New release! Only three years later than expected. That’s some damn fine performance on my end, if I do say so.
“Ow! This is hurting me!”
David flashes me a grin, which he knows is infuriating, and his eyes are sparkling.
“Usually you say that under different circumstances,” he says. “Now, on three. One, two, three!”
On his cue, we heft the tree into the bed of his truck. I brush pine needles off my legs and pick them from my gloved hands.
“I told you, it’s too big,” I say, taking a step back and surveying the situation. The tree we’ve picked out is enormous, and the top half is hanging off the back of the truck. There’s no way we can make the two-hour trek back home with a dangling pine tree dragging behind us.
“Relax. Like I said, I’ve done this before.” He hops up next to the tree, grabs the twine he’s packed, and turns back to me. “You know how good I am with knots.”
I glare at him, and he glares right back at me.
“Watch yourself. Why don’t you go get us some hot cider? You stick around here any longer and you’ll end up tied to this tree.”
I stomp off, annoyed by his good mood. We’ve been elected by the Jacobs’ family to host Christmas this year, which meant David wanted the biggest tree that could possibly fit in our living room, which in turn meant a long drive to Avery County, where the best trees apparently grow, and that meant that I’d been sentenced to a Sunday afternoon of trampling through a snowy forest of pines, freezing my ass off, and getting pricked by pine needles.
I don’t mind hosting Christmas. David and his siblings grew up in our house, and it made sense that we’d congregate there for a family holiday. I look forward to Christmas day—getting together, sharing a meal, opening presents, it’d all be great.
It was the preparations that were getting to me.
As I walk into the lodge to buy the cider, I sigh, knowing this is my own damn fault. David suggested he get the tree with his brother, Mitchell, but I insisted on coming along, thinking it’d be nice to spend the day with him. Boy, was I wrong. I hate being cold, and it’s a good fifteen degrees cooler here than it is in Asheville.
I should be home, with our golden retriever Sparky, reading a book and relaxing in the warmth of the house. Instead, I’m in the country, surrounded by mountain people, cutting down a tree like a damn lumberjack.
“Two hot ciders, please,” I say to the flannel-wearing teenager behind the counter. Her brown hair is in a long braid, falling down to her butt. She nods and grabs two styrofoam cups from beside the register.
“Law, I hope how soon we see some of that green grass again,” drawls the lady behind me. I turn, realizing she’s talking to me.
What the hell did she just say?
I nod politely. “Yeah.”
This is not the North Carolina I know and love. I fumble with my coin purse, fishing out the dollar-fifty for our drinks, and hand it over to the girl. She smiles and says, “Merry Christmas,” as I bolt out the door, scowling to myself.
Why do people insist on saying ‘Merry Christmas’ every single day after Thanksgiving? It’s the beginning of December—Christmas isn’t for three weeks.
Back at the truck, David’s managed to heft the trunk of the tree up on top of the cab, and he’s tied it all down with lengths of thick twine. He’s leaning against the driver’s door, looking out into the distance.
“It’s beautiful out here, isn’t it?” he says, taking his cider from my hands. “Fresh air. Forests. Good people.”
“Yeah. I told you to wear your other coat.”
My thicker jacket is what I wear only when it’s seriously freezing, because I think it makes me look fat, which David thinks is ridiculous. Ridiculous and vain were his exact words, actually.
I frown and stand beside him, taking a sip. It’s hot, feels good, and tastes like apple pie.
“All right,” he says as I shiver. “Let’s get you home.”
I climb in, and he’s had the heater running so the truck is nice and toasty. He pulls out onto the road and I tug off my gloves, tossing them on the seat between us.
“Seatbelt,” he reminds me, and I roll my eyes. After I buckle up, I sip my cider, electing to keep quiet, since I know nothing that comes out of my mouth at the moment will be in my best interest.
It’s been three and a half months since David and I got engaged, and in that time I’ve definitely learned many lessons about when to shut the hell up. Though all I want to do at the moment is snap at him, I know it’s not his fault it’s so freaking cold. It is his fault that it took a full two hours to find the ‘perfect’ tree—in a sea of nearly identical, equally fine choices.
“Shit!” David exclaims, and I look up to see a buck running in front of the truck. He slams on the brakes and my cider spills over my hands.
“David, damn it!” I yell. I stomp my foot on the floorboard and open the window, chucking the cup outside.
“You okay?” he asks.
“I’m fine.” I wipe my wet hands on the seat. “You braked really hard.”
