Author: Rose Williams secondsilk
Summary: Chase tries decorate the apartment in the proper Christmas spirit.
Disclaimer: House et al belongs to David Shore et al
Original story: Perfect by Sabine Gordon sabinelagrande
Notes: Many, many thanks to topaz_eyes for betaing.
The days began to get shorter and colder and greyer. Chase did not recognise these as harbingers of Christmas until he went grocery shopping and was confronted by a whole shop display of Santas. He had gotten used to driving on the wrong side of the road and having to wear gloves in winter, but the idea that Santa was appropriately dressed for the season still surprised him.
He had lived through four Christmases in the States already, but they had been spent answering House’s summons and avoiding the hospital parties. He had never spent any time worrying about how to mark the season, but he supposed Cameron would want to do something. They had the day off as a present from Cuddy, so they would be spending it with Cameron’s parents. It was the first year Chase would get a proper winter Christmas. It was kind of daunting.
Chase confessed this to Cameron when he got home with the shopping. He explained that Christmas, for him, had always involved eating too much potato salad, running out of ice, getting burnt playing cricket, and everyone passing out from too much pudding and warm beer. He had no idea what she expected from Christmas.
She smiled at him, the special amused smile that seemed reserved for him alone. “I’ve never had a Christmas like that,” she said.
“You’ll have to come home with me one year. You can’t play cricket in the snow.”
Chase had met Cameron’s parents twice before. Chase knew he would have to spend the day not punching Cameron’s brother and remembering to call her Allison. It was a small price to pay for how well behaved Cameron’s family was compared to his own.
“What do you want to do here, though?” he asked.
Cameron shrugged. “We should get a tree,” she said. “It can go beside the television.”
Chase didn’t think that this was the attitude they encouraged in all good Christmas celebrating capitalists, but their place was too small for the displays modelled in the shopping centre. He was determined to get a proper tree, though, and he had grand ideas about what a Christmas tree was supposed to be. Not the scraggly, half-dead plant in a plastic pot that his mother would bring in off the front veranda after the last day of school. Chase used to prick his fingers when he hung the decorations.
Cameron gave him the name of a particular garden centre to procure said tree. Chase went on his afternoon off with a plan to get a tree and set it up before Cameron got home.
The display outside the garden centre had tried to squeeze all the stereotypes of Christmas in one place and, frightening enough, had succeeded. Chase spent several minutes staring dumbly at it, trying to remember the size of the space they had at home. A kid with a name badge on appeared at his elbow and asked if he had seen a tree he liked. Chase waved him away and wandered in to the stand of trees. He quickly found himself among trees twice as tall as he was. They would need a ladder to put the star on top. That was what he wanted in a tree. “This one,” he said, staring up at it.
The kid went away to get an older guy who took Chase’s money and arranged for the tree to be hauled onto the roof of Chase’s car.
“You got all your decorations, then?” the bloke said. Chase had no idea what decorations they already had. “It’s ten percent off with the receipt,” he added.
He handed the receipt to Chase. “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas,” Chase echoed.
Chase stuffed the receipt into his pocket and climbed into the car. The light was cold, not at all the blazing sunshine of midday in the lead up to Christmas. But something in the chill and sharpness stirred a cultural memory of the traditions of Christmas; the scenes on the Christmas cards they got each year from his mother’s siblings, his father complaining about the heat, his grandmother insisting on roast lunch.
Chase drove home, looking forward to decorating the apartment like one of his aunt’s cards. He bullied Mark from next door into helping drag the tree into the apartment. Mark started to laugh when Chase explained that he had wanted Cameron’s advice on what sort of stand to buy. He almost laughed himself sick when they discovered that the tree was too tall for the room anyway. But he was careful about laying the tree on its side in front of the liquor cabinet.
“Merry Christmas, man,” Mark said, still amused.
“Merry Christmas. And thanks.”
“Hey, anytime, really. Have fun.”
Chase spent the next little while doing a thorough audit of the Christmas decorations in the apartment and ended up disappointed. Cameron had a few individual hanging decorations that she had probably received as presents. And she also had a star that would suit the top of the tree. But Chase could find neither tinsel nor lights.
Even Chase’s mother had known that you couldn’t have Christmas without lights. They had had two strings of lights. Even though one set had never worked and half the bulbs were gone on the other, she had turned them on every evening.
After half an hour of searching and thinking, Chase had a list of essential Christmas decorations. He fished the receipt out of his pocket and smoothed it out. Ten percent off seemed like a good deal. He left the tree on its side and the decorations spread out over the carpet, and drove back to the garden centre and their two whole aisles of Christmas related merchandise.
Chase wandered idly, through the aisles, overwhelmed by the choice. People were filling shopping carts full of things Chase didn’t recognise. There didn’t seem to be anything like the tinsel his father had brought home from K-Mart. There was, however, an entire section devoted to wreaths and garland. Some were reasonably life-like, plastic replicas of real greenery. And then there were oddly shaded stuff with fake holly berries and lights and snow stuck on, that went on for miles and cost more for one package than Chase had ever spent on Christmas presents in a whole year.
He picked up two packages and tucked them under his arm. The lights were easier because he just pulled a package of white lights off the shelf and balanced them on his arm. Then he noticed that other people were taking more than one box, and remembered the size of the tree he’d bought. So he took two more packages and went to find a shopping cart to put them in.
Then he came to the rows of boxes of matching baubles and themed decorations: elves, fairies, creatures and nativity sets, anything that could be made an inch tall and spray-painted gold. They were mass-produced, and the expensive ones were very intricate. Nothing at all like the Christmas decorations they made every year at primary school. He and his classmates had spent the last two weeks of classes baking dough shapes and gluing glitter on them, or cutting stars out of cardboard and colouring them ‘festive’ colours. Most of the decorations on the spindly, dying tree at home had been made by Chase.
