Hot Chocolate, Interior Decorating, and the Abominable Christmas Tree: Part 1 (A Sam Short Story)


I hope you had a phenomenal Christmas!

If you haven’t noticed, my blog is a little different. As part of a Christmas gift, I received an upgrade! At the moment it’s still a work in progress, but I’m getting there. I changed the name (I am no longer the Great Rising Puzzlement) and have my own domain! Fancy, right?

I’ll be editing the look more as time goes on, so bear with me. But for today I brought you a nice Sam story. Or at least half of it. Consider it a belated Christmas gift. Before I get started though, I want to thank all my Keepers at Kingdom Pen who gave me these ideas. Without them I wouldn’t have this story.

Anyways, I hope you enjoy!

I pulled out a chair and sat across the table from Samantha, grinning. She lowered her book.

“What? Why are you grinning? Is that—” She snapped her book closed. “Is that glitter in your hair?”

I knew that would get her attention. I adjusted my seat. She would ask what happened. She always did.

Samantha shook her head. “I honestly don’t know what to do with you.” She opened her book and feigned interest in her story. “You have glitter in your teeth.”

I ran my tongue over my teeth. “You’ve only been home a week.”

“I still don’t know what to do with you.”

I ruffled my hair, freeing some glitter. Samantha thrust her face into her book, hunching her shoulders. She was holding it upside down. Unless she enjoyed struggling through upside down sentences, she was trying to get me to confess without a prompt.

I leaned back. No way. She had to prove herself worthy of hearing my glorious story. I needed an enraptured audience, a listener who thirsted for my story.

I kicked off my shoes. But if she didn’t ask I would tell her anyway. I had to explain my victories to someone.

I waited.

And waited. A flake of glitter rested on my eyelash. I blinked it away.

Samantha slammed her book down. I grabbed the table. “Alright. What do you want to tell me?!”

Sheesh, no need to get angry. “I…I don’t think you want to know.” I raised my chin and gazed into the distance. The effect wasn’t as dramatic as I’d imagined, however, considering that the wall was about two feet from my face in the direction I was staring.

Samantha frowned. “Fine. Maybe I don’t.” She opened the book.

Great. I’d pushed too hard. “But wait! Maybe you do. I promise it’s a good story.”

“Is it?”


“I don’t know. Your stories generally revolve around the same thing.”

My eyebrows scrunched together. “Around what same thing?”

“Your failure.”

“Ouch. Thanks, big sis.” Way to ruin the Christmas spirit by cutting down your little brother.


“But this story isn’t about that.”

Samantha cocked her head.

I cleared my throat. “Sort of.”

“Spit it out, then. What did you do?”

I sighed. So much for the high ground. I settled back in my chair, preparing for the long tale. “I had a run-in with a Christmas tree.

Sam, the interior decorator.

It has a nice ring to it, right?

At least that’s what I thought when I signed up for a decorating party at my high school. Brittney was on the sign-up form as well, which did not influence my decision to go at all.

Turns out motivations are vital in life. The moment I stepped into the gym I knew my desire to hang around Brittney was not going to get me through the two hours of decorating.

Not that the decorating looked particularly hard. Most of the kids had easy jobs. One strung tinsel across the concrete walls. A few others worked amidst piles of white tissue paper, creating a large Christmas tree by pasting the paper onto a big styrofoam cone.

Plastic tubs overflowing with tinsel, ornaments, and fabric sat scattered across the basketball court. I bit my lip. Brittney wandered among the tubs with a clipboard, examining the tubs.

Brittney’s presence wasn’t what concerned me.

Ok, Brittney did scare me a little, but that’s beside the point. What was really disturbing was the tall beach-boy running the show. He was currently looming over the kids working with the tissue, explaining how to glue the paper onto the cone, as if it wasn’t already obviously simple. His perfect face hardened into a perfect scowl, perfect eyebrows (that he probably plucked himself) crunched over his perfect eyes.

If you couldn’t tell by now, King was perfect. At least on outside, all the way from his six-pack to his hair gel. On the inside he was about as ugly as the bottomless hole Satan would be thrown into sometime during the second coming.

I swallowed, hard. King was in charge!?

Liam, who I’d brought as a guest to help, glanced at King. “Is he––?”

King walked up to us, cutting Liam off. “Brittney told me you’d be coming.” He crossed his arms and his perfect mouth pressed into a perfect, grim line, his perfect eyes…(“Sam, stop with the perfect stuff, we get it,” Samantha interrupted.)…ahem. Anyway. He didn’t look happy. Brittney glanced up from her work, saw me, and waved once before turning back to the bins.

