Pines

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  • Published: 15 Dec 2013
  • Updated: 13 Dec 2013
  • Status: Complete
A short story.
The very foundation of everything Emma knows was wrecked one night ago, when she and her family had a falling out, and she chose to leave with her boyfriend Nick. For the first time ever, she is celebrating Christmas without them, and she and Nick do everything they can to move on from the night before, trying to have a normal Christmas together as a couple.

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1. Aftermath

 

 

We walked in silence, hand in hand. I knew, at least I thought I knew, where we could find a tree. The first stop of course, was the shack at the end of the path, where we picked up the saw, and I carried it in my right hand, holding Emma's with my left. I could still see the swelling around her eyes, the mark that the many tears of last night had left. We strolled along, in between the trees when the path ended, where the snow couldn't get through the branches that formed a canopy above.

 

I was a little afraid that the two of us spending Christmas together would be too much after last night. Her first Christmas without her family, whom she had spent it with every single year, all her life, was bound to be rough, and I was scared that this was a change much too sudden. 

It was her idea. She'd woken me up early this morning, asked me to take her to my brother's cabin. He wasn't using it, and he'd told us to help ourselves. For how long I'd asked her, for Christmas, she'd answered. She'd been smiling, but I knew her, and I saw what was glooming behind the surface. So I'd called my brother while I got dressed, told him that we'd be swinging by to pick up the key, and that I wouldn't be able to spend Christmas eve with him and his family after all, but maybe they could come for Christmas day and so forth. 

While driving to the cabin, both freezing in the ancient car, me focusing very hard on not slipping, and getting us both killed, we passed a Target.

"Can we stop here?" She said, her voice thick with the silent tears I could see running down her face. I nodded and turned into the huge parking lot. The streets were completely deserted. Everyone had gone inside to wrap up the final presents, or put the last decorations on the tree before Christmas eve rolled around. 

As soon as I could, I put my arm around Emma's shoulders, hugging her close to my side as we walked towards the store entrance. Inside, everywhere we went, we saw Christmas decorations, tree stands, and so on. We grabbed a cart and walked around slowly, me steering it, and Emma occasionally, carefully, setting something down in it. Neither of us spoke. I knew that she wanted a normal Christmas, and I didn't interfere with her shopping. She picked up each piece she liked, looked at it for a long time, pondering over its quality, before either setting it back on the shelves or putting it in the cart. She picked out everything from angels and Christmas lights to snowmen, but all in the best of taste, the ones that looked like they were made by hand, with little imperfections, the exact opposite of the ornaments and humongous wreaths that her parents mansion boasted.

We walked around for about an hour before I spoke. We'd stopped in front of the tree stands, and I let go of the cart to slide my arms around her waist from behind as she stood there, looking carefully at each one, trying to decide. 

"How big a tree do you want?" I whispered in her ear. Her furry hat, and the fur collar of her coat tickled my face, and I moved a little so that it was below my chin instead. 

"Just a small one. But not a plastic, a real pine." She said decisively, with slightly furrowed eyebrows. Her raven black hair fell down the front of her white jacket, and her elegant, heart shaped face was lit up by her flaming red cheeks from the cold. 

"We'll get one from the woods." I answered her. "We should get that one then, if we want it to be balanced." I pointed out a medium sized tree stand at the edge of the little platform they stood on. It was heavy, good for a sturdy little pine, and while Emma cleared some space for it in the cart, I lifted it up.

We proceeded to the check out counter, and the poor, acne plagued teenage girl who was on duty that day helped us carry everything into the car. It barely fit, but when we placed our duffel bags below Emma's feet in the front, the last box slid into place in the trunk. We continued our drive north, with another two hours ahead of us. 

 

The roof of the cabin was covered in snow, as well as the ground all around it. It stood between the tall, ancient pines, in the few rays of sunlight that fell around it and reflected on the snow, making it seem even whiter.  

Without telling her so, I made sure I was carrying all of the heavy bags and boxes, and placing them in the living room where Emma was already lighting a fire in the frozen fireplace. The cabin was small, living room, dining room and kitchen all in one, only the kitchen separated from the rest by half a wall. From there, three doors could be seen. One lead to the bathroom, one to the kids room, and one to the master bedroom. Once I had gotten our bags into the bedroom, and the boxes neatly stacked, she dug into them, and as soon as she had shed her coat, hat, and boots, she began to carefully walk around the rooms, picking the perfect spot for each and every piece, occasionally moving them a little, or deciding that this was not, after all, the best spot for this or that snowman.  

I helped her when she needed me, but I knew that she wanted to be in control for the first time, choosing herself where they decorations should go, instead of a maid choosing it for her. I sat by the fire most of the time, watching her. I thought of the box, hidden in my duffel bag on the floor in the bedroom, and of how much I loved her. Her attention to detail, how there was no midway point for her. Either she was totally into something, or she wasn't at all. The way she spoke to animals whenever she saw them, how she would sing in the shower when she didn't know anybody was listening. I knew that she would make me this happy forever, and I wanted to secure that, devote myself to her completely, and be at her mercy by law. But now was not the time. 

