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A Devil’s Angels Christmas

Updated: Jan 18, 2023



Late evening, December 23rd

“Are you sure nobody’s here tonight?” Lucy asks in a hushed whisper.

“Positive. Everyone’s at someone else’s house or home tonight. Only one here is James and he’s at the main gate,” I answer while switching hands on the wagon handle.

“How do you know?” Lucy questions.

“People talk, I listen,” I answer simply as we slip through the main door of the clubhouse.

“I need to remember that,” mumbles Lucy as she reaches for the light switch.

“No lights!” I whisper shout at her while batting her hand away from the switch.

“Damn! I mean dang! I …,” Lucy half shouts.

“Woman, take a deep breath and calm yourself. We’re not breaking the law, you know,” I say cutting her off before I give a small snort.

I have no idea why she’s so nervous. Yeah, we’re sneaking around like a couple of creepers but it’s for good, not bad. Maybe I should have asked Tessie to help tonight instead. She wouldn’t have been nervous at all but there’s a good chance she would’ve made the clubhouse a drive-thru if she drove here. Also, I’m far from being stupid enough to ride with her. I leave those dim-witted decisions to the others in the club.

“I’ll grab the other stuff if you want to start unloading things from the wagon,” I say to Lucy while handing her a small flashlight.

“Okay.”

After making several trips in and out the door, I make my way to Lucy’s side. I brought a few small camping lanterns to set up around the room to give us enough light to see but not enough light to be seen. Other than the small beam of light in Lucy’s hand, the room is completely black. I set the lanterns on the bar and turn to Lucy.

Before I speak a single word, a deep, throaty voice, rumbles very near to my ear, “I see dead people.”

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that Lucy’s wasn’t the only girlie screech that was heard in the clubhouse in that moment. We were loud and our tones matched perfectly. Instinctively, I swing a fist at the voice as I push my body against Lucy’s in an effort to get between her and the unknown intruder. My fist makes contact but not with a human body. Even more confusing, I hear a squawk instead of a curse.

“What the fuck?” moans the voice.

Lucy aims the flashlight toward the voice, and I see Mac, laying on his back, feet in the air.

“What the hell, Mac? Why are you here, by yourself, in the dark?” I bark at him in a relieved voice. Relieved that it was only Mac and not some homicidal maniac.

“Why you hit me?” he asks while dramatically placing a wing over his face.

“You scared the shit out of me, you whack job!” I shout.

“You okay, Mac?” Lucy asks while carefully setting him back on his feet.

“My poor face,” Mac replies in a mournful voice.

“You’ll be fine. You’re still a hottie, Mac,” Lucy says encouragingly.

“Mac? Why are you here?” I repeat while willing my heart rate to return to normal. I’m way too young to have my headstone read, “Heart Failure Brought On By A Demented Bird.”

“Axel,” he answers knowing that explains everything in a single word.

“Ava’s going to lose her shit on him this time,” Lucy says on a sigh.

“Lucy can take you home when we’re done but you’re going to have to keep your beak shut about why we’re here,” I inform Mac. “It’s a secret.”

“Okay,” Mac easily agrees but before I can take a relieved breath he continues. “For cashews.”

“Blackmail, Mac? Really?” I ask in a disgusted tone. The tone is on purpose but I’m actually impressed. It’s the perfect blackmail moment and he’s going for it. I probably would have too.

“Yup.”

“I’ll set him up with a bowl of them so we can get to work,” Lucy says in a voice that indicates she knows when we’ve been beat.

With Mac recuperating on the bar, eating cashews and shouting out his opinions, Lucy and I get down to work. After cleaning up our mess, including the few that occurred for no earthly reason other than Lucy’s presence, we slip outside of the clubhouse and go our separate ways.

~~ ** ~~ ** ~~ * ~~ ** ~~ ** ~~ * ~~ ** ~~ ** ~~

December 24th

“Ava’s looking for you,” Gunner says to Axel with a huge smile.

“Mommy told us to tell you goodbye, Uncle Axel,” Mia adds.

“And to tell you we love you,” Zoe states with a grin.

“Complete accident. I told you that, Gunner. Did you explain that to your rabid wife?” Axel asks in a falsely innocent voice.

“Happens once, it can be an accident. Five times? Nope, you’re a dead man. I saw your sister googling maps this morning. Probably looking for burial sites,” Gunner explains while his smile takes on a sinister twist.

