The Twelve Days of Christmas
The Perfect Tree
I was awake, but hadn't opened my eyes yet. I smiled to myself as I snuggled deeper under the tangle of thick, warm blankets. It was cozy… and I wouldn't mind never leaving my bed again.
Now, I know what you're thinking. Max is in a warm, cozy bed? What happened to the cave floors and tree limbs? Well, the Flock had caught a break recently. Nearly two months passed by with zero attacks by Flyboys, Erasers, or Whitecoats, so I decided to surprise my mom with a visit. She had been elated when we showed up at her doorstep so unexpectedly.
Then she did the unimaginable… She took a six-week leave of absence from work so that she could take seven kids and a talking dog to a log cabin in Montana for Christmas! She said she wanted us to get the full experience of the season, since this would be our first real holiday. And since Arizona wouldn't have offered us the chance to have snowball fights and build snowmen before heading inside to sit in front of a warm fire with some hot cocoa, she decided to take us way north, into the mountains of Montana…
So here I am…
To say that we've been enjoying ourselves would be an astronomical understatement. This place is freaking incredible! We've never really played in snow before… When you live as a group of runaway mutants with nothing more than the clothes on your back to keep you warm, you tend to avoid the elements so you don't die from exposure. But with a warm home waiting for you at the end of the day, you take it for all it's worth.
Even though my mom had to fly home two days ago to tend to an emergency, I still couldn't have asked for a better holiday.
I sighed, allowing the rare feeling of tranquility to lull me back to sleep.
Suddenly I felt someone's gaze on me… If Fang was in my room watching me sleep, I was going to kick his skinny little butt into next year.
Reluctantly, I peeked out from behind my lashes and found not one bird-kid, but two…
"I told you she wasn't sleeping."
"Gazzy? Angel? What's going on?" I asked them, blinking away the sleepiness. I knew it was nothing serious because the siblings wore identical merry smiles.
"We need to get ready for Christmas," Gazzy said.
"Ugh. We'll still have like a month for that…" I complained, rolling over and burying my face in the pillow. "Can't we talk about this later?" My question was muffled against the pillowcase, but I knew they heard me.
"No. Christmas is in twelve days, Max!" Angel shouted. I felt her tiny hands shaking my shoulder, forcing me to get up.
I rolled over again and pulled myself up into a sitting position, asking, "Are you sure it's that soon, sweetie?"
Of course, they had expected that question and so they came prepared. Gazzy held up a calendar while Angel pointed at today's date. Sure enough, there were twelve days until Christmas…
"So what do you want to do first, guys?" I asked at breakfast. The three younger kids had just rattled off an endless list of things we needed to do.
"We need to start with the tree," Angel stated matter-of-factly.
"Okay. We'll go get one from back there," I said, gesturing towards the evergreens behind the cabin.
After everyone finished eating, we all went to our rooms to change into warm clothes and put on our boots before meeting at the front door. I was about to say, "Alright, kiddies, let's go get that tree," but Nudge started talking before I could even open my mouth.
"Max, we can't all go to pick a tree. Some of us need to go to the store to buy the lights and tinsel and ornaments and a star so we can decorate it tonight. It'll be so much fun! We'll light the fireplace and Iggy can make hot cocoa again. Then we'll all decorate the tree. And OH! We can sing Christmas carols, too! I'm so excited! I'll look for some Christmas music at the store, too. Okay, Max?"
Oh, jeez. Sing carols? "Um, yeah, I guess that's fine. You're not going alone, though," I told her. "Anyone else want to go to the store for decorations?" I glanced around at the other kids…
"I do! I want to pick out the star," Ella said.
Angel looked up at me with innocent blue eyes and asked, "Can I go with them, too, Max? I want to find us some pretty ornaments."
I smiled and nodded. "Of course you can, sweetie. Make sure you find some red and green Christmas balls… That's what I've always seen in pictures, anyway." She nodded enthusiastically and started zipping up her coat.
I guess that leaves me with the boys…
"I wanna go, too, to make sure they don't pick out girly ornaments." I looked at Gazzy in disbelief after he said that. He's never volunteered to go shopping for anything, much less when it's shopping with Nudge…
Ruffling his hair a little, I said, "That's fine, Gaz, but if you come back with anything that can be used as an explosive, you're getting coal in your stocking." He chuckled in that not-so-innocent way of his as he ducked away from my hand. I gave him a warning glance, but it was half-hearted.
