Christmas, this year:
“I don’t want anything from you for Christmas,” Nancy declared.
“Why?” Sluggo asked. “You think I can’t get you something nice?”
“You’d probably give me something handmade. The only good handmade gifts are food.”
“You give Fritzi handmade gifts every year!”
“Yes,” Nancy sighed with self-admiration. “I’m such a thoughtful niece.”
“Besides,” she continued. “It’s not like I need a reminder that you like me.”
Sluggo glanced up at her from where he was sprawled out on the ground, hands behind his head.
“Who wouldn’t like me?” she finished with aplomb.
Sluggo rolled his eyes.
Christmas, a few years ago:
There was a gremlin in front of him. She was tiny, with a massive mess of unruly hair. She looked like she’d been hosed down and shoved into presentable clothes for the first time in her life fifteen minutes ago. She was mad.
“My aunt says I have to give you this,” said the gremlin, thrusting a present into his face. It was a very nicely wrapped present, which made Sluggo convinced that she’d had nothing to do with it.
He took it and opened it in front of her, because he was something of a gremlin himself. It was a t-shirt with a cute character on it. Nice, but not really his style.
He looked back up at the gremlin, who was shifting her weight back and forth from foot to foot and looking antsy.
“What?” he asked.
“What did you get for me?” she asked.
He racked his brain for anything. There was nothing he had to give her.
“This,” he said, handing the ribbon from the present back to her. It was the lowest effort present he could have gone with. She was never going to come back to his house again after this. It made him feel hollow with regret. He’d been beginning to wonder if they could be friends.
To his surprise, she took it without complaint.
“What’s it for?” she asked.
“Your hair,” he said, and mentally kicked himself right after. That was probably rude. That implied he thought her hair needed it, even though it definitely did. This was it for that friendship he’d been thinking about. She was going to yell at him and leave.
Instead, she tied it up around her head. Her hair looked just as bad as before, but now it had a bow on it.
“I just moved in last week,” she said, gruff for no reason. “You live here?”
It was pretty obvious that Sluggo lived there, he thought, standing in the doorway entrance in his pajamas. He nodded anyway.
“Ok, bye,” the gremlin said, turning around abruptly. She stomped stiffly down the path leading up to his house. When she reached the sidewalk, she paused. Her hands went up to her hairline. He thought she was going to pull the ribbon off, but she only adjusted it.
She was heading down his street now, getting close to the corner that turned out of view. He was watching her the back of her head get smaller and smaller and then he was stepping out into the frozen slush on his front porch with bare feet.
“Wait!” he called after her. Graying snow crunched up between his toes. It was colder and sharper than he’d expected, but something about it made him feel more awake than he’d felt in the entire eight months he’d been living with his uncles. His breath steamed the air in front of him. “You forgot to tell me your name!”