Welcome to the first part of “The Heart of Christmas.” Thank you to my good friend Maggie McConnell for helping me brainstorm. I hope you enjoy!
“There’s never a good time to have lay-offs and Christmas is especially bad…” the office manager’s voice reverberated through the silence of the usually hectic office. The old cliché, you could hear a pin drop? Well…that.
Mary stood in the back behind the milling group. She was a proofreader, one of the last hired and probably the first laid off. At least she had her late shifts at O’Connor’s Pub and the few hours at the vet clinic. She wondered if stores were still hiring Christmas help, but a week before Christmas Eve, that didn’t seem likely. How was she going to make next semester’s tuition payments? Her books? Ugh. She’d run the numbers later. Panicking now wouldn’t help a thing.
When the office manager finished speaking, everyone returned to their desks or milled around the hot beverage machine, exchanging thoughts on who would be let go. She heard the same words echoing, “how will I make ends meet?”
Mary went to her desk, gathered her belongings, the few that she’d accessorized her cubicle with in the eight months she’d worked at Mayhouse, Mayhouse, and Hughes, and placed them in a box. The last in was her tiny Christmas tree with twinkling lights. Seeing it renewed hope. She had faith in the season of joy and caring.
She continued proofing the document she’d been working on when the office manager called the impromptu meeting, and waited for someone from human resources to call her. She didn’t have to wait long. Fifteen minutes later she was escorted from the building.
It was snowing when she stepped outside juggling her purse and the mostly empty box, which security had rummaged through. The guard had raised an eye at her three dog bobble-heads, but didn’t utter a word.
“That’s humiliating. Being escorted out of the building like a common thief,” Eleanor Tompkins, a paralegal, said. “It’s bad enough they fire you right before Christmas, but to have security escort you out? Ridiculous.”
Mary shrugged. “Every business does it.”
“Well, it sucks,” Eleanor said. “It’s bad practice. It’s…humiliating.”
“At least it’s snowing,” Mary said, glancing up and enjoying the feel of the cold wet flakes melting on her cheeks.
There was something magic about the first snowfall right before Christmas. Everything looked pristine and the snow glistened like millions of tiny crystals. In a few weeks, it would be dirty, and people would complain. Mary loved it. If there was enough, she could imagine building a snowman and having hot chocolate with her nephew later.
“Take care, Eleanor,” she said.
She had six hours before her shift at O’Connor’s. She could almost hear the animal shelter calling her name. Even if they couldn’t pay her, she loved being there, helping out with the animals. Some people believed in angels. Mary believed in dogs. Dogs with their wagging tails and happy eyes could banish misery. They exuded joy. Mary could use some of that joy right now.
The moment she entered the lobby, Tammy Parker squealed. Her blonde curls bobbed around her heart-shaped face. “You’re a life saver. Please tell me that you can help out for a little while.”
Mary grinned. “I can help out for a little while.”
“Josie called in. I’ve been trying to field the phone calls and man the desk and walk the dogs. It’s crazy,” Tammy said. “A lot of people are coming in to rescue pets for Christmas. Which is great. Don’t get me wrong. I love it. But I’m going crazy.”
Mary patted Tammy’s shoulder. “No problem. I’m happy to walk the dogs.”
After locking up her purse, Mary grabbed a leash.
“Erm,” Tammy began.
Mary glanced up. “What?”
“I should tell you.”
Tammy bit her lip and her aqua eyes sparkled. “The new vet’s in the exam room.”
Heat filled Mary’s cheeks. “Ethan Donahue?”
Ethan Donahue of the close-cropped chestnut brown hair, clear blue eyes and mischievous grin. Ethan Donahue who could be Chris Pine’s younger brother. Ethan Donahue who had asked her to clean up a pet accident at the vet clinic last week and apologized. Ethan Donahue who had told her that she had the cheeriest laugh he’d ever heard. Of course, Ethan Donahue had left moments later with his petite brunette girlfriend with her almond eyes and exotic looks who made Mary feel like a red-haired, green-eyed amazon.
“My day just got a lot better,” Mary said.
She glanced in the exam room before heading toward the dog kennels. Ethan was checking the ears of a little white powder puff of a dog who turned and licked him across his lips. He chuckled and pet the dog, murmuring sweet words.
Mary sighed. He was pretty perfect. The only flaw she’d ever seen was the fact that he had an equally perfect girlfriend.
She hummed “Angels We Have Heard on High” as she slipped the collar on Baxter, an Aussie mix and led him out into the snow. Baxter barked delightedly and Mary kicked snow around her. This was joy, bliss, being in the moment. She sang “Gloria, in excelsis Deo” at the top of her lungs, laughing when Baxter howled. Things would work out. How could they not? It was Christmas.
end of Pt I
12/17/2017, Sascha Darlington