Hours later, she was still going at it. She had taken me outside, pointed to where she wanted the lights, and equipped with the hammer and nails from the shack down the path, I had gone to work, stringing them up to the best of my ability. Every so often, she would stick her head out the door to check that I was doing it right. When I finished, I glanced inside the window, seeing through the frost crystals that had formed there the grandfather clock on the other side of the room. It read 3:47. 

"Emma?" I called. I could hear her humming something soft, like a lullaby, or an ancient song of a fairy, long forgotten. I followed the sound and found her in the master bedroom, hanging little birds and stockings from the curtain rod. 

 

 

"Baby if we're going to get a tree before it gets dark, we should go now." I told her. She turned around, stopped humming, and smiled at me. We went hand in hand to the door, and ventured out into the cold afternoon. The temperature had dropped a few degrees, and she shuddered. 

So there we were, off to find a tree. Again, like I so often did, I glanced at her face, seeing all of the sadness she was feeling, how shaken up she was. And no wonder. It had been an intense fight. 

We'd walked in, expecting another, if not pleasant, then at least peaceful, dinner. And we had been fine until everyone sat down at the table, and I held hands with Emma and her sister, and we'd said grace, and I'd gone with it, even if I don't believe in it. But the peace had been broken by Emma's aunt Tanya, an insufferable woman who was never seen without pearls around her neck and some name brand dress. All of Emma's family came from money, including her, and they all flashed it, but Tanya did it to the point of being tasteless, and the only things that interested her were money, jewelry, her supposedly "perfect" children, and above all, gossip. She was a snob, and none of Emma's family found me a suitable boyfriend for her, but over time, they had learned to pretend for the sake of the family peace.

When Tanya grew bored of grilling the rest of the family for all of the juicy details about this or that person, and their latest escapades in this or that country club, she turned to Emma and me, though she tried her best to discreetly make me uncomfortable by only really talking to Emma. 

"So you two." She said, in her annoying, southern drawl. The south was were they all came from, a family with plantation money, but Emma, her parents, and her sister made the accent sound charming, like it should be. Except the words that came out of her parents, at least the ones directed at me, were always less than charming. Tanya though, had the worst accent imaginable. "When are you two lil' lovebirds goin' to announce it?" 

"Announce what?" Emma, her parents, and I had asked in perfect unison. 

"Well you two's been together fo' how long now?" She said, with an arrogant shake of her head, and wink of her eye. "Emmie, darlin' you wouldn't be wasting yo' time on him if you didn't think he was marriage material would ya now?" 

'Shut up shut up shut up' I chanted inside my head. I wanted Emma to know when I proposed to her that it had nothing to do with her family, and their expectations.

"I'm not wasting my time." She'd said calmly, yet I saw the fury behind her eyes. Even Emma didn't like her aunt. 

"Oh darlin' you know that's not what I meant!" Tanya protested. "I was just wonderin'. This is the what now, fifth time you been joinin' us fo' the Christmas dinner?" She asked, directed at me.

"Second." I'd said. 

"Well, excuse me for bein' worried 'bout my niece!" She said, pretending to be offended, making herself the victim. 

"You know Emmie, that is a good question." Her father interjected. "I don't wanna be seing you with my little girl without bein' sure that you'll treat her right. Make it last. We can't have her just foolin' around with anybody without at least a little bit of purpose." 

I was shocked, to say the least, and from the brief glance I took at Emma's face, I could tell that she was too.

"Daddy!" she breathed. 

"Princess I'm just tryin' to look after you." He said, giving me a disapproving glance. I could almost feel cold seeping out from the stone walls of their all-white mansion. 

"Daddy I'm 21. I can look after myself!" She gasped. Under the table, I took her hand, letting her know that she wasn't alone, and that I wasn't going anywhere. 

"You're my little girl." Her father said, giving her an almost possessive glare. "You know pumpkin, you're not exactly thinking of your family here." He accused. "You been foolin' around with this boy, bringing him to the house, bringing him to the country club, to the parties, without even once stoppin' to consider what it's been doin' to this family, and to the reputation your granddaddy and I spent so long buildin' up."

"Your reputation? Reputation!" She spat, shaking her head. "You know daddy, I-" 

"Our reputation sweetheart." Her mother corrected. "You're still our girl." 

The room was seething with concealed emotions, and I thought of my own family. We rarely fought, but when we did, it was loud, yelling and screaming and throwing stuff, until we calmed down and made up. Nothing was hidden, or written between the lines. All out in the open. 

"Well now Mama." Emma said maliciously, with narrowed eyes as she stood up, throwing her silk napkin down on her chair. "You don't seem to realize that I don't belong to you no more!" 

"Emma Beauville you sit down right now!" Her mother had ordered, pointing at her. The icy cold fire behind the whole family's blue eyes gave the air around us a charge, and a negative one at that. I silently put down my napkin as well, and got ready to stand and defend her. I didn't mind them taking a few digs at me, but when they began to go after Em, there was no question. 

