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Merry Money

Christmas, 2019 

“How is it December 2nd already?!” asked an exasperated Alana.

After a group dinner Cassie, Alana, and Ellie dragged their feet back into the subway to their respective homes. Once a month, the trio would try to reunite between their busy work schedules to talk, laugh, and reconnect. An attempt to balance between the responsibilities that come with adult life and recreation that can only come from the comradery of girlfriends.

While waiting for the train to arrive, Cassie asked, “We’re meeting up again on the 22nd, yeah? We can do the gift exchange then.”

“Speaking of gift exchanges… do you guys have any idea what to get each other?” inquired Ellie, who desperately hoped to find solace in the idea that they all may be lost when it came to what to get the other.

“Yeah, I’ve got both of your gifts together for the most part. The rest are coming in the mail,” replied Alana eagerly.

It didn’t shock Cassie or Ellie that Alana had everything prepared months before December. Alana had always been the most organized person in the group. For whatever task at hand, there was always a list nearby. She also gave the best gifts. This only further stressed Ellie out.

“I haven’t yet…we can always do wish lists if it would be more helpful?” expressed Cassie, as the three found spots to sit on the train. “I know it would be helpful for me”.

Ellie and Alana didn’t give the most encouraging response to this idea. Sure, a wish list would be helpful, they explained, but good gifts are thoughtful ones. Thoughtful gifts don’t usually come from wish lists. As their stop pulled up the three girls agreed to not use wish lists to solve their gift-giving woes.

**

December 18th, 2019

“WELCOME TO THE WONDERFULLY WONDEROUS WINTER WONDERLAND STORE!” Yelled a greeter in front of the store doors. Ellie had heard of the store on the news during the annual walkthrough of the local Christmas Market.

As the two entered the store, they were welcomed with the sounds of jingle bells and, what seemed to be the forced smiling faces of the workers there. “Tight”, “loud”, and “uncomfortable”, were the words that came into Ellie’s mind when she saw the uniforms the workers had to wear. The women had on red dresses that were well fitted at the top but took the shape of an old-fashioned bell at the skirts. The men wore red and white striped tights underneath a pair of green overalls that when looked at closely had musical notes and a trail of reindeer pictures etched onto the belt.  When Ellie looked over at Marcus to gauge his reaction to the outfits she saw her brother politely smile at the workers. She knew it was a smile of pity.

The store itself could only be described as what the inside of Mr. and Mrs. Claus’ house must be like. The inner walls were painted in ruby red with white trimmings along the border. Train tracks zig-zagged across the rooms. Traditional trains that reminded Ellie and her brother of “Thomas the Tank Engine” chugged past the costumers. At the far-right side of the store, the wall was covered with a painting of reindeers pulling a very jolly Santa in his sleigh, who was ready to embark on the night’s journey of delivering presents to all the good children of the world.

Andy Williams’ It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year filled the store only to be combatted by the sound of jingle bells. Some were attached to the door and would jingle every time the greeter opened it. Others were hung on hooks in areas of the store that kept locked items. When a customer wanted to look at or purchase the item, they would take the bells off the hook, and shake them, so to alert the workers, or “elves”, that assistance was needed. 

“Ok, so let me get this straight, you’re in this store – a store that looks like the fever dream of a Christmas fanatic – to find a third gift for Cassie and Alana???” asked Marcus.

“Yeah, we don’t do just one gift. We usually give like 3 gifts in that one gift. Like last year Alana gave me a book, a mug, and a sweater from The Bay”, Ellie explained to her brother as the two worked their way past the stuffed animal’s section.

Although he admired his sister her friends’ gift-giving capabilities, Marcus did not want to be in Ellie’s shoes. It sounded fun, opening all these presents from your closest friends, but anxiety-inducing to get there. “The three of you are inviting stress into your lives with all of this” he whispered to himself.

**

December 19th, 2009

It was the first day since the start of the winter break, which also meant that Alana and Cassie would go over to Ellie’s house for their third annual Christmas get together. The girls started this little event for themselves in the 6th grade and it always brought a feeling of excitement once December 1st rolled in.

The event was fairly simple: Alana and Cassie would come over Ellie’s house, decorate a gingerbread house, watch Christmas movies, eat, and play board games. Ellie’s house would be filled with high pitched voices of the girls exchanging rumors they heard in the school, or what they hoped would happen in the New Years. The conversations would go on for ages, so much so that more times than not the girls would not be able to do everything on their to-do list.

Alana would bring ingredients for her mom’s chocolate fudge cake that the girls would attempt to make while Cassie came with a board game or two. She was the third of five kids in her house and so the family had collected quite a few board games over the years. By the end of the day, the girls were sitting on the living room floor surrounded by baked goods and salty snacks, sometimes laughing over a shared memory, other times in silence, enjoying each other’s presence.  

