#CentreXmas Holiday Challenge
by DanielleSmiley-Face (@DoccubusDani)
Miss Parker walked in the door, after yet another in an endless stream of awful weeks at work, to the sound of Christmas music blaring from an open door upstairs. She huffed in annoyance at being exposed to it at home as well as at work. Despite the fact that holiday cheer seemed like something that would be expressly forbidden at the Centre, it was actually encouraged—much to Miss Parker’s exasperation. Christmas music started every year as soon as people got back to work on Black Friday and continued without interruption until everyone left late on Christmas Eve.
The season always culminated in letdown for Miss Parker. Christmas parties she was never invited to. Secret Santa exchanges she wasn’t included in. Daddy’s promises of spending Christmas Eve together: promises that somehow never failed to get her hopes up that maybe this year would be different, even though something more important always seemed to come up at the last minute. Christmas mornings spent with only memories of better ones, when her mother was still alive, and opening the impersonal present and card that Daddy’s secretary was almost most certainly tasked to select for her.
She stowed her heavy winter coat and gun safely in the front closet as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” continued to float down the stairs. What the hell is there to be so merry about? she thought grumpily as she kicked her shoes off at the bottom of the stairs.
“Hey Park!” Miss Parker’s ward, Madeline, greeted her warmly when she noticed the older woman in the doorway of her room.
“Can you please turn that racket down?!” she yelled irritably over the music. “It’s bad enough I’m subjected to it for over a month at work, I don‘t want to have to deal with it at home, too!!”
“Sure,” Madeline replied easily, rolling over from her spot on the bed to turn her iPod volume down considerably. In the almost eleven months since she’d come to live with Miss Parker, she’d become used to the woman’s moods and remained relatively unfazed by outbursts such as this and continued, “So, are we, umm … I mean, do you usually get a tree or decorate or anything? Homework is light this weekend so I‘m all yours if you want to cut one down or anything.”
“Cut a tree down?” Parker asked incredulously.
“Or we could just buy one. Whatever, I mean, it‘s your house.”
“Our house.” Miss Parker corrected, trying to remember the last time she‘d gone out to actually cut a tree down—not since her mother was alive, surely.
Those two simple words brought a brilliant smile to the teenager’s face that warmed Miss Parker’s heart enough that she found herself playing along. Yes, they would cut a tree down that Sunday, provided Madeline found a tree farm.
Sunday morning found Madeline directing Miss Parker to a Christmas tree farm on the outskirts of Blue Cove. They parked at the base of a gentle hill, liberally covered with trees of all sizes, and Madeline jumped out and made a beeline for the two men baling trees. She spoke to them for a minute before rejoining Miss Parker with a small saw in hand.
“The trees are all priced. If we need help getting it down the hill, we just have to stand on the side of that path going up the middle. A tractor and wagon makes loops through, and it will pick us up. Plus, there‘s hot cider inside for when we‘re done.”
“Let’s start over there.” Miss Parker indicated a promising section to their left.
They wandered around for nearly an hour, discussing the merits and drawbacks of the various trees that caught their eye. They finally settled on an impressive seven-foot tall Frasier fir. It had enough ornament-worthy branches for Madeline and was suitably full on all sides for Miss Parker. Madeline cut it down as Park kept cautious guard to ensure it didn’t fall on her. The gloves they wore to keep out the cold protected them from sappy hands while they worked, and being that they were only about halfway up the gentle slope, and both being the independent sort, they decided to carry the harvested tree down by themselves.
Miss Parker pulled the car up as it got shaken and baled, and together they positioned an old sheet over its roof and held it tight while the farmers hoisted the tree up and tied it securely in place.
They went into the shop to pay and Madeline headed straight for the hot cider setup. She held out a mug to Park before cautiously sipping on one of her own. Homemade wooden ornaments in the far corner caught her eye, and she drifted off for a look.
“Anything good?” Parker asked over her shoulder.
Madeline picked one up for closer inspection.
“God only knows where my box of ornaments ended up.” the young girl said softly.
“Get as many as you want. There’s plenty of room on that tree of ours.” Miss Parker’s voice was gentle, in a way that only happened around Madeline and particularly when they spoke of the past.
Madeline studied the offerings and then plucked up five of her favorites.
“Wreath for the front door?” Park asked as they made their way towards the register.
“Sure!” Madeline agreed, and together they picked out one with a few simple red bows.
“Ahh, heat!” Madeline sighed happily once they were back in the car. She was glad that Park left it running while they were inside. The rear windows were cracked slightly, and ropes passed through to hold the tree down. But with the heat cranked a notch higher, their ride home was a comfortable one.
And while Madeline was tempted to tune the radio to a Christmas station, she didn’t want to ruin the good mood of their morning.
Perhaps she’d try when they got home and the decorating began.