Emilia Barton wouldn’t call herself the grinch of Christmas. She and Sam always put a Christmas tree either at her apartment or in his, depending which one was nearest at the time they bought the tree. Okay, so maybe they would always forget to get the tree until five days before Christmas, and maybe most of her decorations were all presents from her parents and friends from work. It was the main reason her tree was always a mismatch of international decorations from her parents’ numerous trips abroad or looked like a three year old had decorated it, which might have been true since those decorations had been given to her by her coworkers, the ones who had three years olds.
But all in all, Emilia would not describe her former alive self as being anti-holidays. She certainly had not been the type of person you’d think would come to kick tiny Tim’s crutches from under him if she ever met the poor kid or would have to be visited by the ghost of Christmas past to mend her greedy and bitter ways. Never in her twenty-eight years of existence, did she ever roll her eyes up to the sky whenever the radio station would play Jingle Bells for the millionth time. She just had had her own way of celebrating Christmas.
Emilia had loved getting presents for her parents and Sam, and she most certainly had always craved her mother’s banana pie and their classic game of charades on the twenty-fourth. Going to mass had never been a hassle since the choir that sang at her parents’ church always made the hour long ceremony move at a faster pace. And she had most certainly been a sucker for all T.V. Christmas specials and holiday themed movies.
But the woman frantically searching for the tallest tree in the lot outside Home Depot scared the hell out of her. Hell, Emilia thought in utter shock, not even Ms. Claus would be this holiday fanatic despite being married to ol’ Saint Nick.
At first, Emilia had thought the other woman’s insistence that they go buy the tree right after school ended Friday afternoon was a way from keeping at bay any conversation involving sexy Michael and his unexpected company during Olivia’s field trip. Or the way she’d exploded at Emilia’s shaking head of disapproval the minute she finished telling her what she’d said to Michael when he’d pulled her away to talk.
Only now, Emilia was starting to believe Olivia was one of those people who had tons of holiday spirit to spare. It was a matter of time before she decorated the bathroom with an embroidered toilet seat with a Santa covering his eyes whenever you lifted the lid. Or put on those stuffed reindeer antlers attached to each side of her car with a big red nose at the front.
Somehow Emilia never imagined this side of Olivia existed. Granted, she was like no other history teacher she’d ever met. She was fun, had a quick mind, smart, she was confident, stubborn, easygoing, but there had never been a hint that she had a special stash of Christmas themed underwear somewhere in her room just to wear during the holidays. Which the teacher herself had confirmed she owned, on their way to Home Depot after school when she’d told Emilia Christmas only lasted a day so she always liked to make the most of it. And that included having her ass look like a freaking candy cane. Hence, buying her tree this early.
“I found it!”
“Your common sense?” Emilia countered.
“It’s perfect. Oh wait till you see how it will all look once I’m done with it.”
“Miss?” The guy in charge of helping the customers pay and load the trees to their cars gave her a worried look. He certainly didn’t look like he got paid to listen to his customers’ decorating plans.
“We’ll take it.”
The clerk moved his eyes around and wondered who the hell was we. The woman with her eyes sparking like Christmas lights had been alone the entire time she’d been searching the lot of trees.
“I mean, I’ll take it.”
“Fine, follow me.”
Half an hour later, Emilia sat on Olivia’s old Volvo’s passenger seat, trying very hard not sing along to Olivia’s Ipod as it blared with the brand new list the woman must have had since freaking September containing nothing more but holiday tunes.
Another holiday I won’t get to celebrate.
Emilia brushed the nostalgic thought away and gave up as she joined Olivia in the chorus of Glee’s version of Last Christmas.
They pulled outside Olivia’s house and the history teacher went back to the car’s trunk to load down some last minute decorations she bought at Home Depot. Oh, yes, Olivia had already bought all of her decorations since the beginnings of September. A fact she had let the ghost in on when they overheard a woman asking about a set of LED lights that were already sold out.
“Now comes my favorite part. I usually have Noah here to help me although….”
“He’s just not so into the whole holiday spirit as I am. He thinks it’s crazy I buy a tree so early.”
“Anyway…..” Olivia shook away the remorse with her hand. Venting on about something that truly irked her about Noah was as wrong and selfish as if she’d just ignored Noah’s message and gone ahead and slept with Michael. Especially, after all she’d managed to do about the whole evading-him-because-she’d-been-about-to-bare-all-with-a-guy-she’d-just-met, when his phone call came through was to text him a simple:
-Hi, how’s work? Things crazy on my end too, weather starting to get really, cold, talk to u later.-
“This is my favorite part of the whole deal. I know it’s childish and strange, but there’s nothing more soothing than listening to Christmas songs and decorating the tree.”
