“I’ll find it!” cried Horton.
“I’ll find it or bust!”
—Dr. Seuss, Horton Hears a Who

The Wooton

Thursday, November 10

“It’s perfect!” Diana ran her hand along the polished mahogany, admiring the stately piece of furniture. “Isn’t it? Mart?”

She turned around and faced her husband. He nodded his head, but he didn't seem that interested.

“Can’t you picture yourself sitting here, working on some Pulitzer Prize-winning article?” She pulled open one of the small drawers of the antique desk. “Look at all these compartments. Pencils, pens, paper clips ... there’s room for everything and anything.”

“Mmm-hmm,” Mart mumbled.

“It’s perfect,” Di repeated, but even her own voice lacked her earlier enthusiasm. Mart didn’t seem to care for the 1890 rolltop, so it obviously wasn’t perfect.

“It’s not perfect.” Mart must be reading her mind. He often seemed to.

“Okay, it’s not perfect.” She gave him a small smile. “What’s wrong with this one?”

He let out a small sigh. “It’s too perfect.”

One, two, three, four .... Di counted to ten silently to keep herself from screaming. Mart had recently landed a promotion at the Sleepyside Sun and, to celebrate, they’d been shopping for a new desk for him. For more than three weeks now! They had looked at modern desks and antique desks and futuristic plastic desks. Writing tables and pedestal desks, rolltops and tambour desks, fall fronts and slant tops, standing, trestle, Davenports, bureaus à gradin—the list went on and on. “Too perfect?”

“Yeah.” The same beautifully polished surface that Diana had admired elicited a frown from Mart. She watched him as he caressed the flat writing surface. “Not a single stain. No ink blotches, no water rings. No scratches from pen tips or letter openers. No scars at all.”

Understanding dawned. “Nothing that gives this desk a story of its own.”

“Exactly! It has no character.”

In all the furniture stores, antique shops, estate sales, and even garage sales they had been to, they had come across exactly one desk that Mart had wanted. It had been perfectly imperfect. The 1874 Wooton desk had been crafted from walnut and some beautiful burl that had given the inlay in the doors a unique design. And with all its drawers and shelves and compartments, the desk definitely had personality.

Wooton desks were rare, and Wooton desks in top condition were outrageously expensive, but the one they’d found hadn’t been in top condition. The surface was scratched and stained, a few drawers were missing, and one of the hinges on the cabinet doors was loose. The desk definitely had scars.

Due to the numerous imperfections, the desk had a price tag of a “mere”—that was the antique dealer’s word—eight thousand. In perfect condition, it would’ve fetched over twenty, apparently.

And Mart had fallen in love with that desk. Until he’d heard that price.

“We could still go back and get that Wooton,” she suggested timidly.

She cringed slightly at Mart’s groan. “We’ve been over that, Di. It’s not in our budget.”

“Okay, then the search continues.” Di squared her shoulders. Somehow, she was determined she would find the right desk for Mart.

Sunday, November 13

“Augh! He’s just impossible!” Di clutched at her hair, finally able to vent to her friends over a chai tea latte. The spiced black tea mellowed with the warm, frothy milk helped calm her nerves ... or it would, once she drank it.

“It’s about time you realized that.” Trixie chuckled. “I’ve been saying that all my life.”

“Still desk shopping?” Honey asked, arching an eyebrow. “I never pictured Mart to be the picky type.”

Di sipped from her drink, watching the passers-by on the other side of the window as she considered her response. “Normally, he’s not. I think the problem is that he’s fallen in love with one of the desks we found, so nothing else measures up to it.”

“He found a desk? So, what’s the problem, then? Why haven’t you bought it?” Trixie fired off the questions in her usual blunt manner.

Before Di could answer though, Honey spoke up, guessing at the reason. “Is it one of those pieces they put in the window to lure in customers with a little tiny sign that says ‘Display Only’? Or, worse, ‘Sold’? I mean, if it’s not for sale, then don’t show it to me. I hate getting my heart set on stuff that’s not actually for sale.”

“No, it’s not that. It’s still for sale. I went by there earlier today to check. I’m tempted to just buy it for him for Christmas, but I know he’ll get really mad at me if I do.” Di grimaced as she imagined how that would play out. She did not like arguing with Mart, and having been poor for the better part of her childhood, she understood his viewpoint all too well, even if she didn’t completely agree with it.

