I tied the last bow on the last
package the woman had brought to my gift-wrapping station. "The
present goes to . . . ?" I held my pen poised over the gift
"Excuse me?" she said.
"Who is it for?"
"I'll make out the card when I
get the present home, thank you, young man."
"I have very nice handwriting,"
I said, "and this way you won't get any of them mixed up." I
looked at the stack of presents. She had three this size and
shape, and four others that resembled each other. Six assorted
that she might be able to figure out for herself. I had my
"Oh, my. You're right." She
stared at her stack of wrapped presents.
"This one's the powder blue
terrycloth bathrobe," I said, patting the last wrapped.
She checked her list. "That's
I wrote. "This one's a set of green bath towels."
I wrote. "This one's a fuzzy
blanket throw with a leopard pattern on it."
"For Misty, my sister." She
stared at the rest of her packages in despair, until I told her
what each one held. My memory for gifts was excellent. Always
She gave me a five dollar tip.
The girl next in line stepped
up to the counter but wouldn't look into my eyes. She set her
heart down in front of me. Spun glass, beautiful, fragile — a
typical teenage girl's heart. "For Josh," she whispered.
I gift-boxed the heart, wrapped
it in red tissue paper, hesitated over the tag. Josh was
already getting six hearts for Christmas. And he wasn't the
type who knew how to take care of them. He'd probably break
"Are you sure?" I murmured.
She nodded, gaze focused on the
tips of her shoes.
"Look at me." I stared at her
until she looked up. Amber-brown eyes, shy young beauty so
fresh it had no idea of its future. She was perfect, the way a
hundred young girls in the mall were perfect. I touched her
face. Something quickened and flashed in her eyes. I knew she
could see me now. "Moira. Give this to someone who knows what
to do with it," I whispered.
Stephen, I wrote on the
gift tag, and handed the package to her.
The next girl in line was a
little older. She stared me straight in the eye and set a
lovely bile-colored curse down in front of me. "For Josh," she
I wrapped it in green paper and
put a red bow on it. I smiled when I handed it back to her, and
she smiled too, the smile of one who had been mortally wounded.
The rest of the week was easy
because I knew what one of my presents would be.
It had been a long time since I
got a heart for Christmas. The glass powders and stings as you
take the first bite. It's the best taste in the world.
About the Author:
Over the past twenty-four years, Nina Kiriki Hoffman has sold
novels, juvenile and media tie-in books, short story
collections, and more than 200 short stories. Her works have
been finalists for the Nebula, World Fantasy, Mythopoeic,
Sturgeon, and Endeavour awards. Her first novel, The Thread
That Binds the Bones, won a Stoker Award.
Nina's young adult novel Spirits That Walk in Shadow was
published by Viking in 2006. Her short science fiction novel
Catalyst was published by Tachyon in 2006. Fall of Light,
a fantasy novel, will be published by Ace in 2008.
Nina works at a bookstore, does production work for the
Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and teaches short
story writing through her local community college. She also
works with teen writers. She lives in Eugene, Oregon, with
several cats, a mannequin, and many strange toys.
Story © 2006 Nina Kiriki Hoffman.