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Olivia rediscovers her Christmas spirit

Sadly, Chewbacca couldn’t return to camp with Olivia and saying goodbye was difficult.

But Simon the elf explained to her that her schedule was going to be too busy to watch over him at camp. So she promised Chewbacca she would come visit him once she was back home with her mom.

Elaine, however, returned to camp with them; it turned out she was also the veterinarian for the reindeer and needed to do a checkup on the group before their big night.

And Simon was right. As soon as they returned early in the evening, everything and everyone seemed to be in hyperdrive at the North Pole.

“How does it always smell like hot cocoa here?” Olivia breathed the cold night air deeply while walking back to their cabins after dinner.

“It might have something to do with that,” Cameron said, gesturing to a towering fountain near the town square that kept up a steady flow of steaming cocoa, streaming down into a narrow rectangle pool with a layer of shimmering marshmallows on top that never seemed to melt.

“Maybe,” Olivia said with a laugh. She stared up at the night sky, somehow managing to be sparkling with stars despite the many colorful lights of Santa’s Village, and took another deep breath of the cold chocolate-scented air. Somehow, it felt like she’d always been here — it was hard to believe she’d only been at camp for a few short days. As much as she didn’t want to admit it, Kris and her mom had been right. She needed this.

She slept soundly, dreaming of snuggling Chewbacca. When she woke up and realized he wasn’t actually there, a pang hit her heart, but she made herself feel better by realizing she could volunteer at the shelter whenever she wanted and see Chewy as often as possible.

Her SnowPad told her that this morning was her turn to be assigned to the reindeer stables, along with Lucas. It didn’t turn out to be nearly as bad as Gia had gone on about. Cleaning out the stalls wasn’t much fun, but she absolutely loved getting to spend time with the reindeer.

This wasn’t the stable that housed Santa’s most famous reindeer, but it was full of reindeer who were in training to pull the sleigh. They were all in various stages of training, with some being able to fly already and some barely making it off the ground.

She knelt next to a young reindeer named Chip who was frustrated that he couldn’t get his landing right. He kept tripping over his own legs and losing his balance, which, of course, would be disastrous when pulling Santa’s sleigh.

“You’re twisting a little to the side when you land,” she told him, trying to demonstrate. “Keep your head forward and land with your front legs first, and I think you’ll be OK.”

The look of triumphant joy in his eyes when he nailed his next landing sent a thrill through her heart, and she soon had a line of young reindeer looking for her advice. The morning flew by, and she hated having to leave for lunch.

“I’ll come back soon,” she promised her new furry friends, giving them pats on the nose and rubs behind the ears. “You all are doing great!”

Over another delicious lunch of grilled cheese and tomato soup, the kids chatted openly about their assignments, and there were notably fewer grumblings than there used to be.

“You guys were right,” Gia said to Cameron and Lucas. “The post office was actually really cool.”

Cameron put a hand dramatically over his heart. “Gia actually admitted she was wrong? That proves it — there’s definitely magic in the air.”

Gia’s face went blank for a second, and Olivia worried she would get mad. Then the other girl broke into a small smile. “I didn’t admit I was wrong. I just admitted you were right. There’s a difference!”

After lunch, they were all to work together in the Quality Check division of Santa’s Workshop. It had been years since Olivia had really enjoyed playing with toys, but she had a blast testing out games, dolls and dozens of other toys to make sure they were suitable to be given as gifts. Just the thought that the very toy in her hands would soon be unwrapped by an excited child was enough to give her happy butterflies in her stomach.

Piper the elf was watching her, a grin stretching her rosy cheeks. “You feel it, don’t you?” she asked.

“Feel what?”

Piper patted her stomach, her smile making her wide eyes sparkle. “That feeling inside you, the feeling that all of this gives you,” she said, holding her arms out wide to gesture to the entirety of Santa’s Village. “It’s Christmas spirit.”

Olivia realized she hadn’t felt this way since before her dad died. She used to have these excited, happy butterflies every Christmas morning, but they’d flown away after he died. The realization that they were back and that the Christmas spirit hadn’t abandoned her for good was enough to make her feel like bursting with joy.

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