Christmas came on a Sunday that year. The old radio played a mix of Christmas carols and Santa music. Six-year-old Christopher Shepherd curled up on the couch and marveled at the Christmas tree. It even smelled like Christmas—evergreen, and Turkey roasting in the kitchen. He thought happy thoughts, and reveled in the joy of the season. He felt the love everywhere, and wondered why he could not feel such Christmas spirit all year long. He felt peace on earth and good will to all with whom God is well pleased. His older brother apparently felt something quite contrary. Nine-year-old Ricky had a new dart rifle. He presently hid behind the Christmas tree where he could poke his head out and shoot the bad guys. They had plenty of first person shooter video games, but they were not allowed to use them on Christmas morning before church. Christopher did not mind. Ricky whined.
Ricky paused in his killing spree. His eyes got wide and his mouth temporarily opened, when one dart accidentally knocked over the framed picture of Aunt Linda that sat on the wall unit. He quickly retrieved his dart and put the cracked picture back up, crooked. His face looked sorry, but his mind worked fast to figure how he could pretend he did not know what happened.
Christopher preferred peace to war—love, and joy to the world, like the angels sang in the Christmas Eve service. He felt content to sit and look at the most beautiful Christmas tree in the whole world; at least as he imagined it to be.
Mom came over to sit on the couch beside him and she put her arm gently around Christopher’s shoulder. He smiled and snuggled. He always smiled on Christmas day. He normally smiled all day long, and not just for the presents and torn Christmas wrap that littered the floor. Christmas was the best day of the year, and he wished every day could be like Christmas.
“We need to get moving,” Dad said, as he came half-way down the stairs, and spoke to his wife.
Mom nodded and stood. “Time to get dressed for church,” she said to the boys. “Ricky,” she added his name to be sure he heard before she went into the kitchen to check on the turkey, pausing only briefly to straighten out Aunt Linda’s picture, and frown. Christopher got down from the couch to walk up the stairs. Ricky put down his gun and ran, shoving Christopher out of the way to be sure he got up the stairs first. Christopher didn’t mind. It was Christmas.
Cue: Here We Come a Wassailing
A Holiday Journey, The London Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Don Jackson. Ó℗CD Guy Music Inc., 2001
Cue: opening credits …
… Christopher Shepherd
… as Courtney/Demon
… as Santa…
“You wanted to see me Mister Potts?” Chris stepped into the manager’s office and straightened his shirt, though he imagined he knew what Mister Potts wanted to see him about. He had been through this before. He knew the routine.
“Chris,” Mister Potts spoke without looking up from the papers on his desk. “The district office has been reviewing the P & L statements since the summer, and I have been told I have to pare down the staff.”
“I understand,” Chris said, but he could not help the disappointment that crept into his words. “And at Christmas time.” It caused Mister Potts to look up.
“The company is not responsible for Christmas. Lots of people don’t even celebrate these days. I will give you a good recommendation, wherever you go.”
“I do try to show up on time and do my work to the best of my ability.”
“I understand,” Mister Potts said, as his face wrinkled with regret. “I understand your mother passed away.”
“Three months ago,” Chris said. “Cancer.” Chris held back his tears.
“I’m sorry. Your father?” Mister Potts looked up briefly.
“Passed away almost twenty years ago. Heart.”
Mister Potts lowered his head and shuffled his papers. “It’s that girl of yours. You have to call out so much.” Chris saw the rationalization for the firing scurry across Mister Pott’s face.
“Lilly is my brother’s daughter. Ricky was military. He died overseas two years ago. I guess she is my responsibility now. We never knew her mother.” Chris figured it was pointless, but he had to say it. “I am all she has left. I need to take care of her. That is why I need this job.”
“It isn’t my decision.” Mister Potts steeled himself. “I’m just the bearer of bad news. I’m sorry. Good luck.” Mister Potts went back to his papers and would not look up again. “Your last check will be mailed to you.”
Chris knew better than to argue, and much better than to complain. “I will be putting you down as a reference, and I thank you for putting in a good word for me.” He turned and stepped out of the office, closed the door quietly, and breathed.
Being laid off could be a gift, he thought. Chris sniffed and wiped the tear that came up into the corner of his eye. He thought he might get unemployment through the new year. The company would probably fight him on the unemployment. Still, he had some money he inherited when his mother died, though she ate most of it over the years in her reverse mortgage. He got something from the V. A. to help support Lilly. He dreaded the idea of going to court, if it came to that. He knew he needed to insure Lilly had a stable home environment, or lose her, and being laid off twice in the last four years did not make for a good resume.
He did not want to think about it. His phone buzzed.