The call today from my old boss, Greg, two days before Christmas at 2:12 p.m. should have tipped me off. I should have let it go to voicemail. I should have ignored it and not stopped decorating the Christmas tree in my boyfriend’s apartment. The tree that Declan had ordered from some place in Nova Scotia where all trees look like something out a movie set and the super-nice Canadians hire Tibetan refugee monks to rub the trunks down with virgin coconut oil and chant “Om Mani Padme Hun” for universal nirvana.
That is, before they chop the tree down to ship it by helicopter to a waterfront high rise on the Long Wharf in Boston, where it will look pretty for two weeks and then get the chipper treatment at a recycling center. That’s a form of reincarnation, right?
But I don’t ignore Greg’s call even though I might be a little intoxicated by the sight of my man wearing a Santa hat, tight jeans, and a snug green cashmere sweater that makes me want him to hurry up my chimney tonight.
(C’mon. You knew the pun was coming).
“Hey, Greg. What’s up?” I answer.
Declan is hanging one of the new ornaments I bought him, a candy cane made from glued cloves. Mom’s friend holds a Sustainable Free Trade Christmas Fair every year, and I’d been told a young African girl made the clove ornament to raise money to buy a three legged-goat for milk to feed her family, or something like that.
The details are fuzzy because I couldn’t listen through my sobs as I handed fistfuls of money to Mom, who just picked out a few items and patted me on the back, mumbling something about how I is just like my father. He had been banned from the fair two years ago when he bought all five hundred handmade Christmas cards from the Ivory Coast refugee who was promoting slave-free chocolate, sobbing with guilt and apologizing profusely for his KitKat addiction.
“Did Carol call you?” My old boss sounds frantic. Greg isn’t the type to descend into hysteria. A chill runs up my spine, and it isn’t from the nine inches of snow that blanketed Boston yesterday. I know that tone of voice.
That is the tone that got my hand shoved down a toilet in the men’s room of a fast food restaurant when I worked for him as a mystery shopper, evaluating customer service at stores and companies.
The tone that gave me a brand-new car that looked like a Goliath took a steaming dump on top of it when we were doing branded advertising for a website.
The tone that made me listen to podiatrists wax rhapsodic about toe fungus as they eyed my feet like I was starring in a fetish story from one of my dad’s old Hustler magazines that he kept stored in his backyard Man Cave.
That is the tone of desperation.
“No. Carol did not.”
Declan looks at me, tilting his head to the left and making a low voice in the back of his throat that indicates displeasure. While I work for Declan’s company now, I fill in for the occasional mystery shop at my old job. My oldest sister, Carol, has my old job now and sometimes does the really professional maneuver where she calls and begs and whines and pleads and threatens to tell my boyfriend all about that time I bought a chest enhancer and got my budding nipple caught in the springs, in order to get me to take on a shop.
Yeah. Professional like that. Carol would make a great women’s prison kitchen chef.
So Greg is a step above. “Carol had a mystery shopper no-show on her, and she can’t come in because of your nephews. Something about needing a babysitter—”
“We can go over and watch Jeffrey and Tyler!” I say in an overeager voice as Declan continues his vocal imitation of Jamie Fraser from the Outlander series, making more guttural sounds than a female sea lion with strep throat.
Of course, I offer to babysit. Because the alternative is…
“That doesn’t work. Something about one of the kids having the bubonic plague,” he adds. Carol can get a wee dramatic, but I vaguely remember Mom telling me one of the kids had something that generated more snot than a bunch of postmenopausal women watching Steel Magnolias.
“Did you try Josh?” Josh is the company technogeek, and he almost never gets pulled into mystery shopping. Right now, though, I’ll throw him under the bus if it means staying here with Declan for the rest of the day, my eyes memorizing the tight little ripples of muscle between his lower ribs as he stretches up on tiptoes to hang an ornament. His sweater pulls up enough to make his torso look like it was finely carved from tanned alabaster.
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
A humping in the bedroom so fine I forgot my name.
(So what if it doesn’t rhyme. Just go with it).
“We need a female,” Greg stresses. I look down at my overflowing bosom, tightly encased in a green wrap shirt that makes my cleavage pour out like a split muffin top. Damn. For once, having breasts qualifies me for a job.
“He looks really good in drag,” I tell Greg.
Declan halts in mid-stretch and plants his feet firmly on the floor, turning to me. He points to himself and shakes his head slowly, eyes steely green.
Not you, I mouth.
“Good,” Declan says with his hands on his hips, one knee bent, like a man in pose to argue, the male equivalent of Talk to the Hand.
“Josh does that stuff?” Greg asks, incredulous.
“No,” I confess. “I just don’t want to do whatever it is you want me to do.”
“We need a sexy female elf.”
“A sexy female elf?” Did I hear him wrong?
Declan appears instantly at my side, suddenly very interested.
“You would be a very good sexy female elf,” Greg and Declan simulcast in my ears in two completely different tones of voice. Both, though, carry the tiniest hint of desperation.