Kate’s head snapped to the front of the room, where a
hastily constructed podium and a
microphone stood. Too distracted by her friends and
neighbors, she hadn’t noticed the setup
when she walked in, but now it was all she could do to even
blink. Behind the podium stood a
solitary man. Against the white walls of the atrium, his
black suit and golden hair stood out with
the entrancing shock of an abstract painting, as if he were
nothing more than lonely brushstrokes
on a canvas.
He was also, as far as Kate could see, the only person in
the room without an identifiable
expression in his face. For someone so young—he couldn’t
have been more than a few years
older than her, if that—he had the practiced look of a
lifelong poker player. She wouldn’t have
stood a chance against him in a game of Hold ’Em. His
natural state seemed to be one of stone.
Worse still, when he spoke, she realized it wasn’t just a
skin-deep distinction. His unavailable
emotions went all the way to his core.
“My name is Clark Woodward, and it’s my sad duty to inform
you that my uncle,
Christopher Woodward, passed away last month.”
Gasps from every corner of the room, including Kate’s. Mr.
Woodward was a good, kind
man. He lived in Dallas, but he made time every month to
come and visit the ranches in Miller’s
Point, and of course he visited the festival every year. He
even played Scrooge in the festival
once, after the real Scrooge took ill and couldn’t get out
of bed. What he lacked in acting skills,
he made up for with the biggest heart in all of Texas. Kate
cracked at the news, but the young
man behind the podium held his hand up for quiet,
effectively silencing them with a single
gesture. He wasn’t done yet.
“As the new CEO of my uncle’s company, it is also my duty to
inform you that we will be
shutting down The Christmas Company subsidiary, effective
CEO. Uncle. Shutting down. Immediately. The words all made
sense individually, but when
sliced into that order and delivered with such dignity, Kate
wasn’t sure she understood them.
How could this man be Mr. Woodward’s nephew? Who made him CEO?
Kate didn’t even flinch when her shaking hands dropped the
folded ladder with a room-
shaking thunk, drawing the attention of a room full of her
friends and neighbors. The other
questions and confusions were nothing in the face of her
Destroying The Christmas Company would mean the end of
Miller’s Point as they knew it.
Woodward’s ranching operations made many of the families
good livings, but the seasonal work
meant working for The Christmas Company during the colder
months was all that stood between
many in Miller’s Point and the stinging crush of poverty.
Her chest tightened in pain at the
reality of it.
Around her, the room erupted into conversation and denials,
questions and protestations,
each more vehement and heartbreaking than the last. But Kate
remained squarely focused on
their executioner as he dealt the final death blows, not
caring if they could hear him over their
“All salaried and hourly staff will receive a generous
severance package, and I will remain in
town for the next few weeks as I oversee the dissolution of
the company. Any questions can be
directed to the phone number found on your severance
letters, which will be in the mail in the
next five to seven days. We thank you for your years of
With the crowd still reeling from the announcement, he
stepped down from the microphone
and moved to leave the room. Just like that. Without any
warning and without any apologies, he
marched down the hall’s middle aisle towards the front door.
People watched him as he passed,
still talking among themselves, but no one said or did
anything to stop him, not even Kate. She
watched his mirror-shine shoes take command of the floor as
if he owned the land he walked on.
Step, step, step, step. It beat the tune of a song no one
wanted to sing, the song of finality. A song
that ended with the slam of the chamber doors behind him.
Kate didn’t move. Every time she blinked, more of her life
crumbled before her. There would
be no Christmas Eve festival tomorrow night. There would be
no Christmas celebration. Scrooge
would never again sing. The town would never celebrate its
nightly tree lighting ceremony again.
Friendships forged over the festival would dissolve. Some
families would lose their main
livelihood, others their supplemental income and others
still would lose a reason to stay alive
through the winter. The charities they supported would go
unfunded. The town might not even
survive without the tourist income. Kate’s found family
would disintegrate, just like that.
Everything was lost.
A little sniffle made itself known. It was so clear and so
loud she couldn’t ignore it. Kate
turned to find little Bradley hiding his tears behind his
Tiny Tim cane. Kate wondered briefly
how many other children had worn that cap before him. How
many lives had been changed by
those children? What would those people have been without
Who would she be without the festival?
The questions were more convicting than the answers, and the
brain-piercing goodbyes of her
chosen family were one big key turning the ignition of her
fury. This was her family. No one was
going to tear it apart, not as long as she had a say.
“Stay here, Miss Carolyn.”
“Kate…what are you doing?”
Miss Carolyn’s question wasn’t going to stop her. Kate
apparently no longer had a job to
lose; she no longer had to listen. These people were her
family, her community, and she wasn’t
going to stand by while some stick-in-the-mud Dallas boy
tried to tear them apart and make this
world a little bit worse.
With a spine as straight as a flagpole and chin held twice
as high, she stormed out of the
Miller’s Point Town Hall. Her hammering heart joined the
steady rap of her shoes as she jogged
down the front steps towards the shadowed figure in the
black sport coat.
He was the only one on the street, hence the only one she
possibly could have been talking
to, but he didn’t respond to her hail. The flames of
frustration and anger licked at the back of her
neck, threatening to consume her. She tried to keep them at
bay and maintain some semblance of
coolness—the last thing she wanted was to be accused of
being an emotional or irrational woman
by this stranger—but it was next to impossible. When she
thought about all the lives this one tiny
decision would touch, it burned up every sense of rational
control she possessed.