The first half of this story was published last week. If you haven’t read it yet, just scroll down. It’s posted below. For those who have read it, allow me to refresh your memory. A mysterious present showed up under Josh’s Christmas tree. He suspects his mother but she denies knowing anything about it. As Christmas draws ever nearer, Josh becomes more and more curious. I hope you enjoy the conclusion of The Christmas Gift.
Josh told his friends about the package, and big-mouth Calvin overheard.
“I bet I know what it is,” he said, picking at a pimple the size of a pepperoni slice. “Your Ma got another Barbie doll for her little girl.” He laughed like he’d actually said something funny. He always called Josh a little girl, or a little baby, or some other name that would have earned any other kid a solid week of detention. Josh ignored him. He knew by now that, as long as he didn’t react, Calvin would eventually get bored and find someone else to pick on.
“I bet it’s from Santa Claus,” his friend Matt said quietly, but only once Calvin and everyone else was well out of earshot.
Most of Josh’s classmates no longer believed in Santa. Josh stopped believing the first year he’d spent Christmas with just one of his parents. If anything, there’d been more presents than usual under the tree that year. He didn’t know why but that was sort of the deal breaker for him. It there really was a Santa, he’d have fewer presents and more parents. He’d never told his mother he didn’t believe. He’d never told anyone because, despite all the evidence, he really wasn’t sure.
Josh started thinking about the mysterious gift constantly. He no longer worried so much about who it was from. It had to be Mom or Dad. But what was that silver paper and red ribbon hiding? Josh had asked for several things for Christmas. He wanted an xbox 1, which wouldn’t fit in a box that size, and an iPod Touch, which certainly would. But even if one of his parents had gotten him something that lavish, he didn’t think his mom would leave it right there in the open for so olong. It could be a video game, some sort of board game or some books; but none of those presents warranted such a high level of intrigue. He was absolutely baffled and it was driving him nuts.
The days leading up to Christmas were the longest, slowest days Josh had ever spent in his life. Christmas fell on a Tuesday, which meant school let out the previous Friday. That gave him three full days to sit… and wait… and wonder. Even the nights brought him no solace because the mystery of that one present invaded his dreams. They started out different each time but always ended the same way. He’d start to tear off the paper but then wake up right before he got to see what was inside. He’d sometimes lay awake for hours, thinking and wondering. Once he finally fell asleep again, the dreams would inevitably return.
“Please!” Josh begged. “Just give me a hint!”
“I’ve told you over and over again,” his mom said. “I don’t know anything about it.”
He thought she was carrying that line a bit far. Oddly, she seemed bothered by the whole thing as well. Josh assumed that was part of her act. He had to hand it to her. The woman was good.
For Christmas Eve, Josh and his mom dined on roasted Cornish game hens with wild rice stuffing, cranberry sauce, and green beans. Everything was delicious. His mother came up with a crazy concoction called plum flummery for dessert. She said she’d seen it in a magazine. Josh thought it sounded horrible, like something you might encounter in a Roald Dahl book but it really was good. Then. because the temperature had dropped below freezing for once, they bundled up and headed outside to stroll around the neighborhood and admire the Christmas lights. Although she never said anything, Josh knew his mom missed New York too. He hoped they’d get at least a dusting of snow for Christmas morning but the moon was nearly full and there didn’t appear to be a cloud in the sky. Too bad. Their little home wasn’t on a big hill but it might be good enough for sledding. Then Josh remembered that he no longer owned a sled. He’d left it behind, knowing he wouldn’t need it anymore.
“You okay?” his mom asked, obviously sensing his mood.
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s just not the same here. I’m still not used to it.”
She placed a gloved hand on his shoulder. “I know what you mean. And for what it’s worth, I feel the same way.”
He put an arm around her waist and they walked back home together.
Josh must have been even more worn out than he thought because he slept straight through the night. He woke to the sound of Christmas music playing softly on the living room stereo and the irresistible, mouthwatering smell of frying bacon. He lept out of bed, threw on his bathrobe and slid his feet into fuzzy slippers.
“What time is it?” he asked, standing in the kitchen doorway and rubbing his eyes.
“Merry Christmas, Sleepyhead,” his mom said, spooning scrambled eggs and bacon onto a plate. “It’s almost eight o’clock. “I was afraid you were going to sleep all day.”
