The Best Gift of All

Submitted by Maricelle Tuando to Contest #19 in response to: Write a short story about someone searching for the perfect gift for their partner.... view prompt

“Are we going to make it?” panted Geneva as they walked down the snow-strewn sidewalk. She and her best friend Hazel had been combing all the shops and stores of every street in the city to find a Christmas gift for Hazel's husband, and they had no success in finding the perfect gift for him.

“Yes, I think so. Do your feet hurt? Mine’s do...” Hazel replied, clutching her handbag. She stopped and stared at her friend, who was busy rearranging her woolly mittens that were slipping off her numb hands. The winter this year was unbearable, and the snow was really heavy.

After patting her askew coal black hair down, Geneva finally answered. “They do hurt…Well, let’s sit down first, shall we?” She pointed to an unoccupied bench just a few feet away from them that was under the shade of a bare tree.

She nodded, and Hazel and Geneva ran as quickly as they could towards the bench, spraying snow about. Huffing, they both sat down, shivering from the cold.

“What do we do…what do we do…what do we do?” mumbled Hazel distractedly. Tomorrow was Christmas Day, yet she had nothing to give her husband! Nothing seemed to be the ideal gift for Mr. Ernest Motley; what were they going to do now? A brand-new watch looked great, but what was he going to do with it? He already had one that belonged to his grandfather, and it was his favorite watch. A mug with ‘Hot chocolate is enjoyable only with your loved ones, especially on Christmas Day.’ on it was a nice gift for him in her opinion, but he already had lots of mugs that were stored in his drawer, each being used every Christmas. A new fishing rod for him would be good; he loved fishing as much as he loved his job. The problem was, he had three fishing rods already. So, what was she going to gift him?

“It’s alright, Hazel.” Her friend tried to soothe her, but she didn’t feel assured. “I promise, we’ll be able to find a present for him. Let’s hunt some more…there’s another gift store up ahead.”

Cheering up a bit, she stood up, and they marched up to the store hurriedly. The bell that hung on the topmost hinge of the shiny glass door rung shrilly, and a smartly dressed salesman behind the counter greeted them in a fruity, booming voice.

“Good afternoon, Mesdames! What can I do for you today?”

“Well, I’m looking for a gift for my husband---” Hazel began, but he began presenting different items to the two of them.

“How about a watch? Pure gold, Roman numerals, and just the perfect fit for your little wrist, ma’am!” With an unnecessary flourish of his hand, he showed the startled Hazel and Geneva a handsome watch.

“No, my husband has already got one---” replied Hazel.

“Ah…then a Christmas mug is better!” boomed the man, digging into another box under the counter. Carelessly dumping seven different mugs onto the counter, he added, “There’s a range of Christmas messages printed on them, like ‘Dear Santa, please give me a slim body and a big fat wallet filled with money. And, please don’t mix those up just like last year. Thanks!’ or ‘Jingle bells, Batman smells like a rotten egg!’ Oh dear… must return this mug back…” He broke off, slightly abashed. And he whisked the Batman mug out of sight.

“I’m sorry, but he has many mugs already.” Hazel sighed, losing hope. Will she ever find the right present for her partner?

“Then, how about a set of five new ties for work?” He droned on, snatching a box near Geneva’s left. He presented to them different ties; some striped, some plain, and some with paisley designs.

Hazel was about to speak, but Geneva took over the talking. “Her husband has got lots of those.” she said apologetically.

“I apologize, then, Mesdames. I’m very sorry we haven’t got anything you like.” he mumbled. He then walked over to the door sadly and opened it.

“Thank you,” Geneva said, and they walked back to the bench as the bell on the shop door rung mournfully after them. They then sat on the bench.

“What now?” Hazel began to sob; her tears intermittently splashed onto her lap as her best friend patted her back reassuringly. She choked, “It’s so hard to find the perfect present for Ern! He deserves something better than Batman mugs and gold watches, something sweeter than boxes of candies and cups of hot chocolate, and something more unique and special than new ties for work!”

“I’m really sorry, Hazel. That was the last gift shop down this street. We’ve already gone through every street and shop and store.” Her friend replied, still patting her back.

After a long silence, Geneva spoke. “You know, you’ve already got a gift for Ern.” she said with a bright twinkle in her eyes. “It definitely is better than mugs, watches, candies, hot chocolate, and new ties for work; and you have it already!”

“What do you mean?” Hazel wiped her tear-smudged cheeks gingerly, staring hard at her in a puzzled manner. “We haven’t got any shopping bags, do we?”

“Yes, we don’t have any bags,” Geneva explained hastily, trying to make Hazel understand. “but you do have it right now. It’s within your hands, just in reach!”

“I don’t get it. I only have mittens on my hands.” exclaimed Hazel stubbornly.

“It’s really obvious,” she continued in the same mystifying voice that began to irritate Hazel.

“Will you just tell me straightforwardly?” snapped Hazel. “I don’t want to guess riddles and stuff because I’m not in the mood.”

