Tasha shuffled through the front door and brushed snow from her shoulders. The forecast hadn’t called for snow but she got off the subway and found a light coating on the sidewalks and street. She’d walked the two blocks from the subway to the apartment she shared with Patterson with her hands jammed deep in her pockets as she thought about how fruitless her shopping trip had been. Tasha had gone to four stores in search of the perfect gift for Patterson and had come back empty-handed. Nothing seemed quite right.
She’d spent hours wandering aimlessly through Macy’s and the Apple store. She’d popped into a jewelry store and immediately left when her eyes fell on an enormous display of engagement rings and a sign declaring it was “cuffing season.” It was much too early for that sort of thing. She’d finally gone into a hobby shop with posters of comic book characters and a Dungeons and Dragons chess set in the window but Tasha had looked around with a blank stare, not knowing quite what to buy. So, she’d bought nothing and headed for home.
Now she shrugged out of her coat and hung it on the hook beside Patterson’s jacket and froze. When she’d left hours earlier, Patterson had been sitting on the couch reading through a magazine with a mug of coffee. She was nowhere to be seen now but the living room was different. Tasha took a few tentative steps into the room and stopped.
She stood in the middle of the living room and stared at the 7-foot tall tree Patterson had somehow gotten up the narrow stairs, through the front door, and crammed into the room. It was nearly too tall for the room, and the tree topper her girlfriend had jammed on top scraped against the ceiling. She took a step closer to the tree and examined it carefully, grabbing onto a branch. It was real. She’d half expected it to be artificial. She shook her head and turned towards the kitchen.
“You didn’t take that tree on the subway, did you?” she asked. “How did you even get it in here?”
Patterson poked her head out of the pantry and looked at Tasha in bemusement.
“Please, Tash, give me some credit,” she said. She gave single shake of her head. “No, I didn’t take it on the subway. How was shopping?”
Tasha arched an eyebrow and leaned both elbows on the counter, cradling her chin as she watched Patterson search through the pantry.
“Unproductive,” Tasha answered truthfully. “So?”
“So, what?” Patterson replied, pulling out a bag of flour from the cabinet and setting it heavily on the counter beside the stove.
Tasha sighed. “How’d you get it in here? You sure didn’t wait for my help.”
Patterson grabbed a bottle of red wine from a small rack and pulled the cork. She took a pair of wine glasses from a cabinet and poured them each a glass. She slid one across the counter towards Tasha.
“You think I can’t do things without you?” she asked as she took a small sip to hide her smile. It was fun to get Tasha’s defenses up.
Tasha’s glass was halfway to her lips and she stopped, set the glass back down, and put her hands on her hips. She walked around the counter to face Patterson and frowned.
“I didn’t say that,” she said softly. “I know you can do things without me. That’s just a really big tree and you’re just one tiny person.”
“You’re tiny, too,” Patterson mock-sulked, setting her own glass down.
Tasha reached for Patterson’s hands and took them in her own. She gave her a small smile.
“Together we’re not so tiny,” she said. “I could have helped.”
Patterson leaned forward and brushed her lips lightly against Tasha’s and then pulled her hands away. She picked her glass back up.
“It came from Amazon,” she said, all sulking gone from her voice. She took a sip and turned to a recipe card next to a bowl and a small assortment of spices. “They sell trees now and they deliver. This was literally delivered into the living room.”
“Amazon,” Tasha repeated. Her frown deepened. “You made me think you struggled getting this tree into the building, up the stairs, into the apartment, and upright when it came in a box from UPS?”
Patterson carefully measured out a cup of flour and dumped it into a mixing bowl. She unscrewed the cap to a bottle of vanilla extract as she spoke.
“I didn’t do anything,” she said as she poured out a teaspoon of vanilla and dumped it into the bowl. “You came home, saw the tree, and assumed I did it. I just opened a door, helped the guy put it in the stand, and jammed that horrible star on top. I thought you and I could decorate it later. I mean, if you want to.”
