The scent of fresh pine, roasted chestnuts on an open fire, and the ornate Christmas tree wafting through the air. Streets decorated with holiday decorations and snow marked the beginning of Christmas falling outside.
Matt Calderon was a devoted husband and caring father to his two children. Everyone loved him: his family, friends, coworkers, and community. He was a hardworking man who worked two jobs to support his family. Matt frequently delivered newspapers early in the morning in temperatures below zero. He then went straight to his next job at the Finnegan Toy Store, Lake Placid’s largest toy factory.
Finnegan Toy Store produced and distributed a wide range of toys, bikes, board games, video games, dolls, miniatures, and other items for adults and children. Matt worked in production. He hand-assembled the toys. Matt started as a part-time seasonal worker a few years ago, because jobs in a small town like Lake Placid were scarce. He eventually became a full-time employee. Their busiest days had always been around Christmas, when large corporations placed orders with them.
Matt and his wife, Maria, had a tough year. They had been struggling to save money since June to provide their children with special Christmas gifts. Maria developed asthma and became a frequent visitor to the doctor’s office whenever she had an attack. Clinical tests revealed no signs of allergies, but wheezing would begin for no apparent reason. Doctors couldn’t do much about it. Maria went through a lot, and she couldn’t find work because of her health. Even though Matt had two jobs, money was still tight. It was only three weeks before Christmas, and they still didn’t have enough gifts for their children.
Matt arrived home that night, exhausted. When he entered the house, he tossed his coat, scarf, gloves, and a Finnegan Christmas catalog onto the chair. He was heartbroken when he saw his wife and children adorn their eight-year-old artificial Christmas tree in the living room. It was so old that the branches had lost their plastic needles. Stockings were ready to be hung on the table. He knew his wife either made them or purchased them secondhand. Typically, the stockings were filled with small matchboxes, knitted socks, a scarf she made, or a candy bar. Matt expected this year to be special for his children. He was counting on the Christmas bonus Mr. Carlton had promised everyone, but he hadn’t given it yet to anyone. Matt was losing hope that he would get it. Mr. Carlton was a stingy spender.
His mind was so preoccupied that he didn’t notice his six-year-old son, Ray, had his hands on the catalog he had brought home. Ray’s eyes lit up as he examined each toy. He had his sights set on a brand-new bicycle. His friend, Jack, had a nice bike, and he wished he had one like it.
Ray always talked about the bike at dinner, and hoped Santa would bring him one for Christmas. Haley, their eight-year-old daughter, chimed in, saying she wanted a Chihuahua, although her mother might be allergic to pets.
Matt wondered how they could give their children the gifts they desired when they didn’t have two cents to rub together, let alone the money for a new bike and a dog. He remembered the thrill of his first bike ride. When he was a kid, it was a gift he’d never forget. How could they ignore their children’s excitement? They didn’t have the heart to say they weren’t getting those presents. They adored their children and wanted to make them happy, but what could they do?
“Perhaps I can get a job as a Christmas helper,” Maria suggested as they lay in bed.
“No, Maria, you must take care of yourself. If you have another asthma attack, I’m not sure we can afford to take you back to the doctor. Stay at home and take it easy. I’ll see Mr. Carlton first thing tomorrow morning. Maybe I’ll get that bonus he promised.”
Matt left early the next day. He went straight to Mr. Carlton’s office, but he wasn’t there yet. His secretary was not in, too. Matt looked at the clock on the wall. It was only 6:35 a.m. He was early. The office wouldn’t open until seven o’clock. Matt sat in the waiting room, flipping through the pages of a magazine. He looked around the office. Glass cabinets line the walls, displaying some of their most popular toys. A landscape painting hangs on the wall, with a large portrait of Mr. Carlton next to it.
A sixty-year-old man with long gray hair entered the room a few minutes later. “Matt, what are you doing here so early?” he asked.
“Mr. Carlton, do you have a minute? If it’s okay with you, I’d like to speak with you.”
“Sure, Matt, come on in.”
Mr. Carlton was the owner of Finnegan Toy Store. He inserted the key into the lock and opened the door to his office. Mr. Carlton fumbled around the wall for the light switch, found it, and turned it on. He took off his hat, scarf, and jacket and hung them on the rack. Then he went to the window and opened the shades to let the sunlight in. Matt walked into Mr. Carlton’s lavish office. There was a bookcase, a couch, two chairs, and a coffee table in the corner. Mr. Carlton motioned for him to take a seat next to his large wooden desk.
“So, what’s on your mind, Matt?” Mr. Carlton asked as he took a seat and turned on his computer.
“I’ll get right to it, sir. Could I get the bonus you promised us? It’s almost Christmas, and I’d like to give my children their Christmas presents earlier this year.” Matt felt like a little kid asking for a dime to buy candy. “I apologize for being such a nuisance, sir, but I promised my son a bike and my daughter a dog.”
Mr. Carlton raised an eyebrow at him. “That’s going to be difficult, Matt. If I give you your Christmas bonus sooner, everyone else will want one. I don’t plan on giving them out until Christmas Eve.”
“Christmas Eve, sir? Don’t you think it’s a little late?”
“What?” Mr. Carlton asked, fumbling with something he was holding, and not paying attention to what Matt had said.
Matt felt like a complete moron. Mr. Carlton was saying no. He should have known better. Everyone knew Mr. Carlton loved his money, and everyone at work knew his favorite pastime was counting it over and over. His wife even joked about it when she visited the factory one day. Matt bowed and thanked him for his time. He was about to leave when Mr. Carlton stopped him.
“I’ve never said no yet, Matt.”
Matt was confused. “Sir?”
“Come back here tonight. I have meetings all over town today, but I should be back in the office around 6:00. I’ll give you your bonus then.”
Matt puts his hands to his head in stunned disbelief. “Thank you very much, Mr. Carlton. You don’t know how much this means to me.”
“I may be strict, but I don’t want you to think of me as Scrooge. Okay, get back to work.”
Matt smiled as he stepped out of the office, leaving Mr. Carlton to his work.
Erica, Mr. Carlton’s secretary, came in and listened in on their conversation without the men’s knowledge. Erica hid behind the door when she saw Matt walk out of the office. She saw Mr. Carlton punch in the code to his safe through the crack between the hinges. Her eyes widened as it opened. That was the most money she’d ever seen in her life. She saw Mr. Carlton take out a few bundles, close the safe door, and turn the dial. He placed the cash in a small bag, placed it in his desk drawer, and locked it. Erica noticed Mr. Carlton tossing the key into a large jar full of marbles. Erica dashed back to her desk as soon as she saw Mr. Carlton walking out.
“Erica, good, you’re here. I’m going to a meeting. I’ll be back later.”
“Yes, sir,” Erica said, pretending to be busy arranging the files.
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