From: Barb Winston
To: Marketing Team
Sent: Mon, 14 Dec 2014 11:24:35
Subject: Team Holiday Party
Don’t forget about the party tomorrow. Bring your favorite dishes and Secret Santa gifts.
After reading the email, Dario leaned his head back, closed his eyes, and breathed a sigh of frustration. He had forgotten about the party. Now he had to dredge to the store on his lunch break.
Christmas was one of those holidays Dario believed was overrated – store fights and spending money to impress others, especially kids. It was a waste of money in his eyes. Then again, he thought everything was a waste of money. Around the office he’s known for being a Scrooge – financially and in holiday spirit.
Dario grabbed his coat and headed to the nearest discount store.
Have a holly, jolly Christmas;
It’s the best time of the year…
Dario rushed in the store ready to conquer. He skimmed shelved and bins looking for something, anything with a feline and a cheap price tag. He picked Caroline, the cat lover of the bunch so the feat should be simple.
The more Dario searched, the less he felt holly or jolly. The Christmas music blaring was killing him. Then he found it – a blue mug with Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat. This will do.
Amused with his finding, Dario sashayed toward checkout. Then he saw the lines. His jaw dropped. He had to disagree with Burl Ives. It wasn’t the best time of the year.
Walking to his car, Dario noticed something red under his windshield. First thought was a holiday flyer. As he approached, it was
a card bearing his name. He removed it, looked around the parking lot, and then slowly opened the envelope. Inside held a gift card to the Partridge Bistro.
He gasped, not believing what he possessed. There were a handful of times he’d been to the Partridge Bistro, but each time was on someone else’s dime. Looks like it would happen again.
Dario scrambled to find the giver. A note bore typed letters – From Your Secret Santa. He didn’t know what to think or why he received a gift from someone unknown. Once the disbelief settled, Dario hopped in his car on his way to the Partridge Bistro to consume his favorite dish – pheasant in pear sauce.
Dario returned to the office, walking past his co-workers, happily swinging a shopping bag from the Under a Dollar store. The men shook their heads, while the women cringed. Each hoping he didn’t select their name.
He sat in his cube, considering the wonderful lunch. He would have missed his good fortune if it weren’t for the mug. He removed it from the bag, smiling down at it. Then he realized he had nothing to wrap it.
Dario opened one drawer after another until he hit the jackpot. In the recesses of his desk laid a gift bag from a Christmas past. It was crumpled and haggard in appearance, but to him, it’d get the job done.
He tried to smooth the creases with his hand, but finally gave up. Instead of a tag, he slapped a sticky note on with Caroline scrawled across it. He scooted the bag behind his computer and went back to work.
“Hey Dario. Can you help me hang the banner,” Barb asked.
“Sure! Gimme a sec.” He sounded enthusiastic, but inside begrudged. Masking his emotions had become second nature. It helped seal the deal with a tough client, and led him to be promoted to team lead. But it was this same nature that caused problems with his girlfriend, Susan. He dropped the melancholy thought to put on a car salesman smile.
The decorations were set, and the team filed in the conference room. After pleasantries and plates of potluck dishes, the gift exchange began.
One by one, the co-workers’ revealed their secret with cordial oos or surprised ahhs along the way. Dario zoned out after the second or third pass. The fakeness wasn’t his thing. He’d rather daydream about nothing than tune in to the charade.
Barb questioned, “Dario! Who did you have?”
His safety bubble had been broken.
“Oh, um. I had Caroline. Merry Christmas.” As the bag was passed to her, the bottom fell out. The mug cracked. “Sorry. I can get you another one.”
“No, no. That’s fine.” The screwed up look Caroline displayed screamed disdain and horror. She and other co-workers made bets on the receiver of Dario’s gift. Caroline lost out on the pool and the gift.
“Well, let’s move on.” Barb glazed over the uncomfortable situation while Dario cleaned up the mess.
The gift exchange went on. Dario returned to La La Land, hoping it would all be over soon. The small white box placed in his lap snapped him back to reality.
“I already have my gift.”
“Well it has your name on it. Someone must think you’re extra special. Open it up.” The group egged him on.
Dario yanked off the red ribbon, sliding the box top off in the process. Inside laid a crystal ornament in the shape of two doves forming a heart. The bottom piece held his name and that of Susan.
His curiosity heightened. He ripped out the tissue paper in search of the gifter. Like the day before – From Your Secret Santa.
Dario was puzzled and so were the others. Some thought he may be having an affair and the mistress was trying to out him. Others thought he schmoozed up to a client and this was the reward in an anonymous way. The surprised looks turned to daggers of suspicion as Dario sat bewildered without explanation of where or who the gift came from. He finally resolved in his mind that he was just having a stroke of luck.
Dario found a large green envelope propped against his computer screen. His body went stiff. He loosened up enough to duck his head out of the cube, checking for anyone passing by – no one.
He tore the envelope open. The contents held a gift certificate for the French Hen – a swanky bed and breakfast in the mountains. Dario chuckled to himself, shaking his head. It’s Susan. That little sneak. He called her.
“And when did you become so devious?”
“What are you talking about, Dario?”
“You know what I’m talking about. The 12 days of Christmas thing you got going on – the gift certificate to the French Hen, the ornament with two doves, and the gift card to Partridge Bistro. It’s really sweet, hun.”
“Babe, I have no idea what you’re talking about. I didn’t give you any of those things.”
Dario’s heart stopped. Susan wouldn’t lie. She had no reason to. “Uh, let me call you back.”
“Dario, what’s go-.”
He hung up before she could finish. There were bigger fish to fry. He rummaged his brain for an answer. The only logical one was to call his clients and vendors – not to ask directly, but throw enough net to catch something.
The net came back empty.
The next few days were no different than before. Dario received an Apple watch for calling on day four, tickets to a boxing match at the Golden Ring Arena on day five, and then on day six things got real. A medium blue box with pink ribbon lay on his desk.
He ripped the box and ribbon obliterating it. A picture frame fell to the floor, shattering its glass. He leaned over to pick it up. The picture was a sonogram. The name of the mother was Susan Gosling.
Dario rushed to find Susan. He yelled. She explained. They talked. In the end, someone was stalking him in the name of giving. But who and why?
The couple racked through every family member to people in the workplace to classmates from kindergarten through college. They couldn’t pin any one person because some knew things that others did not.
While it was nice to have lavish gifts, Dario didn’t like the fear and uncertainty it created for himself or Susan – especially now with a baby on the way.
Dario steeled that fear into determination. There was only one way to deal with the culprit, and he had a plan.