Tasha stifled a laugh by taking a sip of her wine. The star topper was horrible but she wasn’t going to say anything about it. It was Patterson’s and she’d put it on top of the tree herself. She’d just assumed that the blonde liked the topper even if she thought it was the gaudiest thing she’d ever seen.
She set her glass back down and walked around the kitchen to stand behind Patterson. Tasha slipped her arms around the blonde’s waist and nuzzled into her neck, placing a kiss below her right ear.
“It’s our first Christmas together,” she said. “Of course, I want to. There are a lot of things I want to do.”
Patterson stopped mixing the cookie dough she was working on and tipped her head to give Tasha better access to that spot that made her moan. She dropped the spoon and brought a hand to the back of Tasha’s head and ran her fingers through her hair.
“Jesus, woman,” she said with a laugh. “You’re gonna make me ruin my cookie dough.”
Tasha stopped her oral assault on her neck and peered into the bowl.
“What are you making?”
“Chocolate chip cookies,” Patterson said, picking her spoon back up and giving the dough a final stir. “You can try one later.”
Tasha gave a primitive growl from somewhere in the back of her throat and kissed Patterson’s neck again. “I’ll eat your cookies anytime.”
Patterson barked a laugh and spun around to face Tasha.
“Wow you just made holiday baking sound incredibly dirty.”
Tasha leaned in and gave Patterson another quick kiss.
“That’s exactly how I meant it,” she said with a wolfish grin before picking her glass back up. She took a sip and looked around the room. “So, what can I do? I’m not baking. I don’t think that’ll end well.”
Patterson grabbed a cookie scoop from a drawer and began filling a baking sheet with rounded scoops of dough.
“Well,” she began slowly. “You can take the boxes of decorations out of the closet. There’s two boxes in there that need to be pulled out.”
Tasha nodded. This she felt confident in. Not that she couldn’t cook. Tasha had mastered most of her family’s recipes but baking was still just a bit outside of her wheelhouse. Besides, Patterson looked cute wearing an apron with that smudge of flour on her face.
“Okay, I’ll go find them.”
Patterson scooped another ball of dough onto the baking sheet. “I’ll be out to help as soon as these get into the oven. “
Tasha carried her wine glass into the living room and set it down on the coffee table. She wondered which closet Patterson meant. There was the front closet where they kept coats, the bedroom closets which were overflowing and still contained a few boxes from when Tasha moved in, and a closet in the living room that she’d never seen the inside of. Probably the living room closet. She grabbed the door knob and opened the door. She was surprised at how many boxes were stacked neatly inside. There were boxes marked “puzzles,” “old tech,” and her eyes lingered on a box labeled simply “DAVID”. She couldn’t help but stare at the box, and she felt slightly embarrassed as if she may have invaded her girlfriend’s privacy. Patterson didn’t talk about David anymore but she knew he still held a very special place in her heart.
She looked away from the David box and spotted what she’d been sent to find. Two boxes were marked “CHRISTMAS” in Patterson’s careful handwriting. Tasha slid the box marked “old tech” to the side, closer to the David box, and grabbed one of the Christmas boxes. She carried it out of the closet and set it beside the tree before going back to grab the second box. They were heavier than she’d expected.
She started to close the closet door when a small shipping box fell from a top shelf. Tasha stooped to pick it up and noticed that the box was open. She glanced inside but quickly closed it again and shoved the box back up on the shelf. That was a box that Patterson probably didn’t want her to see. Tasha guessed it was a Christmas gift and felt a bit guilty for peeking inside. She hadn’t gotten a good look at it but she recognized the black velvet of a jeweler’s box when she saw one.
Tasha had a brief moment of panic and her stomach began to twist itself into knots, all thoughts of the David box were forgotten. The velvet box was much too small to be a necklace or a bracelet. If she was being perfectly honest with herself, it looked like a ring box. She silently prayed that Patterson hadn’t gotten something she wasn’t ready to accept.
