OH CHRISTMAS TREE
A.J. Simon hit the automatic garage door opener on the Camaro's dashboard a block away from his home on this December Saturday afternoon. He drove the red sports car into his garage, taking note of Rick's truck parked in the driveway as he passed it. The blond man gathered bags from the car's back seat, and then juggled his packages while reaching for the knob of the door that led into the house. Finding that door locked, A.J. called, "Rick, could you let me in!"
Just when A.J. was beginning to wonder if his brother was, indeed, in the house, Rick opened the door. The bags A.J. carried obscured his vision, but he made his way safely through the familiar den, letting his load down on the dining room table.
"What are you doing here?" A.J. asked when his hands were free.
Rick's head was buried in one of A.J.'s kitchen cabinets. "Lookin' for something."
"No kidding. I didn't think you were here to wash out my cabinets, although it would have been a nice gesture."
"You're right, A.J.,” a preoccupied Rick answered. “That's not what I'm here for."
A.J. took note of various sized baking dishes and pans setting on the counter top. "Exactly what is it you’re looking for?"
"Well, actually a variety of stuff." Rick stood on his tiptoes, straining to see what was hidden in a far back corner of an upper shelf. "I'd like to borrow these dishes and pans I've got sittin' out if that's okay with you."
A.J. moved to sit at the breakfast bar. "And would you have asked if I hadn't come home when I did, or would I have just arrived to find them missing?"
"I woulda left ya' a note," was the only response A.J. received from his absorbed sibling.
"What do you need all these things for anyway?"
Rick stuck his head out of the cupboard long enough to waggle his eyebrows at his brother. "I've got a romantic evening planned."
"A young lady I see down at the beach by the marina when I'm walkin' Rex."
Rick snickered, "Young. Let's just leave it at that. Yet old enough to be a consenting adult."
"Consenting for what?"
"For a lot more than dinner, I hope," Rick tossed out before opening the cabinet that contained A.J.'s wine rack. "What's the right kind of wine for the evening I have planned?"
A.J. slid off the bar stool. He walked around to stand next to his brother and study the various bottles the rack held. "What kind of evening do you have planned?"
Rick shot A.J. a look of disbelief. "If you have to ask me that, little brother, I've really got cause to start worryin’ about you."
"I don't mean how you plan to conclude the evening," A.J. said with exasperation. "I mean is this evening built around dinner, or a walk on the beach, or a movie, or--"
"Decorating the Christmas tree."
"Decorating the Christmas tree?"
"Yeah, I asked Kayla, the girl I was tellin' ya' about, if she wanted to come over for dinner and then help me decorate my Christmas tree. She thought it sounded very romantic."
A.J. nodded. "I've had a few romantic evenings over the years that revolved around decorating Christmas trees."
"Yeah, so I recall."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Remember the time you got that ornament hook jabbed in your--"
"If you want to borrow anything of mine today,” A.J. warned, “you'll forget that particular moment in my life."
"Okay, fine," Rick agreed. "Still, it was funny. Even funnier when you had to explain to Mom what you’d been doing layin' under a Christmas tree with your pants off and--"
"Okay, okay, as of this moment I've forgotten all about it. My mind is a complete blank."
"That's for sure."
"So, to get back to the matter at hand, what kind of wine should I serve tonight?"
"What are you cooking for supper?"
"Roast beef slow cooked all afternoon in mushroom and onion sauce like Mom makes." Rick picked up one of A.J.'s long baking dishes. "And I wanna use this one for that potato recipe you gave me. The one where you slice the potatoes real thin and cook them in milk and cheese. I'm also makin' that broccoli and rice casserole dish that Abby served us at her place that one night, and dinner rolls. Kayla's bringin' the dessert. Home made Christmas cookies."
"Okay, then you'll want something like this," A.J. said as he reached up and pulled a deep red wine from the rack.
Rick read the label while nodding his head. "Yeah. This'll be perfect." He set the bottle of wine down beside the dishes, then craned his head and looked into the wine rack once again. "Now what do you have that goes good with roast chicken?"
"Chicken? How big of an appetite does this Kayla have Rick?" A.J. asked, picturing a female mud wrestler or roller derby queen.
"Oh, the chicken's not for Kayla. The chicken dinner's tomorrow night. That's for Shelly. Now I also need the right kind of wine for lasagna, and what do you think would be good with pork tenderloin?"
A.J.'s eyebrows rose to a peak. "Lasagna and pork tenderloin?"
