Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: Bella tackles Christmas dinner head-on for her family, Jacob's family, and a pack of hungry werewolves. She swears she has it under control, but what happens when holiday cheer, eggnog and even the turkey turn against her? Can anything salvage this Christmas dinner disaster?
AN: This little fun-shot was my entry in Tricky Raven's Home for the Holidays contest for authors and artists. I wanted to share it here, too. Here's hoping for some giggles!
Merry Christmas, everyone, and happy holidays!
Bella walked into the kitchen, wiping her hands on her already soiled apron, to find Jacob crouched down in front of the stove.
He wasn't moving, his body stoic. He didn't make a sound to acknowledge Bella's return to the small room. He just stared through the greasy glass of the oven door. Watching the turkey like his life depended on it.
Annoyance pricked at her insides as Bella crossed her arms in front of her.
"What the hell are you doing?"
Jake still didn't move. Instead, he lifted one hand, placing his finger on his chin like he was about to say the most profound thing in the history of their three-year relationship.
"Is that the only turkey you bought?"
Bella huffed, the hair that had fallen loose from her messy ponytail bouncing with the force behind her exhale. "That's a thirty-pound turkey, Jake! The Rachael Ray magazine I bought said to allow one pound per person, and..."
"Yeah, but did that magazine of yours convert that little number into a werewolf equivalent?" He finally moved, peering over his shoulder and one eyebrow rising skeptically. "At least tell me you thought about that when you picked out the turkey. One pound per person? You know I'm gonna eat like five, and Tubby Ateara will probably eat about eight. The math is making me nervous, Bells..."
Bella rolled her eyes, but that didn't negate the fact she was, in fact, doing the subtraction in her head. Thirty minus five is twenty-five, minus...
Jacob's amused chortles grated at her already frazzled nerves. She honestly wasn't sure what she was thinking she volunteered to do this – to host Christmas dinner for the first time at their very simple two-bedroom house located on the very edge of La Push. They just moved into it; their first place together. They couldn't afford much more, which meant her kitchen was nowhere near equipped for cooking a dinner this size and she still eyed the modest spaces between taupe walls wondering how the hell they were going to fit everyone in there.
But everything would be good.
It will be okay, she repeated to herself. It will be okay because you bought a thirty-pound turkey and you and Emily never really eat that much. Sure, Emily's pregnant, but Sue said she might not make it. You delegated pies and cookies to Emily, and the green bean casserole to Leah. The turkey is in the oven, the mashed potatoes are boiling, and the scalloped corn is in the fridge. And for some unknown reason, Quil said he would bring chips and salsa.
So it was all under control. This fiesta was going to be a success.
She even went all out decorating. The dollar store in Forks never knew what hit it when Bella hauled out of there with every package of silver, red and green garland it had left and even some of those really cute reindeer candle holders. The holiday CDs were already in the player under the television. The narrow but abundantly decorated Christmas tree, pushed between the television and the back patio door, twinkled and provided just enough ambiance to give the living room the festive feel she was hoping for.
Things will be perfect, Bella told herself.
"Okay." Bella turned to Jake, untying her dirty apron. "What time is it?"
Jake, who had finally rose to his feet in front of the stove, peered aimlessly into the pot of boiling potatoes before checking his watch. "A quarter after three," he replied, looking away and stepping around the small island in the middle of the kitchen. With a chuckle, he stopped in front of Bella, reaching up and gently pulling her hand from her mouth. "Go easy on the fingernails there, Bells."
"I know, I'm sorry." She allowed Jacob to wrap his arms around her tense frame. She melted into the heat radiating from his body, instantly relaxing her muscles, which were still stiff from the entire day prior she spent cleaning the house from top to bottom. "I just want everything to be perfect," she murmured into his chest.
"And it will be," Jacob responded, leaning back and taking her face between his large hands. "Promise." He dipped down, gently covering her lips with his, the kiss a comfort and a silent guarantee.
Smiling against his lips, she shook her head. "It better be." She kissed him one last time, swiftly and affectionately, before taking a step back. Jacob watched her, giving her a small, content smile. "I'm gonna go get cleaned up. Potatoes will be done in about ten minutes. Can you drain them and start mashing them when they're done?"
"Got it covered," Jacob acknowledged.
"Everyone's supposed to be here by four. The plates and silverware are all on the table, so if you could start setting it while I'm in there, I'll love you forever," Bella continued, turning her back on Jacob as she hung her apron on the plastic hook affixed to the refrigerator.
"You'll love me forever anyways," Jacob retorted in a good-natured tone, and Bella suddenly felt a playful smack on her backside, causing her to squeak. "Go shower. I told you. I've got it covered."
"Yes, sir," she mumbled, leaving Jacob alone with the mashed potatoes, her Grandma Swan's good plates, and the thirty-pound bird that would just have to be enough.
