As if the world was a neon sign for the holiday season, one was often confronted with the notion that the Christmas Holiday was fast approaching in Hatchetfield Michigan.
Christmastime in Hatchetfield was one of the most incredible times of the year. It always seemed to bring cheer and comfort, and even some of the happiest feelings to the grumpiest of people. It brought hope to the people who were in hopeless situations. And even though there were times when Hatchetfield consistently seemed to be off their rocker, it brought out the best in most people.
Everyone…except one person in particular.
While everyone in Hatchetfield had the tendency to go about their business, there was one person who brought a new definition to apathy towards the human condition. There was one person that nobody had taken notice of until they found that he had amassed a considerable amount of wealth which nobody had known where it had come from. Up until that moment, his reputation to the few who knew him was one of a philandering bastard, but nobody would have expected him to become one of the most powerful men in Hatchetfield overnight. One of the most powerful, and easily one of the most reviled.
He never laughed, as far as everyone knew, and in that same vein, he’d never smiled.
Additionally, he had a reputation of being a total dick to men, women, and children. Even his employees knew him to be a jerk to them, which did nothing to help their meager pay and shitty company insurance. Most people who worked under him had moved on, but others were too desperate not to end up unemployed with a shortage of jobs in the area. They had no choice but to stay in the employ of a man who treated them like dirt and didn’t care about their personal issues or lives. The man who had no cares other than the success of his own profession and the success in his own world. A man who, it was rumored, had sold his soul for his position and had never shown any signs to prove otherwise.
And one of his most notable character traits was that he hated Christmas.
Ted Spankoffski sighed heavily, the breath forming a cloud of steam in the chilly air as she stepped out of his car, his ears immediately assaulted by the sound of cheerful carolers as they stood outside the building he now owned and operated. He cursed under his breath at the sound of the music, nonchalantly handing the keys to the car to his personal valet and straightening his tan coat as he approached the female leader of the carolers who instantly stopped singing and stepped away from the group which continued singing as passerby’s dropped coins and dollar bills in the small bucket before it.
Ah, shit…they were raising funds for the homeless shelter.
This would be difficult to shoo away.
The woman leading the group was Mercy Chastity, the matriarch of Hatchetfield’s resident holier than thou family. She was smiling in her usual prim and proper way, adjusting her modest gray trench coat as she walked up to him, her eyes on him like a hawk that often made her intimidating to most. Including her teenage daughter, who was standing at the front of the carolers with a gleeful smile on her face.
He really wanted to keep walking, but he knew that they wouldn’t leave for a while unless they’d completed their mission of raising money. God, they were hypocrites.
“Mr. Spankoffski!” Mrs. Chastity smiled, her voice high pitched and in a tone that she had to have known that nobody could have ignored her once they heard it. He didn’t even nod at her as she approached him, “Have you taken notice of our efforts?!”
“Pretty hard not to,” he mumbled, casting a glare at the all too cheery carolers.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” the woman smiled, her eyes silently begging him to make a donation, as if the woman knew exactly who she was asking for money, “We’re raising money for the homeless shelter! The conditions the buildings are in are appalling !”
“I wouldn’t know,” Ted sighed, waiting for the woman to just shut the fuck up before he could tell her to get off of the property.
“-And through donations from generous people like you,” she went on, clearly making a sales pitch, “We can speed the process and give the homeless people of Hatchetfield a warm and comfortable and safe place to spend this cold winter.”
Ted simply raised an eyebrow at the expectant-looking woman, “You finished?”
The woman looked a little bit put-off by his demeanor, but her bright and too-wide smile never faded, “Well…no. Perhaps with a donation from someone like you, the people of Hatchetfield will know that the new face of CCRP has their back! That CCRP is no longer the shady corporation it once was!”
Ted didn’t waver, even though the words were definitely a little bit more pointed than the woman made them sound.
Part of why he ascended to his position so quickly was because CCRP had been caught in a scandal involving allegations of human rights and ethics violations. They’d never proven to have any merit and the investigation was called off, but CCRP had since lost popularity amongst the masses, but certainly never lost any money. Ted considered himself a smart man to have claimed his position when there was nobody there when the company was sensitive enough to be invested upon, and somehow, he managed to become one of the richest men in Hatchetfield as a result of it. As if his success was a middle finger to everyone who’d determined that he was a horny bastard, and that was all that he would be for the remainder of his life.
Well, he’d shown them.
He’d shown them all.
“Chastity, do you know who owns this building?” he murmured, not losing eye contact with the foolishly hopeful woman.
The woman looked a little shocked that he’d asked at all, she brushed a strand of her curly brown hair out of her face with a small bemused expression, “Well…you, sir.”
“That’s right,” he nodded, “So…that would make this my property.”
“W-well…” the woman muttered, looking a little indignant at the suggestion, “Well, it’s public property, sir.”
“Perhaps, but I also own this building, and your group of wailing carolers are disrupting the work environment of this building,” he sighed.
“I…I don’t think they are!” Mercy said stubbornly, “It’s the season of giving! And through our singing, we’re trying to give a nice Christmas to those who have not-”
“Please spare me your self-serving speech,” Ted was really getting annoyed now, “You think I don’t know what you’re playing at? Hmm?”
Mercy looked afraid now. Good.
