Sam reached into the clear plastic sandwich container and plucked a folded up piece of paper from the inside. The paper felt smooth in his hands. Around him, his coworkers chatted delightedly. He repressed his urge to crush it and throw it away. Every year his work did a Secret Santa the week before Christmas and he hated it. Sam was terrible at giving gifts to family and friends, and even worse to people he barely knew. He crossed his fingers, saying a silent prayer, and waited to unfold it until his co-worker Becky stopped staring at him and moved onto the next person. She was nice, but a little bug-eyed and Sam didn't want his reaction to be scrutinized by anyone. Sam sank back down into his office chair, spinning towards the wall of his cubicle and hunching over, blocking all view of his paper to anyone around. His friend Charlie was most likely peaking over her cubicle wall to the right of him, waiting for his reaction. Sam took a deep breath and opened the slip of paper and stopped moving, stopped breathing, stopped everything.
On that paper, that small slip of paper, was Sam's worst nightmare. The small, cramped handwriting spelled out his doom. Gabriel Novak. Gabriel Novak was his secret Santa. The Gabriel Novak he'd been in love with since his first day on the job. The short, radiant man with the most adorable dimples and sharpest sense of humor to ever exist. The one with sunlight in his eyes and starlight in his smile. The one Sam was in love with. That was his secret Santa. Sam groaned, crumpling the paper in his fist as he eased his head back onto his headrest with his eyes closed. What was he going to do?
"Dude, who'd you get? I'm so disappointed, I got one of the new interns. The Asian one with the black hair. Kevin. I've never even spoken to the boy. I'm going to have to go generic, like a gift card or something. Hey....hey, what's the matter?" Charlie asked and he could hear the concern in her voice.
Sam looked up at the redhead peaking over the grey wall and groaned all over again. He tossed her the crumpled paper and waited as she unwrapped it and turned it right side up. He closed his eyes again, wanting to sink into the floor as she read it. Her gasp was audible and Sam shot his eyes around, hoping no one heard it. He really didn't need anyone looking at him right now. Her head disappeared from the wall and reappeared in the opening to his little cube. She looked around at his desk, cluttered with papers and paperclips and a few pictures of him and his brother. His was much cleaner than Charlie's. Hers was littered with stuff. Action figures lined her desk and computer, posters covered her walls. Not an inch of space was free. It was overwhelming, and fit her perfectly.
"So, what are you going to do?" She asked, perching herself on part of his desk. He swiveled back around to face her, dragging his hands through his hair. He really needed a haircut before his family gathered for Christmas or he'd never hear the end of it. He just shrugged, stealing a glance through the opening of his cubicle, across the narrow walkway, and into Gabriel's little cube. Gabriel sat inside at his desk, reading something on the screen intently before bursting out laughing. His face lit up, his dimples standing prominently on his cheeks and Sam looked down at the ground. Charlie followed his gaze and sighed.
"Staring won't do you any good, man. You're just going to have to get talkin' to the man," Charlie said for like the hundredth time. Sam knew she was right, but it was so hard. One look and Sam couldn't breathe. How could he ever hold a conversation with the man?
"Charlie, you know I can't. I've tried. Opened my mouth a thousand times. But nothing comes out. You've got to know how that feels."
"Sammy, believe me, I do, but nothing good has ever come of it. You've got to do something," she replied earnestly.
Sam just swiveled his chair towards his computer deciding to pretend to get some work done until she left. He opened his email, slowly clicking through without reading them. He knew that she wasn't buying it, he just hoped she'd leave anyways. He wanted to be alone for awhile. A minute later, a hand squeezed his shoulder and he heard her footsteps fading away on the carpet. He sighed, closing the window with his email and opened a new tab, but didn't type anything. Just watched the cursor blink until his eyes burned. He sat there for what felt like hours. The clock revealed just a few minutes.
He decided just to get back to work. Sam grabbed the stack of papers closest to him and got to work on the first one. Mechanically, he filed these complaints. Each one had to be entered into the online system, sent to the proper department in the company, and then the person contacted to say that we received it and someone would address them shortly. It was all very easy, mindless work and for once, Sam was appreciative.
He got about halfway through the stack before he heard another, even louder gasp from Charlie's area. Her head popped over their shared wall.
"I know how you're going to get his attention. You're going to buy him the best, perfect Christmas secret Santa gift ever," she stared, waiting for a response and looking triumphant.
Sam snorted and said, "Dude, the idea of a Secret Santa is that the person doesn't know who bought them the present."
"I know that," Charlie said rolling her eyes, "But if you get him the best ever Christmas present, then he's going to want to know who got it. Maybe start asking around, doing a little digging. If you got the best Christmas present ever, wouldn't you want to know who gave it to you?"
Sam sighed, "Fine, but I hardly know the guy. How am I going to find out what he wants?"
"Oh, I know! Ask Cas, the trench-coat guy. They seem pretty close, always eating lunch together and what not."
"Alright, I'll ask him, but not today. Tomorrow maybe. Today, I need to finish filing these and I have a feeling you need to finish yours too."
Charlie pouted, "Come on, you're no fun!"
Sam shot her a little smirk, what his brother liked to call his signature bitch-face, and she huffed and sank out of sight.
The next morning Sam came in determined. He set his stuff down underneath his desk and walked right over to Cas's cubicle, tossing a few waves and wishes of good morning at the few people he knew. Once he got to Cas' Sam knocked on the wall twice.
Cas looked up at him, startled. He was sitiing at his desk, still wearing his trench coat over his suit with his tie askew like normal. Someone really needed to teach him how to tie it properly. Cas' eyebrows raised, waiting for Sam to speak.
