Solitude Lake Romance – Available Now

My novel Solitude Lake (written under my pen name – Adele Darcy – is available on Amazon and for special order through your local bookstore!

Set in Montana’s Glacier Country, Solitude Lake follows the journey of Susan Dixon. After the tragic death of her husband, Susan uncovers he left her with a legacy of betrayal. Forced to move to her family cabin on the shores of Solitude Lake, Susan works to rebuild her life, but struggles to heal from her broken heart.

Taking a summer job at the nearby Solitude Lake Lodge, Susan reconnects with her high school sweetheart, Jake Arnett.

Can Susan trust a second chance at love?

This novel was inspired by my time in living in Montana and the gorgeous scenery of the craggy snowcapped mountains, hidden creeks and tranquil clear mountain lakes.

Solitude Lake is a story about healing from grief, finding faith and being open to second chances.

On sale now – on Kindle and special order (local book stores) 979-8218004699 (ISBN)

All profits (through July 1st) will be given to Yellowstone Flood relief. You can donate directly here as well.

Twelve Days of Christmas Novel, Uncategorized

The Twelve Days of Christmas Novel

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A holiday novel about CEO, Grant Spaulding, who has lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas. He has forsaken Christmas and plans to give his employees pink slips instead of stocking stuffers. It will take a true Christmas miracle to heal Grant’s bitter heart – luckily God is in the miracle business and hasn’t given up on Grant yet. Join me as I blog ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’. Hope you enjoy

Part I

Chapter 1:

            Grant Spaulding stared out the window of his top floor office, clenching his fists.  The view of Seattle’s towering skyscrapers was eclipsed only by the misty from the drizzle of a cold December rain.

            Grant’s mind raced, obsessed with thoughts of year-end financial reports, proposals, and acquisitions.  It had been a banner year for his company Northwest Trading and yet still the CEO was restless.

            At just under forty years of age, Grant is an imposing figure, standing at 6’2 with silver screen good looks.  He was recently named to the ‘Forbes’ Most Powerful People in Business’ list, recognized as an industry leader, redefining the world of retail with his knack of innovation.

This hard-nosed mentality is his greatest gift and incorrigible weakness.  He has the perception to see innovation in motion, able to conceptualize the future of retail, always on the forefront of technology, branding and integration of production.   This same tenacity has infected Grant with an unquenchable greed, which left unchecked is detrimental to the mission of a business, not to mention damage to his soul.

He earned his Master of Business Administration from Stanford by age 21.  Quickly rising in the ranks, he worked as a brand manager, Vice President and CEO in the Silicon Valley, New York, and Tokyo before settling in Seattle.  At age 32, Grant purchased a majority share in the big box retailer and grocer, Northwest Trading Company.

Founded by Eugene Shelton in 1921 as a small grocer in Pike’s Place Market in Downtown Seattle, Northwest Trading Company quickly expanded to a regional General Store, with a focus on quality products and customer service.  Northwest Trading faced financial woes with advent of online shopping. 

As a result, the Shelton family sold a majority share of their business to Spaulding Enterprises on the condition that they maintain the company’s ‘Quality product, people friendly,’ mission.

            Grant rebranded Northwest Trading, successfully consolidating the company’s assets and strengthening their market share with a strong online presence.  Under Grant’s direction, Northwest Trading has expanded from a regional west coast chain to become the third largest big box store in the US.

He constantly reinvests earnings into the company, while acquiring promising start-ups, bringing them into the umbrella of Northwest Trading Company.

For the most part, Grant’s helm as CEO has been met with the full support of Northwest Trading Company’s twenty-four-person board.  He is the golden boy, a man that successfully resurrected a company on the brink of extinction, transforming it into a giant of retail. 

            Somewhere in Grant’s ascent the power ladder, his humble and ethical intentions, became tainted with the cold-blooded desire for profit over people.  Nothing defines this shift, more than Grant’s new calculated business remodel, which ‘cuts the fat’ of Northwest Trading Company, in a way that many board members say ‘cuts the heart and soul’ from the company. 

            “Mr. Spaulding, your parents are on line one,” His longsuffering secretary Teresa Martin buzzed in. 

            “Tell them I’m busy.” Grant huffed, clearly annoyed.

“They want to know if you are coming home for Christmas.” Teresa pressed.

            “No.” ‘I’d rather spend the night alone with a bottle than Scotch than forced in that bucolic nightmare,’ Grant muttered under his breath. 

Grant grew up on a farm in the rural agricultural community of Shuksan Washington in the shadow of the Northern Cascade Range.  His parents, Bill and Marie, his brother George, and his sister Elsie all work on the family’s Cascade Gulch Ranch.   Grant hated growing up in stark plains east of the towering Cascades.  As a boy he dreamed of rising above the flatlands, climbing over the mountains, moving to Seattle, landing a job as a leading businessman.  Diligent in his studies, Grant earned a scholarship to a private high school, before being admitted to Yale at sixteen, moving on to get a full ride to complete his graduate work at Stanford. 

In his twenties, Grant tried to visit his parents and siblings regularly.  He once looked forward to a family Christmas in the snowy plains.  The family dynamic soured, when Grant, as CEO of Northwest Trading Company, decided to cut contracts with Methow area farmers, importing food from overseas and phasing in product from corporate farming subsidiaries focused on mass production without consideration for the environment and quality of the product. 

Grant and his brother George subsequently got tangled in a huge legal battle over a tract of land they inherited from their great-grandfather.  His mom, Marie and sister, Elsie have continued to extend an olive branch, inviting him back to the ranch for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  He refused every request, sending expensive meaningless gifts instead. 

“Mr. Spaulding, you have been working yourself to death. Take a holiday.  Go home to the farm and celebrate the spirit of Christmas with your family.” Teresa worried about her boss.  She had seen the kind, ethical ambition of her employer disintegrate into a web of anger and aggression.  He no longer seemed a man, but a shadow, a shell of a person, lost and confused, yet too stubborn to admit he is lost.

“Christmas is a scheme formulated by retail companies to manipulate customers, injecting them with trite holiday cheer in the name of spending the almighty dollar.” Grant scoffed. “I should know – Northwest Trading makes billions off the sentimentality of Christmas.”

“Sir…you work so hard; a vacation is well deserved.”

“Vacation? I have a company to run.  Christmas is a grand conspiracy for millions of workers to be lazy. I cannot afford that luxury.  If that makes me Scrooge, I’ll adhere to ‘Bah Humbug’ philosophy.”

“Sir, you have gotten so embroiled in work, that you have lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas.  Christ’s birth is a time of grace, hope, compassion, mercy, love, togetherness, friendship, good tidings towards our fellow man, humility, solitude, peace, relaxation…respecting the least to the greatest.”

“I don’t believe in a fictional ‘god.’” Grant losing his patience.

“I am a person of faith; experience has shown me God’s grace and active love time and again.” Teresa bit her lip. She didn’t want to risk her boss’s temper but was equally determined to help him to understand the peace and joy Christmas can provide to the restless of spirit.  “Even if you lack belief in God or organized religion, you can still be kindled by the peace of hope, joy, and compassion for the lesser. The festive cheer of celebration with friends, singing carols, decorating the Christmas tree, the light of the season, cookies and eggnog, spending time with those we hold dear, silent night under the magic of the stars…”

“Visions of dollar signs dancing in my head, registers overflowing with cash as millions of customers drunk on cheer swarm into Northwest Trading Company, spending their entire paychecks on grocers, toys, useless games, televisions and fad gadgets, which is the only thing that puts Merry in Christmas. Work is my ‘happy holiday.’” Grant derisive. “Please tell my parents that I will be never join them for Christmas and to stop calling the office. It is bad enough that mom calls the house every other day, leaving her anecdotal messages.”

“I’ll pass along the message as diplomatically as I can.” Teresa did not try to hide her frustration.  She pressed her lips, incensed that her boss could not spare five minutes of his day to speak with his own mother. “Michael Horton is here; shall I send him in?”

“Go ahead,” Grant replied tersely.

            “Mr. Spaulding, thank you for agreeing to meet with me.” Michael Horton is a lanky twenty-five-year-old, fresh out of graduate school at The University of Washington. 

He has a strong connection to the company.  He started working at Northwest Trading Company at fourteen, first as a bagger at the Pike Place Flagship Store, working his way up to assistant manager.  He was promoted to corporate one year ago, working as a development associate directly under Grant Spaulding.

            “Get on with it, Horton, my time is precious. Your development review is two days late as it is.”

            “Sir, I apologize for the delay. Your proposal for development is ambitious.” Michael searching for words. “That being said it has fatal flaws.”

            “Flaws?” Grant laughed. “Do tell.”

            “Your proposal calls for sweeping changes, changes that are not in the company’s best interest.”

            “Don’t tell me that you’re a sentimentalist.” Grant cut Michael off.

            “If by sentimentalist you refer to corporate responsibility, a strong business foundation, ‘Good PR,’ putting people above profits…”

            “People above profits?  We are not a charity Michael; we are a business.  The bottom line is our concern, not people.”