“Love you, Uncle Axel. Come on, Alexia. Let’s go play with Snots,” Mia states while hopping off her dad’s leg and taking little Alex by the hand.

I finish my juice and stand to leave. My work here is done. I came over to Gunner’s just to make sure Mac has stayed quiet about our secret and it appears he has. Several of the guys are hanging out here while waiting for the club dinner Ava and the women are cooking so it was the perfect reason for me to pop in.

“See ya later,” I say to the room while signing the same to Luke as I make my way outside.

Once there, I mount my bike and start it up. I love the sound of a bike, so I sit for a couple of minutes enjoying it. Normally, during this time of year, riding a bike at Christmas can’t happen because of the snow but the roads are bare today so I’m taking advantage. I strap on my helmet, pull down my goggles and roar off.

It was decided that, as a club, we’d have our Christmas dinner and exchange club gifts tonight in the clubhouse. On Christmas Day, everyone can spend the morning with their kids or grandkids, then do whatever they choose for the holiday. For the guys who don’t have family they have choices to make because they’ve been invited to everyone’s homes. If they’re wanting a break from excited children, there will be the leftovers from tonight’s dinner available to them and the peace of a quiet clubhouse.

As I’m cruising along on my bike, I pass a smiling Ava. She’s been cooking at the clubhouse and I know she’s seen Lucy and my handiwork. She’s now headed toward her home and where Axel thinks he’s safe. I snicker because I know the wrath of Ava is about to unleash itself on Axel. I’m tempted to return for the fireworks but I have things to do before dinner.

I stop my bike beside the gatehouse and dismount. Walking into the little building, I find James starring at his phone.

“Hey James. Is your mom coming for dinner tonight?” I ask while taking a seat.

“Hi. Yeah, her, my sisters and youngest brother will be here,” he answers before looking at me and tucking his phone in a pocket. “Why?”

“Just wondering if she was bringing the potato dish she brought to the picnic. It’ll be nice to see your family again, too. You have good family,” I answer while meaning every word.

“Yeah, I do. Thanks though,” James answers with a genuine smile.

“Your boyfriend coming?”

“No! Uh, I mean no, he’s not. We haven’t dated long enough to introduce him to all this crazy, you know what I mean?” James questions.

“Yeah, I get that. No sense in scaring him off until you decide if you want us to do that for you. Again,” I say on a laugh. “I’ve got to go. Just wanted to stop and ask about your family. See you in a few hours.”

I give James a fist bump on my way out the door. Straddling my bike, I head for Pooh’s. Walking in the door, I scoop up Bart. Setting him on the counter, I search the fridge for a snack for both of us. The house is quiet, even after I shout out Pooh’s name, so I know he must be at Gunner’s now. Bart and I share our snack and I take him out the back door so he can run around for a bit.

As we’re entering the woods, I freeze at a loud scream, then slide silently behind a tree. I try to determine where the sound came from, but I don’t have to wait long to know. I hear Axel before I see him as he makes loud whining sounds while crashing through the lawns of his friends and family. Christmas decorations are knocked over and a string of lights are wrapped around one of his legs. I see his white t-shirt, stained in red, and my blood freezes. Before I can get unstuck and rush to his side, I see the barrel of a rifle, sticking out from behind a tree, aimed his direction.

“Ax! Get down!” I shout as my feet finally catch up to my brain and start moving.

At my voice, Axel slows and turns toward me, surprise on his face. He should have listened to me instead. I hear a “pop”, Axel bellow and more red appears on his shirt. At the same time, I see Loki heading toward Axel at a dead run. I break into a sprint but I’m no match for Loki’s speed.

Axel’s eyes go wide a second before Loki hits him square in the chest. Axel hits the ground hard and Loki places his very unsmiling dog face in Axel’s. I slow, hold my hand out in a placating manner and approach. Loki’s eyes flick up to mine and his tail gives a half wag. Relief that he’s not going to take me out next washes over me as I carefully place a hand on his head. Dropping to my knees, I look down at Axel to assess the damage.

“Dying,” gasps Axel while not moving anything but his mouth.

“Step away so I can end everyone’s misery,” states Ava as she comes to a stop next to us.

