The late afternoon breeze at the Christmas tree farm is brisk and cool, tinged with the sweet stickiness of sap and cider donuts. It perfectly suits Veronica’s romantic sensibilities about how one should indulge during the holiday season. She gets to be pleasantly bundled in the buttery soft, red cashmere scarf and cap Logan gifted her last year despite his deployment, while he’s suitably outfitted in a crisp peacoat she can regularly cozy into when they inevitably pause to kiss and kibitz.
It’s been a blissful outing; the blithe couple leisurely wandering through the pines, ruefully assessing the shape and fullness of the branches. All the while, Pony, adorned in jingle bells, nips at their heels.
With a cup of piping hot cider in one hand and Veronica’s hip in the other, Logan doesn’t much care which conifer they finally end up with, but enjoys razzing Veronica about her own particular brand of specificity nonetheless.
“See, we need one that looks friendly. Like it’s waving hello.”
“I’m pretty sure that one’s just giving us the finger,” he goads low in her ear, tripping her through the trees.
Logan has never procured his own Christmas tree and indulging in the novelty of his experience has made one of Veronica’s favorite activities that much sweeter. Snipe as he might, he’s been adorably excited and spilling small tidbits of trivia that give up the fact that he’s been Googling in preparation. He wraps his fingers lightly around one of the branches, moving them towards the tip, clearly assessing for shedding.
“To flock or not to flock,” he muses, “that is the question.”
She finds his brand of calculated casualty endless endearing and nibbles her lip, snagging him by a belt loop to drag him to the next row of trees. Her keen eyes narrowing in on particularly rotund candidate up the hill.
When she had erroneously stated a few days back that they could down their own tree, his shy glee was so precious she knew she couldn’t deny him—or herself for that matter. A homegrown evergreen it would be.
Due to last minute flights home for brief holiday visits with her dad, Veronica herself hasn’t gotten to enjoy this experience in the last decade. That is until she upended her life and moved back to Neptune. However, as lovely and nostalgic as it was to return to childhood traditions last year with Keith, in her heart of hearts, she’d been jonesing for new ones that didn’t involve Logan on an aircraft carrier and their communication at the mercy of a crappy internet connection. Today’s adventure is definitely doing wonders to satiate that desire.
With all their meandering it takes them over an hour, but they finally settle on a chubby Monterey pine pleasantly plump enough for Veronica, while also towering towards 9 feet. Logan’s a bit concerned their eyes are too big for their apartment. “You think it’ll fit?”
“Here, hold this,” Veronica commands, seemingly materializing a giant, garish yellow measuring tape out of thin air, thrusting the extended end into his hand. She crouches down to the ground to make an accurate reading: “Perfectly proportioned for the Mars-Echolls household.” She pops up delighted, recoiling the tape with a frightful whip of crackling metal and an excited grin. “Accounting for the tree topper, 1 whole inch of ceiling clearance to spare.”
The measuring tape disappears as rapidly as it appeared and Logan can’t help but be tickled, both Veronica’s fastidiousness and her magical efficiency in the situation. “I defer to your obvious expertise.” He then peers around her playfully, searching for the now illusive devise. “Can I measure you with that thing?”
She furrows her brow. “Me? Why?”
“I wanna see it say ‘Extremely Stubborn and Suspicious’.”
He delicately kisses her nose and she scrunches it up, bumping it against his. “I think you mean ‘Extraordinarily Sweet and Judicious’.” He snorts dismissively and she pretends not to be delighted, changing the subject. “What shall we call him?”
Veronica gestures to the tree. “I think it’s a him. Don’t you think it’s a him?”
Logan’s teeth are starting to peak out of his closed-mouth grin. “Clearly.”
“All Christmas trees should have names. They make a great sacrifice for our holiday frivolity.” She stokes the fluffy branches affectionately. “He should be thought of well.”
“‘Beauregard’ it is then.” Logan concludes decisively, dubbing the tree with an outstretched arm.
Veronica’s giddy face is strewn with perplexity. “Our tree is French?”
“Only on his mother’s side.”
