Gifts

Gifts

A Story by Katie de Lavani
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A modern tale about birthday parties and wars.

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When my mother rang, a melodious chime thrummed softly inside, her hand supporting me as I edged tentatively towards the entrance. Long jean skirt, clogs, a purple shirt spotted with a few bold flowers, was pressed against my stomach by the wrapped doll; a birthday gift for Victoria. Faultless brown hair, tall, manicured nails, the most popular girl in the third grade and queen of her insult minions. I had tried to tell my mother that Victoria and I have been at war since she accused me of destroying her nonexistent science project and then soaked my pigtails in chocolate milk, but nothing seemed to get through to her. It was her idea that a birthday party would be a perfect opportunity to “mend our friendship.” This genius plan might have actually had substance if there ever was a friendship to lay the foundations.

 

Mrs. Barna unfastened the hulking door. A huge smile picked up her face, like one would a cherished handbag while shopping as she laid eyes on me. “Alice, I’m so glad you could come!” I walked Mrs. Barna’s dogs every other day since she was always so busy working as head nurse at St. Bernards hospital. Seeing Victoria’s mother, I was sure it was she who sent my particular invitation.

 

I grinned, silently wishing to be anywhere else. Pushing my thin glasses up a petite nose, I followed Mrs. Barna into her home. I’ll pick you up at three, all right Sweetie?” called my mother.

 

“Yea, ok,” I mumbled, low as some girls were watching me enter.

 

“Call me if you need anything! I love you!”

 

I scuttled out of range from the embarrassment into the kitchen. Thick marble counter was splayed underneath an Everest of presents with extravagant wrapping paper and fountains of ribbons. Slipping my present into an unnoticeable cave, hoping to sheath the box starved of robes adorned in glamour, I gazed about. The home of grandiose was twinkling, pink and white stars on the walls, tiaras with spangling gemstones littered about. Banners hugged the ceiling and scrumptious snacks were placed in crater-like bowls inside and by the pool. Girls in their spring dresses and short sparkling skirts were chattering about all those not attending the party. Fortunately, I was not humored by being considered “officially” there, so the subject of my dorky glasses was not excluded. In fact, as soon as I had arrived, there was a wave of whispers, “…can’t believe she’s here” “who invited that?”

 

My eyes scrubbed the floor, contemplating surrender, calling my mom to pick me up. I found myself scoping for some sort of soundproof room where I could drone out the cackling for the next four hours.

 

Later as I was attempting to drink some lemonade in a dainty, self-important manner, I heard the- chit chit chit- of dog feet careening around a corner. Dotty, Brownie, and Cookie yelped with a bubbling excitement, running towards me full-on. “Aww, how are you guys?” Finally, my salvation. I knelt down to pet them and allow the puppies to give me big wet kisses. Stealthily, I slid into the closest room, a train of puppy feet scrambling after.

 

Taking no heed to which rarely-used room I had landed, I shut the door, settling down on the hardwood. “Hi, hi hi!” trying to pet three dogs with two hands. “Cookie,” I addressed the black and white Springer, “That paw feeling any better? I don’t know what you were thinking when you stepped on that bee…” I rubbed her ears. “Dots, I hope you’re eating again. Going to have to get that food into you if you want to grow taller than your sister.”

 

That was when I heard a newspaper being folded in half. My head shot up to the noise. A grand carved desk had swallowed the center of the room, spitting out a lush, dark blue rug from its stocky legs. Behind this barge, white hair was neatly combed back on a head of curious brows, overhanging a set of grinning eyes, the centerpieces for wrinkled tablecloths. Tan, the color that spoke of hours enjoyed reading or sailing in the sun lay along the contours of his face.

 

“Oh, I’m sorry sir,” I sprang up, backing up to the door.

 

His mouth was a curved pizza crust, a grin from one ear to the other as he looked down on the scene. “Oh, no no,” he chuckled. “I feel as if I’m intruding on a rather delightful time.” Brownie ran over to the man, begging to jump up on his lap. Cookie and Dotty continued to circle around me. “They seem rather taken to you,” he observed.

 

“Uh, yes sir,” I giggled as Cookie nearly knocked me over. “But, um.. I guess I should go…” twisting towards the door.

 

“You not enjoying the party?” He noticed my reluctance.

 

“I’m sure my invitation was just a courtesy,” I admitted. Mumbling, “No one likes me.”

 

The man clasped his hand on the letter pad, the shoulders of his brown jacket leaning forward to listen. “Oh?”

 

“Everyone who isn’t perfect isn’t part of their group. And everyone in the group picks on-” I stopped myself, remembering who it was I was complaining to. “Oh gosh, I’m sorry. I- I didn’t mean…” sighing.

