If you picked up my wee Christmas Novella, “Handmade Holidays,” you may have noticed that over the course of the book, a few years get skipped. The third year—where the most famous of all the ornaments was up for grabs—is one of those skipped years.
If you’d like to revisit the Misfit Toys, here’s “Third Christmas,” where the ornament game was born, and the five original Misfit Toys spent their last Christmas in Nick’s terrible, tiny bachelor pad.
“So, just to be clear, what are the rules?” Nick said.
“You’ve never played the White Elephant game?” Matt’s eyebrows rose.
Fiona laughed. “Of course he hasn’t played the White Elephant game. This can’t surprise anyone. I mean, come on. You’ve all seen him open presents. He doesn’t even rip wrapping paper.”
“I think he only does that to annoy me,” Haruto said.
Nick was about to protest, but Perry stepped in to save the day.
“I don’t know how to play either,” he said.
“See?” Nick bumped shoulders with Perry. “It’s not just me.”
“Okay, usually it’s names in a hat, but I use a deck of cards,” Matt said, holding up just such a thing. “It’s easier.”
“Clever,” Fiona said.
Matt slid the cards out of the box, and pulled out five cards. Once he was sure they were all different, he went through the rest of the deck until he had all four suits for the five cards he’d drawn, and then the rest went back in the box.
“Okay, here’s how it goes. I’ll deal out one of each of these,” Matt said, taking the top card off the five piles and shuffling them quickly. He handed them out.
“I’m the King,” Nick said. “Does that mean I win?”
“Hush,” Haruto said. “No one wins or loses. There are no losers.”
“Next we shuffle the rest of the cards into a deck,” Matt said, ignoring them both. Once he’d shuffled, he stopped, rubbing his hands. “So the first person gets to pick one of the packages to unwrap, which will be…” He flipped over a card. “Whoever has seven.”
“First and most fabulous,” Haruto said.
Between the five of them sat five small wrapped packages. It had been Haruto’s idea, of course, and built on a tradition that had sort of crept up on them over the last two years. When Nick had been alone on Christmas Eve, Haruto had helped him assemble his massive tree in his tiny apartment and shoved it far into one corner, only to realize that Nick had no ornaments. A box of candy canes and one hastily folded blue paper crane—both courtesy of Haruto—had more-or-less solved that problem, and by the following year, Nick had been able to afford some basic white baubles to decorate the tree with.
Last year, Haruto had also given him the cutest handmade ornament: a little mouse sitting at a typewriter. Both were near the top of the tree, given pride of placement.
And now, on the floor between the group of them, were five more possibilities for his tree. Haruto had suggested they all pick up an ornament, wrap it, and have a White Elephant game at Nick’s annual Christmas for Misfit Toys party, and while Nick hadn’t entirely understood what a White Elephant game was, he’d been happy to oblige.
He tried not to smile too widely when Haruto reached forward and grabbed the box wrapped in silver, which Nick had brought. Haruto positively shredded his way into the box, tossing tiny bits of paper around like the point of the process was to make as many pieces out of the wrapping as possible.
When he finally got the box open, he pulled out a white square cloth ornament. It was a cross-stitch, with a pattern of two gold bells, red ribbon, and holly. Haruto held it up. “This is pretty.”
“One of my co-workers does cross-stitch,” Nick said. “I bought one from her.”
“I like it,” Haruto said.
“Okay,” Matt said, grinning. “Now I draw the next card, but this time, the person gets to decide if they want to unwrap, or if they want to steal Ru’s ornament. If they steal Ru’s, then Ru gets to open another one. And if I draw the same person twice in a row, I shuffle the card back in and draw again.”
Perry and Nick nodded. Matt drew another card. A three.
“I want his,” Fiona said, pointing at Haruto.
Nick blinked. He was surprised. He didn’t think the little cross-stitched ornament was really Fiona’s style, but she reached over and took it from him.
“Never admit you like something,” she said, winking.
Ah. That made more sense.
Haruto, though, just shook his head, and grabbed another package. This one revealed a silver snowflake, engraved with the year, tipped with little blue crystals.
“Very bling,” Haruto said, then eyed Fiona daringly. “I like it.”
“Well played,” she said. “I see what you’re doing there.”
Matt drew again. “Ace.”
“That’s me,” Perry said.
“So you can steal Fiona’s or Haruto’s ornament, or you can take from the middle. And now if you steal Ru’s, he can take Fiona’s, too. But nothing changes hands more than once a round.”
“I’ll just take a new one.” Perry pulled out a package, and to Nick’s delight—and more anguish from Matt, Fiona, and Haruto—he carefully unwrapped it without disturbing the paper.
Perry pulled out the ornament, and smiled. “This is so cute.”
It was a rainbow unicorn kitten. Pink at its nose, moving red through purple by the time it got to its tail, it had a little pearlescent horn and as far as Nick could tell, it was the most perfect rainbow unicorn kitten ever created.
“Mine,” he said, just as Matt said, “I need that.”
They eyed each other.
“I’m beginning to see the appeal of this game,” Nick said, pointing to the cards. “Draw.”
Matt did, and got himself. The rainbow unicorn kitten was passed over, and Perry opened the fourth package, adding what appeared to be an angry elf holding up a “On Strike Until We Get Paid!” sign into the mix.
Everyone looked at Fiona.
