A Christmas story

A Christmas story – Chapter 8

Yesterday’s chapter:

Don Thomas worries about his job as he travels home from a quick trip to the China plant. Kathie’s party is a great success. Mr. Kringle has a surprise for Mr. Wong and Don.

HED: Christmas gifts for everyone

Blame it on Shanghai time, Don Thomas thought. He’d been on home soil in east Tupelo for a little less than three days, but his body’s idea of night and day was way out of whack. It was 4:13 a.m. and Don was wired and ready to go.

He’d already washed every dish in the house and cycled two loads of laundry. He also wrapped the front door frame in multicolored lights something he should have done weeks ago.

He buzzed with energy and eyed the carpet, where Saturday night’s partygoers had tracked a little dirt here, some leaf parts there. He had his hand on the closet door to retrieve the vacuum cleaner, then smacked himself on the forehead harder than he’d intended.

“What am I doing?” he asked, bouncing up and down on the balls of his sock-covered feet. “I haven’t felt like this since Sarah was born. Yeah, that’s it. And Andy before that. Everything’s scary and wonderful, exactly the way it’s supposed to be. And É and É

“And I’m talking to myself,” he continued quietly. “I never talk to myself.”

The feeling involved far more than Shanghai, Don knew. Handyman Mr. Kringle had unleashed all this energy the moment he’d given Don a secret recording of his boss talking on a cell phone. It was more than an early Christmas present; it offered hope for a “get out of China free” card.

He ached to tell Kathie and the kids, but forced himself to wait until he confronted his boss. E.B. Wong was new to HighComfort Furniture Co., but he’d already built a reputation as a man dedicated to the company’s bottom line. He was a financial wizard and a proven winner. Would HighComfort’s CEO believe Wong was a liar and a thief, too?

Don checked his watch and sighed: 4:25 a.m.

“I guess we’ll know in a few hours,” Don said, deciding to reorganize his tool set in the garage.

***

“Where’s Daddy?” Sarah asked as she walked into the kitchen.

Mama was leaning against a counter and drinking decaf out of a Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer cup. Andy sat slumped over his apples and cinnamon oatmeal.

“I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count,” Andy said.

“It’s sad he can’t get a Christmas vacation like us,” Sarah said. “Maybe we can do for him what Mr. Kringle did for us.”

“Throw sawdust on him and make him see lights and colors?” Andy said.

Sarah giggled while some of Mama’s coffee went down the wrong pipe. Mama coughed, then asked, “Andrew Donald Thomas, what are you talking about?”

“Nothing, Mama,” Andy said.

“A picnic. A Christmas vacation picnic,” Sarah said, smiling at her idea. “Maybe we can take Daddy a picnic. He gets to eat lunch, doesn’t he?”

“Yeah, a picnic,” Andy said. “We can make peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Daddy’ll love em.”

“Peanut butter and banana?” Mama asked.

“It gets stuck up here,” Sarah said, touching the roof of her mouth with her finger. “Then you get to lick it off with your tongue.”

“Please, Mama, can we?” Andy asked.

“Pretty please,” Sarah said.

“OK, let’s take your daddy a picnic,” Mama said, “but I think he’d prefer ham and cheese.”

“No,” the kids said in unison.

“It’s got to be peanut butter and banana,” Andy said.

“Trust us,” Sarah insisted.

***

Don Thomas sat in what usually would be considered a comfortable chair. It was from HighComfort’s popular Executive Leather line, but the thing felt like pins and needles to Don because it was in front of Larry Vernon’s expansive desk. Vernon had founded HighComfort nearly 35 years ago and built it up to be a worldwide player in the furniture business. The company had more than 1,200 employees, and all looked to Vernon for leadership through good economic times and bad.

He wasn’t smiling as Don placed a boombox on his desk and pressed play.

Don could hear “Jingle Bells” in the background, as well as a stir of conversations too jumbled to understand, then E.B. Wong’s voice rose above the chatter:

“He doesn’t suspect a thing. I’m at his Christmas party right now. Trust me, cousin. The money transfers from HighComfort to us on New Year’s Day, then it’s the penthouse for us and prison for Thomas. I’ve made sure his signature is everywhere. When we retire on Jan. 2, I think I’ll take up forgery as a full-time hobby.”

