Misery shut her laptop in disgust. "Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous in your life?"
Roberta stood patiently behind Misery, waiting for her to finish her tirade.
"If Marley Love were still alive today, he'd have a thing or two to say to these so called minimalists," she added snidely. "The very idea that money has truly killed many a passionate dream, or that happiness can be found in quitting your day job to live out of a backpack like that Everett Bogue character or what's that girls name . . . Nina Yau."
"Is there anything else I can do for you before I leave?" Roberta asked politely.
"You know . . . it's hard to believe that it has been ten years since Maximum left," Misery continued her train of thought. "Ten years ago tonight! If he had only cared about the company as much as his father and I did . . . instead of spending all of his time hanging out with all of his bohemian friends at coffee shops and bars . . . "
Roberta's face softened at the unaccustomed display of vulnerability on her boss's face. It almost looked as if she were about to cry. "Ms. Love?"
Misery spun around in her chair as if suddenly coming to her senses. "Do you have my flash report?"
"Yes Ms. Love," Roberta responded dutifully handing her the one page report on Misery Love's Company's liquidity, productivity and profitability for the week.
Misery ran a critical eye over the report, "Profit is down from this time last year," she fumed. "If Marley Love were here, heads would roll."
"I'm sure even the great Marley Love would have realized that due to the blizzard people couldn't . . ." Roberta began.
"How could you possibly know what Marley would have thought,'' Misery snapped. "You never even met the man. I was his personal assistant for seven years, his vice president for ten - while his son Maximum was busy slumming it in Europe - I was working! I worked for Marley long before Max and I ever even met. Even after that, Maximum never put the time in here that he should have."
"Sorry Ms. Love," Roberta apologized for her blunder. "But please do try to understand . . . the doors were closed yesterday and the day before due to the blizzard and there was nothing anyone could do . . . "
"Oh stuff your damn blizzard!" Misery growled. The down time caused by the inclement weather was a source of major irritation and inconvenience to her.
"But Ms. Love," Roberta insisted. "What I am trying to say is, now that the doors are open they are projecting that this is going to be the most profitable Christmas Eve that Love's has ever had . . . just take a look!" Roberta nodded towards the plate glass windows overlooking Fifth Avenue.
Misery's heels clicked impatiently on the cold marble floor as she crossed the room, however her ire was instantly replaced by a look of supreme satisfaction upon observing the tangled mass of humanity on the street below, particularly the number of people hustling and bustling around the entrance to Misery Love's Company department store.
"It's been like this since we opened at 6:00 a.m. this morning," Roberta's voice was encouraging."
"I want representatives from operations, finance and accounting here in my office tomorrow morning at nine a.m. sharp." Misery tapped her nails on the windowsill. "Be sure to have the updated flash report on my desk by 8:30 a.m."
"But tomorrow is Christmas, Ms. Love!" Roberta attempted to hide her dismay.
"It shouldn't take you more than 30 minutes to prepare the flash report," Misery said with an impatient wave of her hand. "If it takes any longer than that, I will have to consider whether I made a mistake in hiring you. Remember, you are still on probation."
"But according to the company policy manual . . ."
"I make the policies around here!" Misery's eyes flashed. "This is Misery Love's Company now. Max gave it all to me when we divorced, the store, this office building, the apartment, all of it."
"But Ms. Love . . ." Roberta attempted to reason with her.
"Roberta," Misery's voice was caustic. "I am not asking you to do anything that wasn't required of me back when I was Marley Love's personal assistant. He often asked me to work weekends and holidays."
"Yes Ms. Love, I understand."
"Oh and Roberta . . .be sure to stop to get me my coffee on the way in."
Misery was embarrassed for the second time that evening. She had averted her face away from Eric when the tears came, but the sharp eyed cabbie had seen it all in his rear view mirror. To add to her embarrassment, she hadn't even noticed that they had reached Eric's destination and that he was once again offering his hand to her.
"Fine . . . I'm just fine!" she said sniffed. "It's just that its . . ."
"Christmas Eve," Eric finished her sentence for her. "A night when nobody really wants to be alone. Not even Presidents and CEO's."
"Oh don't be silly . . . I have plenty of friends," Misery put on a brave face
"Come on," Eric's smile was heartwarming. "My wife is performing at midnight, which means I will be sitting in a corner all by myself. You will be doing me a favor . . . and I'll buy you a drink . . ."
