Disclaimer: Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond own the adorable little mouse whose needs inspired this very adult version of their story. Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. I’m here having fun.
“Why do you wait until the last minute to wrap everything?” I ask Angela. “You’ve been shopping for months.”
I add our scissors and tape from the drawer to Angela’s assortment of wrapping paper on the kitchen table.
“I don’t know, but thanks for offering to help.”
“Sure, I enjoy this part actually. It’s the shopping I hate.” I select a paper, and cut a length for one of her many boxes.
“And this isn’t the last minute—that would be tomorrow on Christmas Eve. Fingers crossed Ben isn’t getting me a Forks Community Hospital coffee mug from the gift shop.”
“Oh, I’m sure he’s planning something far better than that. They have some great pens and keychains too,” I tease.
“Where’s Charlie?” she asks, enjoying the last of our advent wine.
“La Push. He and Billy are going fishing in the morning, but I think he’s having a sleepover with Sue Clearwater.”
Angela seems surprised at the news. “Really?”
“Jacob said that before I moved back, it wasn’t unusual to see Dad’s cruiser parked outside of Sue’s home, but especially, overnight.”
“Well, good for him. He’s been alone for too long, and it’s been years since Harry died. How’s everything going with Edward? Any sleepovers for you?”
“No, not yet. Edward doesn’t seem to be in any hurry. At this rate, I’ll be moving batteries to the top of my Christmas wish list, because my vibe is getting quite the workout these days.” I finish taping one end of the package and spin it around to work on the other.
“Aww, Bella. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time, but if he isn’t ready, you don’t want him to have any regrets.”
“I know. I need to be patient, but would it be wrong to ask for pictures of him in his gear? Holding an ax or maybe his fire hose?” I chuckle, taking a large gulp from my wine glass. “Lord knows I’m more than fond of that fire hose, and every other part of him.”
“Do the two of you have plans over the next few days?”
“No. His shift will cover Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I’m filling in at the diner in the morning. I guess I’ll see him on Christmas, since I’m helping with the dinner for everyone who’s working.”
“Yeah, I asked Edward if they were doing anything special, and he said no. So, I called Alice and now, she has everyone taking part in a potluck style of Christmas dinner. It should be fun.”
“What are you fixing?”
“Dad had someone give him a huge ham, and there’s no way the two of us can eat it all ourselves. So, I’m taking that. It’s one of those that’s pre-cooked and sliced, so all I need to do is glaze and heat it.”
“Sounds easy enough.”
“Alice said no one volunteered for rolls. So, I’m doing those too. Well, Thriftway is, and I will warm them.”
My phone vibrates on the table with a text, and when I see who it is, I can’t keep the smile off my face.
“Is it Edward?”
“I wish. No, it’s Mike.” I open the text finding a picture first. “Holy smokes—Jess had the baby. Thank goodness, because she was a week overdue. Look!”
I hand Angela my phone with an adorable picture of their new little family.
“So, sweet. Jess almost had a Christmas baby. Oh—he’s still texting. First babies can be stubborn.”
“I’m no expert, but maybe her due date was slightly off. What else does it say?” I ask.
“Natalie Rose was born at two twenty-five this afternoon.”
“Not that long ago.”
“She’s seven pounds, eleven ounces… and nineteen inches long. Jess and the baby are… he’s still typing… at the hospital resting and both doing well.”
“We should go visit tonight,” I suggest, looking around at the piles of gifts that need to be wrapped, but have second thoughts to how long this will take. “Or maybe tomorrow.”
Angela holds out my phone. “If all went as expected, she and the baby could be home before Christmas.”
“How exciting. I’m sure Jess and Mike are relieved Natalie’s finally here.” I type out my congratulations and send every pink heart emoji available before tucking my phone back in my pocket.
“I would imagine, but now, the real work begins—late night feedings and diapers out the wazoo.” Angela shakes her head.
“Are you and Ben thinking about starting a family?”
“We’ve been trying, and my mother keeps praying, but with the hours Ben works at the hospital, it’s a challenge to find time together. Who knows, maybe we will have our own good news to share in the New Year?”
