“‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”
By M.C. Hart
Stomping the clumped SNOW from his feet, Lee shook his head as a flurry of white crystals fell from his hair and shoulders. “It just keeps coming.” His voice was muffled by the scarf Amanda had protectively wrapped around his neck and lower face moments before as they exited the corvette.
“Ooo, it’s cold too. Feels like the wind chill is down around ten degrees,” Amanda admitted with a nod to her head as she shut the door behind them. Despite their attempt to kick the worst of the wet mess off their shoes before entering, a large pudding was starting to form amid the chunks of ice in the foyer of their Rockville home.
Lee grunted his agreement as she shivered roughly despite the thick coat snuggly wrapping her small form. “I don’t think I’ve seen it SNOW this hard in years. We’re lucky it didn’t take us longer to get home.”
“I was so worried about you two,” Dotty West, Amanda’s mother exclaimed as she rounded the hallway bend, making a bee-line for the two snow clad forms. “I was scared to death you’d end up in a ditch, or worse… wrapped around a telephone POLE.”
“Your faith in my driving skills leave a lot to be desired,” Lee teased as he shed his coat and opened the closet door. “You should know I wouldn’t let something like that happen, Dotty.”
“Lee, you know me better than that,” Dotty scolded with a frown. “But you can’t help the fact that there’s a two inch sheet of ice out there. NO vehicle can get traction on that type of surface. Regardless of your driving skills, it’s dangerous out there.”
“The ice is buried under snow Dotty,” Lee calmly explained as he helped his wife off with her outerwear. “As long as they don’t scrap that off the road we’re in no danger of losing traction. You just have to drive like you have a little sense.” He smiled at her sweetly, turning back toward the closet. “I doubt their going to be getting out too many salt trucks tonight anyway. They’re going to wait until this calms down.”
“From what the weather man says that’s not going to be until sometime later this week,” Dotty muttered shaking her head as she reached out for Amanda’s purse as her daughter continued to disrobe from the layer of protective clothes. “I personally think none of us should be going anywhere until New Years.”
Lee chuckled. “We’ll see what happens.” Closing the closet door he stomped his feet again to clear the loose snow before stepping onto the cream colored carpet that covered the remaining flooring of the house. “Where’s Jamie and Phillip?”
“In their rooms. I think they’re wrapping the last of their gifts.”
“I figured they would be out in the snow when we came home,” Amanda admitted shaking the snow out of her hair.
“They tried,” Dotty returned. “But I cut them off after yesterday. I didn’t want to spend Christmas Eve in the hospital waiting for them to defrost from a sever case of Frost Bite.”
“Good point,” Lee muttered as they walked through the house. He still remembered how the two of them had looked after spending the day out with their friends ‘playing’ in the fresh fallen snow. Both had ruby cheeks and wind burned faces. They had their SLEIGH out all day long. It had taken three cups of hot chocolate and warm baths to get the blood circulating through their veins again. “It’s probably for the best.”
“Well, they’ve been waiting for the two of you to get home,” she continued as she stopped near the dinning room and Lee and Amanda continued through the house toward their bedroom. “It took all I had to keep them away from that tree.”
“Let us get out of these wet clothes and we’ll get the festivities started,” Amanda said smiling. “I know they’re as excited as I am.”
“The ham’s done,” Dotty called cheerfully down the hall. “I’m keeping everything warm so just let me know when you’re ready.”
Amanda stopped and turned back to her mother, giving her a sweet smile. “Have I told you lately how wonderful you are mother?” she asked sincerely. “I don’t know what Lee and I would do without you here taking care of us and the boys.”
“You’re welcome honey. I’m just doing what any other mother would do for her children.”
“Thank you,” Amanda whispered. “It means a lot to us.”
Dotty smiled softly. “I know. Now go and change. I’ll get everything together in here.”
As Amanda stepped into their bedroom and closed the door Lee was shouldering out of his suit jacket and taking off his shoulder holster. “That ham’s making my stomach growl,” he said grinning. “I haven’t eaten since that cup of coffee this morning at the office.”