After only a brief hesitation, Misery found herself handing the cabbie his fare. It had been a very long time since someone had offered to buy her a drink, and she could damn well use one right now. As a matter of fact it had been a very long time since anyone had really even thought of her at all. Just because she was rich, just because she could command whatever she wanted from her abundant and overpaid staff, everyone assumed that her desires were fulfilled at all times. Taking Eric's arm without hesitation, she allowed him to escort her into a nearby corner bar with a flashing neon sign which simply read "Mum's".
"What's so funny?" Eric inquired, as the mist in her eyes gave way to sudden mirth.
"Oh, just the way everyone turned to look at us when we walked in," she said. "We do make kind of an odd couple. It reminds me a little bit of the looks Max and I used to get when we would go out - me in my furs and him in his old wool overcoat. No matter what the occasion, he refused to wear anything but that old wool overcoat."
"Makes sense to me . . ." Eric said, as he assisted her in removing her furs.
"But Max always smelled nice," she continued frankly. "Kind of a combination of wet wool and cologne. Of all the things I miss about him, I think I miss his fragrance the most."
After a quick trip to the powder room to repair the damage caused by her tears, Misery returned to see that Eric found them a comfortable booth in the corner. In no time at all, the server had taken their order and returned with their drinks.
"I'm at a disadvantage," Misery confided in him, once they had warmed up a bit. "You seem to know everything about me, but I hardly know anything about you beyond your being a writer whose wife plays guitar."
"Well, I know you are the President and CEO of Misery Love's Company, and that you are a very pretty lady when you are not otherwise covered in murdered . . . "
Misery threw back her head and laughed, wondering how it was, that someone she had found so offensive less than an hour ago, had turned out to be so charming. Maybe she was having some kind of nervous breakdown, maybe it was the booze, or maybe it was because the young man had been so forgiving of her initial disdain of him.
"But beyond that . . . "
"That's really all that there is to know," Misery said with a shrug. Misery Love's Company is my life. I work twelve hours a day, then I go home and work some more. So tell me Eric, tell me about your typical day."
"Well, I get up in the morning and go running. Then I shower, have a cup of coffee, do a few things around the house and read my e-mails. After that I usually settle down to write for a few hours. The rest of the day is pretty much free to do with as I please. If my wife Kym isn't rehearsing, working in the studio, or giving a music lesson, I spend it with her. If she's busy, I go exploring. There is always plenty to do in San Francisco."
"Seems like a lot of down time . . ."
"Well, I used to work for an advertising firm while Kym taught school, but both of us were unhappy. I had no time to write, and Kym had no time for her music, because she was always busy grading papers. Writing and music are our passions, and we felt as if our lives were slipping away. It seemed as if we never had anytime to go anywhere or do anything, we barely even any time for each other. So we ceased spending money on non-essentials, paid off all our debts, sold our house, and were finally able to quit our jobs. We backpacked around Europe for awhile, and eventually returned to the states, settling in San Francisco where she was given an adjunct professorship at the Conservatory of Music."
"Are you really happy living this way?" Misery was intrigued. "You can't have much money to spare . . . "
Eric's expression was thoughtful "Other people might find joy in having a lot of money and buying a lot of things, but not us. By identifying the essential and omitting the needless, we have more freedom, less worry, make a living doing what we like to do, have more time for simple pleasures and best of all more time for each other."
What's the point of being married, if we never have any time for each other? That's what Max had said to her on the night he left. What happened to all of our plans? All of the wonderful experiences that we were supposed to share?
Misery had been too stubborn at the time to admit that she was afraid. Had she subconsciously sabotaged their vacation plans by firing their production manager?
"The answer is yes!" Misery was brought out of her reverie by an attractive young woman, with long brown hair and bright blue eyes.
"This is Kym," Eric's eyes shown as he introduced his wife. "Kym, this is Ms. Misery Love."
"The Misery Love? Wow!" Kym sat down and joined them at the table. "I see that Eric is trying to sell you on our minimalist lifestyle."
"Misery is just humoring me," Eric complimented her.
"There is a real human being under all of that . . ."
Misery laughed again.
"I'm not even going to ask what that's all about," Kym chuckled. "I'm on in ten . . . see you in a bit!"
"Break a leg babe," Eric said, giving her hug and kiss as she left.
After ordering another round of drinks, Eric and Misery settled in to watch Kym's performance. Misery couldn't help but appreciate the beautiful strains of Kym's acoustic guitar as well as the sound of her sweet and soulful voice as she performed a variety of holiday tunes. After a few songs, Kym was joined by another woman, who took her place at the piano. Misery's eyes widened in astonishment to note that the piano player was none other than her personal assistant Roberta.
