Eve glared at the elevator call button in frustration. What mental abilities might it take to will the elevator down from the upper floors? With arms so full she didn’t dare attempt to move a single package, she glanced around for the usual jostling crowd fighting for entry into the cubicle. In a full lobby nobody appeared to be headed her way. What on earth were they all doing?
She’d already dropped three parcels outside on the sidewalk. A helpful stranger had been kind enough to pick them up and deposit them back onto the shaky pyramid. Perhaps if she put them all down on the edge of the planter nearby, called the elevator, then gathered them all back up again she could get inside by the time the doors opened and before they closed again.
Eyeballing the button once more, Eve considered a move she hadn’t dared since her flexible days in grade school ballet lessons. A long time ago in Connor Falls. Manhattan made you faster and leaner, but not necessarily supple. Still, it was worth a try. Tongue sticking out in concentration, she raised and aimed her boot toe toward the up arrow.
Her close-fitting skirt ripped with a sound like cardboard tearing. Right up the seam. Eve dropped her foot, wobbling from side to side to keep the parcels from flying from her arms. Her skirt flapped open to mid-thigh.
“Great. Absolutely perfect.” Exasperation, exhaustion and plain self-pity pricked her lids with threatening tears. Now that would be even better, to return to work bearing the fruits of an afternoon’s hunt for last minute supplies while bawling her eyes out. Who wouldn’t think she’d lost it then?
“Cheer up, sweetie. It’s Christmas.”
Eve’s jaw clenched. Blinking away the moisture from her lashes, she cut a glance at the man who had appeared beside her. His gaze was riveted to her thigh peeking out from the skirt. She gave her knee a shake to shift the fabric down. When that didn’t work, she cleared her throat loudly.
“Would you mind pushing the call button?”
Before the man could lift his hand, an elderly gentleman stepped in between. He leaned toward the button raising his closed umbrella and pressed the steel tip to the button’s center. Eve thanked him as the doors slid open, understanding in glum acceptance that if she’d only waited a moment longer her skirt would still be in one piece.
That was one of many problems she had with the holidays—getting caught up in the rush. She’d learned New Yorkers weren’t much on patience at the best of times. Since living in the city she’d found herself willingly joining in the constant forward momentum. It was exciting and infectious. But Christmastime produced a different beast altogether. The city became a fusion of good cheer and prickly acceleration and cramming the most things possible into the smallest space and the least amount of time. Or maybe that was everywhere.
Whenever she voiced that opinion, however, most people she knew shot her down, and quickly. Somehow, they didn’t see it the way she did. They blamed her viewpoint on her own cynical perspective.
And could be they were right.
Crushed to the back of the elevator by the sudden crowd surging in behind, the press of bodies did manage to keep her packages from hitting the ground. Eve performed a pedestrian’s version of a “k” turn until she was facing front again.
“Would someone push ten?” she called.
Eve eyeballed the backs and shoulders in front of her. She had no fondness for crowded elevators and had learned to live with the claustrophobic reaction she had every time she got into one. But she found herself especially piqued by crowded elevators stopping at every single floor with people holding the doors open to exchange wishes for the holidays. Unless they were all taking vacation, they would have ample opportunity to bump into each other again before the actual day.
“Excuse me! Hold that door, please! Let me out!”
Maneuvering past everyone with her piled packages intact, Eve escaped into the carpeted corridor beyond. She stood a moment catching her breath and reminding herself there were only twelve more days to go and Christmas would be over for another year.
She hated feeling this way. There was a certain justification in it, though.
“Eve! There you are! We were beginning to think you’d opted to hit the bar instead of coming back to work.”
Eve spun around, nearly dropping her purchases again. Sprinting toward her as best she could in ankle-killing spikes, Pattie looked a bit like a red-headed gazelle quick-shuffling through something distasteful in the grass. Despite her mood, Eve smiled in greeting. Pattie hastened to take half the packages from her arms.
“The bar,” Eve echoed. “Now why didn’t I think of that?”
“Because as a general rule you don’t drink.” Pattie performed a weird alchemy with the bag and boxes in her arms, turning them into a solid mass. Eve tightened her grip on the few she’d been left with. Off balance, they’d taken on a wobbly gelatinous consistency.
“If I’d been sent on this errand,” Pattie added, “I’d be across the street downing my umpteenth margarita about now.”
Eve snorted. “No you wouldn’t. This sort of thing is perfect for you. You love to shop.”
Pattie planted a hand over her heart. “Sure, for myself. Not for—” she reached into a bag and yanked out a Styrofoam cone “—the makings of an elf cap.”
