Bret lunged for the remote.
“Wait! Go back!”
“What?” Jill pulled back the clicker from her brother’s demanding grasp. She lifted the remote over his head and pressed the channel button. Bret wheeled around to focus on the television again.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” Bret leaned forward, his sweater covered elbows on his knees, mouth in a dopey grin.
“You know that’s a car?”
“Shhhh,” said Bret, waving her quiet.
Jill rolled her eyes and sagged back into the couch beneath her blanket.
On the screen, the silver sports car burst through a tunnel, seemingly without a driver. The car then cut along a curving edge of road hugging a white sand beach with tropical waters. Sunlight glinted along the rims and satin frame, twinkling on the glass and mirrors in an array of tantalizing winks. A surge of orchestra winds and brass followed the vehicle up an s-curve slithering through forested hillsides and then the drums rose with a vengeance as the car found urban streets at the same deadly speed. The car halted before a skyscraper and seemed to stare at its own glistening reflection. The commercial then cut to the odometer which peaked into the triple digits along with a rumble of the engine.
Bret winced as the price tag and the array of minuscule text dashed across the screen. “One day,” he promised.
“You’re going to have that?”
He shot Jill a glare over his shoulder. “Sure, why not?”
“Because you just got your license, like what three months ago, and asked me for money yesterday since you’d already spent your allowance on your homeroom’s secret Santa.” Jill shook her head, bouncing her pigtails and continued to flip through the stations.
“I’ll figure it out.”
“Is this because of Stacey Jackson?”
Bret scowled and watched the changing screen.
“You have to admit he has a nice car.”
“Richie Rich is supposed to have a nice car.” Bret cracked an errant pine needle in two. “I don’t even have a clunker.”
“And you think you can get that, drive up to school and what? She’ll drool all over you?” Jill sniffed, settled on a program about the evolution on dogs and tucked the blanket up to her chin. “Give my sex a little credit.”
“You shouldn’t use that word,” he muttered.
“What sex? Says the older brother with aspirations for a six figure car to impress the girl who doesn’t know he exists. Who’s the mature one now?”
Bret flung a pillow at her head until she squealed, and then rose to stalk from the pine scented living room.
“Good,” said their mom, entering in a whirl. “Take this.” She handed Bret a freshly opened cardboard box before he could slip out the other door. He staggered. Adjusting the weight with a knee, he gained a better grip on the frosted box. His mom returned with a smaller box a few seconds later, her cheeks briskly pinked. “Put those under the tree.”
“They’re presents from Gram.”
“Presents?” piped up Jill. She clicked off the television and tossed the remote and blanket into the seams of the couch before scampering across the garland and light strewn room.
Their mom plucked open the folds in the similarly taped box she carried. A slight tip revealed wrapping paper in red, green and gold. “Those are wrapped too so don’t go snooping.”
“Mom,” whined Bret. “I was going upstairs…”
“Come on. Give me a hand, for two seconds.”
“He’s just mad because his sports car won’t fit into the box,” said Jill, rising on her tiptoes to yank back one flap on the larger delivery.
“Shut up,” said Bret.
“I’m sure Stacey Jackson isn’t in there either,” said their mom, moving over to the brick fireplace and quartet of red velvet stockings with cotton soft fringe.
Sighing with the weight of the world, Bret lumbered to the stout Douglas fir in the corner and set the box onto the evergreen skirt. A stir of pine tried pushing some holiday spirit into his thoughts. Jill plopped down on the opposite side, her ponytails swaying as they dug into the Santa-esque shipment tinged with Gram’s lily perfume. Paper crinkled around probable sweaters or shirts. Heavy squares suggested books. A few oddly shaped items remained a tantalizing mystery. They tucked and stashed the crisply wrapped presents and then returned to the seemingly bottomless box for more.
“I have to run to the store,” said their mom to the garland on the mantle.
Bret froze and whipped his head around. “Can I drive?”
“What happened to upstairs?” She tossed a cocked eyebrow over her shoulder as she slid another small present into Jill’s stocking.
“Huh?” asked Bret. “Can I?”
“Finish with these,” his mom said, pointing to the box on her hip, “and meet me in the kitchen in 5.”
Bret leapt to his feet without bothering to use Jill’s head for leverage as she pressed her cheek against a plump package. He took the half filled box from his mom and snagged the first labeled bundle. His mom scruffed his shaggy curls before leaving him to his task.
The stocking stuffers came in an assortment of shapes, but each so small, identification seemed impossible. Bret slipped one after another into the appropriate stocking, like a dealer passing out cards. His fingers scraped along the bottom by the time his mom shouted from the kitchen.
“Bret, finish up. I don’t have all day.”
Peering down, Bret found one last gift snagged in the corner. He wiggled the lump but the edge seemed caught on the tape wrapping the exterior. He pulled a little harder, wincing as he heard a tear and then the present came free.
The string of lights threaded through the garland on the fireplace winked off the small hole torn in the paper. Bret tossed the box to the floor and poked at the gap, widening the hole a bit further. A rounded metal tip met his finger and then a jagged edge with dull peaks disappeared into the rest of the wrapping. The weight felt right, so did the size. Bret checked the label as his heart began thudding. In his Gram’s cursive hand and Sharpie, he read his name.
“It can’t be,” he whispered.
Bret stuffed the gift into his own stocking before whirling around. Jill stood with the large empty box dangling from one hand, her head cocked curiously.
“BRET!” called their mom.
Bret felt his smile grow until it might reach the North Pole.
“What?” asked Jill, stomping one foot. Then her eyes grew as wide as ornaments. “Is it for me?”
“Gotta go,” said Bret. He yanked on one of her pigtails before trotting out of the room, a new found excitement for Christmas morning putting a merry bounce in his step.