The Day of Giving
Perched up on a tall hill in Faerieland was a giant manor, the residence of the Higgins family. Mary, James, and their daughter Lucy Higgins were one of the wealthiest families in Neopia, and it showed. The family’s home had over one hundred rooms and each one was lavish and rich, hung with paintings done by famous artists and furnished with custom chairs, couches, beds, cabinets, tables, and flooring.
In the springtime, the lawn was perfectly manicured by the garden staff, each blade of grass cut to the exact measurement of 1.5 inches, and brilliant flowers lined the long, twisted, cobblestone driveway, supported by soft auburn mulch.
However, winter was when the estate was at its most beautiful. The staff did their best to make the Higgins family happy, constructing large snow structures on the front lawn of faeries and winged petpets while at the same time maintaining the snow evenly at its proper depth of 1.2 feet. Fresh garlands and pine needle wreathes hung from the giant veranda, and lanterns were placed evenly down the driveway, spilling buttery light across the pathway while the panes were gently frosted with snow.
But the thing that the staff took their greatest pride in was the Christmas tree. They planned out the entire affair months in advance and on the first of the Month of Celebrating, a selected few would trek to Terror Mountain to find the largest, most magnificent tree with bright green needles to take back to Faerieland. Then they’d spend a whole day adorning it with gold and silver garland, beautiful blown glass ornaments, and twinkling lights, so that passersby could admire this tree through the large bay window.
Had anyone walked by the manor on the morning of the Day of Giving, they would have a noticed through the window a small figure sitting underneath the great boughs of the tree. It was a little Kougra—Lucy Higgins—with pale yellow fur, a bright red dress, and a bow in her long light hair. She reached for present after present under the lavish tree, tearing off sparkly wrapping paper and revealing boxes filled with clothes and toys galore. But Mr. and Mrs. Higgins were nowhere to be seen. Instead, in the room with her was a tall blue Gelert with a mustache dressed in a simple black suit: their butler.
Lucy Higgins smiled as she ripped the paper off another parcel, revealing a doll with blue streaks in her blonde hair. “A Rainbow Fountain Faerie Doll!” she cheered. However, a second later, she frowned. “Marvin,” she addressed the butler, turning towards the Gelert amongst the sea of wrapping paper and sticky discarded bows, “do I already have this one?”
“I’m not quite sure, Miss Lucy,” Marvin said, looking over at the huge pile of unwrapped dolls that had accumulated in the corner of the living room. “I don’t think from this year. I think you’re confusing it with the Water Faerie Doll you received last year for your birthday.”
“Ahh.” The Kougra’s eyes brightened again. She looked down at the doll and smoothed its silken hair back before passing it off to Marvin, who stood up off the leather arm chair and gently set it down in the pile of toys. When he returned to the tree, Lucy had already unwrapped another box, this one containing a deep blue dress with silver embroidery.
“Looks like your parents picked that one up when they traveled to Meridell a few weeks ago,” Marvin commented. He had learned all of the popular foreign dress styles and color motifs from reorganizing Lucy’s closet every Thursday.
Lucy sighed, putting the dress back in its box. She was used to her parents traveling, but she hated when they did it on the Day of Giving... especially because this time it wasn’t a business trip, but a vacation. A vacation without her.
Yet the little Kougra tried to console herself with the lavish number of presents each year and the decorated cookies the staff baked in the enormous baking kitchen. The mansion had a total of three kitchens: one for baking, one for cooking, and yet another that was simply a giant pantry filled with snacks. But it still wasn’t the same.
Perceptive, Marvin tried to change the subject. “It’s a beautiful Day of Giving today,” he said, gesturing to the window. “Look at the snowflakes coming down, gracefully, like little fluffy dancers, twirling--”
“Marvin,” Lucy interrupted, pausing from her next gift, this one wrapped in bright pink paper, “why is today called the Day of Giving?”
The old Gelert blinked at her. “What do you mean?”
“What I mean is that it seems like an odd name.” She hefted the present up to show him, the tag dangling like the remnant of an old spyder web. “Why isn’t it called the Day of Receiving? Surely that’s a better name.”
“Well, Miss Lucy,” Marvin said, “usually people receive gifts on the Day of Giving, but they also give some in return.”
Lucy turned to him, the ringlets in her hair whooshing gently against the nape of her neck. The Kougra frowned gently, feeling slighted. “How come I’ve never gotten to give anyone anything?”
Marvin looked at her, surprised by her sudden interest in giving. “Well, if you really want to, I’m sure you can give someone something right now. Better late then never, I always say.”
“Perfect!” Lucy cheered, setting down the present and standing up. She smoothed down her skirt. “To whom are gifts given?”
“Usually family members and close friends,” the butler replied, standing up slowly, warming up his old joints. He leaned down towards his tiny mistress. “Would you like to give a gift to your parents?”
