There was a hippo in the kitchen. No one knew how it got there, or when, but there was undeniably an enormous, sloppy, disheveled hippo in the kitchen.
“And,” I said, examining the lunch my ... [+]
Allison turned to say something to her best friend, Wendy, who was standing beside her, then froze. She was surprised to see Wendy looking down at the ground with her books pressed tightly to her chest.
Allison gave Wendy a playful push, but Wendy didn't look up.
"What's wrong, Wendy," Allison asked quietly.
Wendy shook her head, her eyes connecting with Allison's. Allison could see that Wendy's face was as dark as a cloud, with no smile in sight.
"My parents didn't give me anything to bring to the gift swap," she whispered. "They said they didn't have extra money for stuff like that."
Wendy looked around at the other students, then leaned close to Allison and said, "I'll be the only one in class who didn't bring something. I wish I could just go home."
Allison looked at Wendy, confused. "But, we weren't supposed to bring anything expensive. Just something small that didn't cost a lot of money. Remember? The teacher said not to bring anything that cost more than a dollar or two."
"I know, Allison. I told my mother that, but she got mad and said that if we can't afford to put food on the table some days, we can't waste the little we have on some silly gift just so that I can play a game at school."
Allison thought back to the last time she'd been at Wendy's house. She'd opened the refrigerator looking for something to drink, only to find that it was mostly empty.
Then she thought about the furniture in Wendy's house. It all looked old and beaten up. Once, when she'd lifted up a cushion on the couch, she'd seen a big hole on the other side of it.
"It will be okay, Wendy," Allison said. "There's still going to be a fun party, and I'll bet there'll be cake and ice cream, too! And THEN we get to have all that time off for Christmas. Come on, cheer up! We'll have a good time."
Wendy gave her a small smile, then looked away.
At that moment, a whistle blew, and the kids started walking into the school building.
***"It's time!" Allison whispered to Wendy. "Let's go sit close to the front. Save a seat for me, and I'll get our ice cream and cake."
The class had just finished lunch, and the Christmas party was about to start. Everyone either rushed to take a seat or got in line to get snacks.
A minute later, Allison slid in next to Wendy. "I got you an extra big piece of cake!" she said, smiling at her best friend.
"Thanks, Allison," Wendy said quietly, taking the plastic plate and spoon her friend held out to her.
Allison could see Wendy was sad. She wanted to cheer her up.
"Wendy, look! The teacher just hung up a picture on the wall ! We're going to play pin the tail on the Donkey! I love that game. Remember when we played it at Kaitlin's birthday party? You got the tail in the right place every time, even with the blindfold on!"
Wendy smiled as she remembered that day. Finishing her cake, she jumped to her feet. "Come on ! Let's go play!" she said.
Allison watched as Wendy pulled on the blindfold. She spun around three times, then tottered off toward the wall.
"Way to go, Wendy. You got it!" Allison cheered. She was glad her friend was happier.
Then Allison noticed her teacher glancing at her watch.
"Okay, everyone," the teacher said, clapping her hands together. "It's time for the secret gift swap! Go get your presents and put them into the bag."
All the kids went back to their desks and got the presents they'd brought to school. One by one, they dropped them into the sack the teacher was holding.
Allison looked over at Wendy. Most of the kids were smilling around the bag, eager to get started, but Wendy stood off to the side, looking down at her feet. Allison hated seeing her friend so upset. She wished there were something she could do about it. But what?
"Come on up, Allison. It's your turn," the teacher said.
Soon everyone had pulled out a gift and unwrapped it.
Allison looked down at her gift: a little glass cat that sparkled when the light hit it. She was so excited about it that she almost forgot about Wendy, who was still standing at the back of the class.
***That afternoon, as Allison and Wendy walked home from school together, Allison happily showed Wendy her gift. "Look at this, Wendy. Isn't it beautiful? I'm going to put it right on my windowsill, so the sunlight can shine through it."
Wendy looked at the little cat, longing filling her eyes. "Yes, it's really nice. You got the very best gift."
Allison grinned and continued to walk. All around them were bright-eyed, happy kids chattering about some of the fun things they might do during Christmas vacation and the presents they hoped they would get. Only Wendy didn't have much to say. Allison realized it was because she didn't expect nice gifts or fun trips this year. If her family couldn't afford a dollar or two for a gift, there wouldn't be much money for presents or to go places for Christmas this year, either.
When they got to the place in the street where they would need to go their separate ways, Allison turned to say goodbye to Wendy. Suddenly, Allison noticed how sad Wendy looked.
The two stood there quietly for a few minutes, looking at each other. Then Allison looked down at the little glass cat in her hands.
"Wendy, I want you to have this," she said.
"Oh, no. I couldn't," Wendy said. "It's yours."
Allison shook her head and placed the glass cat in Wendy's hands. "It's yours," she whipsered. Then she put her arms around her best friend and gave her a kiss.
Wendy's face lit up like the sun breaking though the clouds on a rainy day. Her eyes sparkled with happiness as she looked at Allison.
"Thank you SO much!"
Allison could not remember when she had ever seen someone look that happy. She also could not remember a time when she had felt happier than she did right then.
Wendy looked down at the cat in her hands, then up at Allison. "I wish I could give you a gift back," she said.
But Allison just smiled. "Wendy, you already have!" she said.