Seth sat on the couch, bouncing a little. He was alone in the living room, dimness interrupted only by the lights on the Christmas tree.
He was alone because he had been the first one to arrive in the living room for the white elephant gift exchange Kendra had set up. She was currently off rounding everybody up.
They hadn't done this before, but Seth and Kendra already agreed that it seemed good enough to become a tradition. Kendra had cut out little squares of paper and numbered them, one number for each person at the house. She'd hand everyone a number when they set their gift in the center of the room, and then she would randomly draw numbers for who got to pick their gift.
It was still a few days away from Christmas, but this wasn't the real Christmas celebration or anything. Kendra had just thought this would be fun, and Seth agreed. He held his gift in his hands right now, waiting for Kendra to get back before he put it in the middle and took the number. Not a good idea to mess with her stuff and accidentally mess something up.
Upon asking Kendra what "white elephant" meant (after quite a while of attempting to avoid that and figure it out himself), Seth had learned that the point of this particular sort of event was to bring something cheap that wouldn't be missed- not a serious gift exchange, just an opportunity to get rid of something you don't want or give someone something funny. He was looking forward to this.
Seth knew that besides Kendra and himself, other participants would include at least Warren, probably Vanessa if Warren had successfully dragged her into it, Bracken, and Eve. Part of the reason Kendra had picked today for this was so that Bracken and Eve, who weren't permanent residents of Fablehaven, could participate. Ideally, Tanu would've been there, and he certainly would've participated if he was at the house, but he was on a mission (one that would hopefully be over soon).
Kendra hurried back into the room. "All right," she muttered, drumming her hands against her legs and looking around the room. Seth hopped up off the couch, brandishing his gift in the air like a trophy. Kendra jumped. Her hand flew to her heart. "Were you there the whole time?"
"Yeah," Seth said, a little surprised she hadn't been able to see him. It wasn't that dark in here!
"Huh," Kendra said, frowning thoughtfully. Her eyes went to the gift, which Seth had lowered to a more reasonable elevation. "Good, you brought something! Just set it here."
Seth set the gift where Kendra had instructed- right next to the one she'd brought, which was hidden inside a cute little bag. She handed him a little square with the number one on it. "Cool, I get to be number one," he said, sitting back down on the couch.
"It just means you were the first one here," Kendra said, sitting cross-legged on the floor.
"No, it obviously means I'm the coolest," Seth said, watching the doorway along with Kendra. Why was everyone taking so long? It wasn't that hard to walk to the living room.
Just as he had that thought, Vanessa entered the room, carrying a small gift bag. She set it down where Kendra pointed, next to the others, and took a number.
"Where's everyone else?" Seth asked as Vanessa took a seat in an armchair.
"I don't know," Vanessa said. "I wasn't talking to them. But knowing Warren, he's probably just now choosing a gift." Kendra and Seth snickered at that.
"Oh!" Kendra exclaimed, sitting up straight. "I forgot to get my own number. I'll just be three then."
Eve entered the room next, also with what appeared to be a reasonable gift. Seth was almost starting to worry that his was too lame compared to all of theirs. Hopefully somebody else's would be worse. He suspected he could count on Warren for that. "When are we starting?" Eve asked, taking a number and a seat on the couch next to Seth. He smiled at her.
"Whenever everyone gets here," Kendra said. "Didn't think that would be something I'd be saying with everyone in the same house. But we're just waiting on Warren and Bracken now."
"Warren will be last," Seth predicted, and Kendra and Vanessa nodded their agreement. Eve didn't quite know Warren well enough to assume that yet- it was only now, at eighteen years old, that she'd even first come to Fablehaven. She'd barely ever been allowed to leave her home when she was younger, and she was taking advantage of her new legal freedom.
"He'll probably make us late," Vanessa added. "I mean drag out the waiting even longer than it already has been."
Kendra and Seth were still voicing their agreement when Bracken showed up. His gift also looked nice, which Seth had expected from the unicorn. "Here you go," Kendra said, giving him his number.