“Save yourself, man,” Axel croaks out while sounding like getting air into his lungs is more important than the threat of the big dog on top of him.

Looking up in confusion, I note the rifle in Ava’s hands. I also note the glee shining in her eyes as she stares down at her brother.

“It’s a paintball gun!” I shout as realization dawns on me. “You shot him with a paintball gun! Holy fuck balls, I thought he was actually shot! Jesus H. Christ woman! You just took years off my life!” I roar as my fear for Axel slowly drains away.

Standing on somewhat shaky legs, I swipe my hand through my hair.

“Sorry about that,” Ava says sincerely but says it without removing the rifle barrel from being pointed at Axel’s stomach it should be noted.

“I’m getting too old for this shit,” I mumble as I turn to leave.

“Wait! Don’t leave me here with her!” Axel begs.

“Sorry, dude, you’re on your own. Good luck though. Good shooting, Ava. You’ve improved a lot,” I reply with a grin.

As I’m walking off holding Bart, I look toward the road and see several large men, cameras out, laughing their asses off. I toss a chin lift their direction and continue on my way. As I’m walking along, I start laughing to myself. I live in a crazy world, surrounded by people who not only live their lives as they chose to, but do so enjoying every minute of it. I wouldn’t want it any other way either.

~~ ** ~~ ** ~~ * ~~ ** ~~ ** ~~ * ~~ ** ~~ ** ~~

Hours later, I find myself walking down the street, heading to the clubhouse. I’m surrounded by all the people I love most in this world. Lucy is on one side of me, Luke on the other. In front of us are Pigeon, Horse Nuts, Rex, and Reeves. Behind us is everyone else. Other than a few of the women that are already at the clubhouse, the entire club and their families are walking in a large group. There’s the usual joking and horsing around, little girls wanting their daddies to carry them, and pets trailing the mass of people.

I hustle forward, open and hold the door for the group to enter. I hear the gasps and squeals of delight from the little girls and grin. Following them in, I watch their faces light up with joy. Totally worth all the work that went into decorating the humongous main room and bar.

I notice the women that were here to cook all crowded in the doorway to the kitchen. Smiling, soft faces aimed at the kids and their reactions.

Not one, but two Christmas trees stand in opposite corners. They’re both fully decorated and beautiful, wrapped presents stacked under and around each tree. Along one wall, stockings with names are hung and bulging. Lights twinkle in every direction and greenery decorates the stairs and bar. Over-sized Christmas ornaments hang from the ceiling and mistletoe from the ceiling fan.

A motor can be heard, then a soft whistle. A train comes out from behind a tree making its way along the tracks to figure 8 around the other tree and returning the way it had come. With several cars attached, it comes with no surprise, that Duffy has found one to his liking. Laughs can be heard as the train chugs past with the fat, temperamental cat sleeping on top of one.

I listen to the oohhh’s and aahhh’s of little voices when a snow machine starts tossing “snow” in the air in a corner with a sign reading “The North Pole”. That corner of the room now looks like it belongs in a snow globe. Next to that, are several elves moving about as if building toys. There are reindeer, sparkling with their tiny, white lights, standing near Santa’s workshop as if overseeing the elves. Each table has a small, lighted snowman as its centerpiece. Each chair back is draped with a red bow. The entire room looks like a Christmas card.

Looking around the room, I feel a rush of pride at what Lucy and I accomplished. That feeling doubles when I see the look of wonder and awe on Luke’s face. Because he’s been adjusting to his new life so well it’s easy to forget that this is probably not a normal Christmas for him. I approach him and tap his shoulder to gain his attention. When he looks my way, I begin pointing to things and signing explanations of everything. Leading him to a string of lighted bells, I try to explain that they are chiming out Christmas carols while blinking to the beat. I’m not sure how much he understands since we’re all still learning ASL, but I try. After a few minutes, I decide to try something else. Getting his attention, I stomp my foot in beat with the chimes and flashing lights of the bells. I can tell he’s confused but realization dawns when the twins each grab one of his hands and do the same as me. It’s not long and we’re all stomping our feet to the beat of Jingle Bells. Luke’s grin and the twins’ giggles make my holiday even brighter.

“Holy shit,” Rex mumbles. “This is incredible. Ladies, you’ve outdone yourselves.”

“It wasn’t us,” Bailey answers. “It looked like this when Ava and I showed up this morning.”

