A Gift from the Heart
A Gift from the Heart
Michael did not move from his spot. From midday to 3 o’ clock the Wocky fixed his gaze outside the window with his head resting on a paw. He was busy thinking up of a present for Valerie, a childhood friend who would be celebrating her birthday in two days. He watched as the wind gently combed the grass fields under the feet of wooden and concrete houses but inspiration did not come to him.
“What should I get her?” He thought. “I’ve given her just about everything good that I can think of. There was that dress last year and the book I gave her the year before that. I could give her something similar if only it wasn’t this occasion.”
It was Valerie’s 16th birthday and he perfectly understood that he had to get her something special. In his words, “It won’t do to give her a gift that I’ve already given. It must be new and unique!”
Yesterday, when he was going home from school, he overheard some girls talking about what they were getting for the birthday girl. Michael was only paying half attention but he was able to make out the words, ‘her favorite album’ and ‘the book she’s been excited to read.’ It made him think about the other guests and what possible gifts they might bring.
He made his way through the commercial district when something caught his attention. Behind the glass panel of a shop displayed a velvety scarf that matched Valerie’s eyes. Red was also the Cybunny’s favorite color and there could be no better gift but his hopes were dashed off in a moment when he looked at the price tag.
“It’s that much for a tiny piece of cloth!?” He said. His paws and cheeks were pressed against the glass when the owner caught him fogging up the store front and complaining about the price.
The Gnorbu pushed the curtain aside and said, “It wouldn’t match you anyway, sir.” The cheeky shopkeeper turned his nose up and walked away.
“Neither would it match you!” Michael added before he continued his way.
Since then he couldn’t come up with anything else. And despite having stayed at his window for three hours, the Wocky refused to move until a bright idea saved him from his dilemma. The sun had hidden itself behind clouds and children were coming out to play under its shadow. Among them were some of his classmates who enjoyed the game of Gormball. They tried inviting him to play but he insistently declined.
“Come on Mike, just one game.” One of the boys pursued. He went to the Wocky’s window and lightly tugged on his shirt sleeve.
“Shouldn’t you be playing Gormball when the sun is up?” Michael replied irritated.
But the boy eagerly dismissed it and said, “Whoever made such a rule up? The day is hot ain’t it? It’s ripe time to be playing games. B’sides, what are you all riled up for, anyway?
Just then one of the boys in the background interrupted and said, “Aww, leave him be. He’s just like that from thinking ‘bout what to get Crenshaw for this weekend.”
“Really now?” The boys chuckled.
Michael knew that, even in his absence of mind, the other boys were trying to distract him away from his thoughts. And it was working for the most part. When they stopped trying to convince him, the other boys started eyeing him from a distance. Whispering reached his ears and eventually someone threw a Gormball at the Wocky.
“ “Yer a bunch of fools!” Michael Shouted. “
Michael jumped from his window and darted toward the boys while they were still gripped with laughter. He seized another Gormball and threw it at the chest of the tallest boy. It hit him center but the ball bounced up and the boys, now including Michael, watched as it drifted in midair.
“Live ball!” Someone shouted and the four of them were in a scramble.
It didn’t take long till the Gormball exploded under Michael’s head but when it did he was asking for a rematch and everyone found a new thing to laugh about.
The boys were soaked and lying on the grass when they finished playing. They still had energy in them but they were out of Gormballs so they could not continue even if they wanted to.
“With a chuckle Michael said, “Yer a bunch of fools.” And they all laughed with him until the excitement died down.
The Usul that tugged on his shirt sleeve earlier asked before Michael could forget, “Have you made up your mind on what to get that Crenshaw girl?”
The Wocky faced his friend and said, “Not yet.”
“Well what’s taking so long? Get her something that girls like. Like perfume and candy and junk.” The other boys listened without interrupting.
“What’s the point? Other people will get her the same things.”
“Does it matter?” The Usul said without batting an eyelash.
Michael sat up and replied, “Not really. If only it were simple that way.”
“It is simple that way. You’re just making it complicated.” The Usul said.
Michael smiled and said, “It’s what the cool guy does…”
“For a cool guy you sure sound corny!” One of the other boys chimed in and they all laughed with great enthusiasm.