“Christmas is over a month away,” Trixie grumbled, pushing her wavy blonde bangs out of her eyes before taking a sip of her coffee. “How can you even think of Christmas presents this early? Let’s get through Thanksgiving first.”

“Umm, I have most of my Christmas shopping done already,” Honey pointed out quietly.

“Of course you do.” Trixie shook her head in dismay. “Anyway, if Mart wants this desk and it’s for sale, then why would he get mad at you if you buy it?”

“It costs eight thousand dollars.”

Honey spewed caramel macchiato out of her mouth. “Did I hear you right? That’s ... that’s ... wow. I mean, maybe Mother would spend that much without even blinking, but, still, ... wow.”

“That’s not just ‘wow’; that’s gleeps!” Trixie’s blue eyes widened with incredulity. “That must be some desk.”

Di nodded as she handed Honey a napkin. “It’s a Wooton, which, personally, I think is a bit gaudy, but every time I stop by to see if it’s still in the shop, I like it more and more.”

“A Woot-what? Sounds like something from Who-ville.” Honey giggled as she dabbed at her mouth.

Every Who down in Who-ville beneath was busy now, hanging a mistletoe wreath,” Di quoted merrily.

“Do we need to bring up Christmas again? I am so not ready for it to even be time to get ready for Christmas.” Trixie buried her face in her hands. “Why does Christmas always seem so far away and then all of a sudden it’s next weekend and there’s too much to do?”

“Anyway, Di.” Honey rolled her eyes slightly at Trixie’s complaining. “What is a Whotan or Whaten or whatever you said the desk was? Is there something special about those desks?”

Di nodded her head. Before she started on this quest for the perfect desk, she only knew the basics of antique furniture, but she’d learned a lot in the last few weeks. “It’s a Wooton. I think it comes from the name of the guy who designed them. It’s Victorian and has lots of nooks, crannies, drawers, cubbyholes, whatever you want to call them. And they’re very ornate. Beautifully carved designs on the top, lavish burlwood veneers decorating the doors—”

“Doors? On a desk?” Honey clearly couldn’t picture it in her mind.

“Yes, this style of desk closes up, kind of like an armoire.”

Trixie nodded in understanding. “I get it. And I can see how Mart would love all the compartments. He’s so organized and likes everything to have its own place.”

“Yes. And, the desk has ‘personality’.” Di made air quotes as she explained. “It has mars, stains, missing drawers. Things that give the desk a story.”

“Plus he probably wants to do some of the restoration work on it himself,” Trixie pointed out. “He always did like that kind of thing.”

“Ah, of course. It sounds beautiful, though.” Honey sighed. “And he’s set on it?”

Di made a face. “He’s set on it all right, and also dead set against buying it.”

“It sounds like Mart has that same stubborn gene as the rest of the Beldens—good luck getting him to change his mind about both the desk itself and about not buying it,” Honey stated.

“Hey, I resemble that remark.” Trixie stuck her tongue out at her friends. “Besides, I prefer to call it determined, persistent, or tenacious.”

“Have you been borrowing Mart’s thesaurus?” Di winked at her sister-in-law. “Try headstrong or—dare I say—ornery.”

“Don’t forget single-minded,” Honey added in. “Unshakeable.”

“Fine. Call it what you will, we Beldens do have a stick-to-it-iveness that can sometimes, maybe, just once in a while, be a little, teeny bit annoying.”

Honey grinned at Trixie’s admission. “Only rarely.” Then she turned to Di. “Anyway, I wish I could just buy it for you guys. You know Brian and I can afford it and he couldn’t stay mad at us if we did, could he?”

“That’s a great idea. Jim and I could buy it for you, too.” Trixie nodded her head in agreement. “If it was a gift, he couldn’t turn it away.”

Di took a few more sips from her tea, mulling over the idea briefly before rejecting it. “I don’t know. He’d know I told you about it and then he probably would get upset.”

“Well, what if it was a group gift? If all of us put in an equal amount—”

Di cut her off. “Honey, even if all of us Bob-Whites chipped in, that’d still be over a thousand dollars each.” She was not comfortable asking any of her friends for that kind of money, not even Honey or Trixie. Especially when she could easily afford to pay for the desk herself, without help from any of them. If only Mart would let her.

Her fellow club-members were not easily discouraged. They exchanged a look and then Trixie made a fresh appeal. “Well, what about all of our parents? And don’t forget all of our relatives. Aunt Alicia, Uncle Harold, Uncle Andrew, all our cousins. I’m sure we could get enough people to contribute some amount towards the desk.”

