I thought I’d take a moment today to revisit Nick and the gang for one of the missing years. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, my wee Christmas novella takes place over fifteen Christmases, but not every Christmas gets a chapter—a few get skipped.
A few years ago, I wrote the missing third year—where the most famous of all the ornaments was up for grabs—which was the first of those skipped years, where the five original Misfit Toys spent their last Christmas in Nick’s terrible, tiny bachelor pad.
“Eighth Christmas,” happens five years later, after Haruto has had to move home to take care of his ailing father, but comes back to the Misfit Toys party—this year being held at Fiona and Jenn’s.
So, if you’ve read “Handmade Holidays” before, I hope this revisit brings you a wee bit of joy, and if you haven’t? This link will take you to where you can start your own trek through fifteen Christmases with Nick and the rest of the Misfit Toys.
“Were we expecting Kevin to be so hunky?” Phoebe kept her voice pitched low enough to be heard only by Nick and Johnny, who were assembling peppermint cocktails in a series of tall glasses along Fiona and Jenn’s countertop in their kitchen. Phoebe looked amazing—as always—in a scarlet red turtleneck and a tartan skirt primarily in a deep forest green, and her dark eyes sparkled with humour.
“I am willing to admit when Ru said ‘farmer’ I did not imagine Mr. Eyes over there,” Johnny said. Matt’s handsome blond boyfriend wore a green sweater with repeating white snowflakes knitted into it, a style Nick still wasn’t sure if Johnny had intended as ironic or not.
Nick finished tucking candy canes into the glasses while Johnny poured, then glanced back out into the living room where Haruto and Kevin were sitting on the long corner couch beside Yumi and Janine, a couple Jenn had known since university, listening to Matt tell some story or other from the rocking chair, all three of them rapt and smiling.
“Mr. Eyes” definitely described Haruto’s boyfriend, Nick admitted. A stocky, wide-shouldered white guy, Kevin had medium brown hair, which he kept buzzed short and not long enough to style in any particular way, and an admittedly good chin, but dressed plainly—a grey Henley and jeans—all of which might have made him blend into unremarkable ‘guy next door’ territory except the whole package left Kevin’s eyes to steal the show.
Which they did.
The farmer in question had truly hazel eyes: the kind with an almost bronze ring around the pupil, and a deeper, greener colour around the edges. Kevin’s eyes delivered a mental face-slap the first time you noticed them, which had been—for Nick—less than twenty minutes ago when Haruto had introduced his boyfriend as they came through the door, both clearly still perky and upbeat despite the half-dozen hours they’d spent in a car driving down from Oneida to join the Misfit Toys party.
“I was already happy that Ru had found himself someone,” Pheobe said. “But now I’m thinking if the store falls through, I’m going to run away to the country and find me a strapping farm lad.”
Nick laughed, though part of him couldn’t help but feel Haruto’s couplehood as another reminder Nick had himself come alone—at least Pheobe was there alongside him in singledom. He transferred the minty cocktails to a serving tray. “The store isn’t going to fall through,” he said. “You’re doing amazing.”
“I am, aren’t I?” Phoebe said. Urbane Myth, her consignment shop in the Village, had managed solid numbers from the get-go, as far as Nick knew, in no small part because Phoebe’s market—queer fashion for queer bodies—was so underserved in general.
They’d just returned to the living room when Nick noticed Fiona and Jenn tiptoeing their way down the stairs. He hadn’t actually seen them yet, despite this being their home. Matt and Johnny had let him in, saying the hosts were trying to get their daughter, Melody, to settle down for the night.
“Okay, she’s asleep,” Fiona said. Her red hair had been recently shorn down in a side-swept undercut, and she had a light flush going on under her freckles.
“Never say that.” Jenn said, raising one finger, coming down the steps behind her. “You’ll jinx it.” She, too, looked like she’d had a recent visit to a salon—her shoulder-length blow-out was gorgeous, and the red lipstick she’d chosen was popping.
“Look how fabulous you two are,” Nick said, pausing with the tray.
“Self-care day at the spa,” Fiona said, looping an arm around Jenn and receiving a kiss on the cheek from her in return. “We needed one.”
“Your hair is magnificent,” Haruto said, standing and throwing open his arms for Jenn, who practically raced over to grab him and hug him.