"Yeah. The lasagna is for Monday night when Teri comes over, and the pork tenderloin is for Tuesday night when Jana comes over."
"You certainly have a busy week planned. Why the sudden interest in such a variety of women and all the fancy meals?"
"Well, you know, A.J. ‘tis the season to be jolly, ho, ho, ho, and all that kind of stuff. Plus, it's like I told ya’, women think decorating a Christmas tree is romantic."
"Yes, but you said that you and Kayla were going to decorate your tree tonight."
"So how do all these other women fit in?"
"See, it's like this,” Rick said as he pulled three more bottles of wine from A.J.’s rack. “Kayla and I’ll decorate the tree tonight, then tomorrow morning I'll undecorate it so it'll be ready to be decorated again when Shelly comes over. Then on Monday morning I'll undecorate it again, then Monday night Teri and I will redecorate it, then on Tuesday morning--"
A.J. held up his hands. "Okay, okay, I get the picture. Rick, this has to be the stupidest idea you've ever come up with!"
"Why? What's so stupid about it?"
can't keep undecorating and redecorating a Christmas tree!"
"Well, because...well...well, because it's...well, it's just not done," was all A.J. could manage to come up with in the way of an explanation.
"Who says it's not done? Do you have some rule book regarding the decorating of Christmas trees?"
"Well, no, but--"
"Geez, A.J., before you go around knockin' my ideas about a romantic evening involvin’ decorating a Christmas tree, you better remember some of your own ideas. At least I've never ended up under my tree wearin' nothin' but garland."
A.J.'s face became a deeper shade of red than the wine Rick was holding.
How does he always find out about these things?
"That's another moment in my life you'll forget about if you plan on taking all this stuff home with you," was all A.J. could think to say in his defense. "Besides...it was fun," he added with chagrin.
"So, you'd a...recommend I proceed if I find myself in that situation tonight?"
"Speaking from personal experience, yes, I would. Just watch out for those ornament hooks."
"Thanks for the advice," Rick chuckled as he searched for two paper grocery bags. When he’d located them he began packing up the items he was borrowing.
"Have fun," was all A.J. said, shaking his head at his brother's latest scheme. "So this is why you saved a week of your vacation for December?"
"Well...kinda. I have to do my Christmas shopping for you and Mom, too. But it is gonna be a lot of work undecorating that tree every day, you know. I could never get it done if I had to be at the office."
"No, I don't suppose you could."
"Yeah, and if you wanna borrow my idea, feel free to."
"Uh...thanks, but that's okay. Dianna's coming over tonight so we can decorate this one," A.J. said in reference to the live, bare evergreen that was in the stand in front of the French doors. "I was at her place last night and helped her decorate the one she bought, so by the time we’re done with mine I’ll have had my fill of tree decorating for this year."
"Okay, have it your way. But don't come cryin' to me when you see how well my plan works."
"I'll try not too," A.J. replied while Rick gathered up his bags.
A.J. opened the kitchen door for his laden brother.
"See ya’ at the office next Monday. Until then, don't pop in on me, okay? I might be busy."
"Busy undecorating your tree?"
Rick smiled slyly. "That...and doing other things, I hope."
"Don't worry, I plan to stay far away from the Rick Simon Christmas Tree Zone," A.J. wholeheartedly assured. He called after his brother, who was halfway down the sidewalk, "Don't forget to bring those dishes back when you're through with them! And I expect to be paid for those bottles of wine!"
"Scrooge!" Rick responded right before climbing in his truck and driving away.
A.J. shook his head and smiled as he shut the kitchen door.
What a character he is. It's no wonder that even after all these years people still can't believe we're brothers. There are a days when I don't believe it myself.
“Many days, as a matter of fact,” A.J. mumbled as he headed up the stairs to begin removing boxes of tree ornaments from his attic.
The lights were dimmed in the houseboat and Bing Crosby was softly crooning “White Christmas” as Rick and Kayla shared an impromptu after-dinner dance.
The young blond woman rested her head against the softness of Rick's maroon sweater. "That was a wonderful meal, Rick. I didn't realize you were such a good cook."
Rick smiled down into Kayla’s deep blue eyes. "You bring out the best in me, darlin’."
The couple went around in a slow circle until the song ended, shared a long kiss, then broke apart. As “Silver Bells” began to play Kayla said, "This was such a good idea, Rick. My apartment is so small that the only tree I have is an artificial tabletop one. It just doesn't seem like Christmas with something like that. This is a gorgeous tree." Kayla admired of the full, perfectly symmetrical pine Rick had sitting in one corner of the boat's living area. "It's so big."
