The Only Gift
Disclaimer: The Only Gift is © copyright *NSYNC. Yes, I used a song by a boy band…after writing a story using a song by Eminem…who used to make fun of said boy band. I’m complicated, okay!
“Tempest!” Elizabeth called from the top of the stairs.
“What?” Her twelve-year-old niece called back.
“Can you please brush your brother’s hair for me while I finish getting ready?” She requested as three-year-old Reid went running past in his little church suit with his favorite Olaf the snowman sippy cup hanging out of his mouth.
She caught Reid on his second lap of the hallway and directed him downstairs to his older sister. She knocked on the door to her fifteen-year-old little sister Harper’s room.
“You almost ready to go?” She called through the door.
“Yeah, you can come in,” Harper replied.
Elizabeth opened the door and found Harper and her seven-year-old niece Thea. Harper was putting a French braid in the little girl’s hair and helping her to attach her white lace church veil.
It was a typical Sunday morning in the Windsor household…which meant it was hectic but with four kids and only one adult in the house what else could you expect?
Elizabeth, at the age of thirty, found herself the legal guardian of all four children.
It had started ten years earlier with the death of her mother from lupus complications. Her father was an alcoholic and unemployed and with her mother gone, Elizabeth had filed for custody of her then five-year-old sister. A testament to how fucked up her father was…the court’s agreed that a twenty-year-old college kid was a more suitable parent. They hadn’t heard from their father since the last court date.
Two years later she had received a call from the Department of Children’s Services in Lenox, Massachusetts. Her brother and his wife had also fallen into addiction and had both been arrested in a raid on a drug house. Their four-year-old daughter, Tempest had been placed into emergency foster care.
Elizabeth and family friend Aaron had driven up in the middle of a blizzard to pick her up and bring her back to North Carolina.
Her brother Marshall and his wife Dora had both been given five-year-prison terms and Elizabeth had found herself with permanent custody of Tempest.
It was at around this time that fate had stepped in with some much needed good fortune. At the time she was working as a pre-school teacher and barely getting by with two kids to take care of. If it wasn’t for her grandmother sending her five hundred dollars every month they wouldn’t have been able to survive.
Her biggest form of stress relief was writing children’s stories at night when the girls were asleep. She was good at it and Harper and Tempest seemed to love them. When she had written a series of stories about two fairies named Harper and Tempest who’s looks were based on the girls she had taken a chance and sent the manuscripts to a few agents. She had been amazed when one agent had taken a chance on her and signed her. Within just a few months the books had found a home with a large children’s publisher out of Boston. The Harper and Tempest series was a runaway success and made enough money to allow Elizabeth to quit her job and write full time. She had also been able to buy an old plantation house in Raleigh, North Carolina. It had seven bedrooms and enough land for the kids and their menagerie of pets to run free.
It was only about two years later that she had received a call in the middle of the night from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. Her older sister Jessa had been killed in a car accident and someone needed to care for her one-year-old daughter, Thea. Elizabeth had accepted responsibility once again.
Reid had come to live with her two and a half years earlier when he was still just an infant. Apparently after getting out of prison, her brother, and his wife had decided to procreate once again. They had been arrested again and again Elizabeth had to take custody of one of their children.
But back to the present.
She managed to get all four kids into her Ford Explorer in time to stop at McDonald’s for a quick breakfast before Mass.
They attended Mass at St. Raphael Catholic Church without much fuss. As usual, Reid had a hard time sitting still and the girls had to be reminded they were at church and not a social club because they kept chatting with friends, they also attended the church’s school so their friends were everywhere, but all in all it hadn’t been too horrible.
After Mass, the family had stayed behind. One weekend every month, Elizabeth required the kids to volunteer a few hours with the church.
This Sunday they would all be helping with the church’s indoor Fall rummage sale. It was being held in the gym of the church’s school complex.
Elizabeth was collecting cash at a table by the front door with Harper and a few other volunteers and Tempest and Thea were helping to keep the tables stocked with people’s old junk that had been donated.
“Well, look what the cat dragged in,” She heard a familiar baritone voice.
Looking up she found herself staring in the face of Congressman Aaron Granger…or just plain old Aaron as she knew him.
He was the son of her mother’s childhood best friend and was eight years older than her. He was her trusted confidant when she was a teenager.