It was bright outside when the stars appeared in the sky but the three already went ahead to change clothes and get dry. Michael did the same but soon after he found himself behind the house and plucking grass to throw at the wind. When his parents asked he said very little and assured them that he was fine. Despite this his father appeared from behind and offered a glass of hot borovan. It was steaming and scented the air around. When his dad handed his drink he tried making conversation and asked, “It’s chilly today, huh?” Michael agreed and took a sip from the glass.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if it rained tomorrow.” His dad added.
“As long as it doesn’t rain on Sunday everything should be fine.” Michael said. His eyes were fixed on the horizon. The leaves were rustling under the night.
“Oh? Why is that?” His dad asked.
“Sunday is Valerie’s birthday. It’d be a real shame if it did rain on that day.”
“That’s mighty true.” His dad scratched the top of his head and asked, “Say is that what your mind is fixed on tonight?”
“Not in particular.” He tried sounding nonchalant.
“Not in particular he says.” His dad chuckled. “Well you ought to go. She’s turning 16, y’know? Her closest friends will be there, and that includes you.”
“I know it. I’m just having trouble coming up with a gift. Everyone seems to know what they’re getting her except me.” Michael shrugged.
His dad smiled and simply said, “I see.”
There was a long pause before he started again. “I had a friend once who used to have trouble coming up with gifts for me when we were kids. She said that she ‘used to fuss over the little things like wrapping or the message inside the card.’ Had I known, I would have told her that any gift would be fine as long as it came from a friend.”
“Then what happened?” The boy asked.
“Things went their way, going through the natural courses of life. Now we’re close friends. You’ll learn that when you get older, the world has a certain way of bringing things together. A word said yesterday could echo to tomorrow and the little actions we take have a big impact on the decisions we make.”
“I’m afraid I don’t follow.” He said looking up.
“Like I said, you’ll understand it someday, when the time is right. But right now you have to look at what’s in front of you. Whatever you choose to give to her is a gift given by YOU and only you. Someone else may give something that resembles it in physical material and, to an extent, its purpose but that’s as far as the similarities go. The sentimental value counts the most.”
His dad patted him on the back and stood up. A gust of wind passed when he stretched his arms and let out a yawn. “How’s the borovan?” He asked.
“It’s really good.” The cup was empty but it was still warm in his hands. “Hey, pop?”
“Do ya think it’ll rain on Sunday?”
Michael’s dad looked at the sky. “Rain, this Sunday? Nah.”
He walked to the front of the house and opened the door. Although he wanted to invite the young Wocky inside, he saw that he was preoccupied with a difficult puzzle.
“When the time is right…” He said to himself and disappeared inside.
Michael was left searching in the darkness, with countless stars attending as his audience. The few clouds that were present in the sky were being blown away by the wind.
“It’s funny,” he thought, “how the lights in the village look a lot like the stars in the sky.”
In his village there were only a few streetlights. They were enough to illuminate the pathways but not the horizon line. Even the lights inside the houses could not lift the pale night so it made it easy for Michael to imagine that there were no borders between Neopia and the sky.
“Over there.” He thought as he looked to the left. “Most of them use candles so you can barely make out their colorful houses. And there, they have lots of light but their houses are dark.”
He nearly forgot about his present dilemma until his eyes rested on a familiar abode below the hill. It was a moderately large house with a garden, it was Valerie’s house.
”If only I knew what you wanted most.” He threw his arms and laid on his back. Despite having another day to think about his ideal gift he had felt like giving up.
“Maybe a repeat gift would do the same.” He thought. “Maybe you had forgotten all about that dress and kept it in the closet to gather dust.”
“Oh, I do know what you want!” He remembered that Valerie loved talking about other Neopian places and how she would one day visit them when she got the chance.
”So the perfect thing to give would be a model boat or snowglobe?”
All sorts of things related to travel came to him but nothing settled well with the young Wocky so he dropped them altogether and let his eyes trace the sky instead.
The speckles of light drifted and he fixated on the stars once more.
“How they resembled the ones in our village.”
A lot of things appear like stars if you give some thought into it, like fireflies that drift in the swamp, pearls that sparkle in the ocean, or even the freckles on someone’s face. Then the blue Wocky came alive with the thought of something. This was the inspiration that he had been searching for. His grin turned into laughter and he rushed inside the house, eager for the sun to come up.
Morning came as promised.
“Whoa, slow down, Mike. Where are you headed off to in such a rush?” His mom asked. In his scramble, Michael nearly knocked the plate that she carried.
“I’m going to the bookstore to get some stuff.” He said.
“What, the bookstore?” His mom asked. “They won’t be open till later.”
