Hey, everyone! Here's a little Christmas story I wrote for the Jingle All the Way Writing Contest. Came in second place, so thanks.
Betad by the lovely Michelle Renker Rhodes.
Characters belong to S. Meyer. The rest is mine.
So if you're still in that holiday mood…
I'm forced out of one of the best dreams I've had in a long time by small fingers prying open my eyes. Soft brown orbs peer down at me, their outer and inner corners framed by bits of dried, overnight tears that have crystallized into eye crust.
"Good morning, Daddy."
The dried drool around the edges of her mouth cracks as she speaks. Her morning breath washes over me. It's not as bad as adult morning breath, but it's not peaches and cream either. My first instinct is to complain about the fantasy she's just thoughtlessly annihilated. Warm legs were wrapped around my thighs, straddling me hard and bouncing on my lap like a goddamn cowgirl aiming for first place at the rodeo. Then in an instant, it was all replaced by the aforementioned human crust and the thick flakes of snow I now see falling from the wide bedroom window.
A pang of guilt hits me, tightening my throat before I can speak any negative thoughts or release an exhale full of blue-balled frustration for that matter. The shit of it all is that none of this would've been my wife's first instincts or reactions.
"Good morning, Angelface."
My voice is hoarse and groggy from unfulfilled sleep. When I glance at the clock on the nightstand, I see part of the reason why. The green digits confirm what the darkness surrounding the snow outside hinted at. "Angel, dawn hasn't even broken yet. What are you doing up?"
"I couldn't sleep." Her voice quivers. A split second later, she drops her head to my chest, wraps her small arms around me, and breaks into sobs. "I miss Mommy."
She falls asleep again, this time with her mouth wide open on my bare chest and her drool and snot on my pecks. While she sleeps, I run my fingers through the length of her long hair, which is so much like her mother's. I think it soothes her, and I also think it might be what my wife would've done in this situation. My own eyes remain open as I stare up at the ceiling and think of her. I miss her with both my groin and my head.
The sun does eventually make an appearance just as I was beginning to drift off; although, I don't manage an encore of that great as fuck dream. I wake up Angelface (her mother and I nicknamed her that as soon as she popped out because I swear, once the blood and gook got wiped off of her, she had the face of an angel). Of course, now she doesn't want to get up, so I carry her down the hall to her bathroom, noting how much heavier she feels since she turned seven last month. Mom tells me that with Angelface getting older, I need to be firmer with her.
"I know you feel bad about turning her away right now, but it'll just turn into a bad habit if you keep allowing it. Before you know it, she'll be sixteen and still wandering into your bedroom in the middle of the night."
Maybe for the New Year, I'll make iron-fist-rule one of my resolutions. For now, it's not like Angelface is interrupting anything other than wild cowgirl dreams.
After my cold morning shower, I stare blankly out the window at the small mountains of snow accumulating on the driveway. Behind me, the bedroom TV drones on with the morning show's mix of news, gossip, holiday recipes, and recommendations for last minute gifts. Angelface suddenly calls out from her room.
"Daddy, I can't find my Elsa headband!"
"Which one is that?" I yell back, hastily pulling on sweatpants and simultaneously searching for a tee-shirt in the basket of clean laundry that should've been sorted a week ago.
"The one that goes with my Elsa Christmas outfit - the one with the white snowflakes!" She adds this as if it'll help me figure out which one she means. It probably would've helped my wife.
"Isn't it in that pink basket where you keep all your hair things?" I pull the wrinkled tee-shirt over my head while heading to her room.
When I walk in, she's standing in front of her dresser mirror. From her reflection, I see she's heading straight for a meltdown. She's wearing her Elsa sky blue sweater with the matching blue and white tights, and yeah, I remember now that there's a matching headband to the outfit, something with sparkly sequins meant to be snowflakes if I recall correctly.
"Mommy puts the headband in the sweater sleeve so that I won't lose it! Did you wash it and put it away in the wrong place?"
I rake a hand through my scalp and fist my hair, smiling ruefully. "Hmm, that is a distinct possibility." When she throws back her head and groans, I chuckle.
"Daddy, I need the headband for the school party!"
"You can't go to the school party without the headband?"
"Alright, alright. Let's see what your thoughtless oaf of a dad did with that headband."