Dios mio, she thought. Don’t let it be an engagement ring.
They’d been friends for years but hadn’t even been dating for a full year. She loved Patterson but she wasn’t even thinking about marriage. The ring display in the jewelry store had sent her running, but she didn’t want to hurt Patterson by not saying yes if that's what was actually in the box.
It’s not what’s in the box, she decided and closed the closet door. It’s probably not even a gift for me. Don’t be so full of yourself, Zapata. Patterson isn’t thinking about asking you to marry her, you idiot.
Tasha turned back towards the two boxes of Christmas decorations and opened them. She slowly began pulling items out and laying them on the table. She tried to forget about the velvet box and didn’t hear Patterson come up behind her.
“You found them,” Patterson said, taking a package of Christopher Radko bulbs from Tasha and setting them on the table.
“Mmmhmm,” Tasha replied, not looking up as she continued to dig through the box absently. She pulled a box of shiny glass ornaments out and flipped the lid open. “So, just start decorating then?”
Patterson stopped digging through the boxes and studied Tasha for a quiet moment. “Yeah,” she said but made no movement to join in decorating the tree. She watched as Tasha began hanging ornaments but noticed that the smile had disappeared from her face and she seemed stiff. What had happened since Tasha left the kitchen?
Oh no, Patterson thought as she felt her grip on the wine glass start to loosen. She set it down on the table and grabbed Tasha by the forearms as the brunette turned to grab another ornament.
“Stop,” Patterson commanded, holding Tasha still. “What’s the matter?”
Tasha shook her head. “Nothing. I’m just decorating the tree.”
Patterson released her grip on Tasha’s arms and went quickly to the closet. She grabbed the box from the top shelf and pulled it down. She took the black velvet box and held it up.
“It’s not what you think,” she said.
Tasha stopped and stared at the box. She was right. It really did look like a ring box. Patterson was holding a ring box.
“I think it looks like a ring box,” she said flatly and looked towards the floor.
Patterson chewed her lip and looked back at the box. It did look like a ring box.
“Oh, geez,” Patterson said. She could feel herself starting to panic. “It’s not. I swear. It’s absolutely not a ring box.”
Tasha gave a single nod and turned back to the decorations. “Okay. It’s not a ring box,” she said and picked up what looked like an expensive glass nutcracker ornament. “Any place special you want this?”
Patterson gently took the ornament from Tasha’s hand and set it back in its tissue paper wrapping on the coffee table. She licked her lips nervously and then held the box out to Tasha.
“I was going to save this for Christmas but I think you’re freaked out by it,” she said. Tasha started to shake her head but Patterson held up a hand to stop her. “No, you should have it now. I promise it’s not what you think it is.”
She held out the velvet box for Tasha but the brunette didn’t try to take the box until Patterson set it in her palm.
“Please,” Patterson said, her eyes shining. “Open it now.”
Tasha stared down at the box for a moment and then looked back up at Patterson who was watching her with a serious look on her face. Patterson gave her a smile and a nod and Tasha looked back at the box. She took a deep breath and carefully lifted the lid.
Inside the box was a small roughly cut rectangular piece of rock and Tasha plucked it from the box and looked at it closely. It was barely larger than a quarter and there was no way it was what she thought it was. She looked back up at Patterson, an eyebrow arched and confusion on her face.
“It’s a piece of a lunar meteorite,” she explained. “Found in the Sahara Desert in 2005. I know you love stars.”
Tasha nodded and looked dumbly back down at the small unpolished rock. She was holding a piece of the moon in her hand.
“I like stars,” she said stupidly as she turned the meteorite over in her hand.
Patterson stood closely to her and wrapped her hand around Tasha’s that was holding the rock. “I can’t give you the moon,” she said. “But I can give you a very small part of it.”
