The smell of a fresh pine tree, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and the decorated Christmas tree wafted in the air. Streets adorned with holiday decorations and snow falling outside signaled the start of Christmas.
Matt Calderon was a devoted husband and loving father to his two children. Everyone adored him—his family, friends, coworkers, and community. He was a hardworking man who held two jobs to support his family. Many times, he delivered newspapers early morning in below zero temperatures. From there, he would go straight to his next employment at Finnegan Toy Store, the largest toy factory in Lake Placid.
Finnegan Toy Store manufactured and distributed a variety of toys, bicycles, board games, video games, dolls, figurines, and other things for adults and children. Matt worked in production. He assembled toys by hand. Matt began as a part-time seasonal worker some years ago as jobs weren’t easy to come by in a small town like Lake Placid. Eventually, he became a full-time employee. Their busiest days had always been at Christmas when big companies ordered from them.
It was a trying year for Matt and his wife, Maria. They had been struggling to save money since June to get their children special gifts for Christmas. Maria developed asthma and became a regular visitor at the doctor’s office whenever she suffered an attack. Clinical tests had shown no evidence of allergies, but for no apparent reason, the wheezing would start. There was little the doctors could do. Maria suffered a lot, and she could not find work because of her medical condition. Even though Matt worked two jobs, money was always tight. Christmas was only three weeks away, and they still didn’t have enough to get their children any presents.
Matt came home that night, exhausted. When he walked into the house, he dropped his jacket, scarf, gloves, and a Finnegan Christmas catalog on the chair. He felt his heart breaking when he found his wife and children in the living room, putting ornaments on their eight-year-old artificial Christmas tree. It was so old that the branches were losing the plastic needles. On the table were Christmas stockings ready to be hung. He knew his wife either made them or bought them secondhand. Typically, the stockings would be stuffed with small Matchbox cars, knitted socks, a scarf she made, or a candy bar. Matt thought this year would be special for his kids. He was counting on a Christmas bonus Mr. Carlton had promised everyone, but he hadn’t given it to anyone yet. Matt was losing hope he would get it. Mr. Carlton was a penny pincher.
His mind was so preoccupied he didn’t notice his six-year-old son, Ray, got a hold of the catalog he brought home. His eyes widened with excitement as he looked at each toy. He was eyeing a brand-new bicycle. His friend, Jack, had a nice bike, and he wanted to have one like it.
At dinner, Ray was still talking about the bicycle and hoped that Santa would bring him one for Christmas. Haley, their eight-year-old daughter, joined in and said she wanted a Chihuahua without even thinking her mother might be allergic to pets.
Matt thought about how they could give their children the gifts they wanted when they didn’t have two pennies to rub together, much less the money to buy a new bike and a dog. Matt remembered the sheer thrill of riding his first bike. That present was one he would never forget as a child. How could they ignore the look of anticipation on their children’s faces? They didn’t have the heart to tell them they were not getting those presents. They loved their children so much and wanted to make them happy, but what could they do?
“Maybe I can get a job as a Christmas helper,” Maria said while they were in bed.
“No, Maria, you need to take care of your health. If you have another asthma attack, I don’t know if we have the money to take you to the doctor again. Just stay home and rest. I will see Mr. Carlton tomorrow morning. Maybe I can get the bonus he promised.”
Matt left the house early morning the next day. He went straight to Mr. Carlton’s office, but he wasn’t in yet. His secretary wasn’t in either. Matt looked at the clock on the wall. It was only six-thirty. He was early. The office wouldn’t open until seven. Matt sat in the waiting room, flipping through some pages of a magazine. He glanced around the office. Glass cabinets lined up along the walls, displaying some of their popular toys. A landscape painting hung on the wall and a large framed picture of Mr. Carlton next to it.
Minutes later, a sixty-year-old man with long, grayish hair walked in. “Matt, what are you doing here so early?”
“Mr. Carlton, do you have a minute? I would like to speak with you if you don’t mind.”
“Sure, Matt, come on in.”
Mr. Carlton owned Finnegan Toy Store. He pushed the key into the lock and opened the door to his office. Mr. Carlton fumbled around the wall looking for the light switch, found it, and turned it on. He removed his hat, scarf, and jacket, hanging them on the rack. Then he went to the window and opened the blinds to let the sunlight in. Matt entered Mr. Carlton’s extravagant office. There was a bookcase, a sofa, two armchairs, and a coffee table in the corner. Mr. Carlton invited him to sit next to his large wooden desk.
“So, what’s on your mind, Matt?” Mr. Carlton asked as he took a seat and booted up his computer.
“I’ll get right to the point, sir. Would it be possible for me to get the bonus you promised us? It’s almost Christmas, and I would like to get my children their Christmas presents early this year.” Matt felt like a little boy asking for a nickel to buy candy. “I’m sorry to be such a nuisance, sir, but I promised my son I would buy him a bike and my daughter a dog.”
Mr. Carlton looked at him, arching his eyebrow. “That would be difficult, Matt. If I give you your Christmas bonus early, then everyone would want theirs, too. I don’t plan to give them out until Christmas Eve.”
“Christmas Eve? Don’t you think that is rather late, sir?”
“What?” Mr. Carlton asked, fumbling something he was holding, not paying attention to what Matt had said.
Matt felt like an idiot. Pretty much, Mr. Carlton was saying no. He should have known better. Everyone knew Mr. Carlton loved his money, and it was common knowledge at work that his greatest pleasure was counting them repeatedly. His wife even made a joke about it when she came to visit the factory one day. Matt bowed and thanked him for his time. He was about to leave when Mr. Carlton stopped him.
“I have not said no yet, Matt.”
Matt looked confused. “Sir?”
“Come back here tonight. I have meetings all day across town, but I should be back in the office around six o’clock. I’ll give you your bonus then.”
Matt puts his hands to his head in shocked disbelief. “Mr. Carlton, thank you so much. You don’t know how much this means.”
“I might be strict, but I don’t want you to think I’m a Scrooge. Okay, get back to work.”
Matt left the office smiling, leaving Mr. Carlton to his work.
Without the men’s knowledge, Erica, Mr. Carlton’s secretary, had arrived and heard their whole conversation. When she saw Matt leaving the office, Erica hid behind the door. She peeked through the crack between the hinges and saw Mr. Carlton punched in the code to his safe. Her eyes widened when it opened. There was more money in that safe than she’d ever seen. She saw Mr. Carlton take out a few bundles, close the safe door, and spin the dial. He put the cash in a small bag, placed it in his desk drawer, and locked it. Erica saw Mr. Carlton put the key inside a large glass fishbowl full of marbles. When she saw Mr. Carlton walk outside of his office, she galloped back to her desk.
“Erica, good, you’re here. I’m heading to my meeting now. I will be back later.”
“Yes, sir,” Erica answered, pretending to be busy arranging files.
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