“That’s not eating. I told you, breakfast consist of food, something you chew,” she teased. She swatted his arm lightly as she stepped past him. “But I do agree with you. It smells delicious. Mother said it was ready whenever we were.”
“Hmmmm…” he stepped up behind her and wrapped his arms tenderly around her small frame. “A delicious meal waiting for me… a warm wife to snuggle against. This is turning into the perfect night,” he whispered, leaning in to kiss the side of her neck. “All I need is a little MISTLETOE and I’ll be all set.”
Amanda laughed as she turned her head to allow him better access. “Why in the world do you think you need MISTLETOE, Scarecrow? Seems you’re doing a fine job on your own.”
She felt him smile against her skin. “Just wanting to keep in the season is all.” With a sigh he relaxed against her and just held her close. “I’m so glad you agreed to marry me Amanda. Have I told you thank you lately?”
“Only every other day,” she admitted with her eyes closed. “And as I recall you didn’t have to twist my arm much, Stetson.”
“Hmmmm… not much, he whispered. “Can I share a secret with you Mrs. Stetson?” he asked kissing her earlobe.
“If you keep doing that you can do anything you want.”
“Tonight, after the boys open all their presents… I have something in here for you from just me. Something I really don’t want to share with the rest of the family,” he whispered seductively.
She grinned. “You give me that every night honey,” she teased rubbing her behind against his body until she heard him growl low in his throat. “You know I look forward to it.” She ran her hand down the length of his leg. “Can we light some CANDLES?”
“Yes we can, but that’s not exactly what I was referring to. I do like the way your mind works though,” he said.
Amanda turned in his arms as he released her slowly rubbing his hands up her arms until they rested on her shoulders. “Then what do you have in mind?”
His sparkling smile caused her heart to flutter. “A special present,” he confessed.
She frowned. “What special present?”
“Your special present.”
“Are you going to give me a hint?” she asked.
Lee’s grin widened. “Nope. You have to wait until later.” With that he released her and stepped away, turning his back on her as he moved to their closet.
“Lee Stetson, you come back here,” Amanda demanded smiling. “You can’t tease me like this and then just drop it. Tell me what you’re talking about.”
“Nope, you have to wait.” He shook his head as he unfastened his tie and opened the closet door.
“That’s not fair.”
He shrugged, glancing at her over his shoulder. “Tough.”
The knock at their door interrupted what Amanda was going to say next. With a grin, Lee looked toward the door. “Come in,” he called.
Jamie opened the door, looking in. “Grandma said you were home. How were the roads?”
“Snowy,” Lee admitted.
“Were you and your brother good for your grandmother today?” Amanda asked.
“Yep, we helped her make COOKIES,” Jamie returned.
“Which ones?” Lee asked expectantly. “Did she make those CHOCOLATE ones I like?”
“Sure did and those nuts and peanut butter ones Phillip likes.” He grinned. “I think Phillip ate half the batter before they even hit the oven.”
“You think she’ll let me have one before supper?” Lee wondered aloud.
“She might. She’s getting the EGG NOG and RUM PUNCH out of the icebox now,” Jamie informed him. “If you catch her quick you might be able to steal one.”
Lee jerked his tie the rest of the way off and pitched it into the closet. “I’m heading for the kitchen.”
Amanda laughed as he disappeared out the door. “Just don’t spoil your dinner,” she called loudly. “Where’s your brother?” she asked the grinning boy.
“He’s finishing up a present he had to UNWRAP.”
Jamie shook his head. “Don’t ask. Something about forgetting to put a special CANDY CANE inside. It’s for Joyce.”
“Ah,” Amanda said knowingly. Phillip had talked about Joyce for the last two weeks. She was this month’s girlfriend. “A special CANDY CANE?”
Jamie nodded. “That’s all I know. I’ve learned not to ask too many questions. He gets all weird when he talks about her.”
