If there was ever a Mrs. Santa Claus, it would have to be Sally Po; woman
is just in love with the season. Her office is decorated to the nines from
the day after Thanksgiving, and there are home-made treats brought in to
the office every day for the entire month of December.
I teased her that she was probably solely responsible for
raising the collective cholesterol level of the entire Preventer organization
by a hundred points in that one month alone. Of course, I usually did it
around a mouthful of peanut brittle. I could generally stay away from the
cookies and fudge, but my Lord, the woman’s home-made peanut brittle
was to die for.
I’m not normally much of one for the holidays myself,
but I’m sure that’s because I don’t exactly have a ton
of childhood reference points for it. When you’re living on the streets,
Christmas is pretty much just another day. Though I’ll admit pan-handling
is just a little bit easier that time of year.
So I assume that Sally and I are pretty well polar opposites
on the whole holiday thing, because her childhood is also opposite from
mine. I image she has a whole shit-load of Christmas memories and traditions
that she is drawing from.
Not that I begrudge her that, it’s actually sort of
nice. A window into another kind of life for me. Gives me some hint of what
things are supposed to be like for your average non-orphan type normal person.
I like the pretty lights and the nifty snow-flake cut-outs
she puts on the windows. I like the sappy Christmas music, the tinsel, and
yes… the peanut brittle.
But most of all, I like the way the whole sugary, clichéd,
silly mess makes Sally grin like she was five years old. It’s…
And somewhere in the first week of December, she starts making
plans for the gift-giving part. It varies from year to year; we’ve
done name drawings and made strange little games of it. We’ve done
ornament swaps and had years where everything had to be edible. Sometimes
it’s kind of cheesy… but it’s usually fun all the same.
This year, when the sign-up sheets went up, Sally and her
advisors – those being anybody she caught long enough to grill with
questions – had settled on a ‘Secret Santa’ theme. All
gifts had to be hand-made, or kept under a certain cost. Everybody who signed
up had their name tossed into a hat and then all participants got to draw.
Not even Sally would know who got whose name, and you weren’t supposed
to tell. Pretty standard stuff… in fact, I think we’d done it
at least once before. Might have been the year I got the fuzzy slippers
and the coffee mug that said ‘I ‘heart’ caffeine’
on the side; I love that mug… it’s huge.
The sheet went up on a Tuesday, and the whole office knew
we were in full ‘holiday’ swing, because Sally started wearing
her traditional Christmas tree pin. Don’t know where in the hell she
got the thing, but it had actual blinking lights. God-awful gaudy thing,
but damned if it didn’t make everybody smile when they talked to her.
By Thursday, I think a dozen or so people had signed up. The
drawing was still a week away, but most people were busy or lazy enough
that they waited until the last minute. I was one of those who hadn’t
gotten around to it, and was in fact sitting at my desk thinking about it
that day when Wufei walked in with a scowl on his face.
‘Pissed off so early in the morning, Chang?’ I
asked lightly. ‘What? Nobody make coffee yet?’
The scowl changed a bit as he tried to clear his expression,
it always surprises him when people can read him so easily, but it didn’t
go away completely. ‘Garrison’s at it again,’ he muttered
as he went to his own desk.
‘What this time?’ I grinned. ‘Trying to
get Une to put gourmet coffee at the stations again? Somebody have a typo
in a memo? Or another dress code complaint?’
Wufei snorted in acknowledgement of Mr. Anal-retentive Garrison’s
past… shall we say, expressions of opinion, but he didn’t lose
the scowl. ‘Nothing like that. He… wrote a memo…’
I raised an eyebrow, starting to wonder just what in the hell
it was this time. Nobody could stand the guy; he worked in records and had
a somewhat inflated opinion of the value of his education. I once got a
report back with my punctuation corrected and a memo attached detailing
the uses of the semi-colon. The guy had even given me a list of web-sites
that offered on-line training in technical writing, grammar and punctuation,
and even one on e-mail etiquette. Though I suppose that last one might have
been justified after I sent him the ‘bugger off’ note. ‘And…?’
I prompted, when Wufei didn’t immediately finish the thought.
He sighed. ‘It’s posted down the hall on the bulletin
board. Go read it yourself… just to make sure I’m not over-reacting.’
