The Gift of Giving
Do not touch until the Day of Giving!
Josephine stared at the note, greed clouding her pretty violet eyes. Its plain yellow surface adorned a shiny glass dome, which protected a moist chocolate cake inside.
The purple Skeith's owner, who was blessed with the name 'Magni' (a title Josephine thought he had given himself, as he didn't seem like a Magni at all), had baked the four-layer, chocolate chip-coated, cocoa-y delight himself. It was so delicious, it had won contests. Magni had the ribbons proudly on display in his spotless kitchen to prove it.
Just the thought of those notorious ribbons, suggesting a half-dozen other baked goods made Josephine's mouth water, let alone a whole cake right before her eyes.
Surely, she thought, he wouldn't miss one chocolate chip. They're so little, after all...
The purple Skeith glanced up towards the ceiling where, somewhere above, her two siblings and Magni would be fast asleep. They wouldn't suspect a thing, she assured herself.
Ten minutes later, Josephine wore a dumbfounded face. It couldn't be her who had eaten that whole cake, could it?
Josephine pushed away her silly worries. No, of course she had eaten the cake -- she had been the only one there, after all -- but Magni could cook a brand-new one tomorrow. Yes, that would be great. Her stomach grumbled in expectation, even though it was filled to bursting with forbidden cake.
Well, time for bed. And, with a pat on the stomach, she wandered silently upstairs to her room.
Josephine jumped in such a shock that she nearly catapulted out of her large bed. Her eyes popped open. What was that?
She sat up and shoved on her slippers, then trudged wearily to the door. Pulling it open, she looked out and saw her sister Emer also checking out the noise.
"What was that?" Josephine whispered.
Emer's petite shoulders shrugged. "What time is it?"
Josephine turned around to check her clock. "Seven fifteen."
"Huh. Thought it was earlier."
The Skeith shrugged in reply and tiptoed carefully down the hall, towards Magni's room. His door was already open.
Her brother, a baby Lupe called Cuan, was being held by Magni while he sobbed quietly. The words coming out of his mouth were barely comprehensible.
Magni rubbed his eyes sleepily and groped for his glasses. He shoved them on and blinked. "Slow down, Cuan," he soothed. "Now, what happened?"
Emer appeared beside Josephine, her wings quivering.
She shot Josephine a quizzical look, then sat down next to their brother and began to stroke his small ears until he quieted down.
"The cake! The special cake is gone!" He shoved his muzzle into Magni's chest.
Magni raised his dark eyebrows, confused. "What do you mean?"
"It's been eated!" he cried. "The Pant Devil eated it as we slept!"
Still cradling Cuan in his arms, Magni got out of bed and moved to leave the room. "Cuan, I'm sure the Pant Devil didn't eat it. There's no Pant Devil here."
"No Shadow Usul, either," he said firmly as they walked downstairs. "I'm sure it's right where--"
He froze in the kitchen, staring at the empty space where an award-winning cake had once sat. He turned to Josephine and Emer. "Did either of you do this?"
"I didn't," the Buzz said. "You know I can barely eat one slice, much less a whole cake." Her transparent wings fluttered and hummed softly.
Magni turned to Josephine, eyebrows raised. "Josie?"
"Don't call me that," she grumbled. Her eyes avoided Magni's.
He sighed and rubbed his face. "I'm very disappointed in you, Josephine." He set Cuan on the tiled floor. "Well, if I'm going to make another, we have to go to the store to get a few things. Get dressed, all of you."
"Let's see... flour, chocolate syrup, chocolate chips..." Magni looked over the items in his basket. "Looks like we're ready to go."
Emer cheered softly from where she was draped over a shelf. "About time."
"Well, you know, this wouldn't've happened if a certain someone hadn't eaten the cake." And with that, Magni strode over to the checkout counter.
The cashier swiftly rang up his items, while another Neopet placed them in a paper bag. "Will that be all today?"
"Your total is one thousand, six hundred, eighty-nine neopoints," she stated, doing her best to look cheerful.
After paying and collecting their things, they were almost out the door when Magni suddenly stopped. He walked backwards and looked at a poster pinned up on a bulletin board. A photograph of a grinning pink Uni, an emotionless robot Hissi, and a grimacing Dr_Death decorated the top. Cartoon garland bordered the edges and drawings of ornaments and stars littered the paper. Help a pet in need this Day of Giving! was stamped in the center.
Josephine tapped her foot in annoyance. She really wanted to get to the arcade and play the new game that had just come out. All her friends had said it was the best yet and--
Magni interrupted her thoughts. "Whaddya guys say about swinging around to the toy shop to pick up a few gifts?" He tapped the poster. "It says here that they're looking to get Neopians to donate presents to the Pound for the ones who aren't adopted yet."
"Oh, yes, let's!" Emer exclaimed, while Cuan nodded fervently.
"Can't we just go home?" Josephine complained.
"Well, you can go home while we do something kind, unlike you, Josephine, who doesn't stop to think before you eat Cuan's favorite Giving cake!" Emer suddenly burst out in a fury.
"Fine!" Josephine stormed out of the store angrily. "I will!"
