Everyone knew this day was coming. They knew their fate was inescapable. They had avoided it so far by trying not to think about it, but now it was inevitable. No matter how hard they had worked to prolong the unpreventable, there was no turning back now.
“We’re doomed,” Yabu declared.
“Why oh why must we suffer?” Inoo added and then leaned forward to lay his head facedown on the table.
“What did we ever do to deserve this?” Yuto complained. He threw his hands up in the air as if begging for mercy.
Yamada frowned at all of them. “It’s just a Christmas tree. It’s not going to be that bad. Seriously, where’s your Christmas spirit?”
“I left it in my other pants,” Hikaru joked which only made Yamada frown more.
Every year, one group was in charge of putting up and decorating a Christmas tree for the Johnnys office. This year the task had been left up to Jump. It should have been an easy job but they had to start from scratch which meant buying a new tree and all the ornaments and accessories to decorate it with. All in all, more hassle than they really wanted to deal with.
Well, all but Yamada. He had been looking forward to his turn decorating the tree since the group had debuted all those years ago. So he was going to make sure Jump did their best and that they were cheerful about it too.
“Come on guys,” he began his little pep talk. “This is our chance to do something nice during the holiday season. To spread some cheer to the rest of our fellow coworkers.” He pounded the table with his hand for emphasis, causing Inoo to bolt upright from where he’d dozed off. “We’re going to decorate the office Christmas tree and it’s going to be more magnificent and more glorious than the one Kanjani8 set on fire.”
“I think you have a different definition of what magnificent and glorious mean,” Chinen muttered quietly.
Unfazed, Yamada continued. “We’ll split into two groups. Takaki, Yuto, Chinen, and I will go pick out the tree while the rest of you will buy the decorations. We’re going to get a big tree so make sure you buy enough to cover the whole thing.” Daiki was the only one who gave an understanding nod. Everyone else just sort of shrugged.
“So what are we all standing here for?” Yamada said, clapping his hands together for attention. “Let’s get moving. Trees don’t just magically decorate themselves.”
“I always thought Santa’s elves did it,” Inoo said in a serious voice so no one could tell whether he was trolling them or not.
“Just go,” Yamada commanded and then pushed everyone out the door.
The tree farm was like a vast green sea spread out before them, which is exactly how Takaki described it as the four of them stood at the entrance together. In fact, Takaki continued, he would rather be standing in front of a vast blue sea instead.
“Who wants to go swimming in December?” Yuto asked even as Yamada grabbed his arm and physically dragged him towards the trees.
Takaki stared wistfully off into the distance. “You just don’t understand the ocean,” he answered mysteriously. Chinen rolled his eyes and pulled Takaki along to follow the others.
Yamada pointed to the tall trees they were rapidly approaching. “Let’s get the biggest tree they have,” he exclaimed.
“You know we don’t have that much room in the van we borrowed, right?” Chinen pointed out. He steered Yamada closer to the more reasonable medium-sized trees. “Isn’t that right, Yuto?”
Yuto glanced up from where he’d been taking artsy photographs of pine needles, looking like he’d forgotten everyone else was around. “Um… yes?”
Yamada sighed and rubbed his temples. Nothing was ever going to be easy. “Okay, we’ll pick the first tree we see that’s slightly taller than Yuto.”
“Congratulations,” Takaki said, grabbing Yuto by the shoulders and sliding him next to the closest tree. “You’re officially a measuring stick.”
“When Yamada said get nice ornaments, I don’t think he meant buy them from the hundred yen store,” Keito said as they arrived at the entrance of the store, looking at the collection of Christmas decorations shoved into the corner.
“Yeah well, we’re on a budget,” Hikaru answered before herding the rest of the group inside.
Daiki was the only one who looked mildly excited by the prospect of picking out decorations, already choosing the most sparkly things he could find. Yabu had somehow already managed to get himself tangled up in a string of Christmas lights and looked confused himself over how that had happened. And Inoo…
“Where’d Inoo go?” Hikaru asked.
Keito turned his head to scan the store, but the familiar haircut of his bandmate was nowhere to be seen. “Obviously, he’s smart and already escaped,” he answered.
It took a lot of maneuvering and a slightly lesser amount of swearing to get the Christmas tree safely inside the back of the company van they were using. It probably wasn’t the most effective way to transport a fragile live tree, but it was the best they could do.
“Are there pine needles in my hair?” Takaki asked as he brushed his hair back in place. “I feel like there are definitely pine needles in my hair.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” Yamada said. “Let’s get back to the office. Hopefully the rest of the guys have gotten all the stuff we need.” He pulled out his phone to text Keito.
“I’m sure they’re getting lots of really awesome Christmas decorations,” Chinen tried to reassure him as he climbed into the passenger seat beside Takaki who was driving.
Yamada sighed. “Keito says they’re buying colored lights for the tree because they can’t get Yabu untangled from them.”
Yuto gave Yamada’s shoulder a comforting pat to cheer him up. Takaki had pulled out onto the highway amidst all the heavy holiday traffic. It was quiet in the van until Chinen suggested they sing a Christmas carol since Yamada looked so annoyed. That instantly brightened up Yamada’s whole attitude and he launched into an enthusiastic rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas. Eventually the rest of them joined in, although Takaki was only halfway singing because he was trying to concentrate.
“That’s such a long song,” Chinen said after they’d finally gotten through all twelve days of the lyrics.
