Thank you to Cheryl for once again making my story readable. Thanks also to Jennifer, Lynda, Sue and Cheryl for giving me encouragement to turn a quick flash of an idea into a story.
Fourth Season – Everyone knows they are married.
Amanda Stetson wrapped a scarf around her husband’s neck. “Are you sure you want to do this without me?”
“The boys and I can handle this. I want to do it. It’ll be a new tradition.” He leaned in to kiss her. “It’s manly men work.”
She laughed as he pulled her closer and nuzzled her ear. “Just be ready with the decorations and some hot chocolate for the brave hunters.”
“Got it.” She turned her head and caught his lips. As the kiss deepened, his hands smoothed down her back and cupped her butt. Smiling into his eyes, she pulled back and said. “Just a little incentive to come home quickly.” She turned to the stairs. “Come on, fellas. Time is wasting.”
Thundering footsteps were heard upstairs as the boys came racing down the steps. “Are you guys warm enough?”
“Geez Mom. I think Jamie has about twelve layers of clothes on,” Phillip said as he pulled on his coat.
“I do not.” He looked at his mother. “It’s really only about five.”
“Do you have everything you need?” Amanda asked one more time.
“Yes, Honey. We are ready to commence Operation Tannenbaum.”
She opened the door for them. “Okay, then happy hunting.” She slapped Lee on the butt as he walked out the door.
He growled, turned around and grabbed her around the waist and brought her to him. “Wench, you’ll pay for that.” A fast kiss and a mildly obscene suggestion in her ear had her blushing and his pulse racing. “Later,” he said as he left to catch up with the boys.
They piled into the Grand Cherokee and headed off to their hunting ground. They were singing White Christmas with Bing Crosby fifty-six minutes later when they pulled into the parking lot of Morgenstein’s Christmas Tree Farm and Emporium.
Lee unfastened his seat belt and turned in his seat so that he could see both boys. “Okay, men. You know what we are on the hunt for. The best possible tree we can get for our first Christmas together.”
“Hooyah!” The boys exclaimed.
“All right, let’s head out.” Pulling on their gloves and zipping their coats against the chill, the men tumbled out of the car.
Jamie looked around. “Lee, are you sure this is the right place. It looks rather bare.”
Lee scrutinized the landscape and realized that Jamie had a point. There were not that many trees in the immediate vicinity and those that were there were little. Little trees, he decided, were not worthy of the first King/Stetson Christmas. “My boss said this was the place to get trees.” Clapping his hands together, he began to advance on their objective. “Well, let’s go reconnoiter.” They moved to the red and white painted shack on the edge of the land. Stapled to the wall was map of the farm with various types of trees outlined.
Phillip looked at the map and ran a finger along a path. “Look here’s a whole ‘nother section of the farm.”
Jamie looked at the key. “Purple with blue stripes means that those are Fraser Firs. Pink with green stripes is the Douglas Firs.” He looked up at Lee. “Which one did mom want?”
Flummoxed, Lee thought back to his conversations with Amanda about the right tree. “I don’t remember her telling me. Is there a kind she likes?”
Phillip shook his head sadly. “Lee, Lee, Lee.” Patting his stepfather on the back, he explained. “Mom is allergic to one kind of tree. She gets hives all up and down her arms. One year when dad picked the tree, mom had to wear gloves and long sleeves just to decorate it and undecorate it.”
“Oh god, what kind of tree was it?” Lee asked.
“I don’t know. I was too young to care.” Phillip replied with a shrug. “But Grandma sure talks about it.”
Lee looked around. “Maybe I should call home. Just to find out.” He looked for a pay phone along the wall or a phone booth, but there wasn’t one around.
“No, Lee. Live dangerously. Be a man. Buy the tree you want.” Phillip punched him in the arm.
“Besides, Mom is going to be happy with whatever you bring home. She’ll forgive you anything.” Jamie added hopping up and down on his feet. “Let’s get started. I’m getting cold.”
They moved to the side of the shack and there were a pile of red and white striped plastic sleds and bow saws.
Lee and the boys looked at each other. Then they looked at the sleds. Then they looked at each other again. “Who’s going to pull the giant flat candy cane?” Phillip asked.
Jamie chimed up. “Lee should. This is part of the…,” he fanned his hands in front of him like a marquee, “new tradition.” Moving the sled off the pile, he placed the rope in Lee’s outstretched hand.
“Excellent idea, little brother.” He picked up the bow saw and placed it in the sled. “Let’s go.”
Lee stared at the dirty white rope in his hand and then at the boys. “I’ll get you both for this.” He said under his breath. “Just you wait.”