“Seriously?” questions Pooh.

“Everything was dark when we came in the through the kitchen door. A little while after we got here, lights came on and the train started running. Bailey and I walked in here to see what was going on and found it like this,” Ava states.

“Who decorated then?” Axel asks as he turns slowly to view everything.

“No idea. Anyone want to answer that?” Gunner says absently while looking at his office door that was now wrapped like a gift.

“I know nothing,” Mac shouts, gaining everyone’s attention.

I hold my breath hoping Mac remembers how many cashews he enjoyed last night.

“You must know something, Mac. You were here,” Trudy insists.

“Nope,” he answers, and I breathe out in relief.

“You love tattling, Mac, so spill it,” Axel orders.

“Does it really matter? It’s done and it’s fucking perfect. We’re all together and have a great meal to enjoy. It’s Christmas so let’s just assume Santa took some extra time here last night,” Petey tosses out.

“I thought Santa was coming tonight?” questions Mia.

“He came early this year. We have so many good boys and girls that he had to make a special trip,” Taja explains.

Heads nod and people start milling around to view everything up close. Crisis averted.

~~ ** ~~ ** ~~ * ~~ ** ~~ ** ~~ * ~~ ** ~~ ** ~~

My stomach rumbles when the ladies start serving dinner. Trigger, Gunner, and Vex jump up to help carry the larger platters and it’s not long before everyone is filling their plates.

Looking around the room, my heart softens at the people I’m sharing this time with. Family, regardless of blood ties. We’re “related” by blood, adoption, marriage, brotherhood, friendship, but most important, choice. Nobody is better than the other, nobody less important. Loyalty is required but also freely given. Same with respect. Kids and pets are as much a part of this group as the adults and a lot of the time, more so. Every child in this room knows they can go to any adult for help, a cuddle or answers.

I watch as Liam, Cash and Livi’s little boy, stuffs too big a piece of ham in his mouth. Before Cash or I can reach out to him, Terry, Lars’ health care worker, does. He extricates most of the ham while getting his fingers chomped on. Everyone laughs at Terry’s gasp of pain because we’re kind of mean that way. Terry flips off the room but then immediately drops a light kiss on Liam’s blond head.

“Kid eats like Chubs. He keeps growing the rate he is, only Cash will be able to lift his chubby baby body,” Terry grouses.

“He has a good appetite like his grandpa,” Lars states.

“And I’ve had to start lifting weights to build muscle because of your appetite! I don’t want muscles! I’m slim, trim and fabulous just as I am!” Terry whines loudly.

This is an old argument, so I continue letting my eyes wander the room. Spotting Snots and Gee, side by side, I bark out a laugh. Pig and dog have become best friends and are eating together. Both are wearing ugly Christmas sweaters that, I’m guessing, Pooh dressed them in. Gee is also wearing muck boots with candy canes on them that clash horribly with the sweater. He doesn’t seem to mind so I move on.

I note that Loki is still keeping his distance from Bart the skunk. Bart has never sprayed anything but apparently Loki’s still not taking any chances. Snots does the same thing with Lucy. If he sees her looking at him, he slowly backs away and finds cover. With the way strange things always happen around Lucy, maybe Snots is just smarter than the rest of us.

“Anyone ready for dessert yet?” Ava asks the room.

A chorus of no’s and not yet answer her question as chairs are slid back from tables. Groans of over-indulgence are loud and I’m sure I hear a few belt buckles being released. This is a frequent occurrence when the ladies get busy in the kitchen but especially when James’ mom brings her specialty dishes.

“Time to open gifts then!” shouts Axel as excited as a 4-year-old child.

“Time to put away the food and clean up first,” insists Ava while shooting a look at her brother.

I watch as Axel’s head drops low and laugh outright when I find out why.

“You promised,” Ava says with a smirk.

“I promised under duress! You were pointing a gun at my dangly parts!” Axel hollers.

“You made a promise and you’re going to honor it,” Petey puts in.

“You sure you want to insist on that, Pops?” Axel replies.

“Yes. You made a promise to your sister that you’d clean up after dinner since the women did the cooking. Get to it,” Petey says in a no-nonsense voice.

“Yep, I did. I also promised that ALL the men would help do that,” Axel answers with an evil grin.

