The cold, frozen ground crunched loudly under Alberta's shoes, signaling the beginnings of the heavy winter to come. Come a month from now, it would be thick with snow and familiar smoke would billow from the brick stacked chimney towering over the fireplace in the living room. She could already taste the warm slide of homemade hot chocolate on her palate, sending a shiver of delight and anticipation down her spine. Seeing the house tower above her, Alberta's lips quirked in a nostalgic smile. She could almost hear the echoing laughter of her brothers and sisters throughout the house, the chatter of her parents bickering or talking over the events of their days. She'd never let any of the wonderful memories of her childhood here escape her, not one, nor the amazing parents she'd been blessed with.
She let herself in, taking time to shake off her coat and stomp her shoes on the entryway doormat before making her way through the living room and den. Over the years, the house had changed little. New pictures were added to the walls, every few years a new coat of paint, usually in a color so similar to the last that it nearly made no difference. Though she could remember, one year, her father attempting to paint the walls in a very bright, sharp blue, the color streaked through his hair by the time her papa had gotten home to yell at him for nearly an hour. The next morning, she remembered giggling at the both of them attempting to get the color off of their skin throughout the day, looking for all the world like a smurf had exploded in their house. The next week, their walls had been back to the usual beige they tended to stick to, though now and then, when furniture scraped against the wall, a bit of blue would show through only to be tended to quickly enough that it may have just been imagined.
A sound from the back yard drew her attention and, flipping her blonde hair back across her shoulders, the young woman made her way through the kitchen, bee-lining towards the back door. Making certain to close the screen door firmly behind her, Alberta scrubbed at her arms through the thick coral sweater, letting the rhythmic clapping of metal on wood guide her across the yard and around to the backside of the garage. Standing high on a ladder and hammering at the rain gutters was the shorter of her fathers, his face drown in a frown of concentration. She waited long enough until he pulled his hands away to steady on the ladder before clearing her throat.
Matthew's head whipped around at the sound, his eyes widening in stunned joy. "Bertie!" he crowed, descending the metal rungs as quickly as possible without tipping the tall ladder over. Once his feet were firmly planted on the ground, his eldest daughter met him halfway into a hug, arm tight around one another. "We didn't expect you in for another four days!"
Though their eldest children had been out on their own for nearly three decades, it was just a hard watching them leave again as it had been the first time and their return always prompted such a rush of emotion that Matthew and oftentimes Gilbert had trouble keeping their eyes dry, dabbing at the corners like simpering old biddies, as his husband would say. He didn't mind at all though. He loved each of his children equally and would cry a river of tears if that meant they knew just how much.
He was brought back from his thoughts when Alberta spoke up. "That's the great thing about working under a government in the know. I can pretty much take time whenever I like." She grinned, all Gilbert, and wrapped an arm around tightly across his shoulders, "I thought I would fly in early and surprise you guys. I figured I could help around the house a bit before everyone got here. Have you heard from Lukas, yet?"
Matthew rolled his eyes with a heavy sigh, enjoying the grin it brought his daughter. "They should be in the day after tomorrow. He's bringing Lana with him this time, apparently they are back on this year." He chuckled, shaking his head. "I swear one of these days he'll just bring her along, married and pregnant and we won't even have been able to have the wedding we've planned since he was four."
Alberta burst into laughter, hugging her father tight again. "Hey at least you married off one kid, the one thatdoesn't owe me any money, may I remind you. Jacques always was my favorite." She smirked, earning a light slap on the arm from her papa in chastization, though he knew it was only in jest. "Speaking of which, I spoke to him last night, they'll be arriving a bit late in the week. Something about teacher/parent conferences on Thursday so they had to postpone the flight until Friday." She shrugged, taking a step back and scrubbing the cold from her hands on her jeans.
It wasn't rare for either of her older brothers to be extremely busy with their respective lives. Though they were all still close, the twins lived on opposite sides of the country invested in two completely different lives, both fast paced. Though Lukas had taken to being a work-a-holic and perhaps a little bit of a womanizer, his twin had settled down at only twenty-two and popped out three children of his own, making their father's the happiest grandparents in the world. Alberta had taken to working with the government in smaller matters, working with local mayors and office holders on the political workings of the people, making very little time for much else but her work. Her other sisters, Dresden (who was only a few years her junior) and Malissa (nearly fifteen years younger than her), had both stayed rather close to home, choosing to move less than an hour away from their parent's home town.
"Where's dad?" the blonde questioned, tucking her hair back behind her ear and rubbing her arms again against the cold whip of the incoming front.
"He's upstairs with Thomas taking a nap. Why don't you go back inside and get warm. He should be waking up soon, anyways. They've been asleep for nearly two hours but you know how your dad is, he'll sleep for days if you let him." Matthew snorted, wandering back in the direction of the ladder. "Let him know I'll be in as soon as I get these gutters ready for the first snow. We're supposed to get a heavy one coming in next week!" he called, watching from his way up the ladder as his daughter trotted back into the house.
Alberta shook her head with a grin, making her way back inside and sweeping around to ascend the stairs. Indeed, two snores, one soft and one deep and grumbly, greeted her from the hallway, the door slightly ajar. Pushing the door open quietly, she tipped her head over her brother's head, grinning as the six year old stirred in his sleep, turning into his father, who was curled up rather uncomfortably in the small twin bed, white hair askew and mouth open.
Laughing softly to herself, she shook his shoulder gently, watching the older man rouse from his slumber into the waking world with a lagged sense of self. "Daddy, wake up. You've been napping forever and your eldest daughter demands your attention." His eyes rolled around the room, groggy, before they settled on her face. In an instant, he was tumbling off the bed in his haste to stand, dragging her into his arms with a surprised gasp of her name, lifting the woman off her feet and into the air. He held her for long moments, finally letting her stand on her own again when Thomas shifted behind them.
