A FLAWED CHRISTMAS

BONUS SCENE

 

KEIR

Pushing through the door from the garage, I expect to be swarmed by a riot of kids like I usually am when I work late, but the only one there to greet me is the dog, Frank. He rubs his head against my thigh, ready for me to give him a good scratch, but he’s soon disappointed when I’m too preoccupied to pay him much attention.

Where the hell is my family?

Checking my watch, I see it’s just past 8pm. Right in the middle of the kid’s usual bedtimes. The house is never this quiet. Ever.

Stooping to give the dog a quick scratch behind the ear, I go in search of my wife and our little hellions. The only light in the huge open plan kitchen where we usually spend most of our time is coming from the obnoxiously large Christmas tree Poppy made me drag home last week. It took us hours to decorate that stupid thing, but it was worth it just to see the goofy grin on my wife and daughters face.

The soft strains of a Christmas song coming from the den lets me know I’ve finally found what I’m looking for. Nudging the door open a touch, I don’t know if I want to laugh at what I find, or if I need to spank some sense into Poppy. The room looks like an entire toy store has exploded in there. There are piles of wrapped gifts everywhere, and even more in bags waiting to be wrapped. The huge sectional is stacked high and the only open space available on the floor currently has Poppy on her knees trying to wrap a huge stuffed bear. “What the hell is all this?” I ask, startling her so much she jumps about a foot in the air.

“Keir!” she gasps, slapping a hand over her chest in fright. “You scared the shit out of me.” She wails softly before realization creeps across her features. She’s been busted and she knows it.

“I thought we agreed to keep the presents to a minimum this year?” She looks around nervously and I know she’s trying to think of a good excuse as to why she’s currently boxed into a literal corner by Christmas gifts after promising we were sticking to a lighter pile of gifts this year.

“Well…I…you see, what had happened was…” She looks up at me, those endless blue eyes wide with panic. “I just want the kids to have the best time.” She finally says and I feel her words like a kick in the chest. My Poppy never had good holidays as a kid. Her father was gone before she could even remember him, and her mother is the definition of a waste of space. She never cared that her kids had anything outside of the basic necessities. Ever since our first son was born, she’s always gone overboard on birthdays and Christmas. Chase, Travis and Clara have every toy they can possibly have at their ages and I thought I’d finally talked Poppy into taking it easy this year, looks like she wasn’t as agreeable to that conversation as I thought she was. The frustration I felt at seeing all this crap wrapped up and waiting to go under the tree melts away as I look at my wife and the tears I see building in her eyes. “Lolly-pop…” I start, but she cuts me off hurriedly.

“I’m sorry. I know we agreed, but I just couldn’t seem to stop myself.” There’s an edge of sadness in her voice that hits me square in the chest, making me feel like a dick for being such an ass to her. “I’ll return some stuff tomorrow.” She offers softly, making me want to punch myself in the face.

“Keep the gifts, Pop.” I sigh, climbing over the mess on the floor, hating the distance between us, I wrap my arm around her waist and drag her closer. “But you know the kids are going to love Christmas no matter what’s under the tree, right? They have just as much fun playing with their cousins as they do when they’re opening their gifts.”

“I know.” She sighs, tipping her head back to look up at me. Taking her up on her silent offer, I press my lips against hers. No matter how many years pass, I know I’ll never get tired of how sweet my wife tastes.

“Love you.” She says softly.

“Yeah? Dance with me then.” Poppy lets out a startled laugh as I lift her off the floor and place her gently onto of my sneaker covered feet. Her arms tighten around my neck as I start moving us in time with the Christmas song that’s playing. This is something we’ve always done, even though our kids think we’re massive dorks for doing it.

“Promise you’ll dance with me like this forever.” She says, nuzzling her face into my neck, her soft breaths tickling the skin through the thin cotton of my shirt.

“Every day lolli-pop. Every single day until I’m too old to carry you anymore.”

Once the song ends, I let my wife go and settle in under the twinkling, festive lights to help her finish wrapping more presents than three kids can ever need. If this is what it takes to make my wife happy, then so be it.