“Can I call for a vote for a new VP?” Pigeon shouts.

“It’s only fair that the ladies get to sit back for a while. Let’s get this done, guys. Since Axel was the one in trouble and made this promise, he can be the one who gets the dishpan hands though,” Trigger adds his opinion.

“Agreed,” several of the guys say at once.

While harassing Axel to no end, the tables and kitchen get cleaned and the ladies get a break to enjoy the day too.

~~ ** ~~ ** ~~ * ~~ ** ~~ ** ~~ * ~~ ** ~~ ** ~~

“Who’s going to play Santa and hand out the gifts?” asks Tessie.

“Gunner should do it. He’s the Prez,” answers Horse Nuts.

Gunner stands and walks to the long line of stockings. Taking down several, he hands them to the people whose names are on them. He continues until all the stockings and gifts are handed out then takes a seat between his twins.

“All of mine are from Santa,” states Pigeon. “Obviously I’ve been a good boy this year.”

“Santa’s being nice or you wouldn’t have shit sitting in front of you,” argues Pooh.

“Can I open mine now, Daddy?” Zoe asks.

“Yes, Princess, you can. Everyone can,” Gunner responds with a large hand softly cupping his daughters head.

The sound of tearing paper is all that can be heard for a few moments. Then excited murmurs and happy screeches fill the air.

I open my gifts and act excited and surprised even though I had helped wrap them a few days ago. My gifts aren’t what’s important to me though. The looks on everyone’s faces are all that really matter today.

When I had asked some questions about Christmas, Lucy was quick to explain that the best gift to receive was to give another person joy. She explained that her family always spent the holidays giving back to those less fortunate and she’d learned those lessons as a very young girl. She went on to say that knowing they helped serve a hot meal or provided a warm coat to someone in need made Christmas more special than receiving a gift. Her family had a strict rule that their gifts to each other weren’t to be something expensive but something meaningful for that person. She said her dad always insisted that Christmas wasn’t about spoiling your children with things they didn’t really need but should always be about giving joy or love. I liked what she said and asked if she’d help me make today special for our family. She agreed and we got to work.

Nobody’s gifts were the latest cell phone or expensive perfume, but rather small items that we felt would be meaningful to that person. For Pigeon, he received two custom guitar picks with the Devil’s Angels patch inlaid in them, a set of guitar strings and some Lindor Chocolates that we know he’s addicted to. Watching him when he opened his items, I saw his surprise and the look he tossed toward Horse Nuts. Yeah Pigeon, some of us know you play the guitar but keep that a secret. Why it’s a secret, I have no idea, but it looks like he thinks Horse spilled the beans. That’s fine by me. Let Horse take the blame and I’ll just enjoy the chaos it’s going to cause.

Trigger grinned huge when he saw his fishing lures and box of chocolate covered cherries. Bailey squealed like a small girl when she opened her gifts and found drawing supplies. Her eyes teared up though when she saw the small business card included. The card has Bailey’s Art and a website listed on it. It’s set up and ready for her whenever she gets ready to share her art with the world. It’s just a gentle nudge that I think she needs to realize she’s good enough of an artist to show off her art.

Axel shouts loudly as he jumps to his feet and holds up his coffee mug and t-shirt. World’s Best Daddy is printed on them, and I knew he’d love them.

“About damn time someone acknowledges this fact! Santa is wise,” he informs the room.

“He’s never going to take that shirt off,” Cash mutters knowingly.

“Nope and we’re going to have to listen to him crow about this for-fucking-ever,” Pooh adds.

“Might as well show us what’s in your stocking too, Axel, so we can move on to the rest of us,” Reeves says with a sigh.

Axel grins as he turns his stocking upside down over a table and we all watch as several pieces of coal fall out of it. The room roars in laughter as Axel’s smile turns to a scowl.

“What the hell?” he asks as he picks up a piece of coal.

“Yep, Santa is wise,” laughs Vex while earning a dark look from Axel.

“You da best, Daddy,” says Alexia as she wraps her arms around her dad’s leg.

Axel stoops, picks up his daughter and cuddles her close.

“You’re all I need for this to be a great Christmas,” Axel murmurs into her hair. “Love you, Bug.”

“Wuv you, Daddy,” little Alex answers.

“This isn’t funny,” Tessie says with a sniff.