Tasha smiled and put the rock back in its box. She kissed Patterson and then looked sheepishly at the velvet box.
“Thank you,” she said. “I love it. Really. And I'm sorry. The shipping box fell out of the closet and I picked it up and I saw the other box and you’re right. I freaked out.”
Patterson nodded. She understood. The previous day she’d stopped in a jewelry store during her lunch break in her search for one more special Christmas gift for Tasha but the sign announcing “cuffing season” had sent her running back to the NYO. She was in love with Tasha. There was no sense in denying that but marriage was the furthest thing from her mind. It seemed they were on the same page.
“I’m glad you like it,” she said. She started to say more but a timer rang from the kitchen. “I have to grab that. Keep decorating?”
They continued decorating the tree until there were no ornaments left. Patterson disappeared into the kitchen every 12 minutes to take a new batch of cookies out of the oven and on her final trip, she returned to the living room with a plate of warm, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. She set the plate down and took a step backwards, taking in the entire tree as Tasha hung one final ornament. She snagged a cookie and carried it over to Tasha.
"The tree looks great,” Patterson said as she offered the cookie.
Tasha took the still warm treat and bit into it. She rolled her eyes in appreciation.
“That’s terrific,” she said “How is that so good?”
Patterson shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said. “I just followed the recipe.”
“They’re good,” Tasha said around a mouthful of cookie.
Patterson beamed as she watched Tasha wolf down a second cookie.
“Now what?” Tasha asked. “The tree is up. I’ve packed all the boxes away again. What else can I do?”
“A Christmas movie?”
Patterson shrugged and nodded. “Yeah. I mean tis the season, right?”
“Right,” Tasha agreed. “You pick. Whatever you want.”
“No,” Patterson protested. “I don’t wanna pick. What do you want to see?”
Tasha was halfway towards the bedroom and she stopped. “Whatever you want,” she said and the disappeared into the other room.
Patterson gave a sigh and went to the shelves holding their combined DVD collection. She scanned the titles, rejecting a number of comedies and traditional animated classics. Tasha returned to the living room with a fuzzy throw blanket and headed towards the couch as Patterson selected a title and loaded the disc into the DVD player.
Tasha curled up on the couch and pulled the blanket over herself. Patterson turned back from the TV and found Tasha snuggled on the blanket. The brunette patted the cushion next to her.
“Not to be too gay or anything, but cuddle with me?” Tasha asked, smiling as she tapped the spot next to her. “It’s cozy under this blanket and I think there’s room for two.”
Patterson grinned and sat down on the spot beside Tasha, grabbing the remote control from the table as she passed. She was barely settled as Tasha began smoothing the blanket over both of them. Tasha leaned back into the couch, turning her body slightly so Patterson could lean back against her.
“Ready?” Patterson asked as she settled against Tasha and felt the brunette wrap an arm around her waist.
“Hit it,” Tasha said and placed a small kiss on Patterson’s cheek. Patterson rested her head on Tasha’s shoulder and they watched as the title screen for It’s a Wonderful Life filled the TV screen.
They watched the movie silently, neither daring to speak as they snuggled more closely into each other. Tasha placed small kisses on Patterson’s cheek occasionally and played with the other woman’s blonde hair. Patterson’s hand found Tasha’s under the blanket and she mindlessly played with her fingers as she watched.
“I haven’t seen that movie in forever,” Tasha said when the credits finally began to roll.
Patterson didn’t respond and Tasha craned her neck to look at her girlfriend’s face. The blonde had snuggled up as close as she could to Tasha and her head was resting on her shoulder. Tasha kissed the top of her head and realized that the blonde had fallen asleep. She reached for the remote control and silenced the TV before stretching to reach a nearby table lamp. She switched the light off, leaving the room in darkness. She wrapped her arms around Patterson and watched her sleep.
This is perfect, Tasha thought and smiled. She closed her own eyes and drifted off to sleep.