***Note: This is an unedited FIRST DRAFT of this story. You can also read it on Wattpad HERE.
Get caught up with Chapter 1 HERE:
I woke early the next morning from a mixture of holiday excitement and Sharky’s usual hogging of the bed, making me squish up into a tiny ball in the corner despite it being queen sized. On the way to the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea, I stopped to admire my Christmas tree, still twinkling in the darkness. The glow from the white LED lights strung on the branches brought a warm glow to my living room despite the feeling of emptiness. Maybe it felt that way because my family was gone, I lived alone, or simply because the room looked bare without all the gifts from last night beneath it. All that was left beneath the tree were four gifts…
I rubbed my eyes and looked again. Only four gifts…. My heart raced as I flicked on the lights and dashed across the living room. There was one gift for Mary, one for Felix (I couldn’t believe I got his name this year), one for Sharky, and the last one was a big box for my humanoid.
My gift for dad—the best gift ever—was missing!
Frantically, I searched the living room for any signs of the red wrapping paper and silver bow. When I finished up empty handed, I moved on to the kitchen and my bedroom with no success.
Somebody must have taken it home last night. There was no other explanation. I knew I hadn’t touched it since putting it back underneath the tree.
I crossed into the kitchen and put a kettle of water on the stove before opening up my sliding door to let Sharky out into my fenced back yard. I sat down at the table and composed a group text to my family.
Ivy: I’m missing a red gift with a silver ribbon. The one for Dad. Did anyone take it home by mistake?
Ivory: Oh no! Not me.
After a long string of No, Nope, and Not me’s, along with the whistling of my tea kettle, I set my phone down and poured myself a cup. How could the present just disappear?
Unless it wasn’t an accident.
Perhaps I was being sabotaged.
I tried to remember everything that happened last night, and I kept coming back to one person. My brother who loved to win.
It had to be him.
I scrolled through the long list of replies from my family, confirming Felix had denied taking the gift. My stomach tingled. I didn’t believe him. He was determined to win this year and he’d cheat if he had too, just like last year!
But what if he was innocent? I didn’t want to falsely accuse him, either. It was the holiday season and a time for family, love, and forgiveness. I needed to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Even if I knew he did it.
Luckily, I had a trip to Felix’s house planned for tonight. His wife, Faye, invited me over after work today to bake some holiday cookies. I’d search their entire house if I had to. I needed that gift. Not only was it a Spiderman action figure, it was a limited edition Spiderman from the 1967 TV series. They usually went for over a thousand dollars on eBay, and I got it for a steal. For me, it was irreplaceable. Plus, the Parade of Presents already happened, and I couldn’t switch gifts.
If that gift didn’t turn up, I was out of the running. My gifts for Felix and Mary were not strong enough to win the trophy. I rubbed a hand down my face and relooked at my text messages, identifying I hadn’t heard from Iris or my oldest sister Jeanine’s family yet. I needed to think positive. Maybe they were still sleeping and had accidentally taken my gift home. Before I did anything drastic, I needed a little patience.
But as my nieces said, waiting was so hard!
I let Sharky back in and hit the shower. I had a full day of data-entry at work today to take my mind off the missing gift.
By that evening, Iris had replied that she didn’t know where my gift went and Jeanine still didn’t respond, so I sent another text. Eventually, she got back to me saying she’d been busy and didn’t know what happened to Dad’s present. I was back to being suspicious of Felix. So much for being positive. I had no more leads. Would my family lie to me? Steal from me?
If I was going to blame Felix, I needed to be certain. I needed to make sure it wasn’t anyone else and some cookie making at Felix and Faye’s house was a good place to start. Mary, Iris, Ivy, and Jeannie were coming, too.
After a quick stop at home to take Sharky for a walk around the block, I soon found myself at Felix and Faye’s house, lifting a large wreath to knock on the door. Tucked beneath my arm were a few pieces of empty Tupperware. I didn’t eat many Christmas cookies, but my coworkers at the office devoured them like they’d grant all their Christmas wishes.
Faye opened the door with a big smile and a hug. “Thanks for coming! Iris and Ivy are already here, but Mary and Jeannie are not coming. Jeannie had to run Esme to swim team practice and Else had to get her dance outfit fitted. And Mary came down with a stomach virus!”
