I do not own the Macdonald Hall series or the song Jingle Bells.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Christmas at Macdonald Hall

"Hey, it's snowing!" Boots O'Neal called to his roommate and best friend, Bruno Walton. The former was pressed against the window of their room and watching the fat, fluffy flakes fall gently to the ground. "Looks like we'll be getting a white Christmas after all."

"Wonderful," Bruno muttered. He lay sprawled on his bed, eyes locked gloomily at the ceiling.

"Ah, come on, Bruno. Staying at the Hall for Christmas break won't be so bad," Boots said positively. "And it's not like you'll be the only one here."

"I don't know the other guys who are staying!" Bruno cried. "I'll pretty much be alone for Christmas. Isn't that a sad story? My parents leave their only son behind while they go on a trip to Hawaii."

"You know it's not like that," Boots said. "It was a gift given to them, and the departure date couldn't be changed. They didn't want to waste the tickets (heck, I don't blame them!) and they promised you they would be back in time for the last few days of Christmas break. You'll still get to see them, just not on Christmas Day."

Bruno huffed. "My world is crumbling around me."

Boots shook his head in exasperation. Bruno's flair for the dramatic could be frustrating. "We have a few days left before I and everyone else leaves for Christmas. Why don't you come outside and have some fun with the guys?"

"I don't feel like it," Bruno muttered. "I think I'll take a nap or something. You go ahead."

Frowning with concern, Boots gave his best friend a glance before getting dressed and heading outside. The snow fell into his fair hair and the wind nipped at his ears. As he walked he tried to think of ways that would put Bruno back in the Christmas spirit. He hated seeing his friend so upset. It just wasn't Bruno to be in such a depressed mood.

"Hey, Boots!"

Glancing up, the boy spotted his close friends huddled on the hill overlooking the highway. "Hey, guys."

"Where's Bruno?" Mark Davies asked, his hands tucked under his armpits for warmth.

"In our room. He's pretty bummed."

"I would be too if my parents were going to Hawaii without me," Larry Wilson agreed.

"I've always wanted to try a coconut," Wilber Hackenschleimer sighed wistfully.

"It's not so much that." Boots sat down beside Sidney Rampulsky in the snow, ignoring the fact his jeans would be soaking wet. "He's upset that he'll be alone for Christmas."

"He won't be alone." Pete Anderson frowned in confusion. "A bunch of other guys will be here. And some staff members."

"He means that none of his friends will be here," Mark explained to his dense friend. "That would stink. Too bad there's nothing we can do."

"Well..." Boots hesitated. "I was trying to think of something I could to help Bruno out and I decided that I'm going to stay behind as well. Only for a bit, anyway. I'll stay with him until Christmas Day and then I'll go see my folks."

"That's a good idea." Mark smiled. "I don't think my parents would mind."

Boots stared in surprise. "You don't have to-"

"Are you kidding? After everything Bruno's done for us, I don't mind visiting my parents later than I normally do during Christmas." Mark grinned. "Besides, I forgot to get him something. This can be considered a Christmas present, can't it?"

Boots laughed.

"You know, we could surprise Bruno!" Larry suggested. "Make it seem like we're all leaving and surprise him during Christmas Eve dinner!"

"That's a great idea!" Boots exclaimed. "Are all you guys in?"

"Well, I'll be missing Nana's famous pecan pie," Wilber mused. "And her mashed potatoes...and ham...but I'm sure she'll save me some if I call and ask."

"But wait!" Sidney scratched his head. "The bus takes everyone to the train station and airports Christmas Eve morning. Where will we stay for the day if we're surprising Bruno at night?"

"Our rooms," Pete answered.

Mark rolled his eyes. "You're not serious, are you?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, it's just that Bruno will probably notice," Boots explained. "We would need to stay away for a little bit."

"The forests?" Pete suggested.

"Oh yeah, I really want to spend hours in a forest, especially when it's freezing cold," Wilber said sarcastically.

Boots bit his numb lip and glanced across the highway. "Well..."

Larry caught on instantly. "No. No way. I am not going to Scrimmage's!"

"Miss Scrimmage still hasn't forgiven for that time when I broke her climber," Sidney said woefully.

Mark burst into laughter. "Sidney, only you could have a 'little accident' that causes six hundred dollars' worth of damage."

Sidney scowled as his friends laughed. "Very funny."

Boots managed to stop chuckling. "Alright, guys. We need to be serious here. If we can't stay at Scrimmage's for a few hours, then where else?"

