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Note: The house at 347 Brunswick Avenue is real and was available for sale as of November 2003 through Sutton Group - Bayview Realty in Toronto.
A Merry Little Christmas
by Amanda Berendt
Copyright December 2003
The sun had just set over the tree lined street as the dark blue sedan pulled up in front of the suburban brick house. A man in his thirties stepped out and headed towards the house. The cool November wind billowed the long black coat he wore as he crossed the front lawn.
The heavyset woman waiting on the porch greeted him as he climbed the steps. "Mr. DeBrabant?" she asked holding out her right hand.
"Yes." He smiled, shaking her hand. "You must be the realtor. Please call me Nick."
She smiled a warm smile. "My name is Mary Phillips. I think this will suit your needs quite well. Should be go inside?"
Nick nodded and followed the woman as she unlocked the front door and stepped into the foyer.
Just inside the door a set of stairs led up to the second floor. Mary led him down the hallway, their shoes clicking on the hardwood floors. "In there is the living room." She said pointing to the right. "It has a lovely bay window and a working fireplace." Further on down the hallway she pushed open a swinging door to reveal a rather large kitchen. "All the appliances are brand new and that door over there leads to the basement." She pointed out a door in the corner of the room. "The previous owners converted part of it into a wine cellar."
Turning to the other side of the room, she continued. "The dining room is through there.” she said nodding to the next room and consulting her listing. "There is a built-in china cabinet."
A few moments later, he was following her to the second floor. "There are three bedrooms up here. The master bedroom has a full attached bath and there is a second bathroom here at the top of the stairs."
Ten minutes later, after exploring each room upstairs, they stood on the front porch once more. "So is it what you're looking for?" Mary asked.
Nick nodded. "It's perfect. I'd like to make an offer."
Since he had made a quite generous offer, he wasn't surprised to receive a call from Mary at his hotel the next afternoon telling him he had gotten the house.
A week and a half after signing the papers for the house, Nick was back in New York packing his belongings and arranging for the move. This particular night found him sitting in the corner of the Black Rose. Janette had come to New York two years prior and had set up the club about six months later. It quickly became a haven for mortals and vampires alike - giving each shelter and escape from the outside world.
Nick sat alone in the corner watching the people on the dance floor. Janette easily weaved her way through the crowd to where he sat. Not waiting for an invitation, she placed her glass on the table and sat facing him. Her raven hair was pulled back with a golden clip that accented the gold threads in her red velvet dress.
"Seeking shelter from the storm?" she asked, gazing across the table at him.
He surprised her by smiling. "In a way, yes." Then off her questioning look, he continued. "I needed to take a break from packing, to get out."
"Oh, Nicolas." Janette shook her head. "Did something happen? It is a bit soon to be moving on."
Nick smiled again. "I'm moving, Janette. Not moving on."
"I don't understand." She said taking a sip from her glass.
"I'm moving back to Toronto. I bought a house there and Professor Mitchell pulled some strings to get me a teaching position at the university."
"So you're just going there as you are now?"
Nick chuckled. "Why not, Janette? Mortals move all the time."
She narrowed her eyes and set the glass down on the table. "But you are not mortal. Why?"
The simple question wiped the smile from Nick's mouth.
A sly smile slowly appeared across Janette's face. "Ahhh, it has something to do with the death of your Natalie, doesn't it?"
Nick tried to conceal his discomfort. "Actually, it is her granddaughter." he admitted, knowing she had ways of finding out even if he didn't tell her. "She has offered to continue Natalie's work."
Janette's smile grew. "Poor Nicolas, still searching for a cure."
This was not the break he needed, Nick thought as he glanced at his watch. "It's getting late. I have to get going. There's still a lot to do." He said getting up from the table. He kissed the top of her head as he passed and strode out of the club.
The beginning of December found Nick sitting on his front porch watching two young boys across the street build a snowman in the early evening light. He had only moved in two weeks earlier, but he already felt like he was a part of the neighborhood. A young boy down the street had come door-to-door selling Christmas wreaths for some school organization. Nick had obligingly bought one of the more expensive one and had hung it on his front door.
The darkness was growing and the boys across the street had just placed the head on their snowman, and were pleading with their mother for just a few more minutes outside. He turned his head to look at the other houses on the tree-lined street. Several had their Christmas lights up and trees lit up in their windows. He sat there for several hours just enjoying the sense of belonging, watching the houses until one by one, the lights went out and the occupants retired for the night.
It was nearing midnight when he stepped into the foyer. This house was much different from his previous dwelling in Toronto. While the loft had been cold and fortress-like, the house on Brunswick Avenue was warm and inviting. The hardwood floors were covered with rich throw rugs, accenting the plush brown leather furniture. He had taken many of his 'souvenirs' from over the years and had scattered them throughout the house. Despite the appearance of warmth and happiness, there were no obvious signs of the present occupant, save one. A single old photograph sat on the piano in the library.
