Her first clue is Steve's excitement over going to see the tree being lit at Rockefeller Center. He's normally pretty chill about whether they go out and do something or stay in and make out, but when she meets him after a whole day of training, feeling sweaty, sore, and achy, and asks him if they can just go home and veg out because she's pretty sure her muscles are about to seize up, he busts out some epic puppy dog eyes. No one can say 'no' to a face like that.
Wrapped up in Steve's arms, watching the lights being switched on, more than makes up for her aching muscles, and so does the fact that he gives her a pretty awesome massage when they get home. And it clues her in on the fact that he really, really likes Christmas.
“When they first put up the tree here, I thought it was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen,” he murmurs into her ear as they look up at the lit tree, “but this is so much better.”
He tries to keep it a little on the down low, but she sees past his cool exterior when they pass Christmas displays in store windows, especially the self-consciously retro ones with wooden train sets and metal pedal cars. He gets that happy, wistful look in his eyes as he trails his fingers lightly against the glass.
“Want one?” she says, wrapping her arm around his waist.
He laughs. “I don't think I'd fit. Ma got me one once, though, must've saved for months.” His smile slips a little. “Neighbourhood kids trashed it.”
She puts her other hand on his shoulder and squeezes. “I'm sorry.”
“It's okay,” he says, “the exciting thing was getting something from one of these fancy stores. She used to take me after her shift at the hospital to look at the displays; she must've been exhausted, but she did it anyway, every Christmas. When I was real little she used to make up stories about all the toys and I drew pictures of 'em on the train home.”
“That sounds really nice. I wish I could have met your mom,” she says.
“Me too. She really would've loved you.”
She squeezes him harder, and decides that she's going to make sure that he has a fucking awesome Christmas.
“What's that?” he asks the next morning.
She looks at the little tree that she put out on the kitchen counter after he fell asleep the night before and grins. “It's our Christmas tree!”
He squints, still looking all muzzy and adorable from sleep. “It has one bauble.”
“It's a Charlie Brown Christmas tree!” she says. He frowns tiredly at her. “There was this TV special back in the sixties, about Charlie Brown directing a nativity play, and in it he buys the saddest little tree on the lot, and this is that tree. You know what Charlie Brown is, right?”
He runs his hand through his hair, leaving it sticking up a little at the back. “It's a comic strip about a depressed kid, right? Not sure why it's funny, to be honest...”
“It's not funny like bust-a-gut funny, it's like... amusing because it's lots of grade-schoolers making incisive social commentary about post-war America and stuff. And Snoopy was a total asshole. That was funny. We'll have to watch it soon.”
“And... this is our Christmas tree.”
She shrugs. “Well, you know, I couldn't afford a proper tree when I first moved out here, so I got this little guy instead, and I've grown quite attached.”
“Oh,” Steve says, and scratches a little behind his ear. “O...kay.”
She smiles to herself and comes up behind him to wrap her arms around him, sliding her palms up to cup his shoulders. “Buuuut...” she says, “I did see an ad online for a place nearby where you can go pick out your own freshly cut trees. I don't suppose you'd be interested in that, now would you?”
She rests her chin on his shoulder and leans over to look at him. There's a smile spreading across his face. “Can we go today?” he asks.
“Soon as I've showered and eaten. We've got to get decorations, too, I haven't got any of those, either.”
Steve grins like a kid at Christmas. Fitting, considering.
They buy the most ridiculously large baubles, the gaudiest angel that Darcy's ever seen, a couple of nutcrackers, and boxes and boxes of other assorted decorations.
“I think we're set,” she says, lifting up her two giant paper bags. “Just need a big old plant, now.”
The place is busy, busy enough that no one really pays much attention to yet another couple laden down with Christmas shopping, even if one of them is Adonis re-incarnated.
There are trees of all sizes, little baby ones for kids and great big ones for fancy people and, by the way that Steve stops in front of one in particular, the perfect one for Goldilocks. He tips his head up to look at it, and he has the most open expression on his face that she's ever seen and it's like she suddenly has a flash of what he looked like as a child, making up stories about stuffed animals with his mom.
“This is it, huh?” she asks.
“Huh?” he says, looking back down at her.
“Your eyes get all glittery when you look at it. It's the one.”
He frowns lightly and points at the lights stringed up around the lot. “It's just the reflection of lights.”
“Nah, it's all that Christmas spirit inside of you trying to get out,” she says, and he smiles.
“It's too big.”
She shrugs. “Eh, we'll Griswold it.”
“Oh shit, you haven't seen that either, have you?” she says. “We're gonna have a movie night real soon.”
He smiles that pleasant smile he has when he's happy but has no idea what's going on. “We're getting the tree,” she adds.
He doesn't put up a fight.
It does not fit. The branches get all smushed up against the walls in the corner that they cleared out for it, and a good six inches of the top pushes at the ceiling.
“Damn,” Steve mutters, hands on hips, feet apart, Superman-style.
She scrutinises the tree for a minute, before it hits her. “Oh!” she says, “I know, we'll do it Grinch style!”
“You don't know what that is either?” she asks, shaking her head. “Man, oh man, this is going to be a hell of a movie night.”
She grabs a spool of thread from a kitchen drawer, cuts off a length of it, and returns to the tree. She picks up a bauble, passes the string through the top, and rises up onto her tiptoes to tie it to the tree.
“Voilà,” she says, stepping back.
“Um,” he says.