I swallowed. Hopefully she didn’t pick it up or spread it at my house last night. I had way too much to do than to deal with a sickness right before Christmas…unless…she was avoiding me. I had to stop my suspicious mind. These thoughts were not me—especially not around Christmas time. I had a lot going for me this year. It could turn out to be the best Christmas ever as soon as I found my perfect gift for Dad. I’d wind the Best Gift trophy back, PLUS, I’d do it all with my new humanoid companion at my side.
Almost as if Faye could read my mind as she led me back to the kitchen, she glanced over her shoulder. “Iris and Ivory were just filling me in on the details of your robot…excuse me, I mean droid.”
I was glad Dayton had prepped me for this scrutiny from my family about my decision. “He’s humanoid, actually. Designed to function very much like a human. While you and I were born, he was created. He still expresses feelings and emotions.” Sentient was the term, but I stopped myself. Dayton had prepped me that education was the key, but sometimes, less information was better than more.
Faye seemed satisfied with that explanation. “Does he have a name yet?”
“No name yet. I want something that matches his personality.”
“Personality? Don’t you pick that ahead of time?”
By now, we had joined Ivory and Iris in the kitchen. “Yes, I pick a personality, but when his personality is paired with the knowledge I give him, little nuances can happen. Nothing largly different, but enough that I’m not sure what name he should have.”
“It’s just so…different of an idea,” Faye said.
“I still think it’s brilliant,” Ivory said.
“Maybe you should get one, too,” Iris teased.
Ivory burst out in laughter. “They’re way too expensive for me! I only work part-time.”
“There’s so many single people out there. So many lonely people. All you have to do is meet the right one.”
She didn’t approve of my choice in a humanoid companion either, and it wouldn’t make anyone feel better if I argued. Iris may join in, and a too-honest sister/sister-in-law debate may ruin my eveing. Both Iris and Faye would have to meet my humanoid and form their opinions of him then. The humanoid robots I encountered when deciding to go this route were quite human like. You couldn’t tell the difference except for the glow of their eyes in the dark…and, as Dayton told me, it was against their programming to ever say I love you.
“Great party last night.” Ivory knew to change the subject. She threw her arms around me. “Thanks for always hosting the Parade of Presents. There’s no way everyone would fit in my apartment.”
“I don’t mind. The whole thing was my idea, anyway.”
Ivory smiled in a way that made me almost feel like I was looking in a mirror. “There seems to be good competition this year for the Best Gift and some easy points for all of us towards the Spoiler award.”
My stomach sank. “Unless I don’t find my gift for Dad.”
“That still didn’t turn up?” Iris’s lips twitched, then she tightened them. “How odd.” I knew that expression well—she was keeping something from me.
“Iris, what do you know?”
Her eyes darted to Faye, then back at me. “Nothing.”
“Iris. I know that look on your face. It’s the same one you had when you dated Evan McNougherty in seventh grade and didn’t tell me.”
She looked back at Faye. “It’s just that…I overheard Felix and Alex talking about secretly unwrapping your present and replacing it with something funny—liked those snakes that jump out of a can.”
I sat forward. “Do you think they took my gift?” I turned my eyes to Faye, trying to put her under a stare that’d make her tell the truth.
“I would have noticed,” Faye said. “I carried all our gifts back inside last night and only noticed the ones we came to your house with.”
“This isn’t good.” My shoulders tensed. “It went somewhere, and I need to find it.”
“Maybe you can just buy another one and return it when the other gift shows up,” Ivory suggested.
“It’s not that easy. It was one of a kind…” My voice trailed off. It wasn’t one of a kind, just rare and expensive. My mind reached back to a thought planted there a few days ago at Dream Droids. Dayton had said Comic-Con had lots of items like the Spiderman action figure. He said some of them were cheap, too. Maybe I could replace Dad’s gift. I hated to spend the money, but with Comic-Con only in town this weekend, that was my best choice.