"Uh, can I talk to you?" Sam asked, walking farther into the cubicle after Cas nodded his head. "Uh, you see, I drew Gabriel for my secret Santa and I have no idea what to get him. What does he like? What kind of movies does he watch? Books? That sort of thing. I'd ask him, but I don't want him to know that I drew him or it'd ruin the whole point."
"Oh, sure I can help," Cas said. "Can I email you a list of his interests?"
Sam nodded gratefully and went back to his desk.
Ten minutes later, an email popped up.
'He likes Shakespeare. Mostly 'Much Ado About Nothing'. He likes practical jokes and anything with chocolate. If you need any more ideas, please don't hesitate to ask.
Sam sent back. A seed of an idea had planted itself in his mind and he needed to do a little research. A few Google searches later, he called Charlie over and explained his plan.
"Okay, I talked to Cas and he said that Gabriel likes Shakespeare, right? Well, the day after Christmas, there is a production at the major theatre downtown for Much Ado About Nothing, and tickets are almost sold out. I dug a little and it turns out, there are some seats left, but they're kind of expensive with backstage passes available too. What do you think?" Sam whispered.
"That's perfect, dude! Well done!" Charlie exclaimed, jumping up and down excitedly.
Sam let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding, relieved that he had a workable idea.
"Okay, the problem is, it's way over the $15 cap that Becky put on this thing," Sam pointed out.
"Oh, no one pays any attention to that anyways," Charlie dismissed. "Dude, seriously, buy them. Now. Before they sell out."
"Okay, okay, now get back to work. How do you ever get any work done?" Sam teased, then turned back to the checkout page on the screen. He punched in his address, debit card number, and double checked it all, adding the backstage passes as well. Might as well go all out. He computer told him they'd be there in three days and sent a receipt to his email. That done, he went back to work, feeling light and excited. Only five days left until Christmas.
It wasn't until he had the tickets and backstage passes wrapped in a dark red box and tied with a golden ribbon that he started to doubt his choice. What if he'd overdone it? The wrapping alone looked way too nice for a coworker. Maybe he should have just bought him chocolates and called it good. Maybe he should have kept the paper crumpled in the first place, none of this would be happening if he had. The package sat on his desk and he stared at it. It was too much. He grabbed the box and started out of his cubicle when Charlie rounded the corner and stood in front of him, her eyes shooting between him and the box in his hand.
"Where do you think you're going with that? The gifts are due in five."
"It's too much, Charlie. He's going to know."
"No, you're giving that to him and that's final," Charlie grabbed the box out of Sam's unsuspecting hands and ran back to her cubicle, looking like a madwoman with her red hair flying behind her. Sam followed, but he was too slow. She had found Becky, who was collecting the gifts on one of the mail-room's pushcarts and Charlie handed her both of their gifts.
Charlie turned around, towards Sam, beaming. Sam's heart sank. He was done for. He slunk back to his cubicle, and sank into his chair. He tried to work, but he jumped at every sound, thinking it was Becky delivering the gifts. Every time Gabriel laughed, he imagined it was him opening the neatly wrapped box and finding the tickets inside and laughing at whoever bought those, why the hell would Gabriel ever want to see that. Deep down, Sam knew that Gabriel would never do that, he was too nice. But Sam's imagination was rampant. He gave up trying to work, plugging his headphones into his computer and opening his audio book for Much Ado About Nothing, his favorite too. Maybe that's why he jumped at the chance for tickets. God, he was so stupid. He closed his eyes and turned the volume up at loud as he could, losing himself in the story of Beatrice and Benedic, Hero and Claudio. But, it didn't have the magic it usually did. The comedy just depressed him, the wit was dull.
He could sense everyone getting louder around him, movement and laughter, but he didn't turn around. He knew that meant the gifts had been passed out and he definitely didn't want to see Gabriel's reaction. He kept his eyes closed and waiting for the laughter from the cubicle behind him. He turned off his book, though. He pretended not to care, but he strained to hear a response. But nothing ever happened. He glanced around for his gift, but nothing was waiting for him. He guessed he deserved it for giving such crappy gifts. He turned his book back on, hardly paying attention but needing voices to drown out everything for awhile. And there he sat, unfocused and deaf to the world around him for half an hour before he decided just to go home. Take a sick day and sleep it off. Anything was better than this.
He wrapped up his earphones, shoving them in his bag along with the rest of his stuff, shooting a text to his boss saying he got sick and was leaving. She was always pretty cool about stuff like that, and Sam hardly ever left, so she wouldn't question him. He turned around, standing to leave when he saw the box on his desk. It must have just been delivered late. He grabbed it and stuffed it into his bag on his way out.
"You leaving Sammy-boy?" Gabriel called out from his desk, staring at Sam's bag for some odd reason.
"Yeah," Sam replied, tossing a half wave over his shoulder and scurrying away. Gabriel hardly ever talked to Sam and just that sentence had Sam's heart pounding. In the elevator, he grabbed the box out of his bag and opened the box. He lifted the black lid to the box, and peeled away the tissue paper to find a used copy of Much Ado About Nothing inside. Sam stared. It was a beautiful version, cream colored with black silhouettes on the cover. He didn't care if it was battered, it was beautiful. Whoever bought it must have looked everywhere. He picked up the book, flipping through the pages when something fell out. He picked it up, something about it looking oddly familiar. He flipped it over to find a ticket to see Much Ado About Nothing, the same day and place he'd bought his to. The back had something scribbled on it. 'Samsquatch, will you join me?' along with a phone number. Sam knew who wrote that. There was only one person who ever called him that. But, Sam didn't understand. Gabriel actually wanted to go? And he wanted Sam to join him? The elevator had hit the bottom floor and was waiting, it's doors open. His heartbeat quickened and he dug his phone out of his pocket. He texted his boss again, 'Never mind' and hit his floor's number on the elevator, barely hearing the creaking as it starting moving back up.