December 08 2015
Caroline had always been uncomfortable in social situations and so the thought of the office Christmas party was causing her to have sudden palpitations whenever the thought crossed her mind. She had managed to duck out of it the previous year, feigning a virus infection but she could hardly repeat that excuse again.
Scott had worked for Jagger and Smythe Accountants for only two months and was also dreading the office Christmas party. While his colleagues were talking about it with enthusiasm, bordering on hysteria in his opinion, he was wondering what excuse he could make to avoid going. He liked nothing better than spending his free time star gazing with his telescope or, when the weather permitted, going off alone bird watching. After careful deliberation, he decided to attend the party but leave after an hour.
This year the boss had decided that it would be a good idea to have a secret Santa draw, stipulating that no-one should spend more than a fiver. Caroline went into her local bookstore and purchased a literary classic, just the sort of book that she would have devoured with relish.
Scott visited the same bookstore the following day and purchased A Handbook of British Birds.
Soon the last day before the Christmas break arrived and little work was accomplished. At five o’clock Caroline tidied her desk before making her way to the ladies’ room. Inside there was much giggling as Caroline’s colleagues stood in front of the mirror, primping, perfuming and preening, so that the air smelled like that of a harem. One of the girls was having a problem with some false eyelashes that seemed to have a will of their own and did not wish to stick to her eyelids, while another was putting on a pair of red stilettos.
‘Hey Caroline – staying for a drink this year? Do you good to get plastered!’ Jan, a large girl with a larger personality joked and Caroline felt the colour rise in her normally pale cheeks.
‘I don’t drink. Excuse me.’ She nudged her way forward in order to wash her hands, carefully avoiding looking at her reflection in the mirror.
‘That’s all right. I’ll drink yours,’ Jan boomed while the other six girls fell about laughing. Caroline suspected that they’d already had a few.
Someone had pushed the desks back in the communal office, which was festooned with garish decorations, and some rock music was blaring out, making any conversation impossible. Caroline had never enjoyed this type of music, preferring the classical variety. The booze was flowing and Jan was sitting on her boss’s lap, flirting outrageously, while he seemed mesmerized by her overflowing bosom, which resembled a couple of wayward blancmanges.
Meanwhile Scott was sipping his orange juice and trying to hide behind a pillar. He glanced at his watch and couldn’t believe that the party had only been going for twenty minutes. It seemed like hours and he could feel one of his headaches coming on.
‘Time for secret Santa,’ Mr Jagger, red faced and blustering, announced as he rubbed his hands together. “Come on Jan – you do the draw.”
Scott took his ticket out of his pocket. Number thirteen. The irony did not escape him.
‘Number seven,’ Jan called out.
To her horror Caroline realized that she was the first to go forward to claim her present.
‘Merry Christmas.’ Mr Jagger kissed her on the cheek much to her dismay.
She muttered a quick thank you and scurried away.
‘Open it. C’mon we want to see what you’ve got!’ Jan shouted from the other end of the office.
Caroline wished that the floor would swallow her up as she ripped at the paper. Inside was a pair of men’s socks emblazoned with a holly design.
Everyone burst out laughing.
‘Next is number thirteen.’
Scott shuffled forward, adjusting his thick spectacles and Jan handed him a parcel wrapped in silver paper. On it was a tag.
Jan started slow clapping and chanting, ‘Read it out, read it out.’
Soon the whole office was joining in, so that Scott’s embarrassment was palpable.
‘Something for the weekend,’ he muttered.
‘Can’t hear you,’ Jan shrieked.
‘Something for the weekend.’ His voiced sounded hoarse.
‘Go on, open it. Although we all know what’s inside. Ha, ha.’
Scott fumbled with the wrapping paper, dreading what was to come next but, to his relief, he pulled out a book of crosswords. He rushed to the further corner of the office where he examined the carpet, not daring to look up.
‘I like crosswords, do you?’ Caroline found her normally elusive voice as well as sympathy for her shy colleague. It was only as he smiled at her that she realized that she had never spoken to him before.
‘Not that much. I prefer sudokus,’ he replied.
‘Want to swap. I’ve no use for these socks.’
‘Good idea. Would you like another orange juice?’
‘I would but I don’t think I can bear another moment at this party. I hate parties.’
‘Me too.’ He smiled again and Caroline thought that he had a kind face.
‘I live just around the corner. Would you like to come round for a cup of tea or something?’ Caroline could not believe that she had said this, and wondered if by some miracle his acute timidity had given her a newfound boldness.
Scott hesitated, but not for long. ‘That sounds very acceptable. Thank you. My name’s Scott by the way.’
‘I’m Caroline, Caroline Platford. Here take the socks.’
‘Ah yes. Thank you. And here’s something for the weekend.’
About the Author
Sue Cross has published two novels, Tea at Sam’s and the sequel, Making Scents. She lives in the Cotswolds and Spain and likes to use her experiences living abroad in her writing. Please visit her website http://www.suecross.com
Published December 08 2015