Bella took longer than she probably should have in the shower, trying her best to let the hot water wash away the nagging feeling in the pit of her stomach. She went over everything in her head, and then once more, just to satiate the knot of dread making her feel like she was forgetting something. That maybe she hadn't orchestrated the day quite as well as she could have.
By the time she was out of the shower and blow-drying her hair, she could hear several more voices out in the kitchen and dining room area of the house. Jacob's hearty, warm laugh floated above the muted voices, calming the anxiety simmering just below her surface. From the sounds of it, he did have everything under control, and he'd somehow managed to again assure her.
Their tiny house was already bursting with people when she emerged from the bathroom, dressed and ready to face Christmas head-on. Jake was hunched over the stove with the masher, attacking the potatoes per Bella's instructions. Leah and Kim were hovering nearby in the kitchen, one taking the scalloped corn out of the fridge so it could warm up in the oven, the other doing her best to clean some stray dishes Bella had left unwashed. One look to her right revealed Collin, Brady, Jared, and Seth all sprawled out across the furniture, television on and already engrossed in the football game blaring from it.
Seth caught Bella's eye, a grin exploding across his face as he waved at her enthusiastically. She waved back, offering Seth a small smile when she felt an arm slide across her shoulders, causing her to cast a glance beside her.
Charlie's mustache furrowed over his trademark half-smile. His hand squeezed her shoulder while the other one held onto his can of beer. "Place looks good, Bells. You really went all out for this, huh?"
She smiled, leaning into her father's side. "I tried." Frowning as she realized there was indeed someone missing, she peered up at him again. "So, is Sue gonna make it?"
"Don't think so," Charlie murmured with a shake of his head. "She got called in to work at the hospital. Something about some idiot who fell off the roof trying to hang Christmas lights at the last minute."
"That's horrible!" Bella exclaimed, still watching Jacob as he moved around the kitchen, pausing with the masher poised like a weapon in his hand, unable to fight the smile threatening to creep across her lips.
"Well, it's like I always say, Bells," Charlie grumbled knowingly. "Can't fix stupid."
Bella chuckled just before she heard a knock on the front door. It opened a moment later and Emily Uley's beautifully scarred face peered around the door. Her face lit up with a brilliant smile when she saw Bella. "Merry Christmas!"
The door swung open the rest of the way to reveal a very pregnant Emily carrying two Tupperware containers with four pies balanced precariously on top of them. Bella pushed away from her father, rushing to the door and carefully taking the ones off the top of the pile before Emily could argue or something bad could happen to the desserts.
"Thanks," she murmured graciously as Bella stepped back to allow her in, sitting the pies on the dining room table. "Sorry I can't be more help today. This stomach gets in the way of everything."
"It's fine, Emily. We've got it covered."
Bella returned to the doorway to see Sam lifting Billy's wheelchair carefully up the front steps. One look past him revealed Emily's niece, five-year-old Claire, skipping from the driveway sporting pigtails and a bright red sweater with Santa Claus on it. Quil Ateara brought up the rear of the party, two plastic shopping bags in his hands.
"The party is heeeere!" Quil announced jubilantly, holding up the bags in his hands and doing a little dance and butt wiggle as he reached the bottom of the steps. Sam shook his head as he passed Bella. She leaned against the doorframe, chuckling the same time Jacob's father reached out and squeezed her hand.
"Merry Christmas, Bella," he said warmly as Sam wheeled him the rest of the way into the dining room. "Congratulations on the new home."
"Thanks, Billy," Bella replied, graciously accepting the bags from Quil as he too reached the doorway.
"Now you two just gotta get married and start giving me some grandkids," Billy murmured under his breath.
"Ha! Maybe one of these days," Bella retorted, shaking her head as she felt a pair of small arms wrap tightly around her legs. Reaching down, she patted Claire's back, who peered up at her with a set of sincere brown eyes before grinning and running off to the living room.
"So when do we eat?" Quil asked, his voice earnest and his eyes wide as he worked on taking off his shoes in front of the door.
"Soon, I hope." Bella handed off the shopping bags to Emily's waiting hands.
Quil cocked an eyebrow, kicking his last shoe into the middle of the floor and leaving it there. "Hope you made enough turkey," he quipped, his tone completely sincere.
Bella sighed, remembering the conversation she had with Jacob not that long ago. "Me, too. Guess we'll find out as soon as soon as Embry and Paul get here." She frowned, glancing one last time out the front door before she closed it behind Quil. "Where are those two anyway?"
"No clue," Quil deadpanned. "Rachel had to work at the diner today, so Em had to go pick Paul's freeloading ass up. No big deal though, Bells. I'm here. Who else do you need?" Quil cocked his head in her direction, one eyebrow raised and palms facing upward in question. "I'm good with kids, heavy lifting, eating the last slice of pie. Not too bad to look at, if I do say so myself. I'm more wolf than one Christmas can handle, lady."
