An Unexpected Christmas - Part I of A Short Story

One Year, a New York Woman's Christmas Changes Her Forever

I've always hated Christmas, and not because I'm Jewish.

Okay, I guess not always - as a kid we had Santa because my parents didn't think it was fair that my sister and I should miss out just because we were Jews. And I suppose "hate" is a strong word - it's more like annoyed by it. By the incessant music, the relentless advertising, the crowds. Each year, it appears as though more and more tourists descend on New York. And it seems like as soon as their planes land here, they forget how to walk - so there I am, practically assaulting Middle American pedestrians just to get to work.

Ah, work. That was another source of aggravation. I'd never felt this old before. I mean, I was only 35 - that wasn't so advanced in years, was it? But these freaking kids my publishing firm kept hiring were getting younger and younger. And I was getting crankier and crankier.

The latest wunderkind was a ridiculously beautiful blonde named Christy Keller. She was the type who wore her scarf perfectly tied, and never got it caught in anything. Her makeup was always flawless. And the hair - well, what could you do? It was long, lustrous, Breck Girl hair - but of course at 22 she would have no idea who the Breck girl was. Christy Keller pursed her adorable lips as I trained her, took notes in her little book, and thanked me ever so politely each time I answered a question. Over lunch with my best friend at the office one Tuesday in November, the subject inevitably came up.

"So, Samantha, how's the new girl? She seems really nice," Travis said with a half-smile, stirring his Miso soup. He knew me very well, and was expecting my answer.

"She's sweet, lovely, and a manipulative, phony little bitch", I replied, flashing him a 1,000-watt smile.

I had not disappointed him. "Sheesh, I thought we gay men were supposed to be catty - but you put me to shame, girl! Meow!" he laughed, clawing at me playfully.

I could see in his eyes that underneath the joking, he thought I was being too hard on the girl, that I should give her a chance. But Travis hadn't been burned like I'd been. He hadn't trained countless college grads who'd then turned around and sabotaged him to move up the ladder. I guess he'd just been lucky that way.

"Honey, and you know I only say this out of love - you look like crap," Travis informed me. "Let's go for facials after work. My treat." I threw a napkin at him and acquiesced.

In early December, when the rumors of layoffs came, I shrugged them off as I always did. Those of us who'd been with the company 10 years or more were used to it. We knew the drill: in the end, management would ax the last one or two hires, if that. Usually we would be called into a meeting where it would be explained to us how, at the last minute, they'd come up with some brilliant plan to keep from firing us by shortening our lunch breaks by 4.3 minutes or something. So, given my years of experience as a copy editor, combined with my fanatical attention to detail and my stellar ability to distinguish a subject from a predicate, I had nothing to worry about. Or so I thought.

The day started out pleasantly enough. It was Friday, a week before our Christmas vacation. Everyone was in a good mood because we had just exchanged Secret Santa gifts and I must admit, even I was digging my present. It was a simple, yet stunningly elegant gray leather writing journal. Inside was an equally elegant card with the message: "You are a great writer. Now write!" I knew it had to be from Travis, so I called his extension upstairs to thank him.

"Accounting." His voice was strained. Understandable with the deadlines he had before the holidays.

"You are so thoughtful! You're the best, Trav!!"

"Well, yes, of course I am, peachcake. But why?".

"Shut up. I love the book. Thanks for my Secret Santa gift."

"Dear, as much as I'd love to take credit for anything fabulous, I swear that was not from me. I had Stephen in marketing."

"But who else would know that I...well, okay, I believe you, sweetie....sort of. Kisses!"

A few hours later, I emailed my boss Elaine the last few chapters of our latest contribution to great American literature, which I'd just mined for grammatical errors, Night of My Vampire . Can I have "Derivative" for $1,000, Alex? I laughed to myself. It was fun to look down on mediocre writers, even if they were published and I wasn't. I looked up and saw my email telling me that Macy's was having yet another Christmas sale, this one on surprisingly cute sweaters. Screw it, I thought, clicking my way to a plum cashmere V-neck. All Travis's cajoling aside, it honestly had been far too long since I'd splurged. I should do this every year - give myself a Christmas gift. I was still smiling at 4:15 when Elaine emailed me to come to her office.

I tried to ignore the butterflies in my stomach. I got them every time anyone in authority summoned me. Nine times out of ten, it would be for some innocuous reason. But I'd always felt better once I knew what it was about. Until this time.

Elaine's office was dripping with garland and candy canes. I could hear "Jingle Bell Rock" faintly emanating from her desk radio. Something told me to shut up and resist my usual impulse to make fun of it. As she motioned for me to have a seat, I tried to ignore the sight of her avoiding eye contact. I clasped my hands together in my lap a little too tightly and waited.

"Hi, Samantha." Elaine looked so uncomfortable that for a brief moment, I felt bad for her. "I'm sure you know that this year, our budget has been cut worse than ever before." Yeah, right. same spiel every year. I was being told that when you were still an undergrad. "Well, uh...while you've done great work for us in the past, we now find ourselves in an...uh...unfortunate situation." Is this bitch reciting a script? "We truly wish this decision was not necessary, but due to the economic climate we are forced to let you go. Christy will be taking on your duties." They're giving CHRISTY my JOB!?! "I'm sorry, Samantha." For some reason I suddenly found it imperative to analyze the Mylar "Joyeux Noël" banner behind my boss's head. Hmm, I forgot if it's pronounced "jwah-yuhx" or "jwah-yuh". I guess I could look it up online. Yeah, that's what I'll do. As soon as I get back to my...all of a sudden, all I could see in my mind was that stupid, $129.50 purple V-neck. As Elaine looked at me expectantly, I heard myself say, "I just ordered a sweater."

She looked at me quizzically. "Um...so I have some paperwork here and HR will help transition you through this, explain your options..." My options. Stab you with your letter opener or kick your ass out the window. Hard to decide which of my options to take. "Do you...uh...do you...have any....any questions?" Wow, was she bad at this. I finally looked at her.

"Yes." She looked relieved.

"What's Macy's returns policy?"

"Samantha, please believe me. It's really nothing personal. We feel terrible about this."

"Who else is this happening to?" She pretended to look through some papers.

"Oh, um...it looks like...no one at the moment, but it's entirely possible there'll be more layoffs in the future." I'll take Deliberately Vague for $2,000, thank you, Alex.

To this day, I can not remember how I got out of that office, stuffed my things into a couple of trash bags, and tried to block out "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" blaring in the reception area as I stared at the elevator call button.

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