A single present sits under a tree, it may seem rather small, not fancy or flashy, or special at all. But this gift can be given by the rich or the poor. It's a gift of the heart, and it means so much more.
The morning air was crisp as the sky turned pink as the sun rose, lighting up the snow covered trees, streets and sidewalks. Reefs hung from lamp-posts and store doors as Christmas Eve morning dawned. A bundle of newspapers were thrown into the snow from a small delivery van.
ONLY 1 SHOPPING DAY LEFT!
The headline read.
Men and women greeted one another on the street, wishing a Merry Christmas. A snow-plow driver waved at the paper man, and continued to clear the freshly fallen snow from the streets. And only a few feet away a harmonica could be heard playing "Jingle Bells". A young woman with red hair happily played the tune as she held the golden harmonica to her lips with her left hand, and drug a small freshly cut Christmas Tree on a small wooden sled with her right. In front of her walked a large German Sheppard, wagging his tail to the tune of his mistress' song.
The two continued walking down the street, the Sheppard barked as a security gate slid back from a window. He hopped up, placing his two front paws on the window of Giles' Fine Collectables. Willow stopped playing and approached the window, "There it is, Scrat." she said with a grin. The dog barked, never knowing he'd been named for his mistress' favorite character from Ice Age, the nutty little acorn-loving squirrel. A sparkling golden necklace sat in a small case in front of the window, "The perfect gift to go with Tara's heart shaped watch." She sighed, "My Tara."
The redhead looked to her right at a small sign taped on the window, "Open 'til 5:00 pm." it read, "They close at five?" she rubbed the back of her neck, "Well, I'm a little short right now," she said pulling out a small brown pouch with a saddened look on her face, "but, uh... but you and I are gonna make lots of tips today." she nodded with a huge smile. "Aren't we, fella?"
"Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" Scrat panted, it was almost like he was talking, and nodded his head as his bushy tail waved from side to side.
"We'll stop by right after work and pick it up!" she turned, glancing behind her, "C'mon, let's get this tree over to Tara's." Scrat barked, and the redhead began playing "Deck the Halls" on her harmonica as they continued.
In a small single bedroom home not far away...
A young blonde sighed sadly as she held three pink slips and six white slips, all saying "Past Due!" and "PAY UP!", "Oh, Miss Kitty, there's nothing but bills!" she said to a small kitten at her feet. The fuzzy kitten meowed, "How am I ever going to afford to get Willow a present?" she asked, and her eyes went wide. The sound of a door opening, and "Deck the Halls" filled the living room.
Tara quickly looked around, opened a drawer, and shoved the bills inside before closing it again -never noticing one fall to the floor. She hurried toward the doorway, and smiled as Willow played her harmonica as she held the small tree at her side. Miss Kitty ran over and rubbed against the redhead's legs, purring, and sniffed around the tree. Willow finished the song, and halfway slammed the tree into it's stand, causing the kitten to be covered in a pile of pine needles. With a sneeze the kitten shook her head, and slowly crawled out of the pile.
"Aw, Willow!" Tara giggled as she approached the redhead, "When you play your harmonica, my heart sings!" she sighed, causing the redhead to blush as she looked to the side, shyly. "You know," Tara glanced at the floor, "an instrument like that deserves a special case."
"Oh, yeah. Someday..." Willow nodded, taking a blue cloth from her pocket, and polished the harmonica to a fine shine.
"Come on into the kitchen." Tara sang, "Breakfast is almost ready." she said stepping over to the stove.
Miss Kitty trotted in, her eyes settling on the bill which read "Final Notice", "Reow!" the kitten's hair and tail fuzzed out, and she quickly ran forward, spinning around and plopping down on the paper just before Willow walked in.
"You sure I'm not eating you out of house and home?" Willow asked as she sat down at the table.
Tara giggled and shook her head, "Course not, silly. I have plenty." she said flipping a pancake on to a plate.