Well, that served to pique the hell out of my interest, so
off I trotted to the water fountain and the board beside it. There next
to the Christmas gift exchange sign-up sheet was a neatly typed memo from
our dear Mr. Garrison, expressing his… disappointment in the year’s
theme. He apparently found the idea ‘trite and clichéd’
and opined that the gifts received from such an exchange would be ‘cheap
That’s as far as I got before I ripped the thing off
the wall and stalked back to the office with it balled up in my fist. Wufei
met my entrance with a wry smile. ‘Guess I wasn’t over-reacting.’
‘What an ass!’ I snapped, wadding the memo up
into a tight ball and throwing it across the room into the trash can. ‘What
the hell was the point to that?’
Wufei watched the paper as it thumped into the trash and grunted.
‘You realize there’s a copy of that on every floor, next to
every sign-up sheet, don’t you?’
I groaned. ‘I guess I should have. What a flaming asshole;
think we can get them all before Sally sees one?’
‘I doubt it,’ Wufei replied, giving me a sympathetic
look. ‘I heard they went up last night and you know Sally’s
practically the first one in each morning and…’
‘Since she’s usually putting out her cookies and
stuff,’ I picked up his reasoning. ‘She makes the rounds…’
‘And most of the sign-up sheets are posted right next
to each floor’s coffee stations,’ he cut back in, nodding in
I sighed heavily. ‘She couldn’t have missed it.’
‘Probably not,’ he said.
We were quiet for a second. ‘Man,’ I finally said,
‘she’s got to be crushed.’
‘It was something of a mood killer,’ Wufei agreed
dryly, rubbing his knuckles thoughtfully along his jaw-line as though he
were contemplating decking someone.
‘Why would he do something like that?’ I asked,
not quite able to get my head around that part. ‘What did he gain
‘You know how Garrison is,’ Wufei said, poking
half-heartedly at his computer mouse to bring his system to life.
‘But if he didn’t like the plan, why in the hell
didn’t he speak up before now?’ I grumbled, not able to let
it go. ‘Not like Sally wasn’t asking everybody for ideas! Why
wait until it was all set in stone and announced?’
‘I don’t know, Duo,’ Wufei sighed. ‘I’m
not a psychoanalyst.’
I barely acknowledged the dry humor as I continued to go over
that memo in my mind. ‘In fact… what was the point of doing
that publicly? Not like everybody doesn’t know Sally runs the thing…
why not just e-mail her, or talk to her privately? Why turn it into a public
display? The only purpose that served was to embarrass Sally.’
‘For that matter,’ Wufei interjected. ‘What
difference did it make to him? I’ve never known him to sign up.’
‘Exactly!’ I jumped on the point, following it
through. ‘If he didn’t like the damn theme… just don’t
sign up! Why make a federal case out of it? It’s not freaking required
‘You’re preaching to the choir here, Duo,’
Wufei grinned at me and it made me stop and grin back.
‘Sorry,’ I said sheepishly, finally leaving the
doorway to the office and going to lean against my desk where I could still
see Wufei. ‘The whole thing just pisses me off. But I know better
than to e-mail Garrison. He’ll just question my spelling of the word
‘fucktard’, and won’t get my point at all.’
Wufei tried to contain a snicker, and just shook his head
at me. ‘His kind can’t be talked to,’ he informed me.
‘They’re always right, no matter what.’
‘I just feel bad for Sally…’ I began, but
stopped when we both heard familiar footsteps approaching our office.
‘Duo,’ Heero began, almost before he was actually
in the office, not really looking at us, but at a paper he held in his hand.
‘If I sign up for Sally’s gift exchange, will you help me with
‘You?’ Wufei asked, arching an eyebrow. ‘You
never sign up for anything!’
‘Well,’ Heero began, looking flustered. ‘I
just felt like… I mean, it seemed like the best way…’
It clicked then, and I reached out to take the paper from
his hand, glancing at it to confirm what it was before wadding it up to
send it flying to join its brethren in the trash. ‘Ah. You saw Garrison’s
little critique of our holiday traditions.’
Heero looked a little relieved that he wasn’t actually
showing us something we hadn’t already known about. ‘Yes, just
about everybody has.’
‘Has Sally?’ Wufei asked, that edge coming back
into his voice.
‘Nobody knows,’ Heero sighed, coming further into
the office to lean against my desk beside me. ‘She hasn’t commented,
and nobody wants to be the one to ask in case she somehow missed it.’