“What?” she said. “Anyone could have brought that.”
Matt drew Fiona again, and the rainbow unicorn kitten was hers. Matt smiled at the cross-stitch, and pointed at her. “It will be mine.”
She flashed her tongue stud at him.
Matt eyed the other ornaments, but shook his head. “I’ll keep this.” He flipped another card. It was a King.
“Kitten,” Nick said. Fiona handed it over, then reached to open the last present, revealing a pair of tiny mittens that looked to have actually been knitted.
Matt looked at Perry. “This was you, wasn’t it?”
“I didn’t know you knitted,” Haruto said.
“Where’d you think I got my scarf?” Matt said.
“Wait, you made that gorgeous scarf?” Fiona said.
Nick was just as impressed. Matt had shown up with a tri-coloured scarf done in white, a very pale blue, and a kind of sparkly silver wool that reminded Nick of the snow outside. Fiona was right. It was gorgeous.
Perry shied away from the attention. “I like to make things.”
“Handmade gifts have heart,” Haruto said.
“I’m feeling a bit pathetic for buying my ornament now,” Fiona said.
“Hey, so did I,” Nick said. “That was someone else’s handmade.”
“The star was mass produced,” Matt said. “Probably by children in China.”
“Lost-wax casting. My last year with access to all the awesome art department stuff, so…” Haruto shrugged. “I might as well use ‘em before I graduate.”
The game went on. By the time there were only two cards left, the tension in the room was almost palpable.
“I just want to point out there’s no losing this game,” Haruto said, eyeing Matt and Nick, who were the only two who hadn’t had their third draw each. He had the rainbow unicorn kitten in his hand.
“But there’s definitely going to be a winner,” Matt said, and flipped the card. A nine.
“And it isn’t going to be you,” Nick said, crossing his arms, smug.
“There is no way I can make this work,” Matt agreed, but he stole the kitten anyway, setting off one more round of trades.
“Go on, flip it,” Nick said.
“We could always stop now,” Matt said.
“Flip the card.”
“I mean, we’re all happy, and like Ru said, there’s no losers…”
With a sigh, Matt flipped the card. The King of Diamonds had never looked so good.
“Here kitty, kitty, kitty,” Nick said.
“The Grinch has nothing on you,” Matt said, but he handed the kitten over, accepting the mittens from Nick in return. Matt traded them with Haruto for the elf, and then Haruto ended the game by keeping the mittens. Fiona had the star, Perry the cross-stitch.
“Okay,” Nick said. “That was awesome. I love you guys.”
“Says the guy with the rainbow unicorn kitten.” Matt rolled his eyes.
“I could always make another,” Haruto said. “At least until April.”
“No,” Nick said. “No, there will never be another rainbow unicorn kitten quite so amazing as this first, best, one. Better just to let the legend exist.” He stood and hung it on the tree with a flourish.
“Before this devolves into bloodshed, I have to go.” Haruto rose. “My mother will flip if I’m not home in time for dinner.”
They all hugged him in turn before he left.
Nick walked him to the door. “The kitten is amazing. This ornament trading game idea was amazing. You, Ru, are amazing.”
“You may continue the praise,” Haruto said, pulling on his hat. “You have plans for Christmas Day?” He asked every year, just to make sure Nick had something for the day itself.
“A long sleep in, of course, then I’ll open my presents—you shouldn’t have, but we’ve already covered that you’re amazing—and I think I’m going to go out this year and catch a movie. Lots of popcorn.”
“Okay. Let me know which movie and when. If my mother doesn’t mind, I might slip out and join you.”
They hugged again, and Haruto left.
Fiona had turned on Nick’s small television, and they settled in to watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Perry and Fiona sat on Nick’s bed, and Nick paused at his stove before joining Matt on the two-seater couch. When the kettle started to whistle, Nick got up to make hot chocolate for everyone, adding a dollop or two of Bailey’s to each, and they toasted the third year of Christmas for Misfit Toys. As if on cue, the pizzas arrived, and they watched the show while they ate the slices.
“Did I tell you I got a tree?” Matt said, while Rudolph’s father covered his shiny nose with mud on the screen.
“Yeah. It’s not as large as your beast, but it’s something.”
They clinked glasses. “That just leaves Fiona without a tree of her own.”
“Never gonna happen,” Fiona said. “You know I hate everything about Christmas, always have, always will.”
“Do I need to put on some carols?”
“I really can’t stay,” Matt sang. Fiona threw a wad of wrapping paper at him.
Perry had to leave before the show ended, and Fiona offered to give him a ride home. Matt and Nick brought the show to a close, then rose, stretching.
“Thank you for this,” Matt said. He held up the angry elf ornament.
“I think Fiona brought that.”
Matt shook his head. “That’s not what I meant.”
“I know,” Nick said. “You’re welcome. And thank you, too. You guys make this…” He gestured to his tree, his little bachelor apartment, and the world at large. “Better.”
“We do, don’t we?” Matt said. “You’d almost think we’re worthy of a reward. Like, say, a rainbow unicorn kitten.”
“Let it go, Matthew.”
“Never,” Matt said. “And that’s a promise.”
They hugged. After Matt left, Nick went back to the tree and touched the little rainbow unicorn kitten, setting him swinging on the branch.
“There are no losers,” he said, then went to go make himself another hot chocolate.