Hope had given him the photo from the precinct picnic the night Natalie had died. It was the one remnant from his life as Nick Knight that he dared to keep.
The Saturday before Christmas, Nick was awakened at three in the afternoon by the phone ringing. Groggily, he reached out from under the covers to the nightstand. He felt around until his fingers touched the phone. Picking it up, he pulled it back under the covers, turned it on and grunted.
"Nick, is that you?" It was Hope, sounding extremely chipper.
"Ok." She laughed. "I guess you're not up yet. You are a very hard man to reach. You really have to let people know when you move. I had to get your new number and address from the Foundation. Anyway, you have one hour to get up and get ready. I'm coming over."
Nick grunted and an answer before Hope hung up, then stuck his head out from under the covers. He lay there for another fifteen minutes before heaving himself up with a sigh.
True to her word, an hour after she had called, Hope stood on the front porch of 347 Brunswick Avenue and rang the doorbell. Nick answered the door. He had showered and gotten dressed in a pair of khaki Dockers and a navy blue sweater. They hugged briefly in greeting and Nick stepped aside to allow Hope to enter the foyer.
Ten minutes later they sat in the comfort of the living room. Hope sat on the couch holding a steaming mug of hot chocolate while Nick sat across from her in the brown leather armchair holding a glass of his special stock.
"This is a really beautiful house." Hope said looking around. "It's very different from the loft."
Nick shrugged. "Different life, different style. It kind of fits a professor of history and archeology better than black leather and concrete."
She grinned and nodded. "So you got the position."
"Yep, I start classes next semester."
After a moment, Hope spoke again. "OK, Mister Scrooge, Christmas is this week. Where's your tree?"
Nick took a sip from his glass and leaned back in the chair. "So, you've been infected with the Lambert gene for manic holiday decorating, huh?" He asked remembering Natalie's penchant for decorating anything that would stand still long enough to have garland stuck to it.
Hope grinned impishly. "Guilty as charged." She said standing up to take her now empty mug to the kitchen. "Get your coat, we're going Christmas shopping."
Soon he found himself sitting in the passenger seat of Hope's Ford Explorer fighting the downtown holiday traffic. After what seemed like an eternity, even for a vampire, they pulled into a parking space in the garage of Eaton Centre. The pair walked through the mall to the footbridge that would take them over Yonge Street to The Bay. Hope had said the department store had an exquisite selection of Christmas items. They rode the escalators until they reached "The Christmas Street." Stepping off the moving staircase, it was as if they had been transported into a fantasyland. There were dozens of trees in various sizes and colors, each decorated in a different theme ranging from traditional Victorian to modern Disney.
"So," Hope said stepping off the escalator behind Nick. "What kind of decorations do you want?" Still in awe, Nick began to browse the various trees with Hope following carrying a shopping basket.
An hour later, they walked back over Yonge Street via the footbridge. Each was carrying several large bags filled with all kinds of decorations, candles, and other accoutrements of the season. Hope had been surprised that most of the ornaments and decorations Nick had chosen were very traditional or Victorian in design. She was still thinking of him in terms of the picture she had created in her mind from Natalie's stories and how the loft had looked. Now she was beginning to get a sense of the history he carried with him.
Getting into the car once more, Hope turned to Nick. "Now for the tree."
He feigned a look of fright. "You mean there's more?"
Half an hour later, they were standing in the freezing parking lot of the nursery amid a virtual forest of cut trees. Not knowing what made one tree better than another, Nick followed Hope as she inspected each tree and finding some fault before moving on to the next.
By eight-thirty, they were back in Hope’s Explorer heading back to Nick’s house. The attendant at the nursery had helped them tie the tree to the roof of the car. He had also thrown in a couple of boxes of outdoor lights at no extra charge when he saw Nick’s tip.
Hope pulled into the driveway and parked behind Nick’s caddy. It had been rescued from under its tarp at the loft and fully reconditioned. They each got out of the car, grabbed a bag from the back seat and took it onto the porch.
As Nick was wrestling with the rope that held the tree to the roof, he heard a voice behind him. “Cool, you got a tree. I thought maybe you weren’t going to decorate.” He turned around to see one of the boys from across the street. The boy appeared to be around twelve or thirteen with sandy brown hair covered by a Blue Jay’s cap.
Nick smiled at him. “Actually it was her idea.” He said gesturing to Hope who was on the porch unlocking the front door with Nick’s keys.
A few minutes later, Hope returned to the car to find Nick chatting with the boy, whose name he found out was PJ.
“What’s up?” she asked striding up to the car.
Nick grinned. “I just got out of stringing the outside lights.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, since I do have to work all day tomorrow, PJ said he and his brother would do it.” He said putting his hand on the boy’s shoulder.