Eve laughed. “The makings of more than one hundred elf caps.”
“I’m still saying margaritas at my place after work,” Pattie called over her shoulder, starting off down the hall.
“You nearly killed me with half a one out of that last pitcher you mixed,” Eve said, hurrying to catch up. “But maybe I should. Pass through the holidays in a haze.”
Pattie’s laughter jettisoned off the walls. “Oh, please.”
“What? I could really get into that.” Eve warmed to the image popping into her mind’s eye. “I’d be drunk enough for a tattoo.”
“What tattoo?” Suspicious, Pattie halted in the middle of the floor. She frowned at Eve’s midsection as if she already visualized one there.
“Wrong area,” said Eve. “Who would see it? It would be right in the middle of my forehead for the world to read. I Am Scrooge.”
Pattie tossed her hair in dismissal. “You know if you spent as much time getting into the spirit as you spend fighting it—”
Reaching for the door to Handy’s Theatrical Costumers, Eve jerked it open. The packages swayed in Suessian fashion. Snatching them close, she grimaced when the uppermost ground into her jaw. “I’m not fighting anything. I lost that battle long ago.”
Ignoring Pattie’s withering look, Eve crossed the office floor and deposited the parcels on her desk. She whipped off her pink knit cap. Her short golden-brown hair bloomed with static around her head like the puffball on a dandelion. Dropping the hat, she struggled to remove her coat. Cold air and bus exhaust wafted from the fiberfill.
Beside her desk the door flew open. Stanley Handy’s gaunt figure appeared on the threshold. “Did you get them? Did you get them?”
“I got them, I got them,” said Eve, smoothing down her hair with both hands. A miniscule, tingling charge danced across her chilled fingers. “Every darned one.”
“All one hundred and two?”
“One hundred and two,” Eve confirmed. “And I had to go to nearly that many stores to find them. One hundred and two Styrofoam cones, at your disposal.”
Stanley’s face wrinkled as his mouth opened to display a broad, slightly yellowed smile. Seeing his pleasure, Eve’s heart performed a small guilty trip in her chest. Stanley Handy’s enthusiasm was enough to push all his employees to peak performance. Eve would do anything for him. She knew her cynical holiday attitude disturbed him. He didn’t deserve that. None of them did.
It wasn’t like she could take December off. The remaining months she was another person entirely. Maybe she suffered from some as yet unidentifiable disorder and didn’t know it. Once diagnosed it would come to be called the Bah-Humbug-itis.
“Good job,” Stanley said, turning away to wave to someone across the room. “Get this stuff to Jimmy in production. Those elf caps have to be standing up straight by midnight.”
Eve’s thoughts went to the men, women and more than fifty children who would shortly be wearing those caps. It seemed to her they’d waited a dangerously long time before placing their order. Stanley would never disappoint anyone during the holidays, though. Ever. Eve wished she could feel as fulfilled as he did by the promise and delivery of elf caps to a choir in Brooklyn. All she could focus on, however, was the fact her sole purpose today was to provide the means to finish manufacturing one hundred and two elf caps. Elf caps. At what point had her career choice gone so horribly awry?
“You okay, Eve?” Stanley asked as she handed him the receipts.
“Sure,” she said. “Long day. And the crowds, as you can imagine, are a nightmare.”
“But such energy!” Stanley exclaimed. “Surely you feel that?”
“Sure,” Eve said again. “That’s exactly what I feel.”
The lines deepened in Stanley’s forehead. “I don’t quite understand you, Eve.”
“Sometimes I don’t understand myself.”
“But it’s Christmas.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“That it’s Christmas?”
Of course not, Eve started to say, but instead, she shrugged. “Maybe I am.”
Stanley squeezed her arm. “I hope not, Eve. Truly I do.” Dropping his hand, he stepped back. “Maybe a dose of Christmas spirit is in order. I’ve got a bottle in my desk drawer, if you want some. At day’s end, of course.”
Eve mustered a laugh. “Between you and Pattie I could spend the season insensible.”
“We wouldn’t want that,” Stanley said, backing into his office. He paused at the door. “But you’re good, right?”
“I’m good,” Eve said.
Yeah. Good. Everyone in the office understood on some level how far from good she drifted this time of year. She wondered what they would say if she shouted out loud right now how much she hated all the holiday trappings, hated all the ho-ho-ho antics, how she would like nothing better than to crawl into a hole and not come out until February, like the groundhog.
Next Excerpt coming on Wednesday. See you then!