“Maybe,” Di hedged. It was a nice thought and it would mean they could finally stop the hunt.

“What if we were to ask everyone to pitch in just what they can afford, with a maximum contribution of two hundred dollars,” Honey suggested.

She had to admit that between all their extended families, they might be able to get enough relatives to chip in towards the desk. “If everyone put in that much, and that amount does seem doable, we would need—um—sixteen—no—oh, shoot. I’m no good at math.”

Trixie shrugged her shoulders. “Don’t look at me.”

Honey whipped out her phone and punched the numbers in on the calculator. Her face fell. “Forty. We’d need forty people contributing the max, and you know not everyone would or should.”

Di’s shoulders slumped. “I’d hate to ask anyone to put in any more than that, though.”

“Well, wait—what is Mart willing to spend on the desk? Maybe we just make up the difference. Would that help?” Honey may have had some of that stubborn gene herself.

Di shook her head. “Forget it. Mart’s right. It’s too expensive. We should just keep looking. Something else will come up.”

“I hope so.” The girls sat silently for a moment, enjoying their warm drinks from the popular coffee shop on Main Street. Honey finished her caramel macchiato and pushed the white china mug to the side. “Did you say you stopped by the shop earlier today?”

“Hmm?” Di’s thoughts had wandered in the brief pause. She’d been thinking of what she could get Mart for Christmas. He always liked it when she bought new lingerie, but was that really a gift for him or for her? “What shop?”

Trixie let out an exasperated sigh. “The one with the desk?”

“Oh! Yes. Of course.” She laughed at herself for forgetting the desk already. “That shop. It’s just down the street—right near the police station—if you want to stop by there.”

“Sounds like a plan. I’m ready to go whenever you are,” Honey stated.

Di finished up her tea and all three of them slipped back into their coats and headed down Main Street.

Fall was her favorite season. The cold air felt refreshing after the humid summer months, and all the trees with their changing colors were so beautiful. Some of the trees had already lost many, if not all, of their leaves, and with the wind blowing them across the sidewalk, there was a pleasant-sounding crunch beneath their boots as they walked.

She and her friends entered the small antique shop that had been doing business in Sleepyside for as long as she could remember. She led them through the maze of furniture straight to the 1874 Wooton desk Mart had fallen in love with. And then she gasped.

“Gleeps!” Trixie repeated her childhood phrase. “That is some desk. I didn’t realize it was such a large desk.”

“It’s beautiful,” Honey added, running a hand over one of the doors. “Look at the workmanship on this.”

“And it’s sold!” Di pointed to the small folded card with its four bold letters indicating the desk was off the market.

“Ah, Mrs. Belden.” The store proprietor came up to them.

All three girls turned their heads and answered at once. “Yes?”

“Oh, I suppose you mean Di.” Honey giggled.

Since Trixie had kept using her maiden name even after she’d married Jim—for the familiarity of the Belden name that was already associated with her detective work—all three of them were known as Mrs. Belden.

Di smiled at the antique dealer. The elderly man was knowledgeable, as an antique dealer must be, and he was also honest and kind. “Hi, Mr. Larson.”

“I regret to inform you, the Wooton was sold this morning, shortly after you came in, as a matter of fact.” Mr. Larson did seem somewhat troubled over the situation. “You’d told me time and again that you weren’t going to purchase it, even though you kept coming in to admire it.”

“It is a beautiful piece,” Di said quietly. She shrugged her shoulders and looked at the other two girls. “That’s that, I guess.”

“I would’ve kept it for you if you had given me any indication—”

“It’s all right, Mr. Larson. I still wasn’t going to purchase it. I just wanted to show my friends.” A surprisingly strong wave of disappointment washed over Di. In the coffee shop, she had thought maybe, just maybe, they could get enough people together to get a group gift for Mart. He deserved it, and she knew his friends and family would have gladly helped out with the cost. But it was a lot to ask of them, so it was a relief, in a way, that the desk was no longer available. Yes, a relief. In a way.

“I’ll keep my eyes open for any similar pieces,” Mr. Larson was saying. “I’ll let you know if I find anything.”

Tuesday, November 15

Diana walked through the door of her comfortable home off Albany Post Road in Sleepyside. The four-bedroom frame house was a little bit large for her and Mart, but they hoped to be adding to their family in the near future.

