Deck The Halls
It was a hundred and ten degrees outside.
Actually, she had no idea how hot it was. Not in terms of temperatures she knew, anyway. But it felt like a hundred and ten just lying here on the cool stone floor. She could only imagine what it would be like if she tried to do anything.
Part of the problem was that the windows were still open. She was tired, she was hot, and the last thing she felt like doing was getting up and closing the windows. Even the climate control was all the way on the other side of the room. Plus it was only midmorning, and she felt bad about turning it on before the heat of the day really set in.
So she lay on the floor, discman beside her and an electronic reader in her hand as she tried to ignore how crummy she felt. The news from home didn't hurt, but it didn't really help, either. Not with a painfully hot sun outside and Saryn off doing who knew what while her headphones played "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas".
Hi Cassie dearest! Ashley's light-hearted greeting made her smile, at least. How's life in the desert? Is Jetson doing any better? I hope you're feeling all right, and that the babies are doing well. You're almost into your third trimester now, right?
It's not the same here without you, that's for sure. Mom says hi, and she says you'd better call soon so she can see how you're doing for herself. She's sending you a care package for Christmas, too, but I've been sworn to secrecy about the contents.
Things are pretty crazy around the house, so in some ways you're lucky to miss it. Grandma arrived yesterday, and who's the first person she asked about? Andros. I was like, "Hello! Granddaughter, right here!" But no, that wasn't enough.
I had to tell her that he was too busy to come this year, and of course that led to a whole thing about whether we were having a fight. Like the whole mono cover story wasn't bad enough, now I have to explain why I'm not in school AND why Andros isn't here! I swear, having relatives isn't even worth it. Do you think I could disown them?
On the plus side, your whole "New Mexican retreat" excuse is going over really well. All we have to do is mention kivas and sun ceremonies and all of a sudden everyone's nodding wisely and saying they always knew you were the native type. If only they knew...
Well, write back when you have a chance. My parents seem to be under the impression that I'm staying through New Year's, so I may be here for a while. It's kind of a nice break, after everything that's been happening on KO-35, but still... I don't know. I miss them and I want to be away from them at the same time.
I guess that's why they invented comms, right? Too bad Andros doesn't know how to use one. He probably learned that from Saryn. We should stop letting them talk. Say hi to everyone for me!
She let the reader fall, wondering whether she had enough energy to respond to Ashley's enthusiasm right now. It was actually more comfortable to lie there without supporting her arm, and she closed her eyes for a moment. The music was soothing and there was something fundamental about lying on the floor that made the world seem simpler. Maybe she could just sleep through the middle of the day.
She didn't hear the door open over her headphones, but she could feel the subtle mood shift that meant Saryn had just entered. She smiled involuntarily, knowing she must look a sight lying on the floor in the middle of the room. She didn't open her eyes until she knew he had walked past, apparently trying not to disturb her.
He was closing the windows. She watched through slitted eyelids, reaching out to turn her discman down as he dialed the windows shut and adjusted the climate control. He disappeared into the bedroom for a moment, but when he emerged he caught her eye immediately.
"Are you not too warm?" he asked quietly, gaze flicking to her discman as though not sure whether she could hear him or not.
She pulled her headphones out of her ears and felt around for the "stop" button. "I wasn't motivated enough to do anything about it," she said, settling her hands over her stomach with a sigh. "Even standing up seems like too much work right now."
Saryn crouched down beside her, laying one hand against her forehead before stroking her hair back from her face gently. The caress brought a familiar sense of well-being, and she found herself smiling again. "Thanks," Cassie whispered.
"Is there any way you would be more comfortable?" he murmured. "And if not, would you care to be uncomfortable in the community center instead? There is an informal gathering taking place which I think you might enjoy."
"That sounds nice," she agreed, lifting her hand to twine her fingers through his. "Is it any cooler in there?"
"Considerably." He slid his free hand under her shoulders and helped her up, stepping back to give her room to stand. He collected her discman and reader from the floor, placing them on the counter while she tried to stretch some of the aches out of her back.
She smiled gratefully, taking his hand again as they headed for the door. Stepping out into the courtyard was an unpleasant experience, no matter that she had told herself it would be warmer than she expected. They followed the promenade around the edge of the courtyard rather than crossing it directly, but even in the shade the air was intensely hot.
The first thing she noticed on entering the community center was that it was much cooler than their own apartment. Maybe today's heat wasn't just in her mind, after all. The second thing she noticed was Jetson was getting up from the floor beside Shei, wagging his tail in greeting, and her third observation involved the fact that one of the topiary plants had been brought inside and set up next to the buffet counter.
Shei's lighted marbles were arranged inside the pot, around the rim so that they formed a circle around the base of the desert tree. Green and yellow ribbons had been tied in bows on the ends of some of the branches, while others were draped with pink sparklers that looked suspiciously like leftovers from one of Mirine's bike shows. The overall effect was unusual, but the intent was clear.
"It's a Christmas tree," she whispered, hand over her mouth. She felt tears prick her eyelids, and when Saryn touched her shoulder tentatively she turned and buried her head in his chest. They had made her a Christmas tree.
Saryn's arms went around her, and she heard his worried voice in her ear. "Did we do something wrong?"
"No," she said emphatically, lifting her head to wipe the tears away from her eyes. Smiling at him, then turning to include the others, she murmured, "You did it absolutely right."