Bella snorted. "Well, why don't you be good at helping me set the table that Jacob didn't finish," she replied, pointing at the half-prepared dining room table.
Quil laced his fingers together, stretching both arms out in front of him, cracking his knuckles. "Please. You call that challenge? I can set tables in my sleep."
"Bella, you said I gotta put salt in these potatoes, right?" Jacob's voice was loud as it carried from the kitchen.
"Yes!" Bella called over her shoulder, watching Quil as he trotted over to the table and grabbed two plates off the stack, whistling to himself as he did. The others in the living room paid no attention to what was going on near the front of the house. Emily and Sam helped Billy get situated in the recliner while the others zoned out in front of the television.
"Where's the salt?"
"In the cupboard next to the stove!"
"I don't see it, Bells..."
Bella heard him, but the words barely registered because there was something else pulling at her attention. Something more musical. Something obscenely loud coming down the driveway.
Something horribly off-key.
"Liiiiiiiiittle baaaby, paaaa rum pa pum...PUUUUM!"
Bella's frown deepened, instinctively leaning toward the door. Toward the source of the sound.
"I bring no gifts for yoooooooou, paaaa rum pa pum...PUUUUM!"
Heart racing, Bella swung the front door open again in one swift movement, stepping into the cold December air. She pulled her arms around her midsection, taking a couple steps out to peer down the driveway.
She heard them before she saw them. Cackles of obnoxious male laughter.
"No gifts for you? Those are the wrong words, man!"
"Whatever, Call, shut the fuck up. I make my own words. Like I make my own rules."
That's when Bella saw them, two large bodies quite literally stumbling toward the house. Her mouth fell open as she took in the sight of them, both of them – Embry's tall, lean frame and Paul's shorter, bulky one – draped around the other as they struggled to walk in a straight line. Paul was holding a milk jug in one hand, filled with a thick, off-white liquid.
"Wanna know why, Call? Listen. Take notes. I make my own rules..." Hiccup. "...cuz I'm a badass motherfucker, that's why. And you should take notes."
"You know what?" Embry leaned around, far enough the weight of his frame nearly caused them both to tumble to the ground. He jabbed his finger into Paul's chest. "You're right. I wanna be badass like you...like, really wanna. But it's just...these feelings, man. It's like I can't control them. I just feel so hard...about everything."
"You gotta shut that shit off. Right. The. Fuck. Now."
Suddenly, Paul swayed back when his eyes met Bella's, realizing the two of them had an audience. In fact, he threw his weight with so much force, his eyes bulged and his body kept moving backward. Bella held out one hand, almost like she could stop them both from falling despite her distance from them, but it was too late as the duo toppled to the ground in a flurry of oversized arms and legs. Closing her mouth with a snap, Bella squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head.
"Fuck, my nog!"
Bella opened her eyes just in time to see Paul army-crawling across the lawn, scrambling as he scooped up the milk jug and dropped back on his rear end, cradling the jug to his chest like one of his most prized possessions. Embry just sat there in the dirt, giggling like a little girl, pointing at Paul like it was the funniest thing he had ever seen.
"What the fuck?"
Bella's head snapped back, looking over her shoulder to see Jacob standing a foot or so behind her. She threw her shoulders up in dismay, gesturing to the two pack members still sitting with their butts planted on the front lawn. "They're drunk," she stated matter-of-factly, both hands now planted on her hips.
"What?" Jacob's face screwed up as he took another step forward. "How is that even possible?"
"Alpha daaaawg!" Embry cheered, throwing a handful of the sparse snow found on their front lawn up in the air.
"Shut the fuck up, dude," Paul growled at Embry, slowly rocking forward to his knees before using all fours to get up. He stayed like that for a moment, gaining his bearings before shooting bolt upright. Jacob snorted next to Bella, and he quickly cleared his throat when she glowered at him.
"I can promise you, man...it's possible." Paul rocked forward then, his feet catching up a moment later as he stumbled gracelessly up the stairs. "This mother fucker down here showed up when I was making my nog, and he told me it was stupid cuz we don't get drunk. So we spiced it up a little bit." Paul shoved the jug into Jacob's chest, who grabbed it to keep it from falling on the porch.
"With what?" Jacob asked tentatively.
"Old Quil's moonshine." Paul darted for the door behind them, and Bella's mouth fell open once again. She and Jacob turned their attention back to the lawn. Embry was still sitting there, staring at them blankly.
"Jesus, dude, how much of the moonshine actually made it into the eggnog?" Jake asked his friend, trotting down the front steps and holding out his hand to help Embry up.
Embry shook his head violently as Jake pulled him to his feet. "Not much. Asshole called me a pussy. Told me I couldn't hang." Scowling petulantly, Embry threw a handful of snow at the door Paul had just walked through, missing by a mile as it hit the dining room window instead. Bella cringed. "Well, I sure proved him wrong."
