Family Feud: The Gift Exchange
1,870 neopoints. That was all. And 50 of it had been scraped from the sidewalks of Neopia Central. Neopoints saved one at a time by arguing with the wealthy Slorg who roamed the Neopia Bazaar and by tackling the donations at the Money Tree until one's elbows burned with bruises that such tackling required. Three times Abigail counted it. 1,870 neopoints, and the next day was Christmas.
There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on her pink plastic beanbag chair and huff. So Abigail did it. Beside her was the broken game controller she had thrown at the ground in a fury the previous night after losing a game of Faerie Bubbles once again. Bronze 3rd place trophies lined the shelves, reminding Abigail once again of her incompetence.
Abigail Avinroo knew just downstairs, in the family basement, AAA was probably laughing at the fortune in his Snorkle piggy bank. No doubt the master gamer had plenty of neopoints to spare, even throw away (though it is unlikely anyone would actually throw away perfectly good neopoints). Although Abigail couldn't stand her brother at times, there was no doubt in her heart that he had bought a fantastic gift for her. It was probably wrapped up in his signature golden paper wrap, with the usual silver tag that read, From the Top Gamer in All of Neopia, Aristotle A. Avinroo.
Gift exchanges were one of the few competitions in which Abigail could actually beat her brother at. (The others included baking gingerbread cookies and singing.) Even after a year of losing and coming in second (or third) place, Abigail would regain her standing come Christmastime by presenting AAA with a gift infinitely times better than his present to her. Okay, not infinitely better, but a gift good enough that AAA's haughty smile turns into pure surprise, followed by a stammered thanks.
Every year, both siblings upped their gifts to the next level. Last Christmas, AAA had given Abigail an automated silver fountain pen that wrote in ten different colors. Abigail had given AAA a miniature play set of that year's Daily Dare, complete with replicas of Neopia's worlds. It had been a close call, but Abigail won that gift exchange (even though she cherished the pen so much she kept it locked in her safe).
Nope, Abigail wasn't about to give up so easily this year. She was going to continue gifting a better present than AAA did. But how does one do that with only 1,870 neopoints?
After AAA left for a Cellblock tournament, Abigail tiptoed downstairs and carefully opened her brother's bedroom door.. Abigail quietly examined the mess of gold trophies, medals, pristine game controllers, gaming helmets, and bags of broken neopoints. What was the one thing her brother wanted most? More importantly, could she even afford it with 1,870 neopoints? She went upstairs again, dejected.
Abigail stood by the window and looked across the yard. Her neighbor, Nigel the Chia, was shoveling the snow off his porch. A brilliant idea suddenly hit her. If anyone could offer neopoint advice, it was Nigel the stockbroker.
A few moments later, Abigail had dashed outside and stood in front of Nigel, panting, "I need your help."
"Sorry little Aisha, I'm off work for the week," the Chia replied. "It's the holidays! If you want investment tips about your stocks portfolio, I'm sure my secretary can scratch up something—"
"No, I need to know how to get the most out of 1,870 neopoints," Abigail said. "I need to gift AAA something impressive."
Nigel rubbed his chin (which was difficult, since Chias don't have chins). Like everyone else in the neighborhood, the Chia knew about the longtime rivalry between the Avinroo siblings. Competitive was an understatement.
"I'm guessing you two have a competition going on to see who can gift the better present?" finished Nigel.
Abigail pondered for a moment. That was true, but was that the whole truth? Did she only want to gift the better present? No, she wanted to gift her brother because it was the holiday thing to do. Or was the reason more innate, bred out of years of competition? She couldn't answer with certainty.
Nigel chuckled. "Well, if you must know, I talked to your brother recently," he told Abigail. "I'm trying to learn some Chia Bomber tips from him. Anyway, a few weeks ago he told me what his most prized possessions are."
Abigail's eyes shined. "What?"
It turned out the egotistical AAA had 31 prized possessions in which he took mighty pride. These included his petpet Oscillabot, his first two trophies, his 3D glasses, and his collector's edition of Dice-a-Roo. He even prized his pocket calculator. The calculator calculated the neopoint ratios for every game in Neopia, as well as kept track of his current stocks in the stock market. As Nigel put it, "Aye, it's a beaut. Imported all the way from the Virtupets Space Station, it was."