“Bonjour, cher monsieur, c'est un plaisir de vous rencontrer . Désolé on va te tuer. ” Veronica addresses the tree before slinging her full sized Nikon camera over her shoulder and out of the way. She tucks herself against Logan’s chest, pitching up on her toes to frame him and Beauregard on her phone for a selfie. “Dire ‘fromage!’”
When she struggles to frame them all in despite Logan spreading his legs to make himself a full foot shorter, Logan assists, grabbing the phone. “You and your baby T-rex arms.”
Veronica rolls her eyes and snuggles in tighter with a playful poke of her elbow. “I can’t believe I forgot my tripod. I could have sworn it was in the car.”
“If only Pony had opposable thumbs.” Pony perks at her name and bounds back and forth, prancing, eager to play, but Logan lovingly disregards her ploys. “What good are you, huh? All cute and no functionality.”
As luck would have it, a fellow tree feller happens to happen by. “You lot like an assist?” A man in his late 80s with a thick mustache and heavy Ron Swanson vibes calls out, ambling towards them.
Logan returns to his regular height. “We’d appreciate that, thanks!”
“Duke.” He thrusts his leathery palm out for handshakes.
“Veronica and Logan,” Veronica replies, then points to the dog when she makes herself known with a bark, “and Pony.”
“Ah, three mustangs, then. Sure to be a photogenic trio.” Veronica tries to hand him her phone, but he gestures wordlessly for her to hand over the her real camera. Veronica smiles wearily, but passes it off with promise, only to have her hopes dashed when he looks at her Nikon like she just handed him a rocket ship. She’s immediately positive the quality of any resulting image will rival her potato-quality selfie.
“You just press the big button on top. Same as a point and shoot.”
Logan whistles and gives a series of clucks to Pony, commanding her to pose at their side and she follows orders like the obedient military brat she is. “That’s a neat trick,” Duke comments as he starts punching buttons and Veronica’s internal alarms immediately go haywire. She tries, but fails, to hold her tongue as their new photographer bends at the knees, then twists at the waist and reorients the camera twice before taking 3 steps forward and 4 steps back. “It’ll do all the work. If you could just… just get us and the dog in frame with the tree…that’s all, that’d be great. No need for anything—“ Duke spins both dials at once. “Fancy.”
The elderly man shuffles sideways on a diagonal and tilts his head, seemingly ignoring her before muttering, “It’s no trouble.” Veronica and Logan look at each other, incredulous, and her scowl cracks into a smile.
They look back and see Duke futzing with settings again and Veronica gives up all hope with a resigned sigh. Logan kisses her head and she gives in, closing her eyes momentarily ignoring the chaos, but when Logan murmurs “Pretty positive Pony actually would have been our better option,” she can’t suppress laughter of agreement. “This dingbat is too ridiculous for words,” she hushes in return.
Suddenly, as if intent to prove their private dialogue correct, Duke bursts out into boisterous song. A clear, surprisingly Bobby Darren-esque tenor rings through the cool air. Veronica and Logan volley between bewilderment and hysterical amusement, all the while Duke is snapping pictures and his fingers in succession, trying to refocus their attention.
Have a holly, jolly Christmas
It's the best time of the year
I don't know if there'll be snow
But have a cup of cheer
Have a holly, jolly Christmas
And when you walk down the street
Say hello to friends you know
And everyone you meet
Oh, ho the mistletoe
Hung where you can see
Somebody waits for you
Kiss her once for me
Duke wordlessly points and snaps his fingers again insisting they oblige. Much to Veronica’s surprise, Logan does, guiding Veronica’s chin upwards to press his mouth against hers. She gives him a glare. “What?” He chuckles. “He said to.”
“Since when do you do what you’re told?”
“Quite regularly actually. Occupational obligation. But also when it’s something I already want to do.” He kisses her again.
“You’re just lucky I like kissing you.”
“Mm, that I am.”
She initiates the kiss this time.
Meanwhile, Duke has continued his uproarious serenade and is on the approach.