“What’s the meaning of this?” Vernon asked, scowling like the judge, jury and executioner of Don’s career. “Where’d you get this? What’s he talking about? What signatures? What party? Start talking, Thomas, and it better be good.”

“Yes, sir. Well É ah É it all started when I came to work early É”

***

Kathie held a glass door open for the kids, who were sharing the load of the Thomas family picnic basket. They made it from the car to the HighComfort Furniture Co. building without the slightest suggestion of a fight. Kathie considered that a minor but notable Christmas miracle.

“Welcome to HighComfort,” a receptionist said. “May I help you?”

“We’re here to see Daddy,” Sarah said.

“Don Thomas,” Kathie said.

“We brought his lunch,” Andy added.

“Let me buzz his desk,” the receptionist said. “I’m not getting an answer. I’ll page him.”

“There he is,” Sarah said, pointing through another set of glass doors. “Why is he carrying that big box?”

A box? Kathie forgot about the receptionist and the kids and pushed through the doors. Her shoes clicked loudly as she hurried toward her husband.

“What happened, Don? You didn’t É” she said, then lowered her voice. “You didn’t get fired. Oh, Don, at Christmastime? How could Mr. Wong do it? Where is he? I need to talk to him.”

“Easy,” Don said, bending to put the brown cardboard box on the floor. “I’m not fired. I’m just moving to a new office. Apparently, if you save the company millions of dollars, it comes with a promotion.”

“You got a promotion? Millions of dollars? How?” Kathie stammered.

“As for talking to Mr. Wong, you’ll have to take a number.”

Sarah and Andy still shared the load of the picnic basket. Andy had slowed down for his sister, even though he’d wanted to keep up with Mama.

“We brought lunch,” Sarah said.

“I’m about ready,” Don said.

“It’s peanut butter and banana sandwiches,” Andy said.

“I haven’t had one of those in years,” Don said, picking up his box of office supplies. “I like how they stick to the roof of your mouth. Let’s eat in my new office, which you’ll notice is nowhere near China.”

The Thomas family enjoyed one of the best Christmas vacation picnics on record.

***

Boo the cat clearly loved Christmas morning. She’d spent the past hour jumping from box to box, sliding across ripped paper and slapping ribbon in every direction. Her new catnip-flavored mouse sat untouched under the tree.

Sarah was in front of a mirror trying out her new blue jean skirt and sparkly pink top. The fuzzy yellow slippers on her feet weren’t new, but they set off the outfit nicely.

Andy was outside playing basketball with his dad. Both of the Thomas men had Air Jordans to break in.

Kathie Thomas drank decaf from her Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer cup and held two unopened presents. The pink one was addressed to Baby Girl Thomas and the blue one was for Baby Boy Thomas. Dr. Kellum had said it was too early to tell the sex of the twins growing inside her, but these presents came from Aaron Kringle.

“If Mr. Kringle says so, it must be true,” she said. “Huh, Boo?”

The cat knocked a tiny brass bell off the tree then swatted it through the house, jingling all the way.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s it for our Christmas present to you readers. If you’d like copies of the eight-part story written by our staff, come by our South Gloster Office or go to www.djournal.com. For a look at the writers who made it possible, take a look at our information box nearby. Thanks again to local artist Chuck McIntosh for the illustration. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everybody.

If you’re wondering which Daily Journal writers made A Christmas story possible, here they are:

M. Scott Morris – Chapter 1. Scott is senior entertainment writer.

Leslie Criss – Chapter 2. Leslie is features and special sections editor.

Emily Le Coz – Chapter 3. Emily covers the Tupelo beat.

Ginna Parsons – Chapter 4. Ginna is Food/Home & Garden editor.

Leesha Faulkner – Chapter 5. Leesha covers Lee County and courts.

Sheena Barnett – Chapter 6. Sheena primarily writes for Scene.

Errol Castens – Chapter 7. Errol is Oxford Bureau reporter.

M. Scott Morris – Chapter 8. Since Scott got us started, we asked him to wrap it up.

Happy Holidays, everybody. Hope you enjoyed the story.

If you’d like copies of each installment, come by our South Gloster Street office or go online to www.djournal.com.