“I wonder what Zack got you,” Cara says.
“Oh, I don’t need anything. We’ve been seeing each other for less than a month.”
“That doesn’t matter,” Cara insists.
I shrug and smile softly. “As long as Seth has a good Christmas, that’s all that matters. He deserves it.”
“I agree,” Zack says as he walks into the room, clearly hearing the last part of the conversation. “And thank you.” He pulls me in for a big hug, and when my breasts press against his chest, I have to catch my breath. They’ve been so sore the past couple of days. I must be about to start my period.
Merry Christmas to me.
“Are you guys ready to go outside? The fire’s roaring.”
“We’re not done trimming the tree,” I remind him.
“How much is left?”
“The popcorn is done,” Cara announces and begins draping it around the tree. Lo jumps in to help her, and within seconds they’re finished. “Now it’s just the angel on top.”
“Seth can do that when we come back in.”
“I’ll grab some extra blankets,” Nancy offers and opens a hall linen closet as we all bundle up into our jackets and boots. “Zack, will you grab the bags in the kitchen?”
“I’ll be right out,” I say and set a pot on the stove and fill it with milk. “I’m going to make some hot chocolate real quick. I brought a thermos.”
“We have dozens of thermoses, sugar.” Zack kisses my cheek. “I’ll be right back to help.”
Zack and the girls go outside, leaving me alone in the kitchen. It smells fantastic, since Nancy and I baked pies this afternoon for tomorrow’s dessert. When the milk is on its way to a boil, I add the chocolate and vanilla—my secret ingredient—and mix constantly, not wanting the milk to scorch.
“How’s it going?” Zack asks as he rejoins me.
“Fine. Almost ready. I think I’ll need one of your thermoses too. I made a lot.”
He fetches me the thermos as I fill the first, then helps me fill the second.
“I brought disposable cups with lids too.”
“Thought of everything, didn’t you?”
“I’m a planner, can’t help it.” I turn to carry the hot drinks outside, but Zack stops me, sets everything back on the kitchen counter, and pulls me in for a long, firm hug.
“I’m so glad you’re here, Jilly.”
“Me too.” I grin and breathe him in.
“You spoiled the shit out of my kid.”
“How do you know? Everything’s still wrapped.”
“Because there are at least ten gifts over there for him from you.” He massages my lower back gently. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“Once I started with that damn one-click button I couldn’t quit. It was fun, and I really want him to be spoiled rotten this year.”
Zack kisses my forehead then leans his forehead against mine. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Tomorrow morning is going to be fun.” I kiss him quickly before pulling out of his arms. “Let’s go. I want s’mores.”
“How do you know we’re having s’mores?”
“I saw the chocolate. I’m no dummy.” I wink and lead him out the back door, through the trampled snow to the side of the house where everyone else is already huddled around the fire, sticks of marshmallows in the fire.
“I can’t believe I didn’t know you guys did this every year,” I say as I sit next to Seth and Zack settles next to me. I grin to myself. I love being sandwiched between my guys.
“Can I have some hot chocolate?” Seth asks. “Please?”
“Of course.” I pour him a cup, then everyone else too, passing the cups around the circle.
“What do you do if it’s snowing?” Cara asks around a bite full of s’mores.
“This,” Josh replies with a shrug.
“What if it’s a blizzard?” Lo asks.
“This,” Zack confirms.
“Well,” Nancy adds, “the one year that we had twenty-below weather we had to take it inside and roast the marshmallows in the woodstove.” She grins as her gaze circles about the fire. “I’ve truly missed this. Think of how different last Christmas was.”
We all fall quiet lost in our own thoughts as Zack leans over and kisses my temple.
“So how did s’mores become a Christmas Eve tradition?” I ask as Zack blows the fire out on my marshmallows and helps me place them on my chocolate and graham crackers.
“I don’t remember,” he replies. “Do you, Dad?”
“I’m out of marshmallows!” Seth announces and licks his fingers.
“Stop sharing with Thor,” Ty says with a laugh, earning a wide grin from the boy.
“The boys were about five,” Jeff begins and passes a fresh bag to Seth. “And they wanted to sit outside to watch for Santa.”
“That’s right.” Nancy nods with a laugh. I’ve always loved the King family. Nancy is slim with dark hair like her boys. Jeff is tall and broad, but where his boys are dark, he’s got light hair, sprinkled with gray. They had the twins in their thirties after many years of struggling to have children. “They refused to sit inside and watch out the window. They didn’t want to miss it. So, Jeff built the fire and we bundled up and made s’mores to pass the time.”
“Did you ever see Santa?” Cara asks with a nudge to Josh’s arm.
“We always fell asleep,” he replies with a grin.
“And how did you know about this?” I ask Ty with a frown.
“The guys invited me out here on Christmas Eve in high school, and we’d hang out here, make the s’mores that Mama King bought for us, and lie to each other about girls.”
“You never mentioned it,” I reply.
“It wasn’t a secret,” he says with a laugh. “I guess I never thought to tell you.”
“Hey! I never lied about girls,” Zack insists.
“Right.” Ty rolls his eyes and then kisses Lo on the temple. “Do you need anything, sweetness?”
“Nope, I’m good.”
“Mm.” She nods and smiles happily. “The fire is nice.”
“So, Seth,” I say and tousle the boy’s hair. “Are you going to stay up long enough to see Santa with me?”