            “I think the two go hand and hand.  People drive our business; in turn we have a contract of corporate responsibility; reciprocating the trust our customers put into our brand. It is our duty to provide a quality product, staffing well-trained personnel, investing in communities, supporting outreach, working to strengthen the economy, being ethical stewards. The core foundation of a successful business is service. Profit is a privilege derived from quality service. Northwest Trading Company netted record profits the past three years. We are in a position to do wonderful things without sacrificing the company’s bottom line.”

            “The excess profit is reinvested into the company.  It isn’t free floating money, Michael.”

            “The most important investment is in people, our employees.  They keep the company functioning.  Your business proposal mandates a reduction in staff by upwards of sixty percent. You want to entirely replace cashiers with machines!”

            “Technology is far more precise than people.  Customers want efficiency.  Our self-scanners are cutting edge and will lead to shorter wait times.  That is customer service at its zenith.”

            “What about the 3,886 factory workers in Eastern Washington you are laying off the week after Christmas.  Workers who will be replaced by low-wage labor in Asia, with despicable working conditions.”

            “I’m investing in foreign economies, that’s all.”

“In a recent survey, our customers overwhelmingly voiced their support of our Made in America promise.  The factories and suppliers you are using abroad are notorious for human rights abuses.  They pay pennies on the dime, harbor horrid working conditions and use lower quality materials.”

            “Consumers want value, even if that in turn sacrifices quality.” Grant held.

            “You are mistaken. Consumers want value and quality,” Michael undeterred by the steel façade of his employer. “Look at the fire in Bangladesh; thousands killed in working conditions almost identical to those in your proposal.  If you have no concern for human dignity, surely you worry about the legal implications. We’ll get sued by the unions the moment this deal is announced.  The negative PR will hurt the welfare of the company and affect stock prices.”

            “That will be a temporary downfall.  Stockholders want high dividends even if that means U.S. layoffs.”

            “There is a high rate of losses in shipment from imports – cargo stolen, lost, sunk in transport, held up in customs.  Think about the loss of time and stock from importing. Don’t forget legal fees if and more likely when there is a factory disaster or human rights violation.  These factors define fiscal irresponsibility – corporate waste that will directly affect our bottom line.” Michael persistent.

            “Risks, sure, but a million-dollar settlement here or there is a heck of a cheaper than paying U.S. employees benefits and wages.  We spend five million dollars on childcare for employees alone. It isn’t our responsibility to care for employees’ children.”

            “I have spoken with members of the board.  There is going to be an insurrection over this. Many refuse to pass your proposal.”

            “Horace Shelton carrying the torch, no doubt. His family ran this company into the toilet, still he feels he has the authority to lecture me on the mission and business pursuits of Northwest Trading Company.” Grant grunted. “I guarantee you; Horace will live to regret the day he crossed me.  He is on his way out.”

            “With your permission, I’d like to present a counter proposal that integrates the cutting-edge technology, streamlines manufacturing – only on U.S. soil, leading to greater profits, without laying off one employee. My proposal is the best of both worlds, maintaining our commitment to people while strengthening our bottom line.” Michael prayed his boss would listen to reason.

            “I’ll look it over before tomorrow’s board meeting,” Grant sighed, reluctant to entertain the request. “Although I doubt the numbers will add up.” 

            “You won’t regret it,” Michael relieved. “I think you will particularly appreciate the brief by Marissa Bright.”


            “She is the former Assistant General Manager of the flagship store at Pike’s Place Market and current regional HR director.” Michael informed. “Marissa approached me several weeks ago with her concerns about the initial proposal for the FLEX plan. She offered a wealth of suggestions based on her fifteen years of service for the company.”

            “Time is money.” Grant doubted low on the totem-poll minions were the key to an epiphany of business practice. “I hope you aren’t wasting mine, Michael.  I took a chance on hiring a green-eyed monster like you fresh out of school.”

            “I’m grateful for the opportunity.”

            “You should be.”

             “Don’t mind him,” Teresa encouraged the young associate as he emerged from Grant’s office, depressed, and flustered. “Grant is in his Grinch mode, but even the Grinch came around to the Christmas spirit in the end.”

            “I hope he comes around to sound business sense, not to mention a hint of humanity.” Michael sighed. “He wants to cut our workforce by 60%. These employees are vital to the success of Northwest Trading Company.  They aren’t ‘fat’ that needs to be cut.”

            “I fear it will take all the Angels in Heaven to spark the true spirit of Christmas in that man, let alone an ounce of decency.” Teresa sighed. “He wasn’t always like this. Horace Shelton chose to sell the company to Mr. Spaulding because his character was focused on quality customer service, corporate responsibility, and a focus the ‘profit of people, a belief that companies succeed by the hard work of people and it is a company’s duty to invest in its workforce.’”

            “What happened to Grant? He is Scrooge incarnate now.”

            “Ambition is a good trait in moderation, overindulge the ego’s ambition and becomes a poison.  Grant is a genius at business, but in his quest for power and profit, he’s lost sight of the purpose of business.” Teresa analyzed. “Don’t lose faith, Michael.  You are young, a bit naïve; use that to your advantage, see the strength of the light, peeking through the darkness of the clouds, do not allow this climate of despair to suffocate your ambition to do what is right.  It might not be the lucrative path, but it is worth its weight in gold.  In time, hopefully Mr. Spaulding will see the error of his ways.”

             “I doubt he’ll change his mind before tomorrow night’s board meeting.”

            “Christmas Eve is a night of miracles,” Teresa encouraged.

            “One can only pray,” Michael managed a smile, before heading back to the pile of paperwork mounting in his office.

Chapter 2:

            “The nerve of that man!” Marissa Bright fumed, her face on fire. “For him to write off thousands of employees as redundant is infuriating. “

            “The board still has to approve the plan,” Michael offered hoped.

“When he first took over the company, I was delighted. He had such purpose and dedication to quality service and product.  In the past few years, he has become cold and greedy.  His talent for turning abstract innovation into reality has shifted from his greatest asset to a toxic failing. The man never leaves his plush office except for executive junkets.  He has lost sight of the day-to-day operations that make this company strong.  When is the last time he really worked inside the company, with the hourly workers that make Northwest tick?  How can he make these massive changes when he truly doesn’t understand the dynamic of our stores on a day-to-day operations level?”

            “His innovation of ‘space age’ retail technology is going to revolutionize the consumer model,” Michael held. “Technology is a blessing, it helps us strengthen our business model, but it shouldn’t be used at the expense of workers. If corporations only deal in greed, will end up losing profits, declaring bankruptcy.”

            “Precisely, the money paid to our employees, hourly to executive levels goes back into the local economy, in turn driving the business cycle, which eventually returns the initial investment tenfold to Northwest Trading Company.” Marissa shook her head in disbelief. “My sister, who runs St. Jude’s Community Center is still in a state of shock since learning that Northwest is cutting off all charitable donations until further notice.”

“It’s a disaster.” Michael mourned.

“St. Jude’s Community Center relies on grants from corporations to help those in desperate circumstances. The Shelton Foundation pledged a $100,000 grant last year to St. Jude’s CC for their next fiscal year, which is now being revoked. That is a large chunk of their annual budget.  That money goes directly towards feeding the poor, housing the homeless, fostering orphans, providing services to seniors – they do anything and everything they can to help the disenfranchised. Horace promises he will bring up the issue at tomorrow’s board meeting.”

            “Elizabeth Billiart, the chair of The Shelton Foundation, has an a.m. meeting with Mr. Spaulding tomorrow. She is devastated by the proposal to cut all non-profit charitable donations. The money actively builds community, supporting everything from the arts to homeless shelters to education and beyond.  Thousands of organizations across the country rely on the charitable donations of their local Northwest Trading Company.  Those organizations bring hope.  They are a beacon of light in the darkness.” Michael spoke from experience. 

Michael’s dad is a pastor at St. Anthony’s on Pike, a church known for its active outreach ministry to the ‘lost and weary, wandering in search of rest.’ Northwest Trading Company gave the Church Mission a $10,000 grant that went to career trading classes for the unemployed as well as free nursery for infants of single or low-income mothers.

            “It’d take a miracle from all the saints and angels in heaven for a wicked man like Grant Spaulding to change his tune.  I’m surprised he didn’t cancel tonight’s Christmas party.”

            “Don’t think he didn’t try,” Michael laughed. “This will be the only night this week I actually get to spend with my wife Betsy, granted it is at the office. She is an angel among women, putting up with these crazy hours.”

            “Consider yourself lucky.” Marissa smiled, her heart beating with a tinge of regret, wishing she had what Michael and Betsy had.

            “I thank God every day for Betsy,” Michael averred. “Back to the Grindstone. I may wind up without a job, but I’m courting members of the board about our proposal.”

            “I’ve been doing the same.  A lot of board members oppose the measure but are fearful of repercussions if they defy the all-powerful Grant Spaulding.”

“At least Horace Shelton and Jordan Matthews have the courage to stand up to him.” Michael, thought about Grant’s threat.  What precisely did he intend to do to oust Horace? “See you at the Christmas party?”

