David misses his dad. He misses his friends on Brentwood Avenue and playing hide-and-seek behind Mrs. Marshall's house. He misses games of road hockey until dark.
Now that David's parents are divorced, he lives with his mother and stepfather, Joel, in the country. David's new house has lots of land around for him to play soccer but most of the children live miles away from his new home. Sometimes at night David can hear the coyotes yip in the fields. He stays very still under the covers hoping they will go away. At his old house, he could hear the city bus driving by and the streetlights would peek through his window blinds and break up the darkness. He didn't feel afraid in his old bedroom.
David's step-dad, Joel, is always fixing things with his hammer and when he kisses David's mom, she giggles with a laugh that David has never heard before. Joel watches space movies and mystery shows and chews the end of his pencil when he is concentrating on a cross-word puzzle.
David misses his dad hoisting him on his shoulders and carrying him to bed and watching hockey games on the couch with a comforter and a bag of ketchup chips. Maybe the next time he is with his dad, they can do that.
When winter comes, David helps Joel stack wood and clears the snow from the driveway; they are building character, Joel tells him. But David wants to roll in the snow and build forts instead.& When a friend from his old neighbourhood sleeps over, they play in the barn. His city friends think it is cool that he has a bigger fort than anyone else they know. David loves the smell of the hay and mom shoos them outside to shake the loose bits from their clothes before they come inside again.
Sometimes on a Sunday after church, Joel takes him tobogganing on a nearby farmer's field. They whoosh down the long hill.
David giggles when they reach the bottom and tells Joel that the hills are way better than in the city.
"Why's that?" replies Joel, his moustache frosty white from the ride.
"No trees or houses to block your path," David explains. And they slide down the hill again and again until their fingers and toes are numb.
"Christmas is only two weeks away," says David's mother. "We need a tree soon."
"We can cut one down at Frank's tree farm," answers Joel.
"But we already have a tree," says David and he thinks of the tree in the large cardboard box in the storage closet. Each year David would help his dad put the branches with the coloured tips into the right spot in the tree trunk. His mom would put the angel on top.
"A country home needs a real tree," replies Joel.
But David likes the tree that had always been in their living room at their old place. What is wrong with that one?
"Maybe you will have a tree like that at your dad's," says his mom.
Days later, Joel and David set out in the truck to Frank's tree farm. David's mom tells him not to pout. She flicks his scarf around his neck and promises to save some gingerbread cookies for him to decorate when they returned.
The snow in the farmer's fields is soft and almost reaches the top of David's boots. "This way, David," says Joel as they tromp through the fields together.
"How about this one?" asks Joel.
"Nope, too small," replies David. His fingers are already starting to tingle from the cold. He hopes it won't take long.
"What about this one?" says Joel as he points his saw with the wooden handle to another evergreen.
"Nah, too fat," says David. He pictures them struggling to put their presents under the chubby tree. It was easy for David to slide under his old tree and shake a gift when no one was looking.
And then in a clearing where the snowflakes sparkle and dance in the sunlight, David spots a tree that looks a lot like the one they keep in the box.
"Hey, Joel, come here," says David as he stands and gazes up at the magnificent tree.
"Well, do you think that your mother will be able to fit her angel on top of that?" Joel replies. David nods his head.
Joel lets David help him use the saw to cut the tree down. He has never used one before. It makes him feel grown up. It makes him forget about his chilly fingertips.
With the tree in the back of the truck, they make their way home and a gentle snow begins to fall.
"My teacher, Mrs. Anderson, said that no two snowflakes are alike," says David as they plop against the windshield.
"Yeah, God certainly created some wonders in our world, didn't he? And even though snowflakes are remarkably different, do you see how they can stick together when the wipers touch them?" Joel asks.
David sees the snow building at the bottom of the windshield.
"A tiny flake by itself doesn't last long, but mix a whole bunch together and suddenly you have a snow ball or a snow fort," explains Joel.
"And a snow fight!" replies David, and he and Joel laugh. And at that point, David has an idea.
That night before bed, David pulls out his craft paper and scissors. Christmas is only days away. When Christmas does arrive, David's dad comes to pick him up so they can spend some time together too. David leaps into his lap and scoops his arms around his dad's neck.
"Daddy, I missed you!"
"Me too, Sport," replies his dad. "Are you ready to go, then?" says his dad.
"Oh, wait a second, I almost forgot something," says David and he runs upstairs to his bedroom. "Merry Christmas, Joel," says David and he hands his step-dad a tiny package in crinkled tissue paper.
"What's this?" says Joel, surprised by the gift.
"Open it up when I'm gone," explains David and he winks at Joel.
As David and his father drive away, Joel gently unwraps the package. Inside are snowflakes made from white construction paper and covered in sparkles. Diamond shapes cut with awkward fingers did form three different sized snowflakes. But each one that was strung together onto silver Christmas ribbon had a message written in crayon.
"Thank you, God" in red crayon appeared on the first and largest snowflake, and "for making us" was in green on the second and least small of the trio. Finally Joel unfolds the third and last snowflake that was as tiny as a 25 cent piece with the word "unique" written in alternating colours of red, white, and green.
And Joel hangs them on their real tree underneath the angel.