"Yeah, you did, man. Good job." Jacob followed Embry's staggering frame up the stairs, cocking an apologetic eyebrow in Bella's direction. She sighed as Embry breezed past her, and she almost choked on the thick stench of alcohol rolling off him.
"Don't touch anything!" she called over her shoulder, an afterthought as Embry disappeared through the doorway. "And stay out of the kitchen!"
Jake chuckled as he placed a hand on the small of Bella's back, leaning in and placing a soft kiss on her hair. It did little to ebb the irritation bubbling in her gut. "Everything'll be fine, Bells. Give them an hour – should be outta their systems before then."
"Holy shit, man! I could get drunk just by licking you! What? No, I don't want to lick you!"
Bella tried her best to drown out Quil's voice in her head and to also forget about the drunken spectacle that just took place on their front lawn. Sighing, she closed the front door behind them before retreating back to the kitchen.
"I see the Asshole Patrol just showed up," Leah muttered under her breath to Bella as she swung open the oven door, pulling out the scalloped corn and placing it on top of the stove. Bella peered in at the turkey, which also needed to be removed soon, according to the timer set on the counter next to the stove. "Are those idiots drunk?"
"Yup," Bella murmured as she retrieved the container of salt from the cupboard next to stove. She wasn't sure why Jacob hadn't been able to find it, considering it was right where she thought it would be. With a heavy sigh, she turned back to the island and pulled the bowl of mashed potatoes to her.
"Dumb asses," Leah snapped, her back still turned as she removed the foil from the casserole.
"So long as they don't puke on my carpet, we're good." Bella popped open the salt container before giving it a few shakes into the potatoes, eyeballing the measurement before closing the lid with a snap.
"It's mashed potato time!"
Bella looked up, gripping the salt container harder than necessary as Paul shuffled into the kitchen, swaying his hips as he eyed the mashed potatoes. "Gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme gravy tonight," he sang in a horrible falsetto, just before plopping his finger down in the bowl.
"Paul!" Bella screeched, smacking his hand.
"What?" Hiccup. "It's called quality control, Princess." He dug his finger a little farther into the creamy potatoes, emerging with a large sample on the tip of it. Wagging his eyebrows at Bella, he popped the finger in his mouth before licking it clean.
Bella barely had time to protest before Paul's face turned rancid, his lips pulling down into a deep frown.
And just like that, Paul spit the potatoes out of his mouth, a portion of the bite landing on the counter with a grotesque smack, the other dribbling down his jaw.
Bella gaped at him, red appearing in the corner of her eyes as she fought every instinct to throw the salt container at his head.
"Those are terrible!" he exclaimed, his eyes frantically searching the counter for a napkin. Locating one, he snatched it up and began to spastically wipe his tongue with it. "Ack!"
Bella was starting to pull her arm back when Jacob came trotting into the kitchen.
"Oh, shit, Bells! I salted those already!"
Bella contemplated the idea of recalibrating her aim.
"Wait, what?" Leah spun around on her heel, one hand on her hip and a scowl attached to her face. "You salted them? I thought you couldn't find the salt – which was pretty funny considering it was right fucking where Bella told you it would be – so I salted them when you went outside."
Bella managed to turn her head, making eye contact with Leah before the other woman's eyes drifted down to the container in Bella's hands. "Oh, shit...did you just salt them too?"
All three of them looked back at Paul, who was flicking bits of potato off his chin.
"I don't know what the hell you all did to those potatoes, but I've tasted dog food better than that." Paul shook his head, crumpling up the napkin in his fist as he pushed himself off the counter with more force than necessary. Jacob blinked, trying to comprehend what his pack mate just said and if there was, in fact, any truth to it. "And I may be drunk," Paul leered. "But I can still taste. And that...tastes like shit."
Bella ripped her eyes away from the simpering man in front of her, her gaze falling to the bowl of potatoes. She could feel that anxious knot – the one she worked so hard to suppress before everyone started showing up, the one Jacob tried to quell on the front porch – reform in her stomach.
"Bells..." Jacob's voice was soft and tentative. "Do we have anymore potatoes?"
Bella shook her head with a dejected sniffle.
"Oh." An awkward silence enveloped the kitchen before Jacob piped up once again. "Well, that's okay. I don't really like mashed potatoes that much anyway." The bowl disappeared from Bella's field of vision, two large caramel hands removing it from counter in front of her. She tried not to watch as Jacob grabbed the spoon next to her, making his way to garbage can on the other side of the room.
Each sound – every plop of potatoes being spooned into the garbage – pricked at Bella's confidence a little more.
A few minutes passed before the warmth of Jacob's body reappeared at Bella's side. She let out a long, languid sigh before forcing herself to peer up at him.
"How's everyone doing?"
