Sunny didn't open her eyes until she was sure the voice calling her was real and not echoing in her dreams. The silhouette of her Uncle Hal disappeared in the room after he closed her bedroom door behind him.
She slowly stretched over and illuminated the room with the white lamp on her nightstand.
"Uncle Hal, what's going on? Is something the matter?" she asked even though he looked unashamedly giddy.
"No. It's Christmas day, sweetheart."
"Oh." She glanced at the glowing green numbers of a digital clock. "It's 4 A.M., though."
"I know. I have a present for you. Well, I have a few presents for you but I really wanted to give you this one. I was going to wait until five but I'm way too excited."
It wasn't until he produced a wrapped gift from behind his back that she realized he had come in with it tucked out of view. He sat the box down on the bed as if he wanted the action to transfer his excitement to her. "Merry Christmas, Sunny."
She examined it in her grip for a moment before finally tearing off the first scrap of wrapping paper.
"So, do you like it?"
"Uh…yeah," she answered, reading the word 'Barbie' on top of the vivid, pink box. "It's great. I love it."
Sunny had never seen such a vibrantly themed item. 'Barbie' was a beaming beach blonde with an outfit consisting of colors mostly from the neon side of the color spectrum.
Hal took a seat next to her, his excitement noticeably receding. "You hate it."
"No," she quickly said, "of course not. I just…don't know what to do with it. Can I take it out of the box?"
"Of course you can." He picked up the box and stared down at it. "Then, you buy her a dream house and a convertible and vicariously live through her until you can buy those things in your real life." Sunny giggled and Hal smiled at her. "Sweetie, I don't know what you do with it but it's kind of essential to have one as a little girl and I really want to do things that make you feel as normal as possible."
"I've never felt unnormal."
Behind his eyes, Hal was holding onto something. Something about her mother, something about how she spent the first few years of her life, perhaps even something about their circumstances and dealing with Dave's illness but Sunny didn't have enough time to decipher it before he successfully replaced it with the feeling he had entered the room with. "I promise your first Christmas with me and Dave is going to be the best one ever."
"The only thing I wanted for Christmas was for Dave to be okay and I got that. I don't need anything else."
He kissed her lightly on the forehead. "I know…I wanted to do this for you, though."
"Okay, Uncle Hal."
A few hours later when she entered the living room, there was a bigger wrapped present occupying a sofa cushion next to Hal. She picked it up and slid a look to him as he tried to hide the formation of a smirk behind a particularly long sip of coffee.
"What is this?" She asked.
"You'll find out when you open it."
"Should I wait for Dave to come downstairs?"
"He left out really early this morning. He didn't tell me where he was going or when he'd be back."
She sighed. "I didn't get you and Dave anything," she declared sitting down with the shiny, purple box in her lap.
Hal laughed and gently squeezed her chin between his thumb and index. "You aren't supposed to. We shower you in gifts. That's how this holiday works."
"Next year, I promise I'll get you and Dave presents."
"You have to be the only kid in the universe that doesn't want a day completely devoted to getting presents." He looked at the box in her lap and nodded at it. "How about you open that now and maybe by the time Mei Ling comes by, he'll be back."
"Mei Ling got me something too?"
"Yep. I know exactly what she got you, too. She spent a lot of time picking it out. I think you'll like it." Sunny watched Hal's face light up everytime he got to say Mei Ling's name. He was smitten with her and there wasn't a single soul who wasn't forced to notice it within a few moments of being around him.
"Did you get Mei anything?" she asked.
Hal's eyes widened slightly before he slowly nodded. "I did, actually."
"What is it?"
"Uh. Grown up gift." Each word came out almost as if they were all their very own statement but Sunny didn't explore the reaction.
"What did you get Dave?"
"Dave…he's a tough customer to buy for. He doesn't like anything and the few things in the world he does like he already owns. I gave up years ago trying."
Hal anxiously tapped the box in her lap. "Open this, already. I want to know if you like it."
"Is it another Barbie?"
"No. I'm happy to say there are no more Barbies in your immediate future."
Sunny started the unwrapping process slowly but sped it up once enough of the box was revealed to tell her what it was. "This is so cool, Uncle Hal!" She tossed the destroyed paper wrapping and immediately started into the MacBook box.
