Today's Reading

In any other circumstance, I would immediately text Jamilah and tell her that my boss unironically referred to himself as a basic bitch. But we've got bigger problems here.

"So." I clear my throat, wondering if a subject change might be good for Gilbert's mental health. "Where is everyone? I thought we had a meeting."

He puts down his cup and waves a hand dismissively. "I sent them all home and canceled the meeting. It's the day before holiday break starts, I'm a mess, and they might as well go enjoy their lives while they can. Before everything goes to hell. Sorry I forgot to tell you it was canceled, but I was busy surveying the wreckage of my marriage."

"Well..." I trail off. "That's okay."

Gilbert seems to use all his strength to give me a watery, pasted-on smile. "So what's going on with you?" The visible tears on his cheeks make him look more "sad clown" than "interested boss."

"Just getting ready for Christmas with my family. I'm heading to my sister's... I mean, my sister's heading to my farm tomorrow," I stammer quickly.

Good save, Grant.

"That's so nice," Gilbert says with unnerving cheer. "How wonderful that you have a big family to spend Christmas with."

"Not so big." I try to downplay it. "My parents retired last year, and they're spending the holiday in Hawaii. Maybe I should be offended, since Christmas is also my birthday so they're kind of missing two big days, but Christmas in Hawaii has been their lifelong dream, and I guess they've earned it. And my brother, Doug, is on a ski trip and he won't be getting in until, like, Christmas Eve at midnight because he's terrible at planning anything."

Gilbert stares at me.

"So... no big deal," I say. 

Gilbert bursts into tears again.

"Oh, no," I say. I have no idea what to do in this situation. It's not like I haven't been around tears before... I have one of those faces that people tend to talk to, so I've consoled my fair share of drunk girls in bar bathrooms. I've learned a lot about the cheating boyfriends of Columbus and ended up with mascara stains on many of my best shirts. But nothing prepared me for a sobbing boss in the midst of a dissolving marriage.

I hand him another tissue, and he takes it with a grateful nod.

"I wish... oh, I wish she'd planned this all a little better. It's not like Charlene to mess up the holidays. We love Christmas. Bundling up and going to Wildlights at the zoo, driving around and looking at the Christmas lights, decorating our tree together, watching The Holiday..." His face droops. "She should've left me at Easter. We don't really do anything for Easter."

Unsure of how I'm supposed to respond to this, I nod.

He meets my eye, looking so despondent that I want to cry. "I wish I had a big family Christmas to go to like you."

I give him a closed-lip smile. "I wish that, too, Gilbert. I really do."

"Your family sounds so wonderful," he says. "So close. I'd love to meet them someday."

"Yeah," I say. "I'd love that, too."

He puts a hand on his heart. "Laurel. That is so generous of you."

I open my mouth, but no words come out because I'm not exactly sure what Gilbert's talking about. I feel like I temporarily blacked out and missed a few lines of our conversation.

"What's that?" I ask carefully.

"Of course I'd love to come over," he says, tears welling in his eyes yet again.

Oh, no. Oh, no, no, no. This cannot be happening.

"Oh, you don't want to come over," I stammer. "It's crowded. Lots of tiny rooms. Too many people. The kids... they're loud."

"I love kids," Gilbert says, standing up. "And tiny rooms. I watch those home renovation shows on HGTV, and I think, who needs an open concept? Keep those rooms separate."

Think, Laurel. Think.

"But I... I don't have a gift for you!" I say loudly. "Or matching pajamas. We all wear matching pajamas on Christmas morning."

"Oh, don't worry, Laurel," Gilbert says. "I would never think of intruding on Christmas."

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