Three gold coins. That was all. Peach counted it over and over again, but there was not much to count. Three single gold coins, and the next day was Christmas.
There was nothing that she could do except plop down on the couch and let out a long, sad sigh. How could she find something that cost only three coins that was worth giving to Mario on Christmas? There was nothing she could think of, and thus she continued to sit there, starting to sob quietly.
Mario... She and Mario had been friends and lovers for about three years now, but mere financial issues kept them from being able to go further. He worked as a humble plumber, giving as much as he earned to her as he could while keeping the rest so that he could survive. Even then, it was rough: fifty coins a job didn't add up to much when work was slow, and even when it was split fifty-fifty, twenty-five coins was hardly something to live by. It was only by forgoing as many meals as she did that she managed to save up those three gold coins. How could she possibly let Christmas pass without giving anything to the man that had given her everything?
Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Her heart skipped a beat. Mario! She quickly got up, brushed away any remaining tears and went to open the door. Sure enough, there he was, standing there in his tattered clothes, overalls worn with age. Despite all of this, he still had a smile on his face that could wipe away any sadness and gloom. He gave her a kiss on the cheek before taking off his dusty, weathered cap and bowed before her.
"Greetings, my princess," Mario began, looking up from his bow, "mind if I come in?"
Peach let out a small giggle. He always called her his princess, regardless of the fact that they were so poor. Grabbing the ends of her tattered and torn dress, she gave him a curtsy in return and let him inside. Once in, she walked into the kitchen of her small, run-down home, discretely hid the overdue bills she had lying on the counter and walked over to the refrigerator.
"Can I get you something to drink?" she asked, "Shroom Shake? Able Juice?"
In reality, she had none of these things, but it didn't concern her. His answer was the same every time.
"No thanks, I'm fine," Mario declined, "I just came to see you before I head out to work."
He walked up to her and gently caressed her face, brushing aside some of her golden locks.
"You really should have something to hold your hair back," he suggested, "it covers up your beautiful eyes."
Peach blushed at Mario's compliment. If there was one possession of hers that she could take pride in, it was her hair. Long, golden, luxurious, it was something that made many women on the streets not stare disapprovingly at her well-worn clothing but look enviously at her tresses. Hanging all the way to her lower back, there was but one thing wrong with it: with nothing to pin it back, it always fell in her face, but regardless, it was something she wouldn't trade for the world.
"I know..." Peach replied, "But with money so tight, I can't afford luxuries like hair combs. You understand, right?"
"Of course!" Mario assured, "I was just making a statement, that's all."
Now, it was Peach's turn to speak.
"Say, Mario... What time is it?"
"Time? Oh, let me check..."
Reaching into his pocket, Mario pulled out a glimmering golden watch. It was a family heirloom that was passed down from his grandfather to his father to him, and he had treasured it immensely. Its radiance shimmered whenever light was cast on it, causing virtually an entire room to be bathed in its golden glow. However, somewhere among its inheritors, the gold watch chain had been lost. Now, whenever Mario pulled it out of his pocket, he would almost always lose his grip on it and fumble around until he could claim it once again. This time was no exception, only now Peach reached out and caught it for him.
"Sorry..." Mario apologized, "I'm always a klutz with that thing."
"You should really get a watch chain for this," Peach advised, "I'm sure you wouldn't have a misadventure every time you take it out if you did."
"Yeah, and I could probably afford it if I wanted to, but if I bought one, I wouldn't have any money left to give to you," Mario explained, retrieving his pocket watch from Peach and opening it up, "I'd much rather spend money on you than myself."
Looking at the minute and hour hands within, Mario nearly did a double-take.
"Momma mia! I gotta get to work!"
He quickly closed the watch, put it back in his pocket, and gave Peach another kiss on the cheek.
"I'll be back later tonight!" Mario called out as he rushed out the door, "I'll see you then, Peach!"
"Good bye, Mario," Peach replied, waving meekly.
And with that, he was gone, and Peach was alone again. She went back into the living room and looked at her savings once again: three gold coins. It hadn't miraculously changed while she wasn't looking at it. She knew what she wanted to give him, but how could she with so little money?
Unable to stand being in her house any longer, Peach slipped on her jacket, took the three gold coins, and headed out the door.
Business had not been good for Mario. Apparently, no one had much to do with plumbers on Christmas Eve, leaving him with no work, and thus, no payment. Sighing as he closed up shop, Mario put on his overcoat and headed out into the cold.
Mushroom City was not a bad place to live, if you stayed out of the slums. However, lack of funds had left both Mario and Peach in exactly that place. Characters were shady, and the streets and buildings were hardly clean. And yet, Mario had to walk though this area to reach his home, so in he went.
