An Unexpected Gift 

Penny Macias

I never really cared about my birthday until 6th grade. I hated parties and large groups of people, so I never asked my parents to throw me a birthday party unlike the other kids who would hold grand parties and invite everybody in their class to come. I told my parents that I’d rather celebrate with them, which made everybody happy in the end. It changed when I first started middle school. I would see people make big posters for their friends and sing happy birthday to them in the hallways. They’d bring balloons and gifts and make a really big deal about it. For some reason, the thought of having my friends do something like that for me made me excited. 

My birthday was the day after Valentines day. Honestly, I would’ve liked it better if my birthday was on Valentines day itself, but I’ve come to think that maybe it was for the best. Like if someone’s birthday was on Christmas, you wouldn’t get twice the presents. You’d probably just get one present for both days. So, having my birthday take place after a holiday meant that I would be receiving twice the amount of treats. I was lucky if you thought about it like that. 

I made a lot of friends sixth grade year. In English class, there was this boy I sat next to named Maverick. I didn’t have many people to talk to in that class, but he was very friendly and easy to talk to. I liked talking to him because he enjoyed reading and we would talk about books together. Once, I challenged him to a read-off to see who could finish the series of The Maze Runner first. We talked often about what happened in the books and became pretty close after that. I liked having him as a friend because he too, appreciated reading. 

“Are you excited about your birthday?” my friend Shannon asked. It was about a week before my birthday, which would fall on the next Thursday. 

“Yeah,” I admitted. “I guess I am kind’ve excited.” People were already talking about receiving flowers and candy from someone they liked on Valentines day. I never really thought about that kind of thing. Valentines was more of a pre-birthday to me. A pre-celebration. I was too young to be having a boyfriend, anyway. 

After lunch ended, I told Shannon goodbye and headed to english class. What kind of gifts would I get this year? I wondered. I was thinking about what gift I would ask my parents for this year when Maverick appeared next to me. 

“Hey Penny,” Maverick greeted. “what do you want for your birthday?” “Oh, you remembered?” I asked, confused. I had probably told him but forgot. “You don’t have to get me anything.” “Aw, c’mon. At least candy or something?” He suggested. I didn’t want him to feel like he needed to buy me something, so I told him I didn’t want candy for my birthday. He dropped the subject after that, and moved on to talk about this new series of books he had been reading. I carried on without thinking about it too much. It was nice of him to care about my birthday. 

After school ended, I met up with Shannon again to go home with her. I met her outside the science room, and from there we walked to her house. As we walked up the hill she told me about her last class. 

“Y’know, Maverick asked about you today,” she told me. “he wanted to get you something for your birthday. I didn’t know what you would want.” “He asked you?” She nodded. “He asked me what I wanted during english too. I told him I didn’t want anything.” “Oh,” she huffed, continuing up the hill. “He asked me when your birthday was a little while ago, too.” “Yeah, he mentioned that today. I thought I told him.” I laughed. My legs burned as we made it up to her house. It was kind of odd that Maverick asked about me, but maybe he really just wanted to get me a present. 

“Happy Birthday Penny!” My friends exclaimed, shoving posters into my hands as well as gifts they had prepared. It was everything I had seen other groups of friends do. I was happy throughout the day, carrying a pound of gummy bears one of my friends got me and also holding posters with my name on them. People in all my classes wished me a happy birthday. I was happy people remembered. The day felt like it ended quicker than it started. I gave some of my posters to Shannon to hold as I left class. We talked about what had happened when Maverick came and stopped me. “Happy Birthday Penny,” he grinned. “I have something for you.” “Oh, you didn’t have to.” I told him, even though I was still excited that he got me something. He pulled out a white envelope and handed it to me. I thanked him and walked out of the school, smile never leaving my face. 

I excitedly pulled out the somewhat creased letter out of the envelope. It had probably been in his backpack all day. It was a folded piece of printer paper, and also a five dollar bill. “Dear Penny,” It read. “You told me not to get anything, so I decided just to give you money so you could buy something yourself. Well, I was too chicken to ask you yesterday, but I wanted to ask you if you would be my valentine. Happy birthday.” My eyes widened as I read it aloud for Shannon to hear. 

“Oh my gosh,” Shannon gasped. “Does he like you?” “I don’t know.” I confessed. My heart dropped, feeling very shocked. The happiness I felt walking out of class was now replaced with a feeling of panic. The whole situation felt like something out of a movie. I mean, who even writes letters anymore? Besides, I couldn’t even think why he would want me to be his valentine. Does he have a crush on me? I had never had someone outright tell me they liked me before. I looked at Shannon, not knowing how to reply. 

“What do I tell him?” I asked Shannon. “I don’t like him like that! What do I do?” I felt guilty having to decline his confession. “You don’t have to reply,” she told me. “but, it does take a lot of guts to make that letter and give it to you.” “That’s true,” I sighed. I stared at the letter as if it had done something wrong to me. I mean, it kinda did. 

“Maybe I should just leave the country.” “Stop being overdramatic.” Shannon rolled her eyes. “Alright, fine,” I folded the letter and put it in my back pocket. I pulled the five dollar bill out and held it up for Shannon to see. “Do you think I should give this back?” I asked her. “No, that was a gift. Keep that.” she snickered. I agreed and pocketed the money. 

I felt awkward talking to Maverick after that. I avoided talking to him in my classes and stuck myself to Shannon most of the time. I didn’t want to tell him that I didn’t like him back. I felt bad after he went out of his way to give me five dollars. Shannon would normally give me updates on him during her classes. Turns out, he would ask about me a lot in her science class. 

“It’s getting kind of annoying, honestly.” She said after a while. “He keeps asking me when you’re gonna reply. I tell him the same thing every day.”. 

“What did you tell him?” I asked. “That I didn’t know.” I don’t know either. What would I even write back to him? I thought it would be easier just to act like the whole thing didn’t even happen. Then, he wouldn’t have to be 

sad about his failed confession and I wouldn’t have to write that dreaded letter. I continued to avoid him a lot after that, hoping that everything would go as I thought. 

“Just write back to him already,” Shannon told me. “He probably already knows that you don’t like him since you waited this long to reply.” “You’re right, you’re right.” I surrendered. Probably a month had passed since my birthday. A month of avoiding Maverick. A month of avoiding his gaze in my classes. I felt guilty about having to decline his confession, but I felt even guiltier waiting this long, and poor Shannon had been listening to Maverick ask about me in science class. Maybe he did already forget about it. Now that time has passed, he might’ve had time to recover and it would hurt less if I wrote back to him now. 

I made Shannon deliver my letter the next day because I was too scared to do it myself. It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and I didn’t feel as guilty anymore. At least now he knew how I felt. We didn’t talk for a while after that. I didn’t feel anxious going to class anymore, which felt good. I was reading at the library the next time we talked. “The Hunger Games?” I looked up from my book. “I read that a little while ago, it’s pretty good.” Maverick pointed to the cover. “Don’t give me any spoilers,” I warned. “I’d be really mad if you did.” He laughed and sat down across from me. “Don’t worry, I won’t.” “Have you finished the other ones? I’m pretty sure there’s more than one.” “No, I haven’t.” He shook his head. “We should have another read-off. I’ll beat you again this time.” I told him. We laughed together and everything felt like it was normal again. I started talking to him normally in class. Even though things went back to normal, I still wondered what would’ve happened if I replied to him sooner. Would things still have ended up like this? I guess it didn’t really matter, as long as we stayed friends.