This is a continuation of my story 'Growing Up at Christmas' from the Fort Family's 2009 Christmas writer's challenge. It can be viewed at the Fort Family Events site at as well as at Ted Louis' site

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

This story is protected by copyright. It may not be downloaded or copied for other than your private enjoyment and may not be changed in any way without the expressed written consent of the author. This story may not be put on any other site without the author's express written consent.

Growing Up At Christmas: Family Bonds

© 2010 Felix_P

Ryan was a 'big boy', as he always protested when I called him little buddy. Ryan was ten years old, now. I was twenty-four. It was almost four years ago when I rescued him in the mall.

I was more than just his Big Brother. He was more like a real little brother. He was as much a part of my family as my Uncle, Aunt and cousins were. So was his Nana.

I graduated from university as an engineer two years ago. I was working for a large steel company now. It was Ok. It paid the bills. I had my own apartment. A condo I bought. I made sure it had two bedrooms. Ryan liked to stay over sometimes.

I coached his hockey team. He was pretty good. He played Centre and could skate really well. He picked up the game pretty fast after I signed up to be his Big Brother four years ago. I took him skating every Saturday and Sunday that first winter. Nana signed him up for hockey the next year with his friend Joey. They needed a coach for his team. Ryan asked me. I hadn't coached before. I didn't think I should. I wasn't a parent and I was only twenty. Ryan wouldn't let me say no.

"Are you and Marcy gonna get married?" he asked me one day, after his hockey practice. We were having a muffin and hot chocolate at Tim Hortons.

"I thought we already talked about this, little guy."

"I know. But I forgot what you said," he replied, as he giggled.

He hadn't forgotten. He was a smart little boy. Marcy lived with me now. He liked Marcy. She liked him. She was a teacher. She had a grade 5 class. Ryan was in grade 5.

"Nana thinks you should get married. She says you guys are 'made for each other'," he said, as he mimicked Nana's voice. Nana was very intuitive.

It was getting near Christmas. All the stores and malls were decorated. It was the time of the year I liked the best. So did Ryan. He knew there was no Santa. He figured that out when he was eight. He pretended there was to humour Nana and me. I was helping him pick out a gift for Nana.

"Aren't you gonna get Marcy a special Santa gift, Chris?" he asked, with a big grin.

"I need to pick that out by myself," I said, as I gave him a big smile in return.

He asked why he couldn't help. He always had before. I couldn't tell him why.

"You'll see what it is at Christmas," I said, as I ruffled his hair.

He didn't like secrets. He also didn't like his hair getting messed up.

Nana and Marcy came to all his hockey games. They liked to cheer loudly when he was on the ice. He liked hockey. He liked having Nana and Marcy cheering for him. Nana got really excited during one game. She fainted in the stands. We were all concerned. Ryan was frantic.

"I'm all right, Ryan," Nana said, after the game as she gave him a big hug.

The first aid attendant at the game had rushed to help Marcy bring her around. She had felt lightheaded. She came around pretty quickly. Marcy and I were still concerned.

"Maybe you should see the doctor this week," Marcy said.

"I'm going next week. I've been putting this off for a while."

Nana and Ryan came to dinner many Sundays with my Aunt and Uncle. They considered them part of the family. They considered Marcy part of the family too, but for different reasons.

"When are you going to ask that girl to marry you?" my Aunt asked. "You know she's not going to wait forever."

I knew she was right. I just hadn't gotten around to making that commitment. I don't know why. We loved each other. We liked kids. We had lots in common.

Marcy and I helped Ryan with his homework when he needed help. Most of the time he didn't really need help. He did very well in school.

"What did Nana think of your report card?" Marcy asked, one weekend when he was staying over.

"She was happy. I get to pick out a new game for my Playstation," he said, with a big smile.

He didn't have too many weaknesses. He was good in Math and Literacy. He was an easygoing kid and had many friends. Joey was his best friend.

"You'd be one of the best students in my class," Marcy said, as she gave him a squeeze. He giggled. He liked when Marcy hugged him.

We went to church with Nana and Ryan sometimes. I still wasn't really into church that much. I always went when Ryan was singing in the Junior Choir. He liked to sing. We were going to the Christmas concert at their church. The Junior Choir was performing along with the 'big choir' as Ryan called it.

"I get to sing by myself," he said, at Sunday dinner.

"You mean a solo?" I asked.

He was really excited. He was also nervous.

"You'll be fine, dear," Nana said, to calm him down.

"We'll all be there," my Uncle said, as he gave him a big smile.

He was great. He sang the second verse of 'While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night' by himself. He looked very angelic in his white choir gown. He loved to perform, but he always got really nervous beforehand. He was as clear as a bell. He had a very good voice.

"You've got talent, little buddy," I said, as I gave him a hug.

I didn't do that very much. I wasn't really touchy feely. He was beaming from ear-to-ear.