            “If I can swing it.  I have a meeting at the Pike Place location at four o’clock, then I need to pick up Sara from choir practice in Capitol Hill by six.  Sara is the Angel in The Christmas Pageant at St. Jude’s.  While Joel and Ezekiel are playing The Wise Men in the Live Nativity.” Marissa glowing, as she spoke about her children. “I’ll definitely see you at tomorrow’s board meeting.”

            “I fear divine intervention might be our only hope when it comes to changing Mr. Spaulding’s mind.”

            “God works in mysterious ways.  At the very least we can plead that the Board of Directors won’t go along with his tomfoolery.”

Glancing at her desktop calendar, December 23rd, Marissa realized it three years to the day since her husband, Trevor, died in an explosion in Afghanistan.  She never learned the details of his death.  He was assigned a role in a clandestine unit and everything to do with the operation remains top secret.  His death left Marissa a widow at thirty-five with three kids: Sarah, aged 8, Joel aged 12 and Ezekiel ‘Zeke,’ aged 14. 

            Trevor’s death had been particularly hard on Zeke. He’d started acting out at school, getting into fights on the playground.  His first year of high school was a struggle, his grades barely above passing.  Marissa had tried everything, from a CAP mentor program to sports, but Zeke closed himself off.  She prayed every night for guidance.  He needed a father figure, not a replacement for Trevor – he is irreplaceable, but someone would love Zeke as his own and be a mentor and friend.  Marissa doubted love was in her future.  She barely had time between work and being a parent to manage a half-night’s sleep.  She certainly did not have time to date, nor was she emotionally ready to open her heart up to love again.

Chapter 3:

            Grant Spaulding spent the morning recruiting members of the board to vote ‘yay’ on his FLEX Deal proposal, courting their weaknesses, honing the points of technology driven consumer business model, less excess more profit.  It was not an easy sell, even for the most stringent of board members.  They feared public backlash and negative publicity that would come from close to 1 million layoffs.  Grant reassured his executive board that the growing pains would be a temporary obstacle, and consumers could be retrained to shop the FLEX way.

            “Mr. Spaulding, Horace Shelton is here.” Teresa buzzed her boss.

            “Tell Horace, I don’t have time to listen to his gripes about The Flex Deal.  The old coot will have a forum to speak openly about his hesitations, at tomorrow’s board meeting,” Grant fired back. 

            “Sir, he is adamant.” Before Teresa could finish her sentence, Horace Shelton stormed into the executive office. 

            “You will speak to this old coot now.” Horace cornered Grant. 

Horace is eighty-one, with deep blue eyes and a grin akin to a jovial grandfather.  The direct descendant of Northwest Trading Company founder Eugene Shelton, Horace successfully ran the company as CEO until the financial crisis forced him to sell to Grant.  Horace’s daughter Jordan Matthews sits on the Northwest Executive Board, while his son Marcus Shelton is Operations Director for the West Coast.

            “If you must give your spiel, do it quickly, I have 1000 things to do before toasting cheer at tonight’s Christmas party.”

            “Grant, when I sold you this company it was contingent on your abiding by the Shelton family mission: service, people and then profit.” Horace up in arms.

            “The only reason your family’s company is still afloat is because of my investment – my savvy.  I’m the genius behind this operation.  All the Shelton family mission did was leave you in financial collapse.”

            “We endured a tough patch.” Horace admitted. “I sold you the company because I believed in your dedication to quality service and corporate responsibility.  I knew you had the wherewithal to bridge the gap from floundering grocer to successful chain, without compromising moral and ethical values.  Able to balance and embrace cutting edge business savvy, while refusing to sacrifice core values in the process.”

            “You sold me the company because you didn’t have a choice. I saved you from winding up on poverty row.”

            “That isn’t entirely true. Zane Tyson agreed to triple your offer for Northwest Trading Company. I refused him because he is a corporate raider who is spineless. I lost a small fortune investing my trust in you, Grant. I may be old, I may have made foolish decisions, but I do have a sliver of wisdom. Take my advice. do not sacrifice everything good for short term profit.  You’ll lose everything in the end.”

            “I’m not sacrificing anything in this proposal.  The employees are a wasted resource. With the new scanners we do not need cashiers.  The stocking machines cut down significantly on the necessity of human manpower.  I do not like firing people, but as a business we have to yield to the market.  People want faster service at a cheaper cost. We cut labor, saving money, reinvesting that profit into expanding product development, which gives the customer better options at a cheaper price.”

            “Once again by sacrificing quality for cheap production.  You are investing this excess money into toxic plastic manufactured in China, where workers suffer horrid conditions. We buy our Christmas toys from a country that makes it difficult to worship Christ?  That is not saving the consumer money, it is selling our soul.”

            “If the price is right,” Grant shrugged, unfettered by Horace’s pleas. “Every one of our competitors does the same thing.  When is the last time ‘Made in America’ was the standard?  Workers want office jobs, not manufacturing jobs.”

            “I have a petition from 3,000 workers in Eastern Washington State that disagree with you,” Horace undeterred. “Danny Boyne of the Trans-WA Union who is working on filing an injunction against Northwest.”

            “On what grounds.” Grant eyes flared in annoyance. 

            “He wants a union liaison appointed to represent workers targeted by the FLEX proposal.”

            “Danny Boyne is an idealist, living in a castle on a cloud.  This proposal is fully in line with dissolution of union contracts, including hefty severance packages for the plant’s employeesI have our entire legal team on standby ready for war.”

            “Grant you are fighting the wrong battle,” Horace exasperated.

            “The FLEX proposal is going to expand Northwest for the future.  Jobs will be lost – but the company will be secure,” Grant unsure why he felt the need to argue his case to Horace Shelton. His former mentor still got under his skin. “If you really cared about the company, you’d support me.”

            ““Listen, I support aspects of your FLEX proposal. “I’m not opposed to Northwest utilizing self-checkout technology and focus on expanding our online product line.   I just want you to put workers first.” Horace desperate to pierce Grant’s iron shield.

            “We need to stay lean,” Grant countered. “We invest too much in human capital.”

            “Our employees are the future – they drive innovation and move Northwest forward.  Invest in technology and your employees that is how Northwest becomes successful.  You cancelled contracts with farmers, outsourcing lettuce from overseas?  It is foolish and not cost effective.”

            “You are living in the past Horace!”

            “Am I?  All the big box chains are increasing local supplier contracts and have shifted to organic and farm to store products.   Are you aware that a recent survey showed that grocery shoppers are going to our competition because of our refusal to stock local and organic alternatives?  In North Carolina and Virginia for instance, you import peanuts from halfway around the world, while refusing to stock local peanuts – some of the best in the world.  Even in Georgia’s Northwest Trading Company stores you import peaches?  You must take these measures into scale.  Use a multi-lateral approach.  You of all people know that, Grant.”

            “Forbes listed me as a trendsetter, a visionary. I trust my gut instinct over your cockeyed draconian business model,” Grant seethed.

            “You can at least look over Michael Horton’s revised plan. It keeps many of your core changes in place without sacrificing personnel, US manufacturing and keeps our Charitable Donation intact.” Horace ever determined.

            “I told Michael that I would consider the proposal and I will.” Grant escorting Horace out of his office. “If I deem it worthy, it will be presented to the board tomorrow as an alternative to my FLEX plan.”

            “I care about you Grant, as a son would a father.  I pray that you make the right decision, not only for the company, more importantly for yourself – for your soul.”

            “Prayers are a waste of your time. It is shouting at thin air.  I’m not wasting time praying – and neither should you.”

            “Last I checked air is the oxygen that feeds our lungs.” Horace managed a smile as he walked out the door.  Silently he prayed: “Deep down, Lord, I know Grant still had a spark of light, kindle his soul to do your will.  He is a lost sheep, who needs a guiding hand to light his way.  Kindle this awareness, Lord.”

Chapter 3:  

Photo by Amanda Grove on Pexels.com

            The colorful holiday lights of Pike’s Place Market glistened like stars as the fire of the setting sun dimmed into the depths of the night.

            Even amid the cold, damp, bleakness of winter there is a magic that casts a spell over Seattle at Christmas.  The city is alive with a holiday cheer from Christmas plays to the festive decorations lining city streets, towering fir trees aglow, carolers, parties, fairs and bazaars, holiday cruises on the Puget Sound and The Space Needle as a beacon in the dark. 

            There was a time when Christmas in Seattle made Marissa’s spirit soar.  She loved shopping in the retail core, attending the lighting ceremony at Westlake Center, The Dickens Fair in Pioneer Square, and riding atop The Space Needle looking out over the enchanting cityscape. 

Tonight, maneuvering the crowds of the iconic Pike’s Place Market, Marissa only felt isolation and despair.  The sights and sounds of the bustling market, filling her heart bittersweet reminders of Christmases past, those shared with Trevor.  The chill of the frosty air stirred silent memories of Christmas sixteen years ago, the day Trevor proposed.

Marissa remembers the night with razor sharp precision. After attending the seven o’clock Lesson’s and Carol’s service at church, Trevor surprised her with a twelve-stop scavenger hunt through the city.  Each scavenger stop yielded an ornament. From caroling to rocking under no less than five Christmas trees, visiting the Turtle Doves statue in Olympic Sculpture Park, kissing atop the Space Needle, toasting eggnog at Pioneer Square, a stop at the Old Curiosity Shop, pictures on the Pier, before finally winding up under the Public Market sign at Pike’s Place. 

