“Oh, it’s beautiful! Thank you girls so much for this thoughtful gift,” drawled the teen songstress known as X-travagant.
“We pooled our money for six months to get it for you,” said the awe-struck president of the Sacramento chapter of X-travagant Fan Club International. “We wanted to give you something really special for your Christmas concert.”
“I will treasure it always,” replied X-travagant as she bobbed her head. Her iconic glitter wig sent light sparking in a reflected fireworks display.
“Could we take a picture of you wearing it?” asked one of the other girls in the group, as she raised her camera.
When X-travagant hesitated, her manager jumped in.
“That’s a great idea. The girls should have a memento of their hard work.” She smiled as X-travagant threw her a sideways look.
“Right. I’ll just slip it on for a moment,” growled the singer. “Wouldn’t want to mess it up with makeup and stuff.”
Within the hour, photos of X-travagant in her new chartreuse sweater hit the Internet as several of the girls posted it to their various social networking sites. Electronic entertainment magazines picked up the story of the devoted fans and their visit to the singer almost immediately. The story went viral when one of the girls posted a poor quality video of the encounter, taken surreptitiously with her cell phone, to a popular video sharing website.
“Get rid of this hideous thing!” shrieked Brenda Kay Wigginsworth, aka X-travagant, the next morning. She balled up the offending garment and hurled it at the perky reporter on the television set. “This is the most disgusting shade of green I’ve seen since my rotten little brother had diarrhea in his diaper! Throw it out.”
“Now, Bren, that’s not a good idea. You know how the media picks through your garbage.” Manager Charlotte Griffin tried to be the voice of reason. “How would that look, to see a story on the front page about how you threw out the gift those kids worked so hard to give you? Think what that would do to your image.” She handed Wigginsworth a bottle of chilled mineral water.
“Forget the image. This is a lousy &^%#*@-ing color. And now the whole world has seen me looking like a green-skinned Martian. I want it as gone as your ex-husband!” She slammed the plastic bottle of water on the coffee table.
Charlotte sighed. “I’ll think of something. Just don’t do anything you’ll regret.”
She scooped up the sweater from its landing place on the floor and headed out of the star’s suite. This was one of those days when she questioned her sanity for putting up with the tantrum-prone teen.
“The money is good. The money is good. The money is good,” she mumbled to herself as she headed to her own room. Somehow the mantra seemed less satisfactory this time.
By morning, Charlotte had formulated what she considered a winning idea. She presented it to Brenda over brunch.
“We have the sweater framed in a display for your trophy room. Picture it flanked by your platinum awards and that plaque from the children’s hospital you visited. We’ll put a little sign on it, identifying it as a gift from the devoted fans of the Sacramento chapter of your fan club. You’ll never have to wear it again and your fans will be flattered that you thought so much of their gift. It’s a perfect solution.”
“No way! What part of ‘get rid of it’ don’t you understand?” Brenda’s voice rose with each staccato word until she was shrieking.
“Honey, be realistic. You shouldn’t risk offending the fan club members by discarding a gift. Those girls put a lot of thought and effort into getting you that sweater. Think about it – your first single was ‘Green Cardigan.’ Maybe it didn’t go platinum for you, but it gained you a lot of fans and made a lot of money. This sweater honors that record. Put it up on the wall and let it be a trophy. You don’t have to wear it.”
“I don’t want the thing in my house, in any way, shape or form!” screamed Brenda. “I hate it and I don’t have to keep it if I don’t want to. Just get rid of it!”
“Okay, okay,” sighed Charlotte. “I’ll think of something by the time we get back to LA.”
Charlotte mentally cursed the day she accepted the job with X-travagant as she packed up the soft green sweater. At the same time, she wished she were a size 2, like the young diva, instead of her more mature 10-then she’d take the sweater herself. A quick check in the mirror last night had confirmed the color was great against her skin. Too bad it wouldn’t fit her. Even after spending a week stuffed down in the pocket of a suitcase, the sweater looked great and felt even better. That spoiled little witch didn’t deserve anything so nice!
The plain fact was, success had turned a talented little girl into a first class pain in the derriere. She was rude, arrogant and inconsiderate. Her wasteful habits were becoming standard fare for the tabloids. Hair stylists hated trying to recreate the “glitter wig” style for their young clients. Sweet little Brenda was doing everything she could to live up to her stage name, and she was succeeding very well.
Charlotte sighed. How could she dispose of the sweater without letting the fans know about it? She paced the indoor track in X-travagant’s exercise room as ideas rose in her mind, only to be shot down by practical considerations.
Then one idea took hold. No matter how she considered the plan, it seemed doable. She would send the sweater to her sister in Chicago and ask her to give it to some charitable organization. There wouldn’t be any ties to Brenda or her fans, and someone who needed a sweater could get one. Yes!!
Catherine Mason barely concealed her anticipation as she opened the box from LA. Charlotte often sent what she called “love bundles” to her younger sister. Since Char had great taste, Cat always received a delightful surprise, and always things she couldn’t afford for herself on a student’s budget.
First out of the box came a soft plaid wool scarf in her favorite colors, sky blue and tan. It would look perfect with the tan jacket Cat favored for commuting to and from class on the train. Yep, that was Char all the way-beauty and quality together.
Next Cat found several pair of thermal socks decorated in fun patterns. How on earth did Char find all these great winter things when she lived in sunny LA?
The last item, a green sweater wrapped in a plastic bag, had a note attached.