Despite her ire, a faint smile lifts up the corners of her mouth. "What's an oaf?"
Kneeling in front of her dresser drawers, I search carefully through badly-folded piles of clothing. "An oaf is a rather unattractive monster, who doesn't know enough to put his daughter's Elsa headband in the sleeve of her Elsa sweater."
This definition makes her giggle. I exhale through narrowed lips – though I'm on the third drawer and still no Elsa headband to be found, so this may still end badly. See, the thing is, Angelface is not, by nature, what some might term a 'crybaby.' But it's Christmas Eve, and she's seven years old, and this Christmas, it'll only be her and me. Nevertheless, she soon absolves me of being a monster if not necessarily of anything else.
"Daddy, you're not an oaf. I heard Mommy tell Aunt Alice once that you were the cutest boy in high school. But…you did lose my headband – so maybe you're half an oaf."
I turn and meet her gaze, and she looks so much like her mother that I quickly turn away again.
"Hmm." I hold up the piece of material which I just found tangled in a set of pink, flannel pajamas at the bottom of the very last dresser drawer. "Would a half-oaf have been able to find this?"
She squeals, and I roar with laughter as she snatches the headband out of my hand and throws herself against me.
"Thank you, Daddy! Thank you! You're not an oaf after all! You're the best daddy in the world!"
I'm not sure if the trouble I'm having breathing is due to her arms cutting off my air supply or to something else entirely.
We meet in the kitchen after we've both finished dressing. I'm whipping up a batch of pancakes while on a call with a pain-in-the-ass employee back at the office.
"Daddy, I don't want pancakes this morning. I had pancakes yesterday, and remember? If I have pancakes for breakfast two days-"
"Shh," I order her as I try to do away with the stubborn lumps in the pancake batter. "So Mike, you're saying about those numbers?"
"Can I have eggs instead – with the white part still mushy, the way Mommy does them?"
I turn toward the stove to block out her voice, so I can hear the guy on the phone. "Mike, can you repeat that?" Giving up on the lumps, I pour the batter into the heated pan.
"Mike," I sigh, "it's not a matter of how long it will take me to work out the numbers, it's how quickly you can get them to me. It's Christmas Eve, and…" Rolling my eyes at his excuses, I turn away from the rising pancake to hastily check on my daughter. She's sitting at the kitchen counter with a deep frown marring her forehead.
"Mike, just get me those numbers by late morning, and I'll work on them this afternoon. But in the future, don't wait until Christmas Eve, man. I've got plans for tonight." Total lie.
Angelface starts mumbling to herself in a voice too low for me to hear. "…belly...too much…."
I narrow my eyes warily at her before returning to the pancake and flipping it over.
"Mike, I'm signing off at three today. After that, I'm not signing back on until January second. I'll be waiting for those numbers. Asshole." I hiss the word after ending the call, glaring at the phone for a few seconds. When I turn around, Angelface is watching me with an expression of clear disapproval.
"Mommy taught me that lying is bad."
"She taught you right."
"She also said you shouldn't be mean to Mr. Mike just because he was her boyfriend when she was young and stupid."
I quirk a brow. "What do you know about boyfriends?"
"Plenty." She crosses her arms against her chest. "My friends, Bree and Diego, are boyfriend and girlfriend. And Tyler wants to be Gianna's boyfriend, only she says he's too-"
"Alright, alright," I say. "Point made. Man, are you guys seven or seventeen?"
"Daddy, you know we're seven." She wrinkles her brow in confusion, not too young to know about boyfriends but totally too young to catch the sarcasm.
I sigh. "I'm not mean to Mike because he was Mommy's boyfriend when she was young and…whatever, I'm mean to him because he's an asshole."
"I don't think Mommy would want you to say that word."
"Yeah, yeah, I know."
I pull into a parent parking spot at Forks Elementary about ten minutes after the morning bell has rung. Turning off the ignition, I exhale about the fiftieth breath of frustration this morning. Outside, the snow is really starting to pile up. I'm going to have to do some serious shoveling before it all freezes in the driveway. The last thing we need is for Angelface's grandparents, aunts, and uncles to have a hard time getting to us tomorrow, and then she'll be stuck with only me.
"Come on, Angelface. You carry the bagels, and I'll carry the presents. Hey, you and Grandma did some great wrapping." I smile at her while she languidly picks up her backpack and the bag of bagels and cream cheese we picked up on the way over.