Sure, if I was lucky enough to find another 1967 Spiderman action figure, I wouldn’t be able to return it, but I could resell it…for more than I paid for it, I’m sure. At least I’d have something…and whoever took Dad’s gift would be shocked that I pulled through, anyway. All of a sudden, the gray cloud that lingered over my head disappeared.
“So…” Ivory pulled a large mixing bowl covered in plastic wrap out of the refrigerator. “Tell us about your humanoid. You have to know something about him. Did you design how he looks yet?”
I shook my head, but dug through the image I had created in my mind. “Not quite, but I have a pretty good idea of what I’d like. He’ll have beautiful blue eyes and dark blond hair.”
“Dark blond?” Iris said. “That’s more Ivory’s type. I thought you liked the tall, dark, and handsome type.”
“I like tall, but dark and handsome are not necessary. In fact, I kinda like the nerdy guy…” I raised my eyebrow at her. “Why?”
She continued, “It’s just that Niles had nearly black hair.”
It’d been three years, why did his name keep coming up? Probably because I wasn’t quite over it—nobody was. He was the man who broke my heart. Not just broke it, but cut it into tiny pieces and stomped on it, washing each piece away until they were irretrievable. “Niles wasn’t perfect.” At least I knew he wasn’t anymore. At the time, I worshipped him. I gave all of me into our relationship.
“Sorry,” Iris said, handing me a big pile of cut-out cookie dough. “I didn’t mean to bring him up. Tell me more about your humanoid.”
The moment was ruined. Every time I looked into my mind for the image of the man I created, a picture of Niles replaced it. It wasn’t even the good times I remembered, it was that cold look on his face when I confronted him about the affair he had with his secretary. Of the way he twisted it, telling me it was my fault he cheated.
“I think I’m going to keep it a surprise.” I tried to brighten my eyes. “You’ll get to meet him in a few weeks. He’ll be done by Christmas.”
“Really?” Faye asked, rolling out her dough. “By Christmas? I can’t wait.”
“I’m so happy for you,” Iris said.
“What?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Maybe she wasn’t judging me.
“I know this is a hard thing to do, but you’ve been alone for three years. I doubt he’s just a rebound guy after so long, but even if he is, he’ll get you back on your feet.”
“He’s not a rebound guy!” I snapped. Maybe it was the missing gift, the hope Iris understood, or maybe the constant battle I felt with my family about this decision, but I couldn’t hold back anymore. “It’s true Niles broke my heart, but I did love him. I loved him for nearly ten years. He’s been out of my life for three now, and I’m over it. I just don’t ever want to experience that pain again. If it wasn’t for the option of a humanoid, I’d be happy to live alone the rest of my life. Just me and Sharky.”
Ivory placed a hand on my upper arm and gave it a rub. Iris and Faye exchanged glances, then went back to rolling out their cookie dough. I focused on my own lump of flour, sugar, and butter, beating it flat and rolling it out with a little more force than what was needed.
Once it was an overly thin mess stuck to the table, Iris looked to me. “Feel better now?”
I looked down at the dough and laughed. I followed my chuckle with a deep breath. “Much better. Thank you.”
She smiled at me, and I scrapped the dough off the table and reformed it into a ball.
The next few hours flew by as we baked and decorated six dozen or more cut-out cookies. When I left, I was quite certain that Iris, Ivory, and Faye were not my gift napping culprits, but I hadn’t ruled out Felix. When I had made a bathroom break, my eyes wandered their house the best I could for any signs of the red wrapping paper or silver ribbon, but I only came back empty-handed.
Sharky greeted me at the door.
“Wanna go outside?”
He jumped up and down, which for a massive, one-hundred-thirty pound Great Dane is a sight to see. I opened up my kitchen’s sliding back door and let him out. After placing the cookies on the counter, I walked around my house searching for my dad’s gift while waiting for Sharky to bark to come back in.
As I wondered through the spare bedroom that I had set up for my humanoid, relooked under the tree, and even dug in my kitchen cabinets. I would feel foolish if it was my fault I couldn’t find the gift. As soon as I finished checking under my bathroom sink, Sharky barked to come back inside and we headed off to bed.
Tomorrow, I’d head to Comic-Con and try to find another gift for Dad. I was more determined than ever to win the trophy back this year, no matter who was setting me up for failure.
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