Hal wiped his brow is exaggerated relief. "Phew. At least I did something right."
Sunny carefully slide the cream white MacBook from out of the Styrofoam holders and ran her hand over the apple symbol on the top. "I love it. Thank you so much!" She suddenly threw her arms around Hal's neck. He happily caught her and landed a few kisses on her face.
"You're welcome, sweetie. I saw how much you were using mine and figured you'd love one of your own."
"It looks just like yours, too."
"I wish. You have the absolute newest model available. Don't be surprised if I want to borrow yours sometimes now."
"I don't mind, Uncle Hal. You can borrow it whenever you want."
"I know I can." He lifted the little girl into his lap and held on tight to her around the waist.
She laid her head back onto his shoulder, catching part of his stumbled cheek on hers. "Uncle Hal, what was the last present you bought Dave for Christmas?"
"The last present…" he shifted his gaze to the fireplace to think a moment. "Oh," he suddenly said, "I think it might have been the dog sled."
Sunny giggled. "Dog sled? Why would he need one of those?"
"That's right. You don't know. Well, years ago, when Dave lived in Alaska, he participated in these dog sled races. He was really into it so I figured getting him another sled would be a good idea. I spent weeks researching all these different sleds. There are literally hundreds of different kinds but I finally decided on one that I found in Maine that I felt really, really good about. I actually chose to stay in Alaska that Christmas just so I could see his face when he saw the sled I bought him. So, I have this dream gift shipped to his house and he looks at it for four seconds and says, 'I have this one.'" Hal sighed. "He never said 'Thanks for trying' or 'It's the thought that counts' or anything. That was officially the last Christmas gift I bought Dave."
"I guess he hurt your feelings."
Hal nodded. "Yeah. I guess he did. I know it wasn't intentional, though. Those are just Dave's ways. He's changed a lot over the years but for the most part, he still doesn't spend very much time sparing anyone's feelings."
When the doorbell rang, Sunny looked up at him.
"Who is that?"
"I bet it's Mei Ling."
As soon as Hal opened the door, he reached out and caught a swaying pyramid of presents out of Mei Ling's hold.
"Thanks, hon," she said before pecking him on the lips and stepping over the threshold. She smiled when she saw Sunny. "I have been running around all morning collecting presents just for you, kiddo. You have quite a haul here."
"You didn't have to get me so many presents…"
"The three that Hal have are from me. These," she said, holding up a big white gift bag, "are from your friends." She sat the bag down and took out a small, unwrapped black velvet box. "This is from Rose and Jack. Rose really wanted you to open their present first."
Sunny flipped the top up and revealed a sterling silver Victorian-era heart pendant. "It's a necklace."
Mei Ling motioned for the box and freed the pendant from it. She held it up and let it dangle off the black, satin ribbon that accompanied it.
"Oh, Sunny," she said, her hand over her heart, barely able to catch her breath, "it's absolutely beautiful. I think it might actually be a locket."
"Yeah." Mei Ling carefully felt around the edges of the trinket until she cracked it in half. She marveled at it a moment more before handing it back to Sunny. "You put a picture of yourself on one side of it and a picture of someone who means a lot to you on the other. That way, they're always with you. Here, let me put it on you."
Mei Ling slipped the ribbon over the little girl's head and took a step back to admire it. "This really makes me wish you would have opened my gifts first. I don't think I want to follow that." She looked down in the shopping back again. "So, which one you want to open next? Meryl's or Roy's?"
"I want to open your presents, Mei Ling."
"Are you sure?"
Hal placed Mei Ling's three boxes into Sunny's possession and kissed his girlfriend. "Of course she's sure," he said.
"Open the big one at the bottom, first." Mei Ling said.
Sunny did so and lifted a dark green wool coat out of the box. The length of it went to her knees and featured three large buttons down the front a shade or two lighter than the fabric.
"I hope you like it," Mei Ling started, "I saw it and thought it kind of looked like you."
Sunny put the jacket on and ran her hands over the sleeves of it. "Thank you, Mei Ling. I love it!"
Mei Ling laughed. "Well, we're one for three." She handed Sunny a second box. "I hope you like this one, too."
When Sunny got the box open, there was a red floral print dress with puff sleeves neatly folded inside.
"So…" Mei Ling said when Sunny spent a long moment in silence.