They traipsed down the hill, crossed a bridge over a sluggishly moving stream and plodded up the other side. There they found tree Nirvana. Several acres of beautiful, lush trees waited neatly in rows for them. He noticed that there were people everywhere. Lee huddled together with the boys. “Okay fellas, there are a lot of people over here. So, we’ll split up. Jamie, you go left and circle around. Watch your back for any good trees or people looking to take the tree you like. Phillip, you go right and circle around. Keep your eye out for any tall and stately trees. I’ll go up the middle and meet you on the other side. If you find a tree you like, put your marker on it. You both have your marker, right?”
“Right.” Both boys repeated. Phillip held up an orange strip of cloth from an old t-shirt and Jamie held up the pink leg from an old pair of footie jammies Aunt Lillian had given him two Christmases ago.
“Operational protocol dictates that if you put your marker on a tree, no one else will touch it. So, are we ready?” The boys both nodded. “Then let’s move out. Operation Tannenbaum is underway.”
They split up. Lee began to walk through the rows of evergreens while trying to discern the best one for his family. He smiled a little to himself. He never pictured himself married with kids and a live in mother-in-law and looking forward to Christmas. Their Thanksgiving had been adventuresome with the Santiago case coming to closure. But, Billy had promised to take them both off of the roll call for Christmas. He mumbled something about Lee working enough Christmases over the course of his career to satisfy anyone.
He needed to concentrate on the mission at hand. He looked up and down the rows. He saw one the right height but it was a little on the thin side and it had major holes. Then he caught sight of one that was wide enough but the tree was short. He moved up one row and down the other. Amanda had told him when he found the right tree, he would know it. Maybe he was being too picky. He looked up and around looking for any signs that the boys had been successful.
He turned to his left and there before him was a tree. No, it was THE TREE. He stared at it for a moment and in his mind’s eye he could see it in their living room, all decorated with the presents underneath. This was their tree. He walked around it like a general inspecting his troops. It was about seven feet tall and wide but not wide enough to be considered a Christmas Bush. There would be plenty of space underneath the boughs to put presents.
Remembering the protocol, he pulled a blue bandana that Amanda had given him as his marker out of his pocket. He began to tie it to a branch of the tree when he was hailed by a loud feminine voice.
“That,” she said imperiously staring at him, “is my tree.”
He finished tying the bandana, looked around and stared back. “I beg your pardon?”
“That is my tree. You are marking my tree.”
“Ma’am,” Lee replied politely, “there was no marker on this tree. I’m going to get this tree for my family. It is our first Christmas together.”
“Horace!” She shouted across the field. “Bring the saw.”
A red faced man turned at her bellow and began to trudge to her pulling the garish sled.
Lee stood in front of the tree. “This is my tree. Find another one.”
The woman straightened her back and threw out her rather impressive bosom. “I saw that tree from across the field. I was heading for it. It is my tree.”
Lee looked to the left and to the right and saw the boys gather to his side. “No, Ma’am this is our tree.”
“Remove yourself immediately.” She bellowed. “Horace! The saw!”
Horace looked at Lee and the boys and looked at his wife. “Dearest. Let the man have the tree. There is another one over there. Remember? That is what you wanted first.”
She looked over at her husband with something akin to disgust, Lee thought. “I don’t want that tree. I want this tree. It is the right shape for the back room.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Annabelle. The other tree is the right size and shape. We are getting that one. This one…” he waved a dismissive hand, “is entirely too big and bulky.”
Lee watched as Annabelle and Horace argued over which tree they were going to get for the back room. Lee and the boys looked at each other and Jamie handed the saw to Lee and shrugged. “Better get started before they finish.” He suggested.
Lee took the saw and got down on his side. He worked the blade close to the root and began to saw away. ‘This is going to just take a few minutes.’ He pulled and pushed and pulled and pushed. He could see that he made a dent in the bark. Over the sound of his labored breathing, he could still hear the debate raging over the merits of the trees in question.
He looked up at Phillip. “Maybe if you get on the other side, we can get this done faster.”
Phillip nodded. “Good idea.” He got down on his side across from Lee and grabbed the other side of the saw. “Ready? Pull!”
Lee pulled at the same time Phillip did. “Wait, this isn’t going to work. Okay, you push and I pull.”
Lee heard the click of a camera shutter as Jamie took pictures of the two of them on the ground. He looked up at his stepson holding a small camera. “Mom said she wanted evidence of Operation Tannenbaum.”
“C’mon, Lee. My butt’s cold.” Phillip complained. “Let’s cut this down before Annabelle wins the argument.
“I’ll put my money on Horace. He’s the one who has to cut down the tree.” Jamie noted looking over at the couple who were now fighting over the saw.
“Young man,” Lee looked up at the imperious female voice and saw designer jeans, leather boots and a shearling coat blocking his view. Annabelle took a step back and stared at him. “I will give you 50 dollars to cut down that tree and put it in my car.”
“Ma’am.” Lee’s patience was starting to wear. He was not going to allow this woman to ruin this for him and his stepsons. “This is our tree. We are cutting it down. We are putting it on our car. We are taking it to our house. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t give you this tree if you offered me a thousand dollars for it.”