Amanda laughed. “Have you heard if she’s going to come over tonight?”
Jamie shook his head. “She wanted to but her dad said no. Phillip said it was snowing too bad.” He shrugged his shoulders. “It’s just going to be us tonight.”
“Well let me get changed and we’ll have supper. If I don’t get out there soon, Lee’s going to eat every one of those cookies your Grandmother made.”
Jamie nodded stepping back out of the room. “Okay, I’ll tell Phillip you’re home. Merry Christmas Mom.”
“Merry Christmas, Jamie.”
* * * *
The boys lay on the couch as Lee wrapped his arm around Amanda and followed them into the living room from the dinning room. Each one had acted like they were in an eating contest and determined to take first place. Lee couldn’t understand where they put all the food they were consuming. Dotty brought up the rear carrying a coffee pot and cups on a small tray. “Let me take that,” Lee offered trying yet again to take the tray away from Dotty.
“No, no, I’ve got it. You two just sit down and relax, you’ve worked hard today.”
“So have you,” Lee interjected. “Those COOKIES were delicious by the way.”
Dotty smiled at him, motioning them to the second couch with her head. “You’ve told me that twice now Lee. I appreciate the kind words. You know I enjoy seeing you eat.”
“I think he ate more than his share, Mother,” Amanda calmly commented as she reached over and tenderly rubbed her husband’s stomach. “I think they all did,” she admitted looking toward her two clearly full teenagers.
“You can never get too much of a good thing,” Lee returned with a grin. “Isn’t that right boys?”
“I need to digest a while,” Phillip groaned holding his stomach. “Maybe a nap after we open presents.”
Amanda laughed. “I heard you had a little bit of cookie dough today. Think that might be part of the problem?”
“Nah, I’m good. After I open a few of these presents you’ve been teasing us with over the last week, I think I’ll be find,” he commented knowingly.
“We haven’t been teasing you with them,” Lee chuckled taking a drink of his coffee.
“What do you call leaving them out in the open like this?” Jamie admitted waving his hand toward the GLITTER covered tree and ornaments. “Unprotected, unmarked, and just sitting there? You’re teasing us,” he finished sitting up.
Amanda and Lee exchanged grins before looking back at the two boys. Dotty couldn’t help but laugh from her easy chair. “They do have a point. Even though they haven’t touched anything, they’ve been swarming around this tree every free second they could find,” she confessed. “Course it would have been nice if you two could have shared with me whose presents were who’s,” she muttered with a look.
“Now mother, if we had done that then you would have known which presents you had under the tree,” Amanda corrected with a smile. “How fair would that have been?”
“Yeah Grandma,” Phillip interjected. “That’s not fair.”
“Hey, I’m the grandma, I should know,” Dotty corrected toward him.
“I don’t think so,” Jamie said shaking his head. “You don’t get heads up if we can’t.”
“Of course I do.”
When both boys and Dotty started cheerfully arguing over who should have had privileges over the presents Lee finally had to set his cup down and hold out his hands. “Hey, tone it down you three!” he commanded loudly. “This is exactly why we didn’t share with you!” When they all stopped and looked toward him, he grinned. “We wanted everyone to be surprised. Now do you want to open them or continue to fuss over the fact that you don’t know who gets what?”
“Well of course we want to open them,” Phillip confessed. “But we don’t think you should do it like this next year. We deserve to at least know which ones have our names on them.”
“Yeah, then we can try and figure out what’s in the boxes,” Jamie added.
“But they’re supposed to be a surprise,” Amanda corrected. “When you guess what it is before you open it that kinda takes the fun out of it for us. We put in a lot of time shopping and picking out those gifts. We want to see your face when you open them.”
“We never know when you shop,” Phillip complained. “We never even saw you carry anything in the house.”
“Because we’re that good,” Lee gloated pleasantly.
“It’s because you’re sneaky.”
“That too,” Lee laughed.
Phillip grunted, “You’re not supposed to use work tactics on us.”
