"Dosh garn it!" Daryl heard Beth yell from the living room. It was their first Christmas living together and she'd insisted on decorating inside and out. She'd started her job as a teacher's aide at a preschool daycare in town and her profanity filter was firmly in place, currently filling the living room with "fudge buckets" and "oh sugar snaps." It made Daryl chuckle each time he heard one.
The problem with her being a teacher aide and him being a mechanic meant there wasn't a lot of extra money to throw around for presents and decorations. Not that such a "tiny, insignificant detail" (her words, not his) should make one bit of difference. Beth searched every clearance aisle, scoured the bins at Goodwill, and accepted any hand-me-downs she could until she deemed they had enough decorations. She'd been humming Christmas songs all month, but now her Christmas spirit was spilling out everywhere she went.
Daryl peeked into their tiny living room to find Beth seated on the floor, a mound of Christmas lights in her lap, her usually neat ponytail now beyond messy and heading towards downright unkempt with frustration. "Y'okay?"
"It's these lights," she pouted, somewhere between shouting and crying. "I pulled them out of the box to put on the tree and they all got in one big tangle. I don't even know how it happened. But look at this!" She held up the mass of cord and lights, random loops hanging from all sides. "I can't pull them through because I don't want to break any bulbs." Daryl couldn't even find one of the ends to have some kind of starting place to untangle them.
"Will you help me?" Beth looked up at him with her big, blue, pleading eyes. "I just need you to help keep all these loops from getting knotted up again."
Daryl sighed and picked up a loop in each hand. Beth grinned up at him and hugged him, pressing some of the bulbs between them as she squeezed him around the waist.
Ten minutes later, there were close to a dozen sections of cord draped from his arms, some of them criss-crossing his body from shoulder to hip. Beth was still humming away, the smile finally having returned to her face. Daryl's arms were starting to ache. "Ya 'bout done?"
"I think the end is in sight," she sang to the tune of whatever Christmas carol she'd been singing. A few minutes more and she exclaimed in joy as she held up the plug end of the strand of lights. "Okay. I think I can get it from here if your arms are tired."
He wanted to take her up on her offer and just let the damn lights hit the floor, but her good mood was infectious. He loved seeing her happy, even over something so trivial as untangling Christmas lights. So he stayed. Besides, she'd probably be calling him back to put them up on the tree in a matter of minutes, anyway.
"Okay," she smiled, "if I put this one here, and thread this one through here…" She continued her play-by-play as she lifted each loop and brought it into a neat circle stretching from her hand and around her elbow. Once she had finished she looked up at him. "Ready?" she asked, stepping toward the tree.
He took a step to follow her, but stopped when she looked up at him. "Ain't never decorated a tree before," he mumbled, looking down at his feet, preparing for the look of pity he often saw when he told someone any little detail from his childhood. It was true. He'd never gotten a visit from Santa Claus, never exchanged gifts with anyone, and damn sure never decorated the lousy excuse for a house he lived in for most of his childhood…that is, before his mom fell asleep with a cigarette and burned it down. Good ol' Will Dixon sure as hell didn't decorate the trailer they moved into after that, either.
Instead, she just blinked up at him and said, "Oh." Then after a moment's pause, "Well, you start with the lights up at the top and wind them toward the bottom. Then ornaments, then garland." With no further ado, she handed him the end of the strand to him. "You're taller, you get to start."
She guided him through the tree, and all the little knick knack Santas and snowmen she lovingly placed around the living room as if they'd been in her family for years, then they bundled up and she handed him the crappy little plastic hooks to hang the lights from the gutters. Once everything was up to her standards, she pulled him inside and insisted on playing some CD, claiming it was tradition to listen to that album first, then set to making them hot cocoa. She apologized that it came from a packet and wasn't homemade, but he thought it was the best damn cocoa he'd ever had.
In fact, it was the only hot cocoa he'd ever had. Dixons weren't exactly the hot cocoa drinking kind.
"There's just one thing left," she said softly. He looked at her and could've sworn he saw the slightest blush on her cheeks. Sure, it could've been left over from being outside in the cold. It could have been from sipping the mug of hot cocoa. Something about the way she was fidgeting in her seat told him it was neither of those things.
Beth reached over the end of the couch into the box and pulled something from the bottom. It was some kind of waxy green plant with a faded red ribbon tied at the top. "I…we don't have to put it up. I mean it's not even real. I just thought…maybe…I don't know."
"The hell is it?" Daryl asked, unsure of why she was so nervous.
"It's, um…it's mistletoe."
He grinned at her, "Where do you want it?"
She smiled her brightest smile and hopped off the couch, turned around and pulled him up to join her. She led him to the tiny hallway between their front door and living room. "Here," she declared and handed him the plastic plant.
He reached up to tape it to the top of the entryway then looked back down at her. Beth's arms wrapped around his neck and pulled him down to her height. "Merry Christmas, Daryl," she whispered.
"Merry Christmas, Beth," he murmured back before his lips met hers.
He knew it was his first real Christmas, the first time he'd actually celebrated anything. He knew it was all because of her.
He also knew that even if it was his first, it was surely the best Christmas ever.