Florence wiped her brow with her winter mitten, plunged her shovel into a giant mound of soft snow, and leaned on it for a break. She was almost finished. Her Uncle Larry had suggested that she shovel snow to make money for Christmas presents, and he had been right; it did pay well. But he had mentioned nothing about how much work it was or how sore her muscles would be after shoveling just three driveways. She was hard at work on her fourth, Mr. Crummbino’s, with only a small patch of snow to shovel.
She was charging five dollars for each driveway cleared, so when she calculated it out, she would need to shovel two more (after completing this one) to come up with the necessary shopping budget, which was thirty dollars. She needed to buy something for her mother, her father, her seven-year-old sister, Kyra, her friend Rachel, her grandmother, and her grandfather. Christmas was in four days, and she planned to go shopping on Christmas Eve.
Shoveling one driveway a day, she would make it to Christmas Eve with thirty dollars. Which means I’d better get working, she thought, glancing at her watch. It was 6:45 p.m., and to get to her house across the street in time for dinner at seven o’clock, she would need to hurry and finish her work. She ached all over but managed to shovel the last pile of snow out of the way and walk up to Mr. Crummbino’s royal-blue door.
He opened it. He was dressed in a dark blue sweater with green trim that almost matched his door. A short stubble of a beard lined the smile he wore when he looked down his driveway. Shining eyes gazed down at Florence warmly. “You did a good job, Florence. Here’s your pay.” He pulled his wallet out of his back pocket, took out the money in it, and peeled a five-dollar bill off of the thin roll of bills.
“Thank you,” she mumbled, folding the crisp, clean bill and neatly slipping it into her pocket. He smiled again and waved as she turned to go. She looked both ways before crossing the street. Her watch informed her that she had exactly eight minutes to change out of her snow clothes and get to dinner.
When she reached her front deck, she turned around and inspected her work. Even she had to admit she’d done a great job. Look at me, she thought, I’m working hard and making money. She felt very mature at that thought, and she straightened up as she kicked the snow from her boots and went inside.
* * *
Christmas Eve came up quickly. . Like she had planned, she covered two more driveways in the following two days, so the day before Christmas, she set out to do her shopping.
The town square was buzzing with people, rushing around and trying to finish their Christmas shopping. Florence was the only one who had time to relax. She had a whole afternoon and, unlike many of the customers milling about, she didn’t have a family to get back to.
Her father’s gift was the easiest to decide on because he’d been talking about the navy-blue wool hat for weeks. Many stores were sold out of it, but she miraculously found one that was on sale, and she bought the last one before it was too late.
She bought a bottle of perfume for her mother. The sweet gardenia smell was irresistible, and she knew her mother would like it. For her grandfather, she got a small wooden plaque that read, “Destiny is not the path given to you, but the path you choose.” Her superstitious grandmother would receive a good-luck charm. Rachel, she knew, would be happy to get a pack of the extra-fruity bubblegum.
She had five dollars left in her pocket and just one gift left to buy. She needed to buy something for Kyra.
She was just entering a jewelry store when something sparkly caught her eye. She soon found herself gaping at the flashy bracelet that she had always wanted, but it had always been too expensive. The bracelet had shiny glass beads of orange, red, and pink. Now, a large price tag dangled from the small silver clasp. The price tag flashed four capital letters written in red: SALE.
She picked up the bracelet and turned over the tag. It would cost her five dollars. Exactly the amount she had left. Things couldn’t be any better. A smile lit up her face. But the smile evaporated the moment she remembered that she still needed to get Kyra’s gift.
Her mind went crazy, trying to think of a solution to the dilemma. Her intuition told her to get Kyra’s present, but the bracelet might not be on sale anymore when she had saved up enough money to buy it later. How wonderful it would feel to walk into class the day winter break ended! How perfect it would look, shimmering on her hand! Besides, she could give Kyra the doll she had at home. The doll’s hair was tangled and one eye didn’t open, but… Florence tried not to think of that. All she could think about was how proud she would feel when she came to school with that bracelet gleaming around her wrist.
Selfishness overcame her, and she pushed the little voice that told her the right thing to do out of her mind. She walked up to the checkout counter and placed the bracelet on top.
“Nice choice,” said the lady behind the counter in her southern accent, “I think it’s the last one we have.” Florence could only nod and gulp down her guilt.
* * *
On Christmas Day, Florence rushed over to Rachel’s house, which was two blocks down from hers. When she presented the gum to her, Rachel was ecstatic with delight.
“The extra-fruity bubblegum!” she beamed. “It’s perfect!” Then they lay down on her bed and each chewed a stick of gum, trying to see who could blow the biggest bubble. Their fun finally ended when a giant bubble popped all over Florence’s face, and she had to go home.
That evening, after the bubblegum incident had been dealt with, Florence wrapped her family’s presents. She covered them all in the colorful paper and ribbon, all except Kyra’s gift. She just couldn’t bring herself to do so. It was a big reminder of how selfish she had acted in buying the bracelet.
When her grandmother and grandfather came over it was time to open presents. Florence’s parents loved their offerings so much that they applied them right away. Her grandparents also liked what they’d received.
Florence got some nice gifts, too. She got a beautiful Russian doll, with soft black hair that was pulled back from her pretty, rosy-cheeked face. She received a green-covered novel and several other things.
Finally, there was only one gift left to give. Florence’s gift for Kyra. She walked up to her little sister, the old, worn doll concealed behind her back. Everyone was watching. There was no turning back now.
Suddenly, Florence heard a whisper of the past. She faded into an earlier time.
It was Christmas Eve, and Florence was eight years old. Her family was at a neighborhood holiday party. Mindy, a new girl in the neighborhood, had brought presents for everyone. They were all wonderful presents, and Florence could tell that they were definitely appreciated. She couldn’t wait to open her gift.
When she tore off the brightly colored paper, the much-anticipated surprise turned out to be an unscented candle that had almost been burned down to the bottom. Florence could not hide her disappointment. She looked up at Mindy.
Mindy shrugged. “I ran out of budget.” Then she walked away.
Mindy’s family moved away the next year and never came back.
Florence suddenly felt even guiltier. Yes, Mindy had been unfair. But now Florence was being even more unfair. She hadn’t run out of budget. She had spent it on… the bracelet! She felt the beaded bracelet around her wrist. Suddenly, Florence knew what she had to do. She set the doll down on the lamp table beside her.
“Uh, thanks.” Kyra looked at it and bit her lip. “It’s really, um, nice.”
“No,” Florence shook her head, “it isn’t. But anyway, that’s not my present for you.” She reached behind her back and slipped off the bracelet, the beautiful bracelet she had dreamed about for so long. She slipped it off her wrist and held it out to her sister.
Kyra’s face lit up. She hugged Florence. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” she sang, dancing around the room. She put the bracelet on her wrist and admired it. “It’s really beautiful.”
Florence could only smile. Why would she want that bracelet anyway? Why would she want it when it made someone else so much happier? Her smile grew bigger.
She had given up what she had thought was the best thing in the world. And it was still the best Christmas ever.