“You think I don’t know your mode of manipulation?” Ted went on, taking a step forward, making the woman step back, “You think you can come here with a sob story about the homeless and expect me to go bankrupt to serve your cause or your poorly-financed church’s cause. Well, let me tell you something, Mrs. Chastity if God truly will provide, go ask him for the money, and don’t try and fucking rob me!”
“Well, I never…” the woman gasped, clutching at her pearl necklace as she looked at him with a mixture of anger and fear in her eyes.
“Save it,” he snapped, “Now get your Zealots off my property before I call the cops, who I know very well, and have each and every one of you in jail for Christmas.”
The woman simply sighed, her hands shaking by her side as she stared at him, “You…cold…cold man, Theodore Spankoffski…God help you, you’re cold.”
“True,” Ted shrugged nonchalantly, “It’s freezing being out here wasting my time talking to you.”
With that, he turned and entered the building, not even acknowledging the few people who nodded in his direction. He could hear the singing of the carolers stop, the lack of their singing being the best music he’d heard all day before he got into the elevator and headed up to the top floor.
Since he’d ascended out of the technical department, he’d replaced most of the staff on the top floors with people he was familiar with. They all were supposed to be at work an hour before he, so if he didn’t find them where they were supposed to be, someone was getting fired. He sighed as he stood in the elevator, his ears immediately assaulted by a smooth jazz version of a Christmas song…probably jingle bells, but he didn’t care. He’d get someone to change the station. God, he’d heard too much of this all week. He huffed under his breath.
“Damn Chastity,” he muttered to himself, “Thinks she can come here asking me for money.”
He shook his head.
This time of the year was by far his least favorite.
Had it not been for the profits reaped during this time of the year, he would have wished this segment of the calendar was missing altogether.
God, he couldn’t walk five feet before being reminded of the impending holiday. He couldn’t begin to describe the feeling in his throat every time he heard some strange rendition of All I Want For Christmas is You . Though he was fairly certain it was a universal feeling towards that song, the remainder of this damned holiday was like experiencing heartburn. Between the religion buffs and overly happy citizens, he’d had enough of it.
The elevator dinged, thankfully ceasing the smooth jazz, and he stepped out to the top floor and started the short walk to his offices.
“Good Morning, Mr. Spankoffski,” a small meek voice greeted him, and he turned to see the secretary, Melissa, sitting at her desk, trying to hide a sizable coffee cup on her workstation.
While normally, the coffee would have bothered him, what caught his attention next was enough to make him want to fire the woman he’d been working with for nearly fifteen years.
Hanging above her desk, on the wall behind her, there was a large wreath, decorated with red and gold ornaments and golden Christmas lights. An immediate eyesore to his office.
“Melissa, what the hell is that?” he questioned, gesturing to it.
“What’s what?” the woman looked a little bit confused before she followed his gaze to the wall behind her, “Oh! That! I think one of the maintenance guys put it up last night.”
“Well lose it,” Ted snapped, “Throw it in the dumpster or burn it, I don’t care. Just get rid of it.”
“B-But sir,” Melissa looked a little shocked, “Tis the season…?”
“Lose the wreath,” Ted said evenly, looking the woman in the eye, “Or lose your job, got it?”
The woman sighed a little defeatedly before nodding, “Yes, sir.”
“Good,” Ted nodded curtly before opening the door to the offices, “And if any carolers come up here, give them one warning before calling security.”
“Okay,” Melissa nodded, standing slightly as she started to try and get the wreath off of the wall.
Ted huffed again as he went through the doors, greeted by the sounds of work. Sounds that he’d never liked before he’d started to make more money. A wonderful alternative to the dreadfully repetitive Christmas songs.
He reveled in the way the few people inside the offices straightened and looked more serious as he passed, all of them murmuring a meek “Morning Mr. Spankoffski” to him as he passed. That was when he came to the desk of the floor head, Paul Matthews, the desk decorated annoyingly with many photographs of people Ted could only assume to be relatives of some kind, not that he cared.
“Matthews,” he snapped, making the man jump.
Ted had been working with Paul Matthews for many years since he’d been one of the top workers in the technical department. Though the man wasn’t very affluent and mostly useless, he often did what he was told, which was something Ted liked in a worker. He might have once thought Paul to be his best friend, but now he didn’t have any time for that. Now the man had been working on the top floor with him and had somehow remained loyal to the company for so long. Maybe it was because the man was aware of the fact that he’d never get a better job.
The brown-haired, blue-eyed man looked up at Ted nervously, his eyes wide, “G-Good morning, T-Ted. I mean! Mr. Spankoffski.”
Ted simply nodded, “You have those numbers ready for me?”
“N-Not yet…” Paul nodded, “They’ll be done within the hour though. I just need to make a few copies and check that the T-stat is correct…and then, yeah…yes, sir. They’ll be ready.”
“Make them ready within the next thirty minutes, and we’ll have a conversation about your work ethic, Matthews,” Ted sighed, shaking his head, “I want them on my desk within the next thirty minutes. No excuses.”
The man nodded, looking a little tired, not that Ted cared, “Y-Yes, sir.”
“And after that, we’re gonna go over the numbers together,” Ted sighed, “We don’t want any discrepancies.”
Paul nodded, “Of course not, sir.”