Abigail began to despair again. Even if she could afford a brand new calculator with better functions, where was she supposed to get one? She couldn't travel to the Space Station.
"But one thing he prized most was... himself," said Nigel. "Don't give me that look, that's what he said. You know how much AAA loves himself."
With a whirl, Abigail hurried down the streets. She stopped in front of the Magic Shop and stared at the starry hat-shaped building. Crowds of Neopets were gathered outside as usual, bustling to obtain one of the magic morphing potions. Being tiny enough, Abigail managed to squeeze herself through the crowd and found herself at the counter.
"Keep back please," Kauvara, the storeowner, called from behind the counter. The Kau carried several precarious looking potions in her arms, wisps of colored smoke billowing from some. "These are junk potions, a result of not following the instructions correctly."
"What do they do?" asked a nearby Lenny.
"They transform you into a blue Aisha for 24 hours. Nobody wants them, so I'm throwing them out."
"I'll take one!" quipped Abigail. "Give one to me quick."
Kauvara eyed the Aisha. "If you're seeking a transformation, I recommend my Faerie Draik Morphing Potions—" she began.
Abigail placed her bag of 1,870 neopoints on the counter. "For one of those potions," she declared resolutely. She also knew that there was no way she could afford the other morphing potions, much less a Faerie Draik one.
The next two hours were pure bliss. Abigail couldn't contain her snickers as she wrapped the gruesome potion in a beautiful sparkling box. AAA would never expect this.
Early next morning, before the sun had even risen, AAA and Abigail were beside the fireplace as was their tradition, opening presents and digging into the holiday stockings.
"The time has come, Abigail Avinroo," said AAA in his usual self-proclaimed manner. "Here is the best gift in this pile today, from the top gamer of Neopia." He handed a glittery gold box to his sister.
"Oh, we'll see about that," Abigail muttered to herself. She handed her encased morphing potion to AAA and said, "This is yours."
They both opened their presents at once.
For once, AAA was left without a comeback or remark. "An Aisha morphing potion?" he finally managed to sputter.
Abigail, too, was surprised at what she had received: a signed portrait of AAA.
For a while the room was silent. Both Neopets stared fixedly at their gifts with a peculiar expression.
"No offense, but this is anticlimactic," said Abigail. "I liked your gift wrap better than the gift itself."
"Well, I can't believe this either," answered AAA. "I read somewhere that we gift others what we want most. So obviously we both adore ourselves." He held up the Aisha morphing potion with an amused expression.
Abigail pouted. "This means neither of us won," she said.
"Won what?" repeated AAA, even though from his look it was certain he, too, had been aware of the implicit gift exchange competition that had been ongoing for years.
"Never mind. Let's just say we both won then," said Abigail.
AAA's eyebrows scrunched briefly. For the competitive Blumaroo, the concept of a truce was similar to losing.
"How much did you spend on the morphing potion?" AAA finally asked. "I thought Kauvara's was extremely expensive."
"Oh, it is," said Abigail nonchalantly.
"I spent 650,000 neopoints on this portrait," AAA said. "It was specially painted by an artist in the Art Gallery."
"And this morphing potion was made in my name," Abigail fibbed.
"That must have cost a lot then," muttered AAA. "Rats! And I thought I had spent the most."
"Neopoints don't buy everything, Aristotle," said Abigail. She put the portrait back in its bag. "Let's go help Mom bake gingerbread cookies. I bet I can make the best."
"Psh. Cookies are nothing compared to my costume for the annual holiday parade!" AAA replied as he put the morphing potion back in its box. The two siblings rushed to the kitchen, calling dibs on cherry frosting and chatting excitedly about what floats the parade will have. The two presents lay side by side in the warm glow of the fireplace.
A morphing potion and a portrait both capture the giver's essence and self-interest. Perhaps there is a moral to this story; perhaps it's simply the fact that if you buy your presents at the last minute, you will get great deals.
So you, as the reader, decide: Who won the gift exchange?