“Rach, there was a deer in the road. Would you have rather I hit it?”
“You wouldn’t have hit it.”
“Yes, I would’ve. Way to go, by the way. Littering.” He shakes his head, clearly annoyed.
“No, you wouldn’t have hit it. And I was just getting rid of a cup that you got all sticky and wet.”
He sighs. “That’s it.”
“What’s what?” I snap, knowing full well what he means. ‘That’s it’ is code for ‘You’ve pushed enough of my buttons today’. I know I have. I know I’ve been bitchy. But I also know I have a two hour car trip to make it up to him, and frankly, I’m just not worried about pissing him off at the moment. I’m grouchy. Grouchy people deserve melancholic company, unlike the joyful demeanor that’s been radiating from David all day. It’s like he’s been injected with actual holiday spirit.
He pulls over to the side of the road and puts the truck in park. I look at him, confused, as he takes the key from the ignition. He shoots me a stern look and gets out, marching around the front of the truck. Then he opens my door, unbuckles my seatbelt, and yanks me out.
“What the hell are you doing?” I demand.
He ignores me and hauls me toward the forest. There’s a narrow foot path, and I see a sign, partially hidden behind overgrowth. Apparently this is a hiking spot. There are no footprints in the snow, though, so it’s clearly not very popular.
I have a sinking feeling in my belly that David and I are not about to go on a hike.
“What are you doing?” I ask again. We’re about twenty feet into the forest, and he stops, turns me to face him, and stares down at me. His eyes are icy like the chill around us and he’s frowning.
“You have been a complete pain since we got out of the truck to find the tree.”
“No I haven’t!” I try, unsuccessfully, to shake his grip of my upper arm.
“Yes, you have. You know what happens when you get that attitude. Especially when you get it with me.”
“You can’t spank me.” I look around, frantic. “Not here. Not outside. Someone will see.”
He lets go of me and unbuttons my jeans while I attempt to stop him. He’s too strong. He yanks down my pants and suddenly I’m bare-assed, in the woods, in the freezing cold.
“David! You can’t!”
“Shout like that, and you’re right, someone might hear you and see you getting your ass spanked for being so rude,” he says. He puts his foot up on a large rock beside the trail and bends me over his knee. “Anything you want to say to me?”
“It’s too cold. I’ll get hypothermia.” Though I’m staring at the snow-covered ground, I can almost see his face as I utter those words. He’s probably rolling his eyes. I wiggle, trying to get up, but he holds me tight.
“You’ll be warm soon.”
He spanks my ass hard, and I’m totally not prepared for the onslaught of pain. I cry out and kick, and I hit his leg with my fists.
“Stop, please! Ow! David! Owwww.”
After less than a minute, I relent and stop struggling, and take the spanking I know I deserve. He stops just after I’ve calmed, and pulls me to my feet. Standing in front of him, my pants around my ankles, I look down to the ground.
“Now, are you going to apologize? Or should I cut a branch off one of these trees and continue?”
I tremble at the thought, and shake my head. “I’m sorry.”
“What are you sorry for?”
“For being rude.” There’s a lump in my throat and I swallow hard. “For ruining your afternoon.”
“Good girl.” He wraps his arms around me and hugs me tight. “You haven’t ruined my afternoon. Now, if you can manage to be polite, we’ll have a nice ride. If you can’t fix your rudeness right now, then keep your mouth shut, or you’ll be in for a long punishment when we get home. Understand?”
He bends down and pulls my pants up, and I button them. Then I bite my lower lip and look up at him, feeling sheepish.
“I think it’s the weather,” I explain as we trudge back to the truck.
“Sure.” He glances back at me, and the look on his face tells me he doesn’t think the weather has anything to do with my sour mood.
About ten minutes later, as we’re cruising down the road, my ass is still warm and my spirits have lifted. I start talking about our Christmas menu, and David grins at me, sliding his hand over my thigh and squeezing gently.
When we get home, I remind myself to be nice as he unties the tree. I let Sparky out, and he comes to watch us as we struggle to unload the tree and carry it into the living room. We get it standing, and I sweep the stray pine needles from the wooden floor as David unwraps the mesh around it, freeing the branches. He turns the tree, stands back, then turns it some more until he has it right where he likes it.
“What do you think?” he asks, admiring it from the middle of the room.
“It’s perfect.” I snuggle into him, and he drapes his arm around my shoulders.
“I think so, too. Our first Christmas together. It’s gonna be great.”
Wishing you all well.