"Thanks," she says blandly.
"What's going on?" We're making our way carefully through the snow and down the walkway leading to the main entrance. I'm balancing three gift bags in each hand. Each bag contains an identical candle purchased from that sticky-sweet smelling store we visited in Seattle last weekend when I took my daughter to see Santa. My wife would've visited each store in the mall and picked out thoughtful, personalized gifts for each teacher. And for the party, she would've baked a few of her amazing Pumpkin Rolls with vanilla cream cheese filling.
But this year, it's just me, so peppermint scented candles and store-bought bagels with plain cream cheese are what they're getting.
Mom, Dad, and Charlie accompanied us to see Santa this past weekend. Last year, when my wife was with us, and the jolly, old guy asked my daughter what she wanted for Christmas, he "ho, ho, hoed" his jolly, old ass off when Angelface excitedly whispered her wishes into his ear.
This year, when Santa asked Angelface what she wanted for Christmas and my daughter leaned in and whispered in his ear, she left the poor old guy with a dour expression that no busy Mall Santa should ever wear in front of children ages two to twelve.
"I'm getting a belly ache." She mumbles it quietly, dragging her snow boots listlessly through the few inches of snow covering the walkway, and turning it all into a slushy mess.
"What?" I stop walking. White flakes of snow seep into each bag in my hand, soaking through the wrinkled and ripped decorative tissue paper. "Why didn't you tell me this at home?"
She shrugs. "It just started."
Instinctively, I lift a hand to rake it through my hair, only I've got three gift bags gripped between my fingers, so I end up passing a fist through my scalp instead and smacking myself with a heavy candle.
"Do you want to go back home? You can lie on the sofa and watch Christmas movies all day, and I'll sit next to you and work on my laptop."
Personally, I think it's a hell of an offer, but she just shakes her head.
"I don't want to miss my Christmas party. And anyway, we've got the bagels and the presents for my teachers."
"We can keep the bagels for ourselves and hand out the presents after the break."
She gives me a puzzled look. "Mommy says when you make a committee to people, you have to keep it."
"It's commitment, not committee."
"And just because Mommy's not here," she continues, "doesn't mean it's okay not to give out presents, does it?"
It's a seven-year old's logic, which I won't argue with because doing so would be a betrayal to my wife's teachings.
"Of course, it doesn't. But if your stomach feels worse, you make sure you have Miss Denali call me."
"Okay." She shrugs again, resuming her sluggish drone through the snow.
The candles are a surprise hit.
Mrs. Cope, the elderly school secretary, who's been here since my wife and I were kids, grins broadly as she places hers on the desk next to about half a dozen other Christmas candles.
"Thank you so much, Edward," she says, and then she drops her voice to a whisper. "But with everything on your plate right now, you really shouldn't have bothered."
"It was no bother at all, Mrs. Cope," I smile.
Principal Newton finds it necessary to walk around the front office counter to show her appreciation by squeezing my bicep through my hoodie.
"Mr. Cullen…Edward," she says, leaning in close, "this is the best-smelling peppermint candle I've ever received. Thank you so much!" She cradles the candle against her chest like I've just given her a baby.
"You're welcome, Mrs. Newton."
"Edward, come on!" She swats my shoulder playfully. "We grew up together. Just call me Jessica!"
"I think it's best to keep things as professional as possible in front of the children, so as not to confuse them. Don't you agree?"
"Oh. Yes, yes, of course." She looks down at my daughter as if she's just recalled her job. Then bending down to Angelface's eye level, her wide grin morphs into a melancholic frown. This time when she speaks, her tone is full of so much overdramatic sympathy that I want to snatch that candle back and shove it down her throat. "And thank you too, Angela darling. How are you doing, honey?"
"I'm okay." My daughter shrugs.
"Yeah? You're hanging in there?"
"Uhm…I'm going to get my daughter to class now." Gently yet firmly taking hold of Angelface's shoulder, I guide her into an about-face, leaving a desolate-looking Mrs. Newton in our wake.
"Okay, then! Thanks again, Edward! And Merry Christmas!"
"Merry Christmas, Mrs. Newton. Please say hi to Mike for me, and if you speak to him in the next couple of hours, remind him that the clock is ticking."
