Christmas was never a fun time at Ms. Ruth's foster home, in fact, it only stood as a reminder to everyone in the house how they didn't have a family to celebrate this joyous occasion with, only themselves.
Most of the older kids got over the hurt that one feels when any family holiday comes around, but not Basil, he would never get over the hurt done to him by his mother. His hatred for Christmas is just as venomous now as it was the first one. He remembers the day like it only happened yesterday.
A woman walks along a stone path with a boy by her side, no more than 5 years old, holding her and. In the other a small box wrapped in delicate red and white striped paper. Up ahead a red brick building, bigger than the little boy had ever seen in his life. Although he didn't have much to compare it to. When they get to the door leading to the inside of the building, there is a plaque on it reading 'St Pauls Home for Boys and Girls'.
The woman knocks on the door and it is promptly opened by a stout woman dressed in a black tunic with a veil over her head, she was a nun.
She looked from the woman to the boy at her side and back to the woman, "You must be Claire, I am Mother Tabitha."
The woman nods in greeting and says nothing more before turning to the boy at her side, her son. She kisses him on the head and still says nothing before turning to walk down the stone path from where she came. Mother Tabitha grabs the boy and walks him toward the building. She let's go of him to shut the door, but before she can he's already raced out as fast as his little legs could carry him.
"Mommy, wait," The woman turns back to her son with tears in her eyes, "What's wrong? Why are you crying?"
His mother picks him up and walks back to where Mother Tabitha is staying, "Nothings wrong sweetheart, you're just going to stay here for a few days, that's all."
"Okay," The boy is handed back to Mother Tabitha wordlessly, "Bye mommy, I love you"
"I love you too, Basil," She hands him the wrapped present and is gone, just like that.
Those were the last words Basil's mother would ever speak to him.
The days following his mother's departure were not easy on Basil. Mother Tabitha and the other Sisters were very strict and any wrongdoing resulted in physical punishment, varying from a slap on the wrist with a ruler to a beating with a cane.
All the boys and girls had to follow a strict routine from the moment they woke to when their heads touched their pillows. They all woke up at the crack of dawn and went to morning mass, which lasted - much too long to all of the children - three hours. Then at nine, they go to the dining hall to eat breakfast. They were only allowed an hour, and from ten to six were lessons, none of which Basil remembers today. After this, an hour was given for dinner and bedtime preparations each. And at eight its lights out. Any sound coming from the dorms resulted in severe punishment.
The only day's routine was changed was on Christmas and Easter, where the children spent all day at church. This was the day Basil opened the little present. Inside was a music box which played a simple melody and a note from his mom saying 'I love you sweet boy, Merry Christmas. Love Mom.' Other than this Basil had nothing left to remember his mother by.
This was how Basil lived for three years, despite how much time had passed, Basil never gave up hope that his mother would come back for him. Because every year on Christmas day he would wake up to a gift at the end of his bed. It never said who it was from but Basil just knew it was his mother.
It wasn't until a family - husband, and wife - came to the orphanage looking for a child to adopt, showing interest in Basil that he realized his mother wasn't coming back - not now, not ever.
The families interest in him didn't last very long - a closer look at the boy and the prospective mother turned to her husband and shook her head, and they moved on to the next child.
This was how it went until Basil turned ten, and Mother Tabitha decided he was much too old for anyone to want to adopt him. And so wanting to make more room in the orphanage for the younger children who were more likely to be adopted - according to Mother Tabitha- Basil was moved out of the orphanage to the first foster home willing to take him in. This wouldn't be the last foster home Basil would live in.
This is really where Basil hatred for Christmas really came from. Every year no matter what foster home Basil was in he would still receive a gift on Christmas. It pissed him off. Every year he would get a reminder that his mother knew exactly where he was and did nothing about it. He couldn't bring himself to ever open any of the gifts he would get. Things would continue like this for four years, Basil continuously doing things to get kicked out and moved on to the next home.
Until Ms. Ruth, a dainty old woman pushing on her last years of life.
She'd been a foster mom since she was 25 when she lost her son in a terrible accident and found out she couldn't ever bear another child, the first was a miracle in itself. So she decided to take up being a foster mother.
When her parents died she inherited a giant estate, with enough rooms to house a whole school of children, and two kitchens - to Basil's amazement.