“Okay!” Lucy said cheerfully. Immediately she turned around and bounded over the discarded hills of wrapping paper, tissue paper, and half-opened boxes, stopping besides one of the living room walls. A long rope with a gold tassel hung dangled down from the ceiling. It was connected to a giant bell that beckoned all of the servants, and her hand gripped it firmly. “I’ll have someone in the staff get something for them right away!”
Lucy heard the hiss of air escape his lips and turned her head towards him. “What’s wrong, Marvin?”
“Oh,” the butler mumbled, turning away, his face blushing at being caught by a child, “it isn’t my place to say.”
“Please tell me, Marvin,” Lucy begged, her hand still clenching the rope. “Mother and Father aren’t here. You can tell me. I won’t get mad. Promise.”
“Well, Miss Lucy,” Marvin said slowly, “usually on the Day of Giving, one makes or buys the gifts themselves. It makes it more personal. More meaningful.”
“Oh.” Lucy’s hand fell away from the bell. She frowned. It had seemed so easy at first. The servants would have no doubt done a wonderful job picking out a present for her parents. She barely saw them herself. All she knew was that her mother had a love of jeweled necklaces, her father had a collection of silk ties, and that they both loved traveling... even though it made their daughter sad to be left alone in their giant house.
The young Kougra’s eyes were downcast. “I don’t think I want to give a gift to my parents.”
Marvin raised a gray eyebrow, but didn’t comment on her change of heart. “Alright, Miss Lucy. So would you like to get back to opening gifts?”
But Lucy didn’t move back under the Christmas tree, nor move away from the wall. Instead, she looked deep in thought. When she finally looked up at Marvin, her honey eyes had a mischievous glint in them; the butler was immediately worried.
“Marvin,” she interrupted, “what do you want for Christmas?”
“Me?” the Gelert exclaimed, taken aback. He was so surprised by her question that he nearly fell back into the armchair and had to grip the sides of it for support.
But to Lucy it all made perfect sense. Marvin was the one she was closest to in the entire house. He was always there for her. He played with her, organized her clothes, read her bedtime stories on occasion, and even made her yummy snacks when the kitchen staff was too busy preparing lavish dinners for her parents. He was her best friend. If anyone deserved a gift, it was him.
His eyes trailed to the bay window. While most people gazed inside of the Higgins manor, he was fixated on the outside, at the lawn covered in a perfect blanket of sparkling silver and white snow. “Well, when I was younger I used to enjoy sledding down hills with my friends. I’d love to do that again someday.” However, as soon as the words escaped his lips, he shook his head. “But I mustn’t. It isn’t my place.”
“No, Marvin,” Lucy said firmly, smiling broadly. “Let’s go sledding. That’ll be my gift to you.”
“But your parents,” he said quickly. “The lawn will be destroyed!”
But Lucy had already wandered off into another room of the house.
Lucy had been given a sled for Christmas a few years back. It was sleek with light-colored wood, perfectly shaped metal runners, and a thin red cushioned seat. But she had never used it. Her parents prided themselves on the perfect appearance of their home and the snow on their lawn was no exception.
But with the help of Marvin, Lucy had pulled the sled out of storage, cleaned off the dust and spyder webs, and dragged it outside. She was bundled in her nice winter jacket, black with silver buttons, and had on a pair of fluffy pink earmuffs. Marvin was wearing a fairly nice jacket as well with a pair of soft leather gloves.
Lucy shoved the heavy sled onto it the lawn which immediately put tread marks in the white sheet of snow. Marvin winced, knowing that Mr. and Mrs. Higgins would not be happy upon their return. “Lucy,” he said, “you don’t have to do this for me. Your parents will be extremely upset...”
“I’ll take the blame,” Lucy said stoutly, looking up at him seriously.
Marvin blinked, staring at the small girl before him. He had never known her to be so bold, so... selfless. It was enough to make him agree to her plan.
They settled into the sled, Lucy seated in front, Marvin seated behind. The Gelert wrapped his arms around Lucy’s waist, making sure she wouldn’t fall off, and gripped the rope tethered to the front of the sled. It was gold and soft to the touch, not rough like the coarse ones he was used to from his childhood.
But already he was feeling a thrill in his bones that he had long forgotten; he hadn’t felt it in years and he had missed it. And now, seated on the sled at the top of one of the most magnificent hills in all of Faerieland, he was shivering with anticipation.
“Ready, Marvin?” Lucy called out over the breathy whistle of the wind. Her nose was tinted pink and she was grinning as well; Marvin realized that this was her first sledding expedition and felt excitement for her.
“Yes, Miss Lucy,” he said. The blue Gelert gripped the rope with one hand and counted down. “Three... two... one!”