"Okay, I think. Most of the guys – the sober ones, at least – and your dad went out front to toss around a football before dinner," Jacob replied, his fingers kneading comfortingly at her back. "Kim and Emily are out there watching. Claire, Quil and Embry are in the living room with my dad, who was sawing logs last time I checked."
Bella felt a little more at ease when a laugh left her throat. "Your dad is the only one who could sleep through something like this."
"I know," he murmured with an amused chuckle. "See? Everything's under control. I'm gonna go outside with the guys. Call me if you need me, k?"
Bella nodded, rising up on her tiptoes to plant a quick peck on Jacob's lips before he pulled away, disappearing from the kitchen.
Bella spent the next couple minutes searching the cupboards in her small kitchen for something that could possibly replace the ruined mashed potatoes. Lipton noodles, popcorn, one box of Stove Top stuffing – nothing was going to do the trick. With Leah moving fluidly around the kitchen behind her, Bella was so lost in her task she barely noticed the hysteric giggles coming from the living room.
Bella's eyebrows raised as she leaned back from the counter, still hanging onto the cupboard door as she listened closer. It wasn't until then she noticed the giggles were accompanied by two more sets of snickers, those belonging to grown men.
Grown men who sounded like they were up to no good.
A warning alarm instantly went off in Bella's head.
"Hey, I'll be right back," she told Leah forlornly, not waiting for the other woman's response before closing the cupboard door and walking briskly from the kitchen. Bella turned to her left and took the couple steps she needed to get an unobstructed view of the living room.
What she saw practically made her blood boil.
Bella's words were seething, pushed out between clenched teeth.
Two sets of eyes belonging to Embry and Quil snapped in her direction, both bulging in fear. Even little Claire watched her from where she lay on the floor, except she had a proud and amused grin plastered across her innocent face.
Bella's eyes fell to her Christmas tree next. Her beautiful tree, which she worked so hard to decorate before today, was missing all of its lights. Instead, the lights stretched off the tree, passing through Embry's hands, which were holding them off the floor. Bella's gaze followed the string to Quil, who was standing behind a still-snoring Billy. It was then Bella realized the lights had been wrapped around Jacob's father – multiple times – effectively trapping him to the chair.
"Look, Auntie Bella!" Claire squealed, pointing a chubby finger at the sleeping elder. "Quil and Embwy tied up Gwampa Billy...like the bad guys in the movies!"
Despite the fact Bella was so mad she could spit, the five-year-old's jubilance helped take the edge of the rage simmering just below her surface. Instead, she turned a wary eye on the adults, the alleged responsible ones who seemed to play the biggest hand in this practical joke.
Quil blinked at her. "It was a joke, Bella. Claire kept trying to mess with the lights herself, so this was kind of a...um, a distraction."
Embry hung his head in shame.
"You ruined my tree, Quil." Bella took a deep breath, forcing what little calm she could through her veins. "And you tied up Jacob's father. With Christmas lights!"
Quil let out a heavy sigh. "Awww, come on. How do you say no to that face?" he whined, letting one hand drop the string of lights and chewing on his lip to keep from smiling. "I mean, look at it."
Bella huffed, her fingers curling into her palms. She glanced at Claire, still sprawled out at Billy's incapacitated feet. She had redirected her attention to coloring in a blank picture of Cinderella in her coloring book, now completely bored with the incident on display. Even if it had been Claire's idea, Bella could hardly fault her. The poor kid got in more trouble being a part of her imprint's man-child antics than she did on her own.
"She's five years old, Quil! Who's the adult here?"
Quil made an amused noise in his throat. "Wasn't talking about Claire," he snickered, reaching up and pinching Embry's cheek, causing him to scowl and his hand to sweep out of nowhere to smack Quil's meaty paw from his face. "She was just an accomplice."
Groaning, Bella reached up and pressed her index fingers to her temples, rubbing small circles into them to ease the sudden throbbing. "I don't care whose idea it was! If he's not untied before he wakes up, you both will be picking your dinner out of the dirt in the backyard!"
"Whoa. Easy, killer," Quil murmured, dropping into a crouch as he eyed the unexplainable knots he and Embry had managed to create in the string of Christmas lights. "Better watch out, Em, before she gets the shock collars out."
Bella released a noise of sheer frustration from her throat before spinning on her heel and retreating back to the kitchen. They didn't need a Christmas tree to still have a nice dinner. They didn't need pretty, twinkling lights to see what they were eating. And they didn't need mashed potatoes. Potatoes were not essential to making sure people had full stomachs.
Everything will still be fine, Bella reminded herself as she snatched the bag of dinner rolls off the counter next to the microwave, despite the fact the words were getting harder and harder to believe.
"Bella! Psst! Bella, wait up!"
Plopping the rolls down on the counter, she looked up as she untwisted the wire tie to see Embry trotting into the kitchen behind her, stumbling slightly as he tried to avoid running into the refrigerator. Bella snorted under her breath and bit her lower lip as he skidded to a halt beside her, lazily propping his hip on the island.