"Aw, for me?" Willow blushed when she saw the heart shaped pancake, and quickly kissed the blonde's cheek, "Thank you, Tara." she shyly smiled, "You wouldn't happen to have the time, would you, Tara?" Willow asked, taking a healthy bite of her breakfast. The redhead finished the pancake, and touched Tara's shoulder as she watched the blonde pull a golden heart shaped watch from her pocket.
"Well, let's see. It's, uh..."
"Gosh, sure is a beautiful watch!" Willow pressed her cheek to Tara's.
A sigh, "My one heirloom." Tara stared at the watch, which read three minutes after eight.
"I bet it'd look real nice," Willow reached over, gently taking the watch from Tara's hand, "with a gold chain around your pretty neck." she said holding the watch by it's white rope string, and moved it to Tara's neck.
Tara sighed as she leaned her head against Willow's, "Aw, Will."
Miss Kitty still sat on the final notice bill, and watched the couple with a happy, yet goofy grin on her furry face.
"Oh! I've gotta go to work!" Tara shouted, once the time finally registered. She stood quickly, and grabbed a blue coat.
"Madam, your sleigh awaits!" Willow sprinted to the door, and opened it as the blonde donned her coat. Outside, Scrat was standing with the wooden sled strapped around him like a harness.
Tara laughed, "How cute!" she said kneeling on the wooden sled, and leaned into Willow as the redhead kneeled behind her.
"Onward, Scrat!" Willow chuckled as she slipped her arms around Tara's waist.
Five minutes later, Scrat came to a stop in front Glory's Department Store. Willow hurriedly bounced from the sled, and held her hand out for Tara to take. Giggling, Tara took the redhead's hand, stood from her ride, and kissed Willow's lips before hurrying towards the door -leaving Willow with a goofy grin on her face, "See you tonight!" Tara called as she disappeared inside.
With a spring in her step, Willow jumped back on the sled, "C'mon fella, we've got work to do!"
The Sheppard barked and sprinted off towards the center of town, where Crazy Spike's Christmas Tree Park awaited. "Welcome to Crazy Spike's Tree Lot!" a voice spoke on a loud speaker, "Hurry, there's only one more day till Christmas!" the voice continued as Willow and Scrat entered through the chain link fence. "Easy credit, no money down!"
Around back of the shop stood a bleached blonde man in front of a wooden stand. He slopped some glue on a twig, threw a few more twigs on, and grabbed a can of green spray paint. "Hey! This stuff works pretty good!" he said as the fumes cleared, and there stood a shiny tree -fake tree- but who would know?
"Merry Christmas, Mr. Crazy Spike." Willow smiled.
"Ah, merry-shmerry." the bleach blonde rolled his eyes, "I'll be merry when I've sold all those ten-footers!" he pointed to six, ten-foot tall trees. "And just why are you standing there with your face hangin' out? Get to WORK!"
Willow bolted off, and was soon in front of two wooden horses with six one by twelve's stacked on top, and a hand saw. Picking up the hand saw, she began cutting the boards down the center and laughed as Scrat came bouncing over, "Okay, fella. You know what to do." she said and watched the dog run off towards some trees as she made stands from the boards in the shape of an X.
Scrat knocked over six trees, stood on top of them, and began walking, causing the trees to spin and roll towards Willow. The redhead threw the stands in the air, and watched them land -standing up- and the trees roll in, then took a small hammer, and with one hit, nailed the stands to the trees. Scrat hit a lever, causing a snow covered board to shoot up, and pushing the trees up with it.
"Quit slacking off!" Spike said over the loudspeaker, "There's a customer waitin'!"
Willow hurried off with Scrat right behind her, and helped an older woman pick out a tree. With a smile the redhead carried the tree over to an old Model A car, and gently placed the tree on top, and began tying it down with a rope, "Do be careful of the paint, dear." the elderly woman spoke.
