This month’s story is The Decorator, by Meagan Myhren-Bennett. To download a printable .pdf file of the story, please click here.
by Meagan Myhren-Bennett
This was my favorite time. The mall would be empty for the next twelve hours giving me plenty of time to create some holiday magic and turn the bland and drab space into a winter wonderland.
As I waited for my crew to arrive with everything that would complete the transformation, I examined the trees that I had brought in earlier in the week.
Three-story malls were the best, offering so much space for tall trees, and this year’s trees were spectacular. Twenty feet tall, with space to spare beneath the skylights. I wanted it to have the feel of an enchanted forest, so I’d placed tree clusters throughout the mall. It already had the forest feeling going, so tonight would be all about creating enchantment.
Suddenly, my walkie-talkie came to life.
“Bri,” Connor’s voice came through clearly. “We’re here at the back loading dock, waiting for you to let us in.”
“Copy. On my way,” I replied. I broke into a quick walk to let Connor, Faith, and Jimmy in to offload all the decorations.
I punched in my temporary security code and Connor backed up to the loading dock. In minutes, all of the boxes and displays were offloaded.
“Okay, you all know the plan.” Glancing at my watch, I added, “We have 10 hours to create magic and enchantment. Each box is marked with its final destination, and the plans for everything are in the files I sent you all last week. If you have questions,” I held up my walkie-talkie. “Use frequency Channel 3. Let me see them, then head out.”
Everyone lifted their walkies for me to see and headed towards the boxes.
“Question, Bri.” Faith looked my way as she walked past.
“Why walkie-talkies and not our cellphones?”
“That’s an easy one.” I pointed to the skylight. “All that metal in the skylight and in the oh so decorative trusses plays havoc with cell reception when you’re near it– like when you’re decorating a twenty-foot-tall Christmas tree. But the walkie-talkies, not so much. So I went with the sure thing.”
Satisfied, Faith offered me her fist for a bump.
Several hours later, my visions of enchantment were starting to take shape. The ceiling’s open space between all the stores was filled with twinkling lights. They glowed softly in blues, greens, and purples. The faceted shape of the bulbs redirected the light, so they appeared like stars, twinkling and distant.
Beneath the lights were large snowflakes that seemed to sparkle like freshly fallen snow, touched by the first rays of a newly risen sun.
Draping his arm over my shoulders, as only a childhood friend can, Connor examined our work. “Is this what you were hoping for, Bri-Bri?”
“Yes. It’s what I’ve dreamed of since I got the contract. It’s what I’ve dreamed about since my uncle opened his import store.” Turning to Connor, I asked, “Do you remember Uncle Will?”
“You know I do. I loved when his orders would come in and he’d let us help unpack and then inventory them.”
“Yeah, I loved when the Christmas things would come in. I always begged him to let me decorate the shop.”
“And he always told you yes, and you’d talk me into helping you. That was always my favorite time, of course. He made us wait until the week before Thanksgiving to do it.”
“He always used the inventory to sell to the other stores,” Bri sighed. “We only got the leftover samples to use. But it was always so much fun.”
“With you, how could it be anything but fun, Bri-Bri?”
“Well, I’m glad you’re still making Christmas magic with me, Connor. It wouldn’t be the same without you.”
“Same, Bri.” He tightened his arm around me, gently squeezing me, before removing his arm from my shoulders. “So, what’s next, the trees?”
“You know it.”
“Start with the tall ones or the clusters?”
“Well,” I looked at our scaffold-like ladder system. “Let’s start with the tall trees first. Then we can get this monster packed up and out of our way.”
“You got it, boss.” Connor made a small flourish with his hands. “Are we using the solar-powered star for it?”
“It’s actually a hybrid. I didn’t want to take a chance on cloudy days. So it will run on the solar whenever it can. Then, if the sensor doesn’t read a charge, it automatically switches to the electric system. The timer will be set to turn off during closed hours.”
“Was it a custom job, then?”
“You know me too well, Connor.”
“Well, you never wanted to have those Gingerbread house kits. You always wanted to do your own designs. Of course, that’s why you have your pick of retail interior design jobs now.”
“But I can’t do it alone or standing around, so break time is over.”
“But, boss, I didn’t get my latte from the coffee shop yet,” Connor fake pouted.
“Well, they’ll be open in about six hours, so you can get it then.”
“Fine, I just hope I can last that long.”
I laughed. “Lucky for you, I know your weakness, Superman.” I rummaged through one of my totes and pulled out a large thermos bottle. I handed it to him along with his favorite mug. “Here you go. Coffee and your ‘My Boss is a Workaholic’ mug.”