"You can't tell me what to do!"

"In this house she can Emma Beauville, and you know it!" Her father boomed out, standing up, sending his chair flying back, and rustling everything on the long table when his thighs hit it.

"Well that's just it isn't it?" Emma cried out. "Nick, let's go home." She said, suddenly sounding tired. 

"This is your home!" Her mother scoffed. Emma ignored her and turned her attention to her little sister, sweet little Jenny, only 14 years old.

"I'm sorry Jenny." Emma said and kissed the top of her head. "I'll call you soon okay?" I heard her whisper so that no one else would hear it. Both the girls had tears in their eyes, as well as Emma's mother, and her grandmother. "I'll be coming to see you Nanna." She called out to the feeble old woman who nodded and blew her a kiss. 

When we reached the foyer where the butler graciously and discreetly had laid out our coats, we heard the final shout from Emma's dad.

"EMMA BEAUVILLE IF YOU LEAVE THIS HOUSE, YOU'RE NOT COMING BACK!" He exclaimed. Three tears spilled out of Emma's eyes, and she answered him by slamming the front door behind us. I put my arm around her and lead her to the car. As soon as we were inside, and the heater was on, we took off, and she collapsed in tears, so much that when we'd gotten close to the highway on our way to my apartment, where she had pretty much moved in by now, I pulled over and took her in my arms. She sobered up a little as we got out of the car, and walked up the stairs, but when she had gotten ready for bed, while I'd given her wary glances and held her hand as much as possible, and she sat down on the bed, she burst out into violent sobbing again, while I held her. She'd cried away into the night, and barely gotten any sleep, but still managed to wake me up so early.

 

Thinking back at the fight, I began to regret not saying more to them. Not defending her as much as I should have. And not defending my family like I should have, but there was no use in it, and Emma needed me at the moment. Getting caught up in my own regrets wasn't doing us any good. Instead I held back branches for her, and pointed out the smaller douglas firs. She touched the branches carefully, checking the shape of the trees. We crossed paths with a small one, only as tall as my shoulders, and in an instant, her expression changed from deep frowning to that of mild delight. She looked up at me with a sweet smile and said "This one." 

While she held the branches back, I brought the saw to the base of the trunk, and after ten minutes, we had a tree. We dragged it from its base, through the woods, back to the cabin. The great pines that towered high above us made it seem like a fairytale world, where the reality of last night couldn't touch us. I was seeing gradual changes in how Emma acted, catching the occasional smile here and there. We made it back to the cabin before six o'clock, and immediately began to cook the dinner we had hastily picked up in the local store. 

Dinner was out of the way, the tree was standing proudly in the middle of the living room, behind the couch, ready for ornaments Emma picked up that same morning. 

 

"Baby are you okay?" I asked her, standing in front of her in the fire lit living room. The cabin had finally reached a pleasant temperature, and I had opened the doors to the other rooms to let in some of the heat.

She shrugged and turned her face to look at me. She was sitting on the couch, her legs curled up beneath her. She'd found some of my sister in law's most fluffy socks in the dresser in the bedroom and borrowed them. 

"I think I will be. In time. I can call Jenny and gran tomorrow." She said, her brilliant blue eyes glazing over with tears. I threw another piece of firewood into the flames and sat down next to her. 

"Talk to me Em." I said as she leaned into me. My arms formed a brace around her upper body, and my hands clasped together on top of her belly.

"I thought... I thought they loved me more than this." She stuttered, and I could hear the tears coming on. So far, she had only cried a lot. She hadn't actually talked about it. "And I feel so bad. So so bad for leaving Jenny alone with them. She'll have no one. Daddy will try to control her like he did with me, and he might never let her study sociology, and I can't bear that! I don't want her to be a slave of him. A clone." She sobbed. 

"Jenny is smart. She saw what happened. She saw how they treated you. She'll know not to cave in. And she can call you. You're the greatest sister in the world Emma, because you took the first step, and you opened a door for her." I said, using my thumb to stroke her stomach. "When she needs you she will call, and she can come stay with us. She's smart enough to get an academic scholarship." I reassured her. She nodded, but still cried. 

"Do you need my help with the christmas tree?" I asked her, trying to change the topic, subtly reminding her that she was now free of her father's reign, and that she could decide what to do with her tree this year. She shook her head, and while she emptied the remaining boxes of decorations and ornaments, I went to the kitchen, finding my brother's secret stash of chocolate and candy. Within minutes, the whole house smelled like hot chocolate. Emma put the last bell on the three, and I began to put the empty boxes into the kids room. 

It was late, sometime after midnight, and we had gotten up around five thirty that same morning. It was hard to believe that only one day had passed. So much had happened. Our night ended on the couch, snuggled up together under the warm, fuzzy blanket, empty cups of chocolate standing on the floor. I was propped against the armrest, Emma sitting in front of me, leaning on my torso. We fell asleep in front of the fire, and that night, she didn't cry herself to sleep. She was peaceful, and therefore I was too.

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