“I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Are you worried about everything falling on your shoulders with Ben so busy?”
“Yeah, it isn’t easy with him being called away for emergencies at all hours or the long shifts he works—probably the same concerns Jess has with Mike. I think the key is having family and friends you can lean on when times get tough.”
“I already volunteered my babysitting services to Jess, and I will be there for you too, when the time comes.”
I tape a bow to the wrapped package and glance around the room, realizing there are bags of gifts in the living room too. “We better get to work or this could take all night.”
My feet and legs are exhausted from working this morning and part of the afternoon at the diner, but I hurry home to get dinner in the oven before Dad needs to leave for work later this evening. It’s Christmas Eve and I’m finishing the dishes when he pulls into the driveway. I watch out the window as he stores his fishing equipment in the garage, then walks toward the back door.
“Hey, Dad.” I pause and wipe my hands on a dishtowel.
“Hey, Bella.” He turns and hangs his lucky fishing hat on the hook by the door.
“Any luck out there today?” I wonder, as he isn’t carrying his pail of fish.
“Yeah, I left my catch with Billy. He plans to do the cleaning and smoking then bring them for our dinner tomorrow.” Dad glances around the kitchen while toeing off his boots. “Something smells good. Are you fixing the ham?”
“No, I’ll start it in the morning. It doesn’t take that long. I thought we could have dinner together before you go in for your shift.”
“Oh—that sounds nice. What are we having?”
He grins. “One of my favorites. I’ll go shower and be back shortly.”
I wipe down the countertops, keeping myself busy while I wait. The bread is ready for the broiler, and the lasagna is cooling. Angela and I only have one bottle of advent wine left, and I’m planning to finish it once Dad is on his way to work. When I hear the shower turn off, I pop the cheesy garlic bread under the broiler and scoop out two portions of lasagna onto our plates. He’s fully dressed in his uniform when he finally comes down the stairs, taking a seat at our kitchen table.
“This looks delicious. Did you work this morning?”
“I did. It was busy. So, I made some great tips.”
“Good, that’s good.” He digs into his food, letting out an appreciative moan.
We eat in comfortable silence until I clear my throat, hoping for some answers. “How’s Sue?”
“Sue?” He pauses eating.
“Yeah, Sue Clearwater?”
Dad shrugs. “I suppose she’s good.”
“I would bet she’s better than good after your night together,” I say, letting him know that I know what’s really going on here.
“Bella—” he protests weakly.
I stop any defense in its tracks. “Why didn’t you just tell me? You know I would be more than okay with it.”
“Of course, I am.”
He huffs, staring at his plate. “Leah isn’t.”
“That’s Leah’s problem. She’ll learn to get over it. Isn’t her mother’s happiness important?”
I offer my support. “And so is yours. Does Seth know?”
“Yes. He’s still living at home, but Leah has her own place.”
“Well, you can stop sneaking around with excuses about fishing trips in December—we all know.” I resume eating, taking another forkful of lasagna.
“Nobody is sneaking around. Billy and I did go fishing this morning, but I am sorry I’m not here more. I wasn’t expecting you to move back. Sue said I should just tell you.”
“Dad, I’m okay with everything.”
“But that’s not it, Bella. I’m thinking of moving out to the reservation. I had an offer on this place a few months ago, and when I mentioned it to Sue, she asked me to move in with her.” He sits back in his chair. “I didn’t know how to tell you, but it feels like my place is there… with her.”
“Maybe Leah will learn to accept me, if I’m out there more, and she’s sees us together and happy.”
Where does this leave me?
As this thought plays on a loop inside my head, homeless seems to be the only answer, because nowhere in that invite did Sue offer me a place to stay.
“Yeah. Well, um… I don’t know.” I struggle to recall his last words, but somehow push down my growing fears about my own newly developing homeless predicament and readdress his concerns about Leah. “It can’t be easy seeing one of her father’s best friends with her mother, but maybe you’re right, with time, she’ll open up to the idea and be more accepting. I haven’t ever had any issues with her.”
