Presents Under the Tree

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A friend sent me this message:

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Happy Christmas.

***

He wore the bow as if it were the most natural thing in the world, as un-self-conscious as he had been when he had stripped in the walled garden to explain to her what to expect on her wedding night.  I could almost ignore it, but the shiny, red curls were just too garish in his dark, untidy hair.

“Cam,” I asked, “what’re you doing here?”

He grinned.  “You wanted me here.”

“Well, yes, of course.  I mean it’s Christmas–”

“So I came.”

“Won’t Amalie mind?”

“She knows I’m here.”

“Of course she does.”

I put on the kettle and cut slices of plum pudding.  We ate while seated crossed legged on the floor, a most unsophisticated banquet for the queen’s consort.

***

He could have chosen no more garish color than green for the bow that perched amid the true red tendrils of his hair.  I think he knew it too.  He wanted to draw attention to the effort that he’d put into his role.  He wore one of those soft, secret smiles as he lifted his hand from the lute strings, letting the last thrums of the song vibrate on the warm air.

“It’s a beautiful song.”  It was the best thing I could have woken up to, an alarm I would pine for daily once he was gone.  He didn’t acknowledge the compliment.  I didn’t expect him to.  Instead I fell back to our script.  “What’ve you brought me?”

I felt a pang of regret as he put the lute down in the case by his feet and reached behind his back to retrieve a bottle that he’d hidden.

“Avennish fruit wine.”

“And what’s in the wine?”

“The smile of a cat,” he said easily, “and Christmas cheer.”

I gave him a cat’s smile.  “I’ll have some of that.”

“What’ve you brought me?”

***

It was an odd noise that had woken me, a sort of huffing, wheezing, groaning.  I stumbled down the hallway.  The Christmas lights had been lit.   I had thought I’d unplugged them the night before.  Must not have.  It was pretty though, with it’s white lights twinkling.

“No!  Christmas trees are no good.”  A man in a blue suit came hurtling past me.  “Bad, bad Christmas tree.”

“What’s so bad about Christmas trees?” I asked the man.  He’d put himself between the tree and I, and with a flourish he’d drawn from his pocket a strange, bulky pen that he pointed like a sword now at the tree.  Its lights flickered.

“Oh lots of bad things about a Christmas tree.  Basically–”  He bent his long, lithe body around.  I had a brief moment to inspect his face before he grabbed my hand and finished, “Run.”

He yanked me out the door, and we were hurtling down the stairs.  We were a block away before I had time to notice the blue curling ribbon in his hair and it wasn’t till much later that I was able to ask him how it had come to be there.  I didn’t understand the answer.  I came to believe that he had used technobabble to cover the embarrassing tale.

***

My own characters are getting a little jealous.

“This is one of your worst ideas yet,” Aidan grumbled, affixing the green bow to his hair yet again.  It had a tendency to slip.

Darryn had an easier time keeping the bow from sliding.  He barely moved his head as he promised, “She’ll like it.”  He said it as if that covered any of the bows’ faults.

“She’d better.”

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