"Yeah, I had a heck of time gettin' it in here. It almost didn't fit through the patio doors. But hey, you're worth every penny I spent on it."
Rick approached the woman from behind, lifted her long hair off her neck, and planted a kiss on the side of her throat.
Kayla turned and wrapped her arms around the tall detective once again. She kissed Rick's chin, then gave him another meaningful kiss on the lips before pulling away with a laugh.
"We'll never get this tree decorated if we don't get busy right now."
Rick pulled the beautiful blond back into his arms. Thinking that if they never got around to getting the tree decorated meant he wouldn't have to undecorate it for the next night, Rick offered, "We don't have to decorate it if you've got...other things on your mind."
"Not decorate it! I wouldn't hear of it. You asked me over here tonight to help you decorate your tree, and I'm going to do just that. Besides, I haven't decorated a real tree since I was a little girl. This evening is just like I’ve always dreamed Christmas time should be."
"How's that?" Rick smiled as Kayla leaned into his chest once again.
"A beautiful tree to decorate, Christmas carols on the stereo, Christmas cookies to enjoy when we're finished with the tree, and a tall, dark, handsome man to share it all with."
Rick's eyes took on a sudden twinkle. "So I'm makin’ your dreams come true, am I?"
Kayla looked up at her Christmas knight in shining armor. "You certainly are, Rick Simon. Now let's get busy."
The blond woman pulled away from Rick. She took stock of the lights and ornaments he had stacked next to the tree. "You've got garland and tinsel?"
"Yeah, you choose whichever one you wanna use," Rick offered. "I know some people like garland, while others like tinsel. I've...heard garland can be kinda fun," he added hopefully.
Kayla shook her head, moving the boxes of garland to a far corner of the room. "No, not garland. Not on a real tree. Tinsel is what you put on a real tree. Strand by strand. Lots of it. It might even take all night."
Rick moved behind Kayla once again, engulfing her slender hand in his. He wrapped one arm around her waist while moving their clasped hands together, the two of them putting the first strand of tinsel on the tree. Rick placed a kiss in the woman's soft hair. "I don't care if it takes all night. I've got time."
Kayla turned in Rick's arms and looked up at him through her eyelashes. "Good. Because I like to put the tinsel on nice and slow."
The couple laughed at one another’s flirtatious advances. They began to dance in a slow circle once again, Kayla lightly dropping strands of tinsel over Rick's head and shoulders.
The detective and his lady alternated between dancing and decorating the Christmas tree until well after midnight. The lights on the tree twinkled seductively as the two took their last turn on the make-believe dance floor. Kayla snuggled into Rick's chest while the last song of the evening played softly in the background. Rick smiled, visions of sugarplums and other sweet things dancing in his head while Nat King Cole sang about Jack Frost nipping at your nose and yuletide carols being sung by a choir.
Kayla looked up into Rick's eyes when the song ended. "Merry Christmas, Rick," she whispered.
"Merry Christmas, darlin’," Rick whispered back. The couple sank to the carpeting, rolling together until they were underneath a limb of the tree.
Gotta be careful of those ornament hooks, was Rick's last coherent thought that evening.
A.J. hadn't heard from his vacationing brother all week. It was now Wednesday evening, and the blond man hung up the phone after trying unsuccessfully to get a hold of Rick for a third time. Evidently the elder Simon didn't have his answering machine on, as A.J. couldn't leave a message in that manner either.
The blond detective looked down at the legal papers he held in his hand. A lawyer who represented one of their clients had dropped by the office earlier in the afternoon, needing both the brothers’ signatures on several court documents. A.J. took the papers home with him, promising the woman he'd get Rick's signature on the documents that evening and drop them by her office on his way to work in the morning.
I know he told me not to pop in on him this week, but I don't have much choice, A.J. thought while putting on his jacket and picking his car keys up off the counter. If he's not home I can leave the papers and a note explaining what I need him to do. If he is home and he's...otherwise engaged, well, he'll probably shoot me, but that’s life. These papers have to be at the attorney's office tomorrow.
Twenty minutes later A.J. parked his car in the marina's lot, taking note of Rick's truck in its usual space. Twinkling Christmas lights and decorations beckoned to A.J. as he walked the path to Rick's boat.
When A.J. reached the patio doors they were wide open. "That's strange," he muttered softly. Cautiously, he peered inside.
"Rick?" he questioned with surprise at the sight before him.