"I really like it but I don't know where I can wear it."
"Well, how about we all go out to dinner next week? You, me, Hal, and Dave. You can wear it then."
"I'd like that."
"But," Mei Ling said, giving her the last and smallest one of her gifts, "you can't wear that dress without these."
Sunny opened the box and took out the pair of black leather Mary Janes inside.
Mei Ling smiled. "Now, you don't have to wear those army boots anymore."
"Thank you so much, Mei Ling. I love everything," she said neatly refolding the coat and placing on the sofa beside her.
"Good, I'm happy." After a quick hug, Mei Ling took out another present from the gift bag. "This one is from Meryl and Johnny."
Before she could get the box open, Mei Ling's hands clasped over hers. "Sorry to stop you but I just remembered that there's a note that goes with this present." She reached into her purse and retrieved a piece of paper.
"'Sorry we couldn't be there to give you this in person," Sunny read aloud. "'We couldn't find anything so we had this made just for you. We really hope you like it and will think of us everytime you wear it. Please hug Hal, Mei Ling, and Dave for us. Love, Meryl and Johnny."
Sunny opened the lid on the box and unraveled a folded apron. It was white with a wide black font that read 'Sunny side up'. Below it was a drawn picture of a plate with two eggs done that way.
She held it up. "Look, Uncle Hal! They had it made just for me!"
Hal chuckled. "It's very nice, Sunny. We'll hang a hook in the kitchen for it later."
"Okay, kiddo," Mei Ling said, "you have one more present here from Roy."
"Can I wait until Dave gets home to open it?"
"Sure you can," Hal assured her. "I don't know when he's going to get back though."
Almost on cue, the door opened and Dave walked in.
"Merry Christmas, Dave," Mei Ling called to him as he walked past the living room.
He stopped and reluctantly looked in on them. "Merry Christmas, guys."
"Where were you?" Sunny asked.
"Around. I'm going to my room."
"Wait! Come join us."
He sighed. "I didn't get you anything, Sunny."
"So? I just want you here with us. I've been waiting all morning for you to get back."
He disappeared down the hallway. A few seconds later, Sunny heard his room door close and felt her face physically drop at the sound.
"I'm sorry, sweetie," Hal said, running his thumb along her cheek. "Maybe by the time we're having dinner, he'll come out."
Sunny looked at the shopping bag still containing Roy's gift for a moment before she grabbed it.
"Mei Ling, Uncle Hal…do you mind if I take this with me?"
"Sure. Where are you going?"
"I'll be back in a little while," she responded, intentionally not answering Hal's question.
"Hi Dave. Can I come in?"
Sunny counted Dave blinking twice before he opened his mouth to talk.
"What are you doing?"
"I still have a present left. See?" She held up the shopping bag in his eye line. "I want to open it with you."
"Sunny, you don't have to do that…"
"I want to."
Dave looked like he wanted to say something but changed his mind at the last minute, shifting to let the little girl into the room instead.
She sat down on his bed and Dave sat next to her. "So, what were you doing today when you were out?" She asked him.
Dave shrugged. "I don't know. Just thinking."
"I got a lot of really cool stuff. I wish you could have been there when I opened them."
"I wouldn't have felt right since I didn't get you anything."
"It doesn't matter. It would have been nice just to have you there."
Dave looked down at the floor for a long moment and Sunny touched his arm.
"Maybe we can try again next Christmas." She said.
"I'm not going to be around next Christmas, Sunny."
She bit her bottom lip. "Maybe Naomi was wrong. People get told all the time that they're going to live for a few months and they end up living a few more years."
"I don't think that's going to happen with me."
She reached down into the bag and took out the last gift in it. "Well, I'm happy I get to do this with you at least once then." She swiftly freed the item of it's wrapping and examined the box. "It's a digital camera."
"A very expensive digital camera." Dave corrected her when he glanced at the brand. "I guess Roy doesn't buy anyone what he wouldn't buy himself."
"I don't take a lot of pictures but I could start, I guess." She opened the box and took the sleek black device out of the factory ties and plastic. "There's a lot of buttons on this thing," she announced once she had given it a once over. "I bet I'll never use a lot of these."
"Probably not. At least you have a MacBook put all the pictures on now, though." Sunny tilted her head and smiled at him. To her surprise, he smirked back. "Hal asked me if I thought you would like it and I told him yes."