Since it's Christmas Eve, there's only a half day of school this morning for the holiday parties. Therefore, I stroll languidly down the second-grade corridor with my daughter, handing her one gift bag at a time, and waiting as she walks into the classrooms to deliver her Christmas candles. There's one for her Spanish teacher, one for her Computers & Technology teacher, one for her Gym teacher, and then we arrive at her homeroom, where Miss Tanya Denali is substituting for the real, kick-ass second-grade teacher.
For the past twenty-something years of my twenty-nine years of life, I've done my damnedest to avoid Miss Denali. When my wife was around, it was pretty easy to do. But I have no one to hide behind now.
"Angela!" she cries out when she sees us coming. "I was so worried! For a second there, I thought you wouldn't be joining us today!"
When we stop in front of her, I mumble a greeting and peek around her into the classroom, focusing on the bunch of six-to-eight-year-olds singing along to Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer. They sound like hell, but the alternative is paying attention to Miss Denali.
"Merry Christmas and happy holidays," Angelface offers her substitute teacher.
"Oh my goodness, sweetheart! You really didn't have to!"
"That's what my dad said," Angelface replies, "but Mommy always said it's important to show your appreciation, even if the job isn't very well done."
"Well, okay," Miss Denali chuckles. "Let's take a look-see and see what you and your daddy got me," she trills excitedly. The wet tissue paper crackles, and I hear it rip even more from being pulled impatiently.
"Oh my goodness, a peppermint-scented, peppermint-striped candle! Edward, how did you know?"
Unable to avoid her any longer without being completely rude, I turn my attention to Miss Denali. She's holding the candle up against her chest, much the way Mrs. Newton just did, except Miss Denali doesn't have your basic layman's chest. The candle rests between two huge breasts, which have been squeezed into a tiny, red sweater. This, I catch in the fraction of a second it takes my mind to remind my eyes to never stray beyond Miss Denali's chin.
"We're glad you like it, Miss Denali," I smirk.
"But how did you know?" she repeats.
"How did I know what?"
She stomps her foot in what's supposed to be a playful gesture; although, I'm sure she's aware of how it makes her tits bounce and rebound.
"Look at my outfit, Edward! The candle matches it perfectly! It's like you were peeking into my window this morning as I dressed!"
My eyes flash down, and shit, she's right. Besides the way-too-tight sweater, she's got on a white, too-short leather skirt and red and white striped tights.
What the fuck do subs wear nowadays?
The shit is, it makes me think of my wife, and of the sexy yet classy red dress she wore last Christmas. Then, I remember unwrapping her like my own personal present in the privacy of our bedroom later that evening once we'd gotten Angelface in bed to await Santa.
"I assure you, I wasn't peeking into any windows. The store had a deal on peppermint candles. We just gave out half a dozen of them."
For a fraction of a second, the salacious smile slips from Miss Denali's mouth. "Hmm. Okay. Thanks."
Then she giggles and leans over in front of my daughter, purposely popping those tits right under my nose.
"Only my mommy calls me Angie."
Miss Denali presses her lips together. "Of course, Angela honey. Here, why don't you go place my beautiful candle on my desk, right in front of all the other ones because yours is the prettiest," she stage-whispers, winking, "and I'll be right in?"
I turn Angela toward me, cradling her shoulders.
"Have fun at the party, but if you're still not feeling well later, have Mrs. Cope call me."
"Love you, Angel."
"Love you too, Daddy."
"What is it?" Miss Denali frowns once Angelface walks into the classroom.
"She's feeling out of sorts this morning. Don't cater to her, but if she still seems off, please give me a call."
"Of course," Miss Denali says, shaking her head and sucking her teeth. "What are your plans for tonight, Edward? Is the family coming over?"
"Not tonight, tomorrow. Tonight, it's just Angela and me."
"This Christmas must be so hard for the both of you. So…lonely."
"I'm here for you, Edward," she says, gripping my bicep the way Principal Newton did a few minutes earlier. "I'm here for both you and Angela if you need me."
I slide my eyes down to where she's gripping me and then back up to her. The look I give her must communicate the rest. She pulls her hand away.
"Miss Denali, can you do me a favor?"
"Please don't treat Angela differently from the other kids."
"What? But the poor darling doesn't have her mom here this Christmas!"