She had been incredibly depressed back then. Her mother had first taken ill with lupus when she had been in elementary school. But the time she was fifteen, her once vivacious mother had been reduced to a paraplegic who was only lucid part of the time. Lupus caused brain lesions pressing on her temporal lobe had caused her to forget the last twenty years of her life…and Elizabeth and Harper. After she had fallen while in the hospital and broken her back she was left unable to move from the neck down. After a feeding tube had been improperly inserted while she was in a medically induced coma following a surgery on her back, she had developed sepsis and died when Elizabeth was barely twenty.
Aaron, a law student at the time, had been willing to listen whenever she needed a friend and would drive her and Harper back and forth to the hospital when their father was too drunk to.
He had been a pallbearer at her mother’s funeral. He had testified in her favor during the custody trial for Harper. He had driven her all the way to Massachusetts and back to retrieve Tempest after Marshall and Dora’s arrest.
But then he had just disappeared from her life. He had graduated from law school at Duke University and passed the bar exam. He had moved from Raleigh to Charlotte to work at some big law firm and he and Elizabeth had fallen out of contact.
It had crushed her. Not just because he had been a trusted friend but because he had been her first, and only, love…and her first everything else.
Elizabeth had no real experience with boys. Her teenage years had been dominated by her mother’s illness and she hadn’t really been concerned with boys and dating. She was a short, curvy blonde and boys took notice but the only guy she ever noticed was Aaron.
Aaron was tall, standing at 6'3 and very well built. He kept his black hair cut short and had hazel eyes hidden behind rimless glasses…he was also black.
His race forced Elizabeth to keep her crush a secret. Her father, Detroit born and raised, was a racist. He remembered the Detroit Riots of his childhood and instead of blaming racism, he blamed the black community. Her short-tempered father would have beaten the hell out of her had he known about her feelings.
Aaron never showed an interest beyond friendship until they had undertaken the drive to Massachusetts together to retrieve Tempest.
On the drive up they had stopped for the night at a Hilton in New Jersey.
She had talked Aaron into running out to a liquor store, she was still underage, and buying her a bottle of rum.
They had preceded to share the bottle as, as usual, she poured out her troubles to her friend.
They had fallen into bed with each other that night and had been inseparable for the rest of the trip.
When they had returned home Aaron had abruptly cut off all contact with her after accepting a job at a law firm in Charlotte.
They hadn’t spoken again and he was never around whenever she visited with his mother who was like a second mother to her after her own’s death.
The only time she had seen him was on TV in campaign ads for his congress run or on the news. She wasn’t ashamed to admit that she had donated to his campaign. A Democrat born and raised, she agreed with the politics of the man the New York Times called The Second Coming of JFK.
Word on the street was that he was going to run for governor the following the year.
“Yeah, a jackass,” She said as lowly as possible but a nun who was standing next to her gasped.
“I see your brood has grown, baby girl” He nodded over to where Tempest and Thea were stocking tables with the unneeded help of little Reid.
She nodded. “Looks like it…can I help you with anything?”
She just wanted him to leave.
“Yeah,” He laid the first edition copy of The Phantom of the Opera novel that she had been eyeing earlier on the table. Damn him! “I wanted to buy this…and get your phone number,”
“This you can have,” Elizabeth shook the book as she put it in a paper bag and accepted his fifty dollars. “My phone number…nope,” She gave him a false smile as he walked away.
Harper was looking at her with a weird look on her face.
“What?” She demanded.
The teenager shook her head. “Nothing, I just don’t understand why you didn’t give him your number. I remember him from when I was little…he was nice…and made awesome chocolate shakes.”
Leave it to Harper to link a fondness for someone to food.
“You are too young to understand,” She shook her head.
Great, now she sounded like her mother. She hated it when her mom used to say that to her. It only annoyed her slightly less than, “Because I said so,”…which she was pretty sure she had used before as well…damn it!
These damn kids were turning her into a cliché.
Father Michaels approached her and thankfully the conversation about Aaron was shut down.
“Elizabeth, I’m so glad that I caught you,” He smiled.
He wanted something…wonderful.
“What can I do for you, Father?” She smiled politely.
“Well, as you know, Christmas is only next month…”
Yes, she owned a calendar.
“And our annual Christmas pageant is coming up…we were hoping you’d be willing to volunteer your time to write it this year,”
Oh, Lord, kill her now. There was no way out of this without being rude.