"Town," Larry answered.

"And who's going to bring us there?" Boots demanded.

"The Fish?"

"Okay, now you must be joking!" Mark exclaimed, looking at Pete in disbelief.

Pete shrugged. "He may be strict, but he is fair. I think he'd understand."

Boots sighed. "Since you guys aren't willing to spend a few hours with Cathy and Diane, then I guess we have no other choice. Let's get this over with."

The boys got up, brushing snow from their pants and trooping towards the main office. "What if he puts us on dishwashing duty for disrupting him?" Sidney asked nervously. "He could be in a bad mood, you know."

"Mrs. Sturgeon wouldn't let him," Wilber said confidently. "Not on Christmas. And besides, we have to talk to him. We all signed the sheet saying we would be going home for Christmas."

"Do you think he'll let us stay?" Pete asked.

"I think he has to, if our parents say that it's okay," Boots said, although he was a bit worried his folks would not agree to his idea. "Larry, you can do all the talking."

"Oh, no! You're the second-in-command of this group. You can do all the talking," Larry said firmly.

Boots groaned and pushed open the office door. They hurried into the warm building and shut the door, but not before a flurry of snowflakes came in behind them. Mrs. Davis glanced up from her work. "Hello, boys. Is there something I can do for you?"

"Is Mr. Sturgeon in?" Boots asked, shaking the snow from his hair. "We'd like to speak with him."

"He is. You can go ahead and knock, he hasn't told me to keep people from interrupting him." Mrs. Davis smiled.

Boots swallowed nervously and hesitantly knocked on the large wooden door. A muffled voice answered, "Come in."

The fair-haired boy pushed open the door. "Hello, Mr. Sturgeon."

The Headmaster looked up in surprise as O'Neal and his crowd filed into his office. He grew puzzled when he noticed that their esteemed leader, Walton, was not present. "O'Neal, boys. Is there something I can do for you?"

"Actually, sir, there is." Boots cleared his throat. "You see, we all signed the sheet saying we'd be going home for Christmas break. But we were wondering if we could stay here instead."

Mr. Sturgeon frowned. "You can, but your parents would have to agree with your change in plans."

"We will, sir." Boots nodded. "Er, we were actually only going to stay behind until the day after Christmas. Is there a way for us to go home after that?"

"If you tell your parents to expect you a few days later, then yes, you may. But there isn't a bus that will arrive to take you to the train station. You would have to find another way."

"That's fine, sir," Wilber spoke up. "My uncle runs a restaurant nearby. He could come and give us a lift."

Mr. Sturgeon nodded. "Fine. You may use the office phone to call your parents."

"Thank you." Boots took a deep breath. "And...There's one more thing. You see, Bruno will be here for the whole Christmas break. We decided to stay behind so we could surprise him on Christmas Eve. But we would need a place to stay, just for a little bit, until the evening so we can surprise him properly."

Now Mr. Sturgeon understood the abrupt change in plans, and he felt foolish for not realizing earlier. He had never seen such a close-knit group of boys in his entire career and should have known that since one of their own was being left behind, they would stay behind as well. And he was very proud of them for it. "That's very good of you, boys. I shall see what I can do."

"Thank you, sir," the boys chorused and left the headmaster's office.

"That wasn't so bad," Sidney muttered as Pete went up to the office phone to call his parents.

"I guess even The Fish has Christmas spirit," Mark agreed. "But where do you think he'll have us stay?"

Boots shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine.

...

"The Christmas spirit is alive, Mildred."

Mrs. Sturgeon glanced at her husband as he came into the kitchen. "Whatever do you mean?"

"Those boys you are so fond of have decided to stay behind for a few extra days so that Walton will not be alone for Christmas." Mr. Sturgeon removed a gingerbread cookie from the Christmas tin in the middle of the kitchen table. "And they want to surprise him."

"How wonderful!" Mrs. Sturgeon exclaimed. "They are such nice boys."

"They've also asked me if I knew of a place they could stay until Christmas evening. I-"

"They can stay here, of course!"

Mr. Sturgeon paused. As touched as he was by the boys' affection for Walton, he was hesitant to agree with his wife's suggestion. "The thought had crossed my mind, but-"

"But nothing!" Mrs. Sturgeon said firmly.

"Mildred, I don't think it would be very wise to have Rampulsky in such a small quarters, especially when there are many breakable ornaments about. The boy has already gotten himself tangled in dining hall Christmas lights, and I still do not know how he managed to do so."

