The Christmas Dilemma By Evelyn Murphy

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Christmas Eve. A day to relax and enjoy life… if you’ve already done all your Christmas shopping.

    Phoebe opens the door to the department store. She takes in the scent of pine. “This is perfect.” She starts to go towards a display with a large sign proclaiming, “75% OFF.” Suddenly, a crowd of people rush up to the display and grabs  every remaining object on the shelves. Then, they scatter into other parts of the store.

    “…Okay…?” Phoebe mutters to herself. She heads towards a different shelf, only to find that it’s already been picked clean. “Hm… well, I knew this would be tricky…” She scans the area. “How is everything already gone? The store opened 20 minutes ago… Oh well, I’m sure I’ll find something…”

    She continues to wander around. She walks right past an aisle with another woman in it. She’s middle-aged and by herself.

    “That dog,” the woman says to herself. “Why did it have to be my mother-in-law’s gift? I can already hear her saying, ‘Oh, Diane, I see you’re too cheap to buy me a present… again…’ I did try this year!” Like Phoebe, Diane is scanning every shelf. “I ordered that BlenderMax8000 two months ago because I knew that the stores wouldn’t have any. But that dog decided to chew it all up last night! What am I going to do?”

    She continues to examine every shelf in the aisle. Diane sighs to herself. She starts to walk out of the aisle, attempting to leave the store, but a mob of people rush through at that very moment. She’s forced to run with them. A few seconds later, Diane finds herself at the back of the store.

    “I’ve gotta get this done quickly now. I have to make Christmas Eve dinner after all.”

    “Shouldn’t you be at home then?” a young man asks, peeking through an empty shelf.

    “Of course I should be at home! But unfortunately my dog destroyed my mother-in-law’s present!” Diane spits. “Shouldn’t you be at home too?”

    “Well, yeah, but I kept saying I would buy Christmas presents later and now… here I am.” Roger laughs nervously. “I’m Roger, by the way.”

“My name is Diane. It’s nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too.” Roger spots a shiny appliance. “Hey look, a toaster!” He starts to make his way towards it, with Diane following behind him.

    “That would be great… but unfortunately, I’m not looking for a toaster.”

    “Great, because I’ll take anything.” He looks at the price tag. “On second thought, toasters are pretty overrated.” He shakes his head. “Wait… do you hear that?”

    “Hear what?”

    “That rumbling sound.”

    “Oh no, they’re coming back!” Diane declares. “Take cover!” She rushes behind the nearest shelf.

    “What?!” Although he’s confused, Roger rushes next to Diane. “What do you mean–”

    The mob–or at least a mob–comes rushing down the aisle, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

    “That’s what I meant,” Diane says.

    Among the mob is Jonas. He just realized that there’s no use in trying to find a gift like this. He parts from the mob and goes down what used to be a makeup aisle. “Is there really nothing here?” Jonas sighs. “Wow, my luck really did run out… If only that gift would arrive on time. Our first Christmas married, and this is what I do to her…”

    “To who?”

    “Ah!”

    “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” Phoebe apologizes. “I’m Phoebe.”

    “You’re totally fine. My name is Jonas.”

“Cool, but really, who are you here to find a present for?”

    “Oh,” Jonas sighs. “My wife. I ordered a gift for her online, but now it’s not going to be here until January.”

    “That’s too bad.”

    “Yeah. Christmas means a lot to her. We almost got married on Christmas, actually, but there was a massive snowstorm. So, we got married on New Year’s Day instead.”

    “Interesting.” Phoebe looks at her watch. “Oh, I’ve gotta get going.”

    “Wait, aren’t you here to get a present for someone too?”

    “Me?” Phoebe asks, motioning to herself dramatically. “No. I’m just here for some of those sweet, sweet last-minute holiday deals.” She nods to herself.

    “Wouldn’t there be more sales tomorrow? The store will be trying to get rid of their Christmas stock–”

    “No, that’s only ever for things like Christmas decorations. I’m not looking for anything actually Christmas-related.”

    “Oh, um…” Jonas is at a loss for words. “Okay…”

    “Right. I’ll be seeing you then.” With that, Phoebe exits the aisle.

    “That was… a little strange,” Jonas mutters to himself. He shakes his head. “Some people…” He continues to walk from aisle to aisle for a few more minutes, dodging the mob here and there. “Ah, this is pointless… I’ll never find anything for her. I should just call it a day and spend some time with her and– What’s that?!”

On a pedestal at the end of an aisle sits a single item. It’s a simple necklace with just one word engraved on it: “Mom.”

    “Oh, it’s perfect! We just had Jerry last month, and she’s been buying all kinds of mother memorabilia!” He sprints towards it as fast as he physically can.

    Roger and Diane are across the way from the necklace. But Roger’s the one who spots it first. “Every man for himself!” he declares, sprinting towards the speck of glimmering hope.

    “Hey!” Diane rushes after him, looking for a way to sabotage him. This gift won’t be perfect, but it will do.

    At this point, Phoebe can hear all of the commotion. She looks up and sees the necklace, closer to her than anyone else. She gasps. “The resale value of that thing is gonna be incredible!”

    All four desperate shoppers are now running towards the necklace with reckless abandon. Unfortunately, their extreme focus and lack of awareness cause them to not see each other. Causing them all to run into each other.

    “Ow!” they all cry, almost in unison.

    Jonas is the first to apologize. “Oh, sorry, I didn’t see you guys.”

    Diane is next. “I’m sorry too. I wasn’t paying attention.”

    Roger nods. “Yeah, my bad.”

    Jonas looks around. “Wait… where’d that woman go?!”

