“Merry Christmas, Mart,” Diana whispered, pressing closer to him. “Have you been a good boy this year?”

Mart groaned at the combination of the sound of his girlfriend’s sultry tone, and the image of her dressed in a pert elf costume. He grazed his hand over the lush green velvet and allowed his eyes to rake over the copious amount of skin the costume left exposed.

“I don’t know,” he murmured, threading a hand through her hair and drawing her close. “Why don’t you tell me?”

Instead of waiting for an answer, he gave in to his desires and kissed her hungrily, letting his hands roam. Diana pressed even closer to him, settling herself in his lap and clinging to him…

Mart shook his head to clear his wayward thoughts as he heard a key turn in the door of his apartment. Within seconds a young man burst through the door, stamping the snow from his boots.

Mart eyed his roommate and the monstrosity he was dragging into the apartment with trepidation.

“What is that?” he demanded as he set down his mug of coffee and pushed back from the tiny kitchen table covered with papers and text books.

Josh stared at him. “It’s a tree,” he informed him, and Mart could almost hear the “duh” he had resisted adding.

“Are you sure?” He followed Josh to the living room and watched as he tried to find a place for the tree. Between the second-hand entertainment unit and twentieth-hand couch, there wasn’t much room.

Arms folded across his chest, he smirked. “It makes Charlie Brown’s tree look like the tree at Rockefeller Center.”

“Hey!” Josh patted the tree, ignoring the brittle needles that dislodged from the slightest touch. “He didn’t mean it,” he stage whispered to the tree. “You’re perfect just the way you are.”

Mart snorted.

“Here, help me move the couch,” Josh demanded.

With a shrug, he helped his roommate slide the orange and brown eyesore until there was room for the four foot tree. Josh placed it with care, trying several different positions before finding the one with the least number of bare spots showing.

“Where did you find it?” he asked. “Next to the nuclear power plant?”

“You’re just jealous,” Josh informed him.

Mart rolled his eyes.

“And you’re cranky, too,” Josh continued cheerfully.

“I’m not cranky!” he protested. “The tree looks like it stuck its branch in an electrical outlet.”

Josh cocked his head to the side and studied the tree. “That would explain the brown spots,” he mused. “And yes, you’re cranky. Very cranky.”

Mart crossed his arms over his chest. “Am not.”

“Are too.”

“Am not.”

“Are too.”

“I know you are, but what am I?” Mart countered.

Josh rubbed his temple. “Seriously?”

He found himself chuckling. “Okay. I give. But you do realize that this tree isn’t going to make it to Christmas, right?”

Josh glared at him. “Not in front of the t-r-e-e,” he whispered. Placing himself between the tree and Mart, he continued in a normal voice. “We won’t be here for Christmas, either. Remember?”

His scowl was replaced with a goofy grin. “That’s right. It’s home for the holidays!”

Josh flopped onto the couch and absentmindedly patted the tree, sending more needles to lodge in the green shag carpet. “And you’re seeing your girlfriend, right?” he questioned.

“For two weeks,” Mart confirmed. “I can’t wait! I still can’t believe we were trapped here over Thanksgiving.”

“That was an awful storm,” Josh remembered.

“Nothing is keeping me from Sleepyside this time,” Mart vowed. “Nothing.”

“And you’re absolutely certain that this Di girl is going to be there, right?”

He frowned. “Of course she will. She goes to school in New York City, so she shouldn’t have any trouble getting home. Why do you ask?”

Josh raised a brow. “Dude.”

“What?” He stared at his roommate and friend, trying to figure out where he was going with his questions.

“You’ve been grumpy since Thanksgiving,” Josh told him. “I’m guessing it’s because you didn’t get to see your girl.”

Mart flushed.

“So, I’m hoping that after you two spend some quality time together over the holidays,” he waggled his eyebrows suggestively, “you won’t be such a jerk.”

He opened his mouth to protest, but couldn’t deny that he had been… irritable since his cancelled trip. “We don’t have that kind of quality time,” he muttered, embarrassed. As much as they both were tempted, he and Diana had agreed to hold off on a physical relationship. That hadn’t stopped them from some steamy encounters, but so far, they had kept their resolution. Though Mart’s heart and mind were in agreement, his body was not. With each passing day he missed his girlfriend more and more.

Diana squealed in mock outrage as Mart threatened her with a firmly-packed snowball.

“You wouldn’t!” she protested, her eyes dancing with laughter.

“Oh, wouldn’t I?” Mart asked. He stalked toward her, maintaining eye contact with every step.