Along the way, he passed by a jewelry store, at which he stopped in his walking and looked inside. Sitting right in the window was precisely what he wanted to get Peach. Right there, with only an inch or so of glass separating him from it, and yet it felt like it was a mile away. He looked at the price tag: 250 gold coins. He had hoped that he could make at least 50 or 100 coins at work, but he didn't even have that. Between him and his prize was a massive gorge, with seemingly no way for him to cross.
Glancing across the street, he noticed a pawn shop still clearly open for business. A thought came to his mind, but he quickly pushed it aside. There was no way he could... Could he?
Mario looked down and slowly brought his personal treasure, his gold watch, out of his pocket. It was the only possession he could take pride in. He couldn't give it up. How could he?
It's for Peach.
That settled it. He pulled the watch out of his pocket completely, held it tightly in his closed fist, and marched across the street into the pawn shop. The owner of the shop seemed particularly uneasy-looking, being incredibly skinny and wearing a purple shirt and overalls, but Mario had no other option. He walked up to the counter and set his watch down.
"How much for this?" Mario asked.
The shopkeeper gingerly picked the watch up and inspected it all over. He took in every minute detail, opening the watch up and checking the inside as well.
"This is an old watch, isn't it?" the trader inquired.
"From my grandfather," Mario replied.
"300 coins," the owner stated flatly, "and not a coin more."
This was his last chance to change his mind. To take his prized possession back from a man he hardly knew. To keep what he loved, but leave his loved one with nothing on Christmas.
It's for Peach.
"Sold," Mario declared, taking the coins the storekeeper offered him.
Leaving the pawn shop, Mario briskly ran back across the street to the jewelry store to get his gift for Peach.
It was worth it. She'll love this.
Peach walked through the shopping district of Mushroom City, helplessly lost in all the holiday hubbub. Sales were being run everywhere, people outside were hawking the deals they had inside, shoppers pushed and shoved their way from one huge discount to the next. And yet, despite the sales, deals, and giveaways, nothing was cheap enough to be brought with three gold coins, let alone what she wanted to give to Mario. She had seen it very early on in a specialty store, but it was much, much more than three gold coins. How could she buy something, anything, when she didn't have the money to buy with?
Feeling hopeless, she passed yet another storefront before stopping and seeing its name. 'Cute Cuts,' it was called, and it appeared to be a salon. However, what really caught her attention was the sign in the window, loudly proclaiming, 'We Buy Beautiful Hair!' Peach reflexively reached up and brushed her long hair back. Certainly her hair would be something worth selling, but how could she give it away? It was her greatest worldly possession!
It's for Mario.
Gulping and fiddling with the hem of her skirt, Peach entered the salon. Almost immediately, she was greeted by an energetic young redhead who, with hardly an introduction, whisked her away to one of the stations with much flourish and pizzazz.
"Hi there, and welcome to Cute Cuts! My name's Mona, and I'll be your stylist for today!" the redhead greeted as she swooshed a cape around Peach's neck and leaned her head back into the water basin, "So, what will it be for today? A simple wash and cut? A new color? A complete makeover, perhaps?"
"Erm..." Peach sputtered, still trying to regain her bearings as Mona began massaging shampoo into her scalp, "I noticed the sign outside that said you buy hair..."
"Oh right, we do!" Mona assured as she continued working the shampoo in, "Lots of people buy wigs, and they pay top dollar for good, healthy hair!"
"How much would my hair be worth?"
Mona paused for a moment to think the question over. Then, she washed the shampoo out of Peach's hair and started on the conditioner.
"Well, it depends on how much hair you want cut off," she explained, "and how beautiful your hair is, of course. Let's see what it looks like after I'm done here."
Eventually, Mona finished with the washing and spun Peach around so she could see herself in the mirror. Now, her hair practically glowed with a brilliance she had never seen before. She didn't get long to gawk, however, as she quickly spotted Mona in the mirror, opening and closing a pair of scissors playfully.
"Man, that is some of the greatest hair I've ever seen!" the stylist exclaimed, "So... How much you want off?"
Peach bit her lip. She knew how much she needed.
"All of it."
Mona was stunned for a moment.
"You... You sure about that? I mean, you'd get a lot of money for just half---"
"I'm sure," Peach interrupted before Mona could change her mind, "As much as can be grouped into a ponytail. If you can even get a little more, then take it."
"Wow... Do you need the money or something?"
Peach hung her head for a moment.
"Yes... Without it, I won't be able to buy my boyfriend a Christmas present."
There was a moment's silence before Mona got huge doe eyes.
"Awww! That's got to be the sweetest thing I've ever heard! Tell ya what... Technically, our policy is to just cut the hair and send ya on your way with no extra frills or anything, but just for you, I'm gonna style your hair into the cutest short cut you've ever seen! You gotta look nice for your boyfriend, after all!"
Mona spun Peach around again so she couldn't see herself in the mirror. She then leaned in real close, scissors in hand.
"You certain about this?"
Peach remained silent as she thought it over. Was she really going to do this? Give up her gorgeous locks that she held so dear?