“Mart! I’m home.”

No answering call came back. He must be working late. Di pulled off her scarf and gloves before shrugging out of her burgundy pea coat and hanging it in the closet by the door.

She hummed quietly to herself as she made her way to the kitchen. Her meal plan said she should prepare chicken in a creamy tomato sauce, but that sounded heavy to her, especially as the weather had been unseasonably on the warm side. She opened the fridge and saw she had yogurt, cucumbers, and lemon. There were also some whole-wheat tortillas in an opened package and she knew they should be eaten soon or she’d have to throw them out. “Chicken wraps it is!”

Mart groaned. “Girl food.”

Di jumped back, hitting her hand against one of the shelves. She recovered quickly, closed the refrigerator, and turned to see Mart sitting at the small kitchen table in the little nook. “Mart! I didn’t think you were home.” The light was turned off, and even with the overhead light from the kitchen, she could barely make him out in the dark corner. “Is everything okay, honey?”

“No, everything is not okay.”

She flipped the switch for the corner nook and he quickly covered his eyes with his hands.

Di was immediately concerned. Something bad had obviously happened if he’d been sitting in the dark corner for a while. “What’s wrong, Mart?”

“What’s wrong?!” Mart jumped up and yelled at her. “You know exactly what’s wrong, don’t you?”

“Uh, no.” Di frowned. “Mind filling me in on why you’re yelling at me?”

“The desk!” Mart pounded his fist on the table. “How could you?”

“The desk?” Does he mean the desk—the Wooton? “It was sold.”

“I know.” His blue eyes pierced into her own.

“And it has you this upset?” Di took a few deep breaths to keep from yelling back at him. “You said we shouldn’t buy it.”

“I. Know,” he ground out. “And I thought you knew, too.”

“Right.” She leaned against the counter that separated the nook from the rest of the kitchen. “So, what’s going on?”

Mart started pacing. “The Wooton, Di! Eight thousand dollars! How could you spend our money like that?”

“Wait. You think I bought the desk?” Di tried to understand what Mart was thinking. “If I had, it would be here.”

He stopped pacing and stared at her. “It was delivered this morning.”

“It was?” Who would’ve bought it for us? And then she realized exactly why Mart was so upset. “But I didn’t buy it! You can go down to the antique store yourself and ask Mr. Larson.”

“Which is exactly what I did.” He stared at her angrily. “He wouldn’t tell me a thing. Said the buyer wanted to remain anonymous and he respected her privacy.”

Di didn’t respond right away. She was still trying to figure out who would’ve bought the desk for them.

Her,” Mart repeated with emphasis.

“I told Honey and Trixie about the desk,” Di admitted somewhat uneasily. “But the desk had already been sold by then.”

“How do you know?” Mart raised an eyebrow suspiciously. “Because it was sold to you!”

Di screamed in frustration, startling Mart. He took a step back, blinking those blue eyes of his. Then, slowly and deliberately, she laid it on the line. “I. Didn’t. Buy. It.”

It took him a few seconds to respond. “Well, then who did? Honey? Trixie? They wouldn’t spend that kind of money on a desk.”

Di rolled her eyes. She moved away from the nook and, practically on auto-pilot, she picked up the package of chicken from the kitchen counter, opening it over the sink, talking all the while. “Yes, they would, if they knew it would make you happy. But the desk had already been sold when I went to show it to them at the store. Maybe it was one of our parents.”

He followed her into the kitchen. “My parents? They don’t have that kind of money. But yours—that, I’d believe.” He pulled a cutting board out of one of the drawers, drew a knife from the wood block, and then handed both items to her. “Did you put your mother up to it?”

She seethed silently as she took the items and went to work, cutting up the chicken into small pieces with somewhat more force than necessary.

“Okay, I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sure you wouldn’t put her up to it. She probably did it all on her own, to make us happy.”

She stopped butchering the boneless breast meat for a moment and glanced sideways at him. “Thank you. That’s probably exactly what happened.”

“Yes, I’m sure that’s it. Only, I don’t know why she’d be so secretive about it.” He set a frying pan on the stove to heat.

She continued to cut the chicken, much more calmly and orderly. “So, can I see it? It must look great in your office.”

“Uh, well, it would, I suppose, but, uh ... Tom and I took it back to Mr. Larson’s.”