"Hey, Bella, listen...I'm sorry. Like...really sorry I did that. I mean, so sorry," he murmured, leaning in much closer than he normally would as he blurted out his hushed apology. Bella tried not to wince. His breath smelled like rubbing alcohol with just the slightest hint of cinnamon.
"Em, it's fine," she replied, taking the rolls out of the bag and placing them in the small basket to her right. "You guys just ruined my Christmas tree and tied up Jacob's father, but it's okay."
"Bells, are you mad at me?" His body swayed back as his fingers tightened their hold on the island countertop. "I'll buy you a new Christmas tree, how's that? I love Christmas trees. And I don't want to ruin your Christmas tree. Because I love you too, Bella...almost as much as Christmas trees. I love you and I always have." He over enunciated the words. "Like, Jake is so lucky because you're kind of awesome and everyone loves you, but me? I love you more than them..."
One glance at Embry revealed to Bella a flabbergasted expression of confusion on his face, blinking rapidly as he registered what he was saying.
Apparently even intoxicated Embry recognized when a conversation was going off the rails.
"Yeah, that's it. That's why I'm buying you a new Christmas tree. Because I ruined yours and you're awesome and I'm awesome and that's what good friends do when they ruin each other's Christmas trees." Bella's grip on one of the dinner rolls tightened and she could feel indents from her fingers forming on the soft object. She really did like Embry, but god knows this version of him really tried her patience.
"You don't have to buy me a new Christmas tree, Embry."
Bella was so lost in reminding herself to take deep breaths, that it was just the lights and not the tree itself, she barely realized Embry stop talking next to her. She did, however, register the sharp breath he took through his nostrils.
"I smell smoke…"
And that also happened to be the same time she registered the increase of heat creeping up the back of her frame.
Embry's screech, which was about two octaves higher than it should have been, jarred Bella out of her thoughts. She spun around to face the oven, the rolls falling from her fingers and bouncing across the floor the same time her gaze dropped to oven window. Bella's mouth fell open in dumbfounded shock, her body frozen as she peered into the appliance.
She was looking for the turkey but she couldn't find the turkey. She couldn't find the stupid thirty-pound, too-freaking-small turkey because it was hidden behind a wall of orange and red flames licking against the oven door.
That time it was Bella who screeched.
At that moment, it seemed like every large overheated body, accompanied by more human ones, converged on the kitchen at once, hands pushing, voices yelling and orders bouncing from one to the other. The entire time Bella stood completely still, unable to move and unable to tear her eyes away from her very first Christmas dinner quite literally going up in flames.
"Get some water!" Leah bellowed from somewhere behind Bella.
"Here, use this bottle of wine!" Paul.
"Are you dense? Yeah, let's throw alcohol on the fire, you fucking moron!"
"Woman, I'm just trying to god damn..."
Suddenly, Bella felt a pair of hot arms wrap around her middle, her vision blurring as she was lifted and pulled out of the way. Her body jolted back roughly against Embry's chest, and she was finally able to see Jacob pushing past the numerous bodies in the kitchen, fire extinguisher in hand. Leah leapt into action, springing forward and grabbing the oven door, throwing it open as Jacob pulled the pin on the device in his hands.
Bella watched the flames shoot out of the oven, snaking up against the front of the stove before a large cloud of white spewed out of the fire extinguisher nozzle. The cloud completely filled the oven, pushing the flames back, while the edges of it plumed over the top of the appliance.
Bella's heart sank into her stomach as she watched the cloud cover the dishes of green bean casserole and scalloped corn resting on the stove burners.
"Mmm...you smell nice."
Bella resisted every urge in her tiny body to throw her elbow back into Embry's ribs. Instead, she bit down on her violently quivering bottom lip, swallowing back the frustrated sob just aching to be let out.
The same moment the flames were completely extinguished, Bella knew her Christmas dinner was officially ruined.
"What the fuck was that?" Paul asked. Hiccup.
Bella wiggled petulantly in Embry's arms. He registered her movement, releasing his grip on her before falling back against the kitchen counter.
"Not sure," Jake murmured, waving his hand back and forth to clear some of the lingering white residue in the air. Both he and Leah bent over tentatively, eyes narrowing as they tried to figure out what had caused the blaze.
"Probably a grease fire."
Several sets of eyes snapped toward the new voice. Charlie raised his eyebrows and cocked his head to one side as he slid by Jared and Kim. "Your mom did that our first Thanksgiving, kiddo. It's an old stove. Grease drips down onto the coils and...well...you get what happens next." He waved knowingly toward the now blackened stove, the oven door still gaping open.
"What are we supposed to eat now?" Bella squeaked, barely managing to push the words out past the lump in her throat. Emily lifted her hand to her mouth in dismay, obviously thinking the same thing, as Sam reached up and squeezed her shoulder comfortingly.