"Yes, I'm aware," I nod with raised brows, "but Angela doesn't feel comfortable with unnecessary sympathy. Please, just…" When I rake a hand through my hair, Miss Denali's eyes follow the action closely while biting her lip. "Just treat her like any other kid in class."
"Alright, Edward," she says in one of those voices indicating she doesn't really think it's alright. "If that's what you both prefer."
The first thing I do when I arrive back home is shovel the driveway. I've got a snow blower in the garage, which my wife convinced me to buy after last year's record snow, but manual work keeps my mind occupied. For the next half hour or so, I don't think much. Pretty soon, I'm sweating as if I'm on that tropical beach where my wife and I spent our honeymoon a decade ago.
"Why rush it, Edward? You're both still so young! Wait a couple of years, and-"
"Mom, I love her, and she loves me, so why wait and have less time together as husband and wife?"
I'm so glad we didn't wait.
By the time I'm down to the end of the driveway, I look up and see the snow layering another couple of inches over the black concrete I've just uncovered.
"Fuck." Flinging the shovel into the garage, I head back into the house. I check the laptop and see that there are still no numbers from Mike. Snorting, I reach behind me and pull off my shirt, heading for another shower. When the house phone rings, and I check the Caller ID, a swell of panic tightens my chest.
"Everything's okay, Edward," Mrs. Cope says off the bat, "but Angela's tummy aches. I know it's only a half day-"
"I'm on my way. Thank you, Mrs. Cope."
It hits me just as I end the call.
"Daddy, I don't want pancakes this morning. I had pancakes yesterday, and remember? If I have pancakes for breakfast two days-"
"…two days in a row, she gets a stomach ache. Shit." I groan as I grab the truck's keys, remembering both my daughter's words this morning alongside one of my wife's many long-ago warnings. Then I guiltily jerk the house door closed behind me.
A couple of hours later, the stomach ache is finally gone. I've got my daughter settled on the sofa, bundled in her favorite plush blanket, and watching her favorite movie.
"Watch this part, Daddy! Watch!"
I glance up from my laptop just as her favorite princess creates an icy winter wonderland.
"That's great," I say distractedly, returning to the numbers which Mike finally sent. Angelface sings along with the characters. For a while, we sit there with her watching her movie, and with me finishing my work. I'm not sure how long it takes me to realize that she's stopped singing.
When I look up, she's staring dejectedly at the horribly decorated Christmas tree.
"Angie…" Pushing away the laptop, I pull her into my arms. She snuggles against me the way she used to when she was a baby.
"I asked Santa for my Christmas Angel," she whispers.
"Angie, it doesn't always work that way."
We sit there wordlessly for a long while.
That evening, Charlie calls to check on us. Never the most expressive man, he's made a concerted effort in the past few months. He speaks to his granddaughter, then he confirms with me the time for tomorrow's Christmas lunch.
My parents call a short while later.
"Sweetheart, are you sure you don't want us to come over tonight?"
"Thanks, Mom, but…I'd like it to be just her and me tonight. I do appreciate everything you've done for us these past few months," I add, recalling Angelface's reminder about appreciation.
"Alright, honey. We'll see you two tomorrow."
Angelface and I spend the rest of the evening watching Christmas movies and singing Christmas carols in between. At ten o'clock, I tuck her into her bed, fully expecting her to find her way into mine before daybreak. Once I'm sure she's asleep, I pull the presents from Santa out from the bedroom closet and situate them under the tree. Then I turn in.
In bed, I stare up at the ceiling. Outside, Christmas Eve night is illuminated by sparkling, unexpected falling snow. My hand trails down and wraps around my long-neglected, semi-erect buddy. I only manage a few half-hearted strokes before giving up with a frustrated groan and turning on my stomach.
"God, I miss you, baby."
Eventually, I fall asleep, and thankfully, the dream returns. My cowgirl rides me naked as a jaybird, sighing beautifully with her hair cascading around us like a dark curtain of silk.
"Edward…" she breathes. "Edward…baby, wake up. Wake up, baby."
She chuckles. "I'm home, Edward. Open your eyes."
I know I'm dreaming because she's not due back for another couple of months. Nevertheless, when I go ahead and warily open my eyes, I find the other set of the most beautiful dark eyes in the world gazing down at me and shining with tears. Her hair isn't cascading around us. It's still up in the bun she's required to wear while in uniform.
