"Would you like to put the angel on the top of the tree?" he asked Nicky, who sat on a footstool watching.
"I guess," Nicky shrugged glumly. Ian hoisted Nicky into the air, and said, "You have to make a wish first."
Nicky closed his eyes tightly and whispered, "I wish--"
"No - don't tell me. This is your own secret wish and it won't come true if you tell anyone."
Nicky's lips sealed tightly, and with his eyes still closed and a frown of concentration, he nodded, and said, "I'm finished."
An hour later, with the few shards of broken ornaments swept up, the empty boxes stowed away in the closet, and the overhead lights dimmed, Ian sat in front of the tree with a glass of wine and stared at the angel. She had auburn red hair, much like Nicky's, which he had inherited from his mother. Ian rolled his aching shoulders and thought of Nicole, as he had every night since she was gone. She had died when Nicky was a year old, and Nicky's name, his russet hair, and the punctuation of freckles across the bridge of his nose, were the only live remainders of the glory that had been Nicole.
He sighed - something he did too much every year at this time. He had a good idea what Nicky had wished for: the one thing he couldn't give him.
In the child's bedroom, he lay awake, gazing at the stars that glistened faintly on the ceiling. His Dad had put them there for him, and had said, "See that big one? That's your Mom, and she will always be with you, watching over you. She loves you very much."
Nicky closed his eyes and thought about his Mom, the beautiful young woman whose photo was displayed on the lamp table next to his bed. He wondered if his Mom would help him get his wish this year. He wanted so much to be like the other boys. When he was younger, he had several friends, and had run and played with them.
Then his life changed when he had to start wearing the detested brace. When he struggled to learn to walk in it at the doctor's office, and had seen his father avert his face, he had thought it was because of his disappointment at having a crippled son. He was too young to know that his dad was hiding his tears of pride at the courage of his son. Since last year, though, he had started keeping to himself, tired of all the jokes and taunts, until even his loyal friends had stopped coming around.
The glow of the moon filtered through the tree outside, and its rays illuminate the cumbersome metal brace and the heavily built-up shoe lying on the floor next to the bed, as Nicky slept.
In the living room, Ian watched the news on television with little interest, until their nightly "human interest" slot, which tonight featured the local animal shelter. They showed cage after cage of cats and dogs who were homeless this holiday season, and then brought out a few special animals and gave capsulized versions of their stories. Ian clicked the "off" button of the remote. He didn't need any depressing news tonight.
Later, as he lay in the king-sized bed, both arms and one leg wrapped around the large pillow next to him, a nanospark of an idea bore into his subconscious thoughts just as he drifted off to sleep.
Next > A Surprise Trip