 

His brows furrowed together. “Sorry about what, young miss?”

 

“Well, you’re Victoria’s grandfather. Aren’t you?” my words meandering out of my mouth.

 

“True,” he pursed his lips. “But that doesn’t make what you were going to tell me untrue.”

 

I paused, unsure.

 

“Oh come. All I hear about Victoria’s friends and school comes through her. Would be nice to gain another perspective on the matter.” His voice wasn’t deep and foreboding like my own grandfather’s. It was wise, bordered in a kind, inviting sincerity.

 

“Well…” and I began to tell him about Victoria’s tyrannical reign over the entire grade. Brownie ended up in a shuffled heap of brown hair on Mr. Barna’s lap. Cookie was trying to shrink to the half bread loaf size she was five months ago so she could fit on my lap, and Dotty lay sprawled out on the rug. When the topic of pranks she played on me surfaced, namely the news about the science project, his face became hard.

 

“So she never even made a science project?” He queried.

 

“No, sir. I saw her steal Robert McCarne’s plant project then push it off a table.” feeling a twinge of guilt for telling on someone else, even if she was my nemesis.

 

“Well well,” he tasted the uncovered lies, astonished. “If I was her mother, I’d certainly have quite a few words with that little one. But, as, I’m just the old ‘grandpa.’ Still… I don’t think it would be right to let her get away without a least a small chat.” He winked.

 

I opened my mouth to protest the impending doom such a ‘chat’ would bring upon me, but was interjected, “My sources will not be revealed, I assure you.”

 

“Thanks,” I told him at half volume.

 

He took a breath. “So you must be Alice, the polite young miss who walks our dogs. I’ve seen you before but, ah, my eyesight isn’t what it used to be.”

 

“Yes sir,” I answered.

 

In a brief moment of silence, my eyes took a turn about the room. Common lamps and papers were strewn about; the only notable item was a half-finished puzzle at the far end table, the tiny bits bathing in light that was galloping through the window. Peering through my old-prescription glasses, I tried to decipher what the final picture was supposed to be.

 

“That?” he followed my gaze. “Ah, I hobby of mine, though my fingers aren’t as nimble as they once were,” chuckling. “Say, young one, how much time do you have left? If you don’t wish to return to the party, I could use an extra pair of hands to piece this thing together.”

 

“My mom’s going to pick me up at three.”

 

“Three? I thought the party ended at two,” He said a bit distant, sorting through his strings of memory.

 

“My mom can’t get off work until two-thirty. She’s the head chef of L’ Sauvignon Blanc,” I told him with pride.

 

Mr. Barna repeated the restaurant’s name. “Ah… ah yes. I know that place,” he recalled. “Most delightful place for a gourmet meal. Well, very good for her. What about your father? Is he also at work?”

 

“Oh, he’s um… He’s…” words were parking themselves before they parted my lips. “He hasn’t been around for a while….”

 

“Ah, well forgive me for asking,” the grandfather quavered.

 

“Yea… He’s been overseas… in Iraq for nine months.” Thought of my absent father pulled a cord around my throat, my undisciplined emotions calling for tears like guests calling for a speech. With a stricken sigh and a sniff, “I miss him a lot.” A spot on the rug held captive my rapidly blinking eyes.

 

Mr. Barna’s countenance was wrought with regret for asking yet also trying to comfort. He opened his mouth to speak when-

 

“Dotty! Brown cakes! Cookie!... Where are those table beggars?” Victoria’s nasally voice was demanding attention from her ladies in waiting surrounding her. Mr. Barna and I exchanged glances.

 

“Cookie! Brownie!” She was stationed inches outside the office door, calling for her pets wherever they might be. “You have to see what pretty bows mummy got for you.” Lowering her voice, she explained to her minions, “They’re the cutest little dogs ever… But where are they?! You two check outside, I’ll look around here.”

 

The twins’ affirmative was barely audible compared to their sovereign’s tone. Heel clicks retreated down the hallway. Seconds later, the door opened, showcasing today’s evil, Victoria. “Grandfather, do you know-” she let into the room. Her hair thinned, mascara and lipstick donned, a fashionable ensemble of dress and accessories was accompanied by designer shoes… I didn’t know they had those in size six. Just a bit taller and she could have fit into high school, intellect not included.

 

When she spotted me conversing with her grandfather, her eyes become darts; I the target.