Nana hadn't really been feeling that well for a few months. She got tired quickly. Ryan was an active little boy. He had lots of energy. He made me tired sometimes.

"I haven't told Ryan yet, but I went to the heart specialist this week. I have to have a valve replacement," she said.

I was shocked. I didn't know what to say. She told me it would take a few months to recover. She was going into the hospital after Christmas for the operation. She also said Ryan's mother was going to take him.

"I have no one else. My brother in Winnipeg can't. It's not a very good solution, but it's the only one I have."

She paused as she looked at me. It was almost as if she wanted to ask me something. She told me her daughter wasn't any more responsible than she was when she had left for out west. She was in British Columbia now.

"At least she's employed. She works in MacDonalds. I had to beg her to take him. She's living with some guy," she said, as she let out a big sigh.

Ryan wasn't happy when Nana told him. He was really stressed. I hadn't seen him like this before. He was staying over on a Saturday night the week before his mother was to arrive. We were sitting on the couch watching Hockey Night in Canada. The Maple Leafs were playing. They were losing as usual. We had a big bowl of popcorn between us like we always did. Marcy was in our bedroom watching a chick flick.

"What about school? What about my friends and hockey?" He paused and his voiced dropped. "What if Nana dies?"

Those were really good questions. I didn't have any answers. I felt helpless. I felt really lousy after his next question.

"Couldn't I come and live with you?" he asked, with those big green eyes looking at me.

"It's only for a little while, Ryan. Things will be back to normal when Nana gets better."

I couldn't look after a little kid. I liked having him stay with us. I liked spending time with him. But, being his parent?

I asked Marcy to marry me the day before Christmas Eve. She said yes. She liked the ring that I picked out. She had to call her parents. We went around to show them and then my Aunt and Uncle. We had dinner there and went to Ryan and Nana's later.

"It's about time, young man. I was beginning to think I was going to have to bop you on the head with a hockey stick to bring you to your senses," Nana said, as she gave us both big hugs.

Ryan was really excited. He was smiling. He gave Marcy a big hug and then he high-fived me.

"Will Marcy be my Big Sister?" he asked, as he laughed.

Ryan's mother arrived Christmas Eve day. Nana paid for her flight and the airport limousine to Nana's house. She arrived with a small carryon bag. She didn't bring any presents.

"I have something you can give Ryan," Nana said to her. She didn't seem to care too much.

We were all going to church that evening. Nana and Ryan liked to come to the Christmas Eve service with my Aunt, Uncle and cousins. It was just like we were all family. Ryan got along with my cousins. They weren't too much older than he was.

Ryan's Mother was a piece of work. She didn't want to go to church. She complained that she was tired. Nana gave in. Marcy and I insisted on taking Ryan. His Mother changed her mind. I think she was jealous.

"I guess I can put up with another stupid Christmas pageant," she said, with disdain.

Marcy and I went to Ryan's place early Christmas morning. We had stayed overnight at my Aunt and Uncle's place and my cousins opened their presents after church on Christmas Eve. Ryan was subdued. He liked his presents but he was really distracted. I beat him at NHL2K10 on his Playstation. I had never beaten him before.

"Did you let me win, buddy?" He gave me a weak smile.

We were having Christmas dinner at Nana's house. We usually invited them to my Aunt and Uncle's but Nana didn't want to impose this year. I think she was worried about her daughter embarrassing her. Marcy and I did a lot of the cooking because Nana was tired. We weren't sure if it was because of her heart or stress.

"Get your stuff, Ryan. We've got to go," his mother said, after we finished dinner.

He looked at Nana, then Marcy and me. His eyes were pleading. He didn't want to go. He didn't move. His mother became impatient.

"I don't have time for this. Move it!"

Nana couldn't drive so I drove everyone to the airport. It wasn't a very pleasant drive. Nobody spoke very much. This wasn't fair. I wasn't paying close attention while I was driving. I almost missed the highway exit to the terminal. I was thinking.

"I'm so glad we got here. That was quite a drive," Ryan's mother said, sarcastically to me.

Ryan and Nana had a tearful hug as I was getting the bags out of the trunk. He then hugged Marcy and then me. I put my arms around him tightly. I was sad. I didn't want to let go. I couldn't let go.

"Ryan's not leaving," I blurted out.

"What do you mean?" his mother snarled.

My mind finally listened to my heart. I knew this wasn't right. I knew what I should do. I knew what I had to do.

"Ryan's coming to live with us until Nana's better."

Nana came over and joined our hug. Ryan and Nana's smiles and hugs were the best Christmas presents I got that day.

"I didn't want to impose on you, but I'm so glad you're going to take him," Nana said, when we got back to the house.

"I didn't know if I could do it. I didn't know if I could be his parent," I said.

"You've been one of his parents for some time, Chris. Everyone except you knew that," Nana said, with a big smile.

Big Brothers of Canada

While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks by Night, by Libera

Growing Up At Christmas: Life's Challenges