“Sure,” She smiled.
One regurgitated re-telling of the Nativity coming up.
“And feel free to use a little imagination this year,” Father Michaels instructed. “Congressman Granger is sponsoring the pageant this year and we have a little more money to play with,”
Fuck her life.
Within a week of accepting (being manipulated into) of accepting the job of writing the church Christmas pageant, Elizabeth discovered that by “write” Father Michaels had really meant, “do everything”. She had to find a director, a set designer/builder, and someone to make costumes.
For the pageant itself, she had decided to be a little progressive. Instead of simply re-telling the story of the Nativity she had designed a three-act play depicting the histories of the celebrations of Christmas, Kwanza, and Hanukkah.
Her job was made even harder by the fact that Aaron was ALWAYS hanging around.
She was starting to suspect that United States congressmen had too much free time on their hands. Wouldn’t their time be better spent working on decreasing the national debt? Bettering the educational system?
She was a woman scorned and when it came to expressing her displeasure she went with a female classic…completely ignoring the asshole.
It was after Mass the Sunday before Thanksgiving when Aaron’s mom, Rachel stopped her on her way to the parking lot with the kids.
“I’m glad I caught you guys before you left,” She smiled.
“What’s up, Rachel?” Elizabeth started walking again but slowly so the older woman could follow.
“Pete and I have decided to have Thanksgiving here this year instead of with his sister’s family in Florida.” She explained as they came to a stop beside her SUV and the kids started climbing in. “We were hoping you and the kids would join us,”
Usually, Thanksgiving would be spent at home, just the five of them. They would drive downtown to watch the parade and then home to make dinner and put up the Christmas tree as was their tradition.
She couldn’t deny that the invitation, and the thought of not cooking, was very appealing…there was only one small problem. There was a good chance she would murder Rachel’s son if she was left alone with him for too long.
“Are you sure you have enough room with all your kids and grandkids?” She hedged.
Rachel waved her hand. “Child, you’re family, we’ll find room…and not all of the kids will be there. Morgan and Jayde are both too pregnant to travel home this year and Aaron will be in D.C.”
Hearing that Aaron wouldn’t be there made the decision easy.
“We’ll be there,”
The following Thursday afternoon Elizabeth learned that God did indeed have a sense of humor and a malicious one at that.
After spending over an hour getting the kids ready and in the car, she had arrived at the Granger house at a little after three. The kids peeled off in four different directions once they were around a houseful of children their own ages.
Elizabeth shook her head as she opened the trunk of the Explorer to retrieve the two trays of butterscotch cookie bars and plater of deviled eggs that she had promised Rachel she would make.
“Here, boo, let me help you with that,”
Aaron was suddenly at her side. Why wasn’t he in D.C.? She wondered as she shivered in the unusual November cold. A random blizzard had struck a good portion of the east coast two says earlier and there was at least four feet of snow on the ground.
“Why aren’t you in D.C.?” Her question was abrupt and not very polite at all.
He chuckled as he grabbed the two trays of cookie bars, leaving her with the much lighter plater.
“Snow’s got everything shut down,” He pointed out.
God damned the snow.
“So, you’re still mad at me, I take it?” He questioned as they slowly made their way up the long driveway .
“Just a bit, yeah,” She rolled her eyes at him.
“What if I told you I had a good reason for doing what I did?” He stopped on the front porch instead of entering the house. “Then would you consider giving me another chance?”
What the hell was he on about? What reason could he possibly have that would justify taking her virginity and bolting?
“I’m asking you to hear me out, boo, that’s it. If you don’t like what I have to say, you never have to speak to me again. I’ll leave you alone.”
She sighed. “Fine, but can we please go inside? It’s fucking cold out here.”
After delivering their items to the kitchen, saying a quick hello to the family, and checking up on the kids, Elizabeth let Aaron lead her upstairs and to his childhood bedroom.
She took a seat on the bed as he quietly closed the door.
She took a look around the room. She had never been in here before. The walls and shelves were covered in political memorabilia. Campaign posters for everyone from John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton wallpapered the walls and he even had a set of collectible presidential bobbleheads lining the shelves.
She leaned back on her hands and tried not to notice him looking her up and down.
“So, talk,” She ordered.
He started pacing and ran a hand over his face before he began.
“What happened in New Jersey was a mistake…”
She was crushed and he must have noticed.