"Guess that leaves Fang, Iggy, and I to get the tree," I said, looking at the two older bird-boys.
"Well, actually, if Ella's going with them, she's going to need someone to fly her there since it's too far to walk and Dr. M took the car…" Iggy started, scratching the back of his head absently.
"Oh, right… I didn't think of that." There was no way Nudge, Gazzy, or Angel could fly to the store carrying Ella, and there was no way I was going shopping today, so that left Fang and Iggy. I looked up at Iggy. I didn't think he'd want to carry my sister all the way to the store and all the way back, considering he complains about carrying Total every time I ask him. But Fang… I shifted my gaze to him and he was already giving me the don't-even-bother-asking look. I expected nothing less, really.
"Would you mind, Ig?" I asked.
"Uh… sure, Max. No problem," he mumbled. Ella glanced at him for a moment and I watched as a blush crept up into her cheeks before she looked away. I wonder what that was about… Whatever. Iggy didn't complain. That's all that mattered.
"Let's go! Let's go!" Nudge commanded everyone, pushing them all out the door.
A few minutes later, the five of them were on their way, but not before Angel called over her shoulder, "Make sure you find the perfect tree!"
I glanced over at Total, who was lying on the couch. "You coming with us?"
"Heck, no. Are you crazy? It's cold out there," Total complained, apparently disgusted by the idea.
I looked at Fang and sighed. "And what about you? Are you at least coming to help me?"
He stared at me for a long moment and it looked like he was considering his options… "No. I'm gonna stay with Total and check my blog."
My brow furrowed and I opened my mouth to object, but Fang grabbed my sleeve and pulled me out the door. "I was kidding," he said, smirking. Jerk…
A frigid breeze pricked at my face as we stepped off the porch and I instantly regretted choosing this task.
"Angel told us to find the perfect tree. This one's missing half of its branches in the back," Fang pointed out for the umpteenth time. We'd been walking around for the past hour, but every time I suggest a tree to cut down, he finds something wrong with it.
"Well, you find one then! Are you even looking?" I retorted sharply.
"I just haven't seen a good one, yet," he shrugged and kept walking.
"Fang, it's cold and it's starting to snow. There are dozens of good trees. Can't we just pick one?" I asked, quickly following him. Seriously, there were spruce, fir, and pine trees all over the place! Why were none of them good enough?
"You can go back to the cabin if you want."
"Yeah, right. Then you would be out here alone until midnight looking for that perfect tree," I scoffed.
"I'm just trying to find the right tree for Angel," he paused and turned to look at me. "Why would you care if I was out here alone until midnight, anyway?"
I opened my mouth to respond with one of my usual sarcastic, witty comments, but couldn't think of one. Crap. And he continued to stand there, staring at me, waiting for a response. So, why weren't my lips moving? Why was I standing there gaping at him like a dead fish? He cocked his eyebrow, still expecting some kind of answer. Well, he was delusional if he expected me to admit that I would be concerned about him.
"I wouldn't care," I snapped, shoving past him to continue looking for a tree. Yeah. How's that for a brilliant answer?
He sighed, but didn't say any more.
A few minutes later, I spoke up again out of irritation from the cold, biting wind. "Why are you so set on finding this one special tree? This is ridiculous."
"Because we never had the chance to celebrate Christmas when we were little. The younger kids deserve this. Angel wants the perfect tree, so that's what we're bringing back. The only thing ridiculous about this is your attitude."
Oh, that did it. Without thinking, I stepped in front of him and shoved him in the chest.
"What is your problem?" he asked with a fierce edge to his voice.
"Don't try to tell me I'm ruining Christmas for them and expect me to take it well," I hissed.
"I'm just stating the obvious. You're always raining on their parade," he said, taking a step toward me. Big mistake, buddy.
I shoved him again, with more force this time, making him lose his balance. The snow crunched beneath his weight as he landed on his back. Needless to say, he wasn't so thrilled about that.
Fang practically leapt at me, knocking me down. He landed on top of me, pinning me to the ground. Well, I wasn't having that…
I thrust my weight upwards while rolling to the side, effectively reversing our positions, with me on top now. We repeated this several times, until I realized how stupid it was that I attacked him like that. I gave up the struggle and allowed Fang to pin me down.
He stared at me for a minute before loosening his grip on my arms, figuring that I was done assaulting him, I guess.
We stayed like that for a few more moments while our heavy breathing settled down. That's when I realized how close he was… I could feel the rise and fall of his chest against mine… his pleasantly warm breath tickling my face… My cheeks suddenly flooded with heat.
