“Do you want to know what your problem is, Casey?”
Casey, lying on the couch in his office, opened his eyes and tilted his head back to look at Dan. Dan was studying him with a look of grave disappointment. “Do I want to know what my problem is?” he repeated.
“Your problem,” Dan went on, ruthlessly ignoring Casey, “is that you don’t have the right way of looking at things.”
Casey, still tilting to look up at Dan, said, “That’s probably why you’re upside-down, then?”
“It was a metaphor, Casey.”
“A figure of speech.”
“You need to get in the holiday spirit.”
“I am in the holiday spirit.”
“I don’t think you are.” Dan sat in a chair next to Casey and leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his knees. “This is a season of joy and celebration, and you, my friend, are neither joyful nor celebratory.”
“I’m fine, Dan.”
“I don’t think –“
“I’m joyful,” Casey cut him off. “Now, will you get the hell off my back and let me do my job?”
Dan paused for a minute, his forehead creasing. “Casey, you were taking a nap.”
“I was not taking a nap. I was taking a break to think.”
“You were out like a Christmas tree light.”
“I was thinking about the lead-in for the Spurs piece in the twenties.”
“Visions of sugarplums were dancing in your head.”
“Visions of Tim Duncan were dancing in my head.”
“Dan!” Casey put a warning in his tone.
“Holiday spirit,” Dan said. “Think about it.”
“I’ll think about it.”
Casey thought about it enough to hope repeatedly that Dan would forget and leave him alone, but it was not to be. At the four o’clock rundown, Dan dropped into his seat and announced, “I am in the holiday spirit!”
“Cool,” Kim said.
“It is cool,” Dan acknowledged. “I’m a cool kind of guy.”
“I could have sworn we had a rundown meeting now,” Dana said pointedly.
“Thank you, Dana,” Casey said.
“Casey, on the other hand,” Dan observed, “is not at all cool. He is not in the holiday spirit.”
“What’s wrong, Casey?” Natalie asked.
“Nothing is wrong!” Casey said.
“You don’t have to shout,” Natalie said.
“I’m not shouting!” Casey shouted.
“Segment sixteen,” Dana said firmly.
“Do you know what we need?” Natalie said.
“Christmas decorations?” suggested Dan.
“A shot of vodka?” Dana said.
“Christmas decorations,” Dan agreed firmly.
“I am in the damned holiday spirit!” Casey insisted. No one seemed to listen.
“Segment sixteen,” Dana repeated more loudly.
“Dan and I were going to –“ Casey began.
Dan cut him off. “I’m on it.”
“You’re on it?” Casey repeated.
“You can leave it all to me.”
Casey paused. “Are we talking about segment sixteen, or Christmas decorations?”
“Christmas decorations,” Dan said, stating the obvious.
“Of course,” Casey said.
“All right!” Dana said, placating the masses. “Christmas decorations are delegated. Now: segment sixteen.”
The rest of the rundown meeting went without incident, despite the gnawing uneasiness in Casey’s stomach.
Dan left right after the meeting and came back with an ominously full box.
“I can’t stop watching this play,” Casey told him, eyes on the television screen.
“Guess what I bought,” Dan ordered.
“The guy’s a six foot four, three hundred pound offensive lineman,” Casey said. “How exactly do they let him run seventy-one yards down the field on a kickoff return? They couldn’t catch him?”
“I could catch him. My grandmother could catch him.”
“Your grandmother is dead, Casey.”
“Guess what’s in the box?”
“I don’t want to guess,” Casey said.
“Try,” Dan said.
“I don’t even want to know.”
“You’re really not getting into the spirit of this,” Dan told him.
Casey sighed and turned off the television. He spun his chair to look at Dan. “What’s in the box?”
“Is it going to make me want to hit myself with a blunt instrument?”
“Is it going to make me want to hit you with a blunt instrument?”
“I’m too charming.”
“What’s in the damn box, Danny?”
In answer, Dan pulled out a little sprig of green leaves bound together with a red ribbon. “Tada!”
“No,” Casey said.
“You are not hanging mistletoe in our office.” Casey made his voice as firm as he could, but it did not seem to matter.