She smacks him lightly on the arm. “Don't judge it yet, dude, it's not even decorated, okay?”
He rolls his eyes. “Okay.”
It looks pretty cute, if she does say so herself. Which she does, because she is, duh. She appeases his old-fashioned sensibilities some by running out to buy popcorn for them to make garlands with.
Only Steve keeps eating the popcorn.
“Stop all eating the popcorn!” she says, throwing a couple of pieces at him.
“I'm hungry!” he says, picking up the stray popcorn and throwing them into his mouth. “Anyway, you keep throwin' 'em at me.”
“You're always hungry,” she mutters, and props her feet up in his lap.
“This tree looks ridiculous,” he says, and wraps one big hand around her foot. “I love it.”
“And it loves you back,” she says.
He smiles softly for a moment, then digs his other hand into the popcorn bowl again, shoving a whole handful into his mouth.
Darcy has a sad, thrift store menorah that she puts out a few days later to celebrate Hanukkah, and honestly she only does it because Steve reminds her that today is the first day. It took her at least half an hour to find it, tucked away with a fifty cent dreidel that she doesn't even remember buying.
“How do you even know when Hanukkah starts?” she asks, spinning the dreidel between her fingers.
“Wikipedia,” he says.
“Well, look at you, Mr. Computer Genius.”
“It's in the little bar next to the address bar,” he says. “Don't you celebrate Hanukkah?”
She shrugs. “Sometimes. When I was little, my Dad's parents used to give me a gift every day for the eight days, but that was before they moved to Chicago. Mom's mom always lived too far away, Florida--” She pulls a face and Steve frowns. Clearly no one has explained Florida to him yet. “And her dad died before I was born. It's not really a big deal for a lot of Jewish people, and it's definitely nowhere near as fun as Christmas. Plus it's kind of hard to keep track of when the twenty fifth day falls. Grandma did used to make the greatest jam donuts ever, though, that was fun.”
“So, your family celebrates Christmas?”
“Well, the fun part. Not the baby Jesus part. Trees and presents and shit, you know, like all good secular Jews.” She offers a box of matches to him. “Want to light the first candle?”
“Sure,” he says, taking it from her and deftly lighting the match. Man, she loves watching the way his hands move; they're so big, but so delicate too. Like him. He cups his hand over the candle as he touches the flame to the wick, and she can't help but lean over and kiss the side of his face.
“Hey,” he murmurs, blowing the match out and leaning back to hug her. “Wanna play?” he asks, glancing down.
For a moment she thinks he means play something sexy, and she's so proud of him for the innuendo, until she looks down as well, and sees the dreidel in her hands. Dreidels are like the polar opposite of sexy, like playing with your literally snot-nosed cousins in your grandparents living room that smells like Air Wick and the inside of a particularly musty, moth-filled wardrobe.
“You know how to play?”
“Yeah. Think I remember, at least.”
“Where does a nice Catholic boy learn a thing like that?”
“Brooklyn, Darce.” He leans back against the counter and smiles. “Back before Ma died, we lived over in Red Hook, and a bunch of the kids in the neighbourhood were Jewish. I was friends with a kid – I guess he was my best friend before Buck – called Arnie. He had a big ol' family and his mom let me have dinner with 'em a lot when Ma was workin' or feeling sick. He taught me how to play.”
She starts smiling as he speaks, listening to the way he draws his vowels out. She's thought that New York accents were cool ever since she first saw The Sopranos, and his has been slipping out more and more recently. A few months ago, he spoke all properly around her, didn't run his words together much, or drop his Gs and Rs, or use slang, and she guesses that they made him tone it down for the USO tours, but she loves it. She loves how relaxed and happy he sounds, and how strongly it comes through after they have sex and he's all soft and sleepy. She hasn't pointed it out to him yet, because she's not sure that he realises that he's doing it, and she'd hate for him to stop.
“You're starin' at me,” he says.
“Yep,” she replies. “So, what are we going to play for?”
He looks mildly suspicious. “We got any popcorn left?”
They have her much promised movie night a couple of days later – she downloads A Charlie Brown Christmas, Christmas Vacation, and both versions of The Grinch, as well as a bunch of Christmas movies he likes (he gets very excited when she mentions that she found a copy of Babes in Toyland), and Steve caves to her frankly pathetic pleas that he make them pancakes. She'd be embarrassed for acting like such a baby, but he gives her the first pancake to eat while she's tucked up in a blanket waiting, all covered in butter and syrup, and her whole apartment smells amazing; it was totally worth the humiliation.
Her dad calls while Steve's halfway through making them, to fill her in on all the new family gossip. He monologues for a couple of minutes about cousin drama (Hanukkah brings out the worst in these people, she swears), and she lowers the phone a little, watching Steve flip one pancake successfully but mess up the next one and pout a little at it. When she listens carefully, she's pretty she can hear him humming 'Jingle Bell Rock' to himself.
“Darcy? Darling daughter? Are you listening to me?”
She lifts the phone back to her mouth as Steve serves up the pancakes and grabs the syrup. “Sorry, Steve's making pancakes.”
Her father accepts the explanation, even though it isn't really an explanation at all. Steve comes over to the couch and sets the plates down on the table. “You're getting pretty serious about this guy, aren't you?” her father asks.
She smiles at Steve, and he smiles back, snuggling underneath the blanket with her, tugging it up to his chest, then leaning forward to pick up the plates.
“I am,” she tells her father, “yeah.”