“That looks good to me,” Bobby said, tilting his head to one side. His breath wafted around him then was wisped away in the stiff breeze.
Chad pulled the rope tighter across the truck bed, wondering if he should make another pass across the Christmas tree for good measure.
“Seriously, I’m ready to go, it’s cold,” Bobby continued with his teeth chattering. “We’ve been out here for hours.”
Stepping back to survey his tie-down job, Chad scoffed. “It has not been hours.”
Bobby pushed up his thick glasses with the knuckle of his red index finger, offering only a sniff in response.
Chad decided the nine-foot tree was secure, so he motioned for Bobby to get in the pickup. Julia would be pleased that he’d found a nice tall, full Christmas tree.
Soon the truck was heading down the dirt road of the Christmas tree farm toward the highway. Chad glanced toward the little man in the passenger seat. “Are you warming up?”
Bobby shrugged and shifted in his seat, holding his fingers out to the heater vent.
Chad arched one brow and glanced both ways before pulling onto the highway. Bobby had been antsy all morning, something was up. “Who put a burr under your saddle?” he asked.
“A burr?” Bobby asked, scrunching his nose.
Chad shook his head, resigned to let Bobby be Bobby.
Finally the truck pulled up in front of the restored Victorian home that Chad and Julia called home. The passenger door flew open and Bobby jumped out almost before the truck came to a full stop.
“Slow down Bobby!” Chad hollered, concerned about the little man. But Bobby was already around the back of the truck untying the ropes holding the Christmas tree. By the time Chad put the truck in park and caught up, the ropes were a tangle of knots.
“What the—” Chad started, but he knew better than to expect an answer from Bobby. Pulling a deep breath in through his nose then blowing it out his mouth, he worked to remain calm. Bobby was definitely in fine form. Ready to try again, he took the tangled rope from Bobby. “Go on inside and see if Julia is ready for the tree.”
“Okay!” Bobby cheered, then sprinted across the snow-covered lawn, leaving deep boot prints behind him. With a clatter he was across the porch and through the door, dropping the gingerbread-trimmed screen behind him with a bang. “Miss Julia…” his voice rang from the house.
About the time Chad got the rope untangled and the tree freed, Bobby was back.
“She’s ready,” he wheezed, holding one hand to his chest as he gasped. His breath puffed around them like a cloud.
Chad opened the tailgate and motioned for Bobby to get the top of the tree, then he gave the trunk a good hard tug.
Misunderstanding Chad’s instruction, Bobby ran behind him to the other side of the truck bed, completely missing the top of the tree as it slid off the tailgate and onto the ground.
The jolt of the tree dropping to the driveway caused Chad to jerk to a stop and nearly drop the trunk end. “Bobby!” he bellowed.
“I got it, I got it,” Bobby cried, bending down, but he couldn’t seem to find a good handhold on the prickly tree.
Chad glanced over his shoulder, working to keep a hold of the weighty trunk. “What are you doing back there?”
Flustered, Bobby finally tugged the tree up from the driveway and tucked it under his arm. Wanting to make up for lost time, he hurried across the yard, passing Chad in the process, pivoting them to face the wrong direction.
“Bobby!” Chad thundered, clomping a hole in the snow as he spun, grunting and grappling with the tree truck.
“Sorry,” Bobby called, continuing his momentum to run a full circle around Chad until the older man was once again in the lead and they faced the house.
When they reached the porch, Chad paused to heft the tree up and head up the steps, but Bobby didn’t stop. Shoved from behind, Chad fumbled up the steps, barely managing to keep his footing and carry the tree. “Bobby, stop!” he thundered, bringing the other man to a stop just before the tree trunk rammed through the screen door. “What is the matter with you?” Chad shouted over his shoulder as Julia hurried to open the screen door.
“I’m cold,” Bobby grumbled, dancing from one foot to the other. “Let’s get this thing inside!”
Chad glance d at Julia and rolled his eyes, then gave the tree a solid tug to fit the fat bottom branches through the doorway. Bobby rushed in behind him like a caboose, and Julia closed the door.
Julia pointed toward one corner of the living room turned flower shop. “I have the spot all ready.”
Before Chad could take a step, Bobby rushed forward, causing the men to drag the tree over the back of the sofa.
Julia worked to cover her grin as boots shuffled on the hardwood floor and the men grunted and cussed, wrestling the tree back into position. In the corner, Chad bent to place the trunk of the tree into the stand Julia had prepared. Grunting and straining under the tree, he tightened the screws. "How does it look, is it straight?" his muffled voice called, and only his rear end showing under the branches.
The second the evergreen was upright, Bobby turned to Julia. “Can we have those cookies and hot chocolate now, Miss Julia?”
Julia grinned. “Sure, come on into the kitchen.”
Bobby let go of the tree and hurried toward the kitchen, gabbing excited to Julia about finding the tree.
“Bobby? Julia?" Chad called from under the tree…
Gloria pulled up behind the house and puffed out a long breath. Her shift at the spa had been a busy one and her feet ached like the dickens. Tugging her keys from the ignition, she shook her head, remembering Beatrice’s visit that afternoon. Lizzie’s mother had a way of dominating the scene.
As she stepped out into the chilly November evening, Gloria chuckled at the thought of Beatrice marching into the spa like a bomb hitting its target. The woman had the tact of a steamroller.
A gust of wind whipped a lock of curly red hair into Gloria’s face, making her shrug deeper into her coat and pick up her pace toward the house. No sleeping dogs obscured the back step tonight, she noted. Fergus must have let them in to sleep in the mudroom. “What a softy,” she murmured, shaking her head.
Cautiously she stepped in, navigated past the sleeping dogs, and closed the back door, keeping the creeks to a minimum. Tiptoeing, she headed through the living room and quietly opened her bedroom door. Snoring sounds came from her Grandfather's room across the hall, so she relaxed, relieved that she'd not disturbed his sleep.
In her room, she shook off her coat, then used one toe to pry the other heel from her winter boots. Dropping onto the end of her bed she huffed out another long sigh as she watched her stocking-clad toes wiggle, enjoying freedom from the heavy boots.
It was guilt-free crafting in her mind, because she needed a planner. It was practical. Unlike her card making, which had to be vigilantly controlled or the time and funds spent went wild.
She flopped back onto the bed to stare up at the cracked ceiling. Christmas was starting to pop up everywhere, like flowers in the spring. Soon the community would be eyeball deep in decorations and holiday activities. She loved Christmas and normally looked forward to the hubbub and chaos, but this year…