“Hey, have you ever really thought about the lyrics before?” Yuto asked, looking thoughtful. He tapped his temple like he had just come up with something profound to share with everyone. “I mean, if you think about it, the song doesn’t make much sense. Why is your true love giving you all these weird presents? At first it starts out okay, like your true love is giving you cute birds and golden rings and stuff, and then he just gets desperate there at the end and starts giving you people. What’s up with that? Eight maids milking cows? Ten lords playing what I assume is hopscotch?”
“Twelve drummers?” Yamada cut in. “We can barely handle one drummer ourselves.”
Yuto nodded and then realized what Yamada was saying. “Hey!”
“Oh yeah,” Chinen continued. “And by the twelfth day, your true love has given you a crap ton of the same stuff. Makes you wonder if they’re trying really hard to apologize for something horrible.”
“Apologies work better with flowers,” Takaki contributed absentmindedly to the conversation because he was still paying more attention to the traffic. “Lots and lots of flowers.” He nodded to himself as he merged into the next lane.
Yamada looked like he wanted to bang his head on the window. “You guyssss, stop ruining good Christmas songs.”
The lady at the cash register was giving them the most unimpressed look any of them had ever seen (and they had had lots of choreographers give them unimpressed looks over the years). Keito didn’t blame her though. Daiki had just dumped a bunch of sparkly Christmas ornaments on the counter, leaving a mess of festive glitter behind. Behind that, Hikaru had added a massive stack of red bows to the pile. And behind that was Yabu, still completely wrapped in Christmas lights like he was a Christmas tree himself. They couldn’t figure out how to untangle him so he just sort of cautiously waddled over to the counter and then leaned over the scanner until it beeped. He gave the cashier lady a happy grin as if this sort of thing happened to him all the time.
Keito tried to pretend like he didn’t know any of them.
As they were checking out, Inoo finally reappeared holding a large popcorn tin. The cashier shot him a suspicious glance as well.
“Um… did you get popcorn to string up and hang on the tree?” Keito asked. That seemed like a lot of extra work when they already had picked out so many other decorations.
“Nope,” Inoo grinned. “This is for me to eat while I watch you all decorate the tree. It’s gonna be a hot mess.”
“What if we just make Yabu stand in the corner of the room and he can be the Christmas tree?” Yuto suggested as soon as they all met up back at the Johnnys offices. “We can hang some ornaments on his clothes. It’ll be hilarious.”
“Nooooo,” Yabu whined. “I have to pee. Please help me out.”
With the help of the whole group, they finally managed to free Yabu from the lights, and then he promptly disappeared off to the restroom. Yamada took charge and started directing everyone to decorate. It quickly became chaos as everyone tried to do it all at once, not paying attention to spreading out the decorations or making it aesthetically pretty.
“Wait, wait, wait,” Chinen interrupted after half an hour of crazy decorating. “Let’s take a step back and see how it looks so far.”
They all stepped away from the tree to observe their work.
“It’s leaning,” Takaki pointed out, tilting his head slightly.
“There are only bows on the left side of the tree,” Keito added. “And three in Daiki’s hair.” (Daiki just shrugged like he didn’t care if nobody liked his fashion statement.)
“We forgot to put lights at the top,” Hikaru frowned.
Yamada sighed for what seemed like the millionth time and sat down right there in the middle of the floor. “That’s it. We just don’t have any Christmas spirit and everyone is going to laugh at our sad Christmas tree. I give up.”
There was silence in the room as everyone stared at Yamada with disbelief. Well, the room was almost silent except for the sound of Inoo eating popcorn. Yamada had been the one most excited about tree decorating but they had done such a poor job, it had broken his optimism.
“That’s stupid,” Inoo said between mouthfuls of popcorn. “Can’t you guys appreciate a good quirky Christmas tree? It’s avant-garde. I think we should probably make it look even weirder. It’s our tree and it should represent us. We’re an eclectic mix of strange people.”
Yamada’s eyes widened and he hopped back up. “You’re exactly right.” He held his hands up as if he was framing the different sections of the Christmas tree through a camera lens. “There are a few spots we could clean up and places we can fill in with more stuff. There are nine of us. I’m sure at least one of us can come up with some more unconventional ideas.”
“That’s the Christmas spirit!” Yuto cheered.
And with renewed fervor, they went back to decorating the tree with a passion they hadn’t had before. They were ready to make their tree unique and crazy. It was still chaos, but more organized chaos this time. They saved Yabu before he got tangled up in a string of red beads. They caught Keito before he fell off the ladder hanging up a few candy canes on the upper branches. They took turns putting up paper snowflakes Hikaru quickly cut out of construction paper. They liked Takaki’s idea of arranging the ornaments on the lower branches to look like ocean waves. They put more bows in Daiki’s hair. They helped Inoo string some of his popcorn into complicated tangled designs after he got tired of eating it. They joined in as Yamada started singing more Christmas carols. They let Yuto throw glitter on everything. They hoisted up Chinen to put the star at the top of the tree when they were finished with everything else.
They stepped back again. The tree didn’t look like anything that had been in the Johnnys office before. The branches were weighed down by all their decorations, but the tree looked like it shouldered the burden well. Like it was meant to hold all of Jump’s crazy ideas. Probably everyone would laugh at it and think it looked weird. But they didn’t mind at all.
“That wasn’t so bad,” they all agreed, feeling satisfied.
With the task finally done, they all started gathering their stuff to go home. Yamada was the last to leave, but before he exited the room he took one last look at their work and smiled.
“O Christmas tree~ O Christmas tree~ how lovely are your branches~”