Diana backed away slowly, matching him step for step. Before he could get close to her, she turned and ran, her long hair streaming behind her. He gave chase, following her further from the Wheeler’s lake, and finally overtook her as they reached a grove of trees.

“Gotcha!” he exclaimed, throwing his arms around her to halt her escape. They tumbled to the ground, Mart landing on top of her. He froze, staring at the beauty beneath him, enjoying the sensation of touching so closely.

“You caught me,” Diana agreed. She laid her hands lightly on his forearms. “Now, what are you going to do with me?”

Without hesitating, he claimed her lips. His senses were on overload, registering the contrast between the cold snow and crisp air, and the warm, willing body in his arms. This was perfect. This was heaven…

“Pretty, isn’t it?” Josh commented, jolting Mart from one of his favourite fantasies as he stared morosely out the picture window of their third storey apartment.

Mart scowled as snow flakes the size of his fist swirled through the air in angry circles, and then drifted harmlessly to the ground. “That’s not the word I was thinking,” he muttered.

“Oh, come on,” Josh cajoled. “It won’t be so bad spending Christmas here.”

“I can’t believe they cancelled my flight,” he groused. “And the trains aren’t running.”

Josh shrugged. “Ten inches of snow and sixty miles-per-hour winds will do that. So, do you want frozen pizza or frozen lasagne for supper?”

“What I want is Moms’ roast chicken,” Mart complained. “And chocolate cake.” He didn’t bother mentioning that he would gladly give up his favourite meal if it meant he could be with Diana for the holidays. His all-too-perceptive roommate was already well aware of that, he was sure. He turned his back on the picturesque snowstorm that was causing much of the Eastern seaboard to grind to a halt. Surveying the tiny living room dominated by the mostly dead Christmas tree, he indulged even further in his pity party. “It doesn’t even look like Christmas in here,” he said, sighing.

“That’s easy enough to fix. We can make decorations for the tree tonight,” Josh offered.

“You think those branches are strong enough to support a string of pop corn?” he questioned.

Josh shook his head. “I can’t believe you’re trash talking the tree. Didn’t your mother ever teach you to pick only on someone your own size?”

Mart stared at the tree. “But that would leave, what, fat elves to pick on the tree?”

“Shh!” Josh hissed, covering an area which could be construed as the tree’s ears. “It’s not his fault! He just didn’t have enough time to grow. Isn’t that right, Fangorn?”

“Fangorn?” he asked, his eyes wide. “Seriously? You named it? After the Ent in Lord of the Rings?”

“Why not?” Josh bristled. “It’s a perfectly good name.”

“Well, yeah. For a mythical forest creature. Not an undersized, poorly developed excuse for conifer!”

“What, would you prefer ‘Piney’? I thought you would at least appreciate the literary aspect of the name,” Josh pointed out.

With a shake of his head, Mart said, “I’ll start popping the corn. Do we have any string, or will we have to use dental floss?”

“Did you hear that, Fangorn? We’re decorating you!” Josh said, beaming. Mart grinned back, grateful for the roommate who obviously knew how to rescue him from his own pity parties.

Two hours later, the tree was dressed in popcorn, painted ping-pong balls, and paper snowflakes. Mart settled a bright yellow star made from construction paper on top of the tree, and leaned close to whisper, “Looking good, Piney,”.

“Thank you for the necklace, Mart.” Diana glanced at him coyly. “Would you put it on me, please?”

Mart took back the small gold heart hanging on a simple chain that he had just given her. “Um, sure,” he stammered, staring at the elegant line of her neck. He gulped as she turned to offer him her mostly bare back. The formal dress she had worn for Christmas dinner at the Wheeler’s was stunning, covering her modestly in front, but exposing almost all of her back. He fumbled nervously, feeling awkward for the first time during the evening. Luckily they had found a deserted room to exchange their own presents, and Diana was the only one to witness his awkward fumbling with the chain.

“There!” he exclaimed when he finally managed to fasten the delicate clasp.

Diana turned around, her fingers tracing the path of the chain. “How does it look?” she asked.

He tracked the progress of her fingers as they traced the line of the chain down to the heart nestled between her breasts. Swallowing hard, he managed to force out one word. “Perfect.”

Diana’s brilliant smile calmed his nerves. “Now, let me thank you properly,” she said, stepping closer.

Surprised, he stood still as she placed a hand on the back of his neck and tugged him closer.

“I love the necklace,” she murmured against his lips. “But I love you more. Thank you, Mart.”

