|Ellington Schooler was late. Sales meeting at 4:30 and like an idiot, he’d agreed to grab his kids at 3:30 for a quick trip to get a Christmas tree. Now it was 3:45 and they weren’t even at the tree lot yet.
“Let’s get a big one!” Justin yelled.
“Yeth! Big one!” Squealed Samantha.
Distracted by the racket, Ellington passed the tree lot. Damn. No U-turns. Ten minutes to get a tree, back to the house, dump the kids. Fifteen minutes back to the office. Tight.
Suddenly, coming up on the right, Ellington saw another tree lot, crammed into an empty property between two blank storefronts. Ellington looked at his watch, pulled up. Good -- plenty of parking spaces.
“Howdy,” said the guy behind a plywood counter on the lot. A bulky green sweater with holes hung from his frame. The dirty brown coloring on his droopy mustache matched the tobacco stains on his teeth. Ellington stared, couldn’t help it. He heard himself say, “You look so familiar. Have we met before?”
The guy looked up and down at Ellington’s camel-hair overcoat. “If so,” he said, “it was a long time ago.”
Ellington continued to stare, then shook his head to re-focus. “Need an eight-footer," he said. "Quick.”
The man looked straight into Ellington’s eyes. “Take your time,” he said. “Let the kids choose.”
Ellington opened his mouth to bark back, stood frozen, closed his mouth. He turned, called out, “Justin and Sam! Let’s find one you like!” The kids whooped and disappeared into the trees. As they drove off an hour later, Ellington was thinking about a stop for hot chocolate.
The guy back at the lot lit up a Marlboro, smiled, and said to himself, “They always think it’s a red suit and a trip down the chimney.”
(Word count: 300)