The lights were glowing like floating candles in the reflection of the drizzling rain when Trever got down on one knee and proposed.  He said each of the twelve ornaments would fill their first Christmas tree, a representation of the love that they shared. 

The Bright family still decorates their tree with those twelve ornaments.  The turtledove positioned just under the angel atop the tree.  The angel was given to Marissa as a wedding gift when they married at Thanksgiving the next year.  Strange how much has changed.

Marissa realized as much as she missed Trevor, this year’s bout of the holiday blues was a result of work anxiety.  She was angry, infuriated by Spaulding’s callous attitude. 

“How can he be so heartless,” Marissa muttered under her breath.  “We are in the heart of Christmastide, a season of good will toward men?  Yet, that Scrooge wants to layoff valuable employees on Christmas – I know God can save any soul, but Grant Spaulding is the most coldblooded people I’ve encountered.”

As a former manager of the Pike Place flagship NWTC location, she understood the value of every employee from greeters, baggers, janitors to cashiers, bakery and deli clerks to baristas and stockers…She agreed the new technology would streamline and improve working conditions.  Still as precise as a computer may be, they are no substitute for personal interaction. 

Shoppers don’t want to rely completely on machines.  They need staff to help them find the last can of pumpkin pie puree or Gluten Free pasta.  Not everything can or should be controlled by technology, especially when the goal of that technology is founded in greed, not utility.

Marissa has always had a strong work ethic and loyalty.  At times it has been a weakness.  She’d given her career and heart to Northwest Trading. Most would write off the company and give up – recognizing the big box’s greed to a ‘sign of the times,’ but for Marissa this was personal. 

Marissa is a third generation Northwest Trading employee.  Her great-grandfather was able to feed his family during The Great Depression because Eugene Shelton offered him a job as grocery clerk.

 Her mother spent thirty years working as a pastry chef at Northwest Trading Company, a position that allowed her to use her joy for cooking, warming the hearts of children who stopped by for one of Mrs. Cooper’s fresh Rainier Cookies after school.  The Shelton’s purchased the recipe for Rainier Cookies, from Marge Cooper for $15,000.  That money paid for Marissa to attend college at Washington State University.

Marissa grabbed a coffee from Pike’s Roast, weaving through the rows of food and artisan vendors, en route to the Northwest Trading Company’s Pike Place location. 

Pike Place Market is spread across nine acres, encompassing a vast array of eclectic food vendors, producers, grocers, arts and crafts, music and book shops, the oddball gift, to handmade jewelry.  It is a place to soak in, allowing your lungs to breath in the aroma of fresh seafood, pastries, and seasonal fruits.  An eccentric mix of patrons frequent the market from CEOs to rambling vagabond gypsy musicians, college kids, from grunge to prep, homeless to the wealthiest of Seattle’s elite. 

As one of the oldest public markets in the country, Pike Place at its core is a community.  It is the lifeblood of downtown Seattle.  A gathering place that brings everyone together. This is ever truer at Christmas when the presence of community spirit abounds.

The flagship store has been in Pike’s Place for over sixty years.   This historic location exudes character from the circus lights in the high loft ceilings, the rows of produce, looking as if they had just been picked to extensive selection of Washington State wines.   

“Merry Christmas!” Lucy Irving hugged her friend and co-worker.

“The shop looks festive.” Marissa admired, noticing the grand Christmas tree, colorful wreaths and halls decked with boughs of holly.   as she followed Lucy to the store office.

“Our florist manager Jocelyn Reeve handmade each of our twenty-four wreaths.  The dancing lanterns are courtesy of the Pike Place Senior Center.  While the tree was decorated by foster children from the St. Joseph’s Group Home.  The tree’s theme, the twelve fruits of the Christmas spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, mercy, self-control, humility, and forgiveness.  Customers purchase the ornaments on tree, with all proceeds going to the group home.” Lucy informed, her eyes lighting up with joy. “Earlier in the month we had a Hanukkah Menorah, each light symbolizing hope for new beginnings this season.”

“What a lovely way to spread cheer.” Marissa thought, secretly wondering how Lucy managed to get the holiday decor past corporate.

“Can I get you a coffee or our world-famous Egg-Nog?”

“I’m charged on caffeine,” Marissa bit her lip.  This was going to be a difficult conversation.

“Down to business then,” Lucy let out a hard sigh. Both knew the cuts would hit them hard.

“In an official capacity I’m here to discuss the impending FLEX plan and procedures for the eventual transition of staff…severance benefits, their access to career counsels and resume builder to help them find jobs after their tenure at Northwest Trading Company is over…In an unofficial capacity, I’m here to do anything I can to stop the FLEX plan from being initiated by the board.” Marissa on the cusp of tears. 

“I’m scared Marissa, not for myself, but the staff.  Mary Jo is crippled from a being hit by a drunk driver. This job helps bridge the gap from her disability earnings.  Without it, she’ll wind up on the street.  And Tess whose daughter has a rare blood disease.  Tess relies on our group plan to take care of her child.  This isn’t charity, our employees work hard for their money and their benefits.  They are the backbone of Northwest Trading Company, not disposable numbers to be discarded without consideration. They are people.  They know our customers by name and our customers rely on our service driven mentality.  Doesn’t the board realize that customers will boycott our store if this goes through? The Seattle Times wrote a scathing editorial about Mr. Spaulding in today’s paper, calling him to cease and desist from robotic layoffs.’”

“If only Grant could see the day-to-day operations of each store, the impact that every employee, the productivity that they make to the store.” Marissa’s mind spinning. “If he could peek into the heart and soul, the lifeblood of NWTC, maybe then he’d change his mind about the FLEX plan and consider Michael Horton’s proposal.”

“Mr. Spaulding comes into this location every few weeks.  He is terse with staff and constantly making derogatory comments.  The only thing that he doesn’t complain about is the bottle of Cayuse Syrah and Bon Ton Brie he purchases methodically,” Lucy highly irritated. “That excuse for a man is beyond redemption.”

“Father Rowan Horton, at St. Anthony’s said that ‘no one is lost beyond hope.” Marissa paused.  Her faith kept her grounded, but she was straining to see any good in Grant Spaulding.  “I am praying Grant will see the light. It is Christmas and God’s love pierces the darkest of hearts, only He can cleanse the bankrupt spirit.  If he can make the deaf hear and the blind see surely, he can transform the heart of a brute like Spaulding.”

“If an epiphany is what you’re after, I doubt you’ll get a ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ and ‘Revelation AHA moment,’ from the inveterate Grant Spaulding.”

“You’re probably right,” Marissa conceded. “Still, I’ve got to try all the stops before this goes before the board tomorrow,” Marissa thinking on her feet. “Get me a bottle of the Cayuse, and a basket of brie, Chukar Cherries, marionberry jam and crackers…”

“What do you have up your sleeve?” Lucy handed Marissa the basket.

“A last-ditch effort or two?  At the very least, a midnight prayer.” Marissa paid the tab. “I better hurry if I’m going to get changed before the Corporate Christmas Party.”

“Marissa tread carefully.  If your scheme backfires…I don’t want, you to be fired.” Lucy advised, knowing HR was exempt from the FLEX plan layoffs.

“What point is a job for a company, if the CEO cannot see the value of his workforce?  I’ll take my chances.” Marissa was done being afraid.  Worst case she’d find another job. 

Exiting the store, Marissa stopped under the light of the Public Market sign to phone her sister Noelle.

“Hey Marissa, what’s up?”

“Sis, I am working late, can you pick up the kids?”

“I’m at the community center about to do Snow Angels…Benny said he’ll pick them up.” Noelle paused. “Is everything okay?”

            “Grant Spaulding is trying to unlock the gates of hell, but other than that,” Marissa didn’t mince words.

            “Grinch the terrible strikes again?” Noelle sighed. “I’ve been trying to get through to Mr. Spaulding all day about St. Jude’s grant.  When I finally did get through to his secretary Teresa, she told me that she would pass along the message.  No doubt it wound up in that miser’s trash can.”

            “Hopefully my scheme will right all wrongs.”

            “I’ll say a prayer to Saint Jude on your behalf.”

            “If there was ever a desperate cause, this is it.”

            En route to catch her bus, Marissa stopped by Pike Place’s famed bronze piggy bank – Rachel.  She is the mascot of Pike Place Market.  Legend is that if you donate and then rub Rachel’s snout, you’ll be blessed with good luck, wishes granted.  Since 1986, the piggy bank donations bring home ‘the bacon’ for The Market Foundation, which supports social services in Pike Place Market, including a Senior Center, Food Bank and Medical Care for low-income patients. 

             Marissa stuffed her last dollar in the piggy bank. “God, I know luck is a fable, I could really use your help right now.  I pray that Grant Spaulding has an epiphany, his heart is opened by the Christmas Spirit, light flooding into his dark soul…not only for his sake, but the livelihood of thousands of employees that risk losing their jobs.”