Geneva’s face was expressionless. Exasperated but in a good way, she said with an air of queerness, “Let’s go home, Hazel. You’ll find out tomorrow under your gorgeous Christmas tree.”

Hazel got up and looked at her best friend. For a fleeting moment she saw Geneva smiling secretly, but when she blinked Geneva wasn’t beaming. Were her eyes playing tricks on her?

“Let’s go,” Geneva repeated, and the two started sprinting down the street as the streetlights began lighting up.

When they reached an area with blocks of flats, both separated and rode the elevator which dropped them off at their respective floor.

 

“Ern, I’m home!” Hazel called out as she burst into the living room. She hung her coat on the rack, and she took her boots off.

“Had a good day?” asked Ern as he glanced at his partner from the sofa beside a wonderful Christmas tree with baubles in vibrant colors and flashy garlands. He was a tall and broad man, and he had dark circles under his eyes due to many previous sleepless nights.

Mr Motley was an architect, and he was experienced and superb at his job, but the pay he received was so meagre that he and Hazel had to cut down on their budget and sell most of their belongings just to pay the landlord their rent.

“Perfectly fine, how about you?” Hazel replied tonelessly. Her day wasn’t really good, and she didn’t find a brilliant gift for Ern.

“Alright,” Ern replied with a smile. “Do you want to open your present now instead of tomorrow?” He grasped a wrapped box on his lap.

Hazel’s stomach began to churn about uncomfortably. How was she going to explain about his present?

“N-no, Ern. I’ll open it tomorrow. I-I’ll go to bed…” Hazel shook her head and rushed to her bedroom.

Locking the door for a while, she closed the lights and drew the curtains. She threw herself on the bed and was immersed in her thoughts.

How will I tell him about his gift? He’s got a present for me and I haven’t got one for him! But Geneva’s telling me I’ve already got a present for him; and what does she mean? she thought.

Suddenly, execrable thoughts began to pound in her head. Will he still love me even if I haven’t got a present for him?

After dwelling on her horrible and miserable thoughts for a little longer, Hazel finally fell asleep, still worrying about Ern’s reaction.

 

The next morning, Hazel woke up to the sound of the howling wind outside her window. She sat up swiftly, realizing that today was Christmas Day. She was happy at first, but then she remembered about her quandary from the previous night.

Cautiously creeping out of the room and into the hallway, Hazel muttered, “Ern, please don’t ask about your present...” She repeated it like a mantra.

“Good morning, Hazel! Merry Christmas!” Ern greeted her. He was sitting on the sofa, sipping his morning coffee from one of his many Christmas mugs.

“Merry Christmas, dear!” Hazel responded cheerily. She settled down beside him.

“Shall we exchange presents now?” asked Ern. He laid his mug onto a tiny side table.

Hazel thought, Oh, great! We’ve come to the dreaded subject of presents. What to do now?

“Uh…alright then…” Hazel agreed.

“Here’s your present…” Ern handed to her the box he had been grasping the night before that was now under the grand Christmas tree.

EXPLAIN NOW! The voice in Hazel’s brain screamed. And Hazel explained everything. She told him about her present hunting with Geneva the day before, and about the repeated offers of mugs, fishing rods, Christmas mugs, watches, ties, and books.

When she finished, Ern just beamed. “That’s OK, I don’t have a gift for you too.”

“What are you talking about?” Hazel questioned him quizzically. “Surely there must be something in the box!”

 He laughed. “Yes, there’s just a single paper in the box. It’s actually from Geneva. She told me about what happened yesterday, and when you fell asleep, she came over and handed me this box. She said I must give this to you. Now, do open the box and read the letter.”

Hazel slowly tore at the delicate ribbons and wrappers, and she opened the box to find a sheet of paper with neat handwriting on it. She then read the letter with a beating heart.

           Dear Hazel,

                       Yesterday, you were searching for a unique and special present for Ern. We searched every shop and store for something to give him yet mugs and watches weren’t ideal for Ern in your opinion. After we finished searching the last shop back at Greer Street and nothing had matched what you had in mind, you felt extremely frustrated and upset. I then told you about the gift you already had for Ern (which was already in your hands), but you couldn’t realize what it was. So, I just told you you’ll be able to find out what it is the next day under your Christmas tree, and here it is!

                       When we celebrate this yuletide season, the first thing we think of are the presents we have to purchase to give to our loved ones. The thing that most people fail to remember, is that being just with our loved ones to celebrate Christmas is already the best gift someone could have. It truly is the best gift anyone could have.

                       Enjoy your Christmas!

                                                                                             Your friend,

                                                                                             Geneva

 

Hazel read the letter for the second time and understood. She then dropped the letter and hugged Ern.

“Merry Christmas, Ern.” she whispered into his ear.

“Merry Christmas too, Hazel.” he replied.

And Hazel knew what the greatest gift of all was for Ern and her.

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