 

“Ah, Victoria. Please come in,” Mr. Barna voiced as if calling someone into a meeting that had already commenced. The piercing discontinued and she swiftly plastered an innocent smile on her face, though her aura persisted to sheer away any roaming happiness. The dogs sought shelter behind Mr. Barna and me. “Alice, why don’t you go enjoy some snacks.” I didn’t need a second offer for escape. As I passed Victoria on my way out, I could tell she was trying very hard not to trip me or toss a grenade or terrible insults.

 

Once out of their visible limit, I skidded outside. Then, grabbing half a handful of pretzels, I found myself gravitating towards an isolated section of the pool. The pawn waves had slinked over to this end, carrying on their half second backs the memory of their stirring origin. I sat down, plunking my feet into the cool water, allowing my thoughts wander to my dad and nibbling on my snack.

 

He would have never made me come to the party. We would have been at home, eating chocolate and peppermint ice cream, planning my next counterattack to the queen’s most recent victorious encounter. Last year, I had been the audacious icon, the rebel against the monarchy, the mastermind of sabotaging loyalties inside the palace. But when my dad left, that persona stocked with bold initiatives and secret schemes quickly faded, just like the memory of my father’s laugh as he heard me tell of Victoria trying to hide her perplexity when she was insulted beyond her comprehension. As soon as I had lost my post as leader of the rebel forces, my trusted followers were defeated en masse, their courage had failed them.

 

Not only had this year been hard on me, it was a nightmare for my mom. Juggling me, the school, and her full time job, and all the while dealing with a scraping loneliness that filled the void of her husband who was thrown into the dice edged teeth of danger every day, finding time to be with me was the task always attempted but rarely achieved. I hadn’t fully understood then. When I was eight. It was a mystery why mommy was always stressed. Why she hardly ever played with me. Why I seldom saw her laugh or have a good time. I didn’t see that it was me; the happiness of her daughter was what held her spirits above the level of collapse.

 

But I did figure something that day, my feet wading around like duck feet back and forth in the pool, the salt from twisted pretzels pricking at my tongue. I was forgetting my dad because I didn’t live in the morals and lessons he taught me. If I wanted him to thrive, his laugh tucked in my pocket, his wit up my sleeve, I would need to be myself once again, the daughter my parents had raised.

 

My foot emerged from the thick pool that stifled my movements, flicking up some water, ready for action.

 

“…can’t believe she did that! And on my birthday!” It was Victoria, coming from her ‘chat’ with Mr. Barna, gathering enough back-up dancers to confront me. I stood, facing them as they came. Seeing them, I imagined how comical they would look if they were condemned to such selfless act like selling Girl Scout cookies, my mind gearing up for battle of a returning warrior.

 

“His guys,” I greeted the horde, biting a fragment off my last pretzel.

 

What are you doing here, dork face?” Victoria commanded.

 

I took a breath, squinted my eyes slowly, turned my head a bit. “You know…” I thought aloud. “I bet if I put a match half a foot next to those curls, I’d get a pretty nice bonfire… So much hairspray in there aren’t you worried your follicles 'll die of suffocation?”

 

Four snobbish sneers and a loud scoff was the retort. A devastating blow, first blood of the match.

 

The queen came forth and kicked my shoes into the pool. I watched as my clogs sank to the bottom of the deep end, eyes narrowed. Parry! Bending down with nonchalance, I took my red plastic cup in hand, scooped up some water, and dangled it in her face. An offensive swipe to follow! “Watch yourself, witch, I know your secret!” The expected confused-yet-humored faces were spread around like candy. “A few drops of this,” I continued, “and you’ll melt like butter in a microwave. You’ll never get Toto or my little red shoes!”

 

Although it was so very tempting, I refrained from splashing the water in her face; too many biased witness around.

 

“Why don’t you just go home, weirdo?”

 

I was about to snap back when Goon number two tapped on Victoria’s shoulder. She turned away, and after a quick time-out huddle to strategize, they were back in formation.


I checked an invisible watch on my wrist, putting up a finger to signal a moment. "Wait, you still have thirty seconds left for half time."

 

“Alison,” she took on a cheeky smile, a façade of kindness, “My mom wants to you to help move something in the attic.”

 

“Hungarian peacock,” I said rolling my eyes and stalking off, my wet feet drying quickly on the sun heated pathway. The match ends in a draw. Sending me to the attic was a trap as transparent as my left glasses lens, but I was finished talking to them, I had reputations to demolish.

 

Once I arrived inside, I spotted the lunch table, Victoria’s festive birthday spot at the head. Noticing no one with a sharp eye around, I switched her drink with my cup of pool water then wrote “Happy Birthday Victoria! From:” signing a few names of her closest minions.

 

After a moment of satisfaction, I decided to venture off in search of Mrs. Barna. Problem was, the house was so large, I didn’t know where to begin. Scooping up a few more pretzels, I wandered toward the north side of the house.

