The Sub-Par Gift Giver

Submitted into Contest #21 in response to: Write a short story about a work Christmas party that goes... awry. ... view prompt



It started out as a simple mistake that ballooned into an unmanageable mess, one even the manager couldn't manage. Considering John worked a nine to five office job at an insurance company, the annual company Christmas party should have been nothing special. Just a white elephant gift exchange, and some really low budget, store-bought Christmas cookies.

The Christmas festivities started about two weeks before Christmas. The email, sent out by the office manager, left no hint that an actual human had even written it. It was a monotonous reminder of the upcoming white elephant party, complete with an extremely fake-sounding sign off, "Happy Holidays!"

After getting off work that day, John drove to the nearby department store, finding the best gag-gift he could find under the price limit, fifteen dollars. He walked out of the store with an ugly green Christmas sweater with the image of a demented elephant on the front. The white text surrounding the psychotic creature read, "Sub-par gift giver." John was fairly satisfied with his purchase.

When John arrived back at his apartment, he grabbed a garbage bag from under his sink and mediocrely wrapped his sweater with masking tape. Shoving the badly packaged gift into his work bag, he promptly forgot all about it. 

The day of the Christmas party arrived, and John was thankful he had taken care of his gift ahead of time. He grabbed the garbage bag from the cabinet in his office and headed to the conference room without a second glance. Unfortunately, he did not realize that there were two garbage bags in the cabinet, one with the sweater, and one with a gift that would result in guilt and regret.

Equipped with badly frosted Christmas sugar cookies, the party was underway. All the employees at the office placed their gifts into a big pile on the table. Some were wrapped magnificently, with bows, ribbons, and glittery wrapping paper. Others, like John's, were packaged more mediocrely. After a concerning number of the disgusting store-bought cookies had been consumed, the white elephant activity started. In a last-minute attempt to make the game more ominous, the manager had installed a new rule. Instead of opening the gifts right when receiving them, the stealing would be blindly administered. After the activity was over, all participants would return to their own offices or cubicles, open their gifts, and then personally thank the person who gave them the gift. It was obviously an uninspired attempt at "team bonding."

The game itself was rather uneventful. John had gifts stolen from him three times and ended up with a nicely wrapped gift from the secretary. As everyone headed back to their offices, John grabbed a few more cookies. Once back in his office, he unwrapped the gift. Inside the box was a delightful bag of homemade chocolate chip cookies. These cookies were far superior to the distasteful, cheap cookies the company had provided.

As John was indulging in his fourth cookie, the intercom speaker crackled to life. The manager's voice rang out throughout the office. "Will everyone please meet back at the conference room immediately." She seemed rather agitated.

Thoroughly confused, John made his way to the conference room. Once everyone had gathered there, the manager spoke. "I have received a gift that has dissatisfied me, as well as gone against company policies." She held up a mug, one with some extremely sexist text on it. John's heart sank. He recognized the gift, as he had just purchased it the day before. It was intended as a gag gift for his best friend, as a joke. He had stored it in his office cabinet, wrapped identically to the sweater, hidden from his friend. He must have mistakenly mixed up the gifts.

"This mug, specifically the message it presents, is blatantly sexist. This kind of discrimination is strictly prohibited in this work environment," the manager continued, "Furthermore, there was no name on the bag. I would like to ask who gave this gift, as it goes against company policy. Whoever thought this would be a funny picture is to be fired as soon as they are convicted."

John felt the adrenaline pumping through his veins. He had made a mistake. He hadn't meant to offend anyone. It was a mistake, a mistake that would most likely cost him his job.

Someone piped up. It was Jenny, an extremely talkative telemarketer. "Well, if we recorded all the names on the other gifts, we can figure out who caused this... felony."

Great, thought John, Jenny's brilliance is going to get me fired. John had never liked Jenny. She was extremely nosy and talkative and had a habit of inserting herself into every single conversation ever.

"I'm afraid that won't work, Jenny," said another employee, this time Brian. "You see, I also received a gift that wasn't labeled."

Twenty minutes later, everyone was back in the conference room. Every employee's name had been written on the board, and all were crossed out except two. These two were circled in accusing red ink. John and Jenny. Both employees had mistakenly forgotten to label their gifts. One would be fired, the other would learn a valuable lesson on the topic of organization.

The room was laid out like a courtroom. John was 'Defendant 1', and Jenny 'Defendant 2'. "What gift did you give, John," inquired Brian, who had been deemed the judge of the office-wide offense case.

John wasn't prepared. He didn't want to lose his job. He thoroughly enjoyed working at the company. Adrenaline coursed through his veins and prompted him to lie. "I gifted a green sweater, one that said 'Sub-par gift giver.'"

"Hey!" Jenny's shrill voice punctured John's sentence. "I gave the same thing! How are we supposed to figure out who did it now?"

A murmur rippled around the room. What Jenny had said was extremely suspicious. As the second defendant, she could have very well lied to cover up her guilt.

John himself was surprised by this plot-twist. He had only intended to lie once, to give himself a minuscule chance. But Jenny, as annoying as she was, had done herself dirty, and he actually had a good shot at winning the case.

After much shouting on the parts of the jury and 'Defendant 2', which was eventually subdued by the manager, more information was available for the case. Obviously, only one sweater had been actually gifted, ending up with the receptionist, who was abnormally content with what she had received.

The makeshift court was at an impasse. It was clear that one of the defendants was lying. And in the juror's minds, it was clear who it was. 

After much deliberation, the jury made their decision. The jury was made up of every employee other than John, Jenny, Brian, and the manager, as the four of them were actively involved in the case.

The manager stood on the table for her big announcement. She cleared her throat, and read off a piece of paper. "As decided by the jury, the defendant guilty of such plight is... Jenny McMann."

John, who had been holding his breath, let it out. He was safe. His job was safe. Jenny looked crushed. Everyone in the office went back to work, except Jenny. She packed up her cubicle, getting ready to leave the office forever.

At the end of the workday, everyone gathered to bid Jenny farewell. As Jenny shook John's hand, she whispered in his ear. "I know it was you. I know you're the reason I'm getting fired," she spat at him.

John said nothing in return. He turned away as Jenny walked out of the building. He was filled with guilt and regret, the outcomes of a simple mixup that had cost someone their job.

December 27, 2019 01:33

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Sahar Khanpour
04:02 Jan 02, 2020

This story was really interesting! Your plot and ideas were really well executed and I like the more personal take on the situation. I also appreciate the look into Johns thought process and experience plus the humor here and there. This was really well written :)


Ellie K
22:29 Jan 03, 2020

Thank you so much for reading! I actively tried, specifically in this story, to balance out thoughts with humor, and I'm so glad it paid off.


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