“I think it’s weird that he sent us a card,” Pancakes told Pastina as they sat in the school cafeteria prior to rehearsals. The school’s winter show was scheduled for just before their holiday vacation, only two weeks away.
“There’s nothing weird about Christmas cards,” Pastina replied.
“But my family doesn’t even know Vincent. Why’s he sending cards to us? How many fourth graders send Christmas cards?”
“I do,” Pastina said.
“You’re not normal, though,” Pancakes said.
“True,” Pastina said. “I hang out with you.”
“Don’t be like that,” Pancakes said. “You’re an excellent Pastina. But Vincent’s a boy. He’s quiet and weird. He’s not a card-sender.”
Pastina shrugged. “Or maybe he is. He sent a card.”
When the oversized envelope had arrived at her house, Pancakes stood staring at it for several seconds. She opened it and found a large, almost-tasteful Christmas card. The script writing outside read “A Joyous Holiday!” and featured an ornate Victorian winter scene. Inside it read, “Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”
“I guess he just assumed we weren’t Jewish,” Pancakes told Pastina later that evening on the phone. Pastina thought about her friend’s shining blond hair and huge blue eyes and said, “Maybe somebody told him.”
Underneath the card’s printed greeting, Vincent had written in loose, uneven cursive letters, “I hope you and your family have a very nice holidays.” But the “a” had been scribbled out in an editorial afterthought. He had signed it, “Best wishes, Vincent Marr”. Pancakes couldn’t at first think of who that was, because she always forgot Vincent’s last name. “Friend of yours?” her father had asked as she stood in the living room and frowned at the card. “Or, um, an enemy?”
She shook her head. “Oh, it’s just Vincent. I think he has a crush on Pastina.”
“So I guess he sent her family an even better card?” Emiliano asked. Pancakes could tell he was using his ironic, bemused voice. She made a face at him and handed him the card. Then she went to call Pastina.
Pastina, it turned out, hadn’t received a card, but she pretended not to mind. “I don’t care. He’s your secret boyfriend,” she said.
“Oh, he is not!” Pancakes shouted. “He’s yours. He looooves you.”
“Yeah, well, he didn’t send a card to my house, did he? He’s trying to impress his future in-laws. Mrs. Vincent.”
Pancakes acted outraged by the entire incident, and she didn’t stop mentioning it for days after receiving the card. “Of course, now my mom will want to send him a card,” she said, although Pastina didn’t see why that would be. Lorinda didn’t even know about the card until Pancakes brought it up repeatedly, asking her parents on multiple occasions if it was absolutely necessary to send a card in return. They assured her that it didn’t have to work that way, but that didn’t stop her questions. So finally Emiliano retrieved a spare card, dashed a quick note of greeting inside, and passed it in front of both Lorinda and Pancakes for their individual signatures. Pancakes later explained to Pastina that her father practically forced her to send a card to Vincent just to be nice.
Pastina had quickly gotten bored of the subject, but Pancakes kept reviving the great card debate at least once a day. She insisted that Vincent didn’t really like her, pointing out that he’d eventually given a card to Pastina too. Of course, she ignored the fact that Pastina’s had been a small card stuffed into her locker, not like the large, expensive one he mailed to Pancakes at home. Pancakes continued to protest and rationalize the situation, but that just ensured that no one forgot about it.
“When we get to your house,” Pastina said at last as the two of them waited to be called to join in the winter song chorus, “we should find out once and for all about Vincent.”
“Get the Ouija board out,” Pastina said. “It knows everything.” She nodded seriously.
Pancakes looked unsure. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea. That thing is weird. Plus, it might lie.”
“Why would it lie?” Pastina asked. “It’s a board. What’s it got to lie about?”
“I don’t know!” Pancakes whispered loudly. “It has its boardy reasons. I don’t trust it.”
Pancakes’s objections made no sense. The Ouija board, as far as Pastina knew, was eerily accurate. Pancakes had said so herself. Sometimes its answers didn’t make sense, but when they did, they were usually right. Just a month earlier, it had led them to buried treasure in Pancakes’s back yard.
“After the pirate treasure, you don’t trust it?” Pastina asked. “It told us exactly where to dig!”
Pancakes waved her arm dismissively. “That wasn’t real treasure,” she said. “That was just a bunch of junk from a birthday party.”
“A pirate birthday party,” Pastina said. “You said they buried that back when you had your pirate birthday party. I didn’t even know you then. And then we just find it all of sudden because the board said so.”
“But it was junk!” Pancakes said.
A nearby teacher shushed her loudly. “If you girls want to sing in the show, you’re going to need to keep it down,” she said.
Pancakes rolled her eyes for Pastina’s benefit. “Yeah,” she whispered, “that makes a lot of sense. ‘Be quiet if you want to sing.’”
Pastina smiled, but she made sure not to be obvious about it. She didn’t want to get in trouble, even if Pancakes didn’t seem to mind it.
“So you want to do the Ouija board later, then?” Pancakes asked. “We can if you want to.”
“Fine, but it’s just going to tell you that Vincent’s a weirdo, plain and simple,” Pancakes said, and then they heard the teacher calling out their names. Pastina flinched. She was sure they were in trouble now. But it turned out it was their turn to join the chorus for “Winter Wonderland.” They opened their mouths and sang.