At Emilia’s calculating gaze, Olivia frowned and demanded.
“I’m just wondering how in Santa’s name are you going to carry that thing over to your house. It took two men at the store to load it up.”
Emilia refrained from pursuing the whole Noah-hates-my-overexcited-attitude-toward-the-holidays comment. Definitely not a deal breaker in any relationship; you had to have diversity between the two people involved, but certainly a fact that made Olivia upset. Somehow Emilia guessed Noah might have not been too subtle about this, just as his refusal to talk marriage was a none too subtle way to point he might never like to walk down that road.
“Oh please, they probably needed to get back to another customer. I’m sure it’s not that heavy. I’ll handle it.” Olivia eyed the tree on top of her car, and figured it looked bigger than it weighed.
She went inside to get a pair of scissors from the kitchen to cut the cord that held the tree to her car’s roof and once it was freed from its restraints, Olivia extended her hand through the tree’s branches trying to find the trunk.
“Oh, damn it.” Olivia pulled out her hand and examined the fresh scratch on her hand.
“Maybe you should wear gloves or something?”
“Gloves,” she snorted, “it’s not like I am handling a cactus for God’s sake. Just part of the holiday spirit.”
“Right. Well, just let me know when you finish decorating your arm with the tree’s branches help. Maybe you can carve into your bare arm the words Joy to the World.”
“Hey, has it occurred to you, maybe you came to me so I could infuse some holiday spirit into that Emilia Scrooge personality of yours?”
“Unless the plan was to prove someone could die twice, I doubt it. There’s liking the holidays and then there’s crazy people like you.”
“Fine, be bitter. I, on the other hand, will have this tree up and decorated in no time with no help from you, thank you very much. Don’t mind if I jump up and down around your bitter-self and have a nice cup of hot chocolate.”
“Just don’t spill all that chocolate on yourself with all that jumping. Wouldn’t go well with the scratches on your arms.”
Olivia whirled away from Emilia and walked back to her car.
Almost an hour later, much to her dismay and Emilia’s constant chuckles, Olivia had done everything except jump up and down in triumph, let alone have that nice and traditional cup of hot chocolate she always made during this special ceremony.
She’d cursed at herself, at Emilia and at the poor unmovable tree, which lay still with such a sad air about it, it appeared to say, hey, you’re the lunatic who wanted the biggest tree!
Now, her palms were full of that sticky stuff found on trees’ branches. They were all smeared up with dirt and they were about to fall off because of the temperature that had dropped to thirty degrees from a bearable fifty they’d been having the whole week.
Olivia had tried anything she could think of. First, she’d tried to pull the tree from its bottom from the back side of her car, then she thought it would be a better idea to pull it from the front of her car, climbing onto the Volvo’s front and pulling the tree expecting it to slide through the front window. Of course, then she’d opened up every freaking door and had made her car shake from side to side as she swore at the stupid tree as it just stood there,without having budged an inch, causing it to squeak as if two people were busy in the back seat.
This isn’t happening!
“It sort of is, and may I point out that it is already dark. And honey, if an hour of threatening that tree to chop off its branches didn’t produce any results, I doubt you’ll be able to do anything.”
“What do you suggest I do?” Olivia glared at Emilia.
“You could ask someone for help. Have any friends?”
“Of course I have them, it just so happens my best friend is away on her honeymoon with the one person who could help me. The rest of my friends don’t live near. And since I am an only child, I don’t have any brothers who could help me out.”
“What about your dad?”
“Come on! Like I am going to call him and ask him to drive three hours just so he can help me haul this stupid tree inside.”
“Now, you’re starting to sound normal. You were cooing to the tree when we were back at the tree lot. Honestly, I am dead and a ghost and it was very disturbing. So, there’s no Tracy’s husband, no dad or brothers, that you know of,” she was ticking off possibilities with her fingers, “you could always leave it there until Tracy gets back, or your dad comes to visit or…….”
Olivia didn’t like how Emilia’s voice trailed off. This was sure going to be one of those moments when the ghost came up with an outrageous suggestion, like most of them had been since she appeared outside her living room window.
“Or you could call him, ask him to drive down here and give you a hand.”
By him, Olivia didn’t need the ghost to say the name to know who she was referring to. She closed her eyes and scrubbed her face, forgetting her dirty hands. Now her cheeks were a combination of red from the cold and gray from the grime of the tree and her car. She groaned loudly.
“Why not? You really don’t want to go around driving with that thing attached to your car. It is a total lack of road safety not to mention you’ll look ridiculous. And I would know about road safety, it is what got me into this mess.”
