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Wednesday Fun: A Holiday Short from S & S Author Justine Manzano

“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens . . .”

Blah blitty blah blah, that song is annoying.

It had a nice message, I guessed, but I never understood why it was considered a Christmas song. There wasn’t a single mention of Christmas or the holiday season, and yet, every year, I spent my visit to the mall hearing that song playing through the tinny speakers.

Every year, a couple of days before Christmas, I hitched a ride to the mall a couple of towns away with Nina’s parents to do whatever Christmas shopping still remained. Nina and I had already been through the customary gifts best friends got each other ages ago. There had to be something I could get her that nobody else would think of, but it wasn’t jumping out at me.

Unlike our usual trips, this year we had a couple of extra people accompanying us, one of which was the Lopez’s foster daughter, Val. Val had only been with the Lopez’s for a few months now, but she’d already found a way under my skin. She was the personification of ‘tickled pink.’ She giggled. She flounced. She wore dresses and hearts, flowers and lace. And she was immensely sparkly.

And worse, she brought her boyfriend. Adam was cool and all, but the last thing I wanted to do was listen to Val flirt her tail off. Those two were disgustingly adorable together.

After an entire floor of various shops, I dropped onto one of the benches to think. I still had an hour before I had to meet up with the rest of the Lopez shopping crew somewhere in this winter wonderland. I was trying to be happy about the holiday season. My aunt was coming into town, and we were going to have Christmas dinner at my Uncle Josh’s house, but my parents were arguing worse than ever. Dread pooled in my stomach.

I flopped back on the nearest bench and looked at the ceiling. Glistening snowflakes descended from clear cables and caught the light of multi-colored bulbs lining the ceiling. People bustled around the store, treating the world to a chorus of them calling for each other across stores. The space smelled like a mix of damp coats coming in from the rain and sample perfume spritzes. And above the screams and chatter was terrible, cliched Christmas music.

“Ugh!” I sat up in a huff to find the craft store right in front of me.

It was perfect. Nina’s cake art had gotten more impressive, but she only seemed to do it at the ice cream shop. Maybe what she needed was . . .

I rushed to the craft store with a brilliant idea in mind. Rushing through aisle after aisle of knitting supplies, fabric, and scrapbook supplies, I finally found the baking supply section. I hefted the most extensive collection of baking supplies I could handle off of the shelf, and headed toward the front of the store, to the checkout line.

“Are you sure about this?” A familiar voice spoke from the other side of the aisle.


“Well, it was your idea,” Val shot back.

“You’re the one who wants to get a gift for her,” Adam said. “I just pointed you in the right direction.” A pause. “Look. You want to impress her. This is the way to go. I’m just not sure why you’re so worried about it.”

“She’s Nina’s best friend!” Val said, and I nearly gasped. “I must at least try to win her over.” A sigh. “I want her to like me.”

“If that’s how you feel about it,” another pause, “this is your gift.”

I waited until I heard their voices fade, acutely aware of how easy it would be for them to know I’d overheard the snippet of conversation. Once they were gone, I stepped around the corner into the next aisle to see if I could figure out what they were talking about, all the while trying not to feel awful.

I had my issues with Val, and I had good reasons for it. We were fundamentally different people, and she was over-dramatic at the simplest of times. She tended to offend me at least once a day, because she didn’t think when she spoke. I wasn’t even easy to offend.

I wasn’t sure she could possibly win me over. But it was nice that she wanted to try.

The following aisle was filled with beautiful hard-backed journals with stylized text or majestic images on their covers. The lower shelves contained writing implements of all kinds, from standard stick pens to lovely gel pens, in various colors. This aisle was my dream.

If Val got me something from here, it truly would be a kind and thoughtful gift. These were a few of my favorite things.

Heart warmed, I returned to my shopping, spending the remainder of the day goofing with my friends and the Lopez’s, and finding myself much more welcoming of the whole “Christmas Spirit” thing.

All the while ignoring that Adam was the one who’d actually come up with the gift idea.

I simply remember my favorite things.

And then I don't feel so bad.

Keep an eye out for Never Say Never from Justine Manzano, June 2021

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