After breakfast, they drove to Union Station and picked up Matt’s car. After dropping Mikaela’s car off, they took the Range Rover to go table shopping. Matt was so moved by the joy she found in sharing that small adventure that they spent the rest of the afternoon in the crisp late September air, strolling Georgetown’s curio shops, buying art prints and kitchen gadgets.
Mikaela pulled him into a Christmas shop bedecked with lights and steeped in the scent of balsam. Like radar, she zoned in on the trees laden with Christmas ornaments, some elegant, some merely for fun. She moved from tree to tree, swooning over one decoration after another. Matt used a variety of excuses to leave the store and wait for her down the street, but she clamped her hand over his arm and dragged him to a regally-bedecked twelve-foot tree that mocked his fear of spending Christmas in a pine box.
Mikaela dangled several whimsical ornaments before Matt’s eyes, swooning over each one before selecting a few. The more her enthusiasm bubbled, the harder he found it to breathe. He wondered if he’d live long enough to see the blasted baubles adorn a tree.
“You don’t love them.”
“Get whatever you like.” He heard the irritation in his voice and tried to mask it with a half-smile.
“Do you think these are gaudy? You probably grew up with an elegant tree?”
“Isn’t it a little early to be thinking about Christmas?” He batted a clay cupcake dangling from a silver cord. “If you need to do this now, why not just buy a matched set of gold balls?”
“Because these are memories.” Mikaela’s eyes brightened like the twinkle lights on the tree.
For the first time, he noticed what ornaments dangled from her left hand—a bride and groom, a heart, a plane, a helicopter, a taxi, the New York City skyline, and a tacky-looking crab ornament with “Baltimore” painted across it—mementoes of the short time they’d already spent together. A chill coursed through him as he realized the marital sentiment she was expressing.
Her other hand held an assortment of ornaments representing places they’d never been and things they’d never done. Mikaela had selected three balls painted with D.C. scenes—the White House, the Washington Monument, and the Capitol. These were easy destinations mere blocks from the house. The other ornaments were completely random—a picnic table with tiny dishes and food set upon it, a movie theater ticket made from clay, a canoe, a bowling pin set, and a golden star.
He cocked his head sideways and drank in her slightly crooked smile, the gold flecks in her eyes, the whimsical mop of hair that flopped to the left. “But we’ve never—”
“But we will! We’ll make a list and do these things together.”
Her enthusiasm gave him the courage to likewise suspend medical reality and join in her denial. He found a pair of red lips and a puppy ornament. “What do you think? First kiss? And I think we should get a dog.”
“Uhhh. . . Okay on the lips, but we should discuss the matter before actually purchasing a living thing.” She held up a boat ornament and a pair of pot-bellied old timers seated in front of a TV.
Matt eyed them as a knot grew in his throat. “You and me in fifty years?”
“Eighty. No way I’m letting you look like that in fifty.”
He caught the sheen in her eyes, the denied tear she wiped away when grousing about catching a speck of glitter in her lashes, but he knew that they were living on wishes and dreams.