A/N: This holiday season, I want to share my thanks with not only my readers here who favorite or follow my stories, but particularly those who carry that love over into my Facebook group, Kay Richard's Bonfire, on the shared posts and photos.
I'm especially thankful for my pre-readers. We're close to the anniversary of when I started writing fanfic and over the past two years, I've sent thousands of words their way. Their patience and guidance has proved invaluable as I continue to learn and grow with each story I write. You have all offered words of advice and encouragement when I needed to hear them most. Thank you purplec305, LizziePaige, Honeymoon Edward, Hadley Hemingway, and shouldbecleaning.
There is one person who I can't ever thank enough for her unwavering support and love through every chapter I write. I had no intention of writing anything for TFN's First Responders Contest, and when MC asked, I explained that I lacked inspiration but always love a good Firefighterward. Moments passed, and she sent me one of the best Firefighterward manips I've ever seen with a gentle nudge toward writing something for the holidays. To celebrate everything we love about this time of year, I'm sharing a special gift I wrote for my beta, Midnight Cougar, and I hope that each of you will enjoy it too. Thank you for everything, MC. xx
Betas and pre-readers are the unsung heroes behind the stories we share. They pour over our words and ideas for hours, expecting nothing in return. So, this season spread some words of kindness and support for your favorite writers and those who encourage them. The best gifts are those that don't cost a cent, and a kind word or review can make a huge difference to someone struggling, not only during the holidays, but also throughout the year.
Happy Holidays to you and yours!
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.
"I'll be right there, Sam." I nod in his direction as the bells on the front door jingle at the arrival of new customers. "Good morning, sit anywhere you'd like. I'll be right with you."
The elderly couple smiles at my greeting and shuffles toward an open booth.
I finish my trip around the room refilling coffee when I overhear a conversation between two men at the next table. I don't recognize either, but one man is recounting his stay last night at the Forks Motel.
"…fire alarm went off, and they had us evacuate the building. I could barely grab my coat before we were hustled out of our rooms and into the cold rain."
"What was the emergency?" The other man asks.
"Someone said there was a fire in one of the guest rooms near the lobby. It took a while, but once we finally got the all-clear, we were allowed to return. I couldn't see any damage when I walked past the room this morning. But it doesn't change the fact that I'm exhausted and probably won't be on my A-game for our meeting."
I reach their table and can't hold back my playful comment. "I wish I had your life. I would love to have a firefighter banging on my door at three a.m." I wink, knowing exactly which one too.
I have little doubt I'm on Santa's naughty list this year, as my thoughts of Edward Cullen, all hot and dirty after responding to the call, fill my mind faster than him sliding down the pole at the station.
The man chuckles at my comment, pulling me from my Edward fantasies, and watches as I top off his coffee. "Oh, to be young again. Thanks, Bella."
"Is there anything else I can get for either of you?" I ask, finding their bill in my stack of receipts.
"No. I think we're all set."
I place their bill in the middle of the table. "Okay, I'll leave this for you whenever you're ready. No rush. It sounds like you could use an extra cup this morning."
"That's the truth," the man agrees easily, returning to his food.
I smile and hustle to the window, delivering meals to those sitting at the counter. It's a busy morning with plenty of orders of overflowing plates as Sam keeps up with the hurried pace. I don't mind filling in when he needs extra help to handle the morning rush, and while I would take my paycheck in Sam's famous pancakes alone, two words keep me ready to take any shift or odd job: student loans.
As the morning rush tapers off, I focus on my next task of wrapping warm silverware in napkins and replenishing our supply before lunch. I'm bopping my head to the beat of the Christmas tunes playing softly in the background when the bells on the door jingle and my smile widens at the sight of my best friend walking through the door.
"Hey, Bella." She takes a seat at the counter looking exhausted.
"What brings you by?"
"I'm starving and already sick of Christmas shopping. I just dropped off my mother at her home. We've been at it since before dawn. I could use something stronger than coffee, but it isn't even noon yet."
"Let's keep the coffee flowing then." I set a cup and saucer at her spot, flipping over the cup and filling it to the rim. "Pancakes?"
"Yes!" She reaches for a sugar packet and one of those little half-and-half cups, emptying them into her coffee then stirring the mixture. "What's the special for today?"
"Nutella lovers with fresh strawberries and powdered sugar."