Heat built up in my cheeks. “G…good to see you too, King. Are you in charge of this…thing?” I edged closer to Liam.

King’s expression didn’t change. “Yes. And you want to help?”

I swallowed. “Yeah.” What was he going to do? Put us in charge of some impossible task like…well, I didn’t see how one decorating task could be harder than another, but King would be the one person on earth who would find a way to make me work with glitter.

King glanced at Liam. “Then what are you standing there for?” He motioned toward Brittney. “She’s in charge of the snowflakes décor, ceiling lights, and the tables. Start helping her.” He turned and walked back toward the kids working on the tissue tree.

“Get moving, people! We only have an hour and a half till security kicks us out!”

I dropped my shoulders. Man, I thought I was done for.

Liam glanced between the bully and me. “That was anticlimactic. Is that truly King?”

I nodded.

“The kid you’re afraid of?”

I nodded again.

He snorted. “You’re a wimp.”

I glared at him. “He’s intimidating!”

“Not really.”

“Not to you.”

“Because I’m not a wimp.”

“You know nothing.” I made my way toward Brittney.

Liam followed. “And you’re a drama king.”

“Am not!”

Our argument vanished into nothingness when we reached Brittney, but I still managed to send a sizzling glare Liam’s way.

Liam and I started working with Brittney, and exactly an hour and a half passed without any issues. I kept a close eye on my watch. It had to be a record of some sort. I’d survived an hour and a half in close proximity to Brittney without accidentally destroying something.

Not that I was suddenly a competent human being or that King wasn’t still a bully. King was concentrated on the other kids, which is why he didn’t cause any problems, and Liam did most of the talking with Brittney. I avoided eye contact most of the time. Ok, all the time. But I was satisfied with how the night going, even though King controlled everyone’s every move, hovering over us like we’d never put up decorations before. He micromanaged the tinsel hanging, the tree building, and every decoration Brittney put up. Who knew King was such a decorating diva?

Liam and I concentrated on cutting out snowflakes. After King rejected my first misshapen flake (with Brittney watching), I cut out the others with as much precision as possible. I only cut out one for every ten Liam made, but I had to get this right. Brittney smiled every time she took the snowflakes I finished, which made my heart flutter like a trash bag hanging out the window of a car in the middle of Chicago. Which is to say, it beat hard.

Everything was cheery.

Until the hot chocolate happened.

We finished the room with King’s approval, and all twelve kid decorators stood back to enjoy our work. Blue and white tinsel delicately covered the walls, and the snowflakes danced up and down in a sophisticated, even patterns below them. The food tables lined the edges of the room, the massive paper tree sitting in the center of it all. The five kids who had assembled it straightened with a mixture of pride and exhaustion in their smiles. The blues and whites blended together in the perfect color palette.

King may have been a slave driver, but he knew how to decorate a room.

“Wooow.” I said, leaning back. Liam whistled. Brittney smiled.

“This calls for celebration!” One of the girls disappeared out a side door, and before I knew it a large thermos, cups, and marshmallows sat on the nearest table. Soon everyone had a cup in their hands. King firmly forbid them to approach any of the décor they had recently put up, so everyone murmured near the far side of the room. They spoke quietly as if they feared raised voices might displace a snowflake half an inch and bring down King’s wrath.

So much for the joyful Christmas spirit. But at least the decorations were up, and I’d interacted with Brittney.

Rephrase, I’d spoke two sentences in her general direction. I still considered it an accomplishment.

Liam dug an elbow into my side. “Hey.” He nodded toward the center of the room.

Brittney hovered beside the tissue tree, taking in the decorations. King was too busy inspecting the table décor to notice how close she was to the tree.

I sighed. Man, she looked nice, and she wasn’t even dressed up. If only I looked that good in a pair of jeans and a tee.

“She doesn’t have any hot chocolate,” Liam said

I glanced at her empty hands. “Yeah.”

He cleared his throat. “You think she wants some?”

I shrugged. I didn’t read minds. “I don’t know.”

He sighed. “You think someone should get her some?”

What did he need from me? “If they wanted to.”

He knocked me upside the head.

“Ow!” I touched the spot he’d tapped. It was more of a reaction then legitimate pain, but I wasn’t about to correct myself. If Liam felt guilty for hurting me, good. “What was that for?”

“Go give her some hot chocolate.”

No. No no no no never. Brittney was standing there looking all beautiful. I couldn’t just walk up and hand her something, let alone force enough words out of my mouth to explain what I was giving her. “Um, no.”

“Come on. You keep talking about this girl. If you don’t make her aware of your existence, she’s never going to like you.”

