It was Christmas Eve. Not that it mattered at Laster and Holt. My coworkers grumbled, Scrooge, under their breath. We were counting the minutes to five o’clock. With any luck, this would be my last holiday at the law firm. I was waiting for a call from Hensley, Harper and Barren. Did they want me? I had to quit soon or I’d go crazy.
“Lauren? Mr. Laster wants to see you at 4:30,” his executive secretary informed me as she passed my office around three. I saw her lips turn into a smirk before she left.
Shoot. No way would I be out of here by five. I had dinner to get and had future in-laws to entertain. I use the term “in-laws” lightly. Matt hadn’t proposed yet, but with him inviting his parents and siblings– well, let’s just say things were looking good for that diamond ring on Christmas Eve.
My knees bounced as they always did when I was nervous or agitated. Not a good look in the middle of a trial, but I made it a habit to hook my ankles around the chair leg to hide it. Over the years, it became less of an issue as I grew more comfortable in the courtroom.
It was three-thirty already. I shouldn’t expect a call. Who makes a job offer this late in the day let alone on Christmas Eve? I'd have to wait until after the holiday, if I was going to hear at all. The phone rang and I had to force myself to wait until the second ring.
“Lauren Bell. How may I assist you?” I kept my voice as neutral as possible.
“Laurie, baby, it’s me.” It was Matt. He had a deep baritone that always made me weak in the knees. He could get away with a lot on his voice alone. Sometimes, he did.
“Laster wants to see me at 4:30. You know how long that’s going to take for-ev-er.” It was a good thing I had my office door closed.
“Seriously? It’s Christmas Eve!”
As if I didn’t know that. Man, I hated this sweatshop. It was Matt who convinced me to apply elsewhere. I’m glad he did. I was ready for a change and fast. “I’m stuck. What can I say?”
“But my parents just called. Everyone’s on their way.”
Now? Really? They weren’t invited until six-thirty. I needed some time. “We have those cold appetizer trays in the refrig. Don’t you dare open any champagne, that’s for dinner. But there’s plenty of egg nog and you could…”
“I can’t do all that. I need you. You said you’d be here.”
I wish my mother was coming. If she didn’t live three states over, my parents would be there as well. Mom would have easily set out my prepared trays and there wouldn’t be an issue.
“You can. All you have to do is take the stuff out of the refrigerator and put them on the side table. Make sure you take off the plastic wrap.”
“I want tonight to be perfect.”
He sounded nervous, panicky. Maybe the proposal thing had him anxious and he needed my support. “You can do this, Matt. If not, have your mother do it. She is family, after all.”
Matt worked as an engineer. He was off the entire day. Yet, I was the one who made the appetizers last night and ran the vacuum. I told him to do the laundry, but I doubt he did. Living with Matt was usually easy. We worked well as a team, but domestic chores were not something that came naturally to him. It didn’t for me, either, but we muddled through somehow.
“Please come home as soon as you can.” His voice had an edge to it that I didn’t like. This wasn’t my fault.
We had just hung up when my phone rang again. “Yes?” I wanted to scream, what now? But a testy, “Yes?” was all I could manage. If he was calling to ask how to make an eggnog and rum drink, I swear...
“I’m sorry, yes, this is Ms. Bell. How may I assist you?”
“Ms. Bell, please hold for Mr. Hensley.”
Wow. Mr. Hensley of Hensley, Harper and Barren. The Mr. Hensley. This could only be good news, right? Who would call on Christmas Eve to tell someone they didn’t get the job?
“Ms. Bell. Jack Hensley here. We have a proposal for you and we would like you to come on board with it. Us. I mean we would like you to come work for us.”
“Please, call me Jack.”
I knew I liked him already. No more calling the managing partner Mister. “Please, call me Lauren.”
“Does this mean we’ll be working together, Lauren?”
I had to play it cool. Staying calm always gave a person leverage. In this case, leverage would mean more money.
“As I said in our interview, I am happy where I’m at, but am ready for new challenges. With my experience…”
“With your experience, you’d be perfect to open our satellite office on your side of town. We want to break into the east side and feel you’re the right person to head our team.”
Stunned, I couldn’t help but gasp. This was jumping years ahead in my law career. But why? Maybe the money wasn’t there. There had to be a catch.
“I know what you’re thinking. That we aren’t going to pay you what you’re worth.” He paused before continuing. Each second was an eternity. “That’s not it at all. Look, I’ll shoot you over the proposal and you can let me know before the New Year.”
A proposal? Is that what they called a job offer nowadays? “Yes. That would be fine.”
“Just sent it. Have a happy holiday, Lauren.”
I could barely wish him the same as I quickly got off the call and opened his document. I scanned the page until I saw numbers. Lots of them. Big ones. But the responsibilities, the opportunities, made it so much more. This wasn’t just a job offer. It was a proposal.
To say I was dumbfounded was an understatement. Of course, I would take the position. It was everything I wanted and more. I would have to let him know in a day or two.
The executive secretary knocked on my window and pointed to her wrist. She wasn’t wearing a watch, but I knew what she meant. Mister Laster was waiting for me. Let him wait for once. I took a moment to spin in my chair. This was the last time I’d have to schlep into his office like some kind of lackey.
“Mister Laster, you wanted to see me?”
“Yes, Lauren, please sit.”
Mr. Laster was ancient. He still had impeccable manners, even standing when a woman was in the room and that kind of thing.
I tucked my legs under the chair hooking my ankle around the chair leg.