"Robbie is a friend of the guy who owns the place," Eric informed her. "Her band plays here every other Saturday night. When Kym asked him to help her find a piano player who could sing back ups for this gig, he recommended Robbie. The two of them really hit it off. She is going to come visit us sometime next summer."
Misery was speechless . . . she had no idea that Roberta was a musician. As a matter of fact she really didn't know much about Roberta at all - whether she was married, had children.
"Robbie's husband was killed a few years ago in a car accident," Eric added somberly. "Leaving her to raise their little boy all by herself. Cute little guy, we actually babysat him the other night so that Robbie could do some Christmas shopping."
"How does she manage?" Misery blurted out in wonderment, as the woman's voices rose in brilliant harmony.
"Well, she's the kind of person who is happy with what she has - the kind of girl who doesn't require a large wardrobe or a lot of fancy things."
"I see . . ."
"She would like to have more time to spend with her son and to pursue her musical career, but from what I understand her day job requires that she put in a lot of overtime. She has a lot of compassion for that boss of hers apparently . . . "
"For her boss?" Misery was astounded.
Eric's reply was cut off as the crowd burst into applause, so he merely shrugged as if to say go figure.
The next song - sung by Roberta herself, moved Misery to tears once again. Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light . . . " Misery's heart was heavy, and the kindness of this young stranger had piqued her conscience. What had she been thinking, treating Roberta, Andreas and Vince the way she had . . . it was Christmas Eve for heaven sake!
"I would like to thank Robbie for joining me here tonight," Kym spoke over the microphone. "She only has time for one more song though because she has to be at work early tomorrow." This announcement was met with a sigh of general disappointment from the crowd. "Any requests?"
"I have one!" Misery cried out rising to her feet.
"What will it be Ms. Love?" Kym's smiled at her from the stage, "What song would you like to hear?"
"I'll Be Home for Christmas," she said gently. "Do you know that one?"
"Its one of my favorites," Kym said. "Robbie?"
"Yes . . .uh, I know it," Robbie responded after a moment of initial shock at finding that her boss was among tonight's patrons.
"Would you like to dance?" the offer came from a bearded gentleman. A number of other couples were already on the dance floor.
Misery allowed the man to take her into his arms. She hadn't been asked to dance in years. The man was an excellent dancer, Max had been a good dancer as well and back in the day the two of them really knew how to cut a rug. The man even wore the same cologne as Max had - he smelled good - a mixture of wool and . . .
Misery silently appraised her ex husband. Albeit casually dressed in jeans, leather boots and a wool sweater, his hair unfashionably long and completely gray now, there was no mistaking him . . .
"Maximum, why I haven't seen you in . . . I thought you were living in the Bahamas."
"People here know me as Mum," he said smiling down at her. "You look great Mis."
"Yes this place belongs to me. I own another just like it in the Bahamas, one in London, and am planning on opening a new one in San Francisco soon. Most people don't even realize that I'm the son of Marley Love. Mums the word so to speak."
"I'm . . . shocked!" Misery could think of nothing else to say. "I had no idea you were interested in . . . "
"You never took the time to ask what I wanted to do with my life," Max replied. "You simply assumed that I wanted to fill my father's shoes. What I always wanted was to open a cozy club of my own . . . one where I could assist and encourage aspiring young talent to pursue their passions. Helping others in this way - that and making my hard working patron's happy are my passions . . ."
"Does Bobbie know?"
"No," Max admitted. "Everyone here simply knows me as Mum. Although I admit to someone auspiciously picking her brain after I heard that she went to work for you. Nice girl really, never a bad thing to say about you or anyone else."
"I treat her terribly," Misery admitted. "Actually, I treat everyone at the company terribly."
"Abuse of power," Max chastised her gently. "What you always failed to understand is that every single one of your employees is a human being just like you, they all want to be happy and none of them wants to suffer, just like you."
"I lack compassion," Misery began to cry again.
"Its never too late," Max assured her.
"I treated you terribly as well," Misery admitted. "I would have destroyed your dreams if you had let me."
"All is forgiven," Max smiled down at her. "I forgave you a long time ago, and your employees will forgive you too. All you need to do is to focus on kindness and mindfulness over profits. Practice patience and tolerance with them too. Seriously, how much money do you really need anyway?"
