You all have been so wonderful throughout this little story. Thank you so much. I'm so glad you enjoyed Scroogeward! Your reviews have kept me smiling, and I'm so happy so many people have favorited and alerted this tale. I hope you like the epilogue.

Keep me on author alert if you want to know what I'm cooking up next. I hope everyone has a wonderful New Year.

Chapter 7 – Epilogue

"Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!" I yell.

Shouts of "Santa!" are heard throughout the room as children stop what they're doing and run toward me. I shake my belly a few times and pat a few kids on the head, winking at the two who remain against the wall with the biggest smiles on their faces.

"Have you all been good boys and girls this year?" I ask, looking around at all the eager faces.

I get big smiles, nods and several chants of "yes" from the gathered crowd.

"Well then, have a seat and we'll see what's in my bag for all of you."

As I begin handing out gifts to the children of my employees, I look over to my wife who is giving me her secret smile. She knows how much this holiday means to me, and I almost can't remember the time when I didn't participate in the festivities.

The year after we were engaged was the first year I attended the formal company Christmas party, but I had my wife by my side. We had gotten married that summer in a small ceremony with just my parents and a few close friends in attendance, and then we spent two glorious weeks in a private villa in the Caribbean.

The following year was the first annual family Christmas party, which was in addition to the formal party, not in place of it. The formal party is a way for my employees to let loose and have a little fun with their coworkers. But in my opinion, the family party is where the real magic happens.

That was also the first year that I played Santa, and I've been doing it every year since. Bella had to explain to our kids last year that Daddy "helps" the real Santa by giving out gifts to all the children of my employees.

This year is no different. I hand out something to each child in the room, calling their names individually and making them feel special. It doesn't hurt that I know them all and can find them in the crowd before I call them up. The adults mill about, munching on the cakes and cookies that everyone contributed to the party. No one works today in this office. We have our party in the morning, and then the office officially closes at noon so everyone can spend time with their families on Christmas Eve.

I look to the back of the room again and call the last two names. "Carly and Embry, have you both been good this year?"

They both nod and smile. Bella pats their backs as they head toward me to get their gifts. I get big hugs and kisses on my cheek from my four-year-old twins before they sit down on the floor and open their presents with the rest of the kids.

"Can everyone thank Santa?" Bella calls out from the back of the room. "He has a lot of work to do today so he needs to get going."

The children all shout their thanks, so I give another "ho, ho, ho!" as I leave the room with my empty sack.

Bella comes to my office to help me change out of the costume and put it away neatly for next year. "Nice work, Santa," she says, closing the door behind her. She pulls down my beard and kisses me soundly.

"Thanks, baby. Maybe next year I should come into your classroom and play Santa."

"Somehow I don't think the teenagers will appreciate it as much."

She just went back to work in September when the twins entered preschool. Before we had kids, Bella and I decided that we didn't want a nanny raising our children, so she stayed home with them for the first few years. I know she enjoyed that time, but she's also happy to be back to doing what she loves, teaching high school English.

"You up for a little more Santa work tonight?" she asks once I'm back in my jeans and button down dress shirt.

"Absolutely. That's the best part. I love seeing their faces when they come down on Christmas morning and find all the gifts under the tree."

"Do you think they'll like the big present?"

"They're gonna go nuts, babe. Stop worrying about it. Mom and Dad promised they'd be over by six, so it'll be there before they get up."

"I can't wait."

We watch Christmas movies and eat cookies with the kids before finally wrangling them into bed for the night. Then Bella and I get to work. We pull all the presents from the storage space and arrange them under the tree, fill the stockings, and eventually eat Santa's cookies while we drink eggnog in front of the fire.

As the clock strikes midnight, I lean over and kiss my beautiful wife. "Merry Christmas, sweetheart."

"Merry Christmas." We snuggle in front of the fire for a little longer before trudging up the stairs to get a few hours of sleep.

My parents arrive right on time on Christmas morning, greeting us with hugs and kisses.

"Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad," Bella says as they enter. I love that she's grown so close to them over the years, and they now stand in as surrogate parents for her. My own relationship with my parents has finally grown as well. Now that my father is retired, he loves to spend his time spoiling his grandchildren in ways he never spoiled Emmett and me when we were growing up.

Instead of being bitter about what I missed as a child, I choose to revel in the close family bond we now share. We even started a new tradition of lighting a candle on Christmas day in memory of Emmett. We take a moment to remember him, and then we celebrate all the wonderful things we still have in our lives.

Bella does her best to keep the last gift—the one that arrived with my parents—quiet, but it's a losing battle. All too soon we hear two sets of footsteps running through the hall upstairs and then stomping down the steps.

"Mommy, Daddy, did Santa come?" Carly asks before she even enters the room.

"What's that noise?" Embry yells.

They both stop short, skidding in their socks on the hardwood floor, when they see what waits for them in the living room.

"A puppy!"

"We got a puppy!"

They surround Bella and the little golden retriever with a bow on his neck. The dog whips his head from side to side before licking Embry's face. He laughs while Carly pats the dog's head, causing it to turn around and start cleaning her face.

"Are you two going to greet Grandma and Grandpa?" I ask.

"Oh, let them be," Mom says. "We're not going anywhere."

We eventually get around to opening the rest of the gifts and, more importantly, naming the dog. The kids decide on Kringle, and we all agree it fits the occasion.

The kids finally pass out for an early nap, which leaves Bella and my mom time to make dinner. My father and I sip scotch while we sit in the living room.

"You've done good here, Son," he says as he looks around the room. It's fully decorated, just like the rest of the house, but also contains tons of family pictures hanging on the walls. There are several from my childhood and Bella's, but the majority are of our kids, many of them including my parents as well.

I nod in agreement. "It's certainly not what I expected for my life ten years ago," I admit. "But now I can't imagine things any different. And I'm glad you and Mom are here to share it."

He takes a sip of his drink and sighs. "I know we weren't around much when you were young, but I'm glad we can be here now too."

Before we sit down to eat dinner, we light Emmett's candle. It burns brightly in the middle of the table as we pass food around and help the kids with their meals. The room is loud with the children's laughter, everyone talking and Kringle barking as he looks for scraps of food.

I put my arm around Bella and pull her close, kissing her temple. "Merry Christmas, baby."

"Merry Christmas. I love you."

I give her a wink and a smile, and then we rejoin the fun.