Have a holly, jolly Christmas
And in case you didn't heeeeaaarrrr
He hands back the camera, only singing louder as he retreats with a weak handed salute.
Oh by golly have a holly jolly Christmas, this year!!
He walks away with an aimless gait, disappearing as readily as he appeared. Veronica and Logan stand flummoxed.
Logan lobs a questionable, “Thank you?” into the general vicinity of Duke’s absence and Veronica scoffs, “What the hell was that?!”
Logan tucks his hands in his back pockets. “Surreal.” He turns to her. “Back to our tree?”
“Back to our tree,” Veronica picks up the axe they had tossed aside during their photo session and hands it to Logan. “This town gets weirder all the fucking time,” she grumbles as she struggles to reset the pre-sets on her camera.
“At least we gave Beauregard a show before initiating the violent mutilation that will lead to his slow and steady demise.”
“Nothing says, ‘thanks for your sacrifice,’ quite like a punishing display of bizarrely awkward.”
Logan snorts and opts to shed his coat for better range of motion now that it’s time for axe wielding. He peels back the sleeves of his flannel, carelessly rolling them to bunch at his elbows. For a supposed novice, he makes quick work of toppling Beauregard’s stable frame. The perfect 45 degree angle with which he notches the tree also gives Veronica a sneaking suspicion he practiced to impress her. She makes a mental note to grill him later.
Studied or god-given talent, impressed she is. She makes sure to document the pleasurable display with a plethora of shots on her camera.
“Time for ‘timber’. You got Pony?”
Veronica clucks her tongue at Pony, steering her clear of the fall range and limiting her leash just in case. Pony still doesn’t mind her like she minds Logan. “All clear.”
Veronica regards Logan swing the final blow of his ax, keenly appreciating his form, and Beauregard is felled with a satisfying crack. “Mm, feel free to add ‘fireplace’ to my dream home must-haves.” She wanders over to Logan suggestively. “I think I’d really like it if you had to keep me in firewood.”
He ferries her into his embrace, “I can think of other ways to keep you warm.”
“Ah, yes,” she casually tips up on her toes to tease, “but imagine how pliable I’d be laid out by a roaring fire.”
“Mm,” he sighs contently, smoothing a palm over her ass. “You win.”
“Such a novelty, I know,” he ribs, carefully kissing her neck. “Sign me up for a roaring fire… and a bear skin rug,” he rumbles against the shell of her ear before sidestepping to tend to the tree and leaving her pleasantly off kilter.
She turns and admires him once again, “Backwoodsman looks mighty good on you.”
He flips the ax in his broad palm like pro with a waggle of his eyebrows. “I look like the Brawny paper towel guy.”
“That ain’t a bad thing.” She snaps his picture, contemplating, “FYI, I wanna do a photo Christmas card this year.”
“Having second thoughts about our old pal Duke’s artistry are we?”
Veronica scoffs. “Hardly. I’d like us to be in frame, in focus, and no doubt not blown out to kingdom come. Preferably properly attired.”
Scrutinizing the implications of this suggestion, Logan mugs his face while deciding how best to leverage the trunk upwards, “Um…”
“Come on, it’ll be fun.”
“I have this niggling suspicion that by ‘fun’ you mean holiday themed outfits will be involved.” He bobs his eyebrows. “Decidedly un-fun.”
“It’s not like I’m asking for matching ensembles or anything,” she pauses, considering the potential, “Unless you’d be down for that and then I’m totally asking.” Her grin is a cloyingly sweet, coaxing him relentlessly.
“You think you’re so cute.”
She brightens just a twinge more, “That’s besides the point.”
“Oh yeah, Ms. Mars? What is the point?”
“You think I’m so cute.”
Logan chuckles to himself, intent on not giving in just yet, but tempted nonetheless. “Can’t I just enjoy my tree procurement without the threat of candy cane onesies and Santa hats?”
Veronica pulls her hand to her chin and rubs intently, pretending to ponder, then gives it a definitive tap with one finger. “Doesn’t seem likely.”
