"Did you remember the presents?"
"Already loaded up in the car," I informed Bella.
"What about the car seats?" Bella asked.
"All secure," I nodded. "Your dad did that last night."
"Daddy! I don't want to wear my coat!" E.J. huffed from behind Bella in the garage. "We're just gonna be in the car!"
"It's cold outside," I reminded him, "and if you want to play in the snow with your cousins later, you're going to have to bring your coat, hat and gloves."
"Fine," he stomped.
"Daddy, can I built a 'noman with Seth?" Carlie asked from underneath her parka.
"Seth is going with Aunt Rose and Uncle Emmett to his grandparents' house today," I reminded her. "You can play with him this weekend." I couldn't believe that at four-years-old my daughter already had a crush on Rose and Emmett's son.
Emmett had been excited, thinking he was finally getting his boy when Rose found out she was pregnant again, but a matter of days after Lily turned three they found out they were expecting another girl. Lily and her sister Violet were eventually joined by their baby brother Seth two years later and now that they had their boy, Rose had sworn off having any more kids. It was hard enough on having two little girls with all of the boundless energy of their father mixed in with the sass and attitude of their mother. Seth, however, had obviously taken after the Whitlock side of the family, blessed with the same laidback attitude and quiet thoughtfulness Jasper had.
Jasper, however, would be with us today at my parents' house for the now annual Cullen Christmas extravaganza. Between Alice and myself, Dad hadn't quite gotten his baseball team of grandchildren, but he seemed to still be working on it. For a while there, it almost seemed like a contest between Alice and Bella to see who could pop out the most buns from their ovens. Less than six months after Robby was born we had Edward Jr., who we called E.J. to avoid the confusion. Within a year of that, Alice and Jasper had their daughter Edith, who they nicknamed Edie to go with more modern times. Our Carlie followed two years later and then Alice popped out a pair of twins a few weeks shy of Carlie's first birthday. Janey and John Carlisle – or J.C. as he was known – were polar opposites and mini-me's of their parents. Bella and I had honestly thought we were finished having kids until Elizabeth surprised us. Now 14 months old, Beth was definitely going to be the last for us. Bella had all but supervised my vasectomy.
Of course, seven grandchildren wasn't enough for Carlisle Cullen and, with me out of the game, he was still dropping hints to Alice and Jasper about how nice another baby or two might be. Between the twins fighting over toys, Edie going through a biting phase in first grade and Robby "accidentally" packing the class's pet frog in his backpack a few weeks ago, I didn't think Alice and Jasper would be so easily swayed.
"Grandpa, you build a 'noman with me?" Carlie asked Charlie, one of her namesakes. Bella's father had come to stay with us during the holidays, but it was no secret his three grandchildren were the real reason he had made the long drive up from Forks to stay the week.
"Sure thing, cupcake," Charlie nodded, helping Carlie into her carseat and buckling her up. Charlie was a stickler for the kids' safety, something he and I heartily agreed on. I took Beth from Bella and nestled her into her seat as E.J. scrambled into the backseat of the minivan to sit with his grandpa.
"Dad, if he takes his seatbelt off during the drive you have my full permission to beat his butt," Bella said, glaring at our son in the reflection of the rearview mirror.
"It was only off for a second!" E.J. protested. "I dropped my DS!"
"Now, buddy, you gotta keep these seatbelts on," Charlie reminded him. "You don't want to worry your mom, huh? Besides, I hear Batman wears his seatbelt."
"Cool," E.J. grinned. True to form, Beth was out like a light as soon as I buckled her into her car seat. Mentally making sure everything was in the car that was supposed to be, I got into the driver's seat and began the trek across town to my folks' place.
I was glad it was a short drive to my folks' house, especially when Charlie chimed in on singing fractured Christmas carols in his off-key baritone with the kids. Bella tried not to laugh, but was failing miserably. Alice and Jasper were already at my parents' house as evidenced by the huge SUV Jasper had insisted on when the twins were born. Within seconds of putting the car in park, E.J. and Carlie were running to the front door, Grandpa Charlie close behind. Bella shook her head and unbuckled a sleeping Beth while I was given the task of rounding up all the Christmas presents from the trunk and bringing them in. By the time I reached the front door my mother was holding open for me, I could hear the sounds of my children roughhousing with their cousins in the living room. I just hoped they didn't knock the tree over again this year. After leaving Beth with her father, Bella returned to help me get the rest of the gifts, though there weren't that many left by that point.
"I'm going to go help your mother, Alice and Aunt Jane in the kitchen," Bella said, pecking me on the lips as soon as we set down the last of the presents. "E.J. and Carlie are playing video games in the living room with Robby and Edie. The twins are playing with some toys. My dad has Beth until she wakes up, and he and your dad are supervising the kids."
"That's a recipe for disaster," I rolled my eyes. "They know Grandpa Charlie and Grandpa Carlisle will let them get away with murder. Where's Jasper?"
"Hiding from his children, according to Alice," Bella shrugged. "They tried to play horsey with Daddy last night and Alice said she almost had to put Jasper out to pasture."
"Better him than me," I shrugged.
As Bella ventured off into the kitchen, I went to join by father and father-in-law with the kids. While the older bunch were banging away on some video game system they had convinced my parents to buy, Charlie and my father were chatting over cups of coffee. Charlie had Beth curled up, asleep against his chest while Dad was bouncing J.C. on one knee and Janey on the other.