Hope smiled. “That’s great.” Then added to PJ. “I’ll leave the boxes on the front porch for you.” They said their good nights and Nick and Hope carried the tree up onto the porch to the front door.
They spent the next hour trying to figure out where to put the tree, then moving furniture. When they finally got the tree up and standing straight, they stood back to admire their work.
“Glad that’s over.” Nick said as he picked pine needles out of his sweater.
Hope had stepped out into the foyer and now was returning with the rest of their purchases. “Now for the decorations.” She said with a huge grin on her face.
Despite having lived for so long, Nick had very little experience with Christmas decorations. Hope laughed as she watched Nick fumble with the tinsel he was hanging on the tree. At least he was doing better than he had with the lights. Somehow Nick had managed to get a brand-new – fresh out of the box – string of lights twisted into an impenetrable knot.
It was shortly before dawn when they finally finished decorating. They sat together on the rug by the warmth of the fire gazing around the room. The tree glittered in the front window – gold Victorian ornaments and silver tinsel reflecting the lights. Pine garland draped the mantle and bookshelves accented by arrangements of cinnamon and gingerbread holiday candles. They had even decorated the stair rail with the pine garland and Hope had hung a sprig of mistletoe in the foyer.
After Hope left early Sunday morning, Nick blew out the candles and went upstairs to get some sleep. After changing into a t-shirt and pajama bottoms, he lay away in bed. It had been an amazing night. He didn’t usually decorate for the holidays. For many years it had been because of his loathing of himself. He had thought that an evil creature such as himself had no business celebrating such a holy holiday. After a while it had become a habit. Natalie had tried to get him in the spirit and he had gone along with her, but had still felt outside of the celebrations. Now, as he lay in that place between consciousness and dreams, he began to realize what Christmas was really about. It wasn’t necessarily about religion, or presents, or trees – it was about hope. Hope that there was something better… hope that there was a chance for each of us to be something more. He smiled to himself as he finally drifted off to sleep.
It was Christmas Eve, and there was a light snow falling – just enough to make the night sparkle. Hope pulled her Explorer into the driveway at 347 Brunswick Avenue and was pleased to see that PJ had been true to his word. Multi-colored lights now framed the porch and each window, as well as illuminating the evergreen shrubs in the yard.
She got out of the car and took the cardboard box that had been sitting on the passenger seat with her as she followed the path to the porch. She rang the doorbell, and then entered when she heard Nick tell her to come in. She set the box on the floor of the foyer, just inside the front door. After making sure the lid was secure, she went into the living room.
Nick was kneeling in front of the fireplace, tending to a small growing fire. He stood when she entered the room.
“Merry Christmas.” He greeted her with a hug.
“You too.” She answered as they each stepped back. “I’m sorry I can’t stay too long tonight. I know this Christmas must be hard for you, too. You do know that you’re welcome to come with me to my parent’s house.”
“Thanks, but I’d be better off staying here. I’m not really in the mood for celebrating.” He said with a melancholy smile as he stared into the fire. “I’ll be fine.”
Hope nodded. “Okay. I did bring you a present though.” She said as she stepped back into the foyer.
When she returned to the living room, she was carrying a cardboard box in her arms. “I know we said we weren’t going to exchange gifts, so consider this part of your treatment.” Nick looked at her and the box with a questioning stare. “Now, sit on the couch and close your eyes.”
Nick did has he was told – sitting on the couch, eyes closed, with his hands resting on his lap. He heard Hope’s voice. “Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be.” He was a bit nervous about what might lay hidden inside the box.
He heard Hope set the box on the floor and open the lid. The he felt her gently place something warm and furry in his lap.
“Open your eyes.” Hope said with obvious excitement.
Nick opened his eyes to see a small, snow-white cat sitting on his lap gazing up at him with brilliant green eyes.
“Her name is Angel. I got her from the animal shelter. You both needed someone to love, especially now.” Before Nick could protest, she continued. “You can’t sit and brood about how evil and guilt ridden you are with those eyes looking at you.” The cat seemed to echo this sentiment as she made herself comfortable on Nick’s lap and began to purr.
Hope sat on the couch next to him. “People who are diagnosed as clinically depressed or recovering addicts are often told to get a pet – to give them a reason to get out of bed in the morning and to make them care for something other than themselves.”
Later that night, after Hope had left to go to her parent’s house, Nick sat at his piano. His hands rested silently on the keys as he gazed out the window at the falling snow. Angel had followed him out of the living room and was now resting comfortably next to the music stand on the instrument. Hope had been right. He and Noel had been two unwanted, lonely souls, but now they were spending the holiday together. He stroked his hand over the cat’s silky white fur, then focused once more on the keys and began to place. The snow fell silently outside as the notes of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” drifted out into the night.