“Not because I didn’t want to make love to you because God knows I did…but because we were both drunk. You deserved way better than that for your first time.”
Okay, she would concede that her first time wasn’t what you would call romantic, but that didn’t explain everything else.
“What about treating me like a queen for the rest of the trip, helping me with Tempest? You actually gave me hope that I wouldn’t be alone anymore and then you just disappeared,” Her voice caught in her throat.
Aaron huffed. “That was the problem! I didn’t want you to be with me because you were being forced to grow up too soon and needed the help. I wanted to be with you but only if you actually wanted me…not the help I could offer,”
She picked up a pillow off of the bed and threw it at his face.
“You asshole!” She hissed. “I didn’t go to bed with you because I wanted help with the girls! I did it because I’ve loved you since I was a teenager…before I had custody of the girls.” She took a few deep breaths to gather control of herself before she killed the assuming bastard. “I never once asked anyone besides my grandma for help after I got custody of the kids. I WANTED to do it on my own. Did you ever notice that you were the only one I EVER accepted help from? I didn’t do it because I needed the help, I did it because I enjoyed spending time with you, you asshat!”
He quickly took a step back. It was like she had physically struck him.
“What?” He shook his head in disbelief.
“I love you, you idiot!” She said as loudly and as angrily as she could without the two of them being overheard. “I loved you when I was a teenager, I loved you that night in New Jersey,”
She was sitting up now with her arms resting on her knees.
She had no idea what came over him but suddenly Aaron was pushing her back on the bed and kissing her with a passion that she had not felt since their night together years earlier.
She pushed him away. She didn’t want to. She had to.
She sat back on the edge of the bed and buttoned up her blouse that she did not remember him undoing…sneaky bastard.
He groaned and moved to sit beside her. He leaned over and nuzzled her neck.
“Boo, I’m sorry. I should have talked to you. I should never have assumed. I love you. Please, forgive me.” His voice was raw and honest.
Elizabeth pulled back and kissed his lips chastely.
“I’ll forgive you and give us another shot if we can go slowly,” She compromised with him.
He smiled and pulled her to him for a hug.
“Deal, baby girl,” He kissed her temple.
“We should get back downstairs before your mama sends out a search party,” She pulled out of the hug reluctantly.
“Yeah,” He nodded although he didn’t look happy about it. “Can I see you sometime soon…I mean after today?”
He stood and helped her to her feet.
She bit her lip and considered him for a moment.
“Me and the kids are putting up the Christmas tree tomorrow…its kind of an all day event…why don’t you come over and join us?” It was like she was challenging him. If he wanted to be with her, he had to accept the kids too. They were a package deal.
“I’d love to, boo,” He pulled her to him for one last quick kiss.
The rest of the evening had gone smoothly with the exception of a few kid caused hiccups that were to be expected.
Harper had a crush on Aaron’s sixteen-year-old brother Charlie and had not been paying attention when carrying a tray of cookie bars to the desert table, she was too busy watching Charlie set the table. She ended up tripping and falling flat on her face, sending the cookie bars flying all around the large dining room. Luckily she had brought two treys.
Reid and Aaron’s twin niece and nephew Neveah and Yamir, who had all pretty much been friends, and partners in crime since they were babies had managed to sneak off with Aaron’s cell phone when no one was looking. The adults searched the house, looking under furniture, even in the damn fridge before Elizabeth’s cell phone started ringing and the caller I.D. showed that Aaron was calling.
She answered the phone. Since Aaron was now standing right next to her in the kitchen, she put her phone on speaker.
“I talk, I talk!” She heard Yamir’s voice.
“No me!” There was Neveah.
“Shh!! We get caught!” She heard Reid scowled.
She covered her mouth to keep from laughing out loud.
She decided to have a little fun.
“Reid Marshall! Yamir Willaim! Neveah Hope!” She said in her best fake angry voice.
She heard three little gasps on the other end of the line and looked beside her to see that Aaron was covering us his laughter by coughing.
“You three are in big trouble!” She scolded. “Bring Aaron’s phone back right this minute,”
The phone disconnected and the sound of three little sets of feet running down the stairs could be heard.
Suddenly three out of breath toddlers stood before her, sheepishly offering up the stolen merchandise.
Seeing as Elizabeth couldn’t contain her laughter anymore, Aaron let the kids off with a stern, “Don’t do that again,”.