“That’s good to hear.” He nods and wipes his mouth with his napkin. “I know I’m not the easiest person to live with, but Sue really helps with… with the stresses that come with my job.”
“Yeah, the burnout—the mental stress, Bella. I’m starting to feel it after years—no decades—on the force. Not just the toll from what I see every day, but the sadness and isolation. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I started spending more time with her. When she’s around, everything is different, and I don’t feel so tired and alone. It’s like she recharges me.”
“Wow, I guess I didn’t realize how bad it was. I’m sorry for not noticing sooner.”
He waves off my concerns. “You were off at college, and I don’t know… we don’t really talk about that kind of stuff.”
“It sounds like we should.”
“I’m your father, and I shouldn’t be burdening you with my troubles.”
“Because, I’m your kid? You don’t think I can handle it?” I challenge.
“Bella, it’s different with Sue. I’m sure you can handle it, but I don’t want you to think less of me.” He scrubs his hands over his face. “I’m not saying this right. It’s… It’s just easier for me to lean on her now and then when it all gets to be too much. I’m able to relax and let go of the day. She’s been taking good care of me while you were gone, and we’ve become close… friends. I miss not spending more time with her lately.”
He loves her.
A sneaky grin threatens to take over my face at my father finding happiness at this point in his life, and I’ll do everything I can to support him. “It’s love.”
He chuckles. “I suppose it is, but don’t let Sue know I told you that before her.”
“I won’t. Your secret is safe with me, but Dad, don’t wait to tell her, okay? That’s something she will want to hear.”
“Okay, I won’t,” he promises.
“Where does this leave me?”
“I don’t know. The mortgage has been paid off for years, and I can keep covering the utilities, insurance, and taxes for as long as you need a place, but I think you need to figure out your next steps. I never thought this was a permanent move for you, and will understand if life takes you somewhere else—outside of Forks. I don’t know how you feel about living here by yourself. You’re welcome to stay, but if you decide to move on, I’ll probably put the house up for sale.”
“Wow. Well, I appreciate the offer, and you’re right. I don’t know where I’ll be in six months. I suppose I should figure out something soon. Maybe I can find steady work at the hospital or something.”
“There’s no rush, but it’s something to consider. I know it isn’t any of my business, but it seems like you and Edward are getting closer. He’s been here more than me lately.”
“That’s doubtful, but I do like him.” I shrug.
“Don’t think I’ve missed how often he visits when you’re working or during the entire month of November when Jess was training you. Trust me; if you aren’t there, he never stops by to chat with the rest of us.”
I consider his words, but know he’s probably running short on time. “Are you finished?”
“Um, how about we open up our stockings and presents before you leave? I’ll take care of our dishes later.”
We stand, moving into the living room where I retrieve our few packages from under the tree, and take down our filled stockings from the mantle.
I find gift cards to many of my favorite online stores in my stocking, along with a fancy layered hot chocolate mix, and a bag of my favorite chocolate truffles. I unwrap a large box that holds one of the softest blankets I’ve ever felt. It’s perfect for snuggling under, and I know exactly who I would love to do more with than snuggling under it. My favorite gift is an apron that says, “May The Forks Be With You.”
I’m relieved when Dad loves the new assortment of fishing lures I selected with no clue what he would prefer. I also got him a new flannel shirt, as he never seems to have enough of those for his days off. His stocking is full of little things like shaving supplies, a pair of gloves, and a small box of his favorite candy—turtles.
Dad says nothing about the extra stocking I added to the mantle earlier today, but I’m excited for when Edward will finish his shift, and hopefully, can stop by because I have a few gifts for him too.
“Merry Christmas, Bella.”
“You too, Dad. Thanks for my gifts.”
He nods. “I can’t wait to try out those new lures, but I better get going before I’m late.”
We stand, and I follow him as he prepares to depart. The two of us aren’t big huggers, but I can’t think of anything better than sharing one with him. When he turns back around, I open my arms, offering a hug, and he accepts without hesitation.
“I love you, Dad,” I tell him when he gives me one more squeeze.
“I love you too.”
