Santa Monica, CA
Last week, my co-worker Lauren and I got to talking about Christmas. I have an interesting relationship with this Lauren. She always talks about grabbing lunch or after-work cocktails, and I always say sure, that’s a great idea. She never follows up, and I never care, as I listen to her chatter all day long as it is. I know all about her fiancé and her cat and, like, the juiciest plot lines of her favorite TV shows which I’ve assured her, over and over, that I’ll have to check out sometime. She’s the kind of person who openly pities any woman over twenty without immediate marriage prospects. When she thinks to ask me about myself at all, it’s only to give advice on my dating life. She likes to tell me how jealous she is that I’m single.
So anyway, Lauren asked me whether I was getting a tree this Christmas, and I told her I hadn’t thought about it. I really hadn’t, and the default was that I would let Christmas pass without thinking about it. Then she made this comment, all snide in content, sweet in tone, like, “Oh I guess when I lived on my own I never bothered with decorating for Christmas either.”
This escalated, of course, in furious friendly fashion, until she ended up offering to go with me to a cute little tree lot she knew in Santa Monica. She and her fiancé had gotten their tree there and if I really needed a tree, she would be happy to help me pick one out. We were to hang out off campus at last.
Nothing about this outing made sense. I’d never decorated for Christmas before, and I really felt fine about my tree-free apartment. Even if I wanted a tree, I would have gone to a Vons or the Home Depot in Hollywood rather than driving across town to go to Lauren’s favorite tree lot. Why did she have a favorite tree lot anyway?
We met at Lauren’s house in Westwood. It was annoyingly beautiful, and she insisted on giving me the “grand tour.” I met her fiancé Hal, and a few things fell into place. He was around twenty years older, and he wore Gucci eyeglasses. He was handsome for his age, with a nobly shaved head. I knew he had some lucrative finance job, and Lauren made sure to name it again as she introduced us.
We left Hal to go to Tree World, which was a huge lot of Christmas trees located near the freeway. There was a sign at the entrance that showed an orca in a Santa hat, and I knew I shouldn’t have come.
I wandered around the lot looking at trees, wondering if I was actually going to buy one. Lauren followed me around with impressive tenacity, offering her opinions on this or that tree, like she was a tour guide and we were spending a day at the Met. Just walking with her was sapping my energy and I couldn’t imagine buying a tree and strapping it to my car with her help.
I was trying to think of a polite way to beg off when I felt Lauren stop moving behind me. When I looked at her, she was quiet and distracted, standing still and arranging her hair. Her eyes brightened as a man came towards her, but she pretended, without much success, not to notice him.
He was a handsome man in a plaid jacket, tall and brawny with a strong jaw. He smiled as he approached, and his teeth seemed to catch the afternoon light with a cinematic glitter. “I know you,” he said to Lauren. “And you already have a tree.”
She looked up as if he’d startled her. “Oh, hi!” she said. “I love the tree. I told you I’d bring my friends.”
They chatted for a long time, and I drifted away to examine every tree while my eyes lingered near them. Lauren was flirting openly, and from the looks of it she had quite a knack for it. The tree man laughed and his hands moved around, landing frequently on her shoulders and elbows.
I didn’t know what else to do so I found a little tree that would look okay by my kitchen table and paid for it through an available salesman. He helped me lug it to my car, and when it was all secure, I loitered for another fifteen minutes, playing Candy Crush on a bench.
Eventually, Lauren came and found me, and we left the lot with a tree on the roof of my car. “Oh good,” she said. “You got one.” I smiled and nodded, and I could tell she was waiting for me to say something. I held out, and I prayed silently that she would let me go home in peace.
Six hours later, I had a tree in my apartment, and I was in Lauren’s confidence. White elephants all around.
Steph Cha is the author of Follow Her Home, a feminist hardboiled detective novel. She lives in Los Angeles and mothers a basset hound.