At the dinner table, Aaron had let the cat out of the bag regarding their relationship and managed to embarrass Harper and Charlie all in one go.
“Charlie, stop making googly eyes at Harper,” He got his younger brother’s attention. The younger man had, in fact, been staring at Harper. “When I marry Elizabeth she’s going to be family, bro,”
It didn’t escape her that he had said “when” and not “if”.
Suddenly his mother and three sisters were full of questions and Elizabeth was back to wanting to kill him.
The next day everyone in the Windsor household had slept in. They hadn’t arrived home until after midnight from the Grangers. Elizabeth hadn’t even driven them.
Aaron had insisted that it was too late and Elizabeth was too tired to make the twenty-minute drive home so he had driven her and the kids while her car remained at his parent’s house.
He had been nothing but a gentleman once they are had arrived at her place. He had taken her keys and gone ahead and unlocked her front door while she shook Harper and Tempest awake and directed them inside. Finding her unbuckling a sleeping Reid from his car seat he followed her lead and did the same thing with Thea in her safety seat. He had helped her get the kids inside and into bed before she walked him to the front door. He kissed her softly and promised to return the next day so they could go and retrieve her car and decorate the Christmas tree.
It was a little after eleven and Elizabeth was sitting in the kitchen with the girls after having just finished a late breakfast. Reid was playing in the sink while standing on a kitchen chair and everyone was still in their pajamas when the doorbell rang.
Elizabeth looked down at herself and cursed. She was wearing black pajama pants and a t-shirt with a picture from the movie Titanic on it. Her hair was in a messy bun atop of her head.
Seeing as she didn’t have time to change, she hurried to the front door and opened it.
Aaron stood holding out a cup of coffee from Starbucks and smirking at her attire.
“Rough morning, boo?” He teased.
She reached out and took the offered coffee. “Shut up, I didn’t expect you until this afternoon,” She stood aside to allow him room to enter.
Once he was inside he pulled her to him for a quick hug and kiss.
“I’m just messin’ with you, baby, you actually look cute,”
She smiled and kissed him again before leading him back to the kitchen.
After saying a quick hello to the girls he turned to her with an amused look on his face.
“Baby girl, are you aware that there is a toddler standing at your sink in nothing but his Ninja Turtles underwear and socks doing the dishes?”
Tempest laughed and answered for her.
“Those are the plastic dishes from his barbeque grill playset,” She explained. “He does it because he likes to clean and thinks he’s helping,”
Elizabeth nodded. “It also keeps him occupied. When I need to write, I just bring my laptop in here and let him do dishes. It can keep him happy for hours,”
“And doing them in his underwear?” He raised an eyebrow.
This time, Harper answered.
“He doesn’t like to get his clothes wet or dirty so he takes them off,”
“It’s better than before,” Little Thea giggled. “He used to get naked but Auntie Liz got him to stop doing that.”
Aaron laughed and pulled Elizabeth into his arms.
“Your kids are strange, baby girl,” He informed her of what she already knew.
“Well, they’re part of the package of being with me,” She seemed to be taking his amusement the wrong way.
“And I’m not askin’ for a refund, baby girl,” He kissed her quickly and released her.
“So, do we have a tree or do we have to go and get one?” He rubbed his hands together.
“Go get one!” Little Thea said excitedly. “Every year we go to Mrs. Dirr’s Plantation down the road because she has a Christmas tree farm on her property. We get to pick out our tree before they cut it down and then we get hot chocolate and candy apples,” The child was speaking a mile a minute.
Aaron just laughed. “So, Miss Dirr’s Plantation it is,” He went and grabbed Reid from the chair in front of the sink and balanced him on his hip before shutting the tap off. “I think the dishes are clean, little man,”
“K,” Reid nodded.
“Why don’t you ladies go and get ready while I get Little Man ready…Lizzie-Beth what do you want him to wear today?” He smirked at the look of shock that came over her face.
She never imagined that Aaron could be so domestic and it was freaking her out a little.
“His clothes are laid out on his bed in his room at the top of the stairs,” She told him. “And his jacket, gloves, and boots are by the front door.”
Aaron nodded and took the boy upstairs.
The rest of the day had gone along much the same lines. He was helpful with the kids when they went to his parent’ house to pick up her car and while they were picking out the Christmas tree…and the kids loved him. Granted, he had bought them two candy apples each and the way to Harper’s heart would always be food.