With that, Ted left the man, practically slamming his office door shut, noticing how it made the people in the offices jump before he sat down, tossing his briefcase down and burying his nose in what little work he actually had to do. He wasn’t now making seven figures for nothing.
God, even though his office was silent, and the top floor was absent of Christmas decorations, he could still sense it everywhere around him.
“ Bah-humbug ,” he hummed sarcastically, “And all that shit.”
The smooth elevator music brought a small smile to Peter Spankoffski’s face as he bounced his leg, waiting for the machine to come to a stop.
The music wasn’t lying when it claimed it was the most wonderful time of the year.
He absolutely loved his life where it was right now.
He had a girlfriend, and even though they were both only eighteen, they were getting an apartment together. They had a happy life and were experiencing their first Christmas together, which was something he’d wanted for a very long time.
Christmas had already been his favorite holiday for a very long time, but now, as he watched his life go the way he wanted it, he was so ready to make this the best one yet.
Stephanie had told him not to waste his breath in coming to visit his brother. Though she loved him, she said that it was a waste of time trying to get the great Ted Spankoffski to stoop to the level of spending a small Christmas together.
He knew she was right of course. His girlfriend was no stranger to the stories of his big brother, the overnight millionaire who hated Christmas and nearly everyone. He knew the stories to be true, and though he’d become a total dick over the past few years, he missed his brother. And still, he could try. He could try to convince him to join them for a Christmas together.
It was worth a shot.
He stepped out of the elevator, adjusting his glasses and his hideous Christmas sweater as he walked across the neatly polished tile of the office floor, the large windows showing the snowfall past them, allowing for the proverbial white Christmas to come into play. He smiled wider. God, already this Christmas was getting to be so nice.
He grinned with a skip in his step before he caught sight of a familiar face.
“Hey, Melissa!” he greeted, approaching the receptionist’s desk, while the woman in question was struggling with a wreath on the wall.
She brushed a strand of her messy hair out of her face, flashing him a grin, “Hey, Pete!”
“Here, let me help you with that,” he smiled, approaching her and helping her put the wreath up, “You’ve almost got it on the wall.”
Melissa smiled and shook her head, “I’m not…I’m not putting it up, Pete…I’m taking it down.”
“Taking it down?” Pete’s heart sank as he caught sight of the look on her face, confirming the truth. At her nod, he bit his lip and looked up at her, “Did he ask you to take it down?”
She nodded, “You know how he is…he thinks the Christmas spirit interferes with the aesthetics of this floor.”
“He thinks it interferes with his life,” Pete mumbled, wondering why his brother was so put-off by the presence of any form of Christmas in his area, though he wasn’t surprised. Ted had been this way for as long as he could remember, “Is he in today?”
“Just came in,” Melissa sighed as she finally managed to get the wreath off the wall.
“Oh,” Peter sighed, “On a scale of one to ten, how bad is it today. Is he in a good mood or a bad mood?”
“With him, it’s always hard to say,” Melissa sighed, shaking her head as she slipped the wreath underneath her desk, the bells on the garland being extremely noisy as she did, “But since it’s the ‘dreaded holiday’ it’s the equivalent of a full moon with him.”
“Of course,” Pete sighed, shaking his head, “Well…I’ll see if I can talk to him.”
“About what?” Melissa sighed, smiling at him, “Are you gonna try again this year?”
“Well, yeah…” Pete nodded, thinking of Steph and their plans for this Christmas in their barely furnished apartment as they’d hardly finished moving in, “Besides, it’s a new place, and I want him to meet Steph…”
“Oh!” Melissa grinned, “How is Steph?”
“She’s great,” Pete smiled, “She’s fantastic…but Ted’s never met her…and he’s the one who helped us get the apartment…I just…”
He frowned. He couldn’t remember the last Christmas he’d spent with his big brother.
“I just maybe want to have some family to celebrate Christmas with,” he sighed, nodding to himself before wincing at how fucking sad that statement sounded. He caught sight of the woman’s sad look before smiling at her, “How’s your girlfriend? Sam was her name wasn’t it?”
“That’s right,” Melissa grinned, “She’s great. We moved in together a little while ago.”
“That’s great!” Pete smiled, “Do you think she’s the one?”
“Let’s hope,” Melissa grinned, “I was planning on proposing to her after I get off work tomorrow.”
“Missy!” Pete gasped, “That’s wonderful!”
“Yeah…” she smiled, “I’m excited…I just hope I’m not worn out tomorrow.”
Pete felt his heart sink, “I can’t believe he’s making you work tomorrow.”
“Honestly, I’m used to it,” Melissa shrugged, “It’s been that way for a few years, so…big deal.”
He felt a little sorry for the people who’d been working for his brother for as many years as he’d been in charge. He’d obviously been a little changed from the aggravating coworker he’d heard tale after tale about. Some people had the sense to seek employment elsewhere, but for some people, CCRP was the only place he had worked.
“Well…” Peter sighed, “I hope it goes well. You deserve to be happy!”
“I think so too,” Melissa smiled, “She’s the one, Pete. I bet my life on it.”
“Then good luck to you,” Pete laughed as he pulled open the door before looking back at her, “He’s in the office, right?”
“Yep,” Melissa nodded, “Good luck.”
“If I don’t come out alive,” Peter murmured looking at her with a dramatic look in his eyes, “Tell Steph I died a hero.”