“Sweet deal, Bri. I hope you made some for yourself.”
“Not quite—Mango Tea for me.”
“Mango any good?”
“Naturally! I wouldn’t do awful tea. And no bags—just loose with an infuser.” We finished our drinks and packed up our mugs. “Better?” I asked.
“Oh yeah. Let’s make this tree sparkle and shine, boss.”
“Onward and upward,” I agreed, walking towards our ladder system.
Connor and I started at the top of the tree while Faith and Jimmy handled the lower quarter. Unlike most home decorators and Christmas movies, I always insisted on placing the star first. Uncle Will always wanted the star to be the centerpiece of any Christmas display I created for him. And he was right—the star was the focal point, the crown.
Once the star was placed, we smothered the tree with colored lights. It was exactly the way I’d imagined it.
“Okay, time to add the snow,” I called out. Faith and Jimmy pulled the snow machines over to where Connor and I stood.
Clipping the hose heads onto our belts, we made our way to the top of the ladders.
“Faith, Jimmy, hook us up and turn her on.”
“You got it, Boss,” Jimmy answered while Faith gave me a double thumbs up.
Soon we were spraying the tree with a delicate crystalline coating of snow. Snow that was actually a cousin of the crystal flakes used to decorate cookies and cakes. When anyone asked me how I got the trees so sparkly, I liked to say it was my personal family secret.
Soon we gave the tree clusters throughout the mall the same delicate snow coating.
As the last of the snow settled on the tree cluster outside the mall entrance to BAM, I glanced around and let out a satisfied sigh.
“Let me guess—hit the lights?” Connor asked as he began winding up his hose.
“You know it. We need to see it as only itself, with no outside lighting interfering with its look and feel.”
“I’m on it.” Connor strode off to a bank of light switches. He plunged the room into darkness. Slowly, the Christmas lights blinked on and the sound of Andy Williams singing Winter Wonderland filled the air.
Making my way towards Connor, I said, “You remembered.”
“Always, Bri.” He held out his hand. “Would you like to take a walk in a Marshmallow World in the Winter with me?”
“Some Johnny Mathis, Connor?”
“We have a winner. But really, do you see any potential issues we need to address before tonight’s big to-do?”
I accepted Connor’s hand and he guided my steps while I examined our work. Walking with my head tilted back, I looked for any gaps in the network of strings that softly twinkled across the expansive ceiling. When the tour ended, I sighed with satisfaction and stretched out my neck.
“I think we’re as good as we’re going to be. Let’s get this all shut down, so when everything opens up, we are long gone.” Looking around at my crew and friends, I added, “This was great work, and I hope to see you all here at the tree-lighting ceremony.”
“What time?” Faith asked.
“10:00 pm. But you’ll need to be inside the mall before 9:00 pm, as the doors will be closed and locked to anyone outside after that time. This is an invitation-only event, but I got you all an invitation with a plus one if you’d like to bring someone with you.”
“Sweet deal,” Faith exclaimed as she and Jimmy gave each other a fist bump. “I’ll see if Hope wants to come. She’s always asking about these jobs I do.”
“Your sister will love this,” Jimmy said. “I’ll let Cami know about this. Maybe we could all meet up early at the food court, and the girls can have fun before everything starts.”
“I knew you’d want to bring those two teen dynamos with you!” I laughed. “So, let’s get out of here, do what we need, and get ready for some well-deserved enjoyment tonight!”
Connor stepped closer as Faith and Jimmy gathered the last few things we needed to take with us. “So, do you have a plus one for tonight?”
“Hardly,” I laughed. “You?”
“Nope,” he shrugged. “Unless me, myself, and I count more than once.”
“Pretty sure the three of you only inhabit one body. Unless,” I paused and looked him over. “Unless you have some sort of doppelgänger thing going on.” I gave him another glance.
“Not that I’m aware of,” he laughed at my antics. “But I am wondering if you’d like to come to this together?” Connor shoved his hands into his pockets.
“Sounds good. So, what time are you thinking?”
“A little before 8:30, so we have time to get here before it closes to the public.”
“About that, yeah.”
“This isn’t a fancy event where we need to dress up, but I think we’ll want to look nice just in case we get pointed out as the design team that put this all together.”
“So poor man’s elegance?”
“As long as it’s nice and goes together, you should be good.”
“So, no mismatched socks? I don’t know. This might be a bit of a to-do for me.”
“I doubt that very much. You don’t look like the type who even has a stray sock, much less mismatched ones.”
