Holiday Foreplay with Shawntelle Madison + Giveaway
The Bends Christmas Exchange
Christmas time at The Bend of the River Flea Market, or The Bends as the New Jersey locals called it, was never a festive event. Pretty much every year, I’d get all excited about the season, and Bill, my goblin boss, would show how of much he lacked people skills by grumbling under his breath whenever possible.
“Natalya, goblins don’t celebrate the holidays,” he always said. “We celebrate taking the earnings to the bank.”
His streak of never-ending negativity ended this year when I found him putting up holiday decorations—two days before Christmas. First of all, we didn’t have decorations at the store. (We did have plenty of sale signs, though.) Second, the only time I’d see Bill thrilled was if he had a customer opening his wallet.
The Bends had plenty of space for Bill to go crazy. The building wasn’t the newest, but it had plenty of space inside for holiday cheer. While I rang up an order of wind witch wands for a customer, he added lights to a plastic tree. The lights went from the tree to entwine the antique beds in another corner. After the customer had left, I thought he was done—until I heard Jingle Bells over the intercom system.
Our regular customer, an elderly wind witch who constantly bought cheap wands, looked shocked.
I approached Bill. “This is gonna sound bad, but why are you so jovial?”
He didn’t look the least bit insulted. “The flea market down the street is closed indefinitely.”
“Oh, no.” It was never good to have a store in a small town go out of business. That meant somebody had less money in their pocket during the holidays.
“To celebrate more business for The Bends, I thought I’d do something for team spirit and such.” He gestured around him. “We’ll have a Christmas exchange for the employees and everything!”
“You’re kidding, right?” Bill had to ill. Using my werewolf nose, I sniffed the air around him. He smelled a bit sweet today, like a rich honey mixed with iron. Then I peered at him closely, but couldn’t see anything under the magic that hid his true features. He looked like he usually did, a tall, yet thin man with wire-framed glasses. Maybe he’d fallen and was suffering the effects of a concussion.
“Nope. Just show up tomorrow with a gift for someone else. Make sure to wear something Christmasy too. Like one of those ugly holiday sweaters or something.” My boss continued to work as I walked away shaking my head.
The next morning, I sat eating breakfast at home, wondering how I’d manage to give away what I’d bought the evening before. Most of the employees at The Bends didn’t know I had a problem with impulsive buying. And keeping what I bought. Especially if it was holiday related.
“Stop being a hoarder, Nat,” my roommate Agatha McClure said. She had a mouth full of bacon and eggs and still managed to get her point across. “You’ll be fine. Just give them the gift card.”
“I don’t think it’s possible to be labeled a hoarder if I collect gift cards.”
My roommate snorted. “Should I send a text to Dr. Frank, or something?”
She was rather quick on the draw. “My therapist doesn’t need to get involved.”
“I’m going to make this easy for you.” She picked up my purse, which rested on the kitchen counter. “I’ll take the gift card and wrap it until I run out of tape. It’ll be like ripping a band-aid off a furry back. Quick and fast.”
Before I could protest, she vanished into the guest room and locked the door. Agatha emerged ten minutes later with a package. There had to be a least five or more layers of wrapping paper around that sucker. She tossed the package into a gift bag.
“You’re evil,” I said as I took the bag.
“That’s what best friends are for.” Her eyebrows lowered. “If you come home with this thing, I’m telling Dr. Frank.”
Later that day, during lunch, the crew at The Bends assembled in the back room. Bill gathered us in a circle and he announced he’d take the bags, shuffle them around, then hand them back to everyone.
“That way, I’m not choosing favorites. It’s fair and everything.”
Or maybe it shows you don’t feel like making an effort to choose an exchange partner for everyone.
Bill took my contribution, a gift bag from the fire witch, a newspaper-wrapped parcel from the janitor, and two cake containers from the humans who helped with the cash registers, and put them all on a cart. My nose told me the humans had contributed chocolate cakes. Pretty good smelling ones, too. He headed into the private office, then a few minutes later, re-emerged. He handed each of us something different.
It was the worse Secret Santa exchange I’d ever witnessed in my life. If you’ve experienced a Secret Santa exchange before, you know that you get the names beforehand, then you give that person a gift. I didn’t remember any behind-the-scenes switch-a-roos going on.
The fire witch got the newspaper-wrapped gift—a part of it had been ripped to see what was inside. The first human got the other one’s cake. I got the gift bag the fire witch had given Bill and the fire witch got mine.
I opened the bag I received and found my wrapped gift card inside. Huh? When I noticed the fire witch had gotten her own gift too, I shrugged. Everyone seemed happy enough. Time for some shopping after work, I thought with a grin.
I mean, Aggie did tell me not come home with the gift card.
||Shawntelle Madison is a web developer who loves to weave words as well as code. She’d never admit it, but if asked she’d say she covets and collects source code. After losing her first summer job detassling corn, Shawntelle performed various jobs—from fast-food clerk to grunt programmer to university webmaster. Writing eccentric characters is her most favorite job of them all. On any particular day when she’s not surgically attached to her computer, she can be found watching cheesy horror movies or the latest action-packed anime. She lives in Missouri with her husband and children.
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I review Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance books with a focus all things werewolf. Based out of Ottawa, Canada