Home > A Family for Christmas

A Family for Christmas
Mona Ingram

Chapter One

Laid off. Downsized. Services no longer required. No matter how they worded it, Maddie was out of a job. The long walk back to her desk took her through the main office where her co-workers couldn’t bring themselves to look at her. Amazing how many were on the telephone, speaking urgently in what she guessed were one-sided conversations.

She made it back to her tiny cubicle on the outer wall. It was a small, awkward space but at least she had a slice of window; it helped her to feel that she had contact with the outside world. There had been times during the six months she’d worked here when it had seemed that it was just her, her computer and the endless stream of paperwork that flowed over her desk day after day. She really should have considered that when she’d decided to pursue a career in accounting. She liked people, liked to interact, but there was very little chance of that in her present job. Correction, her former job.

She stood beside her desk and tried not to smile. The truth was, she was glad to be leaving. If she wasn’t careful she’d be laughing out loud, and that would never do. She was one of a team of eight who had been assigned to a specific account, and the other team members had been devastated by the news. It wouldn’t do to appear happy in front of them, when their lives seemed to be crumbling. Especially now, with Christmas only two months away. Tomorrow was Halloween. Trick or treat.

What had management said? Beside the part about losing the account, of course? Something about cleaning up your personal workspace and taking the rest of the day off. Paycheques would be available tomorrow, could they come back? They’d phrased it all so politely.

She glanced around the cubicle. There was nothing here she wanted. She hadn’t brought in personal items like most of the rest of the staff. Maybe on some subconscious level she’d known that it was only temporary.

She walked to the window and looked down on Olympic Plaza. They’d started flooding the rink yesterday, much earlier than normal. A popular gathering spot year round, it had been built for the Olympics in 1988. The ice, fresh and pristine, reflected glints of sunlight. She lifted her gaze to what she could see of the Rockies between the tall buildings. First the foothills, then the jagged snow-covered peaks in the distance. The sight never failed to thrill her and remind her that she’d made a good decision when she moved to Calgary.

In her eagerness to get going, she almost forgot the beautiful Cross pen that Lily had given her when she started six months ago. At least she didn’t have to worry about her roommate’s reaction to her sudden lack of employment. Right from the beginning, Lily had questioned why she was pursuing her CGA degree. It was a heavy load, studying almost every night and working full time during the day. Oddly enough, Maddie had thought she was enjoying it. Or at least that’s what she’d been telling herself. It wasn’t until moments ago when she’d been informed that her services were no longer required that she realized she was happy to be free.

Free. This time she did smile. So she’d wasted a year and a half. That wasn’t long in the great scheme of things, and the time hadn’t really been wasted. Now she had a much better grasp of finances than when she’d started the course. That had to count for something. What was it her father had always said? “Knowledge is a valuable tool to have in your toolbox.” Something like that. She sobered as she thought about her parents. She missed them every day, even though they’d been gone for five years now. Those oft-repeated sayings of her father’s were becoming truer every day. She fingered the pen, slipped it into her purse and reached for her coat.

She walked through the large outer office, smiling and nodding to anyone who would meet her gaze. She had no idea where she was going, except that she was getting out of the office.

The elevator was on the top floor, and she watched the numbers change as it came closer. She would miss this building. One of the older buildings in Calgary, it had been purchased by an oil exploration company. Not surprising, since that’s where all the money was these days.

The new owners had done well by the old structure. They had upgraded the services while retaining all of the old charm. Maddie had been thrilled when she found that they’d kept the wood and brass interior of the elevator cars. The metal required constant polishing, but there was something solid about the inlaid wood panels, surrounded by ornately carved brass frames. The lobby was several stories high and featured two massive chandeliers, but in her opinion the best thing the new owners had done was to keep the concierge desk, and the old gentleman who manned it. David Hawthorne was seventy if he was a day, and was unfailingly cheerful and polite to everyone who took the time to speak to him. She wondered if David had known about the upcoming layoffs; he seemed to know everything that was happening in the building.

A soft ping alerted her to the arrival of the elevator. The doors opened to reveal two men inside. They glanced at her and stepped aside, but continued their conversation.

“...Christmas decorations in the stores and Halloween isn’t even over yet.” The shorter of the two men was speaking.

“Tell me about it.” The tall one nodded. “And I have a ten-year-old to buy for.” He sounded genuinely worried. “I have no idea what to get her.”

“Why don’t you ask her?” The words popped out of Maddie’s mouth. When would she learn to keep her thoughts to herself?

He turned slowly. “I’m sorry, did you say something?” There was a touch of frost in his voice, but he was looking at her as though she might be his saviour.

She didn’t have anything to lose. She braced herself and looked up into eyes that were green, flecked with gold. “I said why don’t you ask her?”

He seemed to consider her words for a moment, and then gave his head a quick shake. “She’s only ten.”

Maddie didn’t like the way he dismissed her. “Haven’t you heard? Ten is the new thirty.”

The elevator came to a stop in the lobby. The man stepped back with a courtly gesture, allowed her to exit first, then caught up to her in a few strides. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to be rude.” He gestured helplessly with his hands. It seemed out of place coming from him; he gave the appearance of being in control of everything in his life. “You see... I just...” He sucked in a lungful of air. “It’s my niece’s first year without her parents, and I’m not very experienced at this.”

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