Chapter 4:

            “Bah humbug.” Grant despises the annual Christmas party.  He hid in his office until the last possible moment.“Ridiculous to spent thousands of a frivolous night of food and entertainment.  We need to cancel Christmas festivities next year.”

Grant clenched teeth.  He’d worked with Teresa to save costs by eliminating live music and replacing the open bar with a cash bar. 

            “Merry Christmas, Mr. Spaulding.” Teresa joyful greeting was like nails on a chalkboard to Grant. 

            “I’ll cheer to Northwest’s success, but don’t wish me Merry Christmas.”

            “The toy drive is going to the highlight of the evening,” Teresa peppy enough to ignore her boss’s sour spirit.  Teresa volunteered to organize the company toy drive with the aid of Elizabeth Billiart. 

“Make sure we get plenty of photographs to send to the media.” Grant only agreed to the toy drive for its PR value, not to mention the company receives a tax write off for merchandise donated charity.  The 500 toys are distributed by ‘Saint Nick’ to needy children through Seattle. 

            Before making his party entrance, Grant glanced at Michael Horton’s revised proposal.  He had every intention of throwing it into the wastebasket.  “Michael is young, too naïve to understand the complex seedy side of business.” Grant thought, distantly remembering the days when he too, believed helping humanity was his calling. He quickly learned that idealized thinking is incompatible with the grime and dirty politics of the real world.

            Changing into his freshly pressed tux, Grant looked himself over in the three-way mirror, in the executive suite bathroom.  The bathroom is nearly 1000 square feet with every modern luxury. 

            Even though Grant owns a penthouse in Seattle’s Belltown district, he rarely sleeps at home – preferring the couch in his office.  Despite his wealth, Grant lives frugally, hording ever dime of profit in offshore bank accounts.  Any charitable donations from his personal earnings were meticulously based on tax deductions and corporate loopholes.

            “You look sharp, Mr. Spaulding,” Teresa complimented. “The toast of the party.”

            “I know,” Grant shrugged, aware of his good looks. 

            “Do you have a date this evening?” Teresa cautious in phrasing the question.

            “I don’t have time for dating.  Love is a trivial distraction.” There was a separation in Grant’s voice, as if he memorized the mantra, but deep down struggled to believe his own words.  Grant has mastered the ability to compartmentalize his emotions, burying any true affections so deep, they have all but disappeared.  He realized in business it is easier to disconnect from emotions and relationships that lack total control, focusing instead on the sterile platitudes, the fixed equations.  One cannot afford to become personally attached.

            “Mr. Spaulding, I know it isn’t my place, but I do think you should try dating.  Companionship is important.  All the money in the world doesn’t matter if you don’t have love.  It is love alone that gives worth to all things.”

            “You sound like a bad Hallmark card,” Grant rolled his eyes. “It is love alone that leads to heartaches, misery, wandering sight and pain.”

            Teresa could sense the deep pain and bitterness that corroded Mr. Spaulding’s heart.  She hoped he would let go of his anger.

“I wish I didn’t have to show up at the forsaken party.  Alas, my public awaits.  I’ll toast them with the typical holiday malarkey.  One third of them will be out of jobs in the new years as it stands.  Let them enjoy tonight – drink and be merry.”

            “Sir, I know it isn’t my place to criticize you, but I think you are being rash in implementing the current version of the FLEX plan.  I’ve read the entire 796-page proposal and it is a disaster waiting to happen.” Teresa wasn’t afraid to confront Grant.  She’d worked with him long before he turned to the dark side, and she was determined to get him back on track.  “When you took over Northwest Trading you told me that you wanted to help people.  This proposal goes against every fiber of your core promises as CEO.  In the short term, no doubt it could save millions of dollars, but in the long run this trajectory is bound to fail.  It has a rotten foundation, based more on greed than business savvy.”

            “Pray tell me Ms. Martin, when did you become an expert in business practices?” Grant did little to hide his disdain. 

            “For the record, I have a M.B.A. from The University of Washington.” Teresa had used Northwest Trading Company’s scholarship fund to get her degree at night.  

            “With company money, no doubt.” Grant unimpressed.

            “The scholarship fund is a great option for employees.  By investing staff, you invest in the company.”

            Grant now regretted his brainchild of initiating the scholarship fund. Northwest Trading was not responsible for funding educational expenses for employees. “Technology, accessibility to product without dealing with slow witted cashiers is far more efficient than overeducated employees.  Educated employees expect more benefits, higher wages, they whine.”

            “Mr. Spaulding, I have immense respect for you.  That is why I feel it is my responsibility to advise you on the dangers of going down this path.  You are gambling with millions of lives.  Then about all the people who rely on the wage-earners you are laying off.  Not to mention our customer base will jump ship.  I would have a hard time justifying investing my hard-earned money into a company that is anti-people.”

            “Customers might drop us temporarily, but in the end, they’ll be retrained to shop the FLEX way.  As for your hard-earned money Ms. Martin, I suggest you shut your mouth if you want to continue to receive a paycheck from NWTC.”

            “Mr. Spaulding, can’t you at least consider Michael Horton’s plan.  You promised to review it.”

            “My patience is wearing thin, Ms. Martin.  I’d hate to fire you right before Christmas.”

            “I’m sure you can find a machine to replace me,” Teresa huffed, undaunted by her employer “I’m due in the ballroom for the charity toy drive.  See you at the party.”


            Marissa ran ten blocks, barely catching the 5:10 bus, before arriving at her family’s humble bungalow twenty minutes later.  She quickly showered, changing into a deep green party dress, she’d picked up at Nordstrom Rack.  She accessorized with a shawl and pair of stylish heels.  Never one to wear much make-up, the redhead smacked a hint of lipstick. 

            “Glad you could make the party,” Michael spotted Marissa upon her arrival at the gala, just after seven o’clock.  The décor of fresh boughs of evergreen, the stately Christmas tree decked with ornaments and Saint Nick giving out toys, brightened an otherwise dismal feast.  Every employee feared implementation of the FLEX plan.  Many had secretly started seeking jobs at other Puget Sound companies, doubtful of their own job security with NWTC in the coming year.

            “I hope it is not in vain,” Marissa searched the room. 

            “Betsy, I’d like to introduce you to Marissa Bright.”

            “It is a pleasure.” Betsy Horton is petite brunette with a larger-than-life smile that radiates kindness and warmth. “Michael told me how much help you’ve been in drafting his counter proposal to Mr. Spaulding.”

            “I doubt he’ll even read it,” Michael anxious. “I remember when Mr. Spaulding first took over the company.  I was nineteen, a fresh-faced kid.  By then I’d been working at NWTC as a bagger and cashier for years, money that paid for my education.  He had such enthusiasm and drive.  He brought us all Christmas gifts at the Pike Place location, saying how important employees are to the company.  He committed twofold to the outreach local stores do, giving employees ‘free days’ to volunteer in the community once a month.  That is the man I thought I would be working for when I got out of UW, but he’s changed.  He is darker than Scrooge, nastier than the Grinch.  I want to believe that there is still good in him.  He makes it so hard to have faith when his character is so lacking.”

            “Michael, you know that the lost are never truly lost in God’s care.  There is still hope while his cold heart is beating.  He is slow to anger and quick to grace.  If there is but a spark, even an ember of mercy and goodness in Grant Spaulding, it is our duty to work to ignite it.”

            “Betsy my dear you are the unassailable optimist.” Michael sighed.

            “Hope doesn’t make me a fool.  I’m aware the cards are stacked against us, but God doesn’t bet on winner take all odds.  If there is but a chance, then it’s worth knocking on the door, patiently prodding and nurturing his heart…even if it is black and empty.”

            Betsy understood the emptiness inside of Grant because it mirrored her father’s.  Betsy’s father got lost in greed, pride and ambition.  Though Betsy never condoned her father’s actions, she didn’t cling onto anger either.  She patiently prayed, holding out just a flicker of hope that eventually her father might see the error of his ways and return to them, a humbled man, full of joy and peace even out of adversity.  It took fifteen years of hurt, betrayal and pain, but when he returned, the door was open, the light of forgiveness filling their hearts. God doesn’t give up.  We may make the choice to curse our lives to the graves, with hate and anger, but God’s love can heal even the most tattered of souls.

“Here is to hoping,” Michael downed his one glass of wine.

“Speaking of Mr. Spaulding, have you seen him?  Is he here at the party?”

“He’s still in his office.  Won’t come down until about eight,” Michael informed.

“Wish me luck.”

“Marissa, wait…where are you going?” Michael called, as she ran off with the gift basket, her heels clacking loudly on the travertine floor.


            Grant Spaulding sat in his office debating whether to pull Horton’s plan out of the office trashcan.  Precious few could wound his ego, Teresa is one of them. 

Perhaps because she reminded him of his Grandmother Kate, a kind morally astute woman, who had the keen ability to invoke moral accountability.  Teresa like Kate is a person you don’t want to disappoint.  They don’t judge you with hate, but a sigh of disappointment, desiring that you rectify the mistake.  Had Grant lost his way?

            “I won’t let that sentimental twat of a secretary make me feel guilty for going about business.  I am a CEO.  I make tough decisions for the benefit of the company.  The company’s goal is profit.” He downed a shot of whiskey.  Drink was a consolation, even though deep down, he felt miserable.

