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A White Wedding Christmas Andrea Laurence 2022/8/3 13:46:20

“I didn’t do it alone, I assure you. The Catholic charity came and picked up all the old things we didn’t want to keep. I’ve had contractors in and out all week. We didn’t do any major renovations, so it’s mostly cosmetic, but I think it turned out nicely.”

“Well, what’s left for me to do?”

Colin took her hand and led her into the formal dining room. There, in front of the bay window, was a giant Christmas tree. Apparently her plan to distract him with sexual escapades hadn’t worked the way she’d thought.

“Colin,” she complained, but he raised a hand to silence her.

“Nope. You agreed to go along with the bet. It’s not fair if you stonewall my plans. If you’re confident enough to win, you’re confident enough to decorate a Christmas tree without being affected by the cloying sentimentality of it all.”

Natalie sighed. “Okay, fine. We’ll trim the tree.”

Colin grinned wide. “Great! I got all the decorations down from the attic.”

They approached the pile of boxes and plastic totes that were neatly stacked by the wall. He dug around until he found the one with Christmas lights.

“When did you have the time to get a live tree?”

“I went by a tree lot while you went back to your place to shower and change. It took some creative maneuvering to get it into the house, but I was successful. Would you like a drink before we get started?” he asked as he walked into the kitchen.

“Sure. Water would be fine.”

“How about some cider?” he called.

Cider? Natalie followed him into the kitchen, where she was assaulted by the scent of warm apple, cinnamon, orange zest and cloves. It was almost exactly like the scented candle she still had sitting on her desk from one of his holiday deliveries. She could hardly believe it, but Colin actually had a small pot of mulled cider simmering on the stove. Sneaky.

She wasn’t going to acknowledge it, though. “Some cider would be great,” she said. “It’s a cold day.”

“All right. I’ll be right out and we can get started on that tree.”

Natalie wandered back into the dining room and stared down the Christmas tree. She hadn’t actually been this close to one in a long time. The scent of pine was strong, like the wreath on her door. She’d never had a real tree before. Her mother had always insisted on an artificial tree for convenience and aesthetics. While perfectly shaped and easy to maintain, it was lacking something when compared to a real tree.

The soft melody of music started in another room, growing louder until she could hear Bing Crosby crooning. Before she could say anything, Colin came up to her with a mug of cider and a plate of iced sugar cookies.

“You’re kidding, right? Did you seriously bake Christmas cookies?”

“Uh, no,” he laughed. “I bought them at a bakery near the tree lot. I didn’t have time to do everything.”

“You did plenty,” she said, trying to ignore Bing’s pleas for a white Christmas. “Too much.” She sipped gingerly at the hot cider. The taste was amazing, warming her from the inside out. She’d actually never had cider before. It seemed she’d missed out on a lot of the traditional aspects of the holiday by abstaining for so long.

While it was nice, it wasn’t going to change how she felt about Christmas in general. Natalie reluctantly set her mug aside and opened the box of Christmas lights. The sooner they got the tree decorated, the sooner she could get out of here.

They fought to untangle multiple strands, wrapping the tree in several sets of multicolored twinkle lights. From there, Colin unpacked boxes of ornaments and handed them one at a time to Natalie to put them on the tree. They were all old and delicate: an assortment of glass balls and Hallmark figurines to mark various family milestones.

“Baby’s First Christmas,” Natalie read aloud. It was a silver rattle with the year engraved and a festive bow tied around it. “Is this yours?”

Colin nodded. “Yep. My mom always bought a few ornaments each year. This one,” he said, holding up Santa in a boat with a fishing pole, “was from the year we went camping and I caught my first fish.”

Natalie examined the ornament before adding it to the tree with the others. “That’s a sweet tradition.”

“There are a lot of memories in these boxes,” Colin said. “Good and bad.” He unwrapped another ornament with a picture of his parents set between a pair of pewter angel wings.