To start this story from the beginning, read the post from last month.
The gym was packed. More than half the people walking or running laps had come in joking about needing to burn off Christmas cookies while they could. Joseph smiled at the jokes, but mostly he was happy to know all these people would miss his gym when it was closed for the next several days.
He spotted someone running outside the window, too. It wasn’t the steady pace of a jog but the stuttering quick-step of a woman trying to run in heeled boots with a giant purse throwing off her balance. Joseph recognized her before she reached the door and flung herself through it.
“Good morning, Natalie.”
“Last day before break,” she said, sounding out of breath. “I have five minutes to grab a painting on my way to school.”
He fell into step next to her. Since she was clearly in a rush, he’d get details on why she was there while moving. “You need a painting?”
“A student stopped me after school yesterday and begged me to get her work back before the break.” Natalie paused, either to sigh or work on catching her breath. “She wants to give it to her parents for Christmas.”
They waited for a break in the lap traffic, then crossed to the wall of art. Natalie scanned it all with nods of appreciation. Her students did nice work. But then she put her hands on her hips and said, “Where is it!?”
Joseph winced at where the conversation might be headed. She had eventually replied that giving the art to a parent was fine with her. But neither of them had tried to confirm it was the right parent. “Are you looking for the picture with the snowman family throwing snowballs?”
“That’s the one I gave away yesterday.”
“Oh!” She slapped her hand on her forehead. “I totally forgot about that.”
“It wasn’t Claire Miller’s painting?” he asked nervously.
“That’s whose mom I gave it to.”
Natalie blew out a slow breath, her expression revealing how her brain was trying to fit everything into place. “Claire is the one who asked me to get it back,” she finally said.
Joseph felt some relief. He had <i>not</i> given the art to the wrong parent. The relief didn’t last long as he saw there was still a slight problem. Claire wanted to give it to someone who already had it.
Natalie had reached the same conclusion. “What am I supposed to tell her?” she asked. “A frame is a wonderful idea, and I don’t want to ruin that surprise. But… I can’t just lie and say I forgot.”
“Um…” Joseph shrugged at her. “Can you be vague somehow?”
“Yeah. I guess I can say some form of I don’t have it or I couldn’t get it. Anything like that is going to make her assume I forgot though. I hate to look like the bad guy.”
“She’ll understand when she gets it back at Christmas,” he said.
Natalie frowned. “I don’t think that’s going to make me feel better when I face a very disappointed child later today. Gotta go regardless. Merry Christmas!” She waved over her shoulder as she resumed her quick little steps towards the front door.
Joseph turned back to the other snowy paintings. Next year he was going to remind Natalie to ask her students if they’d finished their Christmas shopping before she hung up the batch for December.