Author's Note: I know Christmas was almost a week ago and so this is slightly out of place, but since I was out of town for the holidays, I couldn't post it until now.
"But Emma, it's traditional to have a real Christmas tree," Will said, leaning against the piano. "Go out to the forest, chop one down..."
"Or buy them from unhealthy tree lots," Emma said."Either way, it's healthier to have an artificial tree. And less germs. I already have one that we can use."
"Emma, it's our first Christmas together. Let's start some new traditions. Out with the old, in with the new."
"Can't those new traditions of ours include an artificial tree?"
"Tell you what. We'll use your artificial tree if we can't find an acceptable real one."
She raised her eyebrows and a knowing smile flickered across her face. "Deal."
Their trip to the local tree lots had been unsuccessful so far. Every tree, Emma found fault with. Either the needles were too dull, or the color too faded, or the shape entirely wrong, or in one memorable case, insects were marching up and down the tree trunk. Emma had promptly stalked back to the car and refused to come out until Will agreed to try a different lot.
"Well, this is it," he said, pulling into a parking spot. "This is the last tree lot we haven't already tried."
"You know, Will, we really don't need to get out. We've been looking for your perfect tree for hours. We haven't found it yet."
"You agreed that we'd try until there were no more acceptable trees. And besides, you're being so picky."
"I prefer to think of it as not settling for anything less than the best."
A short time later, Emma trudged out of the tree lot, Will dragging a tall, proud evergreen behind him. She had to admit, it was quite a nice looking tree. It'd be nicer if it wouldn't require constant maintenance for the entire month of December and didn't shed needles all over her carefully maintained carpet. But it was quite nice, and Will seemed to be happy with their purchase. So she was willing to accept it. 'Tis the season, after all.
As the strains of upbeat Christmas music poured out from Emma's stereo, Will wrestled with the tree. "Emma!" he called out. "Can you help keep the tree up?"
She came out of the kitchen, cradling two steaming mugs of hot cocoa in her hands, which were cheerily covered by holiday-themed oven mitts. "You want marshmallows?" she asked, setting the mugs on the coasters she had laid out on the side table.
"No time for marshmallows," he said, pressing his palms against the needles, trying to set it back in balance. "This tree is not cooperating."
Taking a quick sip of cocoa, she made her way to the other side of the tree. "What do you want me to do?"
"Help hold up the tree so it doesn't fall over."
She pressed her hands lightly against the needles and mentally thanked herself for not taking her oven mitts off. "Is it steady yet?"
A needle fell from the branch nearest her right arm, and landed on the sleeve of her sweater, piercing the yarn. She twitched. Either she could take the needle out of the sweater, thus taking her hands off the tree, or she could have it staring up at her from its yarn nest, taunting her with its evergreen-ness.
She opted for removal. Glancing over at Will and making sure that he was hard at work trying to adjust the tree within the stand he had purchased earlier that day, she fumbled around with her oven mitts, trying to grab the needle between her fingers. Almost – not quite – her left elbow jerked inward, hitting the tree.
It seemed to fall over in slow motion – each branch swaying downward. Will tried to get under the tree, if only to push it back up into a standing position. Instead, it only ended up with a spray of needles flying across her carpet and Will, lying on the floor, completely drained of breath, his arm still under the tree.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, kneeling down on the floor and cupping his face in her mitts. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," he said, slowly pulling himself into a sitting position. "I will be, at least."
"For knocking it over, and for hurting your arm too." She gently picked up his arm and rested it on his lap.
"The tree was a nuisance."
"So you're not mad?"
"No. You said something about an artificial tree?"
Her smile could have lit up a whole town's worth of Christmas trees. "It's in the closet," she said, an extra bounce in her tone as she stood up to go find the vacuum cleaner. Christmas decorating or not, she wasn't going to let those needles nest in her carpet fibers.
The original tree had been dragged out to her back porch; it currently rested against the wall and an assortment of neatly-stacked but empty planters. She ran the vacuum cleaner over the needles, and he found the tree – in all of its many parts – in a large box marked "Emma's Christmas." There were also tightly wound strings of lights and a smaller box inside marked "Emma's Ornaments." Everything she would ever need for Christmas decorating. He thought of the box of Christmas decorations he had managed to salvage, the box that was currently occupying the bottom of Emma's coat closet: the messy piles of lights and ornaments thrown in every which way. Two different styles of decorating, two different approaches to the same task – both coming together this year, and hopefully many years to come.
He dragged the box out and began to assemble the "trunk." How this thing was considered a suitable replacement for a real trunk, he wasn't sure. And trees definitely shouldn't have detachable branches. But, if it was going to make Emma happy, and the beautiful tree they had picked out together wasn't going to be anything more to them than just nice to look at in a tree lot, then he would suck it up.
After the vacuum was stowed back where it had come from, Emma walked over to the skeletal frame of what would become their tree. "I can help, if you want," she said, picking up some of the longer branches and running a small cloth along the needles and wires, before fluffing them along the bottom of the tree.
He handed her each branch individually, which she proceeded to clean off the year's worth of dust that had accumulated and then handed back to him once content with her work, when he proudly notched each branch in its proper place on the tree. Before they realized it, they were done, and the tree stood proud and tall – if not a little branch-bare for Will's taste.
"Ready to put on the lights?" she said, picking up the strands from her box and carefully undoing the twisty-ties.
"One moment," he said in reply. "I need to get my Christmas decorations from the coat closet."
She nodded, and set about untangling the strands: ethereal, white lights, ones that she had purchased the first Christmas she lived in Lima.
"White lights?" He looked over her shoulder. "I have multi-colored ones I thought we could use."
"You really want to use your lights?" she asked, twitching slightly at the massive piles he held in his hands.
"We have my tree standing, you should be able to use your lights," she said finally, standing up and taking the piles from his hands and deftly beginning to untangle them.
As the last strand of lights was draped around the tree, Will began rifling through his box of ornaments. Each one had a story to tell, from the knitted reindeer ornament that his grandmother had made for him when he moved out on his own – the antlers had never been quite right, but he never told her that - to the glass Santa that Terri had bought half-price on clearance two years ago. She had kept all of the mushy "first Christmas in this house" and "first Christmas as a married couple" ornaments, along with one that had both of their faces encased in a frame, smiling and not realizing what the future held for them as a couple. He made sure she got to keep those.
The ornaments gradually found their way up onto the tree, but only after receiving a brush from Emma's cloth – the translucent glass snowflakes and ball-shaped ornaments of many colors that came from the "Emma's Ornaments" box mingling on branches with the ornaments he had brought. And she handed him the angel her mother had made for her once upon a time, with her flowing white gown and long reddish hair, he reverently placed it on the very top of their tree.
And as they sat on the couch, basking in the glow of the lights on the tree, with a choral rendition of "O Holy Night" playing over the stereo, Will's arm wrapped protectively around her shoulders and a warm blanket covering their chilly feet, she smiled. This is what all of their Christmases should be like.