“Where are we going?” I asked Kira for the umpteenth time as I reached for the silk cloth covering my eyes. Kira swatted my hand yet again. I couldn’t imagine how silly I looked to anyone within sight of me. After all, a grown man wearing a pink silk blindfold—it had to make a great joke to those heading home for their Christmas Eve.
Kira had tried to lead me out of the apartment by covering my eyes with her hands. After realizing how ridiculous it was—me squatting and her on her tiptoes—she ran to look for something else to do the trick. A dark-colored scarf or even one of my ties would have worked fine, but Kira insisted on her mask. It was Christmas and coupled with the devilish grin she wore; I would be a good sport about it.
Besides, pregnant women weren’t supposed to reach above their heads. Or was that an old wives’ tale? I wasn’t sure, but I was convinced since her mother had mentioned it the week before last when Kira had tried to grab something from the top cupboard at her parents’ house. I might have become more than a little overprotective when it came to my family.
“Stop fidgeting.” She smacked my hand again with a chuckle that was followed by the cute little sigh she sometimes made when she was excited. It was amazing how my other senses were heightened when my sight was taken away. I could hear every sound made by the cars that whizzed by outside my window. Not to mention, the small squeak in her brakes. That would get fixed as soon as possible.
As I made my mental note, the tires rolled over gravel, and the car came to a stop. We had been driving for what seemed like an hour, but I wasn’t sure if that was because I had nothing else to occupy my mind other than to wonder where she was taking me.
“We’re here!” She announced with more excitement than a child yelling that Santa had arrived on Christmas morning. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.
“Why is that funny?” She asked as I heard her car door open. I wasn’t sure if she was still there to hear my answer, so I shook my head.
The sound of her door slamming shut, followed by the crunch of her feet over gravel. Or maybe it was snow? The passenger side door opened and Kira’s hand tugged on mine to lead me out of the car. Fresh air rushed at me as I inhaled a deep frigid breath that smelled of pine and pure outdoors. I tried to listen for other noises to hint to where we were but heard nothing except for our feet walking through what I realized was snow since my feet were freezing and my sneakers were soaked. I should have asked if I needed to change into my boots, but the city streets were cleared so it hadn’t dawned on me.
“Keep walking,” and “Almost there,” were the words Kira continued to use as she guided me over the cold, wet terrain. The wind howled and continued its assault upon my face. A little longer and I knew I’d go numb. If Kira weren’t so excited, I’d have made her turn around. I hadn’t looked up about being pregnant out in the cold and wasn’t sure how it would affect our baby.
Kira stopped and let out a huge breath of air. “This is it.” I heard her clap her glove covered hands right before I felt the brush of cool cotton against my cheek as she lifted the night mask off.
I blinked a few times as the sunlight bouncing off the snow practically blinded me. With the warmth from the mask gone, I tried to focus on my surroundings. We were in the middle of a forest. Tall pine and evergreen trees surrounded us, and I knew the place immediately. My heart stuttered as the realization of where we were hit me all at once. In front of me was the tree my dad had dragged our family out to see every single year on Christmas Eve. The small evergreen was entirely out of place compared to the others all around it. When I was younger, the tree seemed to still be large but as I grew to become a man; I realized it was close to six foot tall. When we were younger, Susan and I thought it was big enough even though it was obvious how little it was next to all the other ones.
“How did you know about this place?” I asked, unable to take my eyes off what came to be known in my family as “our” tree. Located way off the park trails, I was sure no one else had ever found it. My dad loved to hike and had stumbled upon this tree on one of his outings. I think I was four or five years old when he started our yearly tradition.
“Your grandmother,” Kira said, and I glanced over at her. She had her gloved hands clasped in front of her neck, and she could barely contain her excitement. She was beaming, and it wasn’t because of the pregnancy.
I pinched in my eyebrows as I laughed, shaking my head. “She hated this place.” We had brought my grandparents there only once for our little tradition. Grandpa complained the entire time, and my grandmother made it practically unbearable although Susan and I had tried our best to tell them how much fun it really was. Grandmother had listed out all the reasons it was not. My parents had brought us back on Christmas Day, pretending the day before had never happened.
