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Most Wonderful Time of the Year

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Every book Mr. Harrington has ever read about teaching (it’s been two, both of which were required reading in college… so he actually only skimmed them) stressed the importance of keeping kids engaged in learning even during summer break. With that in mind, he usually schedules a couple of academic decathlon practices in June and July just to make sure the students haven’t forgotten everything after the last bell rang back at the end of the school year.

It’s not unusual for the kids to grumble and complain and show up begrudgingly late for summer practice. He knows he would have done the same at their age.

So Mr. Harrington is confused but pleased when it turns out all his students have shown up early to the library. He can hear their voices as he enters through the doorway.

All that goodwill evaporates, however, when he rounds the corner of the bookshelf and sees his students in the midst of a holiday-themed whirlwind of decorations. They’ve somehow managed to hang multi-colored Christmas lights along the bookshelves along with paper chains made out of construction paper. A few paper snowflakes are scattered around too. He looks up and sees someone has also somehow managed to attach a bit of mistletoe to the ceiling.

He takes a cautious step to the left.

“What’s going on here?” he asks with the first of what will probably be many sighs today.

“It’s Christmas in July!” Peter declares happily. He holds up a plastic cup of eggnog to toast with Ned, his eagerness meaning half of it accidentally sloshed out in the process.

“It’s End of Year Holidays in July,” Cindy corrects him with a roll of her eyes. “We’re being inclusive.” She points to the menorah resting on the middle of the table.

Mr. Harrington silently looks to Michelle for an explanation, but she merely shrugs before going back to her holiday-themed doodles in her notebook. One of them, he’s pretty sure, is a depiction of himself transforming into a sad-looking snowman. He’s beginning to think making her captain of the team after Liz’s departure might not have been his best idea.

“This is supposed to be academic decathlon practice,” he reminds them. He had even (regrettably) spent half an hour this morning laminating flash cards for it.

“Where’s your holiday spirit, Mr. Harrington?” Abraham asks with a grin. “You know, chestnuts roasting on an open fire and all that?”

“Please don’t start an open fire in the library,” he sighs again.

Charlie quietly puts away the pack of matches he had in his hands and frowns. Flash sadly puts a bag of chestnuts back into his bookbag.

“Would you like a cookie?” Sally asks, offering a plate of festive-looking treats to Mr. Harrington. “I baked them myself.”

Well if the kids were going to insist on this holiday party, he decides, he should at least enjoy the food. He takes three cookies. And a cup of eggnog. And a fruitcake he was sure no one else was going to eat anyway.

“I wonder how the Avengers would celebrate the holidays,” Cindy muses, and then turns to Peter. “Do you ever hear them talk about it at your internship with Mr. Stark?”

Peter pauses from the paper snowflake he’s cutting to shake his head. “I don’t think so,” he says. “We’re very busy with important research. Uh… you know, like science and technology and… stuff.”

His eyes then dart around the room like he’s trying to think of a better answer, but then he’s saved by Abraham suddenly declaring “I bet they decorate the Hulk like a Christmas tree.”

The whole group pauses and everyone’s eyes go wide just imagining the possibility of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes trying to string a set of lights around the Hulk and adding a tacky-looking light-up star on his head, all the while trying not to cause any bodily harm to themselves.

“Iron Man probably just builds a tree himself from spare parts,” Michelle mutters under her breath.

Before the discussion can go any further, Peter opens up his paper snowflake to survey his handiwork. But he’s disappointed when he holds up the cutout of a spider inside. It catches the attention of the entire group.

“Again?!” Ned exclaims.

“That’s three times already,” Sally points out, gesturing to the other discarded paper spiders resting on the table.

“I followed the directions exactly,” Peter answers, a frustrated expression settling on his face. “How does this keep happening??”

“Lame! You can’t even do paper snowflakes right,” Flash taunts with a laugh, taking a break from where he’d been engrossed in eating the entire cookie tray while no one was looking. Taking the opportunity to be mean to Peter however had brought attention to himself, and Cindy snatches away the tray, giving him a nasty glare in the process.