"Yes, ma'am." Willow nodded and finished tying the tree down.
"Such a nice young woman, there aren't many nice young ones around anymore." the elderly woman said as she reached into her purse, "Here's a little something for you."
Willow shrugged, "Aw, I don't expect anything, I'm just glad to help." she said, and her eyes went wide as the woman slapped a wad of bills in her hand. "Thank you, ma'am!" she gave the woman a bright smile as the elderly lady drove away. "Twenty-three dollars..." The redhead quickly shoved the bills in her pouch as an old beat up orange station wagon putted into the lot. "Looks like I may be able to get that chain for Tara's watch!" she said to Scrat, and felt a tap on her shoulder.
"Excuse me." A middle aged man spoke, "We'd, uh, like to buy a tree-"
"Did I hear you folks are lookin' for a tree?" Spike asked from the doorway, smoking a cigarette, "Then this is your lucky day!" he grabbed the man and his wife, and pulled them over to the ten-foot tall trees, "This here's what you need. Ten feet of towerin' Nova Scotia pine."
Two small children stood beside their parents, "Wow..." The little girl blinked.
"It's bigger than our house." the little boy said.
The woman stepped over to the trees and picked up the price tag, which read "$100.00", "Well, it's a little more than we need." she said softly.
"Well, missus," Spike lit up another cigarette, "I gotta be honest with you. This is all I got left on the lot." he said, never noticing Willow walk from behind the building with a small tree. "The others have been "reservated" in advance." Willow blinked, then rolled her eyes, "You don't want these kids," he bent down, wrapping his arms around the children, "goin' without a tree, now do you?" he asked, causing the little girl to reel back and cough from the cigarette smoke.
"We are getting a tree, aren't we daddy?" The little boy asked looking at the man with sad eyes.
The man pulled out a ten dollar bill and two quarters, "Um, this is all we have."
Spike quickly stood up, reached inside his coat, and pulled out a clipboard and pen, "Well, that'll be just fine," he chuckled, "for a down payment." Willow narrowed her eyes as her boss continued speaking, "I'll just set you up with a nice installment plan. All you have to do is sign here." he said shoving the clipboard and pen into the man's hand.
The man looked at his happily singing children, and to the board, sweat began forming on his face as his hand shook. His children wanted a tree, he promised them a tree, but money was tight. What to do? Spike grew impatient, "Get your foot off the brake, Pops. The kids are waitin'."
"Hey!" Willow called out, "How about this tree?" she asked causing the man and woman to smile at her, "I uh, I found it out back." she gulped from Spike's glare, "It hasn't been "reservated" yet."
The two children giggled, "Wow! It's beautiful!" they shouted.
"That's the one we'll take." The man said, shoving the board back to Spike and hurrying off with the tree.
"Merry Christmas!" Willow called out, and felt Spike standing behind her.
"I had them on the hook for a ten-foot tree!" the owner shouted, "I'm takin' what I would have made off of that tree out of your pay!" he grabbed Willow's pouch, and pulled every last cent from it before throwing the pouch to the ground. Scrat growled and barked at Spike, and then yelped as the man picked them both up, "Get off of my lot!" he shouted, throwing both young woman and dog. "Chumps." he mumbled and shoved the money in his back pocket, never noticing his cigarette was now in his pocket, too.
The lot owner began walking towards the office, and sniffed the air, "Hmm, somebody's burning their ham." he said just before his ass caught on fire, "YEEEEOOOW!" he screamed and ran around the building, and right through the glue cans, only to trip and fall backward. A can was now glued on his head, and to his butt, which began heating up from the fire. A huge explosion sent the man flying into the air, where the sparks rained down on to the trees.
What happens when all of the trees are fake, made of nothing but twigs, glue, and spray paint? "WHOOSH!" The trees went up in flames.
"Not my ten-footers!!" Spike screamed as sirens blared, and the fire trucks rolled on to the lot.
Back at the department store...