"Just get in here and get me loose!" Rick commanded when he saw the familiar blond head of his sibling peer around the doorway.
"What the..?" A.J.'s voice trailed off as he looked around the boat's interior. "What happened here?"
"It's a long story."
"And an interesting one, I'm sure," A.J. said as a grin spread across his face. The scene before him looked like something right out of the Dr. Seuss classic, The Grinch That Stole Christmas. Rick's tree stand was tipped on its side. The water its base had held had soaked into the carpeting leaving a large, dirty wet stain. Broken ornaments were scattered around the room. A trail of pine needles and tinsel led out the patio doors.
"Quit standin' there with your mouth hangin' open and give me a hand!"
A.J. couldn't help but laugh as he focused on his brother. The brother who was bound by strings of Christmas tree lights that had been wound tightly around his upper body and legs. Some thoughtful elf had even plugged the lights in. They blinked on and off in synchronized rhythm, making the older detective look like a Christmas alien from a bad science fiction movie.
A.J. walked over to unplug the lights, his tennis shoes grinding broken ornaments further into the carpeting. "You've done a lot of weird things over the years, Rick, but I swear this takes the cake."
Rick struggled to turn around and glare at his brother. "You think I did this to myself? What the hell would I do that for?"
"How should I know? Maybe you've entered a human Christmas tree contest or something. With you, I never know."
"Well, I didn't enter no stupid contest, so just shut up about it."
"I don't think I'd use that tone of voice with me if I were you," A.J. warned. "It wouldn't take much to convince me to leave you like this until Christmas."
Rick leaned forward so A.J. could start removing his unusual restraints. "Okay, okay, I'm sorry. Just get these things off of me."
"Stop it," A.J. admonished as Rick struggled with his bonds. "You'll ruin the lights if you keep doing that."
"I don't care if I ruin the damn lights!"
"You will when you have to buy new sets for next year. Just sit still and I'll get these off of you. It's going to take a few minutes though."
A.J. began working at untangling the twelve strings of multi-colored lights that had been used to bind his brother.
"What in the world happened here tonight?"
"They found out about each other," Rick mumbled.
A.J. stopped his work to look down at his adorned brother. "Who found out about each other?"
"The girls. Kayla, Shelly, Teri, and Jana."
"Oh. I see," A.J. nodded. "Judging by this room I'd say they weren't too pleased when they figured out what was going on."
"No, they weren't pleased,” Rick said with regret. “Not at all."
A.J. looked around. "Where's the tree?"
"They threw it overboard."
"Into the water?"
"No, A.J., into a snow bank, what the hell do you think? Of course they threw it in the water!"
"That tree was heavy. It was all you and I could do to carry it in here."
"Take my advice, little brother. Never underestimate the strength of four angry women."
"I'll keep that in mind," A.J. vowed. "Where's Rex?"
"When things got ugly he ran and hid under the bed. Some watch dog he's turned out to be."
"Hey, his duties don't include protecting you from irate girlfriends. Rex is a smart dog. He knows when it's time to grab his hat."
"I guess I can't really blame him. There was a lot of screaming goin’ on in here for a while."
"I can imagine." A.J. unwound the last string of lights, freeing Rick from his bondage.
Rick swung his arms back and forth a few times to regain circulation, then with A.J.'s help rose to his feet.
"Although I know I’ll regret asking this question,” A.J. said, “I’m going to take the plunge. How exactly did your romantic Christmas plans reach this point?"
"I think my first mistake was the tinsel."
A.J. looked up from the string of lights he was straightening so they could be returned to their box.
"Yeah. See, Kayla likes a lot of tinsel, only problem is, you can't get tinsel off a tree."
"I could have told you that. You should have used garland."
"Thanks for the advice," Rick glared at his sibling. "It comes about four days too late though. Anyway, Kayla and I had a good time. We ate, danced a little, decorated the tree a bit, danced a little more...and uh, then moved onto other things. Sunday morning I undecorated the tree, except I couldn't get the tinsel off. So when Shelly came over Sunday night the tinsel was still on the tree, which wouldn't have been a big deal except she spotted a buncha' strands with lipstick on them."
"Uh...yeah. Kayla does some mighty interesting things with tinsel," Rick confessed with a blush.
A.J. smiled. "I just bet she does."
"Yeah, so, uh...anyway, Shelly got real mad, accused me of seein' another woman--"
"Which you were," A.J. pointed out.
"It's not the same," Rick tossed back.