Mr. Harrington gnaws on his fruitcake (it has the weird consistency of a sun-dried brick which had the misfortune of being left out on an overcast day) and wonders if he should intervene or if he has any chance of segueing the conversation to something academic like geometry and calculating the correct angles for paper cutting.

“Didn’t I put you in charge of getting us a tree?” Michelle interrupts, turning her unimpressed gaze on Flash. “Where is it?”

“Oh…” Flash mirrors the exact same expression as Peter had earlier as he tried to think of a good answer. His eyes dart around the room before he gives up. “Well… here it is.”

He unzips his backpack and pulls out a sapling, placing it gingerly on the table. He then gestures dramatically towards it as if that would somehow make it slightly more impressive-looking.

“That’s not a Christmas tree,” Charlie says, looking skeptical.

“Well, it’s a special non-holiday-specific tree,” Flash answers. “Those come in smaller sizes. I got this from my cousin’s roommate’s brother’s barber who knows a guy who knows a guy who lives upstate.”

The group does not look impressed with his explanation.

“It’s July!” Flash exclaims. “They’re all this size.”

Ned takes one of Peter’s cutout paper spiders and drapes it gently over the top of the tree sapling like it’s supposed to be the shining star to complete the look. “Eh, good enough,” he shrugs.

At this moment, Mr. Harrington thinks he might have a pause in the conversation long enough to get some practice questions in. But just as he reaches into his bag for his laminated flashcards, Abraham grabs one of the practice bells and declares with a wide grin, “And now, time for the caroling!”

Mr. Harrington sighs as Abraham starts tapping out the tune to Jingle Bells.

“No, no, no,” Michelle says, throwing a plastic tree ornament towards him, “we agreed that there will be none of that.”

Ned looks affronted. “You mean I learned Carol of the Bells for nothing!”

Peter takes a break from cutting out another paper spider to comfortingly pat his best friend’s shoulder. Ned dramatically downs a cup of eggnog like it’s a shot of whiskey.

Mr. Harrington discreetly checks his eggnog to make sure the kids hadn’t actually spiked it with anything. He sighs again when he realizes it’s simply pure eggnog with no additions. (He will not admit that he’s a tiny bit disappointed.)

Ignoring everyone’s pleas, Abraham delves straight into singing the “now bring us some figgy pudding” verse of We Wish You a Merry Christmas in an absurd falsetto.

“Where do you even find figgy pudding anyway?” Peter muses over the noise. He’s finally given up on making paper snowflakes.

“Are figs in season now or in December?” Ned asks, chiming in with his own thoughts.

Mr. Harrington thinks this party has gone on long enough. (Because they’ve just run out of eggnog and now he has nothing to wash down the taste of the fruitcake.) As he stands up to try to get everyone’s attention and urge them to actually do some studying, Michelle shoots him a smirk that makes him pause.

“By the way,” she says, handing him a stack of papers, “we already went through the practice test before you got here. The holiday party is just for fun.”

“Oh.” He looks down at the papers in disbelief. They’re already marked and scored, most of them with pretty high marks. He’s baffled they actually did some schoolwork. “Huh.”

“That’s your holiday party gift I guess,” Michelle says with a nonchalant shrug before she returns to her sketchbook.

Mr. Harrington is at a loss for what to do next. With practice complete, he figures he could just go back home. Grabbing his bag, he asks them not to forget to clean everything up when they’re done with the party. And reminds them again not to set anything on fire.

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay, Mr. Harrington?” Abraham asks now that he’s done singing. “This is the ‘most wonderful time of the year,’ after all.”

For a moment Mr. Harrington contemplates pointing out that the phrase refers to the actual holiday celebrations in December, but then again, he guesses that to the students, summer break really is the most wonderful time of year.

So he just leaves with a wave and a smile and says “see you when the new school year starts.”