"Attention, holiday shoppers!" A man on the loudspeaker said, "Don't forget to bring all your last-minute purchases to our gift-wrapping department."
Downstairs, gifts were piling up, and a young woman sighed, "I've never seen it so busy. How about you, Tara?"
The blonde shook her head, "No, I haven't either, Buffy. Where's Faith?"
The shorter blonde sighed with a goofy grin, "She's buying my present." As Buffy thought of her own girlfriend, Tara was speedily wrapping the presents, and setting them on a shelf, "Wow," the shorter blonde blinked, "Who made you Santa's number-one helper?"
"Oh, I really want to get Willow something special this year. Without that Christmas bonus, I'm sunk!" she said, and hurried to answer the ringing phone, "Glory wants to see me in her office right away." Tara smiled and rushed through the door and up the stairs. The Christmas bonus was hers, and Willow's present was close to being in her hands.
At the very top of the store was a large office with a black leather couch on the left, a seven-foot wide blue and green carpet walk over the fine red floor. Tara stood in front of her boss, "Kara."
"Right. Well, I've been making a list and checking it twice and I've found that you have been Santa's best little helper this season! Your hard work is about to be rewarded. Close your eyes and hold out your hands."
"Miss Glory, I can't thank you enough." Tara said as she held out her hands.
"Yes, I know, I'm great, now don't interrupt. Sara-"
"Whatever." Glory rolled her eyes, "On behalf of Glory's Department Store it gives me great pleasure to present you with your Christmas bonus!" the woman said.
"Oh!" Tara hit the floor, and opened her eyes, "A fruitcake?"
Glory quickly sat down at her desk, and waved her hands, "No need to thank me. The expression on your face is thanks enough." she chuckled, "Now, scoot along. Back to the gift-wrapping department where you belong."
Tara looked towards the floor as she lugged the heavy fruitcake, just what was in it, cement?! As the blonde slowly walked down the stairs, she saw it was four, and quitting time. Tara trudged out the door and sighed, sadly, "Oh, Willow, how am I ever going to get your present now?"
Back across town...
Willow walked through the park and sat down on a wooden bench, "There's just gotta be a way to get Tara's present by five." she said pulling her harmonica from her pocket, and began playing "Angels We Have Heard On High". As she played, Scrat sniffed around in the snow, "You got any ideas, fella?"
The Sheppard perked up, but just as quickly lowered his head, "Woof." he barked sadly.
"Don't worry boy." she scratched his head, "We'll come up with something. We just gotta." Again she began playing, but this time it was "Joy to the World".
Not far from where Willow sat playing her harmonica, a charity toy drive was sat up by the firemen. The Firehouse 5 Band had been ready to play, that is until the tree lot went up in flames. "Do you think the band will ever show up?" a man asked the fire chief.
"I don't know," A woman spoke up, seeing as how the chief said nothing, "They're puttin' out a fire at the Crazy Spike Tree Lot. Just went up like a Roman candle."
The chief slowly walked over to a large wooden box, and looked inside, nothing, not a single toy, he sighed. "Chief, looks like the toy drive's a big fat bust." the man said causing the chief's eyes to narrow. Then widen as he heard the sound of a harmonica.
"Whoa! Listen!" The chief grinned, "That music. Come on!" He shouted and ran off towards the sound.
Willow still sat on the bench, playing her harmonica with Scrat's head in her lap. All of a sudden Willow was jerked away, and Scrat found himself on the snow-covered ground. "Ruh, err?" the dog blinked, and took off.
"Hey! Whatcha doing?!" Willow asked as she was drug off.
"A concert in the park." The fire chief answered. "We're desperate, we need some music for the toy drive, and you're our only hope!"
Willow shook her head, "I don't have time, Chief. I gotta get a gift for my girl."
"Don't do it for us, do it for the kids."
