Five years ago, I took my son to the Christmas tree lot and told him he could pick out whatever tree he wanted (while crossing my fingers he wouldn’t pick a six or seven footer because our ceilings just don’t go that high). He was five then, precocious as always, and very excited to see Santa and tell him what he wanted for Christmas.
It was a treat to watch him hop between the rows of trees, his little boots crunching the needles that covered the ground as he imagined himself tromping about in the forest with his little ax in search for the perfect tree to chop down and bring home. I held my breath when he announced from around the corner that he’d found the perfect tree.
Please, I prayed, let it not be a six-footer.
It wasn’t. It was just under four feet tall and he told me it was the perfect height – for him.
That evening, with the tree decked out to the max with all the ornaments and lights, I wrote a short story called The Accidental Christmas. It’s a reunion romance of sorts and it features a single mother and her son in search of a tree on Christmas Eve.
I’ve cleaned up the story since I first wrote it five years ago, expanded it and all that. But the essence is still there, inspired by a trip to the tree lot with my LilDude who, five years later, may not so little anymore but is still as precocious.
I hope you enjoy it.
And Merry Christmas!
By the way, because I can’t seem to do the Read More tag and split this post into separate pages per chapter, it’s a long one. You can also download the ebook and read it on your mobile device.
THE ACCIDENTAL CHRISTMAS
She was afraid they’d arrived too late but from the looks of it, she barely made it. The attendant was just about to hang a Closed sign on the gate when a Land Rover stopped right in front of him and a well-dressed couple jumped out.
“Got a Noble Fir?” the man asked. “We need a six-footer.”
The attendant set down the Closed sign on a rickety table next to him and dusted his hands against his parka. “Sure do. They’re in the back and there are a few beauties left.”
“Well, we want one,” the man said as Cameron slipped into the lot behind the couple now following the attendant.
As Cameron slowed her pace toward a row of shorter trees, a group of friends walked past the tree lot talking about the ugly sweater party they were attending despite the forecast of a snowstorm. Their laughter brought back memories of the. years when Cameron used to attend similar parties but she pushed the thought away. No use in dwelling on the past, she told herself. Tonight, she needed to find a tree.
She tightened her grip on her son’s hand and approached the attendant before he could follow the couple to the back of the lot.
“Excuse me, how much for that tree over there?” She pointed to a four-foot tree standing close to the counter, two of its branches hanging limply to one side. Sitting too close to the corner where an old-fashioned cash register was set up next to a credit card machine, it must have borne the brunt of many of the day’s customers.
“Forty bucks,” the attendant replied absently, pulling his knit cap over his head as he watched the couple browse through the row of trees behind him. When Cameron didn’t answer, he rubbed his gloved hands together and continued, “I ain’t got all day, lady. You want it or not?”
“Will you take twenty for it? It’s all I got and a few of its branches are already broken.” Cameron figured she could turn the side with the broken branches toward the wall. The rest of the tree was still good.
The man thought for a moment, exhaled and nodded as the couple indicated they found what they wanted. Cameron guessed it probably cost close to hundred dollars, certainly way more than the broken little tree she’d bargained for twenty dollars. But it was all she had.
“Twenty then. But, look, I can’t help you take it to your car until I help those other guys first,” he said. “But if you don’t mind waiting right here, I’ll come back and help you.”
But I want a big tree, like last Christmas, Jeremy signed to her and pointed to one of the bigger trees at the back lot.
We agreed that we’re getting one your size this year, remember? She signed back before handing a twenty-dollar bill to the attendant. “My son and I will take it to the car ourselves. Thanks.”
The man glanced at Jeremy. Seven-years-old and small for his age, he looked too slight to help her but Cameron couldn’t blame the attendant for needing to take care of a bigger sale first. She’d carry the tree to the car herself if she had to. She wasn’t as fragile as she looked.
“On second thought, lady, it’s free. That’s why it’s over on the corner anyway. Too many broken branches as it is but you can point that side to the wall.” He pushed away her money and smiled. “I’ll be back to help you when I’m done with–”
“No, no, go ahead and help those other people. My son and I will manage.” Cameron tucked the money back in her coat pocket. She should insist that he take the money but she’d learned in the past year to accept such small acts of kindness—or pity—with grace. Besides, she needed the money to buy their food for the week. She wouldn’t get paid for another week. “Thank you so much, sir.”
“Merry Christmas, Miss… and you, too, young man.” His face cracked a broad smile. “Stay warm.”
As the man walked away, Cameron led Jeremy to the four-foot tall tree that was really a three-footer up close. But it would still work since she didn’t really have the room for anything bigger anyway, the converted garage they called home barely big enough to fit both of them. With Jeremy taking over the bedroom, Cameron slept on the futon in the living room, which served as the couch during the day. They didn’t have much, but for now it was home. But just because it was small, it didn’t mean they couldn’t get a tree for Christmas.