"I thought you weren't going to be in for another few days!" he laughed, brushing his hands along her hair, excited to have her back. Behind him, a blur of blonde hair bounced from the bed, sweeping around his legs and colliding with Alberta's.
"Hey Tom-tom!" she laughed, tugging him up onto her hip and planting a kiss on his cheek that was quickly wiped away. She knew he wasn't all that upset, though, if the grin on his face was to be believed. Turning her attention back to the taller of her two fathers, she appraised the happy smirk on his face. "I got off a few days early. I told Papa as well. He looked like he should be done with the garage soon. I thought maybe we could make lasagna tonight?"
Over the course of the years, lasagna had become a dish celebrated in the family as it was a chance for everyone to participate. Her fondest memories sometimes consisted of everyone crowded together in the kitchen, laying out the long strips of pasta or pouring just the right amount of meat sauce only to be smothered in three bags of cheese. Everything was homemade with every meal they put together but lasagna was always the most fun and rewarding of all the meals. Something about the smell of the pasta dish baking in the oven reminded her of the wonderful times they spent with their uncle Feli, Ludwig, Toni and Lovi and their cousins. The house would always be filled with the high pitched squeals and laughter of children playing together and the kind chuckles of the adults as they shared stories in the den.
"Sounds great to me, Bertie. I'm sure your Papa has enough of the ingredients around here to make it and if not we'll just run into town. Maybe get some ice cream." He chuckled, sweeping his son up and into his arms from Alberta's grasp.
The three of them made their way down the hall and back into the living room just as Matthew emerged from the back yard, sweeping his coat off and onto the back of one of the kitchen table chairs. He smiled happily, brushing a hand across her shoulders in welcome. "We don't see you guys often enough. It'll be nice to have everyone home come Christmas. Uncle Alfred will be coming this time too. His boss agreed to give him two weeks ago after he caught up on all that backwork. Dad and I are thinking of building another extra room on the back of the house for a family room since everyone's families are getting so large. Grandpapa and granpa will both be here as well and I've yet to hear from Ludwig about Feli or Lovino and Toni but I'm pretty certain they'll be coming as well since they've yet to miss a Christmas." He smiled kindly, leaning to peck Thomas' cheek as Gilbert passed them into the kitchen.
"That'll be a lot of people in the house, you sure you can handle that many Beilschmits running around?" Alberta chuckled, tugging her father to sit down on the couch and falling into place under his arm beside him.
"You know I love having everyone around. It took a long time to get here and now that we are I wouldn't have it any other way. You are all a blessing, Bertie and I couldn't imagine not having you around, especially during the holidays." Her father replied softly, brushing his lips over the crest of her head as she settled into the crook of his neck, inhaling the wonderful scent of pine and vanilla that always radiated from her father's thick sweaters. She felt his arms wrap around her, pulling her into the firm warmth of his adoration, her eyes grazing the corner of the room and already anticipating the large tree that would rise from the floor lit up in florescent lights and sparkling tinsel. There would be mounds and mounds of presents since everyone would gather there. So many that they would sprawl across the floor and around the edges of the love seat and oversized armchair. Afterwards, wrapping paper would line the floor in a pool of bright colors, ribbons like waves rising over the edges of the couch.
Listening to her father move around the kitchen, clanging together the pots and pans and talking to Thomas about which ingredients they needed and leaning against the comfort of her Papa, Alberta sometimes wondered why she left at all. She loved being on her own, loved her independence, but coming home was always a ritual she would never miss, not for the world. Seeing the loving smiles of her parents as they watched with pride as their children took to the world, making their own path, returning to share their stories and new found wonders. Not one day went by that she took for granted the life that she'd been given, the parents that loved her, the siblings that made her life both a living hell and a wondrous adventure.
Smiling up at Matthew, Alberta felt the swelling in her chest. Her fathers loved her just as they loved each other, just as they loved the rest of their family, blood or not. That would never change. But maybe, just maybe, once in a while, she could imagine being that five year old little girl again, curl up in her Papa's lap and watch the wonder grow in his own eyes, knowing her and her siblings were part of the reason his eyes would always sparkle with joy and her daddy's laughter would echo in her ears.
Good. God. It took a freakin year right?
So there we have it. I know it isn't much but I sure hope you guys enjoyed it and I just want to throw out an ENORMOUS
A couple of people especially I feel like I need to prod at are those people I started such amazing friendships with. Josey, Steph, Maddy, Olivia, Mary, Lady, Blue, Reo, god I can't even name everyone.
To all of you AMAZING people who left me reviews whether long (omg I cried I love you guys) or short, each and EVERY one made my year!
To everyone who has stuck with me even after all this time and given me so much cause to keep going in my writing whether it's this story or another. You guys have made my days so much brighter and I've made so many new friends that it's hard to imagine this is over. This is the longest story undertaking I've ever achieved and I feel like it would never have happened without ya'lls support and kindness so from the bottom of my heart, I love you all and thanks so much for following this journey!
Last but not least, another Thank You to every single one of you who stood with me during these last couple of years. With your love and support I've faced more than I ever thought possible and came out on the top side of it. Through loss and births and changes so scary they were like mountains to scale. So this fic is dedicated to you all. To you and to my sister, Angel, in heaven, and to my father, Mace, facing dementia, who I now write for. Two beautiful souls who can no longer write for themselves but whom you guys have so graciously help me support with your perfect words and gestures.
I love EVERY. DAMN. ONE. OF. YOU.