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It’s not going to snow properly anytime soon, but I can’t wait any longer. If I do, Deb’s going to do some sort of efficient hired and delivered decorating thing for the new condo and I just don’t want her to. Also it’s Sunday and I’ve got her all to myself for once, even if she went down to the office all day yesterday for something-I-won’t-ask-about that had her tense all week. She’s much more relaxed now, and this might be my only chance. I call Charlie down at the garage, and my usual favorite car is still in this weekend so I tell him to hold it for me, I’ll be down in the next hour or two.

She’s still asleep when I go back to the bedroom, and I mean racked out hard, face-down in the pillow and taking up most of the biggest bed we could get into the freight elevator. I love this place. Sure, we’re still moving little stuff out of Deb’s place and mine, but the important things are all over here and we’re just down to negotiating which artwork goes where and who gets which side of the shoe closet. When I came home Thursday my stuff was all on the left, which is just unacceptable, but how she got it moved when I know we were both at work all day… dammit.

I was worried about moving in together, I’ll admit. We’re both pretty independent, and we’ve been on our own so long. Deb for longer, of course, and maybe from some stuff that I’ve heard around… a lot longer… but I haven’t asked. If she wants me to know, she’ll tell me. Eventually it’ll come up. And I trust her enough to let it go. But actually it’s been the best thing in my life, and I want to, almost need to, show her what it means to me.

I’m getting goopy over a girl, I tell me as I watch her sleep, and I swore I never would. Hell, I never even thought of myself as more than a little, y’know, curious- until this last gig. But hey, you don’t get to pick where and when and with who, right? You just be glad it’s happening at all and enjoy the ride.

“Wake up, sleepyhead,” I say softly, running a hooked finger down her spine to pull the blankets back. “Sun’s out.”

“Your giant windows are full of bright,” she mumbles, reaching behind her and flailing for a handful of blankets to pull over her head. I don’t let her have them.

“Nuh-unh. Wakey wakey. Got things to do, people to see.” That gets her attention, and she finally rolls over and squints up at me with those ridiculously blue eyes.

“You’re joking. It’s Sunday,” she says as patiently as if I were a small child. “I don’t have any work at all to do today, and I’m going to enjoy it. Possibly with cocoa. Probably with a martini at some point. But not by getting out of bed early.”

“I don’t think you have to worry about early. It’s ten. If we don’t get on the road soon, all the good ones will be gone. Come on, bundle up.” I tug at her hand, and she sighs and rolls over and sits up.

“Fiiiiine,” she pouts. “But you had better have a good excuse.”

“I do. And cocoa.” I hand her the cup, milky and covered in whipped cream the way she likes it. Disgusting. Cocoa should be as close to the original as possible, bittersweet and cinnamony. “And you have about forty minutes. I’ll pick you up out front.”

“… a black Lotus?” she smirks, thirty-five minutes later, slipping into the passenger seat. “How…. ”

“Say nothing,” I glare back, but it’s too late.

“Rare. What? Valuations are part of my job.” She leans back into the seat and buckles in as I pull away from the curb. “So where are we going?”

“Out of the city. That’s all you need to know for now.” She only pouts as long as it takes us to get out to Des Plaines. Once we hit the suburbs she starts to perk up again. Personally, I think it’s pretty obvious where we’re headed, but it doesn’t sink in for her until we’re practically to Lake Zurich, beginning to wind in earnest through acres of forest preserve.

“Are we eloping to Wisconsin? How … romantic. Marry me at the Cheese Castle, dear.” She reaches over to squeeze my thigh, taking the sting out of her tone of voice.

“Not quite that far. Hang on, we’re almost there.” I cover her hand with mine, lacing our fingers together.

“We’d better be. It’s been two hours and my cocoa has completely worn off.” She swoons dramatically at me and I fall for her all over again. I’m starting to gross me out. But I love when she’s playful, and she doesn’t do it often enough. It makes me feel sad and special at the same time, that she lets me share those rare moments with her.

“New cocoa I can promise you,” I say, turning onto a gravel drive leading to a grey barn. “As well as a wagon ride. And…”

I glance over at her, and she’s absolutely frozen in the passenger seat, hands clasped in front of her.

“A Christmas tree?” she whispers, and bites her lip. “I haven’t had a real Christmas tree of my very own since I was a kid…”

“Me either,” I say, trying to stay nonchalant, “but I thought since it’s our first Christmas and all…” Parking is really hard with her hugging me like that, but I don’t mind. It also clears up a little question I had about whether the gearshift would interfere with her ability to cross the space between the passenger and driver’s seats.

Every year from the time I was too little to remember until I was fifteen, Mom and Dad dragged me up to the Richardson Farm. Uncle Terry brought the cousins. And we all went on the wagon and got some Christmas Trees and got pitch in our hair and drank cocoa and then yelled at each other for the first forty minutes of the car ride home and spent the rest of the day putting up the tree in sullen silence, vengefully grabbing at favorite ornaments. So I don’t know why I dragged Deb here of all places, and I’m terrified for about ten seconds after we get out of the car that we’re going to do like my family always did… and then I see her glowing face and she grabs my hand and squeezes hard and I grin back as we go buy tickets.

The wagon ride is both better and worse than I remember- kids have resilient butts. Deb and I trade off sitting in each other’s laps and to hell with the stares from the good Christian families around us.

“That one,” she says, pointing to the biggest Doug Fir I can see.

“It’s huge.” It really, is, it’s gotta be nine feet tall even though the farm swears they only grow em to eight. I love firs for Christmas trees though, shorter needles and a better smell than pines…

“It’s perfect. Also, have you seen our ceilings? It’ll be fine.” She puts her fists on her hips and mock-glares at me.

“Have you seen the car we’re taking it back on?” I hold my hands a foot and a half apart in desperation.

“It’ll be fine.” And I can’t really say no to her. Funniest thing that. Once upon a time, wasn’t I the one insisting she take me places, buy me things?

I hand her the saw, wordlessly. Fortunately for me, this place bundles and shakes and does all the nasty gritty part of tree-cutting, while we ride back to the barn in the (relative) comfort of the wagon, fresh mugs of cocoa sloshing in our mittened hands. Cutting the cocoa with coffee makes it almost palatable. Almost. Deb, of course, thinks it’s perfect.

On our way home, with the tree tied awkwardly to the top of the car, Deb turns on Christmas carols and leans back with her eyes closed and a tiny contented smile on her face. Once she falls asleep I wipe the dab of cocoa off her nose.

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