Mike Carruthers never returned to work at Dunlevy and Markins. His resignation letter cited, “Irreconcilable differences” and complained about an attack on his faith in order to promote a commercial venture. For after returning to his church to garner information in the first stages of the campaign, he experienced a crisis of faith in advertising, brought about by his deep faith in Christmas.
He was gone.
Remaining were Lisa Lampoy, Beatrice Thompson and Timothy Barkins, who were asked to keep a pulse on the reaction across the nation about the new name, “Great Jubilation.” They were to monitor the positives, the negatives, the general acceptance of the phrase itself, and how it was breaking down in the U.S., from the North, South, East and West.
The work was aggravating and exhausting. The conflict over the holiday fueled a debate in the United States, which sparked brush fires of intolerance all across the nation. For some reason, Americans decided to go crazy, completely divided over tampering with Christmas, or even allowing the holidays to have any significance.
In San Francisco, a group of protestors burned a manger scene to demonstrate their rage over Christmas continuing to “force religion down the throats of the citizens.”
A poster of Charrleen with green skin was circulated, with the caption, “The Grinchess Who’s Stealing Christmas.”
Public debates, cable network forums, and commercial campaigns were launched to hurl rocks at opposing sides from behind Christmas trees, menorahs, Africaan garments, and stacks and stacks of books promoting secularism.
It certainly appeared that this Christmas would go down as the nastiest of all time. Any attempt being made to create unity or to make the celebration more universal was going up in flames, with bitter conversations and nasty insults.
Perhaps one of the worst cartoons was from the magazine, “The Cynic’s Corner,” which showed a very pregnant Mary of Nazareth, about to enter a Planned Parenthood center, with a caption reading, “A Better Choice.”
Lisa Lampoy was on the verge of joining Mike as a defector from the company. It was assumed by most of the people she interviewed, who had discovered through news reports that she was Jewish, that it was her idea to take this God-given Christian holiday and reject Jesus just as her people had done so many years before in Palestine.
Lisa, in fact, was not Jewish. Nor was she Christian. She was just a person. She had no negative views on Christmas, nor was she interested in promoting it. But she found herself caught up in the middle of a tug of war over angels, elves, candles and atheism.
Beatrice was black, so it was assumed by those she questioned that she was either a proponent for Kwanzaa or was a traditional Baptist and therefore able to be attacked for her religious fanaticism.
Timothy just wanted to get away and play with his Christmas stuff. He loved the holiday because it was the greatest form of escapism for any adult who was tired of being older and just wanted to play.
The public relations firm of Dunlevy and Markins had to evacuate the building three times due to bomb threats. Shelley received a constant barrage of complaining calls and became known around town as “The Wicked Witch of Christmas.”
There was a sense that something horrible was about to happen if something good didn’t intervene. The nation had divided into Red States and Green States. The Red States were in favor of a baby born to save the world through giving his life in blood to remit human sin. The Green States held dear nature, human life and the sanctity of individuality.
A nasty time—which often invites nasty people.
In marched Mackie Roberts.
Mackie was a national conservative talk show host. He posed a question. “If they’re going to take away Christmas, what makes us believe they’re not going to take away Christians?”
For his audience, he envisioned concentration camps where truckloads of Christians would be taken, reassigned identities and brainwashed to abandon their faith.
He cited the San Francisco incident, the burning of the manger scene, insisting that “burning Christians could not be far behind.” Even believers who were normally more subdued found themselves challenged to stand against an irrational removal of the Prince of Peace, born so humbly in the manger.
After the attacks came against Dunlevy and Markins, and against those working to monitor the reaction of the nation, Beatrice could not endure it any longer. It was not just an issue of spirituality, but also one of culture. The black community, her home church and even her family had ostracized her as a “Queen Herod,” who was trying to destroy the Christ Child. She quit, leaving Lisa and Timothy to bear the burden of gathering information. Timothy told Lisa that he felt they were like the tax gatherers working for Caesar to collect money during the birth of Jesus.
Mr. Dunlevy and Mr. Markins beefed up their security, and Shelley had body guards and rarely left her apartment.
The entire country was struggling with the placement of faith. Where did it fit into everyday life? After all, everyday life was reality—and the true reality was finding a way to get along.
After a roaring success following the release of the Christmas video, the “kids from the park,” as they collectively became known, were an overnight delight. Charrleen had invited Golda to sing along with her on the song, “Great Jubilation,” and both Shanisse and Harry danced their little elf toes beautifully (though Harry was later humiliated by what he saw on the screen). The American public received them as kin.
For a brief moment it seemed like some common ground might be found between the traditional approach to the Christmas season and the renaming campaign, “Great Jubilation.”
But when Chris discovered that Charrleen was still receiving death threats and that Shelley was practically a prisoner in her own condominium, he was so distressed that he found it difficult to overeat. These were the two favorite women in his life, next to his mother, who was rarely around because she was a young widow who had taken on an even younger lover, and spent most of her time spending insurance money, cavorting about Europe.