"Merry Christmas, son," Dad grinned as I sighed and deposited myself in a recliner.
"Merry Christmas, Dad," I nodded. I sighed as I looked over at my children. "Carlie, don't pull on Miss Priss' tail!"
"She don't mind," Carlie huffed, scooping the tired looking dog into her lap.
While Miss Priss had been mean from the onset, she had calmed down considerably when we started bringing babies into the house. The kids were her puppies in the same way they were Mom's grandchildren. Though she was tiny, Miss Priss would defend those kids to the death and didn't mind when they pulled on her tale, put her in fuzzy sweaters or the time Robby and E.J. brought her into the kiddie pool with them one summer. With a yawn and a stretch, Miss Priss laid out in Carlie's lap. Her eyes didn't close completely as she had to keep watch over the kids.
"So, how was Christmas morning?" Dad asked me.
"Busy," I sighed. "E.J. hooked his new fishing rod on the tree, Carlie ate half her candy before breakfast and Beth tuckered herself out with her new doll."
"Say what you will about hooking the tree, that kid is a natural at casting," Charlie pointed out to me.
"I've seen him with a fillet knife," Dad agreed. "Surgical precision that one."
"When did you let my son have a knife?" I asked both of them. Luckily for them, Beth stirred awake, distracting all of us.
"Well, good morning princess," Charlie laughed as Beth looked up at him wide-eyed. She looked over at my dad and grinned but reached out for me instead. Charlie reluctantly let me hold my daughter.
"Santa?" Beth asked me.
"Santa came to our house last night," I nodded. "Soon, we're going to eat a big dinner with everyone and then you'll get to open your presents from Grandpa Carlisle and Nana."
"Nana?" Beth asked, looking around the room for my mother.
"She's with Mommy making your favorite mashed sweet potatoes," I informed Beth.
"Toe-toes!" Beth grinned excitedly.
"Reminds me of her mother, that one," Charlie laughed as Beth rubbed her hand up against her fine, brown hair. "Of course, all those kids have a good bit of Swan in them." He turned to my dad. "You ready for the big fishing trip this spring?"
"I'm trying to talk Esme into letting me get a new boat for the occasion," Carlisle nodded. "Something we can comfortably fit all the kids on." I rolled my eyes. Since Dad had retired, he had taken up fishing on Charlie's recommendation and now the two proud grandpas took the kids out several times a year with them.
Moments later, Mom came in to announce the food was ready and was immediately surrounded by eager grandchildren. Of course, Mom lavished the attention all of her grandchildren paid her, and even though the didn't need the extra sugar, I could smell the several trays of Christmas cookies she had already baking in the kitchen for after the meal. Jasper slunk down from his hiding place to join us at the table for food and earned a wallop from Alice for abandoning her with their four little ones.
Though years before Cullen family Christmas celebrations had meant fine china and crystal glasses, the messiness of the kids had changed things. Mom had whipped out her best Christmas-styled paper plates and Bella and Alice were making sure each of the kids had a lid firmly pressed down on their cups. There were more little people than big people at the fancy dining table, but we managed by putting one kid on each adults' side. Of course, by the end of the meal E.J., Robby and J.C. were chasing each other around the table, Beth had found her way back into Grandpa Charlie's lap and Mom was up and distributing cookies to our already hyper kids.
"We are never going to get them to sleep tonight," I groaned to Bella as my dad adjourned us into the living room for presents.
"I think they'll tucker themselves out by this evening," Bella said. "And I think your mother's cookies will probably lead to a sugar crash in an hour or so. Well… if she doesn't put them all in a sugar coma first…"
"If worst comes to worst I think we can coax the grandpas into starting a snowball fight," I nodded.
"Speaking of grandpas," Bella smirked. "Your father was wondering if we'd ever consider adoption."
"What?" I groaned.
"Apparently, there are plenty of needy children who would love to have a nice home with siblings," Bella said.
"My dad has been shopping for grandchildren on the Internet," I shook my head. "He's really not given up on the team has he? He can get Mom and Miss Priss a shirt and call it even. Besides, you said we were done having kids. You made sure of that."
"You know how your Dad is," Bella laughed. "And yeah, we are done having kids. The ones we have are enough of a handful."
"Don't need to tell me," I snorted as we took our seats in the living room. Beth had plopped herself on Charlie's lap again and while E.J. was with his male cousins, Carlie decided to come and sit between Bella and myself as my parents handed out gifts.
In mere minutes, the kids had ripped open all the wrapping paper and were running around the living room with their new toys. Soon, I knew they would want to be bundled up so they could go outside and have a snowball fight in my parents' huge backyard. Though the floor of their living room was littered with empty boxes, discarded wrapping paper and ripped bows, my parents seemed pretty content watching their grandchildren wrestling around on the floors. Charlie had fallen asleep in the recliner and Beth had nodded off on his chest. Alice and Jasper had snuck off, probably to make out. If they kept it up, I had no doubt my father might get his eighth and ninth grandchildren.
"I know they stress you out, but I love having our family together for Christmas," Bella said to me with a knowing smirk as we reclined together on the couch.
"Yeah, yeah," I sighed, curling my arm further around her. "Remind me of that later today when the kids break something."