“That’s exactly what she said,” Kira laughed. “That’s how I knew you’d probably love it.”
She was right. “As much as we grumbled about it every year.”—I took my eyes off the little tree to turn to Kira—“this was my absolute favorite thing to do at Christmas.” My eyes teared up immediately realizing this was the first time there without my parents and Susan. Even as adults, we had continued our tradition with them—grumbling each time, of course. I hoped my parents had realized that we were being just surly kids and really had enjoyed their tradition. I wished I had told them.
“Did she tell you why we did this?” I asked as I turned back to the tree, still mesmerized that she found this place; our tree.
“No.” Kira chuckled. “When I asked if you guys had any special traditions, she said you guys visited some stupid tree in the middle of nowhere.”
“How’d you know where to find it?” My grandparents had only come with us once, following behind us in their own car. I remembered my mother complaining during the drive that they shouldn’t have come, that they wouldn’t understand.
“Your Granddad knew the exact location. He came in as I was asking your grandmother about it.” She picked up a bag I hadn’t noticed by her feet and beamed as she held it out.
“You even have the decorations?” I asked, my surprise couldn’t be contained. Kira had thought of everything, and as I stared at the sack, the same one my mother always carried the ornaments in, my eyes welled up with tears.
“I did.” She jumped up and down, and I was sure it was because she had finally pulled one over on me. She stopped suddenly, her expression dropped. “I hope you don’t mind that Lilly and I went to your parents to search for them.”
I still hadn’t cleaned out my parents’ house. I continued to put that off and had my housekeeping, Lilly, clean their house monthly to keep things from getting dusty. A waste of money according to my grandparents who constantly told me to clean it out and sell the house. My stomach churned at the very thought that it still lay ahead of me.
“No, I’m not mad at all. I’m glad you found them.” I smiled at Kira and watched her smile and the light in her eyes return.
She reached in the bag, taking out a simple red ornament and handed it to me. “You first,” she said.
I shook my head knowing she had gone through so much trouble to put this together. I would have been happy enough that she knew to come out here, but the fact that she brought decorations too—despite the chilly temperature warmth spread through my chest.
“Susan and I would always grumble about coming here. We wanted to get home, finish our dinner, and get to bed so Santa would come. But my parents always insisted.” I chuckled as I took the ornament and stared at it for a moment. I quickly cleared my throat as I turned to Kira and handed it to her.
Kira’s eyebrows pulled together as she took it from me.
“My dad always had my mom hang the first one.” I waved my hand toward the tree as the “aha” moment spread over Kira’s expression. I watched as she stepped forward and placed the first ornament onto the tree.
The memories of my mom doing the same thing from years past seemed to rush at me all at once. I swallowed hard fighting back the huge lump that formed in my throat.
“Are you okay?” Kira asked. “I thought this would be a good thing. Was I wrong?”
Wrong? She couldn’t have been further from the truth. I shook my head. “Kira, this…this is more than perfect. I thought about doing this not long ago. I was going to suggest it, but then…” I chuckled. “Especially after that huge snow storm the other day, I wasn’t going to have you trudge all the way out here. Especially pregnant.” I gave her a pointed look slightly chastising her.
The warmth of Kira’s gloved hands as she wrapped hers around mine only added to my contentment. “No,” I said as I pulled Kira to my chest and hugged her tight. “This is amazing that you even thought to do this.” I bent down and pressed my cool lips to hers. I squeezed her as I whispered, “this is the best present you could have ever given me.”
Kira pulled back slightly and beamed up at me. “This is like a Clark Griswold type of moment.”
I chuckled. “Yeah, I guess it is,” I said and grabbed her hand. I picked up the bag and pulled her closer to the tree.
She reached into the sack and held up a blue ornament. “I wasn’t sure what type of ornaments to get, but then Lilly helped me find your mom’s. Your Grandmother had said the silly cheap ones.”
“She was right.” Except for the tree topper. That was an angel she had found at some craft fair. I wasn’t even sure where that might be as I still hadn’t dared to go through my parents’ things.
Kira hung the last ornament, and we stood back admiring our handiwork. We both let out a collected sigh as we gazed at the small tree decorated with colorful ornaments. It dazzled against the tall ones that surrounded it. Our own Charlie Brown Christmas tree.
