The gift is wrapped in bright cranberry red, with a white ribbon bow that was obviously tied by human hands. It looks all the more fantastical for it.
It’s my first.
My first real gift.
I can’t believe it. After the years of work in the North Pole, crafting and wrapping and double-checking labels, I never really thought about what it would feel like to receive a gift. Especially not one from a human.
Now I’m holding it, and it’s an easy weight in my hands that makes me shiver with giddy excitement.
Jenna gave it to me, she was the first human to accept me as her crazy and peculiar friend after I left the workshop for adventure. She thinks it’s funny when my eyes get wide after seeing something new. She loves pulling me from place to place, pointing out her favorite things and answering my thousands of questions.
I walk home with the present carefully cradled in my hands. It’s still sinking in. I was given a gift of my own. Jenna had laughed at the shock on my face when she’d given it to me. “It’s Christmas, of course I got you something. I hope you like it.”
I love it.
Up ahead, I see Amy walking home. She lives with her family in the apartment next to mine, and she’s always smiling in the way that makes me want to smile back.
I was the Good List Manager at Santa’s workshop for years, and it’s strange, I never once saw her on my lists. I’ve thought a lot about it and concluded that she must have slipped through a crack in the system. It’s a pity, her smile always cheers me up in this scary world and she patiently explains things upside-down and sideways for me when I don’t understand.
Mr. Claus would love her.
I twirl a finger in the white ribbon. Amy is staring at the sidewalk ahead of her, lost in her own thoughts. Humans tend to be like that, there’s a lot they think about but won’t say. I’m beginning to understand it. There’s so much to do, and so many things happening, it’s a lot to process. I’ve begun to feel very single-minded compared to these people. How do they decide on anything? How do they focus?
They think and they think and they think.
They do it until their thoughts become a whole side of their world that I can’t see, but I try to understand it anyway.
Amy once told me about a few of her thoughts, and what she said makes me think her smiles must be made of bravery. I wonder why no one else sees it that way. Perhaps someday I’ll ask her, and she can explain it inside-out and downside-up until I understand.
“Amy, wait up!” I call. I see her pulling out of her thoughts as she turns towards me. A smile brightens her face a moment later and she waits for me to catch up.
“Hey,” she says, “good to see you getting comfortable with this place.”
I grin at that. I used to get so turned around and lost after walking anywhere away from my apartment. Amy guided me home more than once the month I moved in.
We walk together in comfortable silence as I wish she hadn’t gotten lost in the workshop’s system. What would I have sent her if she’d been on my list?
I want to give back one of her smiles. I’ve never wrapped a present like that before. I don’t really know if I could.
I want to try.
I’m already getting discouraged, because all I can think of is how I don’t have much of anything worth giving, much less a smile. It’s hard for an elf to blend in with the world and get a decent job. I barely have an apartment. Where would I get her a smile? I look down to think, like Amy does.
Cranberry red with a white, human-tied ribbon.
My first gift. First ever. It’s full of the biggest kind of smile, already leaking from the wrapping paper and staining my face whenever I look at it. And it’s sitting in my hands.
Amy and I are at the apartment building. Our steps match rhythm as we hurry up the stairs, both of us panting like we’re out of shape no matter how many times we’ve taken these steps before. By the time we’ve reached the top we’re so out of breath we pause to catch it.
The wrapping crinkles under my fingers. Somehow, I’m already smiling. I don’t remember feeling like this when I sent out presents from Santa’s workshop. I think it must always feel different when a piece of your heart gets involved.
“Amy, this is for you.” I say, and I hold up the gift.
Her eyes are big enough to see every shade of color in her brown eyes. She looks at the box I hold out to her and touches it with her fingertips. “Really? For me?”
Her reaction feels so familiar, it’s like I can almost hear what’s going through her head. I’m nodding my head, nearly bouncing from the excitement building up inside me. Was this how Jenna felt?
She takes the gift, and the weight is suddenly gone from my hands. “Thank you so much.” she breathes, staring at the white on bright cranberry red.
“I hope you like it.” I say, and I really do.
Amy looks back up at me, and she’s wearing the kind of smile that seeps from the wrapping because cardboard and paper aren’t enough to contain it. It’s already the biggest kind of smile I’ve seen on her face, and she hasn’t even opened it. “I love it.”
I leave her there, standing in front of her door with a gifted smile on her face. It’s the best present I’ve ever given, wrapped in red and tied with a bow.
I don’t even know what was inside.