"William, the boys can stay here. I will not have any argument."

Mr. Sturgeon sighed. "I suppose it's better than having them run around town or, heaven forbid, spend the morning at Srimmage's. I'll let Wilson know-"

"Tomorrow morning," Mrs. Sturgeon finished. "Miss Scrimmage has kindly invited us over for a Christmas dinner. We mustn't be late."

"Assuming that you knew this well in advance, how come I haven't?" Mr. Sturgeon demanded.

"Don't be silly, dear. If I'd have told you earlier, you would have found a way to get yourself out of it. Now, hurry and get cleaned up. They're expecting us."

...

"Hey, Boots!" Larry called, running down the corridor to his friend the following morning. "Where's Bruno?"

"Sleeping," Boots replied. "It's only eight o'clock."

"Oh, right. Listen, Mr. Sturgeon just told me that if we wanted to, we could stay at his cottage for the morning!" Larry exclaimed.

"I have a feeling that suggestion was more Mrs. Sturgeon than the Fish." Boots grinned. "But it's still really generous of him."

"I've also been thinking, should we tell Elmer what we're doing? He might want to stay behind with us."

"He probably would, but he got permission to leave early." Boots laughed. "He had some science conference to attend. Haven't you noticed we were missing our resident genius?"

"To be honest, I thought he was holed up in his room doing one of his experiments." Larry smiled sheepishly.

The door beside them creaked open and Bruno popped his head out. "Hey, guys," he said sleepily. "What's with all the noise? Some guys are trying to sleep around here."

"Sorry, Bruno," Larry apologized. "I was just talking with Boots about the holidays."

"Christmas," Bruno muttered. "Bah humbug."

He slammed the door shut and Boots punched Larry in the shoulder. "He was acting himself for the first time in a week before you opened your big mouth!"

"Hey, just think how excited he'll be tomorrow night." Larry grinned. "I'm starving. Can we get breakfast?"

"Sure. If we're lucky, Wilber will have saved us some pancakes."

"Now that's a Christmas miracle."

...

The day passed too quickly for Bruno, who spent the last few hours with his pals. Christmas Eve morning arrived and the boy stood sullenly on the snow-covered front lawn, watching as hundreds of students boarded buses and their parents' cars.

"Bye, Bruno!" Boots waved from the long line of kids waiting to board one of the many buses. "We'll see you soon!"

"Merry Christmas!" Pete added.

"Bye, guys. Merry Christmas to you too." Bruno managed a smile before heading back to his warm dormitory. As soon as he was out of sight the boys exited the line and trooped over to the Fish's cottage.

"He's going to be real happy to see us," Sidney remarked. "He didn't look too happy."

"I'm surprised Pete didn't blow the whole thing." Mark grinned when Pete shot him a glare.

"I'm not the Blabbermouth! I can keep secrets," Pete snapped.

"He's got a point," Wilber said as they approached the front door. "Boots, knock."

Boots knocked on the wooden door and it was immediately thrown open by Mrs. Sturgeon (to Boots' relief). "Come in, come in! It's cold outside!"

The boys entered the home, careful not to drip water all over the place. "Thanks a lot for letting us stay here for a bit," Boots said. "We don't mean to disrupt any holiday plans you might have."

"Not at all!" Mrs. Sturgeon ushered them into the living room. "The family doesn't come over until seven and I've already got the dinner started. I think it's very sweet what you boys are doing for Bruno."

"We thought it would be a nice surprise." Boots smiled.

"I think Bruno will be very pleased. Now, let me get you boys some hot chocolate and Christmas cookies."

"Thank you!" the boys chorused.

"That's a really nice tree," Sidney commented, staring at the great pine in the corner of the room, sparkling with ornaments and tinsel.

"Don't go near it!" Mark snapped. "Don't even get off the couch!"

"I wasn't going to!" Sidney exclaimed.

"Here you go!" Mrs. Sturgeon came back into the room with a tray of cookies and hot chocolate. Wilber happily grabbed a handful of cookies and Boots rolled his eyes.

"Save some for us!" Pete cried.

"Don't worry, there's plenty more where that came from." Mrs. Sturgeon sat down on an armchair. "Now, what are your plans for the holidays?"

The boys explained what they would be doing with their families and spoke of their traditions. The next few hours were spent exchanging Christmas stories and laughing at poor Sidney's Christmas escapades.