**

December 18th, 2019 

“Oh! How about this! Cassie used to love the Nutcracker when we were kids!” motioned Ellie towards a ballerina statue. A traditional one, with a pink tutu and a high, tight, blond bun, in a pirouette stance.

“How much is it?” asked Marcus with a cocked eyebrow. Unimpressed with his arms crossed, he was willing to believe that the jingle bells themselves probably cost $25 before taxes.

Turning the statue over and looking at the base, Ellie read “$65”. Resigned, Ellie recounted the price to her brother who then swiftly took the statue out of her hand, placed it back on to the shelf and guided his sister away from the area.

Whimpering, Ellie felt her heart sink to her feet. It was December 18th and she still needed to find another gift for both the Cassie and Alana.

Understanding his sister’s dilemma, Marcus reminded her that she had already spent close to $200 on gifts for her two friends, their parents, and himself, despite there being more gifts to purchase for her acquaintances.

**

Uncertainty. That was the feeling that overwhelmed Cassie as she sat on a crowded train heading home from Yorkdale mall. While at the mall, Cassie came across a display of artwork, all handmade, while at the mall. Some were placed on easels, while others were placed on tables that were draped with black table cloths. At the center was the artist of all of the pieces sitting at a small desk that had an album filled with more designs that he could do, in case someone wanted to order one.

She had gotten Alana a Disney Trivia board game and a Harry Potter Goblet of Fire book – her favourite in the series. With little idea as to what to get Ellie and Alana and entranced by the vibrant colours some of the pieces displayed, Cassie found herself walking towards the stand. “At the very least, maybe I’ll find something that sparks an idea that’ll lead me to a gift,” she thought to herself.

An outline of Audrey Hepburn from the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s caught Ellie’s eye at first. The outline was placed in the center of the painting, with high-end stores like Tiffany’s in the backdrop. It reminded Cassie of a quick sketch that could be found in a fashion designer’s sketchbook.  As her eyes looked over the painting Cassie’s eyes landed on the price tag. $300, before taxes. “$300,” she thought to herself. The painting was beautiful but not worth $300. She quickly turned around, her eyes looking for smaller art pieces that would hopefully be $100 or less.

At the very end of one of the tables, she found a medium-sized watercolour painting of the Eiffel Tower. It glowed a warm yellow in the middle of a grey, rainy Paris. Little figures of men and women could be seen on the foreground of the painting carrying umbrellas. There was something tranquil about the painting and Cassie immediately thought of Ellie. She always wanted to travel and loved French artists like Edith Pilaf. Before she could get excited over this gift Ellie looked immediately for the price tag. $60. “$60, I can do,” she said to herself.

Relieved, she walked over to the artist and told him that she wanted to make a purchase. Money exchanged and with a smile on her face, Cassie walked away from the display and towards the nearest subway station. This feeling of relief quickly washed away and was replaced by anxiety, “Is this good enough?” she asked herself.

**

Ellie and Marcus were about to head out of the store when a gold box caught her eye. Rushing towards it, Ellie picked it up and opened its lid to find 3 compartments. “This would be perfect for Alana,” Ellie thought. Alana found herself watching one makeup tutorial and ended up down a rabbit hole of purchases involving eyeshadow pallets, liquid lipstick, and eyeliner. With all her purchases she was bound to need a place to organize it.

“How much is it?” Marcus called from behind her.

She closed the box, checked the back of it, and found the price tag. $60, it read.

Without saying a word, she turned back, with a drained expression on her face, her brother didn’t need to hear the answer.

A deep sigh came out of Marcus as he looked at his sister.

It was then that Ellie felt something tick in her head. Like an alarm clock that rang when her feeling of frustration hit its peak. Cursing herself for waiting so long to get Cassie and Alana their gifts and annoyed over the prices of the items in the store, her goal of getting the perfect gift went on the window. The new goal was simple: simply find gift.

“Look, I need to get one main gift for each of them. I’ve only gotten side gifts so far, and if I were to get anything from Amazon, it would come after the 22nd. So, I’m just going to get it,” she explained to her brother as she grabbed the box in one hand and walked towards the area of the store that had the ballerina. “And I’m getting this too!” she yelled over her shoulder.

Seeing how exhausted his sister became and growing tired of the Christmas music and the “fluff” that the store, Marcus had no energy to protest. Instead, he just watched Ellie march to the cash register.

“Your total is $124.30,” reported the cash register, who was dressed up in bright green overalls, with white and red pinstriped shirt and matching tights.

“Debit please” Ellie muttered as she grabbed her debit card.

“HAVE A MERRY CHRISTMAS!” yelled the greeter as she opened the door for the two.

And with that, a very tired, irritated, Ellie walked out of the store with her brother and presents in tow.

Author

Merry Money