It's for Mario.
Immediately, Mona got to work. It only took a minute before Peach felt her head lurch forward from the sudden loss of weight and Mona stood beside her holding up a two-foot-long ponytail for all to see. From there, it was another half-an-hour as the hairdresser worked around her head, taking off small snippets of hair very rapidly with her scissors. Finally, after rubbing some gel into her hair, Mona spun the chair around to reveal to Peach her new look.
"Ta-dah!" Mona announced, "Behold, the perfect pixie cut!"
Peach simply gasped at how short her hair was now. Virtually nothing seemed to hang down anymore, except for a few wisps for bangs. Instead, all her hair was soundly on top of her head, styled so that it was slightly spiky, and yet still very feminine.
"Wow..." was all Peach could say, "It's... Short..."
Mona, still beaming with pride, undid the cape and took it off.
"Looks like you got a complete makeover after all!" she teased, "And the best part of all, you get paid for it!"
She led Peach back to the register and handed her 200 gold coins, more than enough for Peach to buy Mario's gift.
"Go knock him dead, girl," Mona whispered as Peach took the money and left the salon.
Back on the streets, Peach quickly realized how cold she was now that she had no hair to keep her warm. Slightly shivering, she wondered if doing what she did was such a good idea. After all, Mario loved her long tresses.
However, when she began to feel the pings of doubt, she pulled the three gold coins out of her coat pocket, which had now grown into 203 gold coins, and remembered what she wanted to get him.
It was worth it. He'll love this.
Mario walked though the city streets as the light slowly began to fade. Holding a small, wrapped box under his arm, he kept a careful eye out, least any people of questionable merit tried to steal it from him. He was willing to protect the box with his life. After all, it was his gift to Peach.
Eventually, and not a moment too soon for him, Mario reached the small house that Peach called home. With an extra spring in his steep, he waltzed up to the front door and gently knocked. His hand was still tightly clutched around his present as he heard the door begin to unlock.
"Greetings, my princess," Mario began as soon as he heard the door open, "I come bearing... gifts..."
He stumbled as soon as he looked up at Peach and saw that her hair was... gone. Granted, she was now sporting an awfully cute pixie cut, but the long, flowing hair he was used to was no more. As he stood there, mouth agape and attempting to comprehend what was before him, he noticed that she, too, seemed rather uneasy, most likely at his reaction.
"Well..." Peach began, finally breaking the silence, "At least you can see my eyes now..."
Realizing that she was being a terrible host, Peach stepped aside and allowed Mario to enter. The entire time, he could not keep his eyes of her hair... or lack thereof.
"Mario, please..." she began, "don't look at me that way. I cut my hair and sold it because I couldn't have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It'll grow out again! Besides, you don't know what a beautiful, nice gift I've got for you."
Mario just continued to stare blankly at her. Not anger, not sadness, not even shock, but some sort of undisclosed stare that seemed to show he wasn't quite computing the situation.
"You cut your hair..." he finally blurted.
"Mario... You still love me, right? It's just hair... Right?"
Mentioning his love for her promptly knocked Mario out of his stupor, shaking his head and suddenly remembering what he had under his arm.
"Oh, of course I still love you Peach!" Mario quickly assured, "It looks great on you, and even if it didn't, that wouldn't change a thing! It's just... Well..."
Mario held out his wrapped present to her.
"Let's just say that when you open your present, you'll probably understand why I kinda did a double-take there."
Peach took the present and gently began to open it. Tearing away the wrapping paper, she then opened the box and looked inside. At first, she gave a squeal of delight before reality hit her like a ton of bricks and she went abruptly quiet. Reaching inside, he pulled out her gift: a pair of combs to help pin back her now non-existing hair. They were beautiful combs, gold with small, jade emeralds inside, the perfect match to the hair she no longer had. They were hers, but she couldn't use them now. She took the combs and held them close to her chest before looking up at Mario with a small, hopeful smile.
"Don't worry, Mario... My hair grows fast! I'll have use for these in no time!"
Suddenly, she remembered that she had a gift to give Mario! Running into the adjacent room, she came back with a similarly-wrapped box that she presented to Mario.
"Here Mario, I got a gift for you, too!" she insisted, "Open it! You'll love it!"
Mario took the box and did what she asked. Soon enough, he was reaching in and pulling out a long, golden chain.
"See?" Peach continued, "It matches your watch! Now you can check the time all you want without having to fumble with the thing by itself! Go on, put it on!"
Mario, instead of obeying, just sat down on the couch and let out a small, cheerful chuckle.
"Peach, let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs."
He reached up and caressed Peach's face again, this time not brushing any hair away.
"Merry Christmas, Peach."
She plopped down on the couch beside him and cuddled up against him, gently resting her hand in the pocket where his watch used to be.
"Merry Christmas, Mario."
The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men--who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi. – O Henry, "The Gift of the Magi"