            A knock on his office door stifled the silence.

            “Merry Christmas, Mr. Spaulding.  Please accept this humble gift of good cheer,” Marissa stepped into the office. 

            “Who are you?” Grant more curious as to the identity of the attractive, plucky redhead standing in front of him than the gift basket.

            “Marissa Bright.  Human Resource Director for Washington State.”

            “You are pretty, Ms. Bright, unfortunately the sparkle in your eyes and a bottle of cheap wine won’t sway my opinion on the FLEX plan.” Grant condescending.

            “Mr. Spaulding, I think if you spent a day or two working alongside hourly employees, seeing the work that goes into the day-to-day operations and the benefit they bring to Northwest Trading Company.”

            “Ms. Bright, your sentimental tirade is amusing, but you deal in menial HR tasks.”

            “Menial?  HR works to streamline our workforce and promote a nurturing work environment that leads to productivity.” Marissa flared. “I have given better part of fifteen years to this company, working from cashier to manager before landing in HR.  When is the last time you even stepped foot in a Northwest Trading Company store to hit the grindstone?  Working behind the scenes with your staff?”

            “I routinely visit our stores, as a customer and in a professional capacity.”

            “One corporate visit to the Dallas Texas store this year.  You were in the store for twenty minutes and didn’t speak with one hourly employee. It was a press junket more than an in-house evaluation.  For all your grand corporate schemes you know very little about the company your own and manage, yet still you are determined to break the backbone of your company, ruining thousands of lives in the process, because of greed.”

            “Ms. Bright, I suggest you close your pretty lips, otherwise you’ll be out of HR and in the unemployment line.”

            “I won’t standby and allow you to misuse your power to malign this company and its employees.  It’s Christmas, Mr. Spaulding, deep down, you have the capacity to be a good man, full of compassion…”

            “Merry Christmas,” Grant’s lips twisted mischievously upward, like the Grinch ready to attack.  “Ms. Bright you’re fired.”

            “Mr. Spaulding, please give me five minutes to brief you on the revisions.” Marissa pressed on unfazed. “The Eco-Revitalization will be tech-savvy, with energy efficient savings in the millions, savings that that will nearly pay for all factory operations…”

            “Yes, I know, this plan will save every weasel of an employee from the guillotine, invest in America-made jobs and raise profits to exponentially high levels.”

            “It will,” Marissa firm in her assessment. “Frankly even it is off the mark slightly the company has the funds to bank this revision without compromising future intake and stability; if anything, Michael Horton’s plan strengthens the foundation of the company, promoting growth, while your version of the FLEX plan is driven for short term gains, with not consideration for long term viability.”

            “Technology is a long-term investment, cutting edge and highly profitable.”

            “Until the next batch of technology forces you to rebrand.” Marissa countered. “I agree technology is essential, but human manpower is irreplaceable.  You are allowing greed to cloud your judgment.  Please Mr. Spaulding, do what is morally right, call off the layoffs.  Spend Christmas Eve at the flagship store working alongside Lucy, Jocelyn, Andy, Mark and Mary Jo…you’ll understand the importance of our staff, the reciprocity between corporation and its employees, the intrinsic connection between staff and growth.”

            “Your five minutes are up Ms. Bright.  You have until eight o’clock tomorrow morning to clean out your office.”

            “You can’t fire me,” Marissa protested. “I am doing my job, voicing my concerns about the layoffs as a fifteen-year veteran of this company with HR expertise.  I have spent more hours in NWTC stores than you.  I understand this company.  I respect your role as CEO, but your ability as a businessman and as a decent human being are lacking.”

            “Leave now, otherwise I’ll call security and have you escorted out for trespassing.” Grant threatened.

            “I’m leaving,” Marissa sharply shot back. “For the record, I quit.”

            “Fired, and I intend to make sure you never work in this town again.”

            “Go ahead and try.  I refuse to cower to a bully like you.” Marissa marched out of the office, high on adrenaline. “

            Exiting the building, blisters forming on the heels of her feet, Marissa dialed KSEA – the leading news affiliate in King County.   She couldn’t care less about being fired, so be it.  Her concern was for the employees at risk of losing their jobs during tomorrow’s board vote on the FLEX plan.

If Grant couldn’t be persuaded by reason and at the very least common decency, perhaps he might shutter with full frontal media coverage – ‘The Grinch who Stole Seattle’s Christmas Spirit.’  Several labor unions already plan to sue, perhaps she and Danny Boyne could conspire to have a cheerful holiday protest tomorrow in front of NWTC’s corporate offices during the board vote. 

*forgive any typos/grammatical issues – I chose to blog this for fun and still a work in progress*

Stay tuned for more chapters soon!

Cupcake Christmas Story

A Cupcake Christmas Story (Part V)

Chapter 15

         Clara replayed Matt’s words as she turned on ‘Home Alone.’ 

         “He wants me to manage the coffee shop. It would be a dream job – being able to run the business and still have time for baking…” Clara felt sugarplum fairies dancing – she wanted the job at Soulful Java.

         Looking at the stack of bills on the table she sighed. “Bills don’t lie, I need the job at FinTech…it will be a great opportunity – right Pumpkin Spice.”

         “Mrrreow,” Pumpkin Spice’s answer was inconclusive.

         Clara, wearing her Christmas Cat pjs, she relaxed on the couch enjoying the colorful Christmas lights as she started Home Alone.  She would enjoy this night off, even if all she could think about was Matt and the coffee shop.


         “Uncle Clark,” Matt answered his phone.

Clark is the senior partner at the firm.  While Clark supported his nephew’s coffee shop, he was frustrated that Matt wasn’t prioritizing his design career.  He hoped to put him on the right path, especially with the Community College project looming the new year.

         “How’s my favorite nephew?”

         “I’m your only nephew,” Matt laughed.

         “Can you swing by the office tomorrow at 11? The Community College planning committee is stopping by to discuss the project. They cannot wait to meet you.”

         “Yeah,” Matt gulped. “I need coverage for the shop, but of course I’ll be there.”

         “Matt, I’m proud of your work at Soulful Java, but you need to realign your priorities.  You are an architect, not a barista. I understand the investment in Soulful Java, but you cannot run it fulltime.  We need your expertise at the firm.”

         “I understand.” Matt admitted he had invested most of his energy into starting the coffee shop.  He never intended to give up being an architect for Soulful Java, but he found running the shop was rewarding. “I need to find a coffee-work balance.”

         “I need you all-in on this project.”

         “If I commit to the project, I will give my all.”

         “If? If is not an option, Matthew Orsay.  This is one of the largest contracts we have had in the firm’s history, and they want you – your designs.  I recommend you hire help at the shop – or even considering selling it.”

         “I can’t sell Soulful Java.”

         “And I can’t afford to lose your talent at the firm.” His voice firm and determined. “The Willis Group will buy Soulful Java.  They are looking to expand their holdings downtown.”

         “And they will ruin it! The Willis Group doesn’t care about community and quality coffee.”

         “Think it over.”

         Uncle Clark hung up unceremoniously.  Matt understood his uncle’s point of view.  Matt loves architecture and design, but frankly he had gotten burned out the past year.  The investment in Soulful Java got his creative juices flowing again. 

         “The community college project is a dream, and I do have a lot of ideas,” he thought to himself. “I’ve just got to figure out how to keep Soulful Java running. If only Clara…” He stopped himself. Clara would not work for him full-time. He could not pay her as much as FinTech.

         Matt spent the rest of the evening drafting ideas to present to the college board.  He could not screw this up.  The entire firm was counting on him.

Chapter 16

         Clara continued to be shocked by the number of cupcake orders that continued to come in from her social media. Her inbox was inundated with orders.

         “I will enjoy the fifteen minutes of cupcake fame before I start my new job next week,” Clara smiled as she put on her apron.

It was going to be a hectic and sweet Monday.  Clara was catering two tea parties, including an American Girl party for Lucy and her friends. Emily was kind enough to help with bakery deliveries.

         Across town, Matt suited up for his meeting with the community college board. He had a few leads on coffee shop managers.

         “I’ll get Clara’s feedback tomorrow, see if she can review the applications.”


         “Let me get this straight, Matt said he wants you to manage the coffee shop?” Emily loading her car with cupcake deliveries.

         “Not exactly. He said he was going to offer it to me before I got the job at FinTech.”

         “Did you tell him you are interested in the job?”

         “No, that would be foolish.”

         “You are interested in running the shop though?”

         “Interested does not equal yes – you know I have to be practical.  I’m single and have bills to pay – and a cat to support.”

         “It doesn’t hurt to keep your options open.  Matt recognizes your talent, and you could become business partners.” Emily suggested.

         “Thanks for being my delivery elf.” Clara ignored the last statement from her sister’s mouth. “I’ll see you at the tea party.”

         “Lucy cannot wait!”


         Every year, the Bedford Springs Historical Society hosts a Christmas Tea for elementary students and their dolls.  This year’s theme was a Dickens Christmas.  The kids would enjoy yummy treats (made by Clara) and a kid-friendly version of A Christmas Carol.