The chief smiled sadly, "To these kids the only difference between a broken heart and a smile is you." he said as the man and woman tossed Willow on to the stage, "You're on!"
Willow tripped over a saxophone, then a trumpet, and then the drum set before she fell on her butt, and looked out. Several people watched with grins, and a little boy looked up as his mother led him by the stage. She looked at the clock, 4:05 pm, and stood up, "Look, I'm really sorry, but I can't stay. I got some Christmas shopping to do, you know, and, uh..." she trailed off as the same little boy from before walked up to the stage, and placed his teddy bear next to her feet.
The mother smiled as she took her son's hand again, and began walking away. The boy smiled and waved, only to stop and giggle as Willow hopped down from the stage, and began playing Jingle Bells for him. As the music played, Scrat ran over, slid under the boy, and let the child ride on his back. Men and women from across the street began approaching, and placing small gifts in the box as the Sheppard trotted over to the boys mother.
Willow hopped back on stage, never stopping the song, and watched as the mother patted Scrat on the head, and helped her son down. The Sheppard then hopped on to the stage with his mistress and began trotting around, as if dancing. A trombone began playing, causing the redhead to turn, and see the band had arrived. All of them had smoke rising from their red coats as they all joined in.
As the band and Willow played; the toy box soon became full, and had overflowed, boxes were now piled up around the large wooden box. The song ended, and the crowed applauded. The redhead turned around, "Whoops, guess I'll be showing up at Tara's empty-handed." her shoulders slumped as she saw it was three minutes before five.
The chief laughed, "Thanks to you, this was our best toy drive ever! You and that harmonica make the best team ever!"
Willow smiled, "Yup, she's worth her weight in gold, all right!" she chuckled, then her eyes widened, "That's it!" she shouted, "We've still got two minutes to get to the shop! Come on, Scrat!" she sprinted off with the Sheppard right behind her.
"Thanks again!" The chief shouted.
"Merry Christmas!" Willow shouted back, and ran over a small hill, right on to a frozen pond. Her feet, not to mention Scrat's, slipped, and both were sent sliding around from side to side, and then forward -right down the center of a practicing hockey team. Scrat fell, and began sliding on his chest, and right into Willow, who he took along for the ride. Both, dog, and owner slid across the ice, and right into the snow, Willow grinned. "Hey, Angel!" She hurried over to a small boy, "Can I borrow your snowboard?" she asked as the boy looked at the board, then nodded, "Thanks, you know where I live, come by tomorrow, and you'll have it back!" she smiled and gently took to board from the boy, "Come on, Scrat!"
Running towards the park exit, Willow dropped the board, and hopped on at the same time as the Sheppard, and just barely missed being ran over by a bus. Down the street they slid, picking up speed and jumping at the next small hill, and into the air. Once back on the street, they zigzagged around cars and trucks, "Sorry!" Willow shouted to a bell ringer dressed as Santa, and knocked him down, once the snow cleared, Scrat was wearing the Santa hat and beard.
The board continued speeding along the sidewalk, and right into an odd looking plastic snowman. The snowman's head flew into the air, and landed on Willow's head, "Hey! What's going on!?" she half screamed as she tugged at the head. Scrat shook his head, causing the hat and beard to fly off, and his jaw hit the ground as a truck horn blasted. Willow quickly pulled the snowman's head from her shoulders, and screamed when she saw they were headed straight for a snowplow.
"WAH!" Another scream as the board hit the sloped snow, and sent Willow and Scrat into the air. Seeing her chance, Willow grabbed Scrat and jumped just as the board flew past a streetlight, and grabbed on. She flipped around once, and let go, only to land on top of a bus, and quickly glanced to her right. "There it is!" She shouted, grabbing Scrat's collar, and jumping from the bus and right into the snow. As she stood, she grabbed the now still board and hurried towards the store, only to see the sign being turned around to say "Closed".