Melissa matched his look with an even more dramatic look of longing, “We’ll never forget you, bravely bold Peter Spankoffski!”
Peter simply laughed as he closed the door behind him, hearing Melissa speak into the intercom as he walked in, announcing to his brother that he was there.
The top floor offices at CCRP resembled a mix between a sanatorium and an Apple Store. Between the neat silver aesthetic and constant lull of noise, consisting mostly of phones ringing, printers humming, the sound of loud typing, but almost all words were muted, as if they were afraid of speaking lest they wanted to anger the inhabitant of the office ahead of them.
He swallowed hard and passed by each of the desks before recognizing the nervous face at the desk just a few feet from his brother’s door, a man who he probably shouldn’t have been talking to, but he couldn’t resist the urge to say hi.
“Paul!” he smiled as he approached the desk, making the man turn and look at him with a small smile.
“Hey, Pete,” Paul murmured as he pulled a few copies of something from his printer, “How are you doing?”
“Fine, thanks,” Pete grinned, smiling as he took notice of the many photographs, all the smiling faces of Paul and his wife Emma’s children grinning back at him, “How’s the family?”
Paul smiled fondly, his blue eyes brightening as he turned to look at the pictures at his desk as he stapled the copies of the reports in front of him, “They’re great…they’re excited for the holidays.”
“How many kids do you have again? Most of them are adopted, right?” Pete wracked his brain, he’d spoken to Paul about his family so many times, and yet, he could hardly remember all of their names, “Five?”
“Six, counting the baby,” Paul laughed in disbelief, “Though, sometimes I can hardly believe it.”
Pete smiled and nodded before he suddenly remembered much sadder and difficult subjects that Paul had spoken with him about before, “How are Emma and the baby doing? Are they recuperating well? And your little girl…Hannah?”
Paul smiled softly, “Emma and Molly are both fine,” His smile softened and there was a look in his eyes that looked a little saddened, and scared, “Hannah’s been…better.”
Peter nodded in understanding, his heart sinking for the man, “No luck in finding a donor yet?”
Paul shook his head, looking a little disappointed with himself for saying it, “Not yet.”
Peter looked down, “Well…hopefully, there’ll be one soon!”
Paul smiled slightly, “That’s all me, Em, and the kids want. We just want her healthy again.”
“I know,” Pete nodded, “I get it…I’ll be praying for you, man.”
Paul smiled, “Thanks. Even if we’re not religious I appr-”
“Matthews!” a sharp voice cut him off, “Are those numbers ready?”
Peter whirled around to see his brother standing in the doorway, looking a little bit imposing as he stared the man down. Peter felt his heart sink again as he caught sight of the staunch look on his brother’s face. There was no more ease or a lackadaisical attitude towards work. There was no fun-loving smile or an apathetic attitude towards the world that he saw. Simply put, there was no Ted Spankoffski that he’d known.
Paul sighed as he jumped, “Um, y-yes sir…”
“Then why aren’t they on my desk?” the man said impatiently.
“I-I was bringing them now,” Paul sighed, standing and walking past Ted to put them down on his desk, before walking right past Ted and sitting back down again.
“Matthews, make a few copies of the numbers from last quarter, I’ll holler if I need you to do anything else,” with that, Ted finally looked at Peter and nodded at him, “You can come in now, Pete.”
Before responding, Peter really stopped to take a moment to process the appearance of his brother.
Before the big promotion, Ted had never been one for expensive fashion. He could get by with a cheap shirt, some cheap cologne, and a clip-on tie. Now… now he seemed to fully step into the shoes of a large company executive. His hair was neatly combed, the cologne coming off of him reeked of nothing but money, and the clothes he wore in such a chill way seemed to be more expensive than the apartment that Pete and his girlfriend were currently living in.
Needless to say, the man in front of him was very different from the brother he’d once known.
Pete swallowed hard, casting an apologetic look at Paul as he passed.
The slam of his brother’s door made him jump as he suddenly found himself shrouded in the chill of an office. God, this wasn’t his brother. His brother liked having a small office that he could do morally questionable things in. Now he just had a top-floor corner office and was doing worse morally questionable things, but not in the manner he once was.
It was sad to him that the man standing in front of him might as well have been a stranger.
“Sit down,” Ted sighed, sitting down in his own office chair, and though Peter didn’t even work at CCRP, for a brief moment, he worried that he might get fired.
Peter obeyed and sat down in front of the large desk his brother called his own, before meeting his brother’s eyes.
Ted stood in front of the large window, staring out it and cursing under his breath.
“Damn,” he whispered, “they moved to the goddamn building across the street.”
“Who?” Pete asked, a little confused about why ‘they’ were apparently bothering his brother so much.
“Never mind,” Ted shook his head, “Why are you here?”
Part of Peter was taken aback at the bluntness of the question. Sure, in their pasts, there had been moments when he’d get “what the fuck are you up to, squirt?” but never a question that sounded like he was offended at the very sight of his brother in front of him.
“That’s it?” He asked, “No ‘how are you’? No ‘Merry Christmas’? Just, ‘Why are you here’?”
Much to Peter’s lack of surprise, his brother snorted as if he’d asked the stupidest question known to mankind.
“No seriously,” Ted sighed after he’d finished his snickering, “What do you want? Why are you here?”