         Lucy and Samantha were dressed in matching red velvet Christmas dresses with black patten leather shoes and lace stockings.  Becca unfortunately had Christmas horse camp and could not attend.

         “You and Samantha look dashing.”  Clara clipped on a plaid Christmas bow in Lucy’s reddish hair.

         “Samantha loves the tea cakes you made.”

         “I’m glad she approves.”

         “We made you a special gift.” Lucy handed her aunt a box wrapped in silver paper with a gold bow.

         “Thank you, I cannot wait to open it on Christmas.”

         “Don’t make us wait that long,” Lucy pressed Clara to open the gift.

         Tearing into the packaging, Clara unwrapped a hand painted Nutcracker ornament.

         “You made this?”

         “Samantha helped.’

         “It’s gorgeous.”

         “I know you like the Nutcracker and your name is Clara – so…”

         “I love it.”

         Clara treasured the moment.  Christmas was coming soon, and yet she wished these moments would last forever.

Chapter 17

         “How did your meeting with the community college board go,” Clara greeted Matt on Tuesday morning.

         “Really well. The board loves my preliminary ideas.” Matt filled Clara in on the sticky situation with his uncle.

         “He wants you to sell the shop?”

         “I hate the idea, but unless I find a qualified manager and additional staff…I might have too.  I don’t want to give up being an architect.  The problem is I don’t want to give up Soulful Java either.”

         “Let me make a few calls.  A few of my Data Dot colleagues would be good candidates.  One of them, Lacy, worked at Starbucks corporate offices.”

         “I’d appreciate the referrals.”

         “In all honestly, I wish I could step in an manage the shop.  I love Soulful Java and the opportunity to serve as baker.”

         “The job is yours if you want it.”

         “I appreciate that Matt, I just don’t think I can turn down the FinTech offer…”

         “I get it. You and I are battling dreams vs practical reality.” Matt paused. “I’m excited for The Nutcracker this weekend.”

         “Me too. I appreciate the invitation.” Clara smiled softly. “I have a few orders to prepare in the kitchen.”

         “I’m going to line up a few interviews for staff.  I’ll reach out to Lacy.  I appreciate the lead.”


         Matt did get a hold of Lacy, who was more than qualified for the management position, but unfortunately, she had just taken a full-time position at another software company.

         “I’d love to work weekends,” Lacy offered.

         “That would be a big help,” Matt thanked Lacy.  “Let me know if you have any referrals for the full-time position.”


         “Clara, I hoped I’d find you here,” Maddy Webster stopped by the coffee shop on her lunch break.

         “Ms. Webster, nice to see you,” Clara cheeks flushed, trying to hold her composure.  Clara was covered in flour and her hair was a mess.

         “Please call me Maddy,” The executive wore a burgundy pant suit with fashionable boots. “I was craving coffee and one of your signature cupcakes.”

         “I recommend the Lucy Sweetbread Cakes and a vanilla mocha.”

         “Sounds delicious,” Maddy reached out to pay.

         “On the house,” Clara offered.

         “We cannot wait to have you start next week. I’m getting your office set-up now and will introduce you to your assistant via Zoom later this week.”

         “I’m so honored for the opportunity to work at FinTech…” Clara held her breath. “I do have one issue I’d like to discuss.”

         “Go on.”

         “I am excited for the job, but I do have commitments with Soulful Java and my cupcake business, at least through January.  I know this job is going to demand most of my free time but did hope I could possibly have some leeway as I transition out of the baking business.”

         There Clara had gotten it out of her system.  Would FinTech be flexible with her schedule outside of work – or was she getting married to the job like she did at Data Dot.

         “Director is going to be a full time – really around the clock role. Not to disrespect your free time Clara, but you will be communicating with offices in Asia and the Americas and often working late. The benefit is you will be on a fast track to grow with the company and your salary justifies the extra time.”

         “Of course, I understand.”

         “Don’t get me wrong, you have the best cupcakes I’ve ever eaten, but with FinTech you won’t have time to have your cake and eat it too. I’m sorry.”

         Clara and Maddy exchanged niceties and casual conversation before the executive returned to work.

         “I’m a fool,” Clara buried her head in her apron. “I should be over the moon at this job opportunity and all I can think about is wanting to keep working at Soulful Java and baking cupcakes. My priorities are all off.”

         It was not so much that the job at FinTech didn’t excite her – it was the fact that she knew the sacrifices she’d give up for the position.  She would work long hours and stress out over quotas and operations.

         “It’s just because Data Dot burned me out.” She reasoned, but deep-down Clara realized as tempting as the salary and prestige was – she did not really want to battle the corporate ladder.  Unfortunately, she might not have a choice. 

Chapter 18

         The week sped faster than Santa’s sleigh on supercharge.  Between baking holiday orders and prepping for her new job, Clara barely had time to sip her hot cocoa. 

         “Any luck on finding a manager?” Clara checked in with Matt on Thursday.

         “No, but a lot of people are already MIA for the holidays.”

         “You still have a few more weeks,” Clara encouraged. “I spoke with my new job and unfortunately I’m not going to have much time for baking.  I was thinking I could provide cupcakes once a week – maybe Saturdays and you can freeze them, so you have enough fresh pastries for the week?”

         “That is a great idea, although long term I don’t know how feasible it will be.” Matt understood the time constraints Clara would have with her new job.  He would look at working with other vendors in January – if he still ran the business. 

         Martin Willis continued to leave voicemails asking Matt to sell the shop. It was a tempting offer, but Matt had poured his heart into the shop and did not want to give it up.  He would figure out a way to balance his architecture career with his business.

         “I know you’re swamped with cupcake orders, but if you’re free tonight, I have an extra ticket to the Gingerbread Village at the Watermark Hotel.” Matt took a chance on asking Clara.

         “I love the Gingerbread Village,” Clara’s eyes lit up.  In all honesty she had been so busy she forgot about the seasonal tradition at Bedford Springs hotel.  

         “Leave around six?  We can grab dinner there.”


         Located in the center of downtown Bedford Springs, The Watermark was built in the 1920s in the Art Deco style to cater to the burgeoning financial district.  When The Great Depression hit, The Watermark served as affordable housing before being restored to its former glory.  It reopened as a hotel in the 1950s and has been celebrating its Christmas Village since the 1960s. 

         “This year’s exhibit features over 100 gingerbread houses divided into a variety of categories.” Clara read the brochure to Matt as they meandered through the magical gingerbread village.

         “Look at this replica of St. Mark’s Parish,” Clara motioned as they enjoyed the beautiful gingerbread renditions of local landmarks. “Look – your firm has an entry.”

         “My Uncle Clark is the Gingerbread pro -he has won awards.”

         “Maybe next year you can create a Soulful Java gingerbread house?”

         “I’ll need a baker to help me.”

         The pair wandered the displays for over an hour, blown away by the creativity and details of each gingerbread creations. 

         “I’m in awe of the children’s category -the kid’s submissions are amazing.” Clara and Matt discussed. “Especially the Teddy Bear Gingerbread Castle.”

         “There is a great taco truck outside -you hungry?” Matt suggested.

         “Chips and Salsa are my weakness,” Clara laughed. “Plus, calories don’t count during the holidays.”

         After ordering steak tacos with spicy queso and pico, Clara and Matt found table near the square Christmas tree.

         The colored lights glittered, twinkling like stars.  Hand cut ribbon adorned the ten-foot Fraser Fir with and Star of Bethlehem on top.

         “Bedford Springs is so pretty at Christmas time. It feels magical.” Clara noted. “You have any fun plans for Christmas?”

         “I spend Christmas Eve with my sister’s family.  She goes all out and Becca is determined to see Santa this year.” Matt laughed. “We then have a big Christmas Day dinner with my parents and Uncle Clark’s family.  My mom makes the best sweet potato casserole.”

         “Sounds delicious.  Think she’ll give me the recipe.”

         “Only if you bake her a cupcake,” Matt teased. “What about you – any fun plans for Christmas?”

         “I go to Christmas Eve Mass with my family and spend the day with my sister Emily’s family on Christmas.  I’m in charge of making the pot roast this year.”

         “Save me leftovers?”

         “I’m a much better baker than pot roast prepper, but sure.”

         After finishing their tacos, the pair walked side by side down Main Street taking in the lights and atmosphere of Christmas in the city. 

         “There is the FinTech building…” Matt pointed to the skyscraper. “I’m proud of you, Clara.”

         “Thanks.” Clara’s perplexed expression didn’t go past Matt.

         “You look confused.”

         “I am confused. I know that I should take the job at FinTech.  It is exciting and interesting and pays well…”


         “I really love baking – and the coffee shop.  I hate to leave.”

         “Listen, I support your decision either way, and wouldn’t fault you for taking the job, but I love working with you and I know we can build Soulful Java into the best coffee and bakery in the state.”  Matt stepped out on a limb. “I need a partner for Soulful Java…”

         “I’d love to help you run the shop, but…”

         “Just think about it.  I’m prepared to make you a full partner in the business.  I can’t pay as much as FinTech, but you’ll have stable hours…”

         “I…” Clara’s heart rushed to say ‘yes,’ but her head stopped her.

         “Just think about it.”

