Our youth pastor, Gary, stood behind me. “Now there’s a nice wrap job.”
I thumbed the last bit of tape onto a seam, beaming. “Thanks.” I slid the package down the table toward the other gifts.
“Hey, everyone,” Gary said, “if you’re having any trouble wrapping, Scotty over here looks like a real pro.”
My fingers fumbled with my next project, three pairs of wool socks. They weren’t the sort of thing I wanted for Christmas, but the less fortunate would appreciate them, I was sure.
The mildewy smell of the church basement thick in my nostrils, I watched the lights on the plastic tree twinkle. “Silent Night” cut through the static of an FM radio, and hot chocolate steamed in styrofoam cups.
“Does anyone want any help?” I said. Gary must have heard me as he bounced from table to table to check on the others. He winked in my direction.
No one answered my call. No matter. I returned to my work, rolling out a fresh sheet of paper and trimming it to size. I started to lay the set of socks on it, but held back.
What could make this more special?
“Kelly,” I said.
She looked up from the iron she struggled to wrap.
“Can I have a marker, please?”
I took it in my hand, a thick green Crayola. “Thanks.” I slid the socks aside and scrawled a message on the inside of the paper in my most Christmasy handwriting. GOD LOVES YOU.
I made an ‘O’ with my lips and blew on my work. I pressed my thumb over the word GOD and lifted it. It smeared, but just a little.
A few more wrapped gifts later, Gary commended us for our good work. “You’ve helped make this a very special Christmas for a family in need.”
While Dad drove me home, I wondered what made a family become a family in need. Maybe the parents didn’t go to college. Maybe they didn’t work as hard as other parents. Maybe they were just unlucky.
We pulled into the driveway and I thanked Dad for all his hard work.
The sun cut through the blinds on Christmas morning. I slipped my fingers between two slats and peered through the opening. A snowless Christmas. My throat felt tight. I scampered down the stairs, happy to know at least one needy family would have a merry Christmas this year.
Mom and Dad had already beaten me to the living room. “Did he come? Did Santa come?”
“He sure did,” Mom said.
Dad looked away.
Mom held out her arm to keep me from the living room. “He left us a note, too.”
I tried to push past her. “Let me see the tree. I want—”
“Santa’s note says we have to play a game this year.” Mom knelt at my level.
“A Christmas game?” I looked to Dad as I said it. He nodded once.
“A guessing game,” Mom said. “Turn around.” She placed something over my eyes, maybe a T-shirt. She tied it behind my head, probably in a big, floppy bow. “Here, take my hand.”
She led me to where the tree must have been and told me to sit. I did.
“Santa says I’m supposed to give you a gift and let you open it with that blindfold on.”
“And then I guess what it is?” I tried so hard to peek, but Mom had the T-shirt wrapped tight.
“You’re so smart,” Mom said. “How about….” I heard wrapping paper crinkle as she sorted through the gifts. There had to be a ton of them to make that much noise. “How about this one?”
It plopped into my lap.
My hands tore into the wrapping. It peeled away in one shot, whatever had been inside it flopping onto the floor in front of me. I felt for it with my hands.
I reached for the blindfold.
“Don’t,” Mom said. “You’ll ruin the game.”
I yanked down the blindfold. Three pairs of wool socks.
My throat tightened again. I rocked forward and nabbed the shredded wrapping paper from the floor.
“There’s nothing else in there, hon.”
The words shook as I held them. GOD LOVES YOU.
Outside a single snowflake fell.
A Milwaukee-area native, r. r. campbell now writes in Madison, Wisconsin, where he lives with his girlfriend and their two cats, Hashtag and Rhaegar.
r. r. is currently querying a technothriller written in the mood of BLACK MIRROR with the storytelling structure of the A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series.
His podcast, the r. r. campbell writescast, features guests from the worldwide writing community on the first and third Fridays of every month at rrcampbellwrites.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @iamrrcampbell.