 

 

 

DUKE

 

“Are we there yet?” Looking into the rear-view mirror, I see Bailey and Brooke in their booster seats, both with their faces pressed to the glass as they watch the scenery fly past. Bailey turns to give me a quick grin before she turns back to fuss over her baby brother, Jude who is in the seat next to her.

“There, Daddy?” he yells, trying his hardest to copy his older sisters but he’s not quite two and not able to string more than a few words together.

“Not long now kiddo’s!” Elliott answers excitedly. Turning in her seat to face the kids, she gifts me with a waft of vanilla as her hair swishes around in the confined space of the car. I’m not sure who’s more excited at this point. The kids that think we’re just going to pick out a Christmas tree, or Elliott who knows where we’re really going. When she had told me all about her plans for today, I’d called her crazy. She wanted to give the kids an early Christmas gift, specifically a puppy. We managed to find the perfect little guy at a local shelter. I assumed that was the end of that, but Elliott being the way she is she just had to make a huge production out of it. So, here we are, at a Christmas tree farm where the kids are getting a tree and a dog. There’s even a photographer on hand to capture the moment. I have no idea why one of can’t just film it on our phones, but whatever my Elliott wants, she gets.

*

“I don’t see trees anywhere.” Brooke says quietly, holding out her hands for me to pick her up. She’s probably too old to be carried, but I’ll do it for as long as my girl needs me to. Seeing his sister being carried, Jude does the same. It’s unusually cold, even for winter in Savannah, the sky is heavy with thick clouds and there’s an icy tinge to the air. So much so, you can see the kid’s breath as they jump around from foot to foot, trying to stay warm.

“They must be out back then, let’s go look.” Elliott says, taking a hold of Baileys hand and making her way to the spot that we’ve arranged to meet the people that have helped with the surprise for the kids.

“Tismas tree, Daddy?” Jude asks, slapping his cold little hand against my cheek.

 

Daddy.

Fuck.

That one word is almost enough to bring me to my knees. Looking down at my boy, I can’t help but wonder how I got so lucky. All those years spent stuck in warzones, in the worst places imaginable, I never thought I’d have this when I finally came home.

A wife that is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid eyes on and three amazing kids that I would lay down my life for. It’s more than I ever thought I’d have. All those years I spent in the military, all the shit I’d seen, all the shit I’d been forced to do, never, not once did I think this would be my reward.

I thought happiness like this was something that other people had. It was something that you saw on TV shows or movie screens. It didn’t happen to people like me. People that had grown up with not much of anything good in their lives, no good examples of a decent relationship.

Until Elliott.

Until the day she barged into my life with these two little girls that my heart didn’t stand a chance against. “What’s that?” Bailey calls out as we round the corner to find a big, gift-wrapped box with a huge bow sitting on top sitting beneath one of the huge fir trees.

“I don’t know, maybe you should go look.” Elliott smiles down at Bailey. Brooke, still in my arms wriggles her legs, letting me know she wants to get down. As always, Jude wants to whatever his sisters are doing so I drop him to his feet too. Grabbing a hold of his hands, the girls lead him to the box while Elliott and I stand back and watch. Slipping an arm around her shoulders, I pull her in close to my side.

“Are we crazy?” She asks, leaning her head against my shoulder. Not one to miss the opportunity when it presents itself, I press my lips against her hair, breathing her in. Her vanilla scent invading each of my senses.

“Probably,” I chuckle, right as the kids all let out delighted shrieks. Bailey throws the cardboard lid to the floor and reaches into the box to lift out the wriggling little puppy.

 

“I’m pregnant again.” Elliott announces, right as the photographer she hired to get the kids reactions steps out from the trees where she’s been hidden. I can’t focus on the chaos swirling around me because my brain has latched onto that one word.

 

Pregnant.

Christ, I really am a lucky fuck. I think to myself as I swing Elliott around, so she’s pressed close to me, front to front. She gazes up happily and all I can do is stare at her in wonder. Just when I think she can’t possibly rock my world any harder than she already has, my El just has to prove me wrong.

