It was way past midnight on Christmas Eve, technically Christmas morning, when I went downstairs to get a glass of water for my parched throat (Mom always had the heat on 72). There by the Christmas tree was Johnny, eyes fixed on the star that topped the tree. I sat beside him silently, waiting for him to speak.
"There's nothing special about Christmas," he said finally. "Everything everyone says is a lie." He turned his big gray eyes to me. I never knew a kid with a stare like his, I'll tell you. I never saw a child look so cold. "What do you believe Sarah?"
I contemplated, finding the words that would be true. "I believe in the spirit of Christmas. When I see people of all circumstances come together, when I see that we can all set aside one day and one night to love and share, when people alive and not just living, I believe that, Johnny. I believe what I see."
"You're an optimist, Sarah. A romantic." He countered, emotionless. "You don't see a thing. Reality doesn't take a break for the holidays. Bad things happen. People still die."
I got up. "Sometimes, Johnny," I whispered, "we just have to bear those things with teary eyes and a hard smile." I took another look at the Christmas tree, bright and glistening . "Sometimes it's easier, you know, to be strong. Especially during Christmas, when we never turn off all the lights."
I woke up three house later in a house that smelt like smoke and knew there was something wrong. Making as little noise as possible, I crept down the hall and down the stairs, into the family room, and stopped dead in my tracks.
The tree had been burned, And carefully, at that, like someone had skimmed fire over every leaf and quickly put it out. The lights were on the floor, every singe light bulb broken. The ornaments, as well, had been smashed. And in the middle of them all, my brother lay sleeping. His hands and legs and face were cut up, multicolored pieces of glass still in his skin. I knelt beside him and he stirred, When his eyes finally focused on me he said, "I'm sorry." I shook my head and began to pry out the larger pieces of glass.
"I know you'll all hate me for this." There was, for once, pain on his face, in his voice. A tear slid slowly from his eye and fell into the floor. He began to cry. I held him like I did when he was a child and let him.
When the sobs had reduced to dry wheezes, I took his face in my hands and stared in his eyes, which at that point, were open and vulnerable. "Johnny, I see you, and I see a heart. I see a boy and I see a life, but they are all cold. Lacking warmth and joy. Happiness, Johnny, I don't see that. But that does not mean that I can't be found. It doesn't mean that I don't believe that it's there."