“Yeah. Maybe he’s rubbing off on me.”
“I would say so. You fart like crazy in your sleep.”
My jaw drops in outrage and I smack his shoulder as hard as I can. “I do not!”
“No.” He shakes his head as he laughs. “But your reaction was super worth it.”
“You’re a super ass.”
He laughs even harder as he drives toward town.
“Why didn’t you trim the tree weeks ago?” I ask Zack as he passes me another ornament for the tree. Josh and Cara are stringing popcorn while Ty and Lo fight over the pros and cons of tinsel.
“I haven’t had much time,” he replies with a chuckle. “A certain woman has kept me busy.”
“Plus,” Seth adds and hangs bulbs on the tree, “we had to cut the tree down ourselves, and it’s been too snowy. But I got to drive the snowmobile and drag it behind us back to the house.”
“I still say fake trees are better,” Lo says with a grimace, eyeing the tree like it’s evil.
“I agree,” Cara says and glares at Josh. “He made me have a real tree.”
“I can cut them down for free on my own property,” he insists, as though this is an argument they’ve had a hundred times.
“I like the smell of the real ones,” I say and take a deep breath. “You bring the outside inside.”
“Along with spiders and who knows what else,” Lo says.
“Oh God.” I feel my eyes grow wide and turn to Zack. “Did you shake it? What if there’s a squirrel? Or birds?”
“There is no wildlife in this tree,” he insists as his dad, Jeff, laughs hysterically.
“It would be so cool if there was a squirrel!” Seth exclaims.
“I’m sure Thor would appreciate that too,” I murmur. Thor’s ears perk up at his name and he tilts head. “No squirrels for you.”
“Oh, Joshy, remember this one?” Nancy says as she pulls an ornament out of the ancient box that Zack rescued from the attic.
“Joshy?” Ty echoes, earning the flip of the bird from Josh.
“I made that in the second grade,” he replies and rolls his eyes.
“Where are its legs?” Seth asks, eyeing the old gingerbread man with a string through its head. “Did you eat them?”
“No, they probably fell off,” Nancy says with a laugh. “It’s about twenty-five years old.”
“You’re such an artist,” Zack taunts his brother.
“You don’t have much room to talk, son,” Jeff says and holds up a photo that’s been choppily cut into a circle and glued to red construction paper that has faded to a light rust color. “I do believe this is you. Zacky.”
“That’s Josh,” Zack lies and laughs.
“Nope, it’s you,” Josh confirms.
“Oh, your first Christmas ornaments,” Nancy announces with tears in her eyes. “Look!”
“Oh God, Mom’s gonna cry,” Zack mutters.
“You were just tiny little things,” she chokes and Ty laughs while pinching the bridge of his nose.
“I love this so much.” He laughs.
“Shut up, man.” Josh punches Ty in the shoulder.
“I think it’s wonderful.” Lo glares at her fiancé.
“Don’t cry, darlin’.” Jeff kisses his wife’s cheek and pats her back. “Just hand the ornaments to the kids to hang on the tree.”
“Can I put the angel on top?” Seth asks excitedly.
“Yes,” I reply and smile at him. He’s been so fun today, so excited for Christmas. It’s been a challenge keeping him away from all of the wrapped gifts with his name on them, because he wants to shake them and try to guess what’s inside.
I can’t wait for tomorrow morning.
The tree that Zack, Jeff, and Seth chose is at least eight feet tall, almost meeting the ceiling of the grand family room. Zack and Jeff strung the lights and garland around it this afternoon before the rest of us arrived, so it would be ready to dress right after dinner.
“Hey, boys, let’s go get the fire started outside.” Jeff motions for all of the guys to follow him outside.
“Be right back, sugar.” Zack kisses my cheek and follows the guys out the back.
“Does it take four grown men to start that fire?” Cara asks with a laugh.
“I’m going too!” Seth cries and runs for his boots to follow the men.
“Make that four and a half,” Lo says.
“Yes, because they have to choose the perfect wood and argue about the best way to start the fire and then admire it once it’s been started,” Nancy informs us. “It’s a man thing.”
“I suppose so.” I step back to admire the huge Christmas tree. “This is pretty.”
“I like the red and white lights,” Lo says, also admiring the tree.
“I do too,” Cara agrees.
“Those are new,” Nancy says. “Zack got them for Jilly.”
“For me?” Holy shit! “Why would he get special lights for me?”
“Because he knows your favorite color is red,” she replies and offers me a soft smile. “I do believe my son is in love with you, darling.”
“Oh.” I wave her off and shake my head. “There have been no exchanges of the L word.”
“It won’t be long,” she replies. “How did your little project turn out?”
“What project?” Lo asks and hangs a pretty red bulb on the tree.
“Nancy found a photo of Zack with Seth when Seth was a tiny baby for me. You’ll see what I did with it in the morning when he opens his gift.” I hug Nancy and kiss her cheek. “Thanks again.”
“What did Ty get you?” I ask Lo.
“He says we’re exchanging our gifts tomorrow night when we get home. He won’t tell me what it is.” She rolls her eyes. “How about you, Cara?”
“Josh says I can open it tomorrow morning.” She shrugs and continues to string her popcorn. “It doesn’t really matter to me, though. I have everything I need. What do you and Jeff usually do for each other, Nancy?”
“We typically don’t exchange gifts, but this year Jeff bought us tickets on an Alaskan cruise.”
“Awesome!” I exclaim. “You’ll love that.”
“It will be fun. I was surprised he thought of it. He likes to stick close to home.”