"Rumors has it I'm already filthy rich," Misery smiled through her tears, "but I'm also very sad and very lonely. Until tonight, I was a bitter woman as well. This is the first time in years that I have actually felt . . ."
"Happy?" Max's eyes sparkled.
"Well, yes . . . these people, this place!"
"Thank you," he said unabashedly. "That is precisely why I opened Mums - to create happiness. You have helped me realize my own dream by your reaction to it . . ."
"Excuse me for a moment?" Misery said as the song ended.
"Sure, but please don't leave."
After exiting the dance floor, Misery proceed to the powder room, where she began to place a series of telephone calls. The first one was to her driver Vincent, who had left her several messages apologizing for leaving her out in the cold. It seemed that the gate to the parking structure would not open due to the power outage in the building, and Andreas had been attempting to help him, do to maintenance otherwise being occupied.
"Never mind Vincent," Misery assured him. "I know you were doing your best . . . none of it was your fault!"
"We were worried about you Ms. Love - me and Andreas," Vincent assured her. "Did you make it home okay? Andreas and I have been trying to reach you!"
"I got your messages. I'm actually at a place called Mums . . . hanging out with friends," she said. "Have you ever heard of it?"
"Yes Ms. Love . . ." its a great place.
"Have a Merry Christmas Vincent," Misery said. "Tell Andreas to have a . . ."
"Ms. Love?" Andreas' voice came on the phone. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine!" she assured him, "but I would be even better if you and Vincent would stop trying to hunt me down and simply call it a night. As a matter of fact, tell the maintenance guys to go home too."
"But the power is still out and . . . how are you going to get home?"
"I'll catch a cab . . . and Merry Christmas!" Misery hung up the phone.
Misery's next calls were to the representatives of operations, finance and accounting. After wishing them each a Merry Christmas, she informed them, to their sincere gratitude, that tomorrow's meeting was called off and that Misery Love's Company was closed until after the Christmas holiday.
Upon exiting the powder room, Misery ran smack dab into Roberta.
"Ms. Love," Roberta said nervously. "Don't worry I'm on my way home now and the flash report will be . . ."
"Robbie," Misery surprised her by calling her by her nickname, "don't worry about it, I called the meeting off . . . nobody at Misery Love's Company is working tomorrow. Not even me, certainly not you, but there are some conditions . . ."
"Thank you Ms. Love," Robbie eyes shown with relief as well as gratitude. "What can I do for you?"
Misery extended her palms out to grab both of Robbie's hands. "I want you to pursue your passions," Misery said warmly, "No more overtime, no more weekends and holidays, and I want you to take every other Friday off - with no reduction in benefits or salary - for your music, or to spend with your little boy, whatever it takes to make your dreams come true!"
"Ms. Love?" Robbie's mouth fell open in astonishment.
"You must also call me by my first name from now on, and send a memo that I want all of my employees to do the same. It sounds as if I am somehow superior to the rest of you.
"Oh never felt that way . . . Ms. Love . . . I mean Misery!"
"And I will get my own coffee on the way in."
"Oh I don't mind . . ."
"How do you take yours, we can take turns."
"Well goodnight them Ms. Lo . . . Misery," Robbie replied warmly.
As if on cue, Kym announced last call for alcohol and that the bar was closing in a few minutes.
"Care to share a cab with us?" Eric appeared at her side. He was wearing his coat again, and carrying Kym's guitar case in his hand.
"I'll see the lady home," Max put his arm around her from behind. "Don't worry, we are old friends."
Misery gave Eric a nod of reassurance, as he and Kym departed.
Half an hour later, Misery was snuggled up with Max . . . Mum now, in the back of his classic Rolls Royce.
"What are you thinking," he inquired as she stared dreamily out the window.
"Oh, about all of the happy people that I met tonight."
"You made a lot of people very happy too," Max said, giving her hand a squeeze.
"Which made me happy as well." Misery sighed as they snuggled closer together." With a sigh of contentment, Misery breathed in the scent of wet wool and cologne as they made their way slowly towards the upper East Side.
I hope you have liked my little Christmas story. Whether we are rich, poor, or somewhere in the middle, all of us are human, all of us want to be happy and none of us wants to suffer. As the Dalai Lama says,
"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."
Happiness can be spread by even the simplest act of kindness by one human being towards another. Spread happiness today. Do something kind that is unexpected, extend your hand in friendship to a stranger, give forgiveness and understanding to someone who is having a bad day, instead of getting mad at them for letting you down. Then go out and pursue your own passions and live your extraordinary lives!