“Did you know my favorite socks are mismatched? Not only that,” he leaned in closer, “they’re at the top of my sock drawer.”
“Mm-hmm, likely story. You, my dear friend, are too meticulous for all of that.” I nodded when he tried to deny it. “I’ve known you most of your life, so I’ll never believe it.”
“Fine, you’re right,” he grinned. “So, do you want to get out of here?”
“I just need to drop this key off at the security office, then I’m good to go.”
“I’ll go with, and then we can head out to our cars together.”
With a glance at my watch, I agreed. “I’m ready to call it a night.”
“Same thing, as far as I’m concerned.”
When Connor pulled up, I was ready to go. Tonight was the night I had been working towards for the last few years and I needed this to be perfect. At Connor’s knock, I pulled open the door. “I just need to grab my purse.”
“Wow! I thought you said this wasn’t a ‘fancy’ thing. You look fantastic, Bri!”
“This isn’t fancy, Connor,” I laughed. “But thank you!” I pulled my front door shut behind me.
Giving me side glances, Connor walked me out to his truck, helping me into the passenger side before getting in himself. When he turned the key, Perry Como’s voice filled the air and his rendition of, “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Forever,” surrounded us.
“Seriously, Bri, you look really nice. I’m proud to be on your team, but maybe we shouldn’t make a big deal about anyone other than you tonight.”
“I’m not hiding my team. You’re all just as important to the process as I am!” I reached over and gave his hand a squeeze of reassurance. “I couldn’t do this on my own. You’re like the other side of my brain. There’s a reason I bounce ideas back and forth with you.”
After an hour of shmoozing, I was so ready for the tree lighting. Leaning close to Connor, I whispered, “Can I just tell you I’m so glad you suggested we come together?” Sighing, I added, “I wouldn’t have wanted to do this alone.”
“I’m here whenever you need me.” His smile looked as strained as mine felt.
“You’re the best, thank you.” As the surrounding lights darkened, I gripped his hand. I couldn’t keep the excitement from my voice. “It’s time!”
“Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for joining us tonight. Your donations will help bring Christmas to some of our local families who are in need. I’d like to thank the design team whose work we have been enjoying tonight. And we are about to see the ultimate piece of their work – Christmas Magic and Enchantment.”
As his voice died away, the lights came on. Seeing it now made our sleepless night well worth all our time and effort.
“It’s even more enchanting than I remember it,” I whispered to Connor.
As I turned to take it all in, a snowflake drifted down, settling on my arm. Glancing up, I noticed more flakes drifting down. Turning to Connor, I saw him looking about with a puzzled expression on his face. “I’m guessing you had nothing to do with the snow?” I held my hand out to catch another flake.
He shook his head and whispered back, “No, I thought this was your work.” My laughter joined Connor’s.
“It truly is an enchanted Christmas.” I smiled up at him before twirling about to enjoy the magical scene I hadn’t created. “This will be a Christmas to remember.”
© 2023 Meagan Myhren-Bennett. All rights reserved.
The idea for this story actually came from two places.
First, my Great Uncle William Gutherie, whom we referred to as Uncle Bill, used to import Christmas decorations. He sold these to retailers who used them to decorate their stores. Now I personally don’t remember this. These were stories my mom told about her childhood growing up in Southern California. But I do remember Uncle Bill, who in this story became Uncle Will. And we have some really great ornaments that we inherited from my aunt and uncle that were the display/demo pieces that he kept over the years.
The second part of this story came from the unfulfilled dreams that my sisters and I had about decorating malls for not just Christmas but for other seasons throughout the year.
I had thought when I started out that Connor and Bri might have a romance or such happen. But nope, the two of them were just friends and didn’t want a romance at this time.
I hope you enjoy this fun story that had just a touch of Christmas magic at the end. I don’t know about you, but I know I would love to know where the snow came from.
Thank you for allowing me to share these stories with you this year,
Meagan’s love of words began at an early age – starting with bedtime stories read nightly. Her first foray into the printed word was a collection of poems and stories, which was limited to a rare, one-copy printing when she was 8 years old. Unfortunately, this copy was lost in a cross-country move denying the world a glimpse into the peculiar early workings of her mind.
This Northern California native now calls Wisconsin home after brief excursions in Florida and Illinois.
When not creating word magic, Meagan spends her working hours among the stacks of her local library, where she has been happily employed for years. Her home time is spent with anywhere from three to seven of her family’s fifteen Dachshunds trying to distract her with snuggles and toy time.
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