After they had gotten the tree up and decorated in her living room, he had stayed for dinner which turned out to be Chinese take-out.
He seemed to fit in perfectly…and that’s what worried her. Was this how he would always be or was this him acting like the perfect mate to convince her to be with him?
She knew he was going to run for governor soon, he had mentioned it while they had been waiting for the kids the finish eating their candy apples at Miss Dirr’s Plantation.
A rich, self-made wife with four adopted kids from the wrong side of the tracks would look good to voters.
The press was constantly comparing him to JFk…and hadn’t he married his wife for political reasons?
“What’s got you thinkin’ so hard over there, baby girl?”
Aaron broke her out of her train of thought.
The kids had all been in bed for over an hour and they were seated on her couch in front of the fireplace. He was sipping on a beer and her on wine.
She took a sip out of her glass. “Are you always like this?”
“Huh?” He set his beer bottle down.
“How you were today with me and the kids…are you always like this or is this all to win me over?” She asked.
He actually looked a little bit hurt at her question.
“I was like this when we were friends and Harper was little. I was like this when we went to get Tempest…what do you think has changed?”
Elizabeth sighed and ran a hand through her hair. “I’m just a little…gun shy, I guess, after last time. I don’t want to get hurt and I don’t want the kids to get hurt,”
He pulled her to his side and kissed the top of her head. “I know, boo, and that’s my fault. I should never have left you…but I promise I’m not going anywhere and the last thing I would ever do is hurt you or those kids,”
Somehow, she believed him.
Before they knew it, it was a week before Christmas and Elizabeth was packing her and the kids up for their annual trip to Detroit to spend Christmas with her grandmother.
She usually looked forward to this trip every year. She adored her grandmother. But this year she wasn’t much a fan of the thought of being apart from Aaron on the holidays…their first together as a couple.
Aaron drove her and the kids to the airport and before they parted at security he handed her a sealed red envelope.
“Open this at eight ‘o clock on Christmas Eve night,” He instructed.
She tried to ask him why but he simply kissed her and hurried her along to her flight.
The visit with her grandmother was going great. The old woman had welcomed them all with warm hugs and a pre-Christmas gift each.
Harper had gotten a large box of her favorite gourmet chocolate covered cherries, Tempest a new book about caring for ferrets that confused her (she wouldn’t be confused when they got home and she found her two new pets. Aaron was sneaking them and their cage into the house while they were gone.), Thea, ever the tomboy, had received a new Detroit Lions football jersey, and Ried had gotten another remote control car that he was no doubt going to use to try and run over her and the girls at every opportunity.
Privately she gifted Elizabeth with a gift card to Victoria’s Secret.
She turned red as she stared in disbelief at the pink piece of plastic in her hands.
Her grandmother just laughed and patted her on the shoulder.
“I was young once too and the times have changed,” She shrugged. “Plus, a little birdie told me that you have a new beau,”
By little birdie she meant Rachel. The women were two of the worst gossips she knew.
She rolled her eyes and shoved the gift card into her back pocket.
Her grandmother’s house was small so Thea and Tempest shared one guest room, Harper slept on the couch by the Christmas tree, and she and Reid slept in the second guest room.
That night Reid decided to sleep with Harper in the living room. Seeing as her sister didn’t mind and it wasn’t Christmas Eve so no chance of him catching St. Nick in the act Elizabeth allowed it, happy to have the bed to herself for the night.
She was lying in bed reading a book when her cell phone rang. Seeing that it was Aaron she answered.
“Hey,” She smiled. As cheesy as it sounded she missed him already. “How’s D.C.?”
“Boring as hell and nothing of importance is getting done…so it’s the usual,” Aaron laughed. “I miss you, boo,”
“I miss you too, babe,” She closed her book and set it on the nightstand.
“How are the kids?” He asked. She loved that he genuinely seemed curious.
“Getting spoiled by their great-grandmother so great,” She laughed. “They’re all asleep right now. We took them to White Castle for dinner and they came back and crashed. We’re taking them to see Santa at the Mall tomorrow. I promised Harper and Tempest ten bucks each if they kept their mouths closed about his existence in front of Thea and Reid,”
He chuckled and sighed. “I wish I was with you guys, I miss you. I’ve gotten so used to waking up to Reid bouncing on the bed that I’ve almost overslept twice since ya’ll have been gone and I’ve been in D.C.”