“What isn’t?” Taja asks.

Tessie holds up her unwrapped gift. It’s a helmet that looks just like the ones they put on the crash test dummies. This one, though, has Tessie’s name spelled out on it in bright orange.

“So not funny,” mumbles Tessie but her mouth is twitching and I’m pretty sure she’s fighting a smile.

“Santa’s sleigh is about the only thing you haven’t crashed into yet, Tessie. Apparently, he’s worried about your safety,” states Freddy. It should be noted that it took a while to say because he kept breaking into laughter.

“Cashews! Score!” screeches Mac while stretching out his wings to their maximum span.

“Good for you, Mac. What else did you get?” asks Bella.

“Goggles,” he answers.

“Goggles? For what?” asks Horse.

“For flying or riding a bike. They’ll help protect his eyes. Right, Mac?” Lucy asks.

“Needed them last night,” mumbles Mac and I turn my head away and fight my laughter.

“I’ll put them on you,” Bella offers while approaching Mac.

Once the goggles are on, Mac struts up and down the bar, showing them off. He gets the attention he craves when everyone claps and encourages him.

“Holy crap!” exclaims James.

“You got one too?” questions Livi with a huge smile.

“Got what?” asks Tammy.

“Guardian Angel lights,” answers Livi while holding up a small black device with red, blue and white lights on it.

“What’s that?” James’ mom inquires while looking at the one in James’ hand.

“They’re small light bars that are worn on your shoulder while at work. They have a strong flashlight for the officer’s visibility and a light bar on the backside to make you visible to oncoming traffic. The flashlight makes it possible for us to have our hands free when needed. They’re safety devices that every cop wants but few departments spend the money for,” answers James in a soft voice.

“We’ve wanted these for so long,” Livi adds.

These were the most expensive gifts we bought but Lucy and I felt they were the most important. Nobody here wants to lose Livi or James for any reason, but especially if something as simple as this gift can help prevent it from happening. Knowing we did something to help ensure their safety leaves a warm feeling in my chest.

“Livi, why didn’t you tell me about these? I’d have bought you both one,” grumbles Cash.

“They’re expensive, honey. James and I were saving up for them but now we don’t have to,” Livi answers.

“Whatever money you have saved for them, I’ll add whatever more you need to buy two more of them,” Trigger says firmly.

“Trigger, honey, you don’t have to do that. We’re covered now,” Livi returns.

“And you have two female cops you work with that both of you are close with, correct?” Trigger asks.

“Yeah, we do and I’m happy to use what I’ve saved to outfit them with Guardian Angels too,” answers Livi, knowing where Trigger was going with his question. Walking to him, Livi leans down and drops a soft kiss on his cheek.

“Me too and thanks, Trigger,” James says with feeling.

I look to Lucy to see her eyes are on me. With a look, I know we’re both feeling the same thing. We gave a gift from our heart to help protect ones we love. That small gesture just became bigger than we expected, and it feels awesome. I’m loving Christmas more than I ever thought possible now that I understand that true joy comes from giving, not receiving. I’ll never be able to repay Lucy for teaching me this very important life lesson.

I watch as the Aunts show off their slippers and James’ mom exclaim happily over her new dutch oven. The kids are on the floor playing with their gifts and the pets are munching on the treats that were in their stockings.

I’m keeping an eye on Gunner though because I know his gift is earth shattering. This was the only gift that Lucy got permission to share ahead of time. Ava was sworn to secrecy but only knows of Lucy’s involvement in all this Christmas stuff. I had overheard a conversation, mentioned it to Lucy and she took it from there. With Ava’s blessing, Gunner is about to get the gift of a lifetime.

I’m starting to get impatient with waiting on him to open his gift. Gunner had set it aside to help Mia open some packaging and hasn’t gone back to it yet. He’s obviously enjoying himself by watching his girls and Luke having a good time. Just as I was thinking up a way to get him to open it, Vex and Taja stand and ask for everyone’s attention. When the room goes quiet, Vex lets loose one of his panty-melting smiles (the women’s term for it, not mine) and shocks the room.

“We’re pregnant!” Vex bellows while pulling a smiling Taja to his side.

The room stays deathly silent for a few beats before it erupts in shouts. Everyone is on their feet and rushing the couple to give out hugs and backslaps of congratulations. A loud piercing whistle stops the noise instantly.