    Instinctively, Roger looks at the necklace. Or rather, where the necklace would be. “She took it!” he practically screams.

    “There she is!” Jonas shouts, pointing at Phoebe, who is now almost gone from his sight. He and the others get up and chase after her.

    “Hey! Get back here! Let’s settle this fairly or something!” Roger shouts after her.

    But just like that, Phoebe disappears around a corner.

    “It seems like this will be a bit of a challenge…” Diane figures, scouring her surroundings for any hint of Phoebe.

    “I don’t think any of us really have a choice… I mean, I’m here to buy a gift for my wife because my original gift won’t be here until January. How about you guys?” Then he adds, “Oh, and I’m Jonas, by the way.”

    “I just forgot to buy stuff,” Roger says. “It’s for this weird secret santa thing. I don’t even know why I’m going. I don’t like anyone who’s gonna be there. Also, the name’s Roger.”

Jonas nods. “How about you?”

    “I’m Diane. It’s nice to meet you. And well, I got my mother-in-law the BlenderMax8000.”

    “Woah, really?! That must have been really hard to get a hold of,” Jonas cuts in.

    “It was! I bought it off the official website. I had to wait for the exact moment the site restocked in order to buy it. I bought it two months ago and it finally came last week. But then last night, my dog destroyed it!” Diane explains again, this time even more exasperated. “He chewed it all up! My husband was the one who found it. So now I’m looking for a new one.”

    “Oh, wow. That’s awful.”

    “It is,” Diane agrees.

    “This is fun and all, but shouldn’t we be trying to find that woman?” Roger asks.

    “Her name’s Phoebe,” Jonas says. “And yes, yes we should.”

    “Did anybody see which way she went?” Diane asks, peering up and down the aisle the trio last saw Phoebe in.

    “No…”

    “Wait,” Jonas says. “She obviously went to the check-out, didn’t she?”

    Diane thinks about it. “I’m not so sure. I don’t think that necklace is enough for her.”

    “That’s a good point,” Roger says.

    “You’re right. We have to go deeper,” Jonas declares.

“Okay, let’s go already then,” Roger says, already walking towards the back of the store.

    Diane and Jonas follow him. The group heads straight to the back, keeping silent in an attempt to avoid the horde. It works.

    “We’re almost there,” Jonas whispers.

    “Shh!” Diane hushes.

    “Sorry!” Jonas whispers.

    Roger facepalms.

    Suddenly, they all hear a sort of roaring, rumbling sound.

    Diane, Jonas, and Roger look at each other. Then they make a mad dash away from the mob chasing after them. Diane hides behind a shelf. Jonas hides behind a standee of a man who looks a little too happy. Roger stands next to some mannequins and tries to blend in.

    Finally the mob passes. Roger looks around to make sure there aren’t any stragglers. Then, he sees her. Phoebe is hiding in an empty circular clothes rack. Without thinking, he starts running towards her.

    When Phoebe sees him, Roger shouts, “There she is!”

    Diane and Jonas hear Roger’s shouts and run towards him.

    Phoebe realizes how much trouble she’s about to be in and speeds up. But that doesn’t stop Jonas, Roger, or Diane. Especially not Diane. In fact, she finds speed in herself that she’s never found before. To her own surprise, she is the one who catches up to Phoebe first. With a thud, she tackles her.

“Woah! Way to go, Diane!” Roger cheers.

    “Let me go!” Phoebe whines. “I got it fair and square!”

    “No, you didn’t,” Diane asserts.

    “Yes I–”

    “Listen everyone! I have a solution that will solve everyone’s problems!” Jonas declares. “Diane, you want the necklace so that your mother-in-law isn’t rude to you, right?” Diane nods. “Roger, you want to get the necklace because you need it for a secret santa you never wanted to do.” Roger also nods. “And Phoebe… You just want something–anything–that doesn’t cost much, don’t you?” Phoebe nods vigorously. “Well, then you should all come to my Christmas party tomorrow.”

    “What? Why would I want to go to a dumb Christmas party?” Phoebe growls.

    “Let me explain. Diane, if you go, you don’t have to see your mother-in-law at all. You can even bring your husband with you.”

    “Huh…” Diane is clearly considering it.

    “If you go, Roger, you don’t have to go to your secret santa with all those people you hate.”

“I’m in,” Roger declares without a second thought.

    “And finally… Phoebe. We always have a white elephant. Just bring something in, and you’ll get one of the gifts.”

    “Really?!” Phoebe’s eyes gleam. “Can I bring in socks?”

    “Are they nice?”

    “They’re, like, Christmas-themed. Super cool.”

    Jonas narrows his eyes. “Yes… But I’m still going to check them beforehand.”

    “Okay!”

Phoebe practically throws the necklace at Jonas, who sighs with relief.

“Alright,” Jonas says, obviously relieved. “Everybody go home and have a good Christmas Eve. We’ll meet back here tomorrow at 6:00.”

With that, the group disperses. Jonas buys the necklace and goes home to have a nice dinner with his wife and son. Diane has a nice dinner too, although she’s a little crunched for time. Phoebe goes out to a nice restaurant with her friends and brags about how cool the gift she hasn’t even gotten yet is. Roger, on the other hand, has a beautiful dinner of mac-n-cheese.

The next evening, everyone meets up as planned. Jonas drives Roger, Phoebe, Diane, and Diane’s husband over to his house. There, they have dinner and play party games with some of Jonas’s family and friends. Even though nobody really got what they wanted–Jonas’s wife got an identical necklace from someone else, and the white elephant ended with Phoebe getting a pair of shoelaces–they all still got what they needed. It was a very merry Christmas indeed.


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