“I promise,” he says. “Can we take it out now?”
“Let’s finish up with presents and while we cook dinner, maybe your dad and your uncles can take you out for a ride,” Mom suggests.
“Okay!” Seth hugs me hard again. “Thanks, Dad. It’s the best present ever.”
“You’re welcome, buddy.” I kiss his head and we all file back into the house. After shedding boots and coats, we settle back in the family room to open the rest of the gifts. I pull Jilly back in my lap and settle in to watch her.
“Open this,” she murmurs softly. Everyone else is opening gifts from each other, gasping and laughing and hugging. “This is from me.”
“You didn’t have to get me anything, sugar.”
“Of course I did,” she argues with a frown. “It’s Christmas.”
I chuckle and open the large box, and then my heart stills when I see what’s inside. It’s a picture frame with a two-photo mat.
On the left is a photo of me and Seth when Seth was just a tiny baby, maybe a week old. I’m holding him against my chest and my lips are planted on his tiny head.
“God, I look young in this photo,” I murmur.
“You were young in that photo,” Jill says.
The photo on the right is of Seth and me and Thor, playing and laughing in the snow. Jill was standing over us and we were all smiling up at the camera. Even Thor looks like he has a big grin on his dopey face.
“I took that the day we went snowmobiling,” she says.
I nod and look into her eyes. “Thank you. It’s perfect.”
“Your mom helped,” she says shyly and smiles over at my mom, who is, of course, watching us raptly.
“I love it.” I kiss her lips chastely then reach down at the side of the chair and lift her gift into her lap. “This is for you.”
She smiles in excitement and tears the paper away then pauses with her jaw dropped as her eyes take in every inch of the framed photo before her.
“He’s a local artist,” I begin. “This was taken in Glacier National Park last year.”
The photo is of the mountains during winter, with a lake cradled between them, and lighting up the sky are the northern lights, spreading across the sky in streaks of green and blue, just like the ones we saw a few weeks ago out in the pasture.
“It’s so beautiful.” Her eyes fill with tears and she turns her face into my chest.
“Hey, it’s okay, sugar. It’s just a photo.”
“I’m hormonal,” she mutters, but leans up to whisper in my ear, “but this was the moment, Zack. Our special moment. And I’ll treasure this forever.”
I hug her tight and kiss her temple, and I want to tell her how much I love her. It’s Christmas, and God knows I’m so in love with her I can barely breathe. But just as I’m about to whisper in her ear, Cara comes running over to us with a squeal to hug Jill and thank her for the earrings Jill gave her.
“You’re welcome,” Jill says brightly. “They reminded me of you.”
“You went nuts this year, girl,” Cara says as she rejoins Josh.
“I couldn’t help it,” Jill replies. “I had the best time shopping for Seth.” She winks down at him and then focuses on Cara again. “You two need to start having babies so I can spoil them rotten.”
Ty and Lo suddenly share a glance and it’s not missed by Jill.
“What’s up with you two?” Jill demands.
“Well, we weren’t going to tell yet, because it’s still pretty early, but we just found out the day before yesterday that . . .” Lo clears her throat and glances up at Ty.
“We’re gonna have a baby,” Ty finishes with a proud smile.
“Oh my God,” Jill breathes. “Honest?”
Ty nods and then looks at Jill with uncertainty, but she jumps up off my lap and he stands just in time to catch her midair. “Oh my God!” she yells.
“Are you okay?” Ty asks.
“Why in the hell wouldn’t I be okay?” she demands and hugs him tightly around the neck. “You’re having a baby!”
“I think I’m the one who gets to actually have it,” Lo says.
“I’m so excited.” Jill hugs Lo tightly too, then pulls her brother back into her arms. “This is the best Christmas ever.”
“Ty,” she says and wipes the tears off her face. Fuck, she’s crying again. I can’t stand it when she cries. “You deserve a dozen babies, if that’s what you want.”
“So do you,” he replies softly and my heart trembles. Jill can’t have babies.
“Stop it,” Jill insists. “I couldn’t be happier for you.”
Cara leaps to her feet and hugs Lo close to her and suddenly the room is a flurry of activity of hugs and well-wishes.
“I’m happy for you, man,” I say to Ty as I shake his hand and pull him in for a hug. “You’re going to be a hell of a father.”
“I have a good teacher,” he replies, and if I’m not mistaken, his eyes mist over as he looks from me to my dad. “You and Jeff have taught me everything I know about being a dad, man. I’m terrified, but knowing I have you guys makes it a little easier.”
“You won’t need us,” I assure him, but then pull him in for another hug. “But I’m happy to help out in any way I can.”
“Thanks.” He looks a bit shell-shocked, and I can’t blame him. Being a father may be the best thing that’s ever happened to me, but it’s scary as hell too.
“There’s going to be a new baby around here to snuggle,” Mom exclaims excitedly. “If you need me to, I’ll come stay with you after he or she arrives to help out.”
Lauren’s jaw drops and her eyes water as she stares at my mom. “You would do that?”
“Of course. You’re our family.” She hugs Lo close and then pats her cheeks, in that way she does with those of us she loves. “This baby is our family too. I’m happy to help.”
“I might take you up on that,” Lo admits and smiles shyly. “I don’t know what in the hell I’m doing.”
“I get to help too!” Jill exclaims.
“And me,” Cara adds. “This baby won’t be lacking for women to love on it.”
“Thank you, everyone,” Ty says and hugs his sister again. “Thanks for including us in your family.”