“I had dinner with Jodi and Vince the other night,” Joel said. “She told me that you’re home and you guys are doing really good again.”

I nodded slowly. “I don’t know that we’re really good, but we will be. I was a fucking moron and I realized it before it was too late . . . thank God.”

“I’ve been a fucking moron a time or two in my life.” He let out a quick laugh. “I’m glad it worked out though. She seems like a pretty awesome woman.”

“She’s the love of my life,” I said humbly.

“And you’re obviously the love of hers, too.”

“No.” I shook my head. “I’m lucky enough to share that title with my best friend.”

Joel’s face pinched together and he narrowed his eyes but didn’t say anything.

“Oh! You don’t know that story?” I exclaimed, shaking my head again. “Bro, we’ll have to talk one day when we have time. That’s a story that requires at least three beers and is way too emotional for a day like Christmas.”

Joel grinned and held his hand out to me. “Noted. Another time, man.”

I shook his hand just as the boys came flying down the stairs again.

“Dad! Dad! Look what Matthew gave me for Christmas!” Gavin held out the box that the rock was in.

Joel leaned over and stared at the box closely. “Wait. Are those—”

Gavin interrupted him. “His dead roly poly collection! He’s been saving them for almost a whole year.”

“Wow.” Joel tried to sound excited, but his face looked horrified as he turned to Matthew. “You sure you want to part with all those, buddy?”

“Yeah.” Matthew nodded. “He’s my best friend!”

Joel took a deep breath and let it out on a loud sigh. “Well, okay then. You can take those home and keep them at mom’s house.” He shot me a quick wink as he opened the door. “You guys have a good Christmas.”

“You, too. Thanks for coming by and taking all those corpses off our hands.” I laughed and he rolled his eyes and went back across the street.

“Who was that?” Michelle asked as Matthew and I walked back into the kitchen together.

“It was Gavin,” Matthew said excitedly. “He painted me a rock for Christmas, so I gave him my roly poly collection.”

Her face flashed to mine, and it was obvious the roly poly collection wasn’t her concern.

I walked over and put my arm around her shoulders, leaning down to kiss her temple. “Everything is fine,” I said quietly.

She relaxed into me and closed her eyes.

“Food is just about done. Who’s hungry?” she called out when I let go and walked away. Matthew and I set the dining room table and a little bit later, we feasted like kings on Michelle’s amazing dinner.

 

Michelle was exhausted, so once the kids were down, I told her I’d clean the kitchen and handle the Santa stuff and sent her up to bed, too. I helped Gam with the stairs one at a time and got her all settled into the guest room. Thankfully neither of them argued about going up without me. I cleaned the kitchen and dining room in record time, fueled by my excitement to lay out all the presents.

All the presents.

I looked around the kitchen, pleased with how it looked, and put my game face on. I couldn’t wait till the morning!

 

“Momma! Momma!” Matthew’s footsteps stomped down the hall and he flew onto our bed like a squirrel. “Viper!” he shook my shoulder. “Wake up! Do you think Santa came?”

I opened my eyes slowly. His words finally registered with my brain and I sat up. “I bet he did! You go knock quietly on Gam’s door and I’ll wake your mom and Maura, okay?”

“Deal!” He nodded and held his little fist out for me to bump. We did and he sprinted from the room.

“Hey.” I bent down and kissed Michelle’s cheek. “Sorry. My morning breath probably stinks, but who gives a shit. It’s Christmas, wake up.”

She groaned and gave me a tiny smile without opening her eyes.

I put my hand on her small tummy and cupped my kid. “Santa even told me that he brought a couple presents for this guy, too.”

Her eyes flashed open. “What? No, he didn’t.”

“I’m pretty sure he did,” I said with a laugh.

She lowered her voice. “Viper, I bought all the Christmas presents, so I’m pretty sure I know what’s down there.”

“Uh . . . oooooor not.” I shot her a playful grin. “It’s Christmas. You’re not allowed to be mad at me, okay?”

Her eyes narrowed. “What did you do?”

I kissed her cheek swiftly and then stood up. “I love you. I’ll see you downstairs.”

 

I scooped a sleepy Maura out of bed, changed her diaper, and met Matthew at the top of the stairs. Gam came out of the bathroom and I held her arm as we slowly climbed down with Michelle right behind us. We all walked through the kitchen to the family room together, and I watched as all of their mouths fell open at the same time, except for Maura’s, who didn’t quite get Santa yet and was back asleep on my shoulder.

“Holy crap,” Michelle said under her breath as she stared at the pile of presents that covered all of the furniture and practically spilled out of the room.

Matthew started picking up boxes and shaking them as Gam cleared off a chair to sit.

Michelle looked at me incredulously, shaking her head slowly. She leaned in close. “When did . . . how did . . . You didn’t have to do all this.”

“I know,” I said quietly and shrugged, looking back at Matthew who was sitting on a huge box in the middle of the room, grinning at us. “I wanted to.”

Gam let out a quick laugh as her head fell back against the chair. “Someone’s overcompensating.”

I glared at Gam as Michelle giggled loudly and moved boxes so she could sit down, too. It took the kids two hours to open all of their presents, one box at a time and the looks on their faces made it all worth it.

Best two hours I’d ever had.

 

 

Four Months Later . . .

 

“Ugh!” I groaned as I pulled the Wild jersey over my belly. Maura sat on my bed and looked at me curiously, completely unaware of my struggles. “Maura,” I sighed. “I’m almost seven months along, but I feel like I’m ready to pop. How much bigger is this thing going to get?”