Jacob stooped down, grabbing the potholders off the counter before reaching into the oven. Slowly, he pulled the roasting pan from the charred oven. He winced the same moment Bella's stomach wrenched, both their gazes landing on the blackened turkey. It was clear there'd be no saving the bird. It wasn't just a little overdone. It wasn't like they could trim the crispy parts off the edges.
No, it was black. So black and so crispy it looked like it might disintegrate into a pile of dust if someone breathed on it wrong.
With a heavy sigh, Jacob sat the roaster on the stove right next to the white powder-laced casseroles. He eyed the entire spread of inedible food while everyone else in the room carefully eyed each other.
And in a moment of perfect timing, Paul's stomach growled so loud everyone turned to look at him.
Leah's eyes shot daggers at him, and Bella couldn't hold back the defeated cry that escaped her throat.
Paul blinked stupidly. "What? I'm fucking starving."
The silence that fell over the kitchen once again was thick and tangible. Bella had never felt like more of a failure to her family. Any other day she could cook circles around anyone, but when it came to one of the most important days of the year, she'd fallen flat on her face.
"Hey, Charlie?" Quil called out from the dining room.
"Hmm?" Charlie murmured, now picking at the black turkey forlornly. Bella watched him, wishing someone would just get it off her counter and throw it in the garbage.
"That little pizza joint in Forks open today?"
"I think so," Charlie mused, still not looking at Quil. "Why?"
Quil didn't have to answer. Bella knew exactly why. She tried to hide it, tried dipping her face toward the floor when she wiped off the lone tear that escaped to her cheek, but she wasn't fooling anyone. Especially not Jacob, who was staring at her from his spot across the kitchen, a sympathetic and loving expression on his face as he gave her a small smile to reassure her that even without turkey, mashed potatoes, and all the trimmings, it was still Christmas.
Even if it meant all of them coming together, celebrating this disaster of a holiday over ten extra-large pepperoni pizzas.
But in that moment, Bella could not be persuaded.
This officially was the worst Christmas ever.
"Aww, come on, Bells...it wasn't that bad."
Jacob pulled his bottom lip between his teeth, raising an eyebrow as he peered at Bella from across the stack of pizza boxes.
She snorted, reaching out and grabbing the umpteenth paper plate smeared with pizza sauce from the middle of the dining room table. Their guests had all gone home and she still felt sour, even if her mood was slightly better than it had been hours earlier.
"Not that bad? Not that bad? Jacob! Our oven caught on fire and ruined the turkey, the mashed potatoes could have been turned into a salt lick for horses, and your father was tied up with Christmas lights."
Bella blinked at Jacob dumbfounded. The whole evening had been one epic malfunction after another. Just when she thought one more thing couldn't go wrong, it did.
"Oh, and let's not forget about the free entertainment." She cringed, remembering the intoxicated show put on by two of the pack's senior members. "Did you know your best friend Embry confessed his undying love for me today?"
An amused chuckle escaped Jacob's throat before his hand shot up to his lips. Shoulders shaking with suppressed laughter, he let his hand fall again before throwing Bella an apologetic glance. "Em gets touchy-feely when he's drunk, although I haven't seen him drunk like that since before we first phased. One time, when we were fourteen, he wrote a poem and read it to Jared's cat after the first time we got into Old Quil's moonshine."
Bella felt a grin pull at the corner of her mouth as she snatched up the last plate onto the pile she was holding. "Good thing it was him," she murmured under her breath. "Had it been Paul, I woulda kneed him where it hurt. Remind me next year to keep them away from the egg nog."
Jacob let loose one last chortle as Bella turned around, making her way across the short distance between the table and the garbage can, unceremoniously dropping the stack of plates into it, ridding herself of all evidence of the day's existence.
"Speaking of drunk werewolves," Jake piped up, brushing past her to throw the rag he was using to clean up in the sink. "Want a glass of wine? Something tells me you could use a drink."
"Ugh," Bella groaned, wiping her hands off on her pants before taking the long way around the island to where Jacob had been standing. "Please." With a long, cleansing sigh, she reached for the drain plug, forcing it into the sink before twisting on the hot water for dishes.
Bella took a deep breath as she squirted a bit of dish soap under the streaming faucet, running her fingers through the water to create more bubbles. She listened to Jacob moving around behind her, retrieving a glass from the cupboard before moving to the refrigerator to grab her favorite bottle of white wine.
Lost in the mundane task in front of her, Bella felt him at her back a couple minutes later. She smiled inherently before reaching up and turning off the faucet, the same time Jacob slid the wine glass onto the counter next to her.
"Thanks," she murmured, pulling one hand out of the water and drying it on her pant leg before reaching for the glass.
