This is a reasonably short story that will post in less than ten chapters. Thanks for reading!
December 1st. 68 degrees. Time to buy a Christmas tree.
I didn't expect to be decorating for Christmas in nearly tropical weather when I moved to New York City ten months ago, but I didn't expect a lot of things when I moved to New York. I knew it wouldn't be easy to find a job in publishing, but I didn't expect to be reaching the end of my third consecutive three-month internship. I knew it wouldn't be easy to find an apartment I could afford – especially one that allows my giant dog – but I didn't expect to be priced out of the city entirely. The upside of living in New Jersey is that everything is cheaper. The downside is the look everyone gives you when you tell them you live in New Jersey.
Anyway, after adjusting for proximate-to-but-not-in-New-York-City prices, I figure I'll be paying $300 for a tree smaller than me. I've been eyeballing the tree lot a couple blocks from my building every day since it went up a week ago. The trees are unimpressive compared to the trees my dad used to put up, but that's one thing that didn't surprise me – when it comes to trees, you can't do better than the Olympic Peninsula. And since I'll have to carry the tree back to my apartment myself, I can't even say I mind how short they are.
Every time I've passed the tree lot, it's been empty, but of course, when I get there with $300 burning a hole in my pocket, it's overrun with excited children and harried parents. After wandering around for a while, I surmise that I need to talk to one of the three giant bearded men who can lift trees with one hand. I hang back for a while, waiting for the families to dissipate, but there always seems to be another one. I'm considering leaving when a woman even smaller than me appears in front of me.
"Hi!" she exclaims. "Hi?" I respond, while searching my memory to see if I've ever met her. I've met lots of people since moving here, but haven't really gotten to know anyone well.
"Are you looking for a tree?" I can't picture this woman picking up a tree with one hand, but it makes sense that she works here. No one in New York is spontaneously friendly unless they're trying to sell something.
"Yeah, just a small tree. I have to carry it a few blocks by myself. Something sturdy that smells good?"
She tilts her head and eyes me up and down. I would find it invasive if anyone else did it, but she seems harmless.
"You don't have to worry about carrying it. I'll make one of my brothers carry it home for you. If that's not an issue, what would your preference be?"
I consider for a moment before answering. The most important thing since I moved here is always price, but I'm wary about telling her what my budget is. I was raised by a cop, so I don't think I'm very naïve, but I'm always nervous about negotiating prices.
"Well, I've got $200 to spend. That's the most important thing. I don't have a very big apartment, and I have a big dog with a strong tail, so a small tree will probably do less damage when he inevitably knocks it over."
"Hmmm," she murmurs while looking around. "Well, a small tree might do less damage, but a larger tree is less likely to fall over to begin with, especially if you can anchor it to a wall. Do you have a corner you can put the tree in? You just need twine and a couple screws to attach it to the wall. Come look at these."
She leads me over to a bunch of Balsam firs, and after she spends another ten minutes extolling the virtues of large trees, she's convinced me I need a six and a half foot tall tree. I'm a little nervous when I ask her how much it'll cost, but delighted when she tells me it'll be $150. She leaves me by the tree and promises to send one of her brothers over to help me with it.
While I wait, I watch the three giant dudes who must be her brothers. The biggest one reminds me of the Hulk – tall and muscular everywhere, with dark hair and eyes and dimples. He's loud and friendly, which I know because he's so loud. The second is just as tall as the first, but much leaner. He's wearing a beanie, which seems an odd choice on a sunny spring-like day, but he appears to have lighter hair and eyes. He's much quieter, and I don't see him smile once. The third is the smallest, though he's still almost a foot taller than I am. He's blond and lanky, but lifts the trees as easily as his brothers. He talks less than the loud one, but smiles easily. He's far less intimidating than the other two, so I'm a little disappointed when I see Alice heading my way with Beanie.