"Cause it's Christmas time," came the explanation that A.J. didn't quite understand, but then, he didn’t attempt to understand it either. He already knew that would be an effort in futility.
"Anyway, Shelly left in a huff," Rick finished. "I spent Monday morning picking off all the tinsel I could find that had lipstick on it, which wasn't easy, let me tell ya.’ Teri came over that night and we had a great time redecorating the tree. We were just gettin' to the romantic part of the evening when suddenly she starts itchin' and sneezin' and then gets these big red blotches all over her hands and arms. I ended up havin' to take her to the emergency room. Turns out she's allergic to evergreens but didn't know it."
A.J. continued to work at untangling the light strings while laughing at his brother's dumb luck. "What happened that caused your tree to get thrown overboard?"
"Well, last night Jana came over and while we were decoratin' and dancin' and all that stuff she suddenly turns to me, wraps her arms around me, and tells me this is the most romantic Christmas she's ever had. Then she goes on to tell me how she hadn't thought there was a man left on this earth with a romantic bone in his body, but that on Saturday night her sister had gone over to a guy's place to help him decorate his tree and told her what a wonderful evening she'd had. That's when it hit me."
"What hit you?"
Rick gave a helpless shrug. "That Kayla and Jana are sisters."
"Uh, oh. Trouble."
"Trouble is right," Rick agreed. "’Course I couldn't go through with my plans after that. I mean, since Kayla and Jana are sisters and all. Jana thought she'd done something to make me mad, and when I couldn't give her an explanation she left here crying."
"Not exactly the perfect ending to your perfect evening."
"You can say that again, A.J."
"So I take it your lady friends showed up this evening to extract a little revenge?"
"Actually, Kayla and Jana showed up to extract a little revenge. It was just plain bad luck that the other two showed up as well. Shelly came over to take back a dish she had left here, and Teri came over to thank me for taking her to the emergency room. Unfortunately, I was out Christmas shopping so they all had time to compare notes. By the time I got home they were waiting for me like some crazed, female lynch mob."
"From the looks of this place I'd say they got the satisfaction they came for."
"Yeah, I guess so," a dejected Rick muttered. "And it was such a good plan, too."
A.J. put the lights in their box. "Come on, I'll help you clean this mess up."
Rick began picking up ornaments while A.J. righted the tree stand.
"Now I don't even have a Christmas tree," Rick pouted.
"I'll go with you to get another one when we're through here. If you want me to, I'll even stick around and help you decorate it."
Rick brightened a bit at that. "Yeah, and this will finally be one tree I won't have to undecorate."
"I think you'd better just stick to decorating your tree once, Rick, like most normal people do," came A.J.'s brotherly advice.
Rick and A.J. worked quickly at cleaning up the boat's living area. Rick turned to look at his sibling as he picked up the last unbroken ornament from the floor.
“You know, A.J., I’ve been thinkin,’ and I have to say a romantic Christmas is highly over rated. Take you and me for instance. We'll bring the tree home, order a pizza, down a few beers, decorate it, maybe watch Terminator, and call it a night. I think Christmas should just be a guy kind of thing. Women complicate the whole holiday."
Thinking of his own romantic Christmas tree decorating with Dianna, A.J. debated his brother. "I think you're a little off base there, Rick. Take my advice, next year build your romantic holiday around just one woman."
"Just one?" A shocked Rick echoed.
"I know it's a new concept for you, but it will certainly save on decorations," A.J. pointed out as he inadvertently ground another broken ornament into Rick's carpeting.
"Yeah, I suppose you're right. I might have to try it that way. I'll think about it. Next year's a long way off," was as far as Rick would commit.
Thirty minutes later Rick's boat was clean again, and the brothers were gathering up their jackets to head to a local tree lot. As they walked to Rick's truck, A.J. began to sing softly, "Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, you stand in verdant beauty. Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree--"
"A.J., shut up."
"You stand in verdant beauty. Your bough's are green in summer's glow--"
"A.J., I'm warnin’ you! Shut up! You're not funny!"
"And do not fade in winter's snow. Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree--"
A.J.'s song trailed off there, only to be replaced by his laughter as he ran full speed for the truck, the hot tempered Rick following at his brother's heels.
"Shut up! You're not funny! When I get my hands on you you'll be sorry. A.J.! Stop that singing! I hate that song! A.J., knock it off!”
"Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, you stand in verdant beauty. Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree..."
By the time that holiday season drew to a close, Rick Simon vowed he never wanted to see another Christmas tree again in his life, nor hear another rendition of, “Oh Christmas Tree.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~