Chapter Two: O Christmas Tree

“No lights.”

Jim frowned as he gazed, rather disappointed, at the lopsided tree he had just dragged up the basement stairs.

“Let me just jiggle it a little. Probably something just got knocked loose.” He smiled at his daughter, who looked back at him with big, wide blue eyes.

Jim knelt down beside the tree and shook it here and there. Fussing with all the little unlit lights.

“Still no lights,” Lily said.

Jim bit his lip. Figured. And anyway, why the hell had this stupid tree been saved if it didn’t have working lights?

“This should go straight to the trash. I don’t know why Mom even kept this.”

He frowned then as a memory, pretty much forgotten, flashed through his mind just then.

“Oh. This tree? It was the one your dad and I got the first Christmas after we were married.”

“Daddy?”

He looked up at her. Her eyes looked a little watery and he could tell she didn’t want to show him she was upset the tree didn’t work.

“Okay. Let’s go into town and get a new one.”

“Really?”

“Yep. I think there’s a sale down at the depot on Ralston Way. We can get one there. And maybe some lights for this one to put up somewhere else in the house and we can have two trees.”

“Yay!”

Jim didn’t know how he was going to afford it, but there was no way Lily was going to pay the price of his somewhat sucky life. When he’d become her single parent, he had vowed he would give her an amazing life, and if she wanted a Christmas tree with working lights, she would get one.

Jim got them back into their coats and back out to the hover car. It coughed a bit but then, thankfully, sputtered back to life. Jim could fix it if needed, but he sure didn’t want to mess with it in the cold.

Jim knew the owner of the depot store. Her name was Barb and she’d gone to school with Jim’s older brother, Sam, back when Sam was around, anyway. The store was kind of a mix, sort of like a general store of old, with food and clothes and décor, especially holiday stuff at this time of year.

She called out a greeting when Jim and Lily entered, and since Lily knew her, she ran right over to Barb.

Jim went over to the trees and on his way he spotted a little pink crystal angel that reminded him of Lily. It was cute and sweet like she was and was only a couple of bucks so he picked it up, figuring Santa could put it in her stocking.

When he made it up to the counter with his purchases, a six-foot pre-lit fake tree, a few strands of lights, and the angel, Lily was chattering away to Barb. Jim smiled and then glanced toward the nearby glass door that let him see the street beyond.

That’s when he spotted the sign in the window of the place across the street.

Help Wanted.

Jim turned quickly back to Barb, handing over his credit chip. “Barb, can you keep watch of Lily a little bit longer? There’s a help wanted sign over there and…”

“Oh,” Barb interrupted. “I heard about layoffs at the shipyard. You go right ahead, Jimmy.” Then as he turned to go outside, she put her hand on his arm, while looking to make sure Lily wasn’t listening.

She quickly showed Jim a doll with long dark, yarn hair.

“Lily was admiring this earlier. I’m going to add it to your order, no charge.”

“Barb…”

“Now, you shut up. I’m paying for it. You wrap her up and tell your girl it’s from Santa. It’s okay to accept help sometimes. You know?”

Jim nodded, feeling a bit of an uncomfortable lump form in his throat. “Okay. Thanks. Be right back.”

“Take your time. I’ll give her some cocoa.”

Jim stepped outside and drew his coat around him as he waited for a hover car to pass before crossing the street and going up to the door with the sign.

It was clearly a restaurant, or going to be, anyway, as it looked like it had not yet opened. There was Vulcan writing on the fixed sign. He stopped to read it. He knew some Vulcan. Not much but some.

Gad-Shen

“Sunrise,” Jim murmured. He put his hand on the door, pushed it open, and entered.

“Hello? Anyone here?”