“I fucking love you, Mrs Nash.” I declare right before I kiss the smile clean off her face. All while the kids shriek in delight, the puppy yelps as it starts to clamber up the leg of my jeans. Luckily for us, the photographer catches each gloriously chaotic moment of it.

 

 

 

 

BREEZE 

 

Snapping the pink lid back onto the plastic stick, I don’t bother to look at it before I toss it down onto the bathroom counter. I scrub my hands a little too hard as I’m cleaning up, the hot water stinging a little as my skin turns pink with the force I’m using. I’m frustrated with myself and my lack of willpower.

 

My damn period isn’t even late yet but here I am, peeing on another stupid pregnancy test. At this point, I might as well just skip buying the tests and just pee straight on the twenty-dollar bills.

Fourteen months.

Fourteen long, painful months.

Month after month of seeing just one line. Or even worse, not pregnant. TJ had made me promise not to buy those kinds of tests anymore because my tears were always worse when the actual words appeared on the screen.

When we’d gotten married, a baby hadn’t been high on our list of things to do. We both knew we wanted more kids at some point, but we were happy to just let nature takes it course. Abel was still so young so there was no rush. A baby would come when the time was right, we told each other. I stopped my birth control right after the wedding and then we waited.

And waited.

We waited the required year before going to see a doctor and they couldn’t find anything wrong with either of us. I had every test possible, and nothing. We were told to try and relax; it would happen when it was supposed to. Relax, like that’s possible when you’re slowly becoming more and more obsessed with cycle tracking and having sex on a schedule.

So now, here we are. Abel is two years old and I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’ll probably never give him a sibling in the conventional way. I’d adopted Abel right after TJ and I got married, and I know we’ll both be happy to go down that road again if we need to, but that doesn’t stop me feeling like crap every month when I’m weak and can’t stop myself from hoping that maybe, just maybe this will be the month it finally happens for us.

I can’t shake the bone deep sadness that I’m probably never going to carry a baby. Never feel the rolls and kicks that I’d felt with my nieces and nephew when my sister was pregnant. “Mama!” Abel’s shriek pulls me out of my funk. “Mama, where you?” he yells, and I can hear him looking for me in our bedroom. The sound of his voice settles something within me. I’m so incredibly lucky, luckier than most people. I have an amazing husband and the best little boy in the world. I need to learn to be more grateful for what I do have. I don’t have time to kick my own ass for being a brat because Abel finds me in the bathroom, throwing himself against my legs in a hug. “We do tee now, mama?” he asks, tipping his head back to look up at me. “Yes, gorgeous boy, we can decorate the tree now.”

And for the next hour, I put my sour mood to one side as I watch TJ follow behind Abel, moving the countless baubles he tries to stack all at the bottom of the tree. I watch as they laugh with one another, letting the sound fill the gaping hole that sits inside my chest.  I watch as he lifts our son up in his strong arms so that he can put the star on top of the tree. I watch them and come to realize something.

No matter what happens next for us, whether we end up with a house full of babies, or it’s just the three of us, I’m still the luckiest woman in the world that I get to call them both mine.

 

 

TJ - Later that night.

Leaning against the door to Abel’s bedroom, I watch breeze as she tucks him tightly, just the way he likes it. The kid is already out like a light. A day of decorating for Christmas has wiped him out, but despite him being out, Breeze doesn’t move. She has one hand on his back, the other smoothing his hair away from his face. She loves him. I don’t think she could love him more if she carried him herself. They have a bond unlike anything I've ever seen.

 

“He’s out.” I tell her, unsurprised when she doesn’t react to hearing me behind her. She always knows when I'm nearby.

“I know.” She sighs, the sadness in her voice killing me a little inside. I know she’s struggling with the whole trying to get pregnant thing, we both are, but it’s different for her. It burns that there’s absolutely nothing I can do to make it better for her.

 

“Come on, let's go watch a movie in bed.” I offer, knowing it’s not going to help her feel better, but I want to try and take her mind of things, even if it’s just for the next ninety minutes or so.

“Do you have ice-cream?” She asks speculatively, like she’s not going to agree to my plans for the evening.

