Meet Ember from Our First Holiday!
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Christmas decorations dotted every area of the normally plain office. For a moment, I worried I’d fallen back into my childhood. Our office never decorated so insanely for the holidays in past years. It should have lightened my heart, but I couldn’t get over the foreboding instinct.
The decorating committee strung lights over the potted palm trees, and even though the Florida sun shone bright through the windows, they twinkled like Christmas Eve. Tinsel caught the light and sprinkled rainbows on the tile floor. Tricia, the only person on the holiday planning committee, had gone overboard. What budget did our CEO give her? Obviously it’d grown from the potluck party with red and green napkins we normally used to mark the occasion.
“Why are we having the company Christmas party on December fifth?” I asked my coworker.
She shrugged. “Jimmy has always been slightly eccentric. Don’t start questioning his methods now, Ember.”
I nodded. She had a point. Jimmy, our start-up founder and CEO, had a reputation for calling team meetings at two o’clock in the morning after his latest idea came to him in his sleep. When I first hired on as part of his original team, I considered him crazy, but more often than not those middle-of-the-night ideas turned into cold hard cash. I’d grown to admire him, even if he did mess with my REM sleep.
Jimmy recruited me straight out of college and I’d been with the company for five years, since the first day we walked into this tiny office space. The hours were spent coding my heart out at a desk in the middle of the floor—we had no cubicle walls to help with team flow—for six days a week. Sometimes I saw code in my sleep, but I loved the adrenaline working at a start-up. Knowing there were deadlines and then smashing them. When Jimmy won, we all won.
There was something thrilling about being in the thick of the excitement, even if that thing was a medical coding software used in hospitals and doctors’ office and not something outstanding like putting a rover on Mars. I was using the nerdy skills I perfected during college for something good, and there was a special satisfaction in knowing I left a small mark in the world.
The conference room doors opened and Jimmy walked in with a smile splitting his face. He was always a cheerful man, but something about him today was even more excited. Fingers crossed it meant he’d had too much coffee that morning and not that he planned to make us work through the holiday.
I often knew what was happening behind the scenes, but today’s excitement and celebration with an outrageously done early holiday left me baffled.
Jimmy was never one to seek a grand stage, but at that moment he walked to the front of the room and then stood right on top of the conference room table. A hush drew from the small crowd of us, and my coworker nudged me with her shoulder.
“This must be big. He only stands on the table for the best ideas.”
I snorted in agreement. The last one happened over six months ago when he thought of an alternative way to commercialize our product and said he was going out to look for investors.
“I know you guys are freaking out,” Jimmy said, raising his hands in the air to silence the murmurs. “So, you are looking for an early holiday, am I right?” he asked pointing to one of our fellow coders who clapped. I had a guess she didn’t know why, but electricity coated the air with excitement. Even I leaned closer to hear him better.
“Well, I’m here to give you more than just a long holiday break,” Jimmy continued when he had our attention again. “I’m giving you the rest of your life off from work.”
Whispers started in the crowd of people. It sounded like he was firing us, but his smile never faltered. He acted as if giving us a lifelong vacation was something to be excited about.
“Most of you have been here since day one, and it has been a long five years. We worked hard and came together to become not just coworkers, but what I consider family,” Jimmy prattled on but I was hyperventilating over this long-term vacation.
“Six months ago, I stood on this table and told you we were making this product more marketable and more affordable for the common doctor. Somebody laughed at the idea,” he said, pointing at my coworker whose cheeks turned red as she shrugged. “But today I’m here to tell you something amazing. I sold our company to Valiant Industries in Michigan for a resounding, but confidential, number.”
The murmurs grew louder, and Jimmy raised his hand to quiet us again. It didn’t work as well the second time.
“Don’t worry. This isn’t just my company. This is our company and today every single one of you is going to get a handsome buyout package. The number is determined by how long you’ve been with us, but trust me when I say no one here isn’t walking out the door a much richer person.”
The murmurs turned from hushed questions to excited gossip. Employees’ faces drawn in consideration a moment ago broke out into enormous smiles and then everyone clapped. Somewhere in the far corner a bottle of champagne popped and as I stood in the middle of the floor, not moving, people filled glasses and congratulate one another.
To me, it didn’t sound like a congratulatory moment. His big payout sounded like I’d be out of a job. A good job. One I loved.
Jimmy walked by me with a stack of white envelopes and I stopped him by placing my hand on his shoulder. “Jimmy, what about our jobs?”
I loved the work I’d done the last five years. Mostly. Some days were hard, but the sense of accomplishment made it worth it.
“Ember, we have so much money. You don’t need to worry about working ever again, home fry.” Jimmy called every employee home fry. Remember eccentric genius. And now a very rich, eccentric genius.
“But what will we do?”
Jimmy shrugged. “Take a cruise. Buy a mansion. Do whatever you want,” he said each item as if it was a blessing, but I didn’t want to do I any of those things. Yet even as my head said no, it was so easy to get wrapped up with Jimmy, so I nodded in agreement.
He passed me a white envelope and then patted me on the shoulder before walking away to find another employee. He’d hastily scratched my name on top of the envelope in his messy handwriting. I slid open the envelope with a finger, managing to give myself a paper cut on the top of my knuckle. My fingers pulled out a single check, my gaze scanning the numbers, and I stared at it in amazement.
With that many zeros I could do a plethora of things in life. The problem was I had no idea what I wanted to do. I hadn’t given it much thought. The twenties were for late nights of hard work. The thirties were for having children. I hadn’t planned to consider such things as fun until my forties.
I tucked the check back in the envelope and folded it over once before slipping it in my back pocket—the safest place for such an important piece of paper. In my other back pocket, my phone vibrated my left ass cheek.
Now what? I asked the interruption but hurried to answer the call after seeing my Great Aunt Pearl’s name on the screen.