In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Secret Santa.”
“He’s just gone,” Margo sobbed into the phone. “Last night he got up around three a.m. and I don’t think he came back to bed. When I woke up this morning, he wasn’t there.”
“Maybe he went to go get you something,” Sarah said.
“On Christmas? Nothing’s open!”
“What about Chinese food?”
“Why would he get Chinese food?” Margo said. “We have more leftovers than we can eat in a month. And he left his phone by the bed!”
Sarah relayed this information to David, who was standing behind her with a bemused look on his face.
“I’ll call him,” David offered.
“You can’t,” Sarah said, and explained why not. David scratched his chest and stared into the middle distance.
“It’s probably some misunderstanding, Margo,” Sarah said into the phone. “Don’t worry. Everything will be all right.”
“When I see him again, I’m going to kill him,” Margo wailed.
Sarah hung up and turned to David. He was still standing there, looking at nothing.
“We have to go over there,” she said. “Margo’s out of her mind with worry.”
“On Christmas? What about the presents? Who’s gonna watch the kids?”
“Then I’ll go and you stay home,” said Sarah, and walked to the dresser. She was half-changed into her day clothes when David spoke again.
“I’ve been kind of expecting this,” he said. Sarah wheeled around to look at him.
“Expecting what?” she asked. Their eyes met.
“This…type of an ending to their relationship,” David explained. “Carl’s the kind of guy who hates any emotional scene. I know he’s been bored for awhile, and…I know he’s done this kind of thing before.”
“Done what? Gone out for a pack of cigarettes? David, he left his phone.”
“I’m just saying. It wouldn’t surprise me if he leased an apartment somewhere across town. With any luck, he’ll call me later today to go get his stuff.”
Sarah stared at her husband in disgust. The kids’ voices chirped happily in the living room. Sarah turned back to the dresser to find a coat.
“It’s not our problem, Sarah,” David reasoned. “Leave it alone. The kids need you today more than Margo does.”
“Daddy, mommy, come here!” Christina yelled from the other side of the door. “I got a present from Santa! Come see!”
“Be right there, sweetie!” David yelled back, not taking his eyes off his wife. Sarah glared at him for a moment before opening the door.
It was nearly five o’clock when Sarah came over. Margo was still crying. She was sitting curled up on a couch in the living room with the lights off. The Christmas presents were still wrapped underneath and around the tree. Sarah tried not to look at them.
“He hasn’t called,” Margo moaned. Sarah sat next to her and stroked her hair.
“I’m sure there’s some innocent explanation. His car’s in the driveway, right?”
“I called the police,” Margo sobbed. “I called his mother. Nobody’s heard from him, but it’s too early to file a report.”
Sarah got up to turn on the light when one of the presents began snoring. She froze. She turned to see if Margo had suddenly dropped off to sleep––but Margo’s eyes were wide open and fixed on Sarah’s.
They both turned to look at the tree. There was a large box, larger than all the rest, wrapped in red with a large white bow on the top. Sarah went to it and lifted its lid, then jumped back.
“There’s a man in the box!” she yelled, and for an agony the two women looked at each other, eyes wide with terror. They stumbled together into the kitchen. The snoring had stopped.
“Get the phone!” someone screamed. They reached the cordless phone; Sarah dialed 911 and held the phone up to her ear.
“It could be Carl,” Margo mouthed to Sarah, who shook her head. Margo went to grab a knife when she saw a letter left on the counter, in a nearly unreadable hand. It wasn’t there that morning. Margo picked up the note with her other hand and read it.
Merry Christmas. I’ve taken your boyfriend and left you a better one instead. Let’s face it, Margo, Carl was a bit of a drag. He was aimless, he was boring, he had no interests or hobbies. I never fleshed him out or gave him any depth. He didn’t move the story along at all. The best thing he ever did was disappear.
You’ll like Henry a lot better. He’s kind, he’s considerate, he’s always neat and tidy. But there’s something off about him, something you can’t quite put your finger on. I’m not going to spoil your own story for you, but rest assured that when it’s all over, you’ll wish you had a man that would only bore you to tears.
Sarah motioned at her friend to put down the letter. Margo didn’t put it down. She couldn’t.
Go into the living room and drop this letter into the fireplace. If you do, I promise you you’ll forget all of this unpleasantness. I’m giving you a new story, Margo. Embrace it.
Sarah screamed at Margo not to go into the living room. The 911 dispatcher reassured Sarah that police were on their way, but she didn’t hear him. Sarah ran into the room after Margo, only to see her friend staring blankly into the fire.
“When did you light a fire?” Sarah asked.
Margo turned to her friend and smiled beningly. Henry Swanson, Margo’s longtime boyfriend, squeezed by Margo in the doorway.
“I almost forgot,” he said, and handed Margo a present. Margo blushed and covered her smile with her hands. The package was small and red, with a big white bow on top. Margo shrieked as she untied the bow, revealing a small black box.
“Henry,” she beamed.
Sarah watched Henry get down on one knee. Someone on the other end of the cordless phone was bellowing. Sarah put the phone to her ear and heard a man’s voice calling to her.
“Can you hear me?” the voice asked. “I need you to respond. Help is on the way.” It was a strange voice, not David’s, not anyone else’s that she knew of.
“Oh Henry, it’s perfect,” Margo said, admiring the ring on her finger. “This is the best Christmas present I’ve ever received!”
Red and blue lights flashed outside. Sarah felt the phone drop from her hands. This was the happiest moment in her friend’s life, and yet it all felt wrong and out of place. The world faded to black.
“Don’t thank me,” Henry said. “You’ve made me happier than any man on earth. I can’t help thinking there’s someone up there looking out for us, who wants us to be incredibly, indescribably happy.”
They didn’t notice Sarah until her body planked forward into the living room. They were both running to her when the front door burst open behind them. For a moment, time seemed to slow down and almost come to a stop; Margo felt as if she’d been dropped into a world that she didn’t belong in. And then it passed, Margo turned to look, and the story continued.
Featured image by Roland zh, used under a CC-BY-SA 3.0 license.