“Lauren,” he cleared his throat. “It’s Christmas Eve.”
“Yes, Mr. Laster. Merry Christmas.”
“And to you. We’ve noticed how hard you’re working and we have a proposal.”
“We, Mr. Laster?” I could feel my knee start to twitch.
“Mr. Holt and I. We want you to take on the Acme Inc. account. It’s a big client and will probably tie us up for a year or two.”
I shifted in my chair. To say that this assignment was going to be difficult was an understatement. It would mean ten-hour days, practically seven days a week with no guarantee of a win. It was a newsworthy case that could make or break one’s career. If they were giving it to me, it meant they didn’t think it was winnable, but they still wanted the billable hours. Or didn’t I have faith in myself?
“Hear me out, Lauren. If anyone can do this, we know you can. I propose you do well with this case, and there could be a partnership in it for you down the road.”
There it was– the carrot without a commitment. I wasn’t about to be that stupid. “And the raise that goes with it?”
“Of course. After the case is won....”
Mr. Laster shifted in his chair. His face registered some surprise at my demand before he put on his best poker face. “Now, Lauren….”
Emboldened by my job offer, I knew what I had to do. “Mr. Laster, I’m not going to take this assignment. You are offering me nothing but misery for the next year or two and you’re not even going to compensate me fairly. That’s an insult.”
His mouth dropped. “Lauren, if you don’t take this client, you can...”
“I can quit. Which is what I am doing. I’ll be back after Christmas to get you up to speed on my clients.”
“Now wait a minute…”
I didn’t wait. I walked out of his office. It felt good. I grabbed my stuff and left.
Crunching through the snow with my box of personal items, I made my way to the car. I felt freer than I had in a long time. It was as if I had lost ten pounds and was sporting a pretty new haircut. It felt that good.
After placing my box in the trunk, I realized I didn’t want to face Matt’s family just yet. I walked to the end of the block to the little park. It looked so pretty covered in snow.
I nodded to a man walking his dog and then, without thinking, I jumped in the snow and began making a snow angel. The man stopped to stare. His dog, a beautiful golden lab, sniffed my face. I laughed.
“Sorry,” the man said, helping me to my feet.
“Don’t be. I love dogs.” I brushed off my knees, now trembling in the cold.
“A beautiful woman like you who doesn’t mind dog slobber? Marry me now!”
I looked him in the eyes. He had a full head of hair and blue eyes. They sparkled with excitement. He was kidding, of course. “Kind Sir, I’d be happy to, if only my fiancé wasn’t going to propose tonight.”
He laughed. “Well, if he doesn’t, I’ll be walking the dog this same time tomorrow night if you change your mind. We could have coffee or something.”
The way he said “something” seemed so innocent and nice. He certainly wasn’t propositioning me for anything sordid. He owned a lab, for goodness sake.
“Merry Christmas,” I said as I made my way back to the car.
By the time I made it home, Matt looked frazzled but happy. His family was all here, smiling and laughing. The food and drinks were out and everything was well under control. I knew Matt could get it done one way or another.
Everyone asked about my day and cheered when I told them about my job offer and about quitting.
“What a day. It can’t get any better than this!” I admit it was a huge hint for Matt to take the lead. I didn’t want him to propose while I finished making dinner, or when we were all at the table watching our food get cold. I certainly didn’t want him to propose when my hands were full of dirty dishwater.
“Oh, it can get better,” he said, as he winked at his dad.
The moment had come. He got down on one knee. I heard his mom's nervous giggle and then he spoke. “Lauren, you are making big changes in your life and I can’t imagine missing a single one. I love you. Will you marry me?”
I looked at the big, honking diamond and into his ordinary brown eyes. Pale blue eyes flashed before me for a second. I didn’t want flashy blue eyes. I wanted steady brown ones that took commitments seriously.
“Yes,” I breathed, “Oh, yes.”
Everyone congratulated us. They were genuinely happy I was becoming a part of their family. Dinner was a festive affair and the best part was that I didn’t have to get my new ring dirty by doing the dishes. Matt’s mother and sister took care of that with Matt’s help.
It was standard stuff, sure, until everyone had gone home. I changed into my nightgown and was about to crawl in bed when Matt came over to my side. He sat us down and took my hands in his.
“Lauren, I didn’t give you a chance to say no in front of my family. I want you to know how much I love you.” He ran his hand over his balding head. “I may not be the most handsome guy or the most…”
I leaned my head on his. “Shhh. I love you, Matt. You’re the one I love.”
“I want to ask you one more time. It’s just us now and that’s how I’m hoping it’ll be for the rest of our lives. Will you marry me?”
My right knee began shaking. There was no chair leg to hide behind. I looked at it trembling against his sturdy one. And that’s when it hit me. I could count on him for the rest of my life. We could do this together.
“You don’t mind that I quit my job and took another without consulting you?”
“I encouraged you to look for another job. But ultimately, the decision was yours. It’s not like you needed my permission or anything.” He squeezed my hand. “You’re an amazing woman. I want to be a part of your life.”
Who talks like that? No one, especially not an engineer. But Matt did say that. I heard him. When an analytical man like Matt expresses his feelings, it’s so rare, you’d better believe him. How I loved this man. My knee stopped shaking.
“Yes,” I replied, loud and clear. I wanted to tell him how much I loved and admired him, but he was too busy kissing me to let me say anything more. That’s okay. We’d have the rest of our lives.