You don't have time to read this.

And I don't have time to write it.

Why?

It's the holidays and we're busy.

Busy, busy, busy.

In fact, by the time you finish this sentence, I will be at the mall, shopping.

Shopping, shopping, shopping.

For the first time.

You read that right. It's three days before Christmas, and I have not bought a single present.

Yes, I am the one they speak of, that mythical creature who is so rarely seen that people aren't even sure they exist, like the Abominable Snowman or the Loch Ness Monster.

I am the Last-Minute Shopper.

And I exist.

I come out of my cave only around Dec. 25.

You don't see me because I'm moving so fast.

I'm a panicked blur of shopping bags and flop sweat.

I race from store to store, picking through the picked-over merchandise.

Because I'm picky.

Once I was even caught on camera, and this is a completely true story. It occurred a few years ago at the King of Prussia mall, where I was last-minute shopping with Daughter Francesca.

Needless to say, all of her shopping was finished.

Because she was raised right.

Do what I say, not what I do.

Or at least don't do it at the last minute.

In any event, the day I was filmed, it was by a local TV reporter with a bubble microphone who was interviewing last-minute shoppers and asking them why they were last-minute shopping.

I thought to myself, Because I can, dude. It's like Everest.

But I didn't say that.

I didn't say anything.

I just raced past him.

I didn't have time to talk.

Because I'm a last-minute shopper.

And I was out of minutes.

Francesca and I saw the film on the TV news that night, and we laughed and laughed. She always tells me that I walk in front of her when I'm last-minute shopping, and I never believed it until I saw it on film. But there I was, paces ahead of my own daughter, as if I not only didn't give birth to her, I never saw her before in my life.

In fact, I looked as if I was running away from a stalker.

How can I justify this?

Easy.

I still want great gifts for her and the other people I love, even though I'm shopping at the last minute, and I don't apologize for that. In fact, I think the last-minute shopper needs a lawyer.

And I am she.

After all, who better to defend me than me?

The Last-Minute Shopper, Esq.

In my opinion, we last-minute shoppers have been the subject of scorn for too long. All of you more organized folk, who have all of your shopping done by early October, shake your heads in silent judgment of us.

You feel superior to us, and you know why?

Because you are.

Of course, we want to be you.

Or we want to marry you.

Either way, we want what you have, which is all of your shopping finished.

You plan ahead.

You get things done.

You're calm, even now.

I'm not even sure you're human.

You might be the mythical creature, not us.

The first thing I can say in defense of the last-minute shopper is that there's a reason we left our shopping until the last minute. Can you guess what that reason is?

Is it because we've been lying around, eating bonbons all day?

Is it because we've been watching too much television?

Is it because we've been reading too many books?

Is it because we've been drinking too many margaritas?

OK, maybe.

But some of us, like the self-righteous one writing this sentence, have left our shopping until the last minute because all of our previous minutes have been occupied.

In other words, we're busy.

Busy, busy, busy.

We had things to do until the last minute, and there were so many things that they overwhelmed us and took even our spare minutes, and our wasted minutes, and our unused minutes, but unlike a telephone contract, we couldn't roll them over, save them to shop with later, or combine them with any other coupon.

We lost our minutes.

We are the Lost-Minute Shopper.

Can you imagine how hard it is to be us? Hoping to overcome the obstacles we put in our own path? Trying to find a sweater that isn't wrinkled in the sales bin, in a medium?

Pity us.

Have mercy.

It's the Christmas season, after all.

Merry Christmas, from Francesca and me to each and every one of you.

We are grateful for your support.

But only one of us has time to show it.

Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella's most recent collection of humorous essays is "Meet Me at Emotional Baggage Claim." Look for Lisa's new novel, "Accused," in stores now.