The bedroom door is locked. But before we can start, there's a knock on the door. Katniss's eyes widen.
We're found out.
"Mom, dad," a toddler's voice calls. "What are you doing in there?"
Katniss and I both hold our breaths hoping for the intrusion to pass, for the little one to lose interest and go on his way. But he continues knocking and yelling louder and louder until his sister joins in on the "let-us-in" chorus.
If they don't pipe down soon, Haymitch might come over offering to quiet them down himself, though I've told him several times that my children are too young for his special eggnog—even on the holidays.
Waiting it out isn't going so well, but there are certain things children shouldn't see, that can only go on behind locked doors—be it the bedroom, or even the living room.
Katniss sighs and I groan.
"Just a minute," I yell. "I was trying to take a nap."
Katniss throws the blankets back and hides the evidence of our would-be exploits and quickly closes the door behind her and joins the children in the hallway.
"You know how daddy can get when he's not feeling well," she soothes while I struggle to keep up with my merry band of miscreants.
"Can we decorate cookies?" our youngest asks when I catch up. "I want to make Santa something special."
Katniss, always wary of the copious amounts of sugar they ingest, narrows her eyes in disapproval.
"Puh-lease," he begs.
I give in and try to distract the children with frosting, sprinkles and gumdrop buttons.
I try to feed Katniss a gumdrop, but the boy insists he should get the bright green piece of candy.
And so they decorate and I wait. For time alone with my wife, my wonderful too-good-to-be-true wife.
She's stooped over the kitchen counter sipping on a mug of hot cocoa. Her long black hair in its signature braid and I think she looks as beautiful as ever.
Maybe it's something nostalgic about the hot cocoa, but I always love this time of year.
She watches as the children decorate holiday cookies. Occasionally she twitches her mouth, offers a hand, but for the most part she lets them decorate pink haired and purple-lipped gingerbread people without a word.
There's more frosting in our boy's face than on the cookie, but his smile is so big even Katniss couldn't scowl. She just looks on with a bemused twinkle in her eye and winks at me when he isn't looking.
He bites the leg off a gingerbread man and holds it up for all to see. "Look mama, I made dad!"
She takes one look at the maimed, yellow-haired, blue-eyed creation and spits out her cocoa and shakes her head.
"Not funny," I try my sternest voice, but end up laughing anyway.
Katniss recovers and hands the boy a piece of red and white striped candy. "A cane," she suggests.
He attaches the candy cane to the cookie. "Like Uncle Haymitch?" he asks.
Katniss nods and gives him a reassuring pat on the shoulder.
"Ooh, I'm going to make Uncle Haymitch," the girl announces. She immediately picks up a frosting bag and sets to work. She scrunches up her mouth in intense concentration. Her scowl looks like a mini version of her mother's.
That scowl used to intimidate me, but now I'm not sure it's possible to love it any more than I do. Katniss hums quietly to herself as she watches our oldest daughter dot frosting scruff on his Haymitch's gingerbread chin. Just the sound of her humming makes my heart flutter the same way it did the first time. Two children and over two decades later and I still can't believe that all of this is real. I am such a lucky man.
Her figure is still as trim as ever and when her braid slips off her shoulder, I catch sight of her ever so subtly scarred neck—one of my favorite spots to kiss.
Does she know how much I need her? How lost I'd be without her? How much I can't wait to get her alone like I do every Christmas Eve?
When the children are suitably distracted by all the sugar, she slips out without a sound. I wait a few minutes and go to leave.
I take the quietest step towards the door. Then another. I place my heel down and roll toward my toe like Katniss taught me. But that doesn't work on the other leg. I don't have my wife's stealth and the tile floor squeaks. I wince and hope that the occupied children won't notice.
"Where are you going, dad?" the little one asks like he knows exactly what I'm up to.
"Just to check on the Christmas lights," I tell him. "We have to make sure Santa finds his way to our house."
He purses his lips while thinking it over, then nods in approval.
"Ooh, I'll come," the girl bounces up and down. My heart sinks. This just isn't going to happen.
"Is Haymitch finished?" I ask skeptically, looking at the frosting crop pants she's slowly lining on the gingerbread man.
She gives me a confused shrug and eats some white frosting straight from the piping bag.
"I think he needs some geese to look after," I nudge a plate of white sugar cookies over to her.
She yawns, which I take a very excellent sign.
We meet back in the bedroom where they will surely be looking for us before too long.
"Where to?" I ask, wrapping my arms around her small frame. Hiding spots are her specialty after all.
"Coat closet," she gives me a sideways smile full of mischief.
"We haven't done it in in the coat closet before."
"I know," she says in a husky voice.
She places a quick kiss on the cheek and whispers for me to meet her in a few minutes.
The seconds pass by agonizingly slow. I think back to the guest room, the basement, we've even tried the bakery and Haymitch's house. Even after all these years, she still keeps me guessing.
I tiptoe to the closet and shut the door behind me.
It's so small in here. I'm pressed against her and I'm not sure how we'll manage, but manage we will. After all these years, our bodies know the routine.
The children, trained trackers both of them, won't think to look here. And I smile to myself that her longtime fondness for closets has paid off.
"I brought the mistletoe," I tell her, one hand around her waist, the other dangling the plant overhead.
"It's a parasite, you know," she says crassly. "Now, hold this." She thrusts something furry into my hands.
"I forgot," I admit inspecting the object. "Who's getting the teddy bear?"
She grabs the toy back and stuffs it in a gift bag. I get the roll of red and green Christmas paper.
"Wrapping presents like this every year drives me crazy," Katniss scoffs.
I sigh and think she secretly likes the game of it all—the chase, thrill of hiding away without of being found out. I finally steal that kiss on her neck. "You'd think they know what we're trying to do."