“Before you get mad, just hear me out. There’s no reason you shouldn’t do Christmas a little bit just because you’ll be home alone. It’s gloomy enough in here already.” Kit glanced around my apartment as she stepped inside. “So I’ve brought you a little something to cheer up the place.”
A bottle of tequila might have been a better choice than the tall cardboard box she carefully placed on my coffee table.
“It’s a Christmas tree, Val,” she said, removing the three-foot delight from its packing. Three feet of total enchantment, decorated with tiny white birds wearing cozy plaid scarves. Kit unrolled the cord and plugged it into a vacant outlet next to a lamp. “There.” She removed her coat and plopped down on my couch. “It’s gorgeous.”
“Where and why did you buy it?” I asked, not oblivious to its perfection.
“Neiman Marcus.” She looked surprised, like where else do you buy a Christmas tree. “Now don’t worry about the cost; it was marked down a million times.”
“Well, it’s very similar to the one I got for the office from Big Lots, and that cost three bucks.”
“Big Lots? What is a Big Lots? Oh, don’t even tell me. I just wanted you to have some sense of Christmas.”
“Well, thank you so much, because I’ve often heard about this Christmas you speak of, yet I know so little.”
“Are you depressed? And why are you talking like a Ukrainian immigrant?”
A big laugh escaped from somewhere inside me, and I was forced to cover my mouth with both hands. I wasn’t depressed, but I might be a little insane? “No, I am not a bit depressed,” I enunciated carefully, like an insane person. “But I am tired of you harping on about Christmas. And as I have explained to you many times—but you don’t listen—I have to work late on Christmas Eve for that corporate account thingy.”
“It’s not too late for you to come to Texas with us.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” I said, “are you still not listening? I have no desire to go to Texas.”
“You make it sound like I’m offering you a trip to a state prison.” She looked annoyed. “It’s our largest state, Val, and you don’t have to be so rude.”
“Alaska is our largest state, as any idiot knows—”
“Yes, that’s what I said: idiot. And I was not being rude. What’s rude about not wanting to go to Texas? Look, I’m happy you get to spend Christmas with Sam—”
“Are you sad because you won’t get to see Emily?”
“Kit, LET IT GO. You know perfectly well Emily can’t come home from England. So just go visit your son and stop making me feel like some pathetic loser. I’m fine . . . good . . . great, and now I’m late for work, so please, take your damn tree and give it to someone who wants it.”
“Rude, rude, rude.” She stood and buttoned her coat while heading toward the door.
“Here, don’t forget your tacky tree.” I shoved it roughly back in its box.
“Oh, I won’t.” She grabbed it. “I spotted a drifter at the end of your street, and I’m sure he will love it.”
“Yes. Drifter. Homeless person. Whatever you call those people. I’m sure he’ll be more grateful than you.”
“Right. Because that’s what every homeless person wants. A decoration that requires an electrical outlet. Are you even hearing yourself?”
“I heard you call me an idiot when I was just trying to be nice. Merry Christmas, Val”
So Christmas Eve arrived. I hadn’t spoken to Kit for two days, since our little altercation, and it was killing me. When I got to the office, it was empty, except for the Big Lots tree. I couldn’t help but compare its shabbiness to Kit’s tree from Neiman Marcus. Whereas hers appeared to have been decorated by children in Victorian England wearing hooped skirts and bonnets, mine screamed China. Six of the lights had stopped working.
I worked diligently all day and thought about calling Kit, even though she had not returned my calls or texts the previous day. But I knew she and Larry had an early flight and were probably still on the plane, or had landed and were enjoying their time with their son in the second-largest state of the union. My twisted logic confirmed she was the rude one for not calling to say good-bye.
When it got dark outside, I unplugged the tree, although it hardly mattered since another four lights had stopped working. It was snowing, soft white flakes that landed and quickly disappeared on the sheet of ice below.
I left the office, and when I got to my car, I looked back to be sure I had turned all the lights out. Then I decided to run back inside. I was going to take the Big Lots tree home. Perhaps a little cheer wouldn’t hurt after all. But unfortunately, the same could not be said of my ankle when I slipped on the ice and landed on the ground.
The ambulance driver who delivered me to the nearest ER sat me down on a chair and arranged another chair underneath my throbbing foot. Then a nurse knelt down beside me and took my vitals. She assured me she’d move me to an examination room shortly.
Three hours later I was still waiting for the promised move, even though hordes of others from Chicagoland had hobbled in after me. They all seemed to have first dibs on the elusive examination rooms. By ten thirty, I began to cry—not exactly sure why, but definitely something to do with birds wearing plaid scarves, homeless people with no Christmas trees, and Kit two-stepping down in Texas. Oh, and yes, it was Christmas Eve.
At eleven thirty, according to my dying phone, I closed my eyes and tried to get comfy. Pretty soon it would be Christmas Day. I had become accustomed to the quick rush of cold air every time the main doors of the hospital opened. In the distance I heard a man yelling to someone to either come in or get the hell out. It made me smile and think of Kit—and feel shame at having ever been angry at my best friend.
And then suddenly it was Kit, standing beside me in an outrageously gorgeous black wool coat that had scarves, belts, and who knows what else wrapped around her body.
“Kit?” I whispered. Was I dreaming, or was she the ghost of Christmas past?
“Ugh!” she said, unraveling one of the many accoutrements of her fabulous coat. “This place is a dump. What did the doctor say? Have you even seen a doctor? Let’s get you moved; I’ve got a call in to my doctor—”
“Wait,” I stopped her. “Why didn’t you go to Texas?”
She sighed, fluffing up the makeshift pillow behind me. “Who says we didn’t go? We spent a delightful hour and a half visiting with Sam in the Dallas airport, waiting for our flight back to Chicago. And by the way, it wouldn’t have killed him to shave before coming to meet his parents.”
I was woozy with relief at the sight of her. I grabbed her hand and held it firmly to my cheek, never wanting to let her go. “And I’m sure you told him that, right?”
She laughed. “Of course not; do you think I’m an idiot?”