"What is it for?" Bracken asked, sitting on the floor next to her.
"You get number five because you were the fifth one to get here," Kendra explained. "And then I'll draw numbers to see the order we get to grab presents from the middle, and you'll have the same number for that. So if I draw a five that means you get to go."
"That makes sense." Bracken nodded.
"Which reminds me- does anyone need me to explain anything specific, or maybe just the whole thing? We may possibly be waiting a while on Warren anyway." Seth noticed Kendra looking more at Bracken and Eve. Reasonable. Neither of them had spent much time at all around human customs in general, let alone Christmas traditions. Though it has been interesting (moreso to Kendra) to find out that some of the magical beings did have some sort of holiday of their own around this time of year.
"Would you?" Eve asked, fidgeting with her hands in front of her.
"Of course! I'm glad to." Kendra shifted. "You already knew that a white elephant exchange involves an easy gift to trade around just for fun. You bring that in and set it down and get a number. What number you get doesn't mean anything.
"When everyone's here, I'll start drawing random numbers. Whoever's number I call will get to take one of the presents and open it. The next person called gets to either pick one of the ones that's left or steal what the first person got. If they steal it, then the first person opens a different one. The third person either opens something new or steals one of the ones already open, and so on. If the second person's gift gets stolen, they can open a new one or steal from anyone except whoever just stole from them. It keeps going until everyone's opened all the gifts."
"Okay, that makes sense," Eve said, sitting back. "It sounds pretty fun."
"It is," Seth told her. "It's been way too long since I've done one of these."
"Me too," Kendra agreed.
It was far too long before Warren showed up- Seth didn't know how long, but it could've been an hour. Kendra said it was maybe ten minutes, but no way was she right. More like ten hours. Warren hustled into the room, apologizing for keeping everyone waiting, and took the last seat on the couch.
Vanessa had been half joking about Warren picking out his gift right when he got called to the exchange, but Seth suspected there was some truth to it. He may have already had the gift picked out, but judging by the wrapping job, he'd probably waited to do that part until the last second. Kendra did not hesitate to point that out.
"What? No way!" Warren scoffed overdramatically. "Me, wrapping presents at the last second? Never!"
"Remind me to help you wrap your actual presents before Christmas day," Vanessa laughed.
"I think he could've used your help with that today," Bracken observed, and everyone laughed. Seth flicked a glance at Eve and was glad to see that she was really laughing. Hopefully this whole thing would help her feel more comfortable here.
"Now, the moment we've been waiting for," Kendra announced dramatically, gesturing with her hands. She picked up the bowl with the numbers in it and shifted them around before picking one. "First up is number… two."
Vanessa held up her number. "That's me." She didn't even hesitate before taking the little bag Kendra brought. She reached in and pulled out a nice mug and a couple different flavors of hot chocolate mixes. "Thank you, Kendra."
"Don't thank me yet," Kendra laughed.
"You already knew what was in that," Warren accused.
"Yeah, right," Vanessa said. "I have x-ray vision. I use it to peek at Christmas presents."
Laughter was already echoing throughout the room as Kendra pulled another number from the bowl. "Four," she announced.
Eve showed her number, then went to pick a gift. "Get mine, get mine," Seth said at the same time as Kendra asked, "no stealing?"
"No stealing," Eve agreed. She picked up Vanessa's gift.
Seth snapped his fingers and made a disgusted noise.
"Sorry, I don't trust that," Eve shrugged, sitting next to him again. She opened the bag and found the same thing Vanessa had gotten from Kendra.
"You did know what was in that bag!" Warren exclaimed, pointing at Vanessa, who just raised her eyebrows and leaned back in her chair.
"We went shopping together," she explained.
"What?" Seth asked Eve.
"That," she said, gesturing at his face.
Seth put a hand on his heart with an exaggerated betrayed face. Eve laughed.