Kira wrestled with something in her pocket and by the time I crooked my head to see what she had, she thrust out her hand and in it was my mother’s angel.
“Where did you—”
“I hope you don’t mind. Lilly helped me find it.” Kira’s words rushed out as if she had done something wrong.
“Mind? I was just wishing we had it.” I took the angel from Kira’s hand and looked down at it lying limp in mine. Handmade, the white yarn was faded to an off-white, and the gold of her halo was just as worn looking after all these years of being in the cold air for a night or two each year.
“My mom bought this, and when we decorated the tree at our house, I kept asking why she wasn’t putting it onto our tree. She told me she had someplace special for it. And she did.”
Kira waved her hand at the tree, and I gave her a sad smile. My dad always put it on top of the tree, mostly because he was the tallest for years. But even after I grew to be taller than he was, it was still his job. My throat closed up realizing this was the first time he wouldn’t be putting it onto the top. I swallowed hard as I took a step toward the tree and inhaled deep. I had always thought I would do this one day with my family, but it would be right along with my parents still at my side.
After finagling the angel over the top branch, I took my place right next to Kira. We both admired it, and I inhaled deeply again, using the cold air to manage my emotions. I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her tight, kissing the top of her head.
“I have one more thing.” Kira’s voice was barely above a whisper. As I looked down, I noticed her eyes welled with tears as her dark hair whipped against her rosy cheeks. She pulled an item from her pocket, and as I glanced back to her expression, she pressed her lips together.
I watched as she unraveled the bubble wrap and pulled out a flat silver ornament. Its red ribbon fluttered in the wind until she tugged on it to hold the ornament up. My heart lurched. Engraved on the oval ornament was “Never Forgotten” followed by my mother’s, my father’s, and Susan’s full names. The sting of hot tears traveled down my cold cheeks as I took the ornament in my hand to examine it.
Kira unwound the wrapping another time and then held up a second silver ornament, this one shaped in a heart with the same red ribbon threaded through it. I took it in my other hand and read, “Love Endures” with both our names etched into the middle. The glint of sunlight bounced off the shine of the ornament.
I sniffled as I ran my thumbs over the names on each ornament. “You truly know how to break a man down to an emotional wreck, don’t you?” I joked as I swallowed back the massive lump in my throat. I stepped forward and hung each ornament on branches close together.
Kira then reached over and hung yet another silver ornament right below mine. A silver star that read “A Piece of Us Continues On” followed by “Baby Langton.”
Glancing over at Kira, the way her eyes shone with love, I wasn’t sure what to say. She had just made sure this was our family tree. All of ours.
“My dad always wanted us to realize how much we have and how special we are. Even though we grew up with money, he wanted us to appreciate everything we had.” I laughed as I stared at the tree, the ornaments swinging with the breeze. I cleared my throat. “So.” I laughed and realized how silly Dad’s speech would sound to someone outside our family. Even a little embarrassing if I was being honest. “Little tree, we thank you for showing us how strong and still we are amidst the tall trees that might surround us.” I went on despite wanting to see what Kira’s reaction might be. I wasn’t sure if my grandparents had told her about this part or not. “We might have many things to be thankful for in our lives, but the one thing we’ll never forget is that the family that surrounds us keeps us strong even when we’re feeling alone.” The last part hit me harder than I thought and it wasn’t until I had said the words that I actually remembered what it really was about. Family. I felt the warm wetness slide down my cheek, and Kira’s cotton glove quickly swiped it away for me.
“You’re not alone. I’m here for you and so will our baby. You’ve also got my family, and your grandparents, who really love you, despite their actions sometimes.” Kira gave a lopsided grin on the last part, yet her coffee-colored eyes sparkled with the love and warmth she always gave me. “Merry Christmas, Brant,” Kira whispered.
“Merry Christmas, Kira,” I said and bent down to kiss her. The feel of her lips on mine only reaffirmed her words and my dad’s. We were building our own family, and even though my parents and Susan were no longer with us, I could feel them there with Kira and me, giving us the strength for everything that would come our way. As a family, we would enjoy the future—together.
By: Josie Bordeaux
All Rights Reserved
© Copyright 2018