“Keeps you on your toes,” Lee commented grinning.
“Jamie why don’t you get down there and hand out the presents? Just ask me or your mother who they go to.”
“Are they coded?” he asked sliding down on the floor next to the tree and its colorful assortment of boxes. An ORNAMENT slid off the branch and fell to the floor before he could catch it. Luckily it didn’t shatter.
“Careful, that’s the one your father sent last year,” Amanda scolded. “You don’t want to break that.”
“I know,” Jamie confessed, carefully picking it up and replacing it on the tree. “It’s okay, I didn’t damage it.”
“Did the boys tell you that Joe called them today?” Dotty asked.
“Oh yeah,” Phillip said as Jamie began sorting through the boxes with Lee’s instructions. “He said they were all doing fine and he wished us all a Merry Christmas. He said he was sorry they couldn’t be here this year but our presents were in the mail and should be here next week.”
Jamie stopped and grinned. “He said he sent us BOXERS. I’m pretty sure he was kidding.”
“Maybe he sent you a TEDDY bear,” Lee teased.
“You are so funny,” Phillip returned shaking his head.
“Are they all doing well?” Amanda asked.
Jamie nodded. “Everyone was fine. He said they were healthy and well.”
“That’s good. I wish I could have been here to talk to him,” she continued.
“We can try and call them tomorrow,” Lee assured her. “You can talk to him then if we can catch them in.”
Amanda smiled. “That would be nice. It’s been nearly three months since I’ve spoken to Carrie. I know Stephanie is getting big. She’s almost 9 months old now. I wish they could have been here this year,” she admitted wishfully. “It would have been wonderful to have a baby around for the holidays.”
Dotty nodded. “It would be nice,” she hinted with a look.
Lee cleared his throat, refusing to look at either woman. “So Jamie, let’s see that present right there. Yeah, that’s the one. Give that to your grandmother.”
Phillip laughed at his quick distraction.
Lee gave him a look. “You think it’s funny now. Just wait a few more years and you’re going to be the one under the gun.”
“Nope, I don’t think so. I’m not planning on getting married. I’m going to be a bachelor the rest of my life. If you two want grandkids you gotta look at Jamie and stop looking in my direction.”
“Hey, I’m only 15. Don’t wish me married too soon. I’ve still got to get through college,” Jamie complained.
“And College you will go,” Amanda announce firmly. “I’m not worried about grandkids. I want you to get your future lined out before you think about settling down. Besides the both of you have your whole lives ahead of you. We are not going to pester you about grandkids or marriage,” she continued, looking toward her older son. “Of course as you get older, you might change your mind. You never know who you’re going to meet in your travels, Phillip.”
Lee grinned, “I can contest to that. I had the same thoughts until four years ago when your mother stepped into my life and look at me now…” He leaned over and kissed Amanda. “Happily married with two step sons and a mother-in-law,” he finished pleasantly.
“Well that’s you. I am not getting married,” Phillip said firmly. “It’s too much fun having girlfriends.” He grinned triumphantly. “It’s like living in a candy store. I’m looking forward to the RIDE.”
Lee held up his hand quickly before Amanda could rebuttal that comment. “Don’t say anything. Just let it slide. He’ll grow out of it. I did.” With that, he nodded to Jamie after giving his wife a knowing look. “Go ahead sport. Let’s get the rest of those presents handed out.”
Phillip slid down into the floor and began helping Jamie hand out the pile of presents. Dotty watched them asking Lee and Amanda who’s was who’s as they quickly separated them out. “They’re like a couple of little ELVES,” she said pleasantly. “Santa would be proud.”
“All they need now is a set of green tights,” Lee teased.
“I don’t think so,” Phillip muttered shaking his head. “I’m not wearing tights for anyone.”
Jamie laughed shoving him sideways. “That’ll be cool. I could take a picture and hold it over your head for the rest of your life. Anytime I needed anything I’d just threaten to show it off.”
“You would too, wouldn’t you?” Phillip asked grinning.
