Clementine deals with a diadem and bad art in her 13th Adventure at The Happy Store.
Clementine Fraile knew that Christmas was heating up at The Happy Store when her shift coincided with that of the store manager.
Walter Graybill, much to her astonishment, since she viewed him as remote and unapproachable (although a brilliant boss with a true artistic sensibility), had come in that morning wearing a brown t-shirt embossed with Rudolph the Reindeer’s head, featuring a big red nose dead-center on his chest. To complete the outfit, he wore a hat-like contraption that sprouted small deer antlers.
This was all the more astonishing as it contrasted so comically with his bushy eyebrows, handlebar mustache, and the stern immobility of his face.
Despite his outlandish get-up, however, Walter Graybill (heavy the head that wears the crown) always did what it was in his nature to do: Arrive early. Leave late. And quietly rove throughout the store, his eyes moving constantly like a presidential secret service agent, leaving in his wake displays that he had subtly or drastically rearranged – without seeming to have moved a thing.
Also, as Christmas drew closer, Clementine noticed a playfulness in Walter’s demeanor that went beyond a novelty t-shirt and an antler hat.
He did not manifest this towards her, perhaps because he did not know Clementine well enough. But he did towards Harriet, one of the high school students who had worked at The Happy Store the previous holiday season as well.
Harriet was not particularly pretty, but Clementine thought she was a darling. In a little game of “what if” that she played with herself … “If Harriet wasn’t a senior in high school, what would she be?”… Clementine answered her own question: “a stuffed animal.”
Or, in contemporary parlance – a plush toy.
Harriet had a square face, a well-padded (not fat) body, warm chocolaty brown eyes, smooth chocolaty brown skin, and a keen intelligence that somehow managed to coexist with a nature as trusting as a newborn pup.
Clementine adored her, and by the end of her first week at The Happy Store, they were hugging each other good bye at the ends of their shifts like longtime friends.
Walter’s interest in this young employee was neither inappropriate nor salacious. It combined merchandizing acumen with seasonal good humor. He was the artist and Harriet was his Galatea as he … well, there’s no other word for it – “decorated” – the teenaged girl.
He did this as if she were a Christmas tree that needed a star topper.
As if she were an angel whose halo needed sparkle.
As if she were an elf in dire need of a jingle bell hat.
For atop Harriet’s head, Walter positioned … but wait. I’ll show you how it went:
Eying her after she helped a diminutive shopper to remove a gold dinner plate (clearance price $4.35) from a high shelf, Walter said in a soft, seductive voice, “Harriet, come here. I have a present for you.”
Harriet crossed the aisle and stood in front of her boss, whose hands were concealed behind his back.
“What?” She asked suspiciously, giving the impression that they had enacted a similar scene the year before.
“Close your eyes.”
Remarkably (greater trust hath no teenager), she did.
Walter then raised his arms, and like a host crowning a beauty pageant queen, he put a delicate silvery tiara interwoven with tiny glimmer lights on top of her head. He then clicked an invisible switch on the side of the tiara, and it lighted up like a diadem on a princess in a fairytale.
Harriet was no princess...