“I just don’t really get why we do this tree thing anyway.”
Pete propped his elbow against the inside panel of the door and ran his fingers through his long brown locks. Finn could see his brother’s eyes roll laboriously out of the corner of his own.
“I mean, it’s winter, right?” Pete continued. “All the trees are dead already. It’s like we find the few still living and say, ‘Nope! You guys are going too!’”
“It’s tradition!” their mother called excitedly from the front seat.
Pete turned inward now, as if to be sure the entire car could hear the speech he was about to make.
“Right. Tradition. I know it’s tradition.” His eyes dove into Finn’s to confirm that his brother was catching every single word. “Tradition is what people say when they have no idea why they still do things they’ve been doing for forty years!”
Finn had heard this sentiment. He had predicted it in many conversations prior. He had dissected it one hundred times over. And finally, he had learned to let it float through his head in that space behind his brain where everything Mrs. Mitchell said about the metric system often ended up.
“Pete has no Christmas spirit,” Finn told his mother two weeks before on their way to school.
“Oh, sure he does, honey,” she replied. “He just shows it a bit differently than you and I do.”
But Finn knew how his brother felt. Ever since Pete started high school that Fall, he pretty much hated everything there was to hate. He declared any show Finn watched to be “so lame” and immediately change the channel. He kicked over Finn’s bike because it was “where Pete parked his.” He told Finn how every NFL game he DVR-ed ended right as he was about to watch them. He was, without a doubt, the worst brother around.
And now Finn had to spend the whole annual car ride to go cut down their Christmas tree hearing Pete talk about how stupid everything surrounding the ritual was. Finn listened to the Christmas music on the radio and tried to shut his brother out.
When they arrived at the tree farm, the family got out and wove through the field of beautiful trees. Each one was waiting patiently for someone to take it home and put it up near a warm fire.
“I cannot believe it’s snowing so hard!” Pete yelled from a few rows to the right of Finn.
“Oh, of course you can’t,” Finn muttered to himself. He started to hum Wham!’s “Last Christmas” as he scanned the line of trees in front of him.
“I think I found it!” Finn’s father called a few minutes later from some rows over. “What do you guys think?”
Finn started at a sprint after his father’s voice.
“Perfect!” his mother grinned up at the tree as her sons arrived.
The tree stood tall and strong there, as if demanding to be the next one off the farm. It was tall enough, but not too tall, and would stand perfectly in their living room. Its branches were many, just enough for each ornament, but not so many that it would be hard for Finn’s little fingers to put the ornaments on without getting pricked a million times. Finn nearly gasped to see such a wonderful tree there waiting for him.
“It’s amazing!” he yelled, and everyone seemed to agree. That is, except Pete, who shrugged and looked down at his phone to respond to his urgent text messages.
Their father cut down the tree and he and Finn began the journey with it back to the car. Pete and their mother followed behind. The parking lot was in sight, but somehow the trip seemed much longer on the way back.
After a few minutes Pete sighed heavily in the back of the line.
“Could we have parked any farther away?” he cried. “I mean, look how many cars are over here. Why didn’t we just park here?”
Their father rolled his eyes and Finn chuckled.
Last Christmas… I gave you my heart… Finn sang softly as they continued forward. He was still singing when they arrived at the car and he realized that he wasn’t the only one. The tree farm speakers were playing that very song over the whole parking lot!
“I love this song,” Finn said to himself, grinning under the lamppost’s light. He and his father swung the tree over the top of their Honda. His father took out a long roll of twine and handed it to Pete, as if asking him to do some small part of the work involved in taking the tree home.
Then he ran up to the stand in the entrance to pay for it.
Pete laughed a little to himself as he unraveled the twine.
“You love this song?” he asked, smiling widely at Finn as he threw one end of the twine over the tree on the roof.
Finn sighed. He shouldn’t have said that. He shouldn’t have said anything at all within Pete’s earshot. How could he have forgotten that he had the spawn of Satan as a brother?
“No one loves this song!” Pete yelled.
Their mother shook her head at Pete, thinking that the gesture she had been showing him for months now might actually affect the situation if accompanied by the appropriate amount of eye contact. She took her spot in the front seat and shut the door.
“Oh, shut up,” Finn muttered.
“Ok, maybe, just maybe, George Michael’s mother loves this song,” Pete conceded, wrapping the twine over the tree and through the roof rack a few times. “So you and George Michael’s mother love this song. And that’s really about it.”
“Shut up!” Finn snapped, his face growing red beneath the lamppost’s light.
“I’ll say it. There are two people who love this song,” Pete continued. “But when one of those people is the singer’s mom and the other is a sixth-grader who doesn’t even get an allowance, I wouldn’t want to be the guy selling that album at Rocko’s!”
Finn’s eyes nearly filled his entire face. He reached out, grabbed the twine from his brother’s hands, and yanked it out of them.
“SHUT UP!” Finn screamed, completely enraged. “Shut up about the song and shut up about the snow and shut up about the parking spot and SHUT UP about the tree!”
Pete stood stunned behind the car.
“I don’t care what you say! I don’t care that you are mean to me and kick my bike over and turn my shows off and spoil the game, but you need to shut up! Because if you don’t you are going to ruin this day…” Fin stared deeply into his brother’s eyes. “… And you are going to ruin Christmas…” Finn fought the urge the wind forced upon him to blink. “… And you are going to ruin everything!”
Finn looked down at the ground suddenly, as if to cower. But instead he watched his foot, as if disconnected from his body, kick a mound of snow up onto his brother’s blue jeans without asking. “Now PLEASE. Just shut up and tie the front end down!”
Pete looked on at his crazed little brother in disbelief. He dug his eyes into Finn’s as if to absorb his brother’s grief completely. Pete held his gaze there, ready and waiting for more to come.
Finn turned and started to walk toward the car door. Once his back was turned to Pete’s he looked down at his right shoe, completely soaked through now, and regretted the kick he just made.
“Wait,” Pete spoke after him.
Startled and unprepared for a continued duel, Finn jumped and turned around slowly.
“I can’t,” Pete said, and tossed his brother the long twine, now sprinkled with snow from hanging too near the battlefield. “You should do it.”
Finn caught the twine and looked down at it, perplexed.
“Why?” he asked.
“Because,” Pete, said, smiling down at him. “You always do.”