Included in A War of Gifts
by Orson Scott Card
Peter Wiggin was supposed to spend the day at the Greensboro Public Library,
working on a term paper, but he had lost interest in the project. It was two
days before Christmas, a holiday that always depressed him.
Last year he tried to get off the Christmas juggernaut. "Don't get me any gifts,"
he had said to his parents. "Put the money into mutual funds and give it to me
when I graduate."
"Christmas drives the American economy," Father said. "We have to do our
"It's not up to you what other people do and don't give you," said Mother.
"Invest your own money and don't give us gifts."
"Like that's possible," said Peter.
"We don't like your gifts anyway," said Valentine, "so you might as well."
This stung Peter. "There's nothing wrong with my gifts! You sound like I give
you used Band-aids or something."
"Your gifts always look like you bought the cheapest things on sale and then
decided after you got them home who you'd give them to."
Which exactly nailed the process Peter went through. "Gee, Valentine," said
Peter. "And everyone calls you the nice one."
"Can't you two ever stop bickering?" said Mother wistfully.
"Peace on Earth, good will toward brats," said Peter.
That was last year. He gave them the gifts he'd already bought, and he didn't
notice anybody turning them down.
But he also took Mother's advice. During the past year, Peter's investments --
anonymous investments, of course, since he was still underage -- had done
very well, and in November he sold off enough shares to pay for some nice gifts
for the family. Nobody was going to say there was anything wrong with this
year's crop. Though he couldn't spend too much, or Dad would start to get way
too curious about where Peter's money was coming from.
Since Peter was not really working on his paper, he happened to notice when
one of the girls from school sat down at a different table and spread out her
books. Since they had the same high school class, she was no doubt working
on the same assignment -- a paper on something about Rome, as if the subject
hadn't already been done to death by real scholars over the centuries. What
were high school students going to add to the sum of human knowledge about
the old empire? Peter couldn't think of a single topic that didn't bore him.
But maybe she had something interesting. What was her name? Mirabella,
that was it -- Italian for "Look! Pretty!" The name fit well enough, but
Mirabella, being sensible, had opted for the nickname Bell.