“A pint of Butter Pecan with your name on it.” The smile she gives me is almost enough to steal the breath from my lungs because she’s just so fucking pretty. “I already locked the house down; you grab the ice-cream while I get a quick shower.” I tell her as she approaches where I stand. I don’t give her the room she needs to pass by, crowding her against the wooden frame instead.

 

“We’re gonna be okay, you know that right?” I ask, cupping her face in the palms of my hands. Her sad smile is like a punch in the chest. Knowing I can’t give my wife the one thing that would make her happy is a bitter pill to swallow.

“I know.” The tremulous edge to her voice is almost enough to undo me. I’d give everything I have to make this right for her. “Go shower, I’ll get the movie started.”

“Do I get to choose?” I ask knowing the answer already.

“Not likely.” She scoffs, reaching up and planting a too quick kiss on my lips before she turns and moves towards the kitchen. I watch her for longer than I probably should before I move through our bedroom and into the bathroom.

I’m emptying the crap that’s accumulated in my pockets throughout the day when I catch sight of the familiar white and pink plastic stick that’s been tossed aside on the vanity. Defeat sweeps through me as I realise that Breeze must have taken yet another negative test earlier and that’s why she’s been so low all evening.

Snatching the test up, I want to crush it into a thousand pieces. I hate everything these stupid things represent for us. All the negatives they’ve brought us. I’m about to snap it in half when I notice the line.

Or more importantly, lines.

Two of them.

One of them just that tiny bit fainter than the other.

My lungs sit heavy in my chest, unable to work fully as it registers what I’m looking at.

 

“Hurry up, the ice-cream is meltin-” Bree walks in, but I don’t tear my eyes away from my hands, too afraid that I’ll blink, and it won’t be there anymore.

“You’re pregnant?” I cut off her chattering, my voice sounding husky with emotion.

“I’m what?” she says, but the words are little more than a waft of air breathed out in disbelief.

“Two lines, Breeze. Two lines means pregnant, right?” I ask, holding the test out for her to see. She stares down at it; but doesn’t take it from me. She looks like she’s afraid it’s about to leap out of my hands and attack her at any second.

“I didn’t look…I couldn’t…I mean…” she stammers out at the same time tears start to stream down her pretty face. “It’s really positive?” she finally manages to ask. I can’t speak past the lump that’s in my throat, so I just nod as I move closer to her.

“We’re having a baby?” She croaks, one trembling hand coming up to press against her lips, like she can’t even imagine she’s saying those words out loud.

“We’re having a baby.” I confirm, finally letting a grin break free. She takes the test from my hand and turns it over to stare down at the results for herself. Catching me off guard, she throws it down, letting it clatter against the vanity and launches herself into my arms. Going back on a foot, I take her slight weight as she wraps herself around me and squeezes tightly.

“I’m pregnant.” She gifts me a dazzling smile as she says the words we’ve both wanted to hear for the longest time.

“You’re pregnant.” I agree right before I press my lips against hers. The kiss is full of sweet relief, filled with every ounce of joy we’re both feeling right now. Breaking the kiss, I start to move towards our bedroom, keeping Bree wrapped around me until we reach the bed.

Once there, I lay her down gently before stripping out of my shirt and jeans. Crawling up the bed towards the vision that is my wife, I stop to press a kiss against her still flat belly. Pushing the fabric of her shirt out of the way, I rest my lips there for a while. I’m completely overwhelmed by this moment. This gift she is giving me. I have a son, but

 

I’ve never had this, never had his mom tell me she was pregnant. Never got to see her grow round as he grew. I missed every doctor’s appointment and every ultrasound. I had no idea he existed until he was days old. But this time, this time I’m not missing a single second of any of it. Bree is giving me something so unfathomably earth shattering, I’ll never be able to repay her.

“Best Christmas gift ever.”

 

 

ASA

 

“She’s going to be fine.” I have to force back the grin that wants to erupt on my face as Lucy scowls at me.

“I know,” she pouts “but-”

“No buts.” I cut her off. “Give Iris a kiss and let’s go.” Lucy’s eyes narrow as she glares art me, but she doesn’t argue anymore. Giving our daughter a soft kiss on her little bald head, Lucy passes her over to my sister who is waiting with open arms to take her.

