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She stood in front of a bare Christmas tree wearing a onesie she had purchased on Etsy. In front of her were two large plastic boxes filled to the brim with Christmas ornaments she had retrieved from her parents’ house over Thanksgiving. Michael Bublé’s Christmas album played on their Sonos speakers while Todd poured himself two fingers of scotch from the bottle he had forgotten to bring to her parents’ house.
The night prior, Todd spent more time than he would’ve liked attempting to pick out a Christmas tree from a random pop-up tree lot three blocks from their apartment. His attempts at buying a new fake tree online during Black Friday proved fruitless when she insisted on keeping to tradition. After lugging the tree back to their apartment and taking measures to ensure they didn’t litter their elevator with Douglas Fir needles, they erected it in the corner of their living room.
With chunky socks covering her toes, she took a boomerang panning from said socks back to the bare Christmas tree. Todd sat on the couch watching her attempt to get it just right, even considering taking a boomerang of his own to show the absurdity of what she was doing. Frankly, he knew better.
“I mean,” she said snidely, “are you just going to sit there or are you going to help decorate the tree?”
He stood up from the couch and grabbed a non-descript ornament. “Huh,” he thought while looking at it, “this looks like it’s been through some shit.”
“Be careful with that side of the box,” she warned him. “Those were passed down to my mom from her mom and I’m pretty sure those ornaments are from, like, the fifties.”
Finally posting her boomerang while Todd christened the tree with the first ornament, she set her phone down and placed one on the tree herself. Todd started at the bottom while she started at eye-level. Picking her phone back up, she hovered in front of the ornament and took a photo of her reflection in it. Importing it into VSCO and filtering it, she saved it and — yet again — took to posting it on her Instagram story.
“Wait,” Todd halted. “Should we string the lights on the tree first? Why didn’t we think of this?”
“Shit,” she relinquished. “Yeah, you’re right. Grab those ones over there,” she demanded while pointing to a string of white lights in the corner of their apartment.
Todd looked at them for a moment before asking a question that felt more like a can of worms. “Are we doing white lights?” he asked while gesturing toward them, “or are we doing colored lights?”
She looked at him with a sly smile on her face, almost visibly getting ready to tease him. “Do you seriously want to do colored lights?” she laughed. “Colored? That’s, like, so trashy.”
Colored lights were what Todd grew up with. Colored lights, tinsel, and a star on top of the tree. It was clear as day to him. She, on the other hand, grew up with different traditions — white lights, uniform ornaments, and an angel atop the tree. “How have we never confronted this before?” they both wondered.
“I…” he mumbled, “Okay, whatever, let’s do the white lights.”
In his mind, he could use the colored lights elsewhere — on a wreath hung outside of their apartment, along the windowsill, or (the more likely scenario) he could just donate them on his way to work the next day.
Strand by strand, he looped them around the tree while she sat on the couch drinking a spiced apple cider she’d prepared using their kettle. Todd considered asking her to help, but he wasn’t even positive she’d be of much use considering they only had one ladder.
“Ohhhhhhh,” she gushed while interrupting “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” Todd looked over from above, still on the ladder.
“Look,” she told him while holding her phone out in front of her. “John and Caroline got this huuuuuge garland that they put over their fireplace.”
Todd squinted and looked from afar. “Yeah, that’s nice,” he brushed off.
“I’m going to ask her where she got it.”
“Hey, can you help me for a second?” he asked. “I need you to loop this strand around and hand it back to me.”
She rolled her eyes and emerged from the couch only to hear her phone buzz once she got up. It was Caroline.
“We got it from this place on 58th called ‘Partridge and Pears’ but tbh it was super expensive and you should just get one somewhere else.”
Now she was the one squinting at her phone instead of Todd. She wanted to formulate a response but didn’t have the mental capacity to do so given what Caroline just said to her.
Reading the message aloud to Todd, she asked him, “What do you think she means by that?”
Todd had now moved onto the bottom of the tree, nearly finished stringing the lights. “What do you mean?”
“Like, does she think we can’t afford a nice garland?” she wondered out loud. “Or, like, does she just not want us to have the same garland as them?”
Facing the tree (and not her), Todd slowly shut his eyes and took a deep breath through his nose. “I don’t know, baby,” he consoled her. “Maybe she just meant that the place is overpriced — even the stupid name of it sounds expensive.”
“But I mean, how rude,” she continued. “Like, I’m not just going to buy some bootleg garland from some homeless man down the street.”
Todd considered explaining to her that the men selling the trees, wreaths, and garlands weren’t homeless and that they’re just bundled up because they’re spending eight hours a day in the freezing cold, but he decided against it. “Can you ask her how much it was?”
“Um, no,” she brushed off. “I’m going to go tomorrow and see for myself.”
In an attempt to change the subject, Todd stood back from the tree and looked at his completed project. Plugging in the final strand, it appeared as though it was a complete and utter success.
“Alright,” he told her. “Let’s decorate this thing — but first, another drink.”
Still stewing while looking at her phone, she turned toward the bar cart where Todd stood and told him, “She’s really going to try to outdo us with her decorating at the engagement party they’re throwing for us at their place next week, isn’t she?” .