At the same time, he must have realized that his body was still pressed to mine because he rolled off of me abruptly and stood. And call me crazy, but I could swear there was a hint of a blush on his own face.
I stood and started walking again, avoiding Fang's gaze. We continued our search in silence, hearing only the faint whir of pine needles being rustled by the light wind… It wasn't the companionable silence that usually existed between us, though. It was more like neither of us wanting to say anything that might agitate the other.
I hated apologizing for anything, but…
"Sorry," I mumbled very quietly.
"S'okay. I provoked you," he said, grinning. "How about we agree to enjoy the rest of the holiday and not fight again, at least until it's over?"
"Fine," I sighed. "But if you say 'perfect tree' one more time, I'm going to beat you up again."
He chuckled and then his gaze shifted to something behind me for a moment. I turned to look… There was a nice looking pine tree. There were no obvious gaping spaces without branches. It was tall and full, but not so large that it would take up the whole living room. I felt Fang step closer to me…
"You know what?" I asked in a whisper. I had no idea why I was whispering…
"It's perfect," I grinned.
After four attempts at stringing the lights evenly around the tree, we were finally satisfied with the results and had moved on to the tinsel. They had bought the kind that comes on little strands that you drape over the branches, instead of the kind that comes in one long rope-like piece. It turned out to be a mess and more than half of it ended up on the floor.
Hanging the Christmas balls and other ornaments proved to be the most fun because it was decidedly the easiest part of decorating the tree. As long as we made sure that the colors were spaced out equally, without too much of one color clumped together, it looked nice. After I complimented their choice of decorations, Angel proudly took credit for finding a bunch of the little ornaments shaped like birds and angels…
When we were finished adorning the tree with all of their purchases, Iggy insisted that he should be the one to plug in the lights, since he didn't get to help much. No one had a problem with it, so he did the honors…
Hundreds of tiny lights sprang to life suddenly, igniting a chorus of ooh's and ahh's.
My head tilted to the side a bit as I stepped back to get a better look… Something seemed to be missing, but I couldn't figure out what it was. I mean, the tree looked amazing, but when I compared it to the Christmas trees I remembered seeing in pictures, something was different…
I sighed. Oh, well. This was our tree and we did a pretty good job with it, considering six of the seven people in the room have never decorated anything before.
Glancing around, I was overjoyed. Everyone was smiling. The Flock was happy. My sister was thrilled. Even Total was complaint-free, if only for a little while. Happiness is exhausting, though, and one by one everyone started heading off to bed. Angel… Nudge… Gazzy…
"I'm really glad I'm here with all of you, even if Mom is stuck at home," Ella said, hugging me before she went to her room for the night.
Iggy took Fang into the kitchen to tell him something and I was left in the living room to continue ogling at the tree and our newly discovered decorating skills.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a bag on the floor and walked over curiously to see what was in it…
The star… I knew something was missing! How could we have forgotten about this?
I took the star out of its package and went back to the tree to put it up. Stretching my arms as far as I could and standing on the tips of my toes, I was still just a few inches too short to reach the top.
I was just about to go grab a kitchen chair to stand on when, out of nowhere, I felt warm hands on my waist and my feet were lifted off the floor. I didn't need to turn my head to know who was attached to those hands. Fang. But what was he doing? My face flushed lightly. Jeez, what's with all the blushing today!?
I kept still, not wanting to squirm and have him drop me. I was about to yell, "Put me down," but I took a glimpse at the shiny plastic star in my hands…
Duh, Max… Duh.
I reached up and placed the star neatly at the top of the tree and Fang lowered my feet back to the ground. I turned around, about to thank him for the boost, but when I met his eyes, he smiled. Fang smiled. Simple as that. And yet, my heart missed a beat… or three. Get a grip!
I tried to return the smile, but it was weak. My concentration was being overpowered by horribly jumbled emotions that I didn't even want to begin to think about.
Not wanting to let something stupid happen, I quickly said, "Night, Fang," and escaped to my bedroom, closing the door behind me.
Review, please? I beg.
Also, any thoughts on what gifts the Flock can give each other? I can't even think of gifts to get for people in real life, much less fictional characters.
One last comment… Has anyone seen Horton Hears A Who? I saw it when it was showing in theaters and now I keep seeing tv commercials for the DVD release… I loved the Mayor's only son. I was like, "Hey! It's Fang!" LOL