“Yup but if I leave now, I’ll be there when they start letting people in.” He unlocked the front door and stepped outside.
“I’ll be back before you know it!” He shouted as he went away.
Surely enough he did come back rather quick. It took no more than an hour when he returned with a paper bag filled with art supplies. His mom made another attempt to ask what he was up to but Michael only gave her a vague answer and went into his room.
“What’s got him excited, tomorrow’s party?” She turned to the patriarch who was reading the newspaper.
“There could be none else.” He said.
“Honestly, boys his age are driven with an immense desire to show off.”
“That’s one way of putting it.” He chuckled.
Meanwhile, Michael was busy in his room preparing his present for Valerie.
“What’s a better gift for someone than something you made?” He asked himself.
If someone was with him he would have expected an answer like, ‘There could be none!’
When the lad finished it had already been past four. Valerie’s gift was sitting on his bedside table while he rested on his back. His paws were sweaty and trembling but he felt he had done a good job and all that was left now was to attend the party and present her gift.
Sunday had come and the morning was bright with barely a cloud in the sky. It did not rain just as his dad assured him the night he had gained inspiration. When the boy asked how he knew it wouldn’t rain his dad simply answered, “Intuition, my dear boy. And they left it at that as they reserved the rest of that morning for preparations before the party. Michael wore his best jacket over a light shirt and pants. He kept eyeing her present, afraid at the thought that it might disappear without notice. An even scarier thought crept into his mind.
“What if she doesn’t like it?” But he suppressed these negativities and waited till the afternoon came.
It didn’t take long for Michael and his parents to arrive. Since Valerie’s house was only a few feet down the same hill they reached it without delay.
“Looks like everyone’s here.” The Wocky’s mom said, although it was not at all uncommon for many people to turn up. The village was small and a lot of people knew each other.
Valerie and her parents were outside entertaining the guests. Her parents mostly did the conversing while she stayed upright for introduction’s sake. She was in a red, silky dress with furls that ended below her knees. The black sash around her waist was decorated with poinsettias while her hair was held back with the same colored headband. Michael remembered the scarf he saw outside the shop that one time and how it would have matched her outfit. Her mom was in a conversation between distant relatives but Valerie was eager to return to the party.
When they finished Michael stepped forward and held the gift toward her. “Happy Birthday!” He announced with a smile. The Cybunny smiled just the same when she saw her childhood companion.
“You never cease to fall short of expectations.” She said. “You’ve given me a gift every year.” Her voice was light with a subtle reverberation in it.
“That’s not true”. He said. “I’m sure there’s a birthday or two that I’ve missed.” And he was right, there were a few times when he didn’t give her a gift and even completely forgotten about her birthday altogether.
“Well I’m glad you didn’t miss this one. Are enjoying yourself?” She asked.
“We just arrived but things are looking swell. I’m looking forward to digging into the food when it comes out.”
She chuckled. “Help yourself out to some Achyfi while you wait. Mama and Papa bought them by the bulk.” She pointed to a cooler full of assorted Achyfi cans. We would have poured them into a nice punch bowl but mixing all of them together would’ve made for an interesting flavor.”
“Come to think of it I am rather parched.”
For a second Michael turned his head, just enough to look at where she pointed. Had he not been thirsty then or ignored her gesture he would not have been caught off guard. He heard paper tearing from behind him and when he turned he saw Valerie opening the present.
“Hey.” He paused. “Watcha doing? Shouldn’t you open that after the party?”
She looked at him and said, “It’s alright. I’ll be opening it later anyway.”
“Yeah but…” Michael tried to reason with her but she had already unwrapped the packaging and opened the box.
She took the present and examined it with both hands. It was a blue-tinted bottle with a bow wrapped around its neck. It was an elaborate kind of bow with long-swirling ends like filigree strips. She admired how the sunlight bended on the bottle’s curves.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Look closely.” He said.
Inside the corked bottle were lots of colorful paper stars.
“Each star has a place written inside.” He said. “I know you’d love to travel one day so I made you this. Whenever you get the urge to go someplace but don’t know where, all you have to do is pull one out, make a wish, and hope it takes you where you want to be.”
Valerie didn’t have the words to describe her happiness but Michael knew how she felt just from her smile. With all her happiness she decided to uncork the bottle and take a star out.
“What does it say?” Michael asked.
Valerie carefully opened the origami star and revealed the words written on it.