“This is the twentieth time we’ve heard All I Want For Christmas Is You,” I say to Alicia.
“No, Faith, this is the billionth time we’ve heard it.” She rolls her eyes, grinning. Alicia is my favorite person to work with at The Wrapping Paper Store.
I’m not kidding, that’s the store's actual name. It’s so long, it barely fits on the green sign above the front door. At TWPS we sell, surprise, wrapping paper. For any occasion, birthdays, baby showers, and weddings, but our busiest time is the holidays. Today is November 1st and it might as well be Black Friday in my town, Grandville. In other places, a store like this wouldn’t be as busy. But in Grandville, wrapping paper is like a weird status symbol. If someone ever dared use a gift bag all 2,139 of us would stone them in the village square.
Okay, this time I am kidding. The worst we would do is silently judge them and Betty Turner would talk about them behind their back.
It’s 7:45 in the morning and my eyes are heavy. TWPS doesn’t open until 8 but my boss, Bill, asked me and Alicia to come in at 6:30, aka before the sun rises.
I’ve been stocking blue and white sparkly wrapping paper for the last hour and a half. We’ve been getting ready for this day for the last month. I step away from where Alicia and I are working and study the small shop.
It is pretty cute.
The walls are lined with rows upon rows of any kind of wrapping paper you could ever want. They are all color coated and, for the most part, holiday-themed. My favorite kind is sporting Santa in a bathing suit and relaxing in a hot tub. Whenever I see it a reluctant smile graces my face.
In the center of the store is a tall Christmas tree. Another employee, Pat, and I decorated it yesterday after I got out of school. Everyone knows it’s my favorite task, especially placing the star on top of the tree. Bill always buys a real one and the shop smells like pine needles.
The only annoying thing about the atmosphere here is the music. Bill has a holiday playlist he blares over the speakers that consist of like fifteen songs. Which means I hear them on a loop for seven and a half hours straight. It’s enough to make anyone stab themself in the eye with a candy cane.
“Good morning ladies!” Bill strides out of his tiny office, his hands behind his back. To go with his Christmas tie, my boss is wearing his signature smile. Alicia and I simply stare at him. His good mood is not contagious.
“So,” Bill continues, not allowing us to spoil his fun, “what do you think about wearing these hats?” He produces two elf hats. They are green and red, with giant ears on the side.
“Um…” I stall for time. Alicia and I exchange a look, her brown eyes telling me she’d rather drop dead than wear that hat.
“Come on! I’m going to wear a Santa one!” He places a red hat with white fur on his head. Bill’s eyes crinkle at the corners when he smiles and his enthusiasm for his business is hard to say no to. Without making eye contact with Alicia, I grab the hat from my boss and stuff it on top of my blonde curls.
“That’s the spirit, Faith!” Bill says to me. After Alicia begrudgingly puts on her hat we take our spots at the cash registers. TWPS opens in one minute. For the past hour, our truly dedicated customers lined up outside the store. Shivering in the harsh Michigan weather, their noses red, grasping coffee cups in their mittens. In Grandville, it’s tradition to line up outside of TWPS on November 1st.
Super weird, I know.
Betty Turner is in the front of the line, her brown hair, perfectly smooth, regardless of the crisp wind. Every year, on this day, she buys us out of our elegant gold wrapping paper with a silver Christmas tree on it. This is to ensure no one else can use it.
She’s literally insane.
With his usual flourish Bill unlocks the door and I prepare for the onslaught.
With a tired sigh, I finish counting my drawer. All I Want For Christmas Is You is playing.
“Did you hear Mrs. Hoffman giving me crap for forgetting to give her receipt?” Alicia asks me as she’s recounting her twenties.
“Yes! It’s not like you did it on purpose, I almost lost it when she was like, ‘I’m going to tell Bill your receipt withholding!’ Like that’s some scary threat.” We laugh together. After we’re done closing up, I tell her to go ahead. She heads out, and I walk to Bill’s office, gripping the money bags in my hands.
Casually I stroll into the office. Bill has his back to me and I reach towards the safe to lock the money up. Then I notice the weird vibe in the room. My boss hasn’t faced me and his shoulders are shaking. For a second I think he’s laughing. With horror, I realize he’s silently crying.
His tears make my eyes prick.
“Hey, kiddo,” Bill says, turning to me.
I set the money bags on his desk and cross the room to stand beside him.
“I thought I said no tears today,” I remind him.
“That’s why I was hiding from you.” He smiles, but this one doesn’t make his eyes crinkle. Bill glances at his shoes. “I just can’t believe this is our last holiday season.”
“I know,” I mutter.
The Wrapping Paper Store is closing for good on December 24th. Some coffee chain made an offer Bill couldn’t refuse, he has three kids to put through college. He loves his business but he loves his family more.
After Bill told us he was closing, I cried in my car. I’ve been working here for three years and even though I’m moving away to college next year TWPS closing just seems so… final. This chapter of my life is almost over and I’m not sure how I feel about it.
Alright, fine. I’ll admit it. I also love this place. Despite the annoying regulars and overplayed Christmas music. I love decorating for the holidays, laughing with Alicia, and giving Bill a hard time. Saying goodbye to those things will be difficult
Shifting my weight, I beg the tears to stay in my eyes.
“Ok, if you tell anyone this I’ll totally deny being so corny,” I take a breath and make eye contact with Bill, “but you’re making the right choice. You’re choosing your family. Isn’t that what the holidays are all about? Choosing the people who matter most over… like anything,” I cringe at my cliche line.
Bill’s staring at me. I continue even when I can feel my face heat up.
“And I just wanted you to know that working here has, um, meant something to me,” I tell the top of his Santa hat.
“Thank you for saying that, Faith. I appreciate it,” Bill says. He’s smiling again, this time his eyes are crinkling. “Does this mean you’ll wear the elf hat every day until Christmas?” Bill raises his eyebrows, hopeful.
“Uh, no. That’s never going to happen.”
But I would. I would wear that dumb hat for my boss. I would wear it to honor my first job at The Wrapping Paper Store.