Christmas is coming, and young couple Casey and Ellis are very much in love. Unfortunately, they’re also the definition of dirt poor, and they don’t have the money for nonessentials like decorations. Or a turkey. Or gifts. Between the recent death of Casey’s beloved momma and Ellis’s estrangement from his family, all they have is each other.
When Ellis finds the saddest-looking Christmas tree south of the Mason-Dixon Line thrown away outside his workplace and brings it home to Casey, things look up. Life is still a struggle, but wealth isn’t always measured in money, and what seems worthless to others is often invaluable to the people who love it.
A story from the Dreamspinner Press 2017 Advent Calendar "Stocking Stuffers."
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Heat Level: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 18-25
Tropes: Friends to Lovers, True Love
Word Count: 13203
Languages Available: English
CURLED UP on the floor, in front of the crooked Christmas tree, Casey pulled his favorite threadbare blanket tighter around his thin body to chase away the chill. He made sure it covered his feet, too, even though he wore no less than two pairs of socks that his momma had knitted and given to him last Christmas. He refused to think about the fact that these were the last pairs she’d ever give him.
His feet were always cold. Two blocks of ice, like his boyfriend Ellis always teased. Even now, when the warm December weather—with unusually high temperatures even for the South—hadn’t cooled down their trailer yet.
He couldn’t take his eyes off the tree and its drooping branches. The short needles had already started to fall off even though it was two more days until Christmas. No one in their right mind would call the tree lush or opulent, or even merry.READ MORE
But it was the most beautiful tree he’d ever seen.
Before today, he’d never understood what it meant to have stars in one’s eyes. But as he sat there admiring the sparse fir, he finally got it.
Casey unwrapped himself from the blanket and scooted closer to the tree. He reached out and touched the needles on a low branch, ever so carefully so he wouldn’t make any more of them spill down on the floor. As he hummed an old Christmas tune—his meemaw’s favorite—he thought back to when Ellis had dragged the sorry-looking tree through their narrow trailer door yesterday.
“Where did you get that?” he asked, and tried to keep his eyes from bugging out of his head.
A Christmas tree! He couldn’t believe it.
He jumped up and down with his hands clasped to his chest, making the waist-long tresses of his red hair dance around his body.
Bouncing over to his boyfriend, Casey rubbed his smooth cheek against Ellis’s bristly one, before leaning into the tree, closing his eyes, and inhaling its scent. “Oh, wow.”
The rich aroma of the deep forest made its way through his entire soul, and his eyes watered. He hadn’t even experienced the smell in years. It wasn’t like he could go up to Christmas trees in public places and inhale their scent.
“Thank you,” he choked out and looked at Ellis, who beamed as if Casey had made gold appear from thin air.
Ellis explained how he’d found the tree thrown on the ground outside the garage that morning. His boss had ordered him to dispose of it in the trash, but Ellis had begged to be allowed to bring it home. Boss-Man had stared pointedly at the sad-looking tree but shrugged and agreed.
They didn’t have any decorations, and it had taken all of Ellis’s ingenuity to even figure out how to make it stand up straight. Casey came up with one harebrained idea after another—like taking a string and tying it to the wall.
The more practical Ellis shook his head. “No, boo, that won’t work.”
Instead, he leaned the tree against the wall, smacked a loud kiss on Casey’s cheek, and went outside. Casey stared at him through the window like a nosy old lady as Ellis filled a rusty bucket with gravel from their driveway, and when he got back inside, he stuck the tree into it.
It was steady enough. If a certain redhead didn’t jump too vigorously around it, shouting Christmas carols at the top of his voice.
Casey had never had a Christmas tree in his life. His parents had been too poor for such frivolous things, but his meemaw used to have one every year before she died.COLLAPSE