“And what brings the two of you in on this chilly evening?” Harry asked Piper and Vance as they took seats at the bar. “I’d have figured after putting VJ to bed the two of you would be snuggled up on the couch with a bottle of wine and a nice Christmas movie.”
“See?” Vance scowled at Piper. “That is exactly what we should be doing.”
Piper shook her head vigorously. “I need to fix this. And Harry, with that Santa hat you have on, you are just the man for the job.”
“What job?” Harry asked.
“Preventing Em from ruining a friendship. And that party.”
Harry glanced over Piper’s head toward the Big Em and the rest of the bridge club. “Their annual Christmas party? You’re worried about Mrs. Flores ruining that?”
“Yes. Because they’re exchanging Secret Santa gifts. Em has not been pleased with what she’s been given over the past few years. I tell you, unless you and I step in, there is going to be trouble.”
Harry turned to Vance. “I don’t understand.”
Vance rolled his head around his shoulders in exasperation. “All week Em has been bitching about the gifts she usually ends up with at this thing. Last year she received a beautiful calendar featuring our national parks along with a hardbound appointment book in the same theme. All this from Mrs. Cole.”
“That sounds like a great gift. How did Em have a problem with that?”
“Well, you know my grandmother. The Big Em thought it was the most absurd gift she could imagine. Because, as she put it”—Vance began imitating his grandmother’s Spanish accent—“Darling, if one hasn’t acquired a new calendar before mid-December, one is in flagrant disregard of one’s own personal agenda.”
Piper continued in the same faux accent, “Who gives a woman a calendar two weeks from the new year? As if I don’t already have next year filled to the brim with appointments, meetings, and social events. If I waited until December to procure a new calendar, my life would be chaos.”
Harry grinned. “So, what is Mrs. Flores giving as her Secret Santa gift?”
“She’s regifting the calendar and appointment book,” Piper deadpanned.
Harry stepped back and swallowed the shout of laughter that was clearly dying to escape. “Let me guess. She drew Mrs. Cole’s name this year.”
“Piper’s been trying to talk sense into her all week but the Big Em says she’s had enough. Every year she gives a bottle of tawny port from her favorite maker in Portugal. Along with a handcrafted ornament from Spain.”
“She claims that everyone wants her to be their Secret Santa because they all enjoy the port,” Piper explained. “She’s tired of receiving lame gifts in return and this year she’s decided to send a message. I’m afraid this may ruin Em’s friendship with Mrs. Cole, and really Harry, how are all those other women going to react when they see Em’s regifting a 2018 calendar? Maybe you can go over there and spill a round of drinks on top of her gift before it’s given. Then whisk it away and substitute this.” Piper pulled out a square box with a big red bow.
“And what’s in there?” Harry asked.
Piper winked at him. “Something guaranteed to get everyone talking. But in a more positive direction.”
“No drinks need to be sacrificed,” Harry said as he picked up Piper’s beautifully wrapped gift. “I’m happy to take one for the team.”
Piper and Vance watched as Harry and his Santa hat waltzed over to Henderson’s old guard and charmed his way into their conversation. The old women took to Harry like they did to Em’s port. Smacking their lips and licking up every word. Piper and Vance couldn’t hear exactly what went down, but it didn’t take much for the Big Em to give up her wrapped package in exchange for Piper’s.
When Harry returned he hid the wrapped calendar and appointment book under his bar. “What did you tell them?” Vance asked.
“That Mrs. Flores’s specially ordered gift had finally arrived, just in time. And, being that your grandmother is usually very gracious, she flowed right with it, thanking me for helping her out.” He gave Piper a good hard stare. “So, now are you going to tell me what Mrs. Flores special ordered for Mrs. Cole?”
“Lingerie.” Piper beamed. “Edible.”