He licked his lips nervously, inadvertently touching Diana’s lips at the same time. She stepped even closer and placed her hand on his chest. Before he could register surprise at her boldness, she was kissing him with a sweetness and passion that he had only dreamed of. She melted against him, and he groaned at the sensation of her body against his. The kiss became more intense as they reaffirmed their love for each other with intimate touches.

“Delivery for Mart Belden,” a voice called, followed by a firm knock on the door. Mart jolted out of his reverie, embarrassed to find that his body was still reacting to his latest fantasy. Shaking his head, he opened the door and accepted the package from the uniformed delivery man.

“I didn’t think deliveries were getting through,” he commented. The city was just beginning to shovel out from the blizzard that had crippled it for almost a week.

“We’re still not getting deliveries from out of state,” the man told him. “These are packages that arrived before the storm that we weren’t able to deliver.”

Mart nodded. “Would you like to come in to warm up, Scott?” he asked, reading the man’s name tag. “We have cookies…”

“No can do,” Scott replied. “But it looks like you got a real nice place.” He frowned, spotting Piney. “That’s quite the, um, tree?” he asked, as if unsure of what the brown lump in the corner of the living room really was.

Mart narrowed his eyes. “Thanks. We’re pretty proud of it. It’s not every tree that size that can hold so much popcorn.” Closing the door firmly behind the delivery man, he took his package into the living room.

“Want to help me open the package?” Mart asked Piney. Without waiting for an answer, he plucked a pair of scissors from a branch. When he and Josh had run out of homemade ornaments to decorate the tree with, they had taken to hanging household objects on it. Since they had wrapped presents the week before, the tree was currently sporting a pair of scissors, a roll of tape, a bottle opener, and an assortment of pens. “Thanks,” he told the tree. Even as he spoke, an ornament fluttered to the floor to join the inch-deep pile of needles. The branches of the tree were almost completely bare, and the few needles that were left were brown and brittle. Mart sighed and resisted the urge to pat the tree, knowing that it would only send more needles flying. Somehow, the tree had grown on him, especially when he and Josh had celebrated Christmas the day before. Though he had talked to his family and the Bob-Whites on the phone, it was the first Christmas he had spent away from them, and he was almost embarrassed to admit how homesick he had felt. Since Josh had brought the tree home, however, it had almost felt as if there were a third person living in the apartment.

“Okay,” he said, choosing not to think about the fact that he was now on speaking terms with Piney. “Let’s open this!”

He slit the box open and eagerly removed the packing peanuts. A card fluttered to the floor.

Dear Mart,

I know you’ll be home for Christmas, but I wanted to send you something so you could decorate your apartment a little. I hope it gets there in time! If not, you’ll have a surprise waiting for you when you get back after spending Christmas in Sleepyside. Merry Christmas!


Mart grinned like a love-struck fool. Though he had talked to Diana only the day before, she hadn’t let on that she’d sent him a package. He plunged his hands into the box, searching for whatever was hiding in the remaining packing peanuts. Ten minutes later, he stared at the row of glass ornaments he had set on the couch. Simple and elegant, they reminded him of Diana.

“I know you liked these ornaments,” he told Piney, “but it’s time you had a new outfit. You’ll like the new decorations; I promise.” He carefully removed the homemade decorations and replaced them with the new ones. As he hung the last one, Josh emerged from studying in his bedroom.

“Dude!” he exclaimed, staring at the tree. “What happened?”

Mart winced. “I guess I should have checked with you first. Diana sent me some ornaments, and I wanted to see what they would look like on Piney. Do you mind that I took the other ones down?”

Josh shook his head and examined the tree more closely. “The tree looks great. In fact, I think Fangorn likes them, don’t you?”

Mart scrutinized the tree. The needles did seem a little less brown as they were reflected in the shiny glass.

“Wait.” Josh began to grin. “Diana sent you these ornaments?”

He nodded. “Yeah, so? Something wrong with that?”

Josh shook his head, starting to chuckle. “Not a thing. In fact, I can’t think of a more appropriate present for you from her.”

Mart stared at him.

“You know,” Josh said, nudging him with his elbow. “Blue balls?”


Author Notes:

This story is dedicated to Kim (archergirl78) and to all the ladies who like to hang out in the gutter. It really is a lovely gutter, isn’t it? *grin*

Thanks to Dianafan for a speed-of-light edit, and for graphicing. *hugs*

Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. All other material on these pages copyright 2010 by Ryl. Images from istockphoto.com and manipulated by Mary N in Photoshop. Graphics copyright by Mary N 2010.

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