"My name's Alice, by the way," she announces when she gets to me. "This is Edward," she explains while waving over her shoulder at Beanie. "He'll be happy to carry your tree home for you." She looks over her shoulder. "Even if he doesn't look like it." Edward rolls his eyes in response, which calls my attention to his eyes, which are a beautiful seafoam green, light enough that they could appear blue in different light. He also has incredible bone structure, as best I can tell under the scruffy reddish brown beard.
"I'm Bella. Thanks so much for the help, there's no way I could get a tree this big otherwise." Edward just grunts in response and I think, for the 300th time since moving to the city, what a shame it is that the prettiest guys are always jerks.
Alice points out the tree I bought and Edward bends and picks it up in one smooth motion. It's amazing. I could watch him pick up trees all day long. Alice talks my ear off while he ties up the tree, and then hugs me before we leave. It's odd, but not surprising after spending a half hour with Alice. For a tiny elf of a woman, Alice's hug is vicelike, and I briefly reconsider whether she could lift a tree with one hand while Edward and I set off for home.
Since Edward appears to be mute, I spend most of the walk home picturing the current state of my apartment, since I wasn't expecting visitors when I left for the tree lot. At 515 square feet, my apartment starts to close in around me if it gets too messy, so I keep it pretty clean, but there's always the possibility that a stack of clean underwear is still sitting on the dining room table from my last load of laundry. And with a giant troublemaker of a dog, there's always a possibility he's pulled out dirty laundry to chew on. Speaking of…
"I should warn you about my dog," I say to the mute walking next to me who seems less bothered by the large tree on his shoulder than I am by carrying my purse. He grunts, which I take as an invitation to keep talking, or do anything I want, really.
"He's very large, and he jumps on people, which can be scary because he's so big. But he's a lover, not a fighter. If he jumps on you, it's only because he wants to lick your face. But if you don't like it, just push him off you and he won't do it again."
"What's his name?" I hear from beside me, and I look around for a moment to make sure the sound came from my no-longer-mute companion.
"Samson," I reply. He just grunts in response, and I'm glad we're at my building since it appears our conversation is over.
"You might want to put the tree down," I suggest when we get to my front door. "In case Samson knocks you over. Actually, if you just want to leave the tree in the hall, I can pull it the rest of the way."
Edward sets down the tree, but shakes his head. "Nah. I'll hear about it from Alice if I don't bring it all the way in."
"How will she know?" I ask, and he scoffs.
When I open the door and Samson comes out paws first, I'm glad Edward set down the tree. Standing on his back legs, my Newfoundland comes right to the middle of Edward's chest, but Edward doesn't budge. I'm completely surprised when he bends over to let Samson lick his face and starts talking to him. Edward has a whole actual conversation with my dog, standing right there in the hallway. I guess he's just not a people person. Or maybe he's not a Bella person.
When Samson gets tired of standing on his back legs and is back on the floor, Edward turns back to me.
"Do you have your stand ready to go? If you know where you want the tree to go, I can help you set it up in the stand."
"Sure, yeah, of course." I hurry ahead of him to grab the stand, which means I miss him picking up the tree in one quick move. Oh well.
With Edward's help, the tree is up in just a couple minutes. He lifts it into the stand and positions it, and then has me hold it while he fixes the screws. It's remarkable how easy it is – my recent experience putting up trees with my dad always involved lots of swearing and scratches and occasionally patching up holes in the drywall. When we're done, he shows me where I should affix screws in order to anchor the tree to the wall.
I try to tip him before he leaves, but Edward refuses. Then he bends down and spends two minutes saying goodbye to Samson while I stare at them. I know my dog's cute – people stop us on walks all the time to meet him. I just didn't expect it from Edward.
When he stands up, he fixes me with those incredible eyes. "Bye, Bella."
I think I stop breathing. He may not be much of a conversationalist (with humans), but he sure is beautiful. "Bye, Edward. Thanks for everything. I really appreciate it."
After Edward leaves, I cut open the tree and rotate it a couple times to find the best side. I only have enough lights for a smaller tree, so I make it two-thirds of the way up the tree before stopping. When I get out of the shower later, I find the tree on its side and Samson in the bedroom refusing to look at me.