Di dropped the knife with a clatter and turned to face him. “You did what?!”

He gave her a sheepish shrug. “Tom and I, we took it back to Mr. Larson’s.”

She shook her head. “Why would you do that?”

“I ... I thought .... Look, it was delivered with no note saying who it was from. I was mad at you for buying the desk behind my back, so I sold it back to Mr. Larson.” He held up the cucumber on the counter. “How do you want this sliced?”

“Thin round slices.” She transferred the chicken to the heated pan while her mind was trying to process this new bit of information. “So let me get this straight. Someone gave us the desk as a gift, the very desk you wanted so badly, and you turn around and sell it back to the antique dealer?”

“Well, yeah.” He had peeled the cucumber and set it down on a clean cutting board.

Di had also stopped her dinner preparations. “All because you thought I had bought it? So, instead of giving me the benefit of the doubt, you immediately jump to the conclusion that I spent money on that desk behind your back despite our agreeing that we couldn’t afford it. You thought I’d gone back on my word. And then you thought that I lied to you just now?”

“Um, I’m—I’m sorry.” He did sound a little bit sorry, but not enough to convince her. “But your mother bought it, didn’t she?”

Di shut the stove off. “I’m going out for dinner. You can do whatever you like.”

“Di! I said I was sorry.” Mart grabbed her arm, stopping her from storming out of the room. “I was wrong to think you’d do something like that. Why don’t I just call your mother and thank her for the desk.”

“Fine.” Di shrugged out of his light hold on her arm and marched over to the phone. She yanked the receiver off the hook, practically throwing it at him. “And you can explain to her how you also took it back to the store.”

“Right. I’ll do that.” Mart meekly took the phone and punched the speed-dial for her mother.

Di thought about leaving but she was curious how the conversation would play out, so she leaned casually against the counter and listened to his half of the conversation.

“Hi, Mum, how are you?” Mart listened to her brief response.

“Everything’s fine. Listen, I just called to thank you for the gift. It was very generous of you.” He paused a moment. “The beautiful antique desk—”

Di tried not to gloat. She had told her parents they shouldn’t buy it for them, that it was too expensive a gift, but she couldn’t say she was surprised. Her mother had nearly bought it for them on the spot.

“But if you didn’t, then who could have sent it?” he asked.

“What?” She asked the question aloud even though she knew she was interrupting his conversation.

“No, it’s okay, Mum. I appreciate it, but we’ve gone over this before. ... Yes, I know you understand.” Mart shrugged at Di. “Thanks, and good night. Di sends her love.”

“Thanks,” she whispered. “Tell her I’ll call her tomorrow.”

Mart relayed the message and then hung up. “So, it wasn’t your parents. And I can pretty much bet it wasn’t mine.”

“So we still don’t know who sent us the desk?” Di let out an exasperated sigh. “There wasn’t a note or anything with it?”

He shook his head. “I already told you, there wasn’t.”

“Did you check all the drawers? All the little cubbyholes? Whoever sent it must have left us some kind of clue.”

“I checked.” The look of regret on his face made her think he was none too gentle with the antique furniture while he searched.

“You’ve been impossible about that desk this whole time, Mart Belden. Someone gives it to us, and instead of being grateful you act like an idiot.”

“Because I am an idiot. You knew that when you married me.” He half-pouted, half-grinned. “And I truly am sorry I accused you of going back on your word and of lying about it. You’re right. I should’ve known better.”

“Yes, you should have.” She put her hands on her hips and stared him down. “So, are you going to get the desk back?”

“Yes. I promise.” He leaned over to kiss her on the lips but she turned her head so all he got was her cheek.

“How much will it cost us, not counting the money you got for selling it back to Mr. Larson?”

“Well, I didn’t actually get the money back for the desk.” He bit his lower lip. “See, I told him he should give the money back to the original buyer. I didn’t think it was fair of me to keep the money.”

She sighed, agreeing with him about the money. “No, of course not. Well, let’s go down there tomorrow and see if we can straighten this whole thing out.”

“Sure. Actually, I can’t tomorrow. Day after?”

She nodded.

He reached for her arm, caressing it and then grabbing her hand. “So, dinner?” He cocked his head back toward the stove.

Chicken wraps no longer sounded appealing. “Let’s eat out. Pizza?”

