All eyes seem to follow the smartly dressed young woman marching between the rows. Her head moved from side to side inspecting the finest of specimens. She stopped occasionally for a closer assessment.
“Stand straight, Forester,” the commander yelled. “What happened to you anyway?”
Forester leaned back as far as his twisted limbs could take the strain. “Sir, I…”
“Hush, son. You’re a disgrace to the ranks.”
Forester watched cultivator Stanley as he followed the woman who turned into his row. Their conversation grew louder.
“Ma’am, what kind of tree are you looking for? They all look the same to me.”
“I need something… different.” She stopped suddenly and pointed. “This one. It’s perfect.”
Staring forward, Forester focused on the cream and tan jacket which blocked his view of the commander.
Stanley was scratching his head now. “Why would anyone want a Christmas tree like this? This tree is just a mangled mess. It’s stunted and undeveloped.” He ran his calloused hands over the branches.
A fearful Forester tried to keep still while he listened to the discussion.
“There’s too much space between these limbs,” Stanley pointed, “and not enough over here. It’s worthless.”
“Nevertheless, it’s the one I want.”
“Okay, Ma’am, but I’m not going to charge you. I don’t want you coming back for a refund or giving my plantation a bad name.”
Stanley removed his axe from its belt which hung loosely under is protruding belly. “Where are you going to put this… thing? There has to be a reason for choosing such a pathetic looking tree for Christmas.”
“It’s what my son Sam requested.” The woman took a deep breath and shifted her scarf. She exhaled slowly causing a tiny vapor cloud to appear before her pretty face. “He’s a paraplegic. He fell from our pine tree just before Christmas last year. Sam wanted a particular branch to take to the children’s hospital. You see, I’m a pediatrician and I often have to work over the holidays.”
Stanley smiled. “A doctor, aye?”
“Yes, Dr Anne Shepherd. Anne, please.” She accepted his out stretched hand before continuing in a more subdued tone. “Sam’s father was in the army serving in Iraq and couldn’t be home for Christmas. Anyway, Christmas with the children seemed a great idea… at the time.”
Stanley stood staring at the woman for a few moments before he shifted his attention back to the narrow trunk and lifted the axe.
With one crack, Forester fell sideways and looked up at his commander. “Sorry, Sir.”
The commander glanced momentarily at his fallen comrade. “It’s okay, son. I think you may be worthy of this important assignment after all. Do us proud, lad.”
Forester swayed back and forth as he was carried behind Anne to where she had parked her vehicle. There Stanley waited while she opened the rear door.
“Sam, I found one.”
“Cool. Let me see.”
Hanging almost upside down, Forester appreciated Stanley’s strong grip and watched Anne climb into the back of the modified caravan. She pulled a small lever at the base of the boy’s seat and released a belt which had held him straight. Forester became suddenly dizzy and almost lost his bearings when Stanley unexpectedly flipped him upright.
“Here it is,” Stanley called.
“WOW, its perfect, Mom.”
Forester blinked and opened his eyes wide so he could see clearly the twisted body which sat in a strange chair with big wheels. The boy was smiling broadly and Forester realized it was he, Forester, who Sam was so excited to see. Forester felt six feet tall.
“Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Mister.”
“You can place the tree here between the seats in a moment,” Anne called to Stanley. She turned Sam’s chair back into place and secured it before climbing back out through the rear exit. “Thank you, we appreciate your kindness.”
“It’s my pleasure Ma’am and you have a great Christmas, Sam.”
Resting beside Sam’s chair, Forester was overwhelmed by the excitement that glowed in the boy’s face. Forester didn’t even flinch when the door closed and latched.
"Come on, Mom. We need to get to the hospital so the kids can decorate it. It’s going to be a neat Christmas and with Dad home this year, everything will be perfect.”
Forester heard the front door open and close. Anne’s sweet response and cheerful laughter sounded beautiful. When the engine started and Sam’s fingers touched Forester’s feeble trunk, Forester shivered with pride. His assignment had begun.
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