“Well, we will see what the management has to say.” Annabelle stormed off heading for the hill and the red shack.
Horace shook his head. “I don’t get her. Don’t worry she does this every year. She doesn’t actually want to be out here. So, she will go sulk in the shack with some hot cider. Have a Merry Christmas. Enjoy the tree.” With a sigh, he trudged off through the rows of trees to bend down and make his first cut at his choice.
‘Crisis averted.’ Lee thought as he and Phillip continued to saw away at the tree.
Twenty-five minutes later, the tree was still not down. They had cut about a quarter of the way through the trunk and the blade kept getting caught. Jamie, who had come in as a substitute for Phillip wiped his head and said, “We have to be doing something wrong.”
“How can we be doing anything wrong?” Lee said as the cold became more noticeable and his butt started to numb. He got a brainstorm. “Jamie, change places with your brother. When I tell you to start pulling the tree in the direction we are cutting it. Maybe it’ll open it up a little and we’ll have more room for the blade to move.”
“Excellent idea,” Phillip said. “But why does Jamie get to hold the tree?”
“Because he has been down here for fifteen minutes with me.”
The trick worked because cutting the tree moved much faster with a little pressure. When the tree finally fell, Lee stood next to it and reveled in their success.
“We need a picture.” Lee looked around for other people. There had been people all around the place when they had gotten there. Now it looked deserted. “Jamie, Horace is over there cutting his tree. Ask him if he’ll take a picture of us and then we can help him. It looks like Annabelle left him to fend for himself just like he said.”
Horace agreed to take the picture in exchange for help. He came over and Lee and the boys posed around the upright tree then another picture with each one with a foot on the tree as if they just tackled it. They lifted the tree together and placed it on the sled. He was breathless for a heartbeat as happiness speared through him. This is where he belonged. He thought he only got that degree of happiness with Amanda, but now the boys were there too.
Being manly men of honor, they helped Horace cut down his tree then upon loading the tree onto Horace’s sled set forth to bring their tree home.
At the shack, they spotted Annabelle in a corner by the potbelly stove brooding over a foam cup in her hand. Jamie wandered over to the ornaments to browse and Phillip talked to the young girl behind the hot cider urn. Lee watched as the men took the tree and put it on a platform which shook the whole tree for 30 seconds then they fed the tree into a hole with netting. The tree came out the other end all wrapped up. He looked over a Jamie who had ambled back to him. “Who knew there was so much into getting a tree ready to go home?”
Jamie held up a glass tree ornament. “Hey Lee, do you think mom would like this? You know as our commemoration of Operation Tannenbaum.”
Lee’s smile appeared. “I think it’s a great idea.”
The clerk rang up the sale as the men put their tree against the railing waiting for them to move the car.
Lee moved the car as Jamie and Phillip stood guard to make sure that it was their tree which got strapped to the roof.
The men of the King/Stetson clan were happy. The hunt was good and plentiful. The women folk, upon their arrival at home, declared it was the best looking tree they had ever had. The men, in turn, regaled the women with their exploits as they decorated the tree and now it is a story for the family lore.
Later that Evening.
Lee and Amanda sat on the floor in the living room looking at their first tree as a married couple. A champagne bottle sat next to the flutes which were being sipped from liberally as a crackling fire flickered light across the room competing with the white lights shining on the tree. A half-finished bowl of guacamole sat abandoned on the table next to tortilla chips and some left over tinsel. Lee sat behind Amanda supporting her back. His legs were warmed by her body heat. She leaned her head back to rest on his shoulder. “It’s a beautiful tree, Lee. Just beautiful.”
“I wanted it to be special. You know for our first Christmas together as a family.” He leaned down and kissed her gently.
“I love it and I love you.” She snuggled in just a little bit more.
His arm came around her as he held her glass to her lips. “It was quite the adventure.” He whispered as he nuzzled her neck. “One which I feel I should be rewarded amply for.”
“Really? What kind of reward do you have in mind?”
He smiled into her beautiful face. “Well, the boys are at the movies with friends for a couple of hours and your mother is out with Captain Curt. Have you ever christened a Christmas tree before?” He moved his hand under her shirt to lightly stroke her stomach.
“No, I can’t say that I have. What do you have in mind?”
His whispered suggestion made her blush. She moved to put the champagne glasses out of harm’s way and to grab the quilt which hung on the back of the couch.
“Well, what are you waiting for Mr. Stetson?” She placed the quilt under the tree and knelt down.
In a flash he was by her side. He cupped her face as his lips gently stroked hers and her hands roamed up his back. “I love you.”
“I love you, too. Merry Christmas.”
As they undressed each other, he remembered the surge of happiness he felt that day. ‘Maybe the holidays aren’t all that bad after all,’ he thought until Amanda reclaimed his attention for more important things.