"Bella…baby, are you really here?"
"Merry Christmas." She chuckles in that way I've missed for months, ever since she was deployed on her latest tour of duty.
"Jesus," I say in a strangled whisper. Then I reach up and wrap my arms around her, pulling her flush against me to prove I'm not dreaming. She squeals, and I laugh in unmitigated elation. "Bella…" My mouth finds hers, and I slip my tongue inside, kissing her with all the pent-up desperation that's built up over the long few months.
"How?" I ask when we come up for air.
"They granted my holiday leave," she smiles through her tears. "I wanted to surprise you and Angie this morning, but the snow delayed the transport. I'm so sorry I missed Christmas Eve."
"It's okay." I cradle her beautiful face, studying the perfect features I've missed: dark eyes, button nose, and pouty lips. "It's okay now. You're here. You're home." I pull her against me again so tightly I'm afraid I may crack her spine. But she's an officer in the Reserves; my wife is no weakling.
"How's Angie?" she breathes against my neck.
"Missing you," I admit, stroking her hair, which is so much like our daughter's. "But now that you're home…"
She lifts her head and meets my eyes. "Edward, I handed in my papers. I'm done," she grins. "I have to return 'til February to finish this tour, but after that, I'm done."
I close my eyes. Yes, I've always been proud of her, but the relief coursing through me makes me shudder almost violently.
"And…as soon as I return," she swallows, "as soon as you're ready, I'm ready to give Angie that baby brother or sister we've talked about."
"Jesus, Bella," I choke, "Merry Christmas to me."
She laughs. "And to me too."
"Another angel…" I breathe. "I'm ready right now."
She giggles. "Do you think Principal Newton will hold my teaching job for one more year?"
I chuckle. "If we ask just right, I'm sure she will."
"You mean if you ask," she teases. "Although Miss Denali might be disappointed to see me home, and not just because she'll be out of a job."
I snort against her soft, warm neck. "I'm sure she'll survive."
Our mouths meet again, breaths mingling, hands exploring. I squeeze her beautiful, perky breasts, my hand trailing between her legs...
She pulls away breathlessly. "Edward, I'm dying to make love to you, but first…"
I smile softly. "Let's go wake up Angie."
Our daughter is fast asleep when we walk into her bedroom, her Disney-themed Christmas tree still illuminated in the corner. I hear Bella's breath hitch and watch as silent tears stream down her face.
"Go," I encourage her.
She approaches Angelface's bed slowly as if she's afraid of her reaction. Yet, it's almost as if Angelface senses her mother's presence. She turns over and rubs the sleep out of her eyes, opening them slowly. Then, she starts crying.
"Mommy, am I dreaming?"
"No," Bella sobs with her, picking up her tiny body and cradling it against her chest. "You're not dreaming, my little angel. I'm home. A day later than I hoped to be, but I'm home."
Angie keeps crying. "Mommy, I asked Santa for my Christmas angel, and he brought you home! He brought you home!"
Bella chuckles through her tears, stroking our daughter's hair. "He did, sweetheart. And I'll be here until after New Year's. Then I have to return overseas." She pulls Angie away to meet eyes identical to hers. "But I'll be back in two months, and then I'm never going away again."
"Never," Bella confirms. "Captain Cullen will be home to stay."
The two women I love most in this world hold one another, and then Bella turns to look at me, gesturing for me to join them. I close the space between us and wrap them both in my arms.
"Daddy took great care of me, Mommy," Angelface says, looking and sounding happier than she's been in months. "And he hardly cursed at all."
Bella grins at me. "I never doubted him – even when he said he wouldn't need Grandma Liz to stay this time to help. Speaking of which-"
"We'll call them all in the morning," I say. "Tonight…tonight is just for the three of us."
Angie picks up her head and looks from her mother to me and back. "Merry Christmas, Mommy and Daddy!"
"Merry Christmas, Angelface," we reply in unison.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone! Hope you're all enjoying the holidays, and hope you enjoyed this little story.
Thanks so much to the always wonderful Ceci Lolypowski for another gorgeous banner. She always gets them just right.
I'll Be Home for Christmas by Bing Crosby
Please Come Home for Christmas by Bon Jovi