From Chicken Soup for the Sister's Soul

A Gift of Love

To be my best I need you swimming beside me.

Mariah Burton Nelson

“It’s time,” my sister whispered, and I was instantly awake, my heart pounding frantically in my chest. It was 4:00 A.M., and I wondered how I could have ever slept so late. After all, it was Christmas morning. I should have been awake hours ago.

We crept down the hall as quickly as we could. In the back of the house, our parents slept peacefully. I had been waiting for this day all year, marking off the days on my calendar as they passed, one by one. I had watched every Christmas special on TV, from Charlie Brown to Rudolph, and now that Christmas morning was finally here, I could hardly contain myself. I wanted to laugh, I wanted to play and, perhaps most of all, I wanted to rip open my presents.

As we approached the den, my sister put a single finger to her lips and whispered, “Santa might still be here.” I nodded in complete understanding. At six, I knew all about Santa and his magic. At eleven, my sister was trying to give me my dream.

When we finally walked into the den, my first instinct was to rush toward the presents that were stacked oh-so-carefully around the room, but something made me hesitate. Instead of rushing forward, I stared in wonder at the room, wanting this single moment to last as long as it could. My sister stood quietly beside me, and we stared at the beautiful tree that we had decorated together weeks before. The lights shimmered, the ornaments sparkled, and our golden angel sat just slightly off-center on the top of the tree. It was the most perfect sight I’d ever seen.

On a nearby table, the cookies that we’d left for Santa were gone, and a small note read, “Thank you. Merry Christmas!”

My eyes widened in amazement at the note, for I was sure that I had finally found real proof of the jolly man’s existence. Yet before I could truly marvel over the letter, my sister was handing me a small package. “It’s from me,” she whispered with a shy smile.

With trembling fingers, I slowly opened the package, carefully preserving the green bow. Inside, I found my sister’s favorite necklace. It was a small heart on a golden chain. She had received the present from our grandfather two years before. My eyes filled at the sight. Santa’s note was forgotten.

She put her arm around me. “He was going to give you one this year, but—” she stopped, and carefully wiped her eyes, “he just did not get a chance.” He had died on Easter morning—the heart attack had been a harsh shock to our family. Our mother still cried quietly when she thought no one was watching. My sister squared her slender shoulders with a brave air. “So, I thought you might like to have mine.”

I held the necklace as if it were made of the finest gold in the world. It seemed to shine even brighter than the lights on our tree.

“Let me help you,” she said as she moved to put the necklace around my neck.

The small heart felt warm against my skin, almost like it was alive. In my mind, I could see my grandfather. He’d loved Christmas, and he had always given each of us a special surprise on Christmas day.

“Consider this his surprise,” my sister told me as if she’d read my mind.

I grabbed her hand and held onto her with all of the strength that I possessed.

When our parents finally made their way into the den two hours later, they saw a beautiful Christmas tree, a dozen unopened gifts, and two sisters holding each other tight.

Cindy Beck

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