Monday, November 21

“Mart!” Di called out, hoping her voice would penetrate his closed office door. She slipped her purse off her shoulder, slipped out of her heels, and placed that day's mail in the basket on the shelf by the door all in one practiced move. Except she kept hold of one piece of mail, having already slit open the envelope and read the contents on the way from the mailbox to the door. “Mart!”

She heard the door to his office open and his footsteps coming down the hall as she pulled off her scarf and gloves, carefully transferring the letter from one hand to the other as she did.

“What?” he asked, peering at her curiously. “Is something wrong?”

She finished hanging her coat in the closet and then turned to wave the envelope in his direction. “The card. Madeleine Wheeler sent it.”

“She sent a card?” Mart massaged his temples. “You called me out here to tell me she sent us a card? Is that our official Thanksgiving Dinner invitation?”

Di shook her head. “We got that last week.” She thrust the note at him. “Just read it.”

Mart took the card and started to read.

Dearest Mart and Di,

I hope this note finds you well and that you are enjoying the beautiful fall weather in Sleepyside. Barcelona is lovely as ever. Matthew and I are enjoying our travels.

Mart, I trust you’re getting good use out of your new desk. Karen told me you had fallen in love with it, and had your heart set on it, but found the cost prohibitive. I did a little research of my own, and when I realized it was a genuine William S. Wooton, I knew the dealer was offering it at a steal, even if it wasn’t in pristine condition.

Mart stopped reading. “Oh!”

“Yes.” Di worked her lower lip. “And we haven’t had a chance to go back to the store last week. We need to get over there before Thanksgiving. We should try to get that desk back before Mrs. Wheeler finds out we returned it.”

“She probably already knows. After all, Mr. Larson should have given her a refund.” Mart tossed the card on the shelf right next to the basket of mail and then checked his watch. “He may still be open. Should we head down there right now?”

“Feeling guilty?” She winked to soften the accusation. “Let me just get my coat back on. If I sit down, I won’t want to leave again.”

Mart nodded as he stepped around her and then opened the closet door. He pulled out two coats, holding one out to her. “Let’s fix this.”

In fifteen minutes, Mart was parking their car in one of the empty spots along Main Street. The bell above the door tinkled as they entered the antique shop.

Mr. Larson walked briskly through another door at the other end of the shop, and his wrinkled face broke into a smile as he recognized them. “Mr. and Mrs. Belden. How nice to see you.” Then his countenance fell. “I do hope you’re not here about the desk.”

“We are,” Mart admitted. “It seems there’s been a misunderstanding, and well, I made a mistake.”

“Oh, dear.” Mr. Larson sighed. “Um, I sold the desk. Again.”

Mart’s hands clenched into fists and then unclenched again. “I don’t suppose you could tell us who bought it?”

Mr. Larson gestured to them to follow him to his office. “The first time I sold it, the buyer insisted on remaining anonymous, but this woman is a well-known collector. I don’t think she’d mind if I gave you her name.” He opened a drawer and shuffled through one of the compartments before pulling out a small card. “Eleanor Burnside.”

“Thank you.” Di took the card from Mr. Larson. “We appreciate your help. I guess we should’ve just bought the desk when we had a chance.”

After they got back in the car, Di gave Mart’s hand a small squeeze. “What now?”

“I guess we tell Mrs. Wheeler the truth.” Mart shrugged. “I’ll explain what an idiot I’ve been and how I returned her gift.”

“What about the Burnsides?” she asked.

He started the car and pulled out onto the street. “They’re nice people, but I don’t think we can go to them and ask for our desk back. The Burnsides paid for it, and we’ll just have to find something else, which is what we’d planned to do all along.”

“You’re right.” But Di knew he hadn’t given up on the Wooton. He referred to it as our desk. He still wants it.

Wednesday, November 30

Diana had worried for days over the kind, older woman’s reaction to the whole Wooton desk fiasco, but Madeleine Wheeler had surprised her. She and Mart had gone to Manor House early on Thanksgiving Day expressly to visit Mrs. Wheeler before the other guests arrived so they could apologize about the returned gift. She had listened attentively to their tale of the desk, a smile playing around her lips. By the end, she’d actually burst out laughing, rather uncharacteristically, and then she’d excused herself and made some phone calls.

A couple of days later, the Wooton was delivered to their home again. Attached to the generous gift was a beautiful embossed card with a hand-written note expressing warmest regards from Eleanor Burnside and Madeleine Wheeler.