“Ru!” she said, letting him go after a long hug, then turning to Mr. Eyes—Kevin, Nick corrected himself—who’d risen hesitantly from the couch.
“You must be Kevin,” Jenn said. “It is so nice to meet you. I’m Jenn.”
Kevin offered a hand, but Jenn opened her arms, so he hugged her instead, a little flush rising up his neck.
“Sorry,” He said, once the hug ended. “Nice to meet you.”
“He’s shy,” Haruto said. “Which is perfect because it means I get to do most of the talking.”
“There’s a surprise,” Fiona said, grinning and taking her turn with the welcome hugs. “I’m Fiona, and I have all the dirt on him.” She aimed her thumb at Haruto, who snorted.
“And we have the cocktails,” Phoebe said, starting to hand out the drinks from Nick’s tray. In no time, everyone had one, and everyone had settled on the couches, the chairs, or—in Nick’s case—crosslegged on the floor beside Johnny, who was another floor-sitter like himself.
“Okay,” Matt said, clearly having barely restrained himself thus far. “Can we do the game now?” He pulled out his deck of cards.
“You’re adorable,” Johnny said, leaning over and sharing a quick kiss from the rocking chair.
“Did Ru warn you about this?” Nick said, aiming the question at Kevin.
“The ornament exchange?” Kevin said. The man had a laconic way of speaking, as though he’d never in his life been in a rush. “Yes.” He held up one hand, lifting fingers as he spoke. “We each get three shots, Fiona always brings something anti-Christmas, and there’s always a three-way fight over the best ornament between you, Fiona, and Matt.”
Nick tilted his head, feeling a little exposed, or at least ever-so-slightly uncomfortable. “Ouch,” he said, with a pointed look at Haruto.
Haruto shrugged. “Am I wrong?”
“He’s not wrong,” Fiona said. “We warned Yumi and Janine it can get ruthless.”
Yumi, who had the most delightful pair of felt reindeer antlers attached to her hairband, complete with silver bells, nodded. “It sounds like a nice tradition. I’m tempted to rip it off for our own holidays going forward.”
“I can see our mothers turning it into the world’s most polite, but secretly ruthless, one-upmanship,” Janine said, eyeing Yumi with a tiny smile. “So you know I’m down for it.”
Matt had already separated out one suit to hand everyone a card, which he did while Johnny gathered up all the little wrapped ornament packages and put them on Fiona and Jenn’s living room table. Nick watched, sipping his peppermint drink and wondering how much longer he needed to sip it before he could tuck it aside and have a coffee instead, and found his gaze drawn to Haruto, who was grinning at Kevin while Kevin watched Matt hand out cards to everyone.
Nick looked away to check his own—he’d gotten the King—and he turned it around. “I’m the King of Christmas,” he said, with a little smile. “I promise to rule over the holiday with warmth and cheer.”
“That’d be a first,” Haruto said, with a larger smile.
“You make it sound like I don’t like Christmas,” Nick said, pressing a hand to his chest in mock offense. “How could anyone not like Christmas? It’s the most magical time of the year.”
That made Haruto—and Fiona—snort and laugh, and Nick couldn’t maintain the façade. He shook his head. “Okay. Fine. Off with your heads.”
Kevin, who’d been looking back and forth between the three, aimed those eyes of his at Haruto, one eyebrow rising.
“Between Nick and Fiona it’s a wonder the holiday spirit hasn’t been completely exorcised.”
“I have recovered my holiday spirit, thank you very much,” Fiona said, raising her peppermint drink.
“This is true,” Nick said. “She even does holiday crafts now.”
“Woah,” Haruto stared at Fiona in alarm. “Who are you? What have you done with Fiona?” Then he smiled. “And how long can you stay?”
“Draw a card,” Fiona said, turning to Matt and ignoring Haruto. “Before I throw him out.” She glanced back at Kevin. “You can stay, though.”
“Thanks,” he said, though he looked a little overwhelmed. Poor guy. They were a lot.
“First up is six,” Matt said, turning the card he’d drawn around for all to see.
“That’s me,” Phoebe said, leaning forward and snagging a simply wrapped little parcel from the pile. She opened it, revealing what looked to be a hand-carved rocking horse ornament, charming and simple.
“Oh, this is lovely,” she said.
“Kevin made it,” Haruto said, smiling at his boyfriend.