“Why am I just finding this out?” hollers Tessie, hands planted on her hips.

“Merry Christmas, Aunt Tessie,” Taja says softly as she walks to her little sister.

“You are in big trouble, Vex! You didn’t even ask for my permission,” Tessie states looking over Taja’s shoulder at her brother-in-law.

“Wasn’t in your list of rules, Tessie. And you’re welcome,” Vex says with a smug smile.

Tessie’s eyes narrow on Vex for a moment before turning to her sister. Her face instantly crumbles, and she throws her arms around Taja. The sisters rock back and forth, holding onto each other, their love and tears clearly visible.

“Love you, Sis. I’m going to rock this aunt shit,” Tessie states emphatically.

“Love you too and I know you will. Nobody I’d rather have as an aunt to my child,” Taja says through her tears.

“Don’t I get any love?” Vex taunts.

Tessie pulls back from her sister, glides a gentle hand across Taja’s cheek before walking slowly toward Vex.

“Nut punch on deck,” Mac shouts.

Tessie walks up close to Vex before throwing her arms around his middle and burying her cheek in his chest. Vex closes his arms around her and drops his chin to the top of her blond head.

“Love you, big brother. Love you for putting a smile on my sister’s face every single day and for giving her the life she’s always deserved. Love you for putting up with me and my less than stellar driving abilities. I know this baby will always have your love, just like Taja and I do. You’ll be taking Axel’s title away from him for sure. Love you for everything you do for us but mostly because of the kind of man you are. We’re the lucky ones because we have you in our lives.”

“Jesus, Tess. Love you too, girl,” Vex mutters in a strained voice.

Vex might be trying to hold back tears but many in the room didn’t hide theirs at all. Smiling through them, the congratulations start anew.

During them, I glance toward Lucy and see Ava whispering in her ear. Without having to hear the whole conversation, I know what Ava’s saying. I slip quietly through the room until I reach Gunner’s gift. When no one is paying attention, I slide it in the back of my jeans and make my way to the kitchen. I wait, knowing Lucy will show.

“Ava doesn’t want …,” Lucy starts to say when she arrives, but I cut her off.

“I know and I get it. Here’s the gift back,” I say while handing it to her.

I put a piece of pie on a small, paper plate and make my way back to the main room. Taking a seat at an empty table, I start to eat while only half listening to the conversations going on around the room.

I look up when Petey takes the seat next to me. I start to greet him but he speaks before I can.

“You and Lucy did good. Real good. How you two accomplished all this without anyone knowing though is beyond me. Care to share?” Petey says in a low voice.

“Uh, I don’t know what …,” I start to say before Petey waves his hand between us.

“Don’t bother denying it. I know all of this was you and Lucy. Love it as does everyone else here. I’m not going to out you two, I’m just curious as to why the secrecy.”

“Just wanted to do something nice for the people we love. Let the little kids believe Santa does exist and came all the way here to leave something for them. Christmas is about giving joy and not about receiving something for doing it,” I answer quietly while watching Petey’s face closely.

I was hoping he’d understand because I didn’t know how else to explain it. I should have known better than to worry though because Petey always seems to understand everything. He sits quietly for a minute, mulling over what I’d said, before proving I was right about him.

“I get it. I’m proud as hell to know people like you and Lucy. Two of the best people I know and next year, I’m your first call to make this happen again. Yeah?” he asks in his low rumble.

“Yeah, Petey, that’d be great. Thank you,” I reply with a grin.

“This business with you sneaking off with Gunner’s gift. Want to explain that?”

“Nope,” I answer in a serious tone.

“Right. Okay, then I’ll speak with Ava and tell her how proud I am that neither she, you nor Lucy wanted to infringe on Vex and Taja’s big moment by announcing her own pregnancy. I’m guessing Gunner’s gift was the pregnancy test and now she’s going to wait for a private moment to tell him. Am I correct on that?” Petey persists now smiling knowingly.

“Holy fuck, Petey! You a mind reader?” I exclaim.

“No, I’m just an old man who watches people as close as you listen to them. As I said, secret is safe with me. Just wanted to tell you thanks for making so many people’s holiday a lot brighter this year. Wish more people understood the true meaning of this holiday like you do. Proud of you, Craig. Merry Christmas, young man.

The End


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