Emilia gestured at her pale and transparent body with her hands.
Just at that moment, Olivia’s Iphone rang and taking it out from her front pocket, she grimaced when Noah’s face flashed on the screen.
“Ah, darn it.”
She took one long deep breath and hoping her voice sounded cheery, she pressed answer.
An uncomfortable pause ensued.
This is stupid. Just talk to him, he is your boyfriend for God’s sake. The one you almost cheated on.
“If you ask me you could do way better.” Emilia said in a knowing way, while she rolled her eyes up to the sky when Olivia’s mental command ordered her to shut up.
“So? How are things?”
“Hectic. I’m sorry you’re having a tough week, too. You never called me about Tracy’s. How did it go?”
“I…….well. You know weddings, she walked down the aisle, he was waiting for her, she said I do, and he said I do, the usual. Nothing out of the ordinary happened, nope.”
“Would you please listen to yourself? You sound pathetic. Even Mr. I-refuse-to-get-married knows what goes on at weddings. I don’t think those were the details he wanted to hear from you.”
Emilia, I swear to God if you don’t shut your mouth…..
“Fine, fine. Like I care about what you say to Noah, anyway.”
“Olivia, I had kind of figured that part out already. I want to know about the party. Did you find someone to dance with?” Noah’s soothing voice inquired.
“You could say that……Listen, Noah, I’m kinda busy at the moment. Could we talk later? I’ll call you.”
Don’t call me Ollie…..
“What?” She snapped, then flinched in remorse.
“Jesus, you’re still mad at me for not going, aren’t you?”
“You know what? I don’t want to get into another fight. Between your friend’s wedding and all that nonsense about marriage, I can’t seem to have a nice and normal conversation with you. I just wanted to see how you were, that’s all.”
Then, all of her pent up frustration, which had accumulated since Michael had left her house after Tracy’s wedding, plus her failed afternoon task spilled out of her and into the phone. She clutched it tightly against her ear with a sudden and interested Emilia standing at her side.
“Excuse me? So my friend getting married or me wanting to talk about our future is not only not nice and normal, but it is also stupid?”
“I never said stupid.”
“Whatever, Noah. You know what is not normal? Having been together for all this time and not having ever discussed such nonsense as you so bluntly put it. And yes, I am upset at you for choosing work over me, you were supposed to go with me last Saturday.”
Okay, that was harsh and unfair, but Olivia was tired and cranky. Noah’s reminder of what he truly thought about their future together had been the final straw. Her temper had been like a ticking bomb ever since having to deal with Michael last Thursday. His presence at her students’ field trip had only added weight to her own tormented feelings. If Noah knew the truth she would be the one getting yelled at over the phone.
“I don’t know you anymore, Ollie. You’ve never been this pushy, this childish. You’ve become obsessed with this whole marriage thing. I don’t want to think what will happen when Tracy gets pregnant. I’m telling you, the only reason you’ve brought up this whole issue is because you somehow got pulled into the whole marriage planing with your friend.”
Oh! You have got to be kidding me!
“You know what? Fine, you’re right and I am wrong.”
“Oh, yeah, fine is what you sound like now. Look, I also called to let you know I would be arriving Wednesday afternoon, okay? I’ll text you when I am in D.C. Maybe we can have dinner?”
“Sure, whatever. See you then.”
She heard him sigh, before hanging up the phone. It was stupid but she was on the verge of tears and almost burst out crying the minute her gaze landed again on the tree.
Emilia remained silent by her side. She felt bad for Olivia and a bit mad herself. How many times did she hang up the phone on Sam over the same thing? How many times did she opt for staying in her apartment watching ER, instead of going out with Sam because she was still upset about their latest marriage argument?
Barely touching her shoulder, she mimicked resting her boneless hand on top of it and waited until the other woman spoke.
“I could always ask a neighbor for help.” But as her brown eyes scanned the darkened street, she saw that the houses of the people she talked to were dark. The only light on was that of the old couple with their dog. Definitely not her best option. Olivia didn’t want to be the one responsible for causing dear, sweet Mr. Thomas another back injury and paralyze the man or something.
“Sure, that could work, too.” Only that Emilia had seen the disbelief spread all over Olivia’s face when it became clear that was not an option either.
“Who am I kidding? You are right. I just can’t drive around with that thing on top of my car. Tracy gets back Monday night. I seriously doubt Trevor will be up for coming over to my house and help me carry that tree inside.”
Reluctantly, she touched her phone’s screen and entered Michael’s name in the search field. His number along with his face beamed tauntingly back at her. When she heard Emilia’s sharp intake of breath, she beat her up to the question.
“He….he sort of saved his number in my Iphone, the other day at the wedding.”