Peter wasn’t surprised in the slightest, but he couldn’t blame himself for harboring the slightest bit of hope that whatever was left of his brother’s humanity would appear on this day. Again, there wasn’t much of it left, but he’d at the very least hoped it would make an appearance.
He sighed slightly and shrugged, “I don’t know, Ted. I guess I just wanted to wish you Merry Christmas.”
To no surprise of his, Ted scoffed as he finished his sentence.
“I was just,” he shrugged, “Saying hey, and inviting you to have dinner with me and Steph on Christmas day.”
Mentally, he finished that sentence with “even though you’re a total dick.”
For a moment Ted just looked at him, as if his words were processing in his brain. Almost instantly, Pete knew what the answer was going to be, but for some reason, he couldn’t help but hope that maybe the answer wouldn’t be different from what it had been for the past couple of years.
That was when Ted burst into laughter. It was horrifically fake, but Pete had his answer.
“You want me to come spend Christmas in that janky-ass apartment you and the former mayor’s daughter are sharing?” he laughed, shaking his head in disbelief, “Whatever you’re on, can I have some of it?”
“You can just say no,” Peter had never felt so small.
“I shouldn’t have to if you knew that was my answer,” Ted sighed, “I’ve got work to do, I’ll see you when I see you.”
Getting the message, Pete nodded, swallowing back any bitter retorts he might have had towards his brother.
“Okay,” he shrugged, jumping to his feet as the bitterness twisted in his throat, despite his lack of surprise, “Love you too.”
His brother simply responded with a small huff and a muttering of “close the door on your way out.”
He wasn’t shocked that this had been his brother’s response.
It was sad. But it was the truth.
It had seemed since he was eleven that he and his brother had simply grown further and further apart as time had gone by. He’d never been privy to his brother’s life or his wealth since that time. There was nothing between them but the last name. And that was all.
As he left CCRP, flashing a small sad smile at Paul and Melissa as he went, he swallowed hard.
His brother had always been an asshole, but as time had gone by, he’d seemed to always redefine the meaning.
Regardless of what people thought of Ted Spankoffski, the truth was clear.
Ted would always care more about himself than anything else in the world.
The world revolved around him, and nothing, not even an apocalyptic event would change that.
Or so he thought.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Melissa sighed as she bit into her sandwich while they were on their very late lunch break, “It’s one measly day, and he won’t let us have it off. Nobody’s gonna want to call us on that day! Nobody’s gonna even want to conduct any form of business or be interested in donating brain samples or whatever the hell this company does.”
Paul hummed softly into his cup of soup. Around them, the few people who worked on the top floor were chattering nervously about the small vacation time they’d fought for, but Paul couldn’t think of much else other than what he had waiting for him at home. He hated the fact that working on Christmas had become something of a normality for him, but he was used to it. He was used to Ted by now, which was even sadder.
“I mean,” Melissa sighed, rolling her eyes, “Just because he decides to be miserable and a total dick to everyone, especially around this time of the year, doesn’t mean he gets to make all of us miserable, you know what I’m saying?”
Paul hummed again in response. He was used to Melissa’s rants of fury whenever Ted was being a little unreasonable. He was also used to Ted being unreasonable, so this was standard practice.
He and Melissa were the last people left from the technical department that remained after Ted had been seriously promoted to the higher levels. Despite the company saying he too had gotten a promotion through being bumped up to the top floor, he felt like he’d been demoted several levels down, and it was draining him emotionally, financially, and physically. It was taking a toll on his family too, and he didn’t know what to do about it.
Of course, finding another job for him would have been too difficult. He’d been working for CCRP right out of college and had never worked anywhere else in the professional setting. Besides, most former employees were lucky to be employed by other people unless they started their own businesses, given the stain on CCRP’s reputation. All he had was a degree in computer sciences and mathematics, as well as a family to feed, and he found himself in Ted’s employ. As long as it kept his family afloat, he was happy.
That was what made this hellish nine to five worth it.
Never before in his life had he imagined he’d have a family as large as the one he had now, but he adored every last member of it.
He’d only had his mother for a short time, and his father hadn’t been worthy of the title, so he’d never anticipated how large his future family would be, or how much love he was capable of feeling for them.
He’d met his wife Emma eight or nine years before when he’d just started working at CCRP when Mr. Davidson had been the head of the technical department. She was spunky and had caught his attention instantly with her wittiness and her take-no-shit attitude.
Simply put, he’d fallen head over heels in love with her.
After a few months of visiting the coffee shop where she worked, he’d finally asked her out and one thing led to another and they were married a year later.
He had a wife.
A wife he loved more than anything else in the world.
And from there, their family only grew.
After much talking, they’d decided to raise a family of their own, and suddenly they were adopting a host of children they loved as if they were their own. They had five adopted children, and a new baby that was biologically theirs, but it didn’t matter. They were their own family and he loved and valued them more than anything else in the world. The world could have gone to shit around him, and he wouldn’t have cared as long as he had his family.
That’s why he put up with Ted’s bullshit. That’s why he sacrificed Christmas after Christmas with them to work, to make sure they could keep smiling. To try and give his wife and children the world, as that’s what he wanted for them. As that’s what they were to him.
“What about you, Paul?” Melissa interrupted his thoughts and he looked up, “Don’t you wish you could spend Christmas with your wife and kids?”
