Sugarplum Snowballs

by China DeSpain

Noelle pressed her palm to the cafe’s windowpane and frost crackled across the glass in lacy patterns. Delicate, shimmering icicles developed along the overhang in front of Vine and Bean, and with a satisfied smile, she slipped inside.

The fire in the lounge crackled merrily, snapping and hopping along to the cheerful holiday tunes. Noelle flitted closer to it, marveling at the way it warmed her chilled skin. Her cheeks were pink from the cold and snowflakes sparkled in her hair like a tiara. It was rare for an Ice Fey such as herself to experience such delightful warmth, and she relished the unusual feeling. She glanced around: the cafe was crowded and beautiful; colorful twinkle lights glittered along the ceiling and Frank Sinatra crooned soft Christmas carols over the sound system. Each table in the cafe was occupied, full of festive humans in scarves and mittens, overloaded with bright shopping bags.

A new warmth suffused her, and this one had nothing to do with the cheery fire. December was the time of year in which her work flourished. The holiday hustle and bustle nourished her spirit. With a subtle wink, she stoked the fire to cheerier heights and gave the lights an extra twinkle. The fragile glass ornaments woven into pine garlands glistened even more in the new light.

Grinning, she fluttered back outside, where the sidewalk teemed with people. Noelle gave her wrist a mischievous flick and a gentle snowfall started, fat, thick flakes raining down. The shoppers on the street laughed in surprise at the sudden change, and the children began dancing and twirling, trying to catch the flakes in their gloved hands.

Satisfied with her work here, she hurried down the sidewalk, eager to reach the next destination on her route. The Palace, the town’s large outdoor shopping mall, was having its annual tree lighting ceremony this evening, and she needed to be there when it happened. The Palace’s central plaza would be bedecked in huge ornaments, glistening in golds, silvers, and greens. As a sugar plum fairy, it was her duty to be there and make sure everything went as planned, beautiful and bright.

As she dashed down the snowy sidewalk, a woman appeared at her side.

“How’s your progress?” Holly asked.

“It’s going very well. I just cheered up a cafe, and now I’m on my way to assist with a tree lighting and some holiday shopping.”

“Good,” Holly said. “Polaris wants everyone to check in after their shift tonight and report on their success. Thought I’d warn you.”

Polaris ran their division of Ice Fey; while there were plenty of fey who handled various winter tasks, only a few—like Noelle and Holly—were sugar plum fairies, charged with making the holiday season as wonderful and magical as possible. Noelle had been busy; she would have plenty to report. “I’ll be there,” she said.

Holly nodded and skipped off, disappearing in a puff of snow. Noelle followed suit and allowed the winter air to carry her swiftly to The Palace. Now, more than ever, it was imperative that she make the tree lighting.

Dusk was just falling when she rematerialized at The Palace. A crowd had gathered around the giant tree in the center of the plaza. Oversized gold and red glass balls danced from the boughs of the evergreen and yards of plaid ribbon wound ‘round it in an endless spiral. An enormous silver star crowned the tree.

The manager of the shopping center stepped up to a podium and flicked on a microphone. “Good evening!” she shouted. “Thank you all for coming. Who’s ready to see this beauty light up?”

The crowd cheered, and with a delighted grin, the woman flipped the switch on the lights. The tree erupted in a kaleidoscope of color, sparkling as though it were covered in jewels. Noelle lifted her fingers and the lights glowed brighter. The balls spun gently on an invisible breeze and dainty icicles appeared on the branches, refracting the light in vivid prisms.

The crowd oohed and ahhed, and Noelle could physically feel their delight. She made a mental note to report it to Polaris and then melted into the crowd, searching for shoppers who might benefit from her holiday magic. It didn’t take her long to find a harried woman in a threadbare coat.

“Ma’am,” Noelle said. “My name is Noelle, and I’m a personal shopper. The Palace brought us in to assist with holiday customers. Did you need some help with your shopping?”

The woman’s face flushed. “I suppose I do. I’m Clara and I have three children. I want to make their Christmas special, but…” She paused and swallowed. “Well, I’m a single mom and I don’t have very much money. Could you direct me to a sale?”

Noelle beamed. “I’d be happy to help! I’m sure we can make Christmas delightful for your kids. Any ideas what they might want?”

Clara nodded. “My oldest daughter wants a telescope. My son asked for a magic set, and my littlest girl loves all things unicorn related.”

“I know just the place!” Noelle led Clara to The Learning Zone, one of The Palace’s educational toy stores.

First, she located an elaborate telescope. With a flick, she changed the price tag, lowering it considerably. “How about this?”

Clara gasped. “It’s perfect! I can’t believe it’s on sale. I can actually afford it!” She scooped it up.

Noelle selected a beginner’s magic set from a different section of the store, and adjusted the price on that as well. She presented it to her companion. “And this? Would your son like it?”

Clara inspected the kit, which came with a book, coins, cards, scarves, a wand, and a top hat. “Oh, he’ll love this.” She grinned. “You’re really good at your job.”

“Thank you,” Noelle said. “We do our best. It’s important that children have a perfect holiday. Now, if those meet your needs, why don’t you get them? We can go to a different store for the last gift. I have something in mind that I think will be just right. And I’m positive it’s also on sale.”

Clara nodded and paid for her purchases. With a wink, Noelle tweaked the amount in the cash register, magically adding several bills. The store owner wouldn’t be out any money, and Clara would have the perfect presents for her children. Then she led Clara to a toy store called The Fairy’s Hollow, which had all sorts of fantasy-themed toys. Noelle pointed to a giant stuffed unicorn with soft lavender fur and a rainbow mane and tail. “That’s what I had in mind. Would your daughter like that one?”

“Oh, my goodness. She’d love it.”

“I thought so. Let me get it for you.” Noelle reached up and plucked the toy off its shelf, adjusting the price and the register just as she had at The Learning Zone. Clara bundled up her purchases.

“Thank you so much for your help! My kids will love these. I can’t wait to get home and get them all wrapped up.”

Noelle gave her a hug. “It was my pleasure. Have a wonderful, magical Christmas, Clara,” she said.

When the Clara left, Noelle glanced around. It was dark now, and The Palace’s decorative lights twinkled, casting a festive glow on the remaining shoppers. A gentle snow fell, and she could smell the ginger-nutmeg scent of magic on the air. Everything was peaceful and cheerful and lovely. Her work here was done.

With a smile, she disappeared in a puff of snow, off to tell Polaris everything she’d done to make it a merry Christmas for all.

Photo (commercial license) by K. Hurley