It was Christmas. Mark as always was the one who made the most of such things. He was as excited as a little kid. The Malones had a big dinner planned. “Manny is making a ham and three kinds of pie. I peeled potatoes till my fingers were blistered. I’m glad Joel talked you into staying. I figured he could do it if anyone could.” Mark bubbled like a geyser pool. “You see that snow coming down?”
Snow was floating down in big flakes on top of a layer of ice. It crunched underfoot as they walked out to meet the wagon as it came down the road. Mark let out a war whoop that was probably heard in the house if anyone had been there but the cook. Malone had left while it was still dark to collect the womenfolk from the train.
Malone brought the team into the yard and jumped off, promptly sliding on the underlying ice. Tyree snickered and Malone shot him a go-to-hell look, which made him laugh louder. Tyree held a hand up to Marcie and helped her down, careful not to repeat Malone’s performance. She pecked him on the cheek and hooked her arm in his arm, walking with him to the house. “Tyree, I missed you so much. There is so much I want to talk to you about.”
His heart skipped a beat at the kinds of things she might want to talk about. He hadn’t told her much before she’d left. There were things she could ask that he didn’t think he could honestly tell her. He’d thought about some of them as he’d lain awake last night, and they terrified him. Most of the night he’d thought about Donny and him hanging for murder. But for the fact he hadn’t been caught…it might have been him hanging.
“I missed you too. It’s been… lonely without someone to talk to.” He hadn’t intended to say such a thing; it was the truth, but he hadn’t thought about how true till now. How much more could he tell her before she would look at him with disgust instead of adoration as she was just now? She squeezed his arm. Malone pushed past them, carrying an armful of packages.“It’s okay boys, I got all this stuff. Just go on talking and don’t worry about me,” he said sarcastically. Tyree looked back at the wagon and raised an eyebrow. “I guess I could help.”
He hurried back, coming up to Mark who had an armful of packages, Tyree shoved him, sending Mark sliding on the ice. Mark yelled and caught himself just before he fell. Tyree snickered. Marcie came behind him and shook her head.
“Flea infested hound dog. Wait till I get my hands on you.” Mark yelled.
Tyree laughed until he nearly fell. He got a face full of snowball from Mark, and then from Marcie.
The house was warm and inviting. Stockings hung from the mantel. A large blue spruce leaned in the corner. Tyree stopped to stare at it. “Isn’t that kinda big and a little green for the fireplace?”
“It’s a Christmas tree, you idiot.” Mark slapped him on the back of the head with a handful of slush. Tyree yelped as ice slid down inside his shirt.
Manny stepped out of the kitchen, shouting “Merry Christmas!” in his deep, calypso voice. He gave Missus Malone a hug. “The ham is cooking and there is eggnog on the table.”
“Delightful. I wanted to get back earlier, but we were delayed because of heavy snow. Looks like we made it just in time to keep from sliding off into the creek.”
Tyree carried the last of the packages and luggage in the house and stepped out onto the veranda. Marcie followed him. “You can smoke in the house, Tyree.”
“I know. It’s just a little crowded in there. It’s all family, I figured…”
“Come back inside, please. It’s cold out here.”
Putting up a Christmas tree didn’t make much sense to him, but he helped them to set it up and watched them decorate it. He looked at it from every angle, enjoying the candles flickering on the limbs, fingering the wooden ornaments Mark had carved.
“Pretty, huh?” Marcie asked.
“Um, yeah, it is. But why do you do it?”
“It’s a Christmas tree. Have you never seen a Christmas tree?”
“Oh sure, I seen some. I just don’t know what they are for. Do you save it for tinder or something?”
“Are you serious?” Mark wanted to know. “Do you even know what Christmas is all about?”
Tyree shrugged. “I don’t think so.”
The look of frustration and confusion on their faces made him wonder what he was missing.
“Don’t you celebrate Christmas?”
“Not really. Never thought much about it.”
“Forget it, Tyree. He’s a heathen, Marcie. Indians know nothing about Christmas.”
Tyree felt his face heat up at what was apparently a joke. It very much reminded him of Donny. It reminded him too that he wasn’t in the same class as the Malones, and maybe he never would be.
A knock came at the door. Malone let Pete inside, placing a cup of eggnog in his hand. It wasn’t long before others arrived, a neighbor with a basket of food and a few of Mark and Marcie’s friends from town and local homesteads. The house was full and noisy. Tyree was happy to see Ms. Aileen had made it too. She brought several packages with her, requiring help to bring them in.
Missus Malone came carrying a tray of drinks and set them down on the table Malone cleared for them. She brought hot cocoa for the children, Alisha and Peter, who played off to one side of the room with neighbor kids.
There was a flurry of activity. Tyree stood back in confusion, self-conscious as people moved around him, Malone carried packages from upstairs, guests came in bringing wrapped gifts, foods, desserts and liquor bottles. The house filled up with people and Tyree found himself a spot by the fireplace, hoping to fade from view.
No one seemed to notice that he visited the liquor table and helped himself to the whiskey more than once. Marcie found him, and handed him a gift and insisted he open it.
“I didn’t get you anything,” His face reddened.
“That’s fine. I just saw this in a shop in Denver and thought of you.”
He tore open the package and stared at the gift she had given him. It was a medicine bag. Intricate beadwork covered it. It was made of white leather, soft as satin. It was a beautiful piece, but Marcie had no idea that this had been sacred to some Cheyenne warrior, probably taken from his body by his killer.
“Something wrong, Tyree?”
“No. Nothing. Thank you very much. This is special.” He carefully folded the paper back over the medicine bag, careful not to actually touch it, and shoved it into his pocket. He looked at Manny.
“She doesn’t understand, Tyree,” Manny said softly in Arapaho.
“I know.” He nodded. How could she know what a medicine bag was, or how this one had come to be in some white man’s shop?
He slipped outside and Marcie came out behind him, stepping up close to him.
“I saw the look on your face when you opened my gift. Are you going to tell me about that?” She asked.
He took her hand and squeezed it gently. “It was nothing, just some thoughts from the past.”
“A lot of things have happened since we last talked. I am not really sure how they changed things. Are we still friends?”
“Are we?” He asked.
“I still feel … I don’t despise you.”
“I do have questions,” she murmured.
“Are you willing to answer them?”
He looked over her head and wanted to touch her, but he didn’t. “I’d almost rather pretend everything is perfect. Pretend there were no questions.”
“That wouldn’t be real.”
“Not sure I can handle real, Marcie. I almost left rather than face you.”
“Cause. I was ashamed I reckon. I thought about how I treated you. That day in the barn and that last kiss I stole from you. Then all the stupid stuff I’ve done in my life.”
“I wanted that kiss.”
“Did you? Cause I didn’t ask, I just took it.”
“I’d like one now.”
He could swim in those green eyes. He felt her hand warm on his cheek.
“Kiss me, Tyree.”
“You sure you don’t just want to be friends? I been trying my best to talk myself into that. If I kiss you I don’t know if I can just be your friend after that.”
“I don’t want to be your friend, Tyree. I gave that a lot of thought. When I came to visit you in jail I knew that wasn’t what I wanted. I was so scared for you.”
“I don’t know if I have what it takes to be what you want.”
“I think you do. Kiss me.”
“I think maybe we should talk first, while I still can. If I can.”
She looked disappointed, but she accepted a hug in place of a kiss.