“It’s not that special,” Kevin said. “But Ru said y’all like handmade ornaments, so…” He shrugged, then dropped a kiss onto the top of Haruto’s head and Nick glanced down at his card again, trying not to let his smile completely vacate at the P.D.A. It wasn’t Kevin’s fault, or Haruto’s for that matter, it was just…
It was just what?
Singlehood, he thought, taking another swig of the peppermint drink. Being single truly added extra fun at the holidays. Yeah. That’s it.
“King,” Matt said, and Nick got his smile back in place and dove into the gifts, unwrapping one of the packages and finding himself holding a beefcake lifeguard merman ornament.
“Oh,” Matt said, staring him down. “I think we have ourselves a winner.”
“Try it,” Nick said, matching him stare-for-stare. “You know this one wants to hang out with the leather merman on my tree.”
“See?” Haruto said, in a whisper meant to carry. “Told you.”
By the end of the game, the beefcake lifeguard merman ornament had been passed around the most, but ultimately Nick had triumphed—Matt maintained the game was rigged somehow, despite him being the one who’d controlled the cards the whole time—and he tucked the merman into his pocket as he slung on his jacket to go. He had to work at the bookstore very early in the morning—the joys of Christmas retail—and they all also didn’t want to impose too long on Fiona and Jenn, given Melody still tended to be up before the crack of dawn.
They all said their goodbyes in the entrance hall, and Nick pulled Haruto into a tight hug, squeezing him for a good long time before pulling back. “I’m so glad you could make it,” he said.
“I wish we had more time to hang out before we head back to Oneida,” Haruto said. They only planned staying two nights, so Ru could introduce Kevin to his mother and step-father, and there’d be no other time Nick wasn’t working, of course.
“We can do a Pickering meet-up after Christmas,” Nick said, waving it away.
“Can we give you a ride home?” Haruto said. “There’s room in Kevin’s truck.”
Of course Kevin drove a truck. Mr. Eyes aimed a polite nod-and-smile Nick’s way, but Nick shook his head. “It’s fine, Phoebe offered me a lift and I’m on her way.”
The woman in question was wrapping a beautiful white-and-gold shawl around her neck, likely one of her own design. “I’ve got him.”
“Speaking of the truck, I should move it,” Kevin said, ducking past them and stepping out through the door into the cold night.
“Kevin is nice,” Pheobe said, hugging Haruto. “And fills a Henley good.”
“We’re finding common ground,” Haruto said, turning a little red, but smiling. “I’m so glad you all like him.”
“I think we overwhelmed him a little,” Nick said. Truthfully, he thought Kevin had had a bit of an ‘in over his head’ look on his face most of the night, but he’d done pretty well, considering how odd the Misfit Toys were, Nick supposed. Maybe he was more outgoing one-on-one. Or maybe it was an opposites-attract sort of thing.
“It was just nice to be back with you all again,” Haruto said, wrapping his arms around Johnny, and then Matt, and then stepping back to let them step outside. “I miss you all like you wouldn’t believe.”
“We’d believe,” Nick said, because he missed his Haruto just as much, and maybe hadn’t really allowed himself to feel just how much until tonight.
“Okay,” Haruto said, shaking his head. “I’m leaving before I cry.” He waved to Yumi and Janine, who were still half-way down the stairs to the entrance hall. “It was lovely to meet you,” he said.
“Likewise,” Yumi answered. “Let me know if you can make Mochitsuki next year.”
“Will do,” Haruto said, then turned his attention to Fiona and Jenn. “Goodbye, favourite ladies.”
They waved, and just like that, Haruto was gone.
Nick swallowed and said his own farewells, and by the time he and Phoebe got to her car, there was no sign of a farmer’s truck. He slid his hand into his pocket, gripping the beefcake lifeguard merman ornament. When he got home, he went straight to his tree and hung the ornament near the top, beside the other merman he’d gotten—the one in a leather harness and jacket—from a few years ago.
He should sleep, but he knew he wouldn’t. Instead, he flipped open his computer and fiddled with some story ideas, including one that always seemed to want his attention at this time of year, the one inspired by the ornament game they played.
When he finally went to bed, Nick left the tree lit, so he’d see it bright and merry when he woke up again for work.
You can find “Handmade Holidays” here!