         “I’ll let you know by Christmas,” Clara promised, squeezing Matt’s hand.

Chapter 19

         Clara poured her heart into baking the next few days, hoping it would settle her emotions, but she felt like sprinkles stuck in frosting.

         She took time to dig into the Fintech division guide – prepping for her new role.  She had lots of great ideas about how to run the sales division.  A consummate professional, Clara organized her thoughts and ideas into a perfectly prepped presentation.

         As Clara organized her ideas for FinTech, she received a call from her friend Ginny in Seattle.

         “Hey girl! I wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas!” Ginny’s friendly voice sounded through the receiver. “How are things going post Data Dot?”

         Clara brought Ginny up to speed on her cupcake business and new opportunity at FinTech.  Ginny, always a source of wisdom, was the perfect sounding board to analyze the pros and cons of FinTech and baking.

         “I think you should consider approaching FinTech about a consulting role.” Ginny suggested. “You love sales and provide excellent value – but with consulting you don’t have the fulltime responsibilities of director.”

         “I don’t know if Maddy is interested in that…” Clara’s mind racing. “I like the idea though.”

         “Just give it a thought,” Ginny encouraged.  “Several of our friends in Seattle have made a career move to consulting and you have the backbone and skill to make it work.”

         “Thanks Ginny, you gave me something to think about.”

         Clara’s creative business brain went to work.  Could she really make a go as a consultant?  It would allow her the opportunity to focus on baking without giving up her sales career.  It seemed risky though. 

         “I can at least research the idea and see if Ms. Webster would be open to me coming in more consultant role.” Clara was renewed by the idea.  Cupcakes and Business consulting…could it work?

         It didn’t hurt to research her options. 


         Matt felt relieved after finalizing Lacy’s part-time hours and adding on two part-time baristas, Josie, and Alejandro.  Both baristas attend the community college and had prior experience.

         “Having extra help will keep things running smoothly.” Matt thought to himself as she began to dream up plans for community college design project.  The project excited his creative sensibilities, and he was excited to be part of building a wing that would provide top educational opportunities for local students.

         Matt had completed most of his Christmas shopping but still had one important gift left.  He wanted to buy something special for Clara.  They had become fast friends in the past month, and he couldn’t imagine her not being part of his life moving forward.

         “Funny how Clara says I gave her the opportunity to bake, but she really helped the shop grow.  Our business has gone way up since we started selling her cupcakes.” Matt smiled, remembering the first day they met at the school festival.  “I think I know the perfect gift…”


         Clara was also brainstorming gift ideas for Matt.  He changed her life when he offered her the chance to bake for Soulful Java. Sure, she has the business savvy – but Matt believed in her and helped her see the impossible dreams might be possible.

         Emily suggested a Frank Lloyd Wright inspired coffee mug. Clara liked the idea, but wanted something more personal for Matt. “I have an idea…

Chapter 20:

         The latter part of the week was nonstop for Clara.  Every minute she was not baking, Clara was brainstorming the idea of becoming a consultant.  She spoke with several experts in the field and sped-read a few ‘How-to’ books.  It seemed like a feasible idea, but she was not sure it would work with FinTech.  They needed a sales director and with only a few days from her start day – it would not be easy or smart to back out of the job.

         “Clara, it’s wonderful to see you,” Maddy Webster expressed genuine warmth as Clara entered her office on the Friday before Christmas. “I’d love to give you a tour of your office…”

         “Actually, I’ve been doing some soul-searching and I have a proposal I wanted to run by you.” Clara appeared poised and confident, even if her nerves were shot. “While I’m honored to be part of the FinTech team, I realize that I don’t want to be married to my job.  I am a hard and diligent worker who goes above and beyond, but there is more to life than closing deals.”

         “You are single, it’s not like you’re pressed for time,” Maddy’s words stung, but truth be told it was a common assessment.  Single professionals in sales were expected to have little to no life outside of their sales role.  Sure it depends on the company, but Clara understood Maddy’s logic.

         “I know it sounds silly, but I love to bake and the past few weeks of owning and operating my own business – cooperating with Soulful Java – it reminded me what I love about sales and service.  I want the job at FinTech, but I don’t want to give up baking and my life outside of work.  I want a work life balance.” Clara could sense Maddy’s disappointment.

         “I am sorry you feel that way,” Maddy paused. “I saw your drive at Data Dot, and we need a player who is all in here.”

         “All-in, yes, but I don’t think I can work 24/7.” Clara tried to explain, realizing she might be making the worst mistake of her life.  “I know I can help FinTech accomplish their goals from a sales and growth perspective.  I have the vision and understanding of the industry to make it happen.  I want to work at FinTech, but what I propose is you hire me as a consultant.”

         “A consultant? That is unconventional,” Maddy raised her eyebrows – annoyed and curious.

         “I’ve prepared a proposal,” Clara handed her presentation to the executive.  “This outlines the sales plan moving forward to ensure that FinTech is the cybersecurity leader in technology. The sales initiatives are outlined in this brief, and I trust we can work together to grow this business into the future.”

         “This is amazing, and I agree with all of your plans, but I need a full-time director…”

         “I understand and that is why I cannot be the director of sales.  What I propose is you hire me as a consultant to help lead the team from an outside perspective.”

         “Clara, I’m confused.  We offered you a huge salary uplift and a job most in your position could only dream about.”

         “Honestly, I cannot explain my decision with reason.  The truth is I rediscovered my love for baking and turning my passion into my own business is important to me.  I can provide my expertise and ensure FinTech succeeds as a consultant– it will be worth your investment.”

         “So, you are turning down the director position.”

         The pause was so tense and heavy that Clara felt that the world had ended.  Clara kept quiet – she wasn’t going to speak first – that is a golden rule of sales negotiation.

         “Well…Ms. Keene…I hate for us to lose your talent, but I recognize your entrepreneurship and commend you.  I want to hire you for a two-year contract as official sales consultant for FinTech.  We will require a minimum number of hours, but we can align that with your entrepreneurial goals!”

         “You won’t regret this,” Clara gushed in gratitude. “I am excited to partner with FinTech.”

         “I’ll see you on December 26th – I know the team will appreciate your proposal.”

         “I’ll be here.”

         “And Clara? Bring some cupcakes to the meeting,” Maddy’s warmth lifted the tension. 

         “Thank you, God,” she whispered as she floated out of the office, stuck on cloud nine. “I’ve got to tell Matt!”

         She dialed his number, which went straight to voicemail. Snow flurries had started to fall lightly, the temperature a frosty 31 degrees, as she ran four blocks to the coffee shop.

         “Slow down reindeer before you get frostbite,” the Salvation Army Santa gave a jolly laugh as Clara nearly ran into him.

         “Merry Christmas,” she threw a twenty-dollar bill in the red can.

         The line at Soulful Java was out the door as Clara rushed inside, her face Rudolph red.

         “Clara, I didn’t expect you this morning.”

         “Thought, I could lend a hand.” Their eyes met in the frenzy of the morning rush. 

         “I’m happy to have the help.”

         “Speaking of help – is your offer still on the table?”

         “You mean become business partners? Of course.”

         “I accept your proposal.”

         “What, really?” Matt was overjoyed and flabbergasted at the same time. “What about FinTech.”

         “I’ll fill you in on the details later.  Right now, we need all hands-on deck to caffeinate this crowd.”

Chapter 21:

         Over the next two days, Clara and Matt worked together of drafting out their business partnership.  They would sign the contracts after Christmas.

         “It seems fitting that we should send off the holiday at The Nutcracker,” Matt squeezed Clara’s hand as they ended the symphony hall at BPAC. 

         “Why do you say that?”

         “Clara you are my sugar plum fairy.  You waltzed into my life at a school bake sale with your Nutcracker Sweet cupcakes and turned my life upside down.”

         “Well, you could be a Christmas prince,” Clara pressed her lips together, revealing her dimples.

         After the show they meandered downtown looking at the lights, discussing their business plans.

         “We’re at the Thorne House,” Clara noticed.

         “Imagine that” Matt laughed knowingly. “I have a surprise for you.”

         He led her to the front porch and the porch swing. He handed her a small package.

         “What’s this?” Clara taken aback by the perfectly wrapped jewelry box.

         “Just a thank you gift.”

         Clara opened the box, revealing a bracelet with coffee and cupcake charms.

         “I love it.”

         “I bought it so you would remember your time at the coffee shop, but now I see it is as a toast to our new adventure.”

         “I left your gift at the coffee shop.  It’s on your desk.” Clara a bit embarrassed she didn’t have the gift with her.  She’d settled on a vintage print of the Soulful Java building she’d found at an antique store.

         “I look forward to opening it with you tomorrow – if you can spare a few minutes on Christmas Eve?”

         “We do have coffee and cupcakes to serve to hungry elves tomorrow morning.”

         Matt stood up, leading Clara underneath a twig of mistletoe.

         “I don’t know if you are much for tradition, but mind if I steal a Christmas kiss.”

         “I guess we have to,” Clara fell into Matt’s arms.

         “I don’t want to complicate the business side of things, but I think I might be falling for you Ms. Keene.”

         “I think the feeling is mutual.”

The End

Copyright Firehole Press 2021