Chris feared that trouble was brewing. It all came to a head one afternoon when Charrleen was at a promotional event for the song and the video, and a crowd of dissenters brought a huge tub of snowballs and started pelting her with them. No one knew what to do—even the police guarding the event were taken aback by the innocence of “snow play,” and the absurdity of the sight. One of the “snow throws” struck her in the head, leaving her, the next day, with a black eye, which she had to cover with make-up for all the concerts she was holding the following week.
It was just too much.
With Charrleen out of town, Chris was able to contact Shelley, who was working from home. He decided to pay a visit. Arriving at her building, it became problematic to get through the guards. Matter of fact, they finally had to call up to her room and ask her if she knew anyone named Christopher Timmons. She stalled. Chris was a little surprised. She finally agreed to have him let through. He rode the elevator to Shelley’s floor and stepped out.
Looking down the long hallway, he spied her standing outside her apartment. On the ride up, he had imagined what he might say or what he might do upon seeing her. She stood in front of her door, wearing a burgundy floor-length bathrobe, sipping a cup of coffee. He looked at her carefully as he walked down the hallway, wondering what his reception might be. She eyed him for a long moment, and then motioned for him to come inside.
Chris walked slowly, gathering his nerve, figuring out how to approach the situation, which basically seemed unapproachable. After all, this woman was not his girlfriend—nor had they been real friends at all. She was an acquaintance who had sparked his interest. Well, more than interest. Some intensity with a little hint of fire.
Inching his way to her door, he peered in and saw her sitting on her sofa, leaning back, legs crossed, modestly covering herself with the plush robe. She said nothing. He walked through the door, closed it and entered the room. Crossing the room, he sat in a chair adjacent to hers. “I only came,” he began, “because I needed to.”
“Needed to?” she queried.
“Yeah, that is a rather awkward word, isn’t it?” he agreed. “I used it because I didn’t really know whether I wanted to come or not. It seems like every time we get together, we either start off great and end messy, or else we start off messy and end normal. It’s weird.”
Shelley took another sip of her coffee, glancing up at him. “Maybe it’s not weird. Maybe it’s just not meant to be,” she suggested.
“I differ,” said Chris, “mainly because, if there weren’t this nervous energy between us, when I came in you would have offered me a cup of coffee.”
Shelley was baffled. “Well, doesn’t that mean I don’t like you? Since I didn’t offer you a cup of coffee?”
“I don’t think so,” said Chris. “I think you thought if you offered me a cup of coffee, I’d stay a while, and then our messy might have a chance to get great.”
“Your thinker is weird,” said Shelley.
“Maybe so,” countered Chris, “but that doesn’t mean you don’t like it.”
He sat for a minute to see if she would respond, and when she didn’t, he gladly filled the space. “Anyway,” he continued, “I was worried about you.”
Shelley took a big drink. “Worried about me? Whatsoever for?”
Chris laughed. “Well, maybe it’s because I had to go through the CIA, the Secret Service, the KGB and I think ten Navy Seals to get permission to come up and see you. Unless they’re all lining up for dates, I assume you need protection, and if you need protection that means someone wants to hurt you.”
Shelley couldn’t disguise her fear. She was in terror over the situation—and what made it even more intolerable was that she found herself representing—perhaps even defending—a position she did not favor. Her personal preference was to leave Christmas alone—let it be what it be. But her job and her insistence to be self-sufficient kept her from admitting the depth of her conviction.
In her mind, since she had begun as a promoter of “Great Jubilation,” she would die carrying the banner. It might be foolish—she knew she could run out to the closest reporter with the hottest microphone and recant her position. She just didn’t want to be… a chickenshit.
Shelley didn’t like to be manipulated. She didn’t want to be controlled by the opinions of others. Unfortunately, it made her too aware of their opinions.
Chris sat and finally asked, “If you don’t mind, I’m going to go out in the kitchen and grab a cup of that coffee.”
“And if I did mind?” teased Shelley.
“Well, then,” said Chris, standing to his feet, “I’d have to come over, sit next to you and steal sips.”
She produced a fake shudder. He escaped to the kitchen and found a half a pot already made. He put together his favorite blend: four parts coffee, four parts creamer and four sugars. His friends often mocked him, saying that he didn’t really like coffee—it was just the Santa in him, trying to imitate hot chocolate.
He stood at the counter for a moment, wondering where in the hell this conversation was going. To ease his entrance back into her lair, he began speaking before reentering the room. “I’ve been working with Charrleen a bit. Of “The Jubilators.””
He arrived and quietly sat back in his chair.
Shelley looked at him. “I know. Remember? I was Joe—the trash picker upper.”
Chris smiled. “You did make a rather attractive inmate.”
“Thank you,” Shelley responded, lifting her cup. He joined her in the toast.
