Christmas in the office was a small affair, consisting of a tree stuffed into the corner that barely fit—the affair was small, not the tree—decorated in full holiday regalia with a large star shining at the top.
Only six gifts sat underneath that monstrous tree, two from each person in the office. We’d get to those at the end of the office day. The stockings, however, neatly lined up and firmly taped to the filing cabinets, bulged with their bounty, one each for myself, Jen, and Jessie. Jen had done her best to get a fourth stocking added for Nikki—Jen had tried to put up a high-heeled boot for Nikki, but I had told her this was strictly for office personnel.
Now, before we opened the office for business, we removed the stockings from the cabinet to get at our bounty.
In addition to the usual Christmas chocolates there were paperback books—I gave Jessie The Maltese Falcon and Jen A Midsummer Night’s Dream—school supplies for both women, and even gift certificates to Kairos’s Greek restaurant.
In my stocking I found a package of water balloons with the attached post it note—in Jessie’s hand—recommending they be used with holy water. From Jen I got book on first aid complete with a small kit, small enough to be carried with me all the time. I took the hint. I was coming back from cases with too many scrapes and bruises.
The stocking should have been empty, but I felt something rectangular at the bottom. I reached my hand all the way down and pulled out an envelope. Jen and Jessie both pulled the same from their stockings. I didn’t put this in there, and from their faces neither of them put this in mine.
I opened the envelope, it wasn’t sealed, and pulled out a card on white stock. In golden crayon it read “One Free Hug.” It looked like something a child might write, with inexact letters.
“Matt,” Jen began, “Is this. . . .” she trailed off.
“Yeah. I think so.”
“What is this? Who’s it from?”
“A friend we see at the holidays. A close friend. Don’t’ worry about trying to cash it in. You’ll get it when you need it.”Jessie looked at the card skeptically, but Jen smiled.