Don't forget that all comments here get entered to win your very own ugly sweater kit! You can also comment over on our Sweater Season event page for a chance to win, or hey, post an ugly sweater pic there for a chance to win a $50 gift card! This story features characters from Juniper Bell's "The Receptionist" series.
As soon as I walked into the kitchenette at Cowell & Dirk, I knew the Christmas spirit had decided to take a pass on our little firm. It was probably lying unconscious in a Low-Life back alley, traumatized by the same icy blue stare Ethan Cowell was aiming at the mug in his hand.
“What the bloody hell is in my coffee?”
“That's egg nog,” I chirped.
He dumped it in the sink. “Fix it.”
“What’s wrong with a little holiday cheer? It’s perfectly harmless.” I watched the thick creamy liquid swirl down the drain, along with all my hopes for the first normal Christmas in my twenty-three years of life. I don’t want to go into detail, in case I ruin your holiday spirit. Suffice it to say that in the house where I grew up, Christmas meant an extra case of rum for the grownups, extra dodging of speedily emptied bottles for me.
“Got a problem with egg nog, Ethan?” Simon, my green-eyed boss number two, strolled into the kitchen, his green-and-red Christmas tree tie bringing joy to my heart. “Or is it anything holiday-related in general?”
“This is a place of business, and business only,” Ethan declared. Simon and I looked at each other and started cracking up.
“Aren’t you several hundred screaming orgasms late with that announcement?” Simon asked mildly.
I could have sworn I saw Ethan blush, except that such a thing would be impossible for that sexy former British undercover agent. Besides, after all the things we’d done together since I’d taken the position of receptionist, even I’d have trouble summoning a blush.
“A little seasonal celebrating won’t hurt anyone. Will it, Dana?” Simon winked at me.
I tried to smile. Since I was dressed as one of Santa’s naughtiest helpers, I was starting to feel a little stupid. The suspenders that held up my elf tutu barely covered my nipples. Elves were supposed to wear tutus made of tinsel, right? With red garters under them? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
“I didn’t sign off on any form of holiday celebration, other than the usual days off and Christmas bonus.” Ethan checked the coffee pot carefully, then poured himself another cup.
Since last year’s Christmas bonus had been more of a “boner,” and plenty to go around, I hadn’t minded. But this year I was yearning for something more … traditional, I suppose.
I tried again. “I thought we could just have a little office holiday party. Every other company on our floor is having one. Maybe a little gift exchange, a cookie swap …”
Perhaps luckily for me, I was interrupted by the sound of heavenly voices wafting from the reception area.
“What the devil—”
I didn’t wait to hear what Ethan was about to say. I threw on a shawl printed with snowmen (hopefully no one would notice their inappropriately placed carrots) and ran to my desk. The Dental Miracles crew from down the hall stood before my desk, merrily singing “Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly.”
I felt like a little kid, so excited I bounced up and down in my green felt stiletto boots. Carolers! Actual carolers! If anyone had dared to sing Christmas carols in my old hood, they’d get jumped by the end of the first block.
“Fa-la-la-la-LA!” They ended with an awkward squawk and started backing out of the foyer, staring past my shoulder as if they’d spotted Lord Voldemort.
Hardly a surprise to see Ethan advancing menacingly into the room, with Simon close behind.
“Now Ethan, was that necessary?” Simon was complaining. “Sure, they’re a bit out of tune, but I rather liked their rendition.”
But Ethan had stopped dead when something brushed against his forehead. I winced.
“It’s mistletoe.” To prove it, I dashed toward him, intending to kiss him. At the last minute, I veered past him and threw myself at Simon. In this mood, Ethan was simply too terrifying. Simon caught me against him and we plunged into a deep kiss, so deep I almost didn’t notice the garter snapping against the back of my thigh. When I felt heat radiating behind me and realized that Ethan’s big, rough hand was on my ass, a thrill ran up my spine. Was I about to become an Elf sandwich, with a garnish of mistletoe? My body went liquid and languid, spreading across Simon’s like brandy sauce over plum pudding.
But no. Ethan simply reached over my head and snatched the mistletoe from its string.
“No mistletoe. No Christmas cookies. No carols. And I hope you brought some other clothes to work, because I’d rather have you work buck naked than wear that elf-freak costume.”
Now, I’m not a cryer. I learned early on to build a shell around me, one that not even flying bottles of Scotch could shatter. Ethan and Simon had found a way inside that shell with their hot-as-sin “training.” But our three-way relationship had gone way past sex, and I’d lost my heart to both of them.
So maybe that’s why I burst into tears when Ethan said that. With the piece of mistletoe still gripped in his fist, he froze.
“She’s crying. You made her cry,” Simon said accusingly. “Damn it, Cowell, do you have to be such a Scrooge?”
I shook my head. “Not a Scrooge. He’s a Gr-Grinch.”
Now they were both staring at me. “What’s the bloody difference?” Ethan demanded.
“Scrooge doesn’t care about Christmas because all he cares about is money. But the Grinch … the Grinch stole Christmas! He actually stole it.”
Ethan looked at the mistletoe in his hand, like a thief caught in the act. “When did you become so well-versed in Christmas stories?”
I swiped at the tears dripping down to my chin. I’d never even told Brandy, my best friend, about my secret weakness. “I’ve seen all the TV specials. I’ve read all the books. I know all the carols by heart.”