 

 

I thought I might find some body bag or a hidden secret tucked in the corner of the house, but was disappointed, making my way back to the pool having only seen three bedrooms, each one more luxurious than the last, a home theatre, a play room with a miniature mahogany table and China tea set, and a few sitting rooms. As I was nearing the kitchen, I noticed a distinct lack of gossip. The music was still playing, but the girls had disappeared.

 

Quickening my pace, I checked the pool, the dining room, Victoria’s bedroom, but they were nowhere to be seen. There was a faint click in the back of my head, they all left. But where?

 

I treaded softly to Mr. Barna’s office, knocked twice.

 

After a pause, “Come in.” Mr. Barna was peering at me through his glasses. “Alice? You haven’t gone with the girls?” The aged voice was like cider, cool and calming.

 

“No sir,” my voice more confident than half an hour ago. “Actually, I didn’t find out until right now. Do you know where they went?”

 

“Well, I believe they are off on their scavenger hunt…” the grandfather unhooked his glasses and held them off to the side. “You didn’t see them leave? Such a great ruckus they made.”

 

“When Victoria sent me up to the attic, I didn’t think they would all leave, just thought they might lock me in… or-or …” wringing my hands as if nervous.

 

The grandfather set down his glasses abruptly. “She sent you up to the attic?” in profound disbelief. “That girl!”

 

“S-scavenger hunt, you say?” circling back to the subject. “Maybe I can catch up to them. Sir, do you know where an extra first clue might be?” Gripping firmly the back of an opposing chair, I was obstinate; Victoria was going down. Today. One thing I knew was that she definitely wouldn’t be expecting me to show up at the last clue before the party did.

 

 

Surrounded by my troops, Charlie, my most trusted friend and always geared for special operations against the queen, Gabriella with her uncontrollably frizzy red hair you wouldn’t expect her to be sneaking mustard packets out from the cafeteria, Elizabeth with her shy eyes that persuaded any teacher to give her just one more favor, Paul who was just outrageously gorgeous, and about four others, we splashed around in the pool and drank Shirley Temples.

 

I had called an emergency meeting to resurface the rebel forces, meeting at the Palm Springs community pool and bar, allowed in by a certain resident of the area. It turned out that Mr. Barna did not only give me the first clue to the scavenger hunt, but also the last. I had enough time while Victoria and her empty vats dawdled around the neighborhood, searching for clues that could be decoded by a second grader, to call not only my troops but also my mom. She had a special order made and sent to the pool. Pizza, grilled cheese, hot dogs, chicken tenders arrived by L’ Sauvignon Blanc delivery truck. Just a few minutes later, the birthday party’s Dominoes pizza appeared, two of which were unfortunately coated in salt. Those silly Dominoes employees were harshly reprimanded with free coupons to a gourmet restaurant.

 

Victoria’s gang arrived while my party was in full swing. She was dumbfounded, mouth agape at the crushing force of the invasion. Then, head held high, she departed the pool area with her army back to base, her house and cup of pool water. The celebration was just the continuation of a grand time at Palm Springs pool.

 

 

My mom picked me up at four thirty. Figuring that I was having such fantastic time, I extended my stay over an hour.

 

On the car ride back, I was telling her about the party. She laughed the whole way home; one of her rare sparks of joy was a waterfall of cherry sweetness. When we arrived at the front of our house, we spotted a man on the porch ringing our doorbell, a long green bag by his side. Greens and browns, a uniform, a soldier. “Mommy?” My heart quickening. “Mommy?” an elevated tone.

 

She learned forward over her steering wheel to get a better look as she was turning into the driveway. Suddenly, her hand was by her mouth. Her eyes watering. Then I looked. The man turned towards the approaching car.

 

In an instant I was out of the car, sprinting. “Daddy!” My bare feet hugged the buoyant grass as I embraced my father for a long long time.

© 2011 Katie de Lavani


Author's Note

Katie de Lavani
I was eight or nine when I rounded a corner of my backyard and saw my dad standing there with a duffel bag by his feet, the moment this is based off of.

I'm not much of one for modern stories, but I was required to write a fiction tale without extraordinary circumstances and this is how it came out. As you can see, I was a bit foolish at the pool scene but ah well.

If you could give feedback, it would be much appreciated.

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Added on May 31, 2011
Last Updated on June 10, 2011
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Katie de Lavani
Katie de Lavani

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About
Hi. Nothing much to say about me. I'm always looking for a good story in my life and sometimes base the stories I write on real life experiences. I love to read others writing to see just how horrible.. more..

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