The office looked like Santa had enjoyed too much eggnog and hurled all over it. Blinking colored lights flashed from the ceiling, red and green wrapping paper covered empty printer paper boxes and were placed under a twenty-foot tree in the atrium like extravagant gifts for the well-behaved. Plastic pine garlands hung off every metal shelf, while “authentic” cinnamon-scented pine cones were in glass bowls on each desk.
Each desk but Nora's. She’d snuck her bowl into the ladies’ bathroom, arguing that if fake-scented nature belonged anywhere, it was in there.
But none of that bothered her as much as the music. Pop, country, instrumental and choir, Mariah Carey’s umpteenth Christmas album—all of it blared overhead from eight to five. It was an over-saturation of a fabricated holiday and grated on Nora’s last nerve. Every Christmas season, she wished she could fake an injury if only to work from home and play the angsty nineties rock that actually got her in the spirit.
A chime alerted her to a new email on her desktop. It was from Martin, her boss, and it was labeled, “URGENT—Open Now!”
Like she didn’t have enough projects underway for the company. Now, two weeks before she got to head to Turks and Caicos for an extended “pretend-you-don’t-live-under-three-feet-of-snow” holiday, she got to tack another to her list.
She opened it and groaned. It was worse than she thought.
Secret Santa? Ugh.
She’d take another big work project over this any day. Her office had gone completely to the dark side.
She looked over the email again. In the next few minutes, Debbie, the secretary, would send each employee their secret person. Per Martin’s instructions, employees had a week to think of a gift and bring it to the office holiday party that Saturday. Nora felt strongly that Christmas shouldn’t mingle with work—having to see her colleagues on a weekend was more punishment than blessing.
She’d just get her lucky recipient the thirty dollar cap in lottery tickets and call it a day.
Again the chime rang, telling her the email from Debbie arrived. She clicked on it and read the name she’d been given. Then she read it again. And once more to make absolutely certain she wasn’t seeing things. She refused to believe fate would be so cruel as to give her the one name she’d been avoiding in the halls, in the break room for the past eleven and a half months.
Sexpot David who all the women drooled over and only Nora had been stupid enough to try and kiss at the last Christmas party when he’d leaned into her by the bar. Turned out he was only trying to remove a bit of rogue tinsel from her shoulder. He was being nice, and she’d lecherously attacked him.
And now she had to think of a gift to give him? Well, lottery tickets were out. There was no way she could give him something so impersonal. Not after their last interaction. Or maybe that’s precisely what she should do—give him something that clearly communicated, “I don’t want to jump your bones.” Ugh. Both seemed impossible.
Shit. Maybe she’d just quit, stay in Turks and Caicos indefinitely. No one would miss her there, right?
Her teeth chattered as she remembered the awkwardness that had settled over her and David right after the faux kiss. Her hand had grasped his bicep—his stupidly strong, muscular bicep—as she pursed her over-eager lips and tipped her chin up to meet his mouth with hers. He’d coughed, cleared his throat, and brushed the tinsel off her shoulder before mumbling something and walking off.
She shuddered at the memory.
David, huh? Well, Merry effing Christmas to me.
She slid down her chair so her neck rested on the back, and sighed. This was shaping up to be a Scrooge-worthy holiday already and it was barely December.
Five days later, Nora sat at her desk, her chest rising and falling slowly, her fingers trembling. In front of her was her third package that week from her “Secret Santa.”
The first gift had come the day after the lists were dispersed. It was a beautifully decorated box, wrapped in shimmering silver paper with a stunning hand-curled silver bow wrapped around it. The tag said, “Merry Christmas! XX”
She’d delicately unwrapped the box, careful to save the paper, and opened it, a small gasp escaping her chest.
Tinsel. Just tinsel.
She’d looked over her shoulder at her normally-functioning office and wondered how the world could be operating at normal speed when hers had tipped off its axis and spun wildly out of control.
She’d been so preoccupied with the near-kiss and gut-wrenching aftermath that she hadn’t considered anyone might have seen her error in judgment the year before. But clearly that was the case, given the small but obtrusive box of tinsel she held in her hands. Why the hell else would someone drop that on her desk, if not to tease her?
Christ, she already didn’t want to go to the damn party. This addition to her nightmare only exacerbated why she’d be a fool to go.
But when the second gift arrived, a bouquet of white poinsettias almost identical to those that had been on the end of the bar the night she’d tried to kiss David, she was certain she’d read the whole situation wrong. Maybe it wasn’t a nosy office mate pranking her. Or maybe, just maybe, the gifts were from David himself.
Though, he hadn’t seemed any different when she’d been stuck in the elevator with him that afternoon, so she couldn’t be sure he was behind the mystery gifts. She also had a little bit of a hard time imagining that the cruel Fates who’d given her David as a recipient would gift her to him as well. And even if the fates were that cruel, why would he call attention to something she was pretty sure they’d both been avoiding all year?
The card confirmed it, though. Her secret Santa was David.
“Thanks to these little puppies (flowers or leaves? We never decided…), I had a chance to act on my crush last year. Sorry I blew it. Merry Christmas. XX”
Ho. Ly. Fuck.
David had a crush on her? Her breasts filled with desire as she imagined his strong, muscled arms wrapped around her. Jesus. It would be a goddamn Christmas miracle if it was true.
Which is why, now, looking at the third gift on her desk, she hesitated before opening it. Whatever it was might change everything because the card read, “Wear this to the party if your feelings are reciprocated. If they are, your final present will be in my office on the desk. Come find it after the toast from Martin. Merry Christmas, Nora. XX”
Her name in his handwriting sent a surge of lust from her abdomen to her sex, which made her uncomfortably wet. She would have to work the rest of the day thinking about David, about the feelings that were very much reciprocated, and couldn’t even get herself off so she could work in peace. It was going to be a long enough day without needing to rub herself under her desk imagining her coworker on top of her.
She undid the red bow, slid it to her lap, then ran her finger between the tape and paper, sliding the box out of the wrapping.
She opened the thin package to find not one, but two gifts. On top was a stunning icicle necklace on a delicate chain. It was the most stunning piece of jewelry she’d seen, let alone been given. Her breaths came quicker now, her stomach flipping over itself with nerves. She put the necklace aside and lifted the fabric underneath it. She moved it off the desk so gravity could reveal a long, black gown with glitter discreetly sewn into the paper-light fabric. It was backless with a plunging neckline, nothing she’d ever consider buying, let alone try on. Not least of which because she knew the designer, and in her hands, she held at least a week’s wages.
Oh, God. Could she really do this? Could she really step out of her very comfortable comfort zone and risk everything to let David know she wanted him back? As she ran her hand along the silk, her fingers trembled and she let her imagination run wild. David’s fingers sliding over her skin with the same tenderness, his arms wrapped tightly around her waist. His lips on hers.
It was too much, too quick. Like winning the lottery and not having a clue what to do with the winnings because she’d spent her life in poverty, desperate for needs, never considering what to want for herself.