“Let me be blunt,” Chris said. “No. Forget that word. I don’t like blunt. They always use that word when they describe somebody getting killed—with a ‘blunt object.’ But would you allow me to be open?” He swallowed some of the coffee. “Shelley Claibourne, I do not know even if I like you. I find you equally as annoying as you probably find me. I think you are foolishly opinionated but absolutely adorable. I am—how do they say? —conflicted. You have created a bump in my road that still tickles my innards when I bounce over it.”
Shelley set her cup down on the coffee table. “I’m not a bump,” she said. “I’m just lonely, which makes me look like a loser.” She looked him in the eyes. “This campaign—I don’t really want to be part of it anymore, Chris. But…” she paused. “Look around you. I have one of the damned prettiest apartments in the whole city—and at my salary! But it’s all tied up with that more damned publicity firm. I got the job, I got the clothes, I’ve got transportation, and I got the apartment—all because of Dunlevy and Markins. I’ve never quit a job. Listen, when they did their last report and graded my efforts, the word that kept appearing over and over again was ‘tenacious.’ I hate to throw in the towel. Even when I take a shower.”
Chris laughed. “There’s nothing wrong with tenacious,” he said. “As long as you’re hanging onto the right rope. If you keep pulling on it, you’re going to rise to the right cliff.”
Shelley frowned. “I know you meant that to be beautiful and artistic, but it just kind of got lost halfway through.”
Christopher shook his head. “Would you also like to take a moment to critique my outfit?”
Shelley reached for her coffee cup, taking a sip. “Already have. Shouldn’t share.”
They both sat, sipping coffee in a silent room. Conversation was gone. Maybe he should go, too. Something should go, or soon the moment would be gone.
Finally, Chris spoke. “I’d like to try us out. I mean, we do it in other ways in our lives, right?” He breathed in. “We test-drive a car. We buy things with warranties. ‘Ninety days, and if you don’t like it, return it for a full refund.’ Couldn’t we try?”
“You know what I don’t need?” said Shelley. “You don’t need to answer. I’ll tell you. I don’t need another disappointment.” She considered for a moment. “I don’t know about you, but this is what I do with disappointment. I get mad and then I get sad, blame myself, wonder why I’m so screwed up, and soon I forget that it may not have even been my fault. I always feel this need to climb up on my step ladder and hang on the cross.”
“Wow,” said Chris. “You are one sick mofo.”
“Is that your official diagnosis, Dr. Timmons?” Shelley snapped.
“No,” replied Chris. “My official diagnosis is, ‘go home, drink lots of fluids, eat some chicken soup, and spend lots of time with Chris.’”
Shelley softened. Tears came to her eyes, which she blinked back. “I do like chicken soup.”
“Me, too,” said Chris. He boldly moved over to the couch. Taking her into his arms, he kissed her. Their first time. He immediately liked it—and since she offered no objection, they continued. For ten minutes they did nothing but kiss, hug, stroke, grab each other’s hair and absorb into one great human unit of physical enjoyment.
Just about the time that Chris was prepared to check out the texture on Shelley’s robe more seriously, she pulled away. “Whoa,” she said breathlessly. “Let’s hold on. That’s enough for Day One.”
They laughed simultaneously. It felt great—a great moment—one they would never forget. It was something each one secretly hoped they would one day tell their grandchildren.
Chris felt so positively energized that he offered, “Shelley, why don’t we forget about all this nonsense? Let’s just figure out how to make this work, so we can both get jobs, you can get away from that public relations firm and we can start a new life…”
Shelley immediately jerked back, scooting across the couch. “What do you mean? Do you think that just because we made out for ten minutes, you can plan my life? It’s none of your damn business what I do with my job! You think your kisses are so potent that I’m going to become a Santa Claus lover? I think you’re a dipshit for having so little motivation in your life that you end up imitating a mythical figure who’s really just a marketing tool for corporate America.”
Chris held up a finger. “Excuse me,” he said. “I’m sorry. Could we go back to kissing?”
Shelley leaped to her feet, walked to the front door, opened it and pointed to the hallway. “Mr. Timmons, I would like you to leave. I didn’t ask you to come. I didn’t want you to come. You didn’t even wait for me to offer you a cup of coffee but presumptuously went in and took one for yourself. This is not the kind of man I’m interested in. I’m not looking for a gentleman friend who smells like candy canes. This is not going to work. Do you understand me? If you didn’t understand before, would you please understand now?”
Chris interrupted. “The word of the day,” he said, trying to insert some levity, “is understand.”
“I don’t care to hear your critique of my speech patterns,” Shelley spat. “If you leave now, I won’t call the guards to come and throw you out.”
Chris lifted both hands, surrendering. “Okay. Okay,” he said. “I’ve made a mistake. It’s not my first. But perhaps…” He looked up at her from his chair, “…my last with you.”
He stood up and walked to the door. As he passed by her, he said, “Thanks for the coffee. I believe there’s a woman out there that would love to sniff my candy cane.”
He walked out the door and Shelley slammed it behind him. As Chris strolled down the hallway to the elevator, he lifted his head to the ceiling and laughingly muttered, “Now there was the shortest romance in history.”
Published by Jonathan Cring