Paul sighed, smiling slightly at the thought of the last Christmas he’d had with them. That had been the year they’d adopted their third-oldest child, Sofia. That had been three years ago, and the only reason he’d gotten that day off was that he was using some of his sick days as a kind of paternity leave to ensure that their daughter felt safe and comfortable in their home. That had been such a happy day, all of their kids (at least, before their baby had come into the picture) snuggled up with him and Emma on the too-small couch and their apartment floor as they watched Christmas movies together. There hadn’t been many presents, but they didn’t care. They were together and that was a treasure in itself.
“More than anything,” he sighed, “But if we were to take Christmas off, you know how Ted would blow a fuse and fire us on the spot. The last thing my family needs is a husband and father out of a job.”
“I’m not saying we skip work,” Melissa sighed, rolling her eyes, “I’m just saying he should give his employees a day off. I mean, playing the religion card with him is useless, no matter how Presbyterian he claims to be.”
She huffed and shook her head, “Besides, I think he might fire the maintenance guy that put that wreath up earlier because he was pissed when he saw it.”
“I’m not surprised, honestly,” Paul shrugged, “After four years of him running the show, he probably expects us to be used to his anti-Christmas rhetoric by now.”
“No,” Melissa sighed, “He expects us to have the same school of thought like him, by now.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Paul shrugged, about to say something else before his phone started ringing in his pocket. He grinned when he saw the contact picture, a candid shot of his beautiful wife taken the night he’d proposed to her, her name on the screen followed by a few heart emojis, a gesture she’d called him a sap for doing so, but he hadn’t cared. He loved his wife too much to pretend he didn’t, “Excuse me for a second.”
He stepped out into the hallway, careful to avoid the sightline of Ted’s office before he pressed the answer button.
“Hello, love,” he smiled as he answered the phone.
“ Hey dumbass,” he could hear the affectionate smile in her voice as she answered him, “ You’re on your lunch break, right? I’m not going to inadvertently have you burnt at the stake for taking a personal call?”
He smiled at the serious nature of Emma’s voice, “Yeah, I’m on a break. You don’t need to worry.”
“ Good, ” she whispered, “ How’s your day been?”
“Slow,” he responded, “Yours?”
“ A little busy, a little lazy,” Emma murmured, “ The kids didn’t have school today, so we embarked on a series of errand adventures. We got mine, yours, and Hannah’s prescriptions from the Pharmacy. We picked up a few groceries. Then we went home, got into our PJs, and sat and watched movies all day.”
“Fun,” he smiled, his heart aching as he wished he was there with them, “How are they doing?”
“ They’re doing a little too great,” Emma said in a way that sounded a little bit exhausted or exasperated, but he could tell that it was all in a good way, “ They made cookies and made a mess with the icing and- Can you guys please keep it down!? I’m on the phone!”
Paul chuckled slightly as he heard a noise in the background, the unmistakable chatter of their children making him smile.
“ Is that Dad?” a voice he recognized as their second-eldest, Ziggs’, chimed in excitedly “ Hi Dad!!”
With Ziggs’ announcement, a chorus of his kid’s voices entered the phone and for a moment Paul imagined them, all of them eager to speak into the phone as Emma held it out so that he could hear the beautiful chaos of their family. He could even hear the cooing of their youngest addition to their family along with it.
“Hi guys,” he greeted them, “How are you doing?”
“We made cookies!!”
“We made a mess!”
“Danny almost threw up!”
“No, I didn’t!”
“We also watched the Grinch while Molly went down for a nap!”
He chuckled as the variety of noises rose and was soon joined by that of Emma baby-talking their infant daughter. God, he loved his wonderful, loud, chaotic family.
“Okay,” he smiled, “I’m glad. I need to talk to your mom for a moment, but I’ll see all of you tonight, okay?”
As was their family tradition, he could hear a variety of the word ‘okay’ being thrown back at him from each of their kids, even though the shitty phone audio seemed to cut it out for a moment. He loved them all so much.
“Okay,” he repeated with a small laugh, “Let me talk to Mom, okay? I love you all.”
With that, he could hear his family telling him that they loved him before the sound of his wife’s voice returned to his ear.
“ You still there, Dad of the year?”
“I’m here, Em,” he smiled, “Everyone okay over there?”
“ We’re all good, love, ” his smile only grew at the softness in her voice, as if even over the phone they were marveling at how good they had it with their wonderful collection of kids and laughter, as if even though they’d never figured that this would be their lives they still loved every second of it, “ But…we’d be even better if you picked up a pack of eggs for us. The master chefs over here used the rest of them for their cookies and I don’t want to run to the store again. I already checked, we have enough left in the weekly food budget for it, so we don’t need to worry about overspending this week, even if it’s Christmas. Are you good with that?”
“Yeah,” he nodded, smiling at just the sound of her voice, “I love you, you know that right?”
“ You remind me in your own sappy disgusting way every single day,” she groaned, “ But for what it’s worth, I love you too.”
Hell, every single time he heard those words, he could have sworn his heart was doing cartwheels and backflips
He sighed after checking the clock, finding that the thirty minutes’ worth of Lunch they got were nearly up, “I don’t want to hang up and go to work some more.”
“ I wouldn’t either if I were you,” Emma hummed, “ But just think that the more work that’s done, the closer you get to coming home.”