“You’ll call if there’s anything wrong? Even if she’s just a little fussy?” To her credit, Ava doesn’t roll her eyes, she just agrees while gently manoeuvring us towards the front door.

“She’s going to be just fine. You guys go enjoy your night off.”

“Thanks, sis.” Kissing Ava on the cheek, then leaning in to do the same with a smiling Iris, I grab Lucy’s hand and pull her out of the house.

She’s unusually quiet as I open the car door for her, and she stays that way as I drive us through the light evening traffic. Reaching out, I link my fingers with Lucy’s, dragging her hand over to rest against my thigh. “She really will be okay.” I say, breaking the silence.

Tonight is our first real date night since Iris was born, the first time I’ve been able to convince Lucy that she’ll be fine for a few hours without us. I love my daughter more than I ever thought I possibly could, but I’m ready to have Lucy to myself for just a few hours. “I know.” She sighs, shifting in her seat to face me. “I really am excited to be out with you tonight.” Taking advantage of being stuck at a red light, I twist to look at her too.

 

She’s so fucking pretty I can hardly stand it. Her long dark hair is loose, the curls rushing against her shoulders. The reflection of the bright Christmas lights from a nearby shop dance across her face and I don’t hold myself back from leaning in and stealing a swift kiss.

It’s over before it starts, but the sweet smile it leaves on her face lets me know she appreciates the gesture anyway.

*

“Where are we going?”

“What part of it being a surprise don’t you get?” That gets me a cute huff of frustration. Pulling Lucy close to my side, I wrap an arm around her shoulder as we walk out of the parking lot. “Patience, sweet cheeks. You’ll see soon enough.” Hooking her arm around my waist, she snuggles into my side to combat the unusually cold evening air.

 

She doesn’t push me to tell her where we’re going as we walk the rest of the way; she seems more interested in the brightly lit window displays that line the busy street. It’s only a few days until Christmas and there are crowds of people doing last minute shopping, their arms laden with bags and boxes. As we turn the last corner, I know Lucy has realised where we are her steps falter and her body tenses.

“Asa.” My name is a breath that falls from her lips as she stares over at the brightly lit fairground that’s set up across the street. When I’d seen the flier advertising this place, I knew I had to bring Lucy here. This is where it all started for us, where I fell for her. It feels like a lifetime ago since that day, but it’s been a little more than a year since she crashed into my life.

What should have been one quick, awkward breakfast after a one-night-stand ended up being the best first date I’d ever been on. It was also the last first date I ever had.

Things might have derailed slightly for a while after that first weekend, but we’ve both worked damned hard to get to where are now. We didn’t have a choice when Lucy had gotten pregnant our first night together.  Through all of that, the ups and down, I’ve never forgotten spending that first day with her. The easy way we’d fallen into being around one another. The way she would look up at me with those gorgeous, deep eyes that I could feel myself about to get lost in. She was this funny, bright ray of sunshine that had cut into the dullness I hadn’t even realized I was living in.

“Come one, I have some stuffed toys to win for my girls.” I joke, tugging on her hand to get her to follow me but she doesn’t move.

“Thank you for remembering.” She says softly when I look back at her. Stepping right into her space, I gather her tightly into my arms.

“Couldn’t forget that day if I tried.” I tell her honestly. Her answer to that is to roll up on tiptoes so she can kiss me. I don’t care that we’re on a crowded sidewalk. I don’t care that people are having to sidestep around us. I kiss her back, pouring every once of love I have for her into it.

Hours later, Lucy has dragged me on every single ride, forced me to eat way too much junk food, and has her arms full of stuffed animals.

Instead of taking her home and enjoying the rest of our child-free night, Lucy and I are soon pulling up outside my sister’s house, ready to get our girl and go home. As much as I was looking forward to spending the night inside Lucy without interruptions for a change, I know she’s missing Iris.

A night on the couch watching Christmas movies with my two favorite girls sounds kind of perfect anyway.

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