He releases me, focusing on strapping on his holster, then slipping on his coat and hat.
“I wouldn’t, you know, ever think less of you, no matter what. You can always talk to me about anything, but I’m glad you have Sue too.”
“All right, be safe. Fingers crossed you’ll have a quiet evening.”
“Good night. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“See you then.” I nod, watching out the window as Dad climbs in the cruiser and leaves for the night.
After closing the door and looking at all the Christmas touches around the house, I’m a little nostalgic with the realization that this could be my last Christmas here. I have no idea where this next year will take me, and the thought of moving away from Edward saddens me more than leaving this home. I wipe away the few tears that escape and take out a glass from the cabinet in the kitchen, toasting to the end of the advent wine.
Settling on the couch, I take an appreciative sip while enjoying the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree. It’s one of the best we’ve ever had. My eyes then shift to the coffee table, and I lean forward, snapping off a corner of the gingerbread roof covered in the white frosting icicles Edward insisted it needed along the edges.
I’m filled with small bursts of joy, as I think back to its sweet construction, but especially, my favorite builder who guided me through the tips and tricks of creating such a successful little candy-covered masterpiece.
The only sounds are my chewing, which I’m sure sounds like rocks to anyone else, as the gingerbread is crunchy but sweet. When I finish that mouthful, I’m surprised by how alone I feel for the first time in months.
It’s quiet—too quiet.
But sometimes quiet is good, because it means there aren’t any sirens.
No emergencies in our area or beyond.
I break off a portion of a gingerbread tree and pop it in my mouth. I’m considering playing a Christmas movie when my phone vibrates in my pocket with a call. A wave of excitement races through me when I see whom it is—Edward.
I can’t accept the call fast enough, but my mouth is still full of gingerbread. I hurry, swallowing as quickly as possible, because I don’t want him to hang up.
I clear my throat, taking another quick sip of wine. “Yeah, sorry. I was having a…” I can’t tell him I just ate part of the house. “A cookie.” That’s sort of true.
“One of my favorites?”
“No, some others I had sitting around.” I look at the missing corner of the roof and broken tree, wondering if I’ll need to make repairs on the chance he will see the house again. “What’s up?”
“Well, I know you’re bringing food for tomorrow, and I wouldn’t ask, but…”
“What is it?”
“Emmett is making sweet potatoes with marshmallows in our kitchen here, but it’s just not the same as traditional mashed potatoes with gravy. Alice said no one was planning on bringing them, and I was wondering if you would…”
“Let me guess, make mashed potatoes and gravy?”
“Yes. My mom always…”
I glance at the clock, knowing I have about thirty minutes before Thriftway closes. It’s not impossible and potatoes are cheap, but I will need to leave now in order to make it in time.
“…a few lumps are okay, but my favorite is the turkey gravy, not any of the others like beef, chicken, or mushroom. It just wouldn’t be the same. I know it’s a lot to ask, but can you do it?”
“Of course, no big deal.” I smack my forehead with my hand.
Oh, goodness. What have I done?
“Thanks, Bella. You’re the best.”
“I can’t wait to see you tomorrow.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing you too.”
“Good night, Edward.”
I end our call, realizing there’s no rest for the weary, and with barely two sips from my wine glass, I shake off my impending what-am-I-going-to-do-with-the-rest-of-my-life crisis and spring into action. I do a quick internet search for the simplest version of mashed potatoes and say a little prayer I can find an easy gravy solution. With my keys in hand, I rush out the door and off to Thriftway.
If you give a firefighter a Christmas cookie, he will want the perfect cup of coffee to go with it.
The cookies and coffee will remind him of his favorite Christmas songs, and while hanging Christmas lights, he’ll agree to a date decorating a tree.
The decorated Christmas tree will fill him with Christmas spirit, which will give him the courage to kiss the naughty new friend who he’s had his eyes on for a while.
Sharing kisses with her won’t be enough. So, he’ll find other ways for them to spend more time together, like building a gingerbread house and playing in the snow.
He’ll wish for his favorite Christmas dinner foods…