“After grabbing eggs,” he pointed out.
“ After grabbing eggs,” she confirmed, “ I’ll see you later, babe.”
“Okay,” he nodded with a small smile, “I love you, sweetheart.”
“Yeah, yeah,” was her jokingly annoyed reply, “ I love you too. See you later.”
He sighed softly to himself as he ended the call before returning to the breakroom to quickly clean up his soup mess before returning to work with the rest of the employees.
While he worked, he continually thought of his wife and children.
Even over the phone, he could imagine the joy on their faces, the smiles, the laughter, the little playful banter and arguments that often made up the soundtrack of their home. They might not have had much, but the love in their home made him feel like the richest man alive.
God, six children hadn’t been in the cards for him and Emma when they’d gotten married, he was sure, and yet, there they were…a lovely little household to call their own.
He sighed. He wished he could have the day with them. It was their baby Molly’s first Christmas at two and a half months old, and the past few Christmases they’d spent with their children had been delayed because of his work.
He thought of Melissa, who’d let it slip to him that she was planning on proposing to her girlfriend tomorrow, and of all the other people who worked in the building, or at least directly under Ted’s management who wouldn’t be able to spend Christmas at home with their families because they weren’t given a day off.
He glanced at the picture of him and Emma on their wedding day, and the pictures of them and their children that surrounded them. With another sigh, he glanced back at the door to the man he called his boss’ office.
He stood, not really knowing why he suddenly felt compelled to do this, but maybe it would be better to ask rather than spend a full day of work not knowing at all.
He suddenly found himself shaking, his hands in clenched fists by his sides.
This is stupid, Paul , he told himself, trying to talk himself out of his own intentions, It’s just one day…you don’t need…
His thoughts trailed off as he glanced back at a picture of his family, smiling at him from the desk.
He smiled softly as he felt a small uncharacteristic boost of confidence fill him.
What he wouldn’t give to spend a holiday with them, just making sure they knew how much he loved and treasured them. Making sure they knew that they were never second to his work. Making sure that he could be in the new memories their family was constantly making.
Maybe I do. Maybe we all do.
Well, here went nothing.
He swallowed hard before knocking softly on the door.
There was a moment of silence, and the few people who remained in the office looked at him with pleading gazes as if they wanted him to turn back for his own sake, and as nervous as he was, he didn’t care. Maybe this time he wouldn’t get kicked out of the office with a tongue lashing about how selfish he was as an employee when it came to working. Maybe this time he, and the rest of the people on their floor would get to spend more time with their families.
The moment of silence passed and for a moment Paul thought that maybe the man hadn’t heard him, and maybe he could walk away, but he was proven wrong at the sound of his boss’ sharp voice.
“Well, are you gonna come in, Matthews? Or are you waiting for a formal invitation?”
He winced as he meekly pulled the door open, cursing himself slightly and feeling like an idiot for being as nervous as he was. Before the big promotion, he’d never been really intimidated by Ted. However, once he’d been promoted, something drastic had changed. Ted suddenly seemed as if he’d been possessed by a mafia boss or something like that, and Paul could never stop shaking whenever he entered the imposing office.
“Um…Sir?” he practically whispered as he stumbled into the office, shutting the door behind him. Ted didn’t look up from where he was working, a sight that Paul had once been certain that he’d never see in his life, but was now proven wrong, “M-Mr. Spankoffski, sir? Sorry to b-barge in like this…”
“Say something conducive,” Ted snapped, not looking up from his work, whatever that may be, “Or don’t say anything at all.”
Paul swallowed hard.
Get a grip, Paul. The worst that can happen is that he says no…which is also the most likely outcome.
Actually, the worst that can happen is that he fires you, so maybe this wasn’t a good idea after all.
He swallowed hard for a moment, just staring at Ted as if he didn’t know what to say, but working up the courage to speak at all.
Ted raised an eyebrow, “Well?”
“W-Well…” Paul exhaled on the word, almost choking on his attempt to speak, “You see…my…my family…”
“Yes?” Ted already looked bored by the statement.
“Well, you see, sir,” Paul winced as the words he was grappling at seemed to shatter in his mind, “They…well, they mean a lot to me, sir…”
His voice was already so timid and soft as he started to fiddle with his fingers in front of him.
“And…” he was fighting to get a hold of his words at this point, “I was thinking, since already the floor is mostly empty…with a lot of people on Christmas vacation…and since tomorrow is generally a pretty slow day for business…”
“Let me guess,” Ted sighed sitting up straight in a way that made Paul go rigid, “You and the rest of the people on the floor would like tomorrow off.”
Well…that was a way to cut to the chase.
“Y-Yes,” Paul nodded timidly, “Yes, sir.”
Ted sighed heavily as if he’d been suffering for a long time, and Paul had just asked him for his last penny. And what made it worse was the fact that Paul felt guilty for even asking.
“Let me get this straight, Matthews,” Ted sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose, “You already used all three of your sick days earlier this year for a quote ‘family emergency’.”
Paul winced at the bluntness with which his boss spoke as if he didn’t believe it was a family emergency at all. It was that severe of an emergency that he’d taken a total of fourteen days off and had only been paid for three of them. And yet the man was acting as if he had simply taken two weeks off because he felt like it.