“Maybe I don’t want her aware of my existence.”

Liam raised his eyebrow. I cleared my throat. “Alright, awareness of my existence wouldn’t be too bad.”

Liam thumped me on the back. “There you go.”

I gave him a weak smile, eyeing the thermos. Did I really want to do this? I was not well versed in speaking to pretty girls. Or expressing thoughts. Or forming words. Or walking near the vicinity of Brittney. In other words, I was utterly incompetent.

But those two sentences I’d eked out while we’d decorated with Brittney gave me a vague feeling of something that ever so slightly resembled confidence. Before I could talk myself out of it, I pushed through the crowd of kids, grabbed the thermos, and marched over to her.

I held the thermos with one arm, started leaning against the tissue tree, then remembered just in time it wouldn’t hold me and straightened. “Hey Britt––” She turned around and I froze like she was Medusa and her eyes could turn me to stone. A version of Medusa whose hair was black and shiny, not a nest of living snakes. She gave me an encouraging smile, and my heart stuttered.

“Yes, Sam?”

Dang it. I was here for something. What was I here for? I’d approached Brittney for a reason. The back of my neck lit on fire. I glanced down at my hands. “The thermos!” I shoved the container toward her.

She tilted her head.

I cleared my throat. “I was here…I saw you didn’t have…do you want cocoa? I mean some hot chocolate?”

She blinked. “I would. Thank you.”

Yes! Victory! Points scored! I removed the thermos top and pushed it toward her, waiting for her to offer a cup. She just stared.

Wait a second. The whole reason I came over here was because she didn’t have a cup. My breathing quickened. I hadn’t prepared for this. I glanced at Liam, but he didn’t meet my gaze. He was too busy facepalming.

Ok. I needed to get a cup. No big deal. Without saying anything to Brittney, I turned away and shot forward.

“Hey glitter kid, whatcha—?” King materialized out of nowhere, right in front of me.

I ran into him. And when I say I ran into him, I slammed into him with the force of a terrified kid running from Medusa.

King, being the brick wall he is, didn’t move. I stumbled back.

Right into the Christmas tree. Something clanged beside me.

The tree scooted back, too big to fall, and I ended up on my rear, just like the last time I’d encountered Brittney. I braced myself for something to burst into flames.

Everyone stared at me. Liam had even lifted his head out of his hands to see what was going on.

One of the girls who had worked on the tissue tree sniffed. Tears slowly welled in her eyes. Then, with a sob, she ran from the room.

Oh, snap. The tree.

I whirled around.

Pieces of tissue paper that I’d torn off in my fall floated across the gym, I exhaled. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed.

Then I caught sight of the large brown dribble melting the tissue paper as it slid down the tree.

The thermos. I didn’t remember when I’d let it go, but there were its contents, dripping down the very white Christmas tree, melting every piece of tissue paper it touched.

My stomach dropped into my toenails.

King started breathing like he’d just realized his favorite pair of Toms had been burned.

I’m dead. I’m so dead. I backed up. “We…we can fix this.” Another glance at the tree told me that no, no we couldn’t. The brown spot was still spreading. The gym closed in less than an hour. There was no way we could finish the tree to King’s satisfaction before then.

King just looked at me, still huffing. Was that a no? Liam edged toward the three of us, ready to pull me out of danger.

Brittney touched King’s arm. “King, baby…”

Baby?! Oh, gross. And painful. I wish Brittney would call me—

“We can get another tree. Come on. The mall is just a few minutes away.”

King looked into her face, then at her hand on his shoulder. Before he answered, Brittney was already heading toward the door.

Wait, I couldn’t just stay here, not with a Brittneyless King ready to snap my neck.

“Come on, Sam, Liam,” Brittney said.

Did she sense my anxiety? Or did she value my tree-related opinions so much she wanted me to come along?

Brittney nodded sharply toward the door.

Nope, it was the anxiety.

Liam grabbed my arm and dragged me toward the door. Once we were out in the parking lot, Liam pulled out his lanyard of keys.

“I’ll drive.” Brittney didn’t look back.

Liam frowned. Aww, poor guy had some feathers ruffled. “Why?” He asked.

Brittney led us to a tiny black car. “We need to get to the mall quickly.”

Haha, take that, Liam! Oh, I could just see the burn play across his face as he realized what she—?

Wait, how fast did Brittney drive?

Don’t worry, friends. I’m planning on publishing the other half of Sam’s story in a few days so it won’t end up like the Seven-parter I published a while ago. *shudder*

Till then, farewell!

-Gabrielle R. Pollack


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