“Cat, I need a favor. Please stick this into a charity collection box near you. It can’t be seen in LA. Hope you enjoy the scarf and socks ~ Love, Char”
“Well, that’s an interesting turn of events,” laughed Cat. “How mysterious! Char needs a favor from me? No problem!” Cat looked at the size on the label of the sweater. Pity, it was too small for her. Oh, well…
Cat pulled out her cell phone and sent a text message: Pkg arrivd, luv the gifts, Thx, Will take care of the other-Love, Cat.”
She stuffed the sweater into her backpack. There was a collection box for a battered women’s shelter on her way to the train. She’d drop it there tomorrow.
Snow had drifted into the collection box, and most of the contents were wet when Bella Adamson came to collect the donations. They would have to hang the garments around the back of the resale shop until they dried. A few items had stayed dry, wrapped in plastic bags. Those could be evaluated and tagged for the racks a little quicker, if they didn’t need laundering or repair. This time of year brought a lot of shoppers into the little shop and keeping the store filled with saleable items was a challenge.
“Well, ladies, we have some work to do,” Bella called out as she dragged the first load into the workspace in back of the store. Two women hurried over at the sound of her voice and helped her finish unloading the shelter’s van in short order. Marie Carney began sorting through the donations and putting them into piles in bins labeled “Ready to Price,” “Laundry,” “Repair” and “Recycle.”
“Oh, my, look at this beautiful sweater,” she gasped, as she pulled the plastic wrapping from a soft, green cardigan. “It doesn’t look like it’s ever been worn.”
“Wow, that’s a nice one,” agreed another worker. “I’ll bet that will go fast.”
“If it even makes it out front!” exclaimed Tracy Norman. “That looks like it would fit my daughter. I haven’t gotten her Christmas gift yet. That sweater would look great on her. Have you priced it yet?” One of the perks of working at the store was seeing the best items before they went out on the floor. To a single woman trying to rebuild her life, little benefits meant a lot.
Marie cocked her head in thought.
“Well, it looks expensive and it’s in mint condition. I’d say it’s bound for the $10.00 rack,” she said.
“Sold!” yelled Tracy, afraid someone else would try to buy the sweater. Marie smiled and handed the garment to Tracy.
“Here you go, Tracy. I hope Sandy enjoys it.”
Christmas morning dawned cold and clear, with the sun reflecting on the snow cover in a brilliant sparkling display.
Sandy was awake before her mother called, but didn’t want to leave the warmth of her nest of blankets. When she couldn’t put it off any longer, she reached a tentative hand under the covers for her flannel robe. The mound beneath the blankets writhed as she slid it over her arms. Socked feet maneuvered out from under the edge of the covers and into a pair of fuzzy slippers. Sandy finally slipped the rest of the way out of the bed and made her way into the kitchen.
“Merry Christmas, Mom,” she said as she kissed Tracy on the cheek.
“Merry Christmas, sweetie,” replied Tracy, as she poured up two mugs of cocoa.
Sandy shuffled over to little plastic Christmas tree on the counter and plugged it in. The string of lights wrapped around the tree blinked in time to a canned Christmas song within the base. That’s when she noticed the three packages behind the tree.
“Hey, Mom, where’d this stuff come from?” asked Sandy.
“I’m sure you’ve heard about this guy, Santa Claus, who brings Christmas gifts to good children,” said Tracy. “I’d say you must have been good this year.” She buried her face in the mug of cocoa to hide her smile.
“Yeah, right, I’m sure!” Sandy wasn’t amused. “I’m a little too old for him to be dropping by, Mom. Really, where did it come from?”
“Just a little gift from me to you,” Tracy answered. “Nothing extravagant, just a little something to let you know I love you.”
“I already know that, Mom. You shouldn’t have spent the money.”
“I didn’t spend very much. Just enjoy the gifts, okay? I wanted to have something for you. It made me happy to be able to do it. Besides, God provided the gifts.”
Sandy saw the earnest love expressed on her mother’s face. She felt ashamed of herself for her attitude. She ran from the kitchen back to her bed where she pulled a flat package from between the mattress and box springs.
Tracy watched her barely-a-teenager come back into the kitchen with a brightly wrapped package. She accepted it from Sandy’s hand with a whispered “Thank you.” She slid one fingernail under the edge of the paper and worked it loose from its cellophane tape, piece by piece, until she could free the contents.
A colored pencil drawing of a dew-kissed rose in shades of pink and peach greeted her. Around the flower scrolled the words “Merry Christmas to the Best Mom in the World! I Love You!” In the lower corner were the initials “SN” and the date.
“Sandy, this is gorgeous. Did you draw this yourself?” Tracy was fighting tears.
“Well, I had a photograph for a model so I could get the proportions right, but I did it all myself. I made the frame from cardboard because I couldn’t afford to buy one, but maybe I can get a real one for your birthday or Mother’s Day.”
“I wouldn’t change a thing about it, baby. It’s perfect just like it is. Why don’t you open your gifts now?”
Tracy handed her a small package which Sandy unwrapped to find a used paperback by her favorite author. The second gift was a tube of flavored lip gloss in an unobtrusive shade. After appropriate oohs and ahhs, Sandy came to the big package.
“Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh,” she gushed when the sweater was revealed. “Mom, this is amazing! Do you know what this is? This is the same kind of sweater that some California fan club gave to X-travagant! I have a sweater just like my favorite singer. I’m so happy I could just die.” Sandy danced around the room in a frenzy of joy.
“Me, too, baby. Me, too. Merry Christmas, baby,” whispered Tracy. “And thank you, Lord, for letting me give my girl something as dear to her as her gift is to me.”