Kendra was drawing another number. "Three," she read, and it took a moment for her to remember that was her own number.
"Get mine," Seth told her, but she went straight for Bracken's. "You girls are boring," Seth grumbled.
"Yeah," Warren agreed. "Where's the stealing? Where's the action?"
"Not here," Vanessa said.
Warren stuck his tongue out at her.
Kendra studied the box. "This is wrapped so nicely I almost hate to open it," she said. Seth would've decided right then that he wanted to steal it just to irritate her if he hadn't already decided that.
"Why do you open stuff so slow?" He complained. She was opening it along the tape instead of ripping it. That was half the fun!
"I want to keep the paper," Kendra said. It took forever for her to finally open it, but when she did, she found a collection of colorful pens. She gasped with delight. "Ooh! Where did you get these?"
"Uhh…" Bracken scratched his neck sheepishly. "The craft drawer?"
Seth burst out laughing.
"Something you already own is a great gift," Warren said through his own laughter.
Though she tried to hide it a little more, Vanessa was laughing too. "Nice, unicorn."
"Don't be mean," Kendra chided. "I love them." She set the pens down to draw another number, and Seth tried to stop laughing and pay attention. He still had every intention to steal that. "Five."
"I'm gonna be last and get my own," Seth grumbled as Bracken scooted over to the gifts. His would be so much funnier if someone else opened it! "Get mine," he told Bracken.
Bracken looked at him, shrugged, and picked Eve's bag. Seth groaned. "Sorry," Bracken said. "I wasn't in here. I take it this isn't yours?"
"No," Seth said, laughing. Bracken was too nice for his own good. "It's fine." It might be funnier if Warren got his anyway.
Bracken reached into the bag and pulled out a small canvas with an amateur painting of what looked like dragons on it. It wasn't very detailed, but they were recognizable. "It's not very good," Eve laughed.
"No, it is!" Bracken assured her. "Very nice." He set the painting down and patted it.
Kendra drew another number. "One."
"I'm gonna steal," Seth announced.
"Finally," Warren groaned. "Somebody needs to make this interesting!"
Seth hesitated a moment, then pointed to Bracken. He kinda wanted to take Kendra's just to annoy her, but he also just wanted to take this one. Eve had made it herself, and besides, he liked the dragons anyway.
Bracken scooted on his knees over to Seth and handed him the painting. "Now I pick another one?"
"Yep," Kendra said. Seth could see her watching him and suddenly felt a little embarrassed. He set Eve's painting down.
"Get mine," Seth told Bracken, who was back at the middle, more out of habit now than anything. No risk of getting his own anymore.
Bracken took Warren's.
He ripped it open, heedless of preserving the wrapping paper. "It was all wrinkled up anyway," he told Kendra, who was very obviously judging him.
Seth looked over at Warren. Warren watched with an eager expression, saving his laughter for after Bracken finished opening the present. Apparently he'd hoped Bracken would get this.
Inside the box was a pair of unicorn slippers.
Bracken stared at them for a moment while everyone else laughed, then he laughed a little himself. "Touche," he said, shaking his head.
"Warren," Seth said. He was up next.
"Let me draw the number anyway," Kendra insisted even as Warren got up and went to the presents. She picked up the last number in the bowl. "Six."
"You're not going to steal something?" Vanessa asked.
"I want to see what Seth's is," Warren admitted. He picked it up and tossed it in the air a couple times. "Maybe a pen?"
"That's too lame for Seth," Kendra disagreed.
"Thank you," Seth approved.
"Would you just open it already?" Vanessa asked and then added sarcastically, "the suspense is killing me."
"Okay, fine , since you asked so nicely." Warren tore open the wrapping.
As Seth had hoped, everyone laughed. The expression on Warren's face made the entire thing even better.
"You brought a cheese stick ."
and unless you've got twenty people
stuck on an elevator
I can't imagine a time when we're all this close
("Christmas Together," Jamie Grace)