“It’s bad enough you convinced me to wear this outfit to come here,” he gestures to his red and black buffalo check button down, “Do we really need to put my submission to your love of Christmas kitsch on full display?”
“This shirt is totally passable as non-holiday attire,” she fists his lapels. “Plus, you love this shirt.”
He can’t argue there. “I do love this shirt.”
“And secretly you love Christmas kitsch.”
“And, not so secretly, I do love Christmas kitsch.”
“So clearly you should just always let me have my way.”
He kisses her quick. “Nice try.”
“Worth a shot.”
She shuffles back as he heaves the tree over his shoulder with a grunt in a dazzling display of strength. Beauregard sweeping towards the heavens. She snaps his picture again eagerly. “I take it back, we should just have this be our Christmas card.”
“You’re not even in it.”
“Like people would notice.” She scans back on the touch screen to assess the composition and double check that it adequately captures his rugged handsomeness in the moment. “I sure wouldn’t.”
“Who you gonna send ‘em to anyway?”
“You know, my dad, Wallace, Mac…”
Veronica pouts a little in consternation, “Dick?”
“A friend group of four does not a formal portrait with ugly sweaters require. Little help here?” Logan juts his chin at his discarded coat and Veronica scoops it up with a smile. She stays behind and to the left with Pony, out of the potential fall zone of Beauregard’s heft and with a decidedly entertaining view as she follows Logan towards the netting station.
“Clearly your Navy compatriots, too. A squadron in need, deserves blackmail material indeed.”
“Can’t we just ask a non-wackdoo-level laymen to take our photo momentarily—in today’s tastefully themed holiday outfits?”
“Fine,” Veronica grumbles, “but just you mind how precious Pony looks in her fuzzy antlers. We’re doing the world a disservice not publicly distributing that level of adorable.”
As they finish their long trudge back to the more populated area of the farm, Logan takes note of something he hadn’t seen before.
“Oh, Veronica?” He calls back to her, duplicitously chipper.
“Your shoulder to hip ratio belongs in a Marvel movie.”
He plunks the tree down to the ground and turns to her with a smile, crossing his arms and leaning pointedly on sign that reads, ‘Danger! Do not attempt to haul trees over 6ft yourself! Our staff will be happy to assist you!’ “Wouldn’tcha know it, seems like other people have carts.”
“Do they?” She feigns innocence. “Hm.”
The other patrons are driving their trees to the netting station with the assistance of employees and John Deer vehicles. “Would have thought an expert tree feller like yourself might have had prior knowledge of such amenities.”
She shrugs, “Seemed like you had it covered,” and suddenly he’s very aware of just why she had steered him to the far, deserted recesses of the farm for their search. She snaps a quick picture of his skeptical, pop-eyed, judgmental face scrutinizing her. One eye squinged shut, his closed mouth drawn back in a tamped smirk. She finds him adorable and bites her lip.
“Such machinations for self indulgence. Santa’s gonna leave you coal for Christmas if you're not careful.”
“Oh, I’m positive Santa’s on my side in this scenario.” Veronica grasps Logan's biceps and tests their significant density under her fingertips. “What good are all these big, burly muscles if you’re not gonna use em, huh? Vanity?” She mugs her face to faux-shame. “Wastefulness, that’s what.” She bats her hand at him. “Chris Kringle would never approve.”
“Heaven forfend!” He rapidly picks her up, eliciting a small shriek as she wraps her body reflexively around his. He gives her a good squeeze before dropping her back to the ground. “I’ll be sure to lift things in the general vicinity with frequent regularity. You know, before he checks that list of his twice.”
“Probably wise,” she flirts, tangling her fingers in his as the netting station calls out, “Next!” and 2 staff members team together to hoist Beauregard.
“So what’s your take?” Logan queries surveying the scene before them. “Shaking: a racket or required human on conifer violence?”
“Necessary evil, I’m afraid.” The staff straps their pine into a large mechanical contraption to dislodge any debris by shaking it within an inch of its life.
“Alas, poor Beauregard, we knew him—not-so-well.”