He shoved off with his free hand and suddenly they were flying. Snow exploded to the left and ride of the sled, kicked up in their wake. The wind tugged at Lucy’s hair and Marvin’s mustache. They sped down the hill, faster and faster. Lucy whooped in joy, and Marvin did as well, feeling free and as light as air...
When they reached the bottom, the sled slowly came to a stop before the street. Lucy jumped off, her boots leaving imprints in the lawn, and threw her arms into the air. “That was wonderful! What did you think, Marvin?”
“Absolutely wonderful,” he agreed with a brilliant smile. However, it immediately faded when he spotted two richly-dressed figures walking towards them from the main road: Mr. and Mrs. Higgins.
Lucy gasped as they drew nearer. “Mother, Father, what are you doing here so soon?” She hadn’t expected them for three more days.
Mrs. Higgins, a regal white Kougra, was dressed in a thick winter coat with a string of emeralds around her slender throat. In her hand was a travel suitcase. “There were rumors of a horrific storm approaching our cottage in Terror Mountain, so we nabbed an Eyrie Carriage and decided to come back early so we wouldn’t be snowed in.” Her eyes fell onto the lawn, streaked with sled tracks, and she turned to Marvin, her eyes narrowing harshly. “Did you do this to the lawn?”
“I’m so sorry, Madame,” Marvin quickly apologized, unsure exactly what to say; never in his long years of service had he ever disobeyed the family he had been working for. “I will clean it up right awa—”
“No,” Lucy said firmly. “No.”
“Lucy,” her father, a gold Kougra, said sternly. “Go inside the house and let us deal with the staff.”
“Marvin is not ‘the staff’!” Lucy said loudly. “He’s my best friend. And he didn’t ruin the lawn. I did.”
Mr. Higgins wheeled around to face his daughter, confusion and disbelief etched on the plains of his face. “What? Why?”
“Because today is the Day of Giving,” Lucy said, looking at the tall blue Gelert by her side, “and I wanted to give Marvin a present. A sled ride.” She looked up into her parent’s eyes, her mother’s sapphire blue and her father’s honey like her own. “And it was a lot of fun. Probably the most fun I’ve ever had.”
Mrs. Higgins gasped. “But... but honey, don’t you have fun with the toys we buy you? The dolls and the games and the fancy dresses?”
“I do like them,” Lucy admitted, “but it’s not the same as being with other neopets like Marvin. So don’t punish Marvin for ruining the lawn. He didn’t do anything. Punish me.” She stood up as straight as she could, her face set, but she could feel her legs trembling beneath her.
Her parents were stunned. After a moment of silence, her mother turned to her husband and whispered something in his ear. His eyes widened in surprise and then he whispered back. They conferred back and forth in hushed tones for a few minutes.
Finally, Mr. Higgins straightened up and looked back at Marvin and his daughter. “One moment. We’re not finished with you two.” And he took his wife and traversed up the long driveway, disappearing inside of the mansion.
Lucy frowned and turned to Marvin once they had vanished. “I’m so sorry, Marvin. I just wanted you to have a wonderful Day of Giving.”
“Don’t be sorry, Lucy,” the old Gelert said, meaning it with all his heart. “That was the best gift I have ever been given.”
Lucy gave him a small smile. “That makes me very glad.”
They waited out on the driveway together, the two friends, butler and mistress, in silence. The wind swirled up loose snow and bit their skin. It was with dread that they heard Mr. and Mrs. Higgins coming back down the driveway.
Lucy felt herself shake slightly, and not from the cold. “What’s my punishment?” she started to ask out loud, but then froze once she caught sight of her parents.
They had come outside in completely different clothes. Her mother’s fancy white jacket had been exchanged for something warmer and more rugged, and her father had on a thick winter coat as well.
Marvin was as confused as Lucy. “May I ask what is going on?” he asked, trying not to sound intrusive.
“Well,” Mr. Higgins said, his eyes on the lawn, “I supposed that with the lawn the way it is, we have no choice but to go sledding some more.”
Lucy’s honey-colored eyes widened in delight. “Really?”
“Yes, really,” Mrs. Higgins said, smiling at her daughter with a look of actual affection, something that Lucy loved seeing on her mother’s face. Then Mrs. Higgins turned towards Marvin. “And I expect you to join us as well.”
Marvin was in shock. The blue Gelert tried to contain his excitement, but he couldn’t prevent a large smile from leaking onto his face. “It would be my pleasure, Madame.”
And so, had anyone walked by the Higgins’ residence the afternoon of the Day of Giving, they would have still seen the mansion, with its great bay window, straight columns, and wide veranda, but they would have also seen something even more beautiful: a lawn no longer perfect, but scarred with sled tracks and footprints and the whole Higgins family, Marvin included, laughing and bonding and experiencing the true wonders of the Day of Giving.