“Sure I am.”
“Because women come in our office all the time. Dana, Kim, Natalie…”
“And we can have a joyous Christmas sexual harassment suit?”
Dan was scanning the ceiling now. “Your small heart is growing three sizes today, Casey. Whether you like it or not.”
Casey pushed up from his seat. “Give me the mistletoe.”
“No!” Dan closed his hands protectively around it, taking a step backwards. Casey advanced. Dan ducked around the desk.
“Give me the damned mistletoe!”
“Holiday spirit, Casey!”
Casey lunged around the desk and caught one of Dan’s wrists. Dan yanked his other hand away, stretching up in a vain attempt to keep the mistletoe out of Casey’s grip.
The door opened.
Casey and Dan turned to look, the mistletoe still hovering over their heads.
Isaac looked back at them.
A bit guiltily, Dan lowered his hand, trying to conceal the mistletoe behind his back.
“I’ll tell you what I’m going to do,” Isaac said. “I’m going to close this door. Then I’m going to open it again. And we can all just pretend this didn’t happen.”
He closed the door.
Casey cleared his throat and retreated to his desk. Dan hooked the mistletoe onto a sprinkler head on the ceiling.
“That’s probably a fire hazard,” Casey told him.
The door opened.
The meeting Isaac had wanted Casey for was stultifyingly dull, and it was not made any better for the sense that Isaac was avoiding meeting Casey’s eyes the whole time. There was no way to try and explain that wouldn’t make things worse, so Casey just didn’t mention it. Isaac didn’t mention it, either, but he didn’t mention it very loudly.
When Casey got back to his office, the mistletoe was still there, and Dan had added a wreath, a snowman with a Santa hat, and a dreidel garland.
“Hannukah is over,” he told Dan.
“You’re kidding,” Dan deadpanned. “Was that why the dreidels were on sale?”
“Why are you doing this to me?” Casey asked plaintively.
“I want to cheer you up.”
“And you think tormenting me all day will do that?”
“No, I think tormenting you all day will make you talk to me, and that talking to me will make you feel better.” The humor was gone from Dan’s voice now, and his face had gone intent as he watched Casey.
Casey dropped into his chair, rocking it back. “You think?”
“Yes. I do.”
“I think you’re wrong.”
Casey looked up at the ceiling. There was mistletoe hanging there. “It’s Christmas.”
“I had noticed that, yes.”
“Lisa’s taking Charlie to her parents’ for the holiday.”
Dan paused, taking this in. “For how long?”
“The whole two weeks. They left today.”
“The whole two weeks?”
Dan sat still for a moment. “You should have gone with them.”
“To spend Christmas with my ex-inlaws?”
“No?” Dan checked.
“No.” Casey grabbed a football off his desk, turning it over in his hands.
There was any number of things Dan could have said there. He didn’t say any of them, and Casey ran his thumb over the laces on the football. After a long moment of silence, Dan asked, “You want me to come over?”
“And do what?” Casey asked.
“What would you do with Charlie?”
“Sing songs, hang stockings, clean up the mess when he ate himself sick,” Casey said.
“We can do that,” Dan said.
In spite of himself, Casey had to smile at that. “You’ll eat yourself sick for me?”
“Drinking myself sick is a normal part of my family get-togethers,” Dan said. “It’s not that much of a change.”
“Play with new toys,” Casey went on. “Eat dinner.”
“Who’s cooking that, then?” Dan asked.
Casey hesitated. “We’ll order something.”
“You sure?” Dan checked. “If you cooked, it would make eating myself sick a lot easier.”
Casey threw the football at Dan’s head. Dan caught it. “You throw like a girl,” he informed Casey.
“Thank you,” Casey said seriously. “I’d like that.”
“No problem,” Dan said. “You ready to stop sulking now?”
“I was not sulking,” Casey said.
“You were sulking a little.”
“You going to help me write this show?”
“Sure thing,” Dan said, seating himself.
They worked quietly. After a minute, Kim appeared in the doorway. “I got your email, Dan. What did you want to see me about?”
Casey looked up at the mistletoe. He sighed.