"No!" She cried out as she continued running, and saw the neon lights go out, and the window gate close. Willow quickly leaned the board against the wall and stared at the golden chain inside. The shop door creaked and the bell dinged as a middle aged man stepped out, "Excuse me, sir." Willow slowly approached the man, and sadly held up her harmonica, "I was just hoping to trade this for a gift for my girl."
Giles took the golden harmonica from Willow's hands, and stared at it for a moment, "Well," he began and gave the instrument back to her, "sorry, dear, but that harmonica isn't worth much." he turned and locked the shop door, "Merry Christmas." he said and turned to leave.
The redhead looked down at her harmonica, "You're worth a lot to me, old friend." she spoke with a hitch in her voice, and slowly sat down on the sidewalk, with Scrat beside her. The tune of "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" filled the empty streets as Scrat's sad howling joined in.
Giles had heard what the redhead said and stopped as she began playing, and looked over his shoulder. What would he do if he were in her shoes? No money for a present for his wife, he softly smiled, he would do the same thing the young woman planned to do -trade something for a gift. If that harmonica meant that much to her, then her girl must mean a whole lot more. Willow gently patted the Sheppard's head as he whimpered, "Say, maybe that harmonica is worth something after all." Giles smiled as he opened his shop door, "Come on in."
Later that night at Tara's a fire burned in the fireplace, warming the small room as Willow and Tara sat on the small couch. The redhead gently tapped the wrapped box with a grin, "Woof!" Scrat barked from the floor, sitting beside Miss Kitty, "Meow."
"Can't wait to open your present, can you, boy?" Willow asked as she held out a wrapped bone, and watched as Tara lay a ball of yarn on the floor in front of the kitten.
"I love Christmas so much." Tara smiled, watching Miss Kitty roll the yarn around, "Say, Willow," the blonde glanced to her right, "why don't you play some music?"
Willow chuckled nervously, "I-isn't it time we were opening our presents?" she asked, quickly avoiding that question, "And, uh, speaking of time..." she picked up the wrapped box, "What time is it?" she asked with a huge smile.
"Well, I, um..." Tara glanced around the room, "I think it's time for you to open your gift." The blonde turned and picked up her present for Willow.
The two young women scooted closer together, and began unwrapping their presents, Willow's face fell. "Oh! A case..." Willow chuckled as she opened a beautiful red harmonica case trimmed in gold, "for my harmonica."
"Oh, my!" Tara held up the beautiful golden chain with a smile, "A chain for my..." her face fell, "watch." the blonde held the chain close to her heart, "Oh, Will, it's beautiful. But I traded my watch to get you that case."
"And I traded my harmonica to get a chain for your watch."
"I can't believe you gave up what means the most to you for me."
Willow reached over, placing her hand over Tara's, "Oh, love, you're all the music I'll ever need." she spoke softly, and wrapped her arms around Tara. The blonde snuggled next to her girlfriend.
Down on the floor Scrat lay beside the fireplace, and Miss Kitty yawned as she stretched out next to the Sheppard, and curled up against him. Scrat turned -slightly- to his right and placed his left paw on the small kitten. Both, dog and kitten were asleep within seconds.
The fire danced, and crackled as the two young women watched from the couch, wrapped in one another's arms, "I love you, Tara."
"I love you, too, Will, Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas, my love." The redhead leaned down, pressing her lips to Tara's, and slowly pulled back, allowing Tara to rest her head on her shoulder.
After several minutes, Tara giggled, "Want some fruitcake?"
"I want you, right here beside me, the fruitcake can wait." Willow gently tightened her hold. Both young women continued to watch the fire as the snow, once more, began falling outside. And not long after, both young women fell into a peaceful sleep.
A gift from the heart is cherished and true. A present is best when love's given too. So, in the end, it's love that's the reason that Christmas is more than a gift-giving season. It's a time with our loved ones to show that we care when families and neighbors come together to share. So, this Christmas season, let us all do our parts to keep Christmas spirit alive in our hearts.