They had gone to bed together for the first time since their night in New Jersey the night they put up the Christmas tree. Aaron had stayed over pretty much every night since. He had become a permanent and welcome fixture in the Windsor home.
“We miss you too, hon,” She sighed. “Reid asked me today if you were going to be here when Santa came,”
“What did you tell him?” Aaron’s voice sounded a little strained when he replied like he was upset.
“That you were working and we would see you when we get home and you’re done,” She had told the little boy the truth.
“Now I wish I was there even more,” She could hear the sadness in her boyfriend’s deep voice. “Can I talk to Little Man?”
“He’s asleep, baby I told you that,” Her heart broke a little at the same time that she fell even more in love with him. “I can call you in the morning when he wakes up and you can talk to him.” She offered. If her boyfriend wanted a relationship with the nephew that was more like her son than she wasn’t going to stand in the way.
He was actually upset that he wasn’t with her AND the kids…it made her miss him even more.
“No, I’ll be in meetings with my campaign advisors all morning,” He sounded frustrated. “How about you have him call me after you take him to see Santa so he can tell me all about it,” He suggested.
She smiled and cuddled further into her grandmother’s feather pillows. “We can do that. I know Reid would love to talk to you,”
“Well, it sounds like you have a busy day ahead, boo, why don’t you close those pretty brown eyes and get some sleep?”
As much as she wanted to stay on the phone just to hear his voice all night she couldn’t fight off the exhaustion that a long day of travel and family activities had brought on.
“Okay, I love you, Aaron,” She told him sleepily.
“I love you, too, Elizabeth,”
The next day, as promised, she had called and let Reid tell Aaron all about meeting Santa Claus at the Tower Center Mall. Each of the girls had also managed to get in a few words with her boyfriend who seemed genuinely happy to hear from the kids.
This turned into a nightly ritual in the five nights leading up to Christmas Eve. After all four kids had eaten dinner and gotten ready for bed, they would gather on the bed in the guest room that Elizabeth and Reid were sleeping in and call Aaron and tell them about their day.
Her grandmother found this adorable.
It was after seven on Christmas Eve and her grandmother had taken the kids to visit with her sister while Elizabeth had stayed behind to clean up the damage that Thea’s gift had caused.
As was tradition, after dinner the kids were each allowed to open one gift.
Harper had gotten a gift card to her favorite clothing store, Tempest had gotten a gift card to her favorite pet store, Reid had received a large interactive, talking Minion doll, and because it was breathing and really couldn’t be hidden until morning Thea had gotten a tortoise shell kitten.
Thea had been begging for a pet that was just her own, that she didn’t have to share with the other kids and Elizabeth had given in. Her grandmother told her about a neighbor that’s cat just had a litter of kittens so she had asked her to get one for the little girl.
Elizabeth wasn’t sure what the hell she was thinking. At home, they already had two dogs, a lab named Andy that belonged to Harper and a husky named Blu that belonged to Tempest, a cat named Apple Pie that belonged to Tempest, a California king snake named Betelgeuse that Harper had bought off of a friend when she wasn’t looking, and a two thousand pound aquarium full of saltwater fish. This didn’t include Tempest’s new ferrets.
She should open a zoo and start charging admission.
The minute the kitten had jumped out of the box it had freaked the hell out. She did three laps around the house like she was the kitty version of the Flash before climbing up the Christmas tree causing it to tip over and climbing back down and booking down the hallway and into the bathroom. They heard a thump and the loud sound of a stupid kitten in distress. They found her stuck in the toilet with the lid closed.
Thea named her Riot.
That was why Elizabeth found herself at home repairing the Christmas tree.
She had just finished picking up the ornaments off the floor and discarding the old broken ones when she was interrupted by her cell phone ringing.
It was Father Michaels. He wanted to know if she knew where he could find Aaron. With her out of town, he was in charge of everything pageant related that she had put together. She told him that she hadn’t heard from him and that she would try to reach him.
She called his cell phone but it went right to voicemail. She knew he was back in North Carolina. He was probably still busy. Campaign planning had been taking up most of his time. She left him a message to call her back.
She wrapped up the lights in a tight bundle to make it easier to restring them before deciding that it was too quiet. She walked over to her grandmother’s older than dirt radio that sat on the mantle and turned it on.