Beggars can’t be choosers, Cameron, and this is what charity is, she told herself as she watched the man walk away. Maybe he recognized her, maybe he didn’t. But then, why wouldn’t he?
She was Cameron Thomas, after all, ex-wife of former city treasurer Edwin Thomas who fled the country after embezzling millions of dollars from the city coffers. Forget that he’d done it while the city was going through a tough time after a giant computer company who’d provided so many jobs moved their corporate offices to another state with better incentives to benefit their bottom line.
Worse, Edwin left her and Jeremy alone to face the Feds with their evidence, the District Attorney with the charges leveled against him and his assistant, and the condemnation from the public who believed that surely, being Edwin’s wife, she should have known what her husband was up to.
But she hadn’t known a thing, not when theirs had been a marriage of convenience—a marriage between two families that now turned their backs on her, refusing to be associated with someone whom they believed should have known what her own husband had been up to. But they couldn’t be any more wrong, Cameron thought. Her only crime was agreeing to the wedding in the first place, forgoing all reason and most of all, her heart.
Yet through it all, Cameron had kept it together for her son’s sake, even when the news reporters followed her as she picked up Jeremy from day care, leaving her alone only when she had her son with her. At least they granted her that, even though they still took pictures anyway, blurring Jeremy’s face for the final copy they’d plaster all over newspapers and social media.
The whole ordeal was made tougher when she discovered too late who her real friends were and that just because one was considered ‘family’ didn’t mean they’d stand by her side at all. Who knew Cameron’s own mother would value her reputation more than her relationship with her daughter and her grandson? But she did and Cameron was left alone to weather the scandal.
But like everything, there was a silver lining. At least, Cameron grew stronger through it all. She stopped relying on others for help because there were no more ‘others’ to turn to. From the personal assistants who fled in droves to the servants who ran straight to the tabloids to report things they’d suspected about the marriage of the handsome Edwin Thomas and his stunning wife Cameron Blake. There were things that were strange, they said. Although the couple appeared so put together and perfect in public occasions, they slept in separate rooms.
Cameron could have countered each allegation of their sham marriage to save face. That’s what her mother had begged her to do, but she didn’t. What would it accomplish? Nothing that would help Cameron and Jeremy move on, that’s for sure. And so she left everything behind, from the fair weather friends to the old family connections that once granted her automatic access to the many parties she and Edwin had to attend for appearances’ sake, the handsome city treasurer and his shy and beautiful heiress of a wife even if there was nothing financial for her to inherit. The only things left of the Blake furniture empire were the pedigree and the political connections, the very things that Edwin needed to advance his own career.
And so with Jeremy by her side, she traveled by train all the way to the East Coast, to a small town where once she’d spent the happiest summer of her life. No longer having assistants to rely on, Cameron learned to do everything herself. She got Jeremy enrolled in school and got a job as a temporary caregiver to the elderly. She attended PTA meetings even when she knew that before long, the other parents would start to ask among themselves, wait, isn’t she the wife of…?
Cameron pushed the thoughts aside and letting go of Jeremy’s hand, she grabbed a roll of twine from the table.
Jeremy, can you help me with this please? she signed to him. You can push up the branches on one side while I tie the twine around it.
But this tree is too small, he signed back, lowering his chin before adding, why can’t we get a big tree like Daddy got last year?
Because Daddy bought it with stolen money, that’s why, she almost said out loud but Cameron bit her lip, her hands paused in mid-air.
Because it won’t fit in our house, love, she signed instead, sighing when she saw his expression grow sadder. It tugged at her heart but there was nothing she could do. Beggars can’t be choosers.
She tapped his shoulder, getting his attention again, before adjusting the hood of his jacket and his scarf. Remember when we talked about getting you a tree your size this year? You said you wanted a Charlie Brown tree.
Jeremy didn’t answer but he did as he asked her, lifting the nearest branches with his thin arms. Some days he understood what she was going through and other days, he was simply too young to understand any of it. And why should he? He was just a child, an innocent victim to Edwin’s greed and her naiveté.
What kind of a wife are you not to know what Edwin was doing all along? Her mother had asked the moment the news broke all over the big networks. This from the same woman who years earlier shut down Cameron’s first love so she could steer her only daughter to the wealthier, more dashing Edwin Thomas before turning her back on her daughter when things went south. Cameron had barely been able to get out of the house with Jeremy’s clothes and his favorite Legos before the Feds came in to lock the house up.
State evidence, ma’am, she remembered them saying. Is there any place you can go? Friends or relatives? Social services can also help you.
Cameron froze, her arms wrapped around the upturned branches of the tree. The voice was familiar, deep and warm, yet she knew it couldn’t possibly be true, not after eight years.Continue reading “the accidental christmas”