Back at her house, Josephine stomped up to her room. She slammed the door closed and flopped on her bed, cramming her face into her pillow. While sulking, she heard a thud and looked up to see one of her collectable Usuki had fallen off of its perch on her dresser. Carefully, Josephine stood it back up and turned to her pile of unused toys. Surely there must be something she could give, just to get Magni off her back.
Ten minutes later, after wanting to keep everything she had found in her pile so far, she pulled out the last thing: a torn up red Tuskaninny plushie. White fluff that reminded Josephine of clouds poured out of its side. Determining this as good enough, she acquired a box and some wrapping paper from the hall closet. A good twenty minutes -- and much tape -- later, the horrendous gift was wrapped.
She placed it on the kitchen counter just as her family entered the house. Emer and Cuan were chatting excitedly about the fantastic gifts they had chosen.
"Josephine? What's this?" Magni dumped the groceries on the counter and picked up the box curiously. He looked at it as if it were about to explode.
"It's for the Pound." Josephine shrugged as if it wasn't a big deal.
Josephine saw Magni's face break into a big, happy grin. He set the box down and hugged her tightly. "I'm proud of you. And you paid for it with your own money and everything!" He put his hands on his hips and practically beamed at her.
Filled with false praise, Josephine didn't think about the gift any longer.
The idea of the night of their visit to the Pound bored Josephine. What fun would it be to watch other Neopets open their presents? But, she still went without complaints. It would be over in a few hours, anyway.
When they arrived, Magni delivered the presents to the pink Uni. She thanked them fervently and welcomed them in before rushing off to place the boxes under the brightly-lit tree.
The room was barely decorated with the usual: lights, garlands, mistletoe. But, the Neopets from the Pound wore genuinely broad smiles of joy on their faces, nonetheless. About forty non-Pound pets and eighteen owners -- including Magni, Josephine, Emer, and Cuan -- milled around, chatting with strangers.
Eventually, the Uni called out, "Gather round! It's present-opening time!" The Pound pets shouted with delight and crowded around the tree.
The presents were slowly passed out. Josephine saw hers go to a bright-eyed green Kacheek with a wide, happy grin. The Kacheek's neighbor nudged her and whispered something. She laughed and nodded, then turned her attention back to the Uni.
"First of all," she called out. "I'd like to thank every one of you for taking the time and money to bring gifts to these poor pets. They -- and I -- thank you greatly." She looked at the mass of pets before her. "Right?"
"Thank you!" they chorused.
The pink Uni smiled at their expectant faces. "Oh, go on!"
Whoops and laughter exploded around the room as each Neopet opened the gift. Only Josephine noticed the one face that wasn't smiling. It was the face of a little green Kacheek, who had pulled out a mangled red Tuskaninny plushie with pure-white stuffing cascading out from its insides.
As hard as she tried, and try she did, Josephine could not purge the guilt from her mind. She took a deep breath.
I know what I must do.
On the way back to the Pound from home, she passed by the Organic Foods store, where she and her family had seen the poster three days before.
Suddenly, the thought of Dr_Death came to her mind. He had been at the party, but had been wearing a 'bah, humbug' face the whole time. She had an idea all of a sudden.
She walked inside the broccoli shaped building and called to the cashier, "Ma'am? May I have this?" Seeing that it was the out-dated poster, she nodded her assent.
Josephine hastily bought the supplies she needed -- she would've gone home for them, but she didn't want the Pound to close before she arrived -- and quickly assembled the gift right in the store.
The Pound was nearly empty of all who didn't live there (including Josephine's family) when she returned. With the boxed present under her arm, she approached Dr_Death with the bagged one.
"Sir?" she called out.
The Techo turned around from where he had been filing papers. He raised an eyebrow. "I'm busy."
Josephine wordlessly handed him the gift.
He held it cautiously. "What is it?"
"A present. For you." She smiled.
Dr_Death blinked and gently removed the tissue paper. Then, he peered into the bag and pulled out his gift. It was a picture frame, gold and elegant, with the poster's picture of him, the Uni, and the Hissi nestled inside. He stared at it for a moment, then looked at the Skeith and briefly nodded his thanks.
Josephine smiled again and went to the little Kacheek. She was busy trying to stuff the plushie's fluff back in without much success. Josephine sadly observed that there were tears blurring her eyes.
"Hi," Josephine said. She sat down as carefully as possible, as to avoid breaking anything. "This is for you." She handed her the bow-adorned present.
Her face lit up so brightly, it rivaled the tree. Silently, while the Kacheek tore open the wrapping, Josephine shoved the plushie's fluff back in, success coming easily with her larger hands, then stitched it back up with the thread and needle from her sister's sewing kit.
The Kacheek, meanwhile, pulled the lid off the box excitedly. "Whoa!" she breathed.
Josephine tore the thread with her teeth, then looked up. The Kacheek happily pulled out two Usuki, one with long purple and green hair, the other with a fish tail. Then, she noticed the repaired plushie and shrieked happily. "Thank you so much!" she squealed and flung her tiny green arms tightly around Josephine's neck. When she let go, the Kacheek said joyfully, "My name's Sayla, what's yours?"
Josephine laughed. "You can just call me Josie."