"Did you tell him to buy that toy named Barbie?"
"No. I'm afraid he didn't consult me on that." He sighed. "Speaking of Hal, he's probably going to start looking for you. I'm sure he'd like to see what Roy gave you. You should probably go back into the living room."
Something unexpectedly broke inside of Sunny in that moment. When she felt her face flush and the first trickle of tears start to roll down her cheeks, she quickly whipped them away.
"It's just not fair! It's not fair that my first Christmas with you has to be my last."
"Sunny, look, I lied. I actually do have something for you. When I found out what Hal was getting you though, I didn't think you'd want it."
She inhaled and ran her sleeve across her eyes. "Why?"
"Because it's not like your other gifts."
Dave hesitated a moment and went over to a shelf at the other side of the room. When he turned back towards Sunny, there were two dog tags hooked through a single ball chain suspended from his hand.
"I got these when I joined the Army," he started. "They put your entire identity on them--your name, blood type, any medical conditions you have…even your religion. You're supposed wear them at all times so that if something happens to you on the field, they can know who you are and how to treat you. You're almost not a person without them. After I joined FOXHOUND, though, I had to stop carrying them around on me. Having them was against regulations since no one was supposed to know who we were anyway. After Shadow Moses, a part of me disappeared with finding out who I really was and the secrets of my birth. I couldn't determine if anything about me—the food I liked, the hobbies I had--was truly my own or programmed into my genes for me to like." He looked at the tags a moment as he sat back down next to Sunny. "So, I began wearing these again. Seeing all the information on them made me feel like I was a real, accounted for person even if everything on them had been determined in a lab somewhere.
"After we destroyed the AIs, my body nearly shut down and I became really sick."
She nodded. "I remember that. Uncle Hal was really scared you might not get better. We both were."
"Between you and Hal, there was never a moment I didn't have someone hovering over me. I can remember many mornings waking up and seeing you asleep in that chair over there," he motioned to a well-worn recliner across from them, "and thinking that you were absolutely crazy for being there all night."
She smiled. "I care about you. I wanted to you to be okay."
"I know. No one's ever thought I was worth that much before and it was about that time I realized I didn't need these anymore to make me feel like a real person. I was actually someone to somebody." He looked at her. "You."
Sunny's eyes refilled with tears as she accepted the tags into her hands from him. "I haven't needed these in four months and I know I never will again. I want you to have them."
The tags looked like a rare and sacred jewel to her. "Really?"
"I can't think of another person I'd rather give them to."
"Is it okay if I put these on?"
"Sure but you don't have to wear them."
"I want to."
As Dave undid the clasp and went to put the tags around her neck, his eyes landed the pendant already taking residence there. He picked it up on his fingertips and stared at it a moment. "Wow. This is pretty incredible."
"Rose and Jack gave it to me. Mei Ling says it's a locket and that I should put a picture of someone who means a lot to me in it so that they'll always be near me."
"It's really nice." Suddenly, he handed the tags back to her. "You don't ever have to wear these, Sunny. Really, they're just cheap dog tags."
Without thinking about it, she reached up and unfastened the satin ribbon from around her neck and slipped the trinket into her pocket. She handed the tags back to Dave. "I'd rather wear these."
When they were finally hanging from her neck, she ran her thumb over the raised letters on them. "These mean so much to me, Dave I'll keep them forever. I promise." She threw a hug around him and rested her head on his wide shoulder. "Thank you so much for these."
After a brief embrace, he pulled her back arms length. "It's me who should be thanking you, Sunny."
"I really wanna go show these to Uncle Hal and Mei Ling. Will you come with me? Please?"
He nodded and got up. As he followed behind her to the door, she suddenly spun toward him, halting their steps. "What's wrong?" As a response, she held up Roy's digital camera and snapped a picture of him. "Did you just take a picture of me?"
"Yep," she said checking the results on the LCD screen on the back, "I need it."
She smiled. "The other side of my locket."
I got the idea of Snake giving Sunny something personal as opposed to something expensive a while back but didn't know what to do with it until I realized I wanted to write something Christmas-y. Certainly not my favorite thing I've ever written but it's something that's helped me get into the spirit of the holidays a bit. Maybe it'll do the same for someone out there. :) - Andi