CIRCLED IN RED
The glossy photograph on the cover displayed a blurred image of twinkling lights and rich colors, much different from last year's all-text cover (an attempt to throw off the littler kids who couldn't read yet, they supposed), or the year before, which bore a vintage illustration of a Christmas morning scene. This year's cover photo was was bright, and emblazoned with tall white letters, reading, "Holiday Wishes," spread across most of the scene, and at the bottom, in small black type, was addressed to "Mr. and Mrs. Hayd or current resident, 1429 Mabel Ave..."
The boys carefully laid the catalogue on the kitchen table and chose three markers. The blue one for Micah, the red for Elliot, and two-ended black and green, one side for the notes their mother would make after they had circled their selections, and the other for the baby, who couldn't circle her own choices yet.
"Remember the deal," Micah commanded, refusing to open the pages until they agreed to move forward as planned: "one favorite per page each. We can only like three of the same in the whole book. And we never look back--only go through once."
"And no choosing before the timer runs out. Sixty full seconds for each page before we start to circle," Elliot reminded his brother of his own amendment. Micah nodded.
"Mom! We're starting! So don't come down here!"
They skipped past the first forty pages of girly stuff, princess costumes and pink play kitchens and doll dream houses, to what they wanted. Elliot flipped the timer from the Cranium game and they began. Micah wiggled in his seat, waiting anxiously to mark the nerf gun on their first page, having decided on it immediately. "Only thirteen second in," Elliot announced, smiling at his brother's unneeded haste. He went for the vintage-looking gum ball machine coin bank. Next, moon boots and rocket shoes and every size of trampoline tempted them, but they both circled a punching bag with two sets of boxing gloves. "We can both use this one, so it's good for mom," Elliot offered, hoping he hadn't used his first shared vote too soon.
On the video games page, Elliot backed down from trying to circle the same PS3 title. The seconds ticked down as he calmly watched Micah squirm, anxious to race him for it. He knew right away they shared the same favorite, and he knew too, he could beat Micah to circling it; he didn't need to watch the timer to know when he could move. The count in his head was scarily accurate. Still, he didn't want the same one enough to use one of his mutual votes, so he chose his second favorite and let Micah eagerly stare at the sand falling, and then race to select it first, beaming at his assumed win.
Micah was the next to volunteer another shared item. "This Lego Star Wars set has six ships, so we can each have three. Mark which ones you want now so we don't forget," he directed. They both circled, and then added a star by three of their favorite kits within the giant box set. It was all going perfectly.
Their third and final mutual gift wish item was the easy one, the same this year as it was every year: the swimming pool section at the back of the catalogue. They both vigorously circled the biggest option, smiling and satisfied, and were about to close the book and deliver it with the third marker to their mom upstairs, when Elliot noticed something. "Wait!" he stopped Micah's hand from shutting it closed and carefully turned the last page, revealing a category they had never seen in the book before: hatching eggs, ready to be shipped, incubated and raised. The left column contained different breeds and quantities of chicken eggs, and the right displayed options for duck and quail. But there, right in the center, were the words "OWLING KIT," and the image of a large owl egg with a box on a post.
Micah stared at the page in awe as Elliot quietly uncapped his red marker, reached up and tipped the timer over, and stared his brother in the face, counting down with the sand.