The Spirit of Christmas Presents
This story was written in response to the latest Flash Tales prompt at Blackship Books. Hope you enjoy!
It was the Saturday before Christmas and Jocelyn was beginning to panic. She and Craig had agreed to buy each other something 'fun' for Christmas and to stick to a budget of £20. It was their first Christmas together and they had only been going out for a few months, so they wanted to keep things light.
But what counted as 'fun'? Comedy boxer shorts? That felt like something a more established couple would buy each other as a joke gift. How about one of those hats that held beer and had a long straw attached? No; that was promoting 'lad culture' and the idea that all men were beer-swilling Neanderthals. And if there was one thing that Craig was not, it was a Neanderthal.
She glanced at her watch; Susie was late, as usual. Her best friend had agreed to meet her in town to help her to find something. She would normally have spent the day with Craig but he was helping his mother to do her Christmas shopping. That was so Craig, helping someone else out. Her own brother would never dream of doing something like that. Luckily, their mother did all of her shopping on-line.
“I'm sooo sorry I'm late!” cried Susie, so close to her ear that she jumped. Her friend had come from the opposite direction from the one that she had been looking in, so she had been totally unaware of her approach.
“Well, you're here now. Let's get a cup of coffee and make a plan of campaign!”
Susie rolled her eyes. “We're buying a Christmas present for some bloke you've known for three weeks and will probably dump before New Year. 'Plan of campaign' is a bit dramatic, isn't it?”
“It's been three months and I have no intention of dumping him,” replied Jocelyn with a slight frown. “Look, if you've got something else you'd rather be doing...”
“I have lots of things I'd rather be doing but I'm your best friend. Who else is going to trek round the shops with you?”
Jocelyn smiled. Susie was always Susie. They went into the first coffee shop that they came to, bought Christmas-themed coffees and sat down. Nat King Cole was crooning something about chestnuts and Eskimos in the background.
“OK,” Jocelyn began, “I've got a budget of twenty quid and I have to get something 'fun'.”
“Twenty? Seriously? And you think he's going to stick to that?”
“Of course he is. Why wouldn't he?”
“Because, my sweet Jocelyn, he wants to impress you enough to make sure that he doesn't get dumped before New Year.”
“And he knows he'll impress me more by sticking to the rules. He's got to come up with something creative. The trouble is, so have I!”
“Well, if you're prepared to be embarrassed when you exchange gifts and his costs ten times as much as yours...”
“Susie... let's just accept that I am going to stick to what we agreed, OK?”
Her friend threw up her hands in resignation. “OK. It's your funeral.”
“Right. So, what's a fun gift for a newish boyfriend?”
“I thought of that; seemed more like a joke present you'd buy after thirty years of marriage.”
“A scented candle.”
“Seriously? He's a bloke in his mid twenties, not your auntie Carol.”
“Cuff links engraved with his initials.”
“What's fun about cuff links?”
“Well, that's three suggestions and you've rejected all of them,” pouted Susie. “Do you want my help or not?”
“Yes, of course I do, but I need you to make sensible suggestions. What are you buying for... er... Phil?” Susie changed boyfriends like other people changed socks; sometimes it was hard to keep up.
“Pete, and I'm not buying him anything. That creep has been sneaking around with some little tart from his office.”
Suddenly her friend's attitude made a lot more sense. “Oh, Susie, I'm so sorry! Why didn't you say anything?”
“Well, I've hardly seen you since you took up with lover-boy.”
“That's not true! I've seen you every week, just like always.”
“And your whole conversation has been about how you've just spent the most amazing hour with him or how you're just about to spend the most amazing night with him...” Susie stopped and took a deep breath. “I'm sorry. I'm happy that you're happy, really I am. My Rampant Rabbit is the closest I've ever got to a meaningful relationship but you just seem to waltz into the full bells-and-whistles...”
To Jocelyn's complete surprise, there were tears running down her friend's face. Susie never cried. Never. It was as shocking as seeing snow in June and just as unexpected. She got up and walked around the table and just held her friend, while she sobbed against her. They drew a few curious stares but she ignored them.
After a few minutes, Susie calmed down enough to push her gently away. “Oh, stop making a scene Jocelyn!” she exclaimed, dabbing at her streaming mascara with a tissue. But in her eyes, Jocelyn could see real gratitude. “Right, let me get my face back together and then we'll hit the shops. Presents don't buy themselves, you know!”
While her friend was in the coffee shop's toilet fixing her make-up, Jocelyn reflected that what she bought for Craig was not nearly as important as simply having someone to buy presents for.