Pretty much how I felt about it; no way in hell was I going
to be the one to bring it up. ‘Can we pretty please go down to records
and beat the shit out of Garrison?’
Wufei snorted. ‘No, but Heero’s right… we
can all go down the hall and sign up.’
I blinked at him for a second and then grinned. ‘No
better way to show support than to get involved?’
‘Precisely,’ Heero grinned wolfishly. ‘I
think this year could end up having the biggest turn out we’ve ever
‘No sense letting one pathetically attention-starved
person ruin the whole thing for everybody,’ Wufei agreed.
‘Attention starved?’ I queried.
‘What else would make a person do something so openly
rude?’ Wufei shrugged. ‘I certainly don’t understand the
motivation; he had nothing to gain.’
‘I liked my fucktard explanation better,’ I grumbled.
‘But I suppose if you want to psychoanalyze him there’s probably
some kind of frustrated artist thing going on there with that literary degree
‘No,’ Heero interrupted. ‘He’s a fucktard.
Now let’s go sign the sheet and then I was thinking about ordering
Sally some flowers.’
‘What?’ Wufei asked, blinking in surprise. ‘Flowers?’
‘Well,’ Heero said, ducking his head. ‘She
obviously loves the holiday season, or she wouldn’t go to all the
trouble she does. So I was thinking that she might enjoy some surprises
of her own. She’s always giving to everybody else, but…’
‘Other than the gift exchange,’ I mused, following
his thoughts. ‘Nobody ever does those little things for her.’
‘And just in case she might need some cheering up over
a certain incident…’ Wufei cut in, the light coming on in his
eyes as well.
‘Exactly,’ Heero finished, seeming pleased that
we saw his reasoning, and agreed with his conclusion.
‘So the focus here is not on fucktard,’ I summarized.
‘But on Sally.’
Heero gave me a kind of odd smile, but shook his head. ‘Not
on… Garrison, but not really on Sally either. It’s on the exchange
itself and keeping the spirit Sally wanted.’
Wufei looked pleased for the first time that morning. ‘One
bad apple, and all that?’
Heero nodded. ‘He shouldn’t be allowed to take
the fun out of it for everyone else simply because he can’t unbend
enough to enjoy it himself.’
I grinned widely. ‘I foresee a lot of truly inventive
gifts this year.’
‘The best revenge,’ Wufei grinned back, nodding
sagely. ‘Is to make sure it’s a huge success.’
Heero grinned along with us and then nudged my shoulder. ‘Sign
me up while I order the flowers?’
‘Sure,’ I agreed. ‘You can use my phone.
What are you going to get?’
‘Roses?’ he suggested, the question in his voice.
‘Isn’t that a bit clichéd?’ Wufei
asked as he rummaged through his desk looking for a pen.
I smiled. ‘Maybe so… but who cares? I vote for
Wufei quirked us a smile, ‘Red ones.’
Heero nodded his approval and turned to make the call while
Wufei and I headed down to the coffee station. We couldn’t help but
share a grin as we bent to sign the sheet. There were easily double the
number of signatures on the list as there had been when I’d arrived
It felt pretty darn satisfying to add our names to the end
of that list. I imagined Garrison sitting in his office like some Grinch,
fuming and huffing to himself about us poor saps down in Preventerville.
‘Ooooh, good turn out!’ a voice suddenly said,
and we turned to find Sally standing behind us, leaning in to peer at the
list. ‘I may have to use the cafeteria instead of the break room this
year; I’m not sure we’ll have the space for all the people who
have signed up.’
Wufei and I exchanged a look, smiling helplessly at her wide
grin and little blinking Christmas tree pin. ‘Well, I… uh…
guess people are just feeling the spirit this year. Or something,’
I muttered, and Wufei only just managed to contain an eye roll.
‘Yes,’ he said, stepping in smoothly. ‘You’ve
done a wonderful job, Sally. It should be a lot of fun.’
Her grin widened. ‘Why thank you, Wufei,’ she
said and then turned to continue down the hall, juggling file folders and
a coffee mug that said ‘Head Elf’. After a few steps, she glanced
back and her grin changed to a warm smile. ‘And thanks for signing
up guys, but you know… I already decided I wasn’t going to let
one asshole ruin my holidays.’
I had to grin, but she was right all the way around. Anybody
who would attempt to spoil somebody else’s joy for no good reason,
really was just an asshole. And Sally Po totally owned Christmas.
Fiction : GW :