Jamie nodded. “Sure would. What’s a little BLACKMAIL amongst family?”
Phillip laughed, handing the last present to his mother. “Here Mom, this one is from me and Joyce. She said she wanted you to go ahead and open it tonight even though she wasn’t here with us.”
“Well, that was very sweet of her,” Amanda commented taking the small box. “Thank you both very much.”
“Okay, everyone have all their presents?” Lee asked looking at the boxes sitting around everyone. The boys nodded quickly, picking theirs up and twisting and weighing them in their hands.
“Before we open them, we’re forgetting one thing,” Dotty interjected, holding up what Lee was about to say next.
“What’s that?” Lee inquired.
“Our traditional reading,” she explained as Amanda sat forward next to Lee.
“That’s right, we almost forgot. Phillip, go get the book and bring it here,” Amanda instructed, pointing to the wall shelf.
“I got it,” the boy exclaimed as he rose and quickly recovered the book his mother was pointing to. He brought it back to the couch, threading his way around the boxes on the floor. “Here ya, go.”
He handed it over to Amanda, who took the book and smiled toward her husband. “I think you should do the honors.”
“Me?” Lee asked taking the book slowly from her hand.
“Yes, you. Every year I am the one that reads the story before we open our presents. Now I’m turning that honor over to you,” she explained, leaning back in the couch. “You read it.”
Lee glanced at the boys and Dotty who were all settling back to listen intently to the story he held in his hand. With a deep breath he too leaned back, settling against his wife as he opened the book slowly, turning the pages. “’Twas the night before Christmas…” he began as Amanda smiled.
* * * *
It was nearly midnight when Lee and Amanda finally stepped into their bedroom and shut the door. “I had a wonderful night,” Amanda breathed smiling toward her husband. “The boys and mother acted like they loved their gifts. We did good.”
“We did great,” Lee corrected, wrapping his arms around her. “Your mother even loved those crochet NEEDLES that Phillip got her. They were cute stocking stuffers. I would have never thought of that.”
“Me either. All and all we had a great day, honey. We actually got off work on time, was about to slide out of the Christmas party on time and came home to a wonderful family meal and gathering.” Amanda sighed. “This was a picture perfect day.”
Lee hugged her to him as they rocked softly to the silent music. “Yeah, the only thing that I could have done without was listening to Francine go on and on all afternoon. BAH HUMBUG this and BAH HUMBUG that. She’s awful grumpy when she doesn’t have a Christmas date isn’t she?” he asked with a smile.
“Yes she is. But I refused to allow her to get me down,” Amanda breathed closing her eyes.
“Me too.” Lee just stood there a few moments, holding his wife close.
Suddenly he pulled back, jarring her from the almost hypnotic state their bodies were lulling her into. “What?” she exclaimed seeing the wicked grin that appeared on his face. He released her suddenly, leaving her standing alone in the middle of the room. “Where are you going?” she asked as he hurried to the closet.
“You’re special present,” he returned, disappearing inside.
“You hid it in the closet? Wasn’t you afraid I was going to find it?” she asked smiling.
He reappeared a few moments later with a fairly large box in his hands. It was decoratively wrapped with a beautiful red ribbon tied along the top. “How long has that been in there?” She asked in surprise.
He grinned. “Almost a week. I hid it well.” He sat it down on the bed and motioned her over. “Come on, open it up. I can’t wait to see your reaction.”
“So this is for both of us?” she asked smiling as she stepped next to him.
“Oh yes, I guarantee it.”
As he laughed, she took the bow off quickly and ripped the wrapping paper off the box with flourish. Without hesitation she opened the box and pulled back the paper inside. “OH Lee…” she whispered seeing the contents lying inside.
“I knew you would like it. Merry Christmas, Amanda, I love you,” he whispered leaning over to kiss her softly on the cheek.
Disclaimer : I do not own these characters. I do not receive money for the words I type and the stories I weave. My hats off to all the writers, creators, and actors that brought these characters to life.