The Wooton looked beautiful in their home, and Di was glad all that was behind them and Mart was genuinely happy with the desk. Except now he needed a chair that would go with the Victorian desk—his modern faux-leather spinning chair just didn’t do justice to the beautiful antique.

The search for a chair hadn’t been going any better than the search for the desk had, but neither of them was overly worried about it. Something was sure to turn up.

After a quiet dinner at the Tearoom, Diana tucked her hand into Mart’s arm as they walked down the sidewalk along Main Street, their coats keeping them warm as the wind blew the falling snow around them. They passed an alley behind Crimper’s department store and Di stopped in surprise. There was a wooden chair with an upholstered seat, a clear plastic garbage bag draped over it. “Mart!”

“Hmm?” Mart answered quietly.

Di had let go of his arm and wandered toward the alleyway. She pointed at the discarded piece of furniture. “What do you think? We could fix this up and—”

“Are you serious?” Mart barely glanced at the chair as he shook his head. “That’s somebody’s garbage, Di.”

“So? It looks like it’s in pretty good shape.” She couldn’t really tell through the plastic bag, of course, but it seemed decent enough, and it was similar to the styles he’d been looking at in the stores.

“Garbage,” Mart repeated as he shook his head.

“For the first half of my childhood, half our house was furnished with other people’s discarded things.” If her voice was a bit strained, it had to do with Mart’s attitude; she felt no shame about her family’s living conditions in those early years.

“And yet you have no problem spending a small fortune on one single desk, either,” Mart replied, but there was no argument or admonishment in his tone. In fact, his whole expression had softened.

She nodded in agreement. “That’s exactly right. I learned that money is not what matters, the price of something is not what matters, it’s how you feel about it—how it makes you feel—that’s what’s important. So, forget the price tag for a moment, or complete lack of one in this case. Forget this is an alley and pretend it’s a department store if you have to, and just look at the chair.”

Mart gave her a small smile as he joined her next to the chair. He lifted the plastic bag off one corner of it. “I guess the wood’s not too bad. Wonder why someone threw it away.”

Di watched him as he studied the chair more closely. “Some new upholstery, a little elbow grease, it could be beautiful.”

“It’s not exactly Victorian, a modern remake of the Victorian style, but you’re right. Some different fabric, new rivets.” He ran a gloved hand along the slatted back.

“So?” Di mentally crossed her fingers, hoping he would like it. She did not want to deal with another weeks-long search for the perfect chair to go with the desk.

“I think I can make it work. Let’s take it.”

She nearly jumped in joy as she helped him pull the chair out of the alley and carry it back to their car. “I’m so glad we went on this little walk after dinner.”

“Me, too, Di.” Mart smiled at her from the other side of the chair as he walked backwards, facing her. “Thanks for noticing it. I don’t think I would’ve looked twice if you hadn’t been there.”

“Thank you for giving it a chance at a new home.” Di grinned at him even as she struggled a bit with the chair as they carried it awkwardly down the sidewalk.

“You know that’s one of the many reasons I love you, right?” They reached the car and she and Mart put down the chair. He opened the trunk and then glanced from it to the chair.

“Will it fit?” she asked, noticing his concern.

“I think so.”

She helped him position the chair, but the trunk wouldn’t close. Fortunately, a bit of rope tying the trunk lid down would do for the short drive to their house.

“What was that you were saying about why you love me?” she teased, as he pulled out into the street.

“You have a unique perspective,” he responded easily. No further explanation was necessary.

“Thanks, Mart. I love you, too.”


Word Count: 5,917

Merry Christmas, Trish! I was thrilled to draw your name in the gift-fic exchange and hope you've enjoyed this story.

I appreciate that you gave your recipient leeway with what to write and that it didn't have to be a Christmas story. I did want it to be about a gift, though. The words flexible and accomidating stuck with me, and I thought Di would very much be both of those things. I started out on a slightly different track and, in my research, I came across “The Wooton”—a beautiful, ornate, Victorian desk. The name struck me as sounding very Seuss-like, so I knew I had found the right gift to incorporate into your story.

I tried to keep the story light-hearted and fun, so I hope the little argument they had didn't weigh it down too much. A little bickering seems natural, and I needed that little bit of tension for Mart to come around and get where Di was coming from.

I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas and wish you all the best for the New Year. (((hugs)))

Special thanks to MaryN and Julia for editing and all their fabulous comments and suggestions. You ladies rock!