"Oh, God. Yes! I'll take a half order of those with a side of bacon."
"You got it." I enter her order, then finish loading my mound of wrapped silverware into the waiting bin.
Angela takes a careful sip, returning her attention to me. "I got you a present. Well, maybe I should say I got us a present. You have to agree to share."
"You know I'll always agree, but it's barely December. I haven't even considered shopping. Remember, I'm not one of those flush-with-cash types. While I may have a college degree, I don't have a steady job, and I'm back living with my father to make my loan payments. I have no idea how I will afford Christmas gifts this year."
"Oh, trust me, you will love it."
"Do we need to hide it from my dad?"
"I doubt it. Charlie is the cool parent compared to mine, but I can't keep it at my house. My mother was already having a fit I bought it in the first place, but then I told her it was for you and she backed off... a little."
"Good to know your mother is coming to terms with my corrupting influence on the Pastor's daughter. She finds the one sex toy in your nightstand I gave you at your bachelorette party, and I'm forever branded a harlot. Who knew the Chief's daughter was such a bad seed?" I snicker. "So, how are we being naughty this time?"
"It's a wine advent calendar—24 wines from around the world, South Africa to Australia. We're going global this year."
"Imagine that, all from the comfort of tiny Forks, Washington. Wine isn't that bad. Didn't Jesus turn water into wine? It is his season after all. Shouldn't we be allowed to celebrate a true Christmas miracle?" I chuckle at my reasoning that puts me at odds with Angela's mother.
"I know. Don't give my mother a second thought. She's out of control sometimes. We have missed the first few days. So we've got some catching up to do. The bottles look small but promising."
"I have all the confidence in our abilities to catch up." I give Angela a knowing smile.
"Any news on Jess and the baby? Is she still waddling around the station?"
"No, she's due any day, and Mike will barely let her out of his sight. He's always on edge at every call when he's there for his shift and worries that one of them will be her."
"How long are you filling in for her?" she asks.
"Her maternity leave will probably keep me there through February. I'm on the list to sub at the Post Office again, but they haven't called me yet. I worked there last year, but with Jessica going on maternity leave, I couldn't let down my dad and agreed to take over for her while she's out. It's easy work, and the view is the best in Forks."
Angela's grin widens, as she's aware of my appreciation for one of Clallam County's finest firefighters who wanders occasionally between the Fire Hall and Police Department building.
"Are you making any further inroads with that sexy firefighter from Chicago?"
I shrug. "I'm trying to stay out of the friend zone, but who knows, maybe I'm not his type, and he's immune to my charms."
"Don't count on it. You are the perfect amount of naughty to his nice and just need to find the right angle. They always say the best way to a man's heart is through his stomach."
"I don't know about his stomach, but his abs are mighty fine. I'm also particularly fond of that bulge he's sporting. I can only imagine the fire hose waiting behind the zipper."
"But, you've imagined it."
"Hell, yes, I have. I have only one item on my Christmas list this year and that's Edward Cullen."
"I'm not an expert by any means, but maybe you need to add something else to that list and stop by Thriftway to gather supplies. You need reinforcements, and I don't know any man who can resist a Christmas cookie, but the key is finding the right one. Ben is a sucker for peanut blossoms, even though they aren't Christmas-y."
"Dr. Ben loves nipple cookies, huh?"
"Bella. Don't call them that."
"You know it's true. Tell me he isn't a breast man."
"Well, yes, he is, but let's get back to Edward. Have you seen him eating anything?"
"Yeah, but it's usually whatever they've cooked at the station for a meal when he sleeps over in the bunkroom. He also spends so much time in their gym that I can't imagine him eating any sweets."
"Trust me, Bella. Buy some of those ready-made ones and we can bake them tonight while we bring our advent calendar up-to-date. Do you have the Thriftway app? They have some great coupons that you can download, and there's a good chance you'll catch them on sale too."
"I've got it. I'll look through their coupons again."
"You can take them into the station tomorrow and see which ones he likes."
"If he's working—we aren't always on the same shifts." I pause, thinking through her idea. "I can probably get Charlie to help with the cost, since I'm taking them into work. I know he's partial to gingerbread cookies."
"That's my girl. Now you're thinking and you've got a plan."
"Bella, your order's up!" Sam calls out from the kitchen, and I go to retrieve Angela's pancakes from the window.
If you give a firefighter a Christmas cookie…