“No way!” Josh said. “Can we open presents now?”
“Your breakfast is ready,” she said, setting the plate on the table in front of him. “Sit down and eat while it’s hot. I promise the gifts will still be there when you’re done.”
“Okay,” Josh said, sliding into a chair. “He suddenly realized how hungry he was. His pile of presents certainly wasn’t forgotten but he was able to concentrate on his food long enough to enjoy every bite.
“Shall we?” his mother asked once he’d finished and taken care of his dishes.
“You bet,” Josh said, dashing into the living room so quickly he left one of his slippers behind.
“Here,” he said, once his mom had joined him in front of the Christmas tree. He handed her a small gift. It was painfully obvious that he’d wrapped it himself. The bright green paper was all bunched up on one end and didn’t quite touch on the other. He’d done his best and she fussed over how nice it looked.
“Open it!” Josh said eagerly. He’d picked out other gifts for her but this was the one he was most excited about. It was a photo frame ornament. The ornament itself was in the shape of a small house all decorated for Christmas. In place of the front door was a spot for a photo. The one he’d selected was a picture of the two of them in front of the Biltmore Mansion in Ashville.
“It’s beautiful,” his mother said, pressing it briefly to her chest and then hanging it carefully on the tree. “Thank you.” She gave him a hug. “Would you like to open something now?”
“Yeah!” His eyes automatically moved to that one special package but he didn’t object when she handed him a shirt box that did in fact contain a shirt. It wasn’t just any shirt. He took off his robe and slid his new Victor Cruz jersey over his head and did a quick salsa dance.
Josh opened one package after another. He got two new pairs of pants, a Percy Jackson novel. a new NHL video game, a Giants sweatshirt, and a brand new iPod Touch. Before long, there was just one present left.
His mom picked it up and studied the tag. “When this showed up, I told you I didn’t know where it came from. I know you didn’t believe me but I was telling you the truth. I called your father and he says he doesn’t know anything about it either.” She looked at the tag a moment longer and then handed the present over. “It’s got your name on it so I guess you’d better open it.”
Josh looked at his mom, at the gift, and then back at his mom again. Her face gave nothing away and she’d sounded so serious. He also didn’t think she’d sit there and lie to him on Christmas morning. But nothing else made sense. Christmas presents didn’t just materialize out of nowhere.
He took the package and held it in his lap. It wasn’t heavy. He wondered if it held anything at all. He turned the box slowly to look at one side and then the other. Every seam and every fold were absolutely perfect. He was reluctant to remove the paper because he didn’t want to spoil it.
“Are you going to open it?” his mom asked.
“Sure,” Josh said, pulling gently at the ribbon. It fell off almost of its own accord. Josh removed the silver snowflake paper, trying hard not to tear any of it. Before long, he was holding a plain white box. He lifted the lid and peered inside, his mother leaning over so she could see too.
“What is it?’ she asked.
Josh sifted through layers of tissue paper until he felt something hard and smooth. The shape seemed strange but Josh’s fingers were trembling so badly he really couldn’t trust them to relay accurate information.
“What is it?” she asked again.
Josh pulled his hand out of the box. when he opened it, they were both looking at a glass snow globe. Inside, they saw a small house all decorated for Christmas. On the roof was a tiny sleig and reindeer, and Santa himself about to disappear down the chimney. Josh shook the globe and a light snow began to fall.
He looked at his mother, more confused than anything. The snow globe was nice but why had she gone to so much trouble for something like that? He was about to ask her when he saw something miraculous through the living room window. It was snowing for real! He’d been so distracted that he hadn’t noticed before. Evidently, his mom hadn’t either. There was at least an inch on the ground already and it was still coming down.
“Wow!” Josh shouted, running over to get a better look. “Can I go outside?”
“Sure,” his mother said, laughing.
When Josh bolted through the front door, he nearly fell headlong over a brand new, bright red sled. He thought again about that little snow globe–Santa and his sleigh. His mother really hadn’t known. She couldn’t have known.
Hours later, thoroughly exhausted from a full day of trudging up the hill and sliding back down again, Josh stared in wonder at his snow globe while he ate Christmas cookies and sipped from a steaming mug of hot chocolate. He reached for the telephone.
“Who are you calling?” his mom asked.
“My friend Matt,” Josh said. “I need to tell him he was right.”