Jacob shuffled behind her when she brought the glass to her mouth, the amber liquid rushing to meet her lips. She took a sip, her eyes peering over the edge of the glass before centering in on the wine sloshing around in the glass.
But as she did, her vision inadvertently focused on something foreign. Something sitting in the bottom of the glass. Something small and metallic.
Something that definitely did not belong in the bottom of a wine glass.
Sputtering, Bella pulled the glass from her lips, her breath leaving her in a swift and shocked exhale. Blinking, she brought the glass back up to her face, studying the inside of it and locating the object once again. Her eyes widened when the liquid and light reflected off it just right, and in that moment, she almost dropped the glass into the sink.
Taking a step back from the counter, Bella's hand unabashedly dove into the wine glass, the syrupy liquid submerging her fingers as they fished for the object at the bottom of it. She felt it, letting out a victorious cry before pulling her hand back out.
Between her thumb and index finger rested a tiny white gold ring. On top of it was a single, modest emerald-cut diamond.
Bella barely noticed the wine dripping down her forearm as she gaped at the small piece of jewelry, the site of it enough to steal the breath straight from her lungs.
She swallowed, stomach twisting and heart pounding against her ribs. Bella licked her lips, her mouth suddenly dry as she pushed the word out of her mouth, the meaning of it finally clicking in her stunned brain.
Her feet made her move, her body turning around to face the direction she thought she might find him. As soon as she did, her gaze snapped down when she realized Jacob was directly behind her, one knee on the floor and a restrained yet paralyzing smile crossing his features as he looked up at her.
"Oh, my god!" she exclaimed. "Jacob...I...oh, god!" Bella blinked frantically, her gaze sweeping over the kitchen, her heart racing the same time her body exploded into deliriously anxious shivers.
How had she not seen this coming? How had she not noticed? Jacob had always been horrible at keeping secrets.
How had she missed something this big?
"Bells, look at me."
She stopped, taking a deep breath the same time she felt the familiar sting of tears in her eyes. Pulling her bottom lip between her teeth, she looked down at Jacob as he reached up, taking her right hand in his.
"Bella," Jacob murmured, swallowing thickly, trying his hardest to keep the grin from exploding across his face when his other hand appeared, carefully taking the tiny ring from her shaking fingers. "Life isn't always easy, honey...our lives especially. But that's the thing, Bells. Life is full of disasters, some epic, some tiny. Just like today. But the point is none them matter, because at the end of the day, if we're next to each other, we can get past anything. We can get through anything. Vampires, drunk werewolves...and even burnt turkeys."
His onyx eyes pierced through hers, and the edges of his face blurred through the tears she was fighting so hard to hold back. But these tears were different. So different than the ones she shed earlier.
She still wasn't sure how she missed this.
But at that exact moment, it didn't matter. None of it mattered.
And she felt like she might explode if he didn't just ask her.
"So, Bells...marry me. Let's have a hundred more Christmases like this, and maybe someday our kids will tie us up with Christmas lights, too."
A grin swallowed Bella's face as her hand drifted to her mouth, muffling the best kind of sob as it escaped her throat. Laughing, she nodded her head wildly, warmth rushing through her veins and completely banishing the negativity she'd let build there throughout the day.
"Yes," she choked out, as Jacob finally released his own elated smile. "Yes! Of course I'll marry you."
Biting his lip in a failed attempt at reining in his elation, Jacob slid the ring onto the third finger of her left hand, still sticky from the wine coating it. In one lithe movement, he rose to his feet, capturing Bella's mouth in a kiss. A passionate gesture solidifying his question. Finalizing her answer. Marking the first step of two lives starting a new journey.
Pulling away before she was ready, Bella leaned her forehead against his, taking a deep, content breath while her fingers traced the definition of his jawline. She watched Jacob as his upper lip twitched, a thought known only to him passing through his head.
"What?" she murmured, her fingertips ghosting along the stubble peppered across his cheeks.
Jacob let a throaty laugh escape his mouth when he pulled back slightly, his eyes darting buoyantly over her shoulder. "If this is how Christmas turned out, I don't know how the hell we're gonna make it through a wedding."
"Vegas," Bella replied without missing a beat.
"Seriously?" Jacob's wide, surprised eyes snapped back to meet her gaze.
Bella's face scrunched up, contemplating the spontaneous idea. "Maybe...so long as Charlie and Renee are there, and Billy...and the pack too."
Jacob chuckled, reaching up and tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "So a repeat of tonight...only in the desert. With slot machines and strip clubs."
Jacob didn't speak, the smile still attached to his features. He peered down at her and she turned her face, pressing her lips against the palm of his hand.
"I love you, Bells."
"Love you too, Jake."
"Still the worst Christmas ever?" he asked, arching one eyebrow as he watched her.
"Yes," she nodded, her eyes fixed sincerely on his just before she let her own smile spread across her lips. "But I wouldn't have had it any other way."