“You bought a fucking tree?” Bryan knew that when his wife left at 8 o’clock this morning, and was gone through lunch, it could only mean one thing.
Renee is an anomaly. One of those special deformities in nature that you only read about in books—Dr. Seuss books to be specific. A normal person sleeps in on a Saturday morning. Not Renee. Saturday is reserved for shopping. Has been since the first Macy’s opened in 1858, according to her. Because she knows stupid “little known fun facts” like that—never play Renee in trivia; if you value your precious sanity, never, ever play Renee in trivia!
With it being December, lord only knows the layers upon layers of cheap-ass, overpriced, shitty Christmas decorations that are lying in her trunk right now. Plastic ornaments, faux snowflakes, holly, and paper poinsettias, mistletoe—like he needs some invasive weed to tell him to kiss his wife. The first chance he gets, he’s tossing it all in the garbage, where it belongs, feigning ignorance that he didn’t know that stuff in the black trash bag labeled “Christmas” wasn’t in fact trash.
“Excuse you. Language,” Renee says over her shoulders as she wraps her tiny fingers around the tip of the tree and, with one foot on the car and the other planted on the leaf-covered lawn that Bryan still hasn’t raked—he’s been meaning to get to it—tries unsuccessfully to pull it out of the back seat. “And I could use some help here.”
Bryan nudges her aside, a little harder than he means to, and she slaps his arm. He looks at her and winks, then curls his calloused hands between the twine wrapped around the tree and release it from its leather hold with one swift jerk of his arms.
“Oooh, my muscle man,” Renee teases. She raises herself up on her toes and plants a soft kiss on his lips. “All those curl-ups in your little man cave downstairs are starting to pay off.”
Bryan drops the tree between them at their feet and scoops Renee up into his arms, wrapping her legs around his waist. “There’s more where that came from,” he says, and he takes her bottom lip between his, sucking it hard.
Two cars pass by, one honking its horn, before Renee finally breaks away. “C’mon,” she moans. “We gotta put up the tree.”
Bryan holds her for just a few seconds longer, then lets her slide down his waist and back to her feet. He bends over to hoist the Christmas tree over his shoulder and carries it through the front door. “I still can’t believe you bought a fucking tree,” he mumbles.
“I thought you promised no cursing this Christmas.”
This is what I get for marrying a church girl, Bryan says to himself, then aloud, “What’s wrong with the artificial tree in the hall closet?”
“Um, other than the fact that it’s broken, and we had to duct tape it together?” Renee says sarcastically.
“It worked, didn’t it?”
“It almost set the house on fire!” she says, reminding him how the lights—also duct taped—shorted out and went up in flames. It was a miracle the curtains behind the tree didn’t catch too.
Bryan stands the tree against the wall in a corner of the living room between the couch and love seat. “And this one won’t? It’ll be dried out before the 15th. Damn near crispy by Christmas. The little leaves will feel like sewing needles when it’s finally time to toss it to the curb.”
Renee places both hands on her hips and lets out an exasperated sigh. “Well, with all the wildfires going on in the mountains right now, I was lucky to find this one at all. Home Depot is selling them faster than they can get them off the truck. Everyone’s afraid we might have a Christmas tree shortage this year.”
All the more reason to go artificial, Bryan says to himself.
“Besides, I got it for a steal anyway.”
“Honey, a steal to you is still $100,” Bryan says, just in case she forgot about the cake plate she bought at the Belk Home Store last Christmas. The one currently collecting dust in the china cabinet above the refrigerator. The one Renee hasn’t bothered to take down since last Christmas, mostly because she’d need a ladder just to reach it—Bryan unwilling to help, because what the fuck would they use it for?
“But babe, it was crystal,” Renee whines.
“You don’t even bake!”
“Natasha does. And she promised me a German chocolate cake this year.”
“Tash is getting married in three weeks!” Bryan says, flinging his arms in the air. “When does she even have the time?”
Natasha and Mitchell are the new “it” couple of their group of friends, dethroning he and Renee of their ten-year title when they finally got engaged on Easter Sunday. (Resurrection Sunday, Mitchell always corrects him.) Renee was so excited when Natasha asked her to be her matron of honor at their Christmas-themed wedding, stopping just short of asking her to plan it, thank God. There’s no telling what kind of gaudy Christmas decorations she would’ve hung in the sanctuary and fellowship hall of The Revelation of Jesus Christ Christian Center, the church they all attended, had she been given the reigns. The rehearsal dinner, on the other hand, is a tragic tale yet to be written.
“Oh, that reminds me. You’ll have to cook dinner. Tash called while I was out. She wants to have girl talk tonight.”
“Dammit, Renee. I haven’t seen you all day. A man has needs,” he says, then bites his lip, remembering the cursing. “Damn” being the worst of the “naughty” words he’s forbidden to say until at least January 2.
But Renee doesn’t seem to notice, or if she does, she brushes it off, pulling at one of the tree needles poking out of the twine wrapping instead. “Tell you what, if you help me get this tree up and decorated, and we still have time left over, maybe I’ll fulfill some of your needs before I have to meet up with Tash.” She looks up from the tree and winks at him. “I’ll even do that thing you like so much.”
She rolls her eyes, puffs her cheeks and blows out air, but finally nods, though reluctantly.
Bryan sprints to the hall closet, where they keep most of their Christmas decorations on the top shelf. The first thing he pulls out is the red and green plaid skirt they wrap around the base of the tree. “Do we even have a stand? I can’t remember the last time we got a real tree.”
“Don’t worry, I bought one.” Renee says. “Along with some snow-dusted icicle ornaments, a few beads, a string of lights, a few chrome garlands, and a new angel, because this was the first time I’d ever seen a black one and I just had to get it.”
Bryan drops his shoulders and sighs. Typical Renee.