The smell of a fresh pine tree, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and the decorated Christmas tree wafted in the air. A cozy fire crackled in the fireplace. Streets with holiday decorations glittered, Christmas carols played through the mall speakers, and snow was falling outside, signaling the beginning of Christmas.
Matt Calderon was a loving husband and dedicated father to his two children. He was a family-oriented man as well as being a kind and thoughtful friend. Everyone adored him—his family, his friends, his coworkers, his community. He was a hardworking man who held two jobs to provide for his family. Many times, he delivered newspapers early morning in below zero temperatures. It was a tough job, but he never complained. He needed the extra income so he could support his family. From there, he would go straight to his next job. He worked at Finnegan, the largest toy factory in Lake Placid.
Finnegan Toy Store designed and created collector and limited editions, 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. He 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, but eventually, he became a full-time employee. Their busiest days had always been at Christmas when big companies ordered from them. They made sure all the packages, no matter how big or small were delivered on time. Mr. Carlton, a sixty-year-old man with long, grayish hair, owned the company.
It was a challenging year for Matt and his wife, Maria. They had been struggling to save money since June to get their children special gifts for Christmas. Unfortunately, Maria suddenly developed asthma and became a regular visitor at the doctor’s office whenever she suffered an attack. Clinical tests had revealed no evidence of allergy, but for no apparent reason, the wheezing would start, and there was little they could do. Maria suffered a lot, and she was unable to find work because of her medical condition. Even with Matt working 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 was breaking when he found his wife and children in the living room, putting Christmas ornaments on their eight-year-old artificial Christmas tree. The tree was so old that the branches were losing the plastic needles. On the table were Christmas stockings ready to hang. He knew his wife either made them or bought them secondhand. Typically, their stockings would be filled with small matchbox cars, knitted socks, a scarf she made or a candy bar. He thought this year was going to be special for his kids. He was counting on a Christmas bonus Mr. Carlton had promised everyone at work, but he hadn’t given it to anyone yet.
His mind was so preoccupied he didn’t notice his six-year-old son, Ray, got hold of the catalog he brought home; his eyes wide 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 just like it.
At dinner, Ray was still talking about the bicycle and hoping 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 that her mother might be allergic to pets.
Matt thought, how could they 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 never forgot as a child. How could they ignore the looks on their children’s faces with anticipation? 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 that we have the money to take you to the doctor again. Just stay home and rest. I’m going to see Mr. Carlton tomorrow morning. Maybe I can get the bonus he promised.”
Early morning the next day, Matt left the house. He went straight to Mr. Carlton’s office, but he wasn’t in yet. His secretary wasn’t in either. He looked at the clock on the wall. It was only six-thirty. He was early. The office wouldn’t open until seven. He sat in the waiting room, flipping through some pages of a magazine. Minutes later, Mr. Carlton walked in.
“Matt, what are you doing here so early?” he asked.
“Mr. Carlton, do you have a minute?” Matt asked nervously. “I would like to speak with you if you don’t mind.”
“Sure, Matt, come on in.”
Mr. Carlton pushed the key into the lock and opened the door to his office. He fumbled around the wall looking for the light switch, found it, and turned it on. He removed his hat, scarf, and jacket, hanging them neatly on the rack. Then he went to the window and opened the blinds to let some sunlight in.
“So what’s on your mind, Matt?” Mr. Carlton asked as he took a seat and booted up his computer.
“I’ll come to the point, sir. Would it be possible for me to get the bonus you promised last year? It’s almost Christmas, and I really would like to get my children their Christmas presents early this year.” Matt felt like a little boy asking for a nickel to buy some 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 a 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 bowed and thanked him for his time. He was about to leave when Mr. Carlton stopped him.
“I didn’t say no yet, Matt.”
Matt looked stunned and confused. “Sir?” he asked.
“Come back here tonight. I have a meeting all day, but I should be back in the office around six o’clock. I’ll give you your money then.”
Matt put his hands to his head in shocked disbelief. “Mr. Carlton, thank you so much. You don’t know how much this means to me.”
“I might be strict at times, 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.
Erica, Mr. Carlton’s secretary, had already arrived and heard their whole conversation. She was hiding behind the door listening in. The two men had no idea she was there.
Erica quietly peeked through the crack between the hinges and saw Mr. Carlton opening the door to the safe. Her eyes widened. 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 money 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 walking outside of his office, she quickly went back to her desk.
“Erica, good, you’re here. I’m heading for my meeting now. I will be back later.”
“Yes, sir,” Erica answered pretending to be busy arranging files.