Olivia recalled it had been right after they’d danced Michael Bublé’s song. He’d also taken the picture himself of the two of them at first, only Olivia ducked down at the very last minute. Michael’s amused expression on the shot made him look like some movie star.
She’d been planning in erasing the damn number from her phone, but as she’d avoided it because it would undoubtedly remind her of calling Noah, she’d forgotten all about it.
Avoiding his sparkling honey eyes smiling at her, she touched his name and her phone began to dial his number. Her hands were shaking as she lifted her Iphone to her ear. She was about to say, “oh well, I’ll guess I’ll use the metro if I need to go out” when his low, sexy voice resonated all the way down to the toes of her feet.
Right, and I gave him my number too, forgot about that.
There was silence and heavy breathing on the other side, plus the sound of music, like a car’s radio. Olivia was shaking from head to toe and not necessarily from the cold. Before she chickened out, she blurted out.
“I wouldn’t bother you if this wasn’t an emergency…..”
Michael cut her off. “Are you okay? Did something happen?” He demanded with alarm in his voice.
“No, why would something be wrong?”
“Because you explicitly told him to get on with his life, that you didn’t want to talk to him ever again, because…..”
Fine! Fine, I get the point.
“What I mean is, no, nothing bad has happened but I have a situation here, in my house. I was wondering if you could come over and give me a hand?”
“Are you serious? You sound just like in Gilmore Girls, when Lorelai Gilmore calls Luke to come and help her find Stella and he thinks it is code for ‘let’s get on with it’.”
Who the hell is Stella?
“The bird Rory has to take care of for a school project. Season one? Seriously, do you ever turn on the T.V. down in your basement?” Emilia replied, indignantly.
Well, did you have like a secret T.V. at your office or something? No way you watched all these shows and still had time to have a life.
“It’s called TiVo, honey. Although now that I think of it, I did once or twice log on hulu from the office to catch a show or two.”
Olivia realized that Michael had still to utter a word. Olivia could almost feel the hesitation from his side of the line.
Maybe I should just thank him and hang up. I am making a fool of myself.
“Maybe. I bet he thinks you’re mentally unstable. First, you’re all about keeping him away then out of the blue, you’re desperate for him.”
I am not desperate for him. I just need a favor.
Yeah right, Emilia felt like muttering. Instead, she just began pacing around Olivia, thankful for her heightened ghost senses. They helped her listen to both sides of the conversation. A detail she hadn’t shared with the history teacher. She’d known ever since Olivia’s call with Noah that day at the teacher’s lounge.
Just then, Michael spoke again.
“I was on my way out.”
“Right, of course you were.”
Olivia didn’t like the twinge of discomfort running through her. This could mean he was probably on his way to a date. Which was totally understandable and normal. Like Emilia said, even if he’d been interested in her, Michael had tried to get close to her, to talk about Saturday and all Olivia had done had been to walk away from him. Perfectly normal for the guy to move on.
So why was she so ruffled about it?
“I didn’t mean to bother you. Anyway, uhmm have a nice Friday.”
“Wait. I think I can put off what I was going to do for a while. In fact, I am turning on your street right now.”
“You are?” Her head scanned both ends of the street and sure enough, Michael’s Ford Explorer was coming from the direction of his house.
He parked right behind her car and with his phone still clutched to his ear, he said,
“Hey.” She said back, putting the phone away.
“Were you already heading somewhere when I called?” Olivia was intrigued at how fast he’d gotten to her place.
“You caught me two streets away from here.”
“Then why did you say, I am on my way out? You were already on your way to someplace, which is totally different.”
“Olivia! Just shut up. He’s here isn’t he?” Emilia was astounded at the other woman’s obsession with semantics at this particular moment.
Michael sighed but didn’t get back inside his car. He crossed his arms across his chest and with unrevealing eyes inquired.
“You said you had a situation?”
“Yes, I did. I do. Wait a minute…if you were already on your way, why did you come?”
“Let’s just say I was intrigued. As I recall, you said all there was to say the other day at the field trip. I never imagined you would call me.”
“Well, don’t flatter yourself. Like I said, I wouldn’t have called you if I had had another choice.”
“Ouch.” But Michael looked anything but hurt. He was amused, his smile sketching that cute dimple on his cheek.
Rather than get sucked into the charm of that dimple, Olivia shook her head and said.
“Anyway, this is my situation.” She waved her hand at her car.
“Having car trouble? I am no mechanic but I’ll give it a shot.”
“No, not my car. What’s on top of my car.” With her finger, she pointed at the tree and had the pleasure of seeing Michael Hurst wrinkle his face in utter confusion.