhere. “I-how did-I mean-who-,” Milo took a steadying breath. “I’ve asked for his art four times,” he said. “He almost never gives away his drawings,” he looked around at his family and friends. “How were you able to get one?” he finally asked the room at large.
“You can thank Amanda,” replied Sara.
“Really?” asked Milo, looking at Amanda in amazement.
Amanda nodded, “actually, its all of us, not just me,” she said, nodding to indicate Zack and Melissa . “He appreciated you introducing him to us,” she shrugged, “but for some reason he really likes me. I Skype with him a couple of times a week-,”
“I’m glad to hear that,” interjected Milo.
Amanda continued, “-I just told him that we’re your friends and that we understand that living with Murphy’s Law can be challenging and that you’d really appreciate having some of his art.” Amanda shrugged again. “He just said he’d see what he could do.”
Milo finished unwrapping Reggie’s framed drawing and let out a low, “ohhhhh.” It was a serene landscape of a quiet lake surrounded by mountains. “It’s beautiful” said Milo. He turned to Amanda. “I-uhhhh-well, thanks Amanda.” And then he did something that took both of them by surprise. He leaned over and gave her a kiss.
Milo spent the rest of the Christmas holidays in what seemed to be a bit of a daze. He had no idea what had possessed him to kiss Amanda. She had unexpectedly grown to become a very good and understanding friend over the previous year and he appreciated the unexpected effort that she had gone to for him over Christmas, and that she got along well Reggie, but actually kissing her? In front of his family and friends? On Christmas Eve? That wasn’t like him. He was still trying to work up the nerve to ask her out to lunch and he felt as though he hadn’t helped himself by acting so out of character. He wondered if she would ever agree to go out with him. Why is it that time travel, aliens and parallel realities are easy, he thought more than once during the holidays, but asking Amanda to go to lunch with me is practically impossible. Now that Christmas was over, everything seemed to be sliding down hill toward New Years Eve and the start of the winter semester. Once school started again they would be back into the usual grind of homework and studying and wouldn’t have much time to socialize. New Years Eve came and went and Milo, Zack, Melissa and Amanda stayed up to watch the ball drop over Time’s Square on TV. They were back in class four days later, and sure enough, their teachers wasted no time in putting their noses to the grind stone.
“I hope you all had a good Christmas holiday,” sad Mrs. Camillichec on the first morning back after the break. Everyone nodded. “Good,” she said, “because we still have a lot of work to get through before you graduate at the end of the year.”
Milo finally got his chance to talk to Amanda alone a week later. It was the end of the day, and two of them were waiting for Zack and Melissa to finish in the library. “Oh, hi, Amanda,” said Milo as he came down the stairs. He slipped and slid down the last few steps on his backside. He cursed inwardly. That’s exactly what I didn’t want to happen, he thought. He got up, dusted himself off, squared his backpack straighter on his shoulders and walked over to where Amanda was standing.
“Oh, hi, Milo,” she said.
Milo opened his mouth, but no sound came out. He had been rehearsing his speech all week, but now that it came to it, his mind had gone totally blank. His ears were suddenly filled with a loud buzzing noise. Milo closed his mouth and took a deep breath. He felt as though he had suddenly jumped from a very high diving board. His stomach fluttered nervously and he suddenly realized that his palms were sweaty. He wiped the surreptitiously on the seat of his shorts. “Amanda,” he began, “will you go out to lunch with me?”