The oldies station her grandmother normally listened to had been transformed into a holidays (God forbid you say Christmas) station for the season.
She chuckled at the song that had just begun to play. It was by the boy band *NSYNC. She had loved them when she was younger. In that brief period when had been allowed to be a kid.
She started to restring the lights as she listened.
I was makin’ my list
I was checkin’ it twice
In the middle of this, I got tears in my eyes
For in my foolish heart, there was one simple truth
The only gift I wanted was you
I was trimming the tree
I was stringing the lights
While the radio played “Silent Night”
There were presents you sent
Though there were quite a few
The only gift I wanted was you
You need to be home with me
Alone with me
Holding me next to the Christmas tree
Kissing under the mistletoe
As candles glow
Please come home soon
It’s not the same without you
As the bitter-sweet night had come to an end
I was saying goodbye to our family and friends
And they all wished me well
And I knew that I knew
The only gift I wanted was you
She wiped a tear away. She hated it when songs were oddly specific to how she was feeling. She quickly walked over and switched off the radio and she noticed the time.
It was one minute to eight. She remembered the envelope from Aaron and went and retrieved it out of her purse on the kitchen table. She tore it open to find a note that only consisted of four words.
***Open the front door***
Confused she walked to the front door and opened it. No one was there but something was. Laying on the concrete of the front porch was the copy of The Phantom of the Opera that she had wanted to buy at the rummage sale but that wasn’t all that was there. Laying on top of the book was a blood red rose and an antique diamond ring was tied to its stem with a black ribbon.
Leaning down she picked the book and rose up and looked around. There was no one in sight. Turning back around she went into the house and closed and locked the front door. When she arrived back in the living room she found Aaron on one knee surrounded by the kids and her grandmother…apparently they hadn’t been at her great aunt’s house after all.
She gasped and a hand flew to her mouth when she realized what was going on.
Aaron reached out his hand and she walked to him and took it.
“Surprised, boo?” He smirked at her.
She just nodded and smiled.
“Can I see the rose, beautiful?” He nodded to the rose she still held in her hand.
She handed it to him and set the book on the coffee table beside them.
She watched as he untied the ring and set the rose aside.
He took her hand and looked up into her eyes.
“Elizabeth Ann Windsor, I have loved you for longer than I care to admit,” He chuckled. “I had you once and I screwed it up by doing the thinkin’ for both of us…I know now that I can’t do that anymore. I have you to be my partner in everything and I can’t lose you again…and believe it or not it would kill me to lose the lunatics standing behind me,” He jerked his head towards the kids. All four were grinning like fools. “I want to raise them with you. I’d like to have a few more with you because you’ve proven that you’re a wonderful mother by stepping up and being one when you didn’t have to be. I want you guys by my side when I run for governor and hopefully someday for president. I love you, baby girl. Will you do me the honor of being Mrs. Granger?” He held the ring out to her.
She broke down in hysterics but managed a nod. He slid the ring on her finger and pulled her into his arms.
They were married on New Years Eve that very same year.
Eight years later she sat with the rest of the family at the Granger house and watched the election results.
She couldn’t believe this was happening. She couldn’t believe that this was her life.
She looked around at her family.
At twenty-three Harper was now an elementary school teacher and was, not so shockingly, dating Charlie who was a United States Marine.
Tempest was home from school for the election. She was studying to be a veterinarian at the University of North Carolina.
Thea was fifteen and still a tomboy. If her school had a team, she was on it.
Reid was eleven and still a character. He was about to start his last year of elementary school and Elizabeth was wondering where her baby boy had gone.
Since their marriage, Elizabeth and Aaron had been blessed with three more children.
Their oldest biological child was eight-year-old Harrison, Don’t-Call-Me-Harry-I’m-Not-A-Wizard, Granger. They were pretty sure he had been conceived their first night back together prior to their marriage. He was their little professor. He was interested in everything and anything and always had his nose in a book.
Next came four-year-old Maddie, who was currently telling people her middle name was “Dinosaur”. She was their odd duck.
Last came six-month-old Lucy Ann, named for her mother. She was currently sitting on her mother’s lap sucking on her fingers as they awaited the results.
Finally, the broadcaster came on the television holding a card in his hands.
She reached over and took her husband’s hand as the broadcaster spoke.
“We have the final total of the presidential ballot with all states now reporting. The forty-sixth president of the United States of America is Aaron H. Granger.”