“For fuck’s sake, why?”
“Because I love Christmas.” Since they were still staring at me, I explained. “It’s like the whole world turns into playtime. Trees show up, like magic, even in my crappy neighborhood. Even if they’re plastic and covered in fake snow, at least they’re tree-shaped. I used to take the subway to Fifth Avenue and look at the window displays and the gigantic Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. And all of a sudden there’s elves and gingerbread men and reindeer everywhere.”
He frowned. “Reindeer? In Low-Life, Long Island?”
“No, no.” I gestured impatiently. “On TV. It’s not like I ever had Christmas in real life. But everyone in the Christmas ads on TV was always so happy and smiling. It’s like the whole world is a snow globe filled with snowflakes.”
“A snow globe,” Ethan said blankly.
“Yes, except I wasn’t ever in the snow globe. I was outside, looking in at all the hot buttered rum and twinkle lights on the Christmas trees. And the dorky sweaters. I love those sweaters, like Bill Cosby wore? On Christmas, no one minds looking goofy. I love it all. The mistletoe and the egg nog and the …” I broke off, because I knew he’d never get it. “Forget it. I have work to do, guys. ”
Just in time, the day’s mail arrived. I changed my outfit, and everyone got back to work.
Honestly, Dana, I scolded myself. You should know better than to hallucinate like that. Christmas is for normal people. Be happy with your dream job and your beloved Ethan and Simon. Who could ask for anything more, really?
After a couple hours of that feedback loop, I’d decided that Christmas was a big fat fraud, like a mall Santa who’s really a moonlighting insurance salesman beneath the suit. I was never, ever going to fall for a Christmas ad again. I’d return the special mistletoe I’d ordered online, and donate the egg nog to the homeless guys on my corner.
“Town car’s here.” Simon and Ethan breezed out of the inner office, pulling on their overcoats. “Let’s go.”
I suppressed my grumbles and grabbed my stuff, then joined them in the Town Car. They immediately started talking business, and I zoned out. I didn’t even realize we were in Manhattan until we pulled up in front of one of those beautiful department stores that are like palaces. Bergdorf Goodman’s, I saw with a sigh. A new account for the firm?
Ethan and Simon practically dragged me behind them into the store. I barely got a chance to check out the window display, which featured a lovely Christmas tableau of a family of reindeer in Christmas apparel. Behind the glass, gingerbread men capered in the piles of fake snow, and giant crystal snowflakes dangled overhead. The old Dana of a few hours ago would have loved it. But now I was officially immune to all that.
While Simon and Ethan took care of business, I loitered in the shoe department, eyeing the Manolo’s. I overheard only a few words from the conversation they were having with the Bergdorf’s manager.
“But those aren’t for sale …” the man in horn-rimmed glasses was saying.
“Any price you set,” Ethan said in that voice that made people do what he wanted — at least naked people. “Name it.”
“We can’t sell those. They’re too ugly. They’re meant to be a joke.”
“Eye of the beholder, my man. I want them.”
I wondered idly what they could possibly be talking about, and then the manager was hurrying toward the front of the store, followed by Simon and Ethan. I lagged behind, accosted by a perfume saleswoman in a Santa hat. She surrounded me with a cloud of ylang-ylang and by the time I fought free, I was blinking and stumbling toward my bosses.
That’s when I realized the perfume must have altered my vision. Ethan, Simon and the manager were standing inside the display window stripping the poor reindeer family. Ethan swung around to face me as he pulled on the ugliest sweater I’d ever seen on his body. It was blood-red with a patchwork of sickly, pale green, blighted Christmas trees. Little bulbs were knitted into the fabric, and they flashed on and off in a way that made my perfume-reddened eyes weep.
For relief, I looked at Simon. His sweater, which he was just buttoning, was even worse. A cardigan in deep forest green, it had one team of reindeer on the right and another on the left, headed toward each other as if about to collide in the middle of his chest. Oh, and they were all wearing sunglasses. And seemed to have mice holding their reins.
“Merry Christmas, my love,” said Ethan. “If I’d known this meant so much to you, I would have planned ahead.”
“These sweaters are dorky enough for you, right?” Simon asked when I didn’t say anything. Couldn’t say anything. I wanted to laugh and cry and roll around with them in the fake snow cushioning the floor of the display window.
“Let’s not forget this one.” Ethan beckoned me inside the window and handed me a sweater.
And then I really did lose it. My sweater out-dorked them all, with its pattern of neon crocheted snow globes across a stark black background. Was it meant to be a starry night sky? The tar pits of hell? Hard to tell.
Numbly, I dropped my coat and pulled on the sweater. There we stood, me and my two sexy gods, knee deep in fake snow, wearing three of the ugliest sweaters ever seen outside of a Walmart. “I love you guys so much. I can’t believe you’d do this for me.”
“Nothing says love like an ugly Christmas sweater,” said Ethan.
We started to laugh. We laughed so hard we kicked up some of the snow, which whirled around us in a soft little blizzard.
And that’s how I found myself, just as I’d always dreamed, inside a Christmas snow globe, complete with ugly sweaters and naked reindeer. Best. Christmas. Ever.
Dana, Ethan and Simon can normally be found in The Receptionist series from Samhain Publishing. http://JuniperBell.com.
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