The school decorations were determinably non-denominational. At the seminary he had spent the last weeks of the year working on the nativity play and learning to write services for people who hadn’t been to church since Easter. The decorations were always sedate. Usually nothing more than a couple of strings of holly.
The store was full of people sorting through decorations that were kitsch, gaudy, or both. Chase stared at a box of red and green glass balls, trying to compare them to a different brand shelved next to them, while listening to a conversation between two women and the five children they had between them.
“I have mom’s set, now,” one of the women said. “So I need something red to go with that. If I don’t use it Peter’s going to spend the whole afternoon talking about it.”
“Is your brother always like that at Christmas?” the other one asked.
“Oh, yes.” The first woman sounded cheerful. “That’s what Christmas is for: collecting all the incidents you’ll complain about for the rest of year. Reminding yourself that you’ve made it better than the rest of your relatives.”
“I thought that was Thanksgiving.”
Chase turned away from the working elves that could be hung up by the string of their hats and to examine model birds that could be clipped to pine branches by gilded pegs. At home Christmas had always been about guilt for the year just gone. His mother would attend all the church services during Advent and his dad would call him twice a week, as though the advertised cheerfulness of the season would colour everything they did.
The two little girls beside him had been studying the shelves of decorations and suddenly lit on one they liked.
“These ones, these ones, these ones!” they said.
The oldest boy looked at what they had chosen.
“But they’re silver,” he said. “You’re supposed to have gold decorations.”
“Why?” the girls asked.
“Because Christmas is about presents,” said one of the other boys, as though this was logical. For a six year old, it probably was.
Chase smiled. He felt tempted to break into the conversation and remind them that Christmas was actually about hope of redemption and new beginnings and pudding.
“No it’s not, dummy,” the first boy said. “Christmas is Jesus’ birthday.”
“So it’s about presents,” the other one insisted. “That’s what birthdays are for.”
Their argument was interrupted by the last child, who held up a string of garland that was supposed to look like popcorn. “Please can we have some, please?” he said, holding the packet up like an offering. He looked about five years old, barely taller than Chase’s waist.
“No, no, Michael,” his mother said. “You put that back. We’ll get some popcorn and make our own.”
Chase tried not to stare at them in amazement. People actually did that? It sounded like some crazy school based craft activity, like the paper chains he’d made at kindergarten—something you saw on family friendly shows. It was probably something Cameron had done when she was little.
Chase gave up on deciding anything about decorations. He grabbed the nearest box that didn’t look like it had been designed by someone on drugs, and hurried to escape the store. He almost made it out without buying anything else, but there was a stand by the cash register with rolls of wrapping paper and coils of wire, presumably for the stringing of popcorn. At least, Chase presumed it was for stringing popcorn and therefore bought one.
He loaded the car with his supplies, then turned back to brave the supermarket in order to buy popcorn. They probably needed mince-pies as well, if Chase could find any. And syrup for the pancakes for breakfast on Christmas day. And even though it was far too late in the year to make one, he suddenly remembered his grandmother’s suet pudding, soaked with brandy and lit on fire and then smothered in custard.
Chase found the popcorn and the syrup very easily and it didn’t take much longer to find actual mincemeat pies, either. He was impressed because their supermarket didn’t have a large range or many imported things. The pudding was now the most important thing.
There was a whole section devoted to puddings. It was mostly stocked with different brands of instant pudding in every flavour imaginable, and many Chase couldn’t imagine. He stared dumbly at the overwhelming, useless choice. A woman appeared at his elbow and asked if he was looking for anything in particular.
“Excuse me, do you have custard powder?”
She shook her head, meaning either they didn’t, or she was confused by his accent or the request itself.
“I want to make a pudding,” he said.
She gestured to the selection on the shelves with a smile.
“The chocolate powder’s just there,” she said, pointing it out.
“No, no. A Christmas pudding, you know, dried fruit and, and fat and rennet and maybe treacle.”
“Oh, we don’t have those,” she said. “You could try a bigger store.”
Chase shook his head. Puddings should be made at Easter, anyway, and the chance of finding a decent recipe and all the ingredients was unlikely. He was sure that first instant Christmas pudding he saw would simply destroy his desire for a real one. Mrs Cameron would make an extraordinary amount of food for them. He could survive without a pudding this year.
By the time Chase made it back home with the new supplies it was getting quite late. He dumped everything in the living room beside the tree and paused to make himself a cup of tea. Fortified, he picked his way across the living room and rummaged through the bags, throwing the wrapping paper aside and pulling out the fake greenery. He tried holding it up to see what it would look like hanging over the window.
There was probably a rule about how you were supposed to actually attach the garland stuff to the wall. He’d need Cameron for that. But before she managed to escape the hospital, Chase could probably get the popcorn string ready. Or at least work out how to start.
He only got half way through the bowl of popcorn before Cameron came home. But then he’d got the hang of it and lost track of time. He heard her tread her way carefully around the detritus scattered over the living room floor. She called his name tentatively. Chase leapt up from his work. He held his hands up to forestall her questions and tried to explain what had happened: how he had been lured by the decorations and disappointed by the puddings.
Cameron smiled at him, amused and affectionate. She grasped his hands.
“Chase, it’s very sweet,” she said. Chase felt a sudden premonition that he had tried too hard. “It’s a twelve foot tree, and we have ten foot ceilings.”
He could fix that with the axe. Cameron would know how to set up the tree and then they could hang the garland and warm up the mince pies. It would be a proper Christmas.