Trimming The Tree
An important question is posed in this festive short story by Helen Yendall.
Ryan filled up the kettle and searched the cupboards for tea. He put in two teabags for good measure, and squeezed them so the tea turned dark brown.
He took their mugs into the lounge, where a huge fir tree stood in a bucket, its top branches almost grazing the ceiling.
Boxes of tinsel and baubles were scattered around, and there was a tangle of fairy lights near the fireplace.
“Erm, Mr Davies,” Ryan started, handing over the tea.
“First things first,” Geoff interrupted. “These lights need sorting. There are two sets in there, all mixed up, and I’m not sure whether they work.”
Ryan nodded. Perhaps while they untangled them they could chat.
Up until now, he and Geoff had never had much to say to each other. Although they both liked football, it was something of a sore point as they supported opposing sides.
Ryan sat on the carpet to start unravelling the lights, expecting Geoff to do the same, but when he looked round, he’d disappeared.
He didn’t come back until Ryan had separated both sets of lights and found the reason that neither set had worked – a missing bulb – and used spare bulbs from the box to fix them.
“Now,” Geoff said, “lights on first. I’ll hold the ladder, while you climb up and start from the top.”
Ryan hesitated. He wasn’t great with heights, and this was a pretty tall tree. But Geoff was waiting. He’d better give it a go. Despite his shaking hands and knees, he managed to fix the lights so they trailed around the tree from the very highest branches. When Geoff passed it up to him, he added the angel, too.
It was a relief to get down.
Geoff handed him a box of baubles.
“You make a start with these. I’ll fetch some more tinsel. Be careful: they’re family heirlooms.”
The third bauble seemed to come apart in Ryan’s hands. He stared at the pieces of blue glass in horror.
This was – or had been – an heirloom!
He could hear Geoff coming back. He could always hide the broken pieces at the bottom of the box and act surprised when they were spotted . . .
But, no, he couldn’t.
“I’m so sorry. I seem to have broken one of the baubles,” he blurted out, holding out the pieces and wincing.
Geoff pursed his lips and nodded. He took the pieces from Ryan’s hand and told him to sit down. He took the seat opposite, and thought for a second before he spoke.
“When Cassie told me you wanted to have a chat this afternoon, I guessed you didn’t want to borrow my chainsaw or stepladder. Am I right?”
Ryan’s heart sank into his boots. He’d blown it.
“No. I wanted to ask you something important.”
Geoff looked stern.
“Come on, then. What is it?”
Ryan stood up. He took a deep breath and tried not to stumble over the words.
“Mr Davies, I’d like to ask if you would agree to me asking Cassie to make me the happiest man in the world.” He took another breath. “And marry me.” Geoff rubbed his chin. “Well, let’s see.” He nodded. “You make a perfect cup of tea; you’ve got the patience of a saint; you sorted out those fairy lights without a murmur; you overcame your fear of heights to go up that tree and –” he held out the pieces of broken bauble “– you’re honest.”
Ryan’s head was spinning. He hadn’t expected this.
Geoff stood up.
“That was quite a speech, lad. And I thought you didn’t have a lot to say for yourself.
“I’ve only got one daughter and I love her very much. But I can see that you do, too, and that you make her very happy.
“Yes, if she’ll have you, that’s more than all right by me. Just one thing.” He hesitated and put his finger in the air.
“From now on,” he continued, “I think you’d better call me Geoff.”
Ryan had come here for a reason – and it wasn’t to fix the fairy lights!