“Y-Yes,” he nodded, staring at his feet, not knowing why he felt like the walls were gonna come crumbling down on him.
“And you were also paid for a ‘paternity leave’ two months ago, right?” Ted clicked his tongue, “Five weeks you didn’t work and still were paid for it.”
Paul swallowed the small bitterness that rose in his throat. He was pretty sure the legal span of paternity leave was longer than that, but he didn’t want to say anything that could set his boss off.
“Yet,” Ted said, rising from his seat, “You have the audacity to ask that yourself and your coworkers get tomorrow off? That you still be paid for the day and not work at all?”
Paul swallowed hard, responding with a small nod, unable to get the words ‘yes, sir’ out again.
Ted shook his head, “After all the time I’ve let you take off and still be paid for, you still want more time off?”
Paul didn’t say anything. Not even a nod could acknowledge his boss. Why did he feel bad for even asking at all?
Ted was silent for a moment before letting out another loud huff.
Paul braced himself for the harsh words his boss undoubtedly had prepared for him before he was met by…
“ Fine. ”
He froze for a moment, unsure if he’d truly just heard the word come from his boss’ mouth.
“Wh-what?” Paul stammered.
“You heard me,” Ted deadpanned, “Have your way. You and the others can come in early the following day.”
Paul was shocked. He could come in earlier on the twenty-sixth! He could do that…but…but he got to spend Christmas with his family! He’d get to celebrate with them and spend the day with them!
“Th-thank you, sir,” he stumbled for words, trying to think of something…anything he could say to his boss t
“Get out of my office,” came Ted’s reply.
God, if Paul could do a heel-click, he would have done so as he exited Ted’s office.
Had that truly just happened? Had Ted agreed to give his employees the day off? He couldn’t believe it.
Mere moments later, a company email popped up on his computer, the sender being marked as the man himself, the sounds of everyone who was in the office receiving it echoing through the room.
Paul couldn’t believe his eyes as he got confirmation of what Ted had said in writing.
All employees may have Christmas Day off. If you wish to maintain employment, however, report to work at 8:00 the following morning. P. Matthews must report in at 7:00.
Okay, so he’d been singled out to come in much earlier than the others on the twenty-sixth, but he was okay with that. He was okay with that as long as he got to spend more time with his family. That was what mattered most.
As the day went by, he could hardly wait to break the news to his wife. Emma had often been saddened that they couldn’t spend Christmas together, despite the fact that she was something of a grinch herself. And though they’d never once complained, he knew that their children were disappointed that he’d not been there for the past Christmases. It was sad to him that he’d only gotten to spend one full Christmas with them in the past four years. But now he had a chance to renew it and spend Christmas with them once more. He could hardly wait.
He was so excited about it, that he’d practically sped through the remainder of his work that afternoon, making sure he completed everything so he didn’t have to worry about it tomorrow. The only priority in his mind was his family.
He was finishing up working once Ted left the building, an annoyed expression on his face. The man was so preoccupied with locking his office that he didn’t care that he’d bumped into a few other people in his wake.
Paul didn’t know why…but he suddenly felt compelled to speak again.
“Um…sir?” he practically whispered.
“What?” Ted snapped, turning around, looking down on Paul with a glare.
For a moment, he found himself at a loss for words. He could never understand why the man chose to make himself so miserable. Particularly around the holidays.
Maybe this was just the way Ted was.
Maybe this was how it had always been and he’d just never seen it.
Regardless, Paul was sorry for him.
“Um…t-thank you,” he nodded, smiling meekly, “Thank you, sir.”
Ted said nothing, just walking away with a small huff.
Don’t say anything else. Don’t say anything else. Don’t say anything-
“Merry Christmas!” Paul called after him, against his better judgment.
Again, the man said nothing, responding only with a scoff.
The door was slammed as their boss left the building and everyone who remained exhaled sharply as if they all felt insurmountable relief to have been left alone. Paul only had a few things to print out before he could go home, and he eyed the clock with a small smile.
He’d be home just in time for dinner, eggs in hand, eager to see his family and break the news that he would be spending Christmas with them after all.
And he completed his work with a smile on his face.
The bastard couldn’t drive fast enough as he made his way throughout the town, avoiding carolers and little representatives for local charities, all of them ringing their bells and eager to spread the Christmas cheer in the season of giving. The man had avoided them like they were the plague and the creature could only grin as he watched.
The creature shifted on the rooftops of a townhouse as he watched the man make his way home, driving his expensive car a little too fast in the crowded streets. As he moved, the heavy chains he was bound in rattled slightly as if it were imitating the sleigh bells children everywhere would be imagining for the night to come. This sound, however, didn’t herald any joy for the man below. This sound would herald the end of him.
He’d known the man would only grow in his greed since his interference in the years past.
Now the man’s heart was almost as black as the coal children were threatened with for their minor transgressions, and the seed of his plan had already taken root and was growing into something the man had failed to think about.
He was looking at the greed of humanity in its purest form as he watched the man exit his home, shooing away some donation workers who were walking door to door, groaning to himself as he went to unlock the door to his expensive townhouse.
He couldn’t stop a smile from crossing his face as he watched.
The man on the street below had made a deal with the devil, and now it was time to collect.
One thing was for certain, however, as he watched the man struggle with his keys.
Theodore Spankoffski wouldn’t be spending this Christmas alone.