Stacey hummed softly as she rummaged through the shoe boxes crammed into her apartment closet. There was plenty of construction paper in there somewhere. Her cold fingers moved quickly through the organized stacks.
Merry Christmas, Mom. I wish you were here. I have the perfect gift for you, the matching scarf for your jacket.
“A Christmas tree?” Kelli squealed. “A real one? For real?” She bounced up and down as best as she could from her over-sized snowsuit. “Hurry, hurry, hurry!”
Another squeal of delight ripped through the chilly winter air, as her father swooped her up in his arms, the family trailing behind as they headed for the minivan. Squabbles of who sat where were quickly settled and the family was soon on their way, singing along to the radio carols.
“Are we there yet?” Kelli peered out the window.
Her mother laughed. “Not yet, sweetie.”
“How about now?” Kelli's booted feet thumped loudly on the back of Darren's seat.
He released a sigh, punctuated by burying his face in thickly gloved hands. “Mom! Kelli's kicking the back of my chair again!”
Aha! There you are!
Stacey snatched up a handful of multicolored paper. The humming upped a few notches as she re-stacked the shoe boxes and rolled up to her feet. “One yellow, one red....two green...huh...oh wait...more green...a yellow....a blue...” Her voice trailed off.
Merry Christmas, Fa. I wish you were here. I have the perfect gift for you, the rooster and tractor windchime like Gramps has.
“We're here!” Kelli shrieked, tumbling out into the snow and Carrie's waiting hands. “We're here...right?” Her cherub face snapped up, worry creasing her tiny forehead for the briefest of moments.
“Yep, we're here.” Carrie tucked her arm carefully around her little sister. “C'mon, let's find the best tree ever! A huge one!”
“A really big one, not!” Darren rolled his eyes. “It has to fit through the door...remember?” He shook his head with all the disdain his teenage frame could handle. Jamming his hands in his jacket pockets, he started off into the winter wonderland.
Tape, glue and scissors gleamed from their carefully aligned positions. Stacey deftly folded and twisted, shaping the flat pieces of paper into something from the depths of her mind.
“And a green...” She carefully formed the green cone, trimming the edges with the scissors to be sure it would stand tall. A few quick snips of color, mixed with dabs of glue furthered her creative endeavors a she started on the ornaments.
Merry Christmas, Darren! I wish you were here. I found that cellphone holder you wanted, engraved and all.
“That's it!” Carrie practically shouted.
And so it was. The family was in agreement. The evergreen specimen was selected and paid for. Then carefully wrapped and strapped to the top of the minivan.
“Yay! Yay! Yay!” Kelli clapped her hands in delight as they turned in the driveway. Her enthusiasm was contagious enough to tug a smile out of Darren.
Stacey gently pasted the paper ornaments on her tiny tree. It looked lovely, at least. Her lips quirked and she packed up the craft supplies, hunting for a safety pin.
She found one in the collar of her old winter coat, properly securing the dry cleaner's tag. She tugged the pin loose and tucked the tag in coat pocket. Minutes later, tiny pin holes adorned the paper Christmas tree.
The pin was soon replaced and a cheap flashlight was found. Stacey turned it on and stood it up. She dropped the paper Christmas tree over it and turned off the kitchen-dining room light.
Miss you girls, Carrie, Kelli. Wish you were here. I got you the most fabulous presents ever!
The sparkling, glittering tower seemed to struggle to stand straighter under the honor of the title “Christmas tree.” The kids gathered around, tired and quiet.
Kelli yawned, burrowing into the cozy corner of the sofa. “Mommy, did Stacey call?” She mumbled.
All heads turned, expectant. Faces fell at the shake of her head. Mom offered a smile. “You know there's been bad weather and all. Stacey will come if she can. I'm sure she's thinking of us right now.”
“Now?” Kelli blinked.
Kelli smiled sleepily. “Christmas story, Mommy.” She patted the empty spot beside her. “Please?”
Merry Christmas, Stacey. We miss you, my darling daughter!
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