The staff informs them it will take 20 minutes to properly trim and net the tree before they can bring it to the car and Logan and Veronica decide on the only reasonable way to while away the time. “Cider donuts?”
“You even have to ask?” They make their way to the ordering window and Veronica’s mouth waters in anticipation. “These donuts are the reason my dad and I always come to this farm. Best cider donuts you’ve ever tasted. I guarantee it.”
“Well, that’s a safe bet.” He kisses her temple quick. “I’ve never had one.”
Veronica’s jaw hangs open, aghast. “Blasphemy!”
“We never did stuff like this when I was a kid. And shockingly they didn’t sell them through the Balsam Hill catalogue.”
For the innumerable time in her life, she feels white hot disappointment at Aaron and Lynn Echolls, but refuses to diminish Logan’s impending experience. She keeps her voice bright. “Warm, delectable, sugary goodness, my dear boy. You’re in for a treat!”
Veronica proceeds to order 2 dozen donuts, half cinnamon sugar, half filled with homemade raspberry jelly. One dozen for them and another dozen to drop off at her dad’s.
They find a picnic table and straddle the bench to face each other, tearing into the freshly fried confections with gusto. They don’t even speak, just consume. 3 donuts in for her and 4 for him, she smiles with a chubby cheeked mouthful. “Delicious, no?”
He grasps her under her knees to drags her closer, dropping her thighs over top of his, licking the sugar from her lips. “Best donut I’ve ever tasted.” She grins and kisses him. He sweeps her hair behind her ear. “Do they compare to the nostalgia of yesteryear?”
She runs her fingers down his ribs and barely considers the donuts. “Never better.”
She’s preoccupied with her own happiness at his proximity and barely hears him. “Hm?”
“Thanks for bringing me here.”
His voice is soft. She tries to shy away from his sentimentality, dropping her chin. “Of course.”
He dips his head to catch her eye. “I mean it.”
“Thanks for being here to bring,” she girds her voice, pretending it isn’t wavering.
He smiles. And she smiles. And the world gets a little farther away.
Then he bites back amusement as she kisses him, then squirms, then needlessly begins to organize donuts. He plucks one from the table, recapturing her attention. “What do you think? Should we give one to Pony?”
Veronica turns to the side behind them, where their monstrous pup has been sitting just a foot and half away, diligently pining. Drool hanging from her jowls.
“She has such a sensitive tummy.” Pony has a tendency to regurgitate sweets.
“But look at that face.” Pony’s bright eyes dance between them, her damp nose searching for whiffs of sugar on the air.
“So damn cute.” Veronica whines, won over. “Okay, half a donut for you now, half a donut for you later when you don’t puke it up in the car. Deal?” Pony lifts her paw to shake hands and Veronica chuffs in surprise, turning to Logan in shock. “When did you teach her that?”
Logan shrugs. “Other week.”
Veronica melts and gives Pony’s fat paw a wobble. “You and your Daddy are always so full of surprises.” Logan splits the donut and watches Pony take her half gently from his hand, enjoying it with careful nibbles.
“Where does she get this constitution?”
Logan pops the other half in his mouth with a single bite. “Not her parents.”
Just then, the netting station calls their name for tree collection. “That’s our cue,” Veronica notes and Logan immediately grasps her around the rib cage and tosses her into the air as he stands. Veronica yelps in shock, but is silenced when he catches her again. She’s grinning ear to ear as he gently floats her to the ground with exacting precision, pretending this was business as usual with a kiss. He whistles the second verse of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town while collecting their things and Veronica can’t help but laugh.
“Come on Pone, go with Mommy. Time to collect Beauregard.” The farm staff tries to insist on helping them to car, but Logan persistently declines, “Can’t risk getting on Santa’s bad side, boys,” to mystified faces.
Logan’s officially trafficking in full fledged ridiculous, but Veronica can’t deny she’s anything but thoroughly relishing his theatrics.
“Home?” He offers post lashing Beauregard to the RAV4, spinning her cars keys on his finger.
She swipes them from his grasp and gives him a proper kiss. “Yeah,” she replies, “home.”