At five in the evening Mr. Sturgeon walked into his living room. The boys immediate jumped to their feet. "Hello, sir. Merry Christmas, sir."

"Merry Christmas to you as well." Mr. Sturgeon nodded. "I thought I would inform you that dinner has started and Walton looks quite depressed, sitting by himself."

"That poor boy." Mrs. Sturgeon clapped her hands. "You ought to go cheer him up right away!"

Boots grinned. "Yes, ma'am. Come on, guys. And thanks very much for letting us stay here."

"We really appreciate it," Larry added.

The boys took off and Mrs. Sturgeon was quick to grab her jacket. Mr. Sturgeon frowned. "Where are you going?"

"To see Bruno's expression, of course!" Mrs. Sturgeon exclaimed.

Mr. Sturgeon nodded and followed his wife out the door. This was not something he wanted to miss either.

...

Boots, Pete, Wilber, Larry, Sidney and Mark stood clumped in the entrance to the dining hall. Bruno sat with his back to the group, picking at his dinner. "Okay guys," Boots whispered. "We're going to creep up behind him and shout, 'Merry Christmas!' Got it?"

"Let's do it!" Larry grinned.

The six boys crept across the dining hall and stood Bruno. They all took a deep breath and shouted, "MERRY CHRISTMAS, BRUNO!"

The boy jumped out of his chair and nearly fell to the floor. He stared at the grinning group in shock before he beamed. "What are you guys doing here?"

"Celebrating the holidays with you!" Boots punched him in the shoulder. "You looked kind of pathetic when we pretended to leave."

"We couldn't leave you all alone on Christmas," Larry added.

"It's like you always say. We stick together, no matter what." Pete smiled.

"And this is your Christmas gift from me." Mark grinned. "You're welcome."

Bruno could not stop smiling. He smiled as his friends got their food. He smiled as they sat down with them. Boots popped a piece of ham in his mouth and shook his head. "Bruno, your face is going to break."

"I can't help it. You guys are the best!"

"I wish you'd tell us that more often," Wilber joked.

Mrs. Sturgeon looked on with a fond smile as the group of friends burst into laughter. "Isn't it a wonderful sight, William? Bruno looks so happy."

"Indeed he does." Mr. Sturgeon allowed himself a soft smile. "It's getting quite late. We have our own dinner to attend to and the family be arriving shortly."

The two left and Bruno caught sight of their retreating backs. "What was The Fish doing here?"

Boots shrugged. "I don't know. We stayed at his place for the day so we could surprise you later on."

"Really? That was nice of him." Bruno hummed in thought. "Hey, I have an idea!"

"No ideas, please!" Larry pleaded. "Not on Christmas."

Bruno ignored him. "After dinner, we're going to go carolling!"

"But they have people coming over!" Mark protested.

"Perfect! We'll be giving them entertainment." Bruno clapped his hands. "We can raid the music room for some bells and Boots can play his guitar! You do know how to play Christmas carols on that thing, right?"

"Yes, but-"

"Great!" Bruno beamed. "Let's finish eating. We have stuff to do and not a lot of time."

...

"Bruno, it's cold!" Sidney complained, shivering as the bitter wind nipped at his cheeks.

"Ssh!" Bruno shushed and peered at the Sturgeon residence. He could hear children laughing and the low murmur of adults conversing. "Alright, gather round the front door. Boots is going to start us off, and then we join in with the bells. And sing as loud as you can!"

"What are we starting with?" Boots asked as he tuned his guitar with numb fingers.

"Jingle Bells, of course!"

Boots started up the song and his friends joined in the bells. Their voices rang out across the silent campus in an off-key (but enthusiastic) tone.

"Dashing through the snow, in a one horse open sleigh,
Over the fields we go, laughing all the way!
Bells on bobtails ring,
Making spirits bright.
What fun it is to laugh and sing
A sleighing song tonight, oh!"

As they launched into the chorus the front door opened. Three small children wrapped up in scarves and coats tumbled onto the porch. The adults were quick to follow, and Mr. Sturgeon stared at them with unconcealed amusement.

Delighted, the children joined in with the singing. Bruno motioned them over and gave them some bells to shake.

"These are quite some students you have here," Mr. Sturgeon's brother-in-law murmured.

As Mr. Sturgeon watched his boys sing with spirit and goof around with the children, he agreed.

No matter how tough things got, they were there to spread hope. They were the first to show spirit, whether it be school spirit or Christmas spirit. They represented what true friendship and loyalty was.

And he would always be proud of them.