This was where Basil met the closest thing he'd ever have to a family. He'd stayed here since he was fourteen, the only time he'd ever been tempted to leave was his first Christmas at the estate when once again, like clockwork, he'd received a gift. But the wanting to leave was fleeting when one of the other boy's Basil's age, whose name was Pip, or Phillip, but don't let him hear that, asked who it was from. He had a strong belief that he didn't want to have anything to do with the people who conceived him, even his name. He planned to legally change it to Pip when he turned eighteen. Basil had replied with nothing and went to go throw it away.
"Why are you throwing it away?" Pip asked curiously looking over Basil's shoulder to look at the red and white striped wrapped box hovering over the trash can.
Basi shrugged, "Because I don't want it?" Was all he could come up with.
Pip looked up at him, Basil was considerably taller than him, "Can I have it?"
Basil looked down at the present and back at Pip, and silently handed over the present and watched him unwrap it. It was a dark navy green winter coat. Pip smiled and put on. "What do you think?" Basil thought it looked really nice on him. But he didn't say this out loud.
This became a tradition between the two boys. Christmas would come around: Basil would go to throw away the gift, Pip would ask for it, and Basil would give it. He quickly learned he couldn't say no to the freckled boy.
It was no different this year around Basil opened his eyes to all the children excitedly waking up their friends to go open their presents. That was new to Basil. When he first arrived, Ms. Ruth would buy every child in the house a gift. This was her way to make the holiday feel warmer to the children, and it worked for the children early enough in their years to be impressed upon by this. But anyone over the age of ten was unphased, although grateful. Too many cold years had passed for them to be affected by this act of kindness.
Basil moved to the end of his bed where, no doubt, the unnamed present lie. Ms. Ruth used to put it under the tree, but Basil asked her not to. He didn't like all the kids asking him who it was from, he would never answer.
He picked it up, it had the same wrapping paper as the first one his mother handed to him on the doorsteps of the orphanage all those years ago. He walked over to Pip's bed on the other side of the room they shared together and saw that Pip was asleep and so decided to put the present at the end of his bed and went to go get some breakfast and watch all the children open their presents.
Walking down the hall he saw into all of the rooms. Some had children sleeping with others bouncing onto their beds to wake them up, others had groups, teenage girls and boys, talking to each other, a lot of the kids that came to live at the estate had done that, formed groups. Basil hadn't, he wasn't used to the idea of wanting to socialize with other kids his age. He had moved around too much and too often to make friends. Until Ms. Ruth's, until Pip. He was the only person in the estate Basil considered a friend.
Basil walked into the kitchen and was pushed out of his thoughts with the smell of bacon, and on cue, his stomach growled signaling his hunger. He walked around the island counter and made a plate for himself and for Pip, he knew Pip would never wake up in time to get any food. He was like that, could never get up on time. His teachers called home at least once a week to complain of his tardiness to Ms. Ruth. But no matter how many times he would get in trouble, Pip would never grow out of it, or at the very least, he wouldn't try.
Basil wrapped Pip's food and carried it, walking into the den with the Christmas tree to sit down on the love seat in the corner to watch the remainder of the kids come in and open their presents. He may not have liked Christmas but Basil could always admire and find enjoyment in watching other people still finding joy in the holiday spirit.
Kids came and went with their presents, some boasting toy cars, others walking around in new coats or scarves or hats. Ms. Ruth never bought anyone the same thing. Everyone in the house got something different. Ms. Ruth always put the tree up in September, because that was how long it took her to buy presents for everyone in the house. Things would usually start appearing under the tree around the beginning of November. She even went to the extent of putting stockings filled with candy and trinkets on everyone's door the night before. She'd always tried to make Christmas feel homey for the children. And she definitely took some enjoyment of her own, she loved shopping and watching the look on every child's face when they opened their present. Which is why it was a rule that you couldn't open your present until she handed it to you.
When Basil finished his breakfast, Ms. Ruth walked up to him with a medium sized box in hand.
"Merry Christmas Basil." Ms. Ruth said handing the box to Basil.
"Merry Christmas Ms. Ruth," Basil pulled a pair of leather gloves, " Thank you"
Ms. Ruth looked around, "Is Pip still asleep?" She asked.
"I think so," Basil muttered, looking down at his gloves.
"That boy never wakes up. Would you be a dear and go get him so he could open his present?"
Basil nodded and started down the hall towards his room when an ear piercing scream stopped him in his tracks. For a second he couldn't tell whose voice it was, but only a second passed when he realized it was Pip's. Without a second thought, Basil dropped his gloves and raced down the hall.
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