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Paper & Oak

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“Jack, you know I think you’re talented, right?"

Jack quirks an eyebrow at her from the back of the truck. “Okay,” he says, drawing out the word.

“So skilled, and so very, very talented?”

“Uh huh…”

Lucy sighs and just barely resists stomping her foot as the armoire she’s trying to load onto a dolly stubbornly refuses to budge. “Couldn’t you have picked a talent that was a little bit lighter?”

Jack chuckles and hops down from the truck. “I’ll keep that in mind. Maybe dollhouse furniture is the next big thing?” He leans his shoulder against the armoire-- oak, hand-stained, a Christmas gift for Midge and Ox-- and grimaces. “Okay, maybe you’ve got a point. Man, how’d we even manage to get this thing off the truck?”

Lucy shrugs and heads for the house. “Some mysteries are not for us to solve,” she calls out behind her.

“Where are you going?”

“To get reinforcements!”

“They can't see their Christmas presents early!”

“Then you should’ve wrapped them!” With that, she pulls open the door to the house, and is greeted by an array of delicious scents. It smells like roasting turkey, warm cinnamon, and home.

“Lucy! You’re early!” Midge bustles over from the kitchen to wrap Lucy up in her arms, and Lucy hugs her back tightly. “Where’s Jack?”

“He’s out front with the truck. Is Ox around? Jack might need a little help getting the gifts inside.”

Midge pulls back just enough to look at Lucy, then yells over her shoulder, “Ox, Jack and Lucy are here!”

“They’re early!” comes Ox’s voice from the next room.

“Get up and go help Jack out front!” She shakes her head with a look of fond exasperation, as if she’s sharing a private joke with Lucy, then holds her by her shoulders. “Let me look at you.”

Lucy laughs. “You saw me last week. We came to watch the game last Sunday.”

“Well it feels like it’s been too long.” Midge releases her at last, and Lucy follows her into the kitchen. “Can I put you on carrot duty?”

“Of course,” says Lucy, selecting a knife from the block on the countertop and getting to work chopping the vegetables while Midge talks.

“Saul’ll be over soon. You remember Peter’s out of town for work. I keep telling him he works to hard, but-- well, you know Peter. Mary should be back any minute, she’s out with a friend-- though I have my suspicious that she’s got herself a boyfriend. Has she said anything to you about that?” Lucy presses her lips together and shrugs. Mary had, in fact, confided in her over Thanksgiving that she’d started dating a boy a grade older than her, but Lucy wasn’t about to tell Midge that.

“Lucy, you’re here!” Mary bursts through the kitchen door with a grin, pulling her hat off and brushing snow from her coat. She hugs Lucy around the waist, whispering in her ear, “You didn’t tell her about Greg, did you?”

“I would never,” Lucy whispers back.

Mary pulls back and winks, then disappears upstairs to change clothes. As she leaves, Ox and Jack enter the kitchen, arguing about where to put the armoire.

“Did you measure it, Jack? I don’t think you measured it.”

“‘Course I measured it. It’s four and a half feet across. The space in the dining room’s four feet and 11 inches. You’ve got five to spare.”

“Alright, I’ll take your word for it. All I’m saying is, it looks a little wide.”

“It’s not.” Jack crosses to stand beside Lucy at the countertop, popping a piece of raw carrot into his mouth and resting a hand on her lower back. She leans into his touch.

“Well, we’ll see about that,” Ox says.

A few minutes later, Saul and Elsie announce their presence in the foyer, and Lucy’s swept up in another round of hugs and kisses and warm greetings. From there, it’s a whirlwind of too many cooks in the kitchen, and as Lucy takes her seat at the dining room table, she looks around and wonders how she ever spent Christmas without these people.

“Okay, everybody up!” says Midge once everyone has finished their dessert. “Ox and Mary are on dish duty, but first-- presents!”

Elsie leans over to Lucy, her eyes wide. “I was once given a diamond necklace by a Rockefeller, you know.”

Lucy raises her eyebrows as she stands from the table. “Oh? Which one?”

“He never told me his first name. Just gave me the necklace and asked me if I’d go to dinner with him.”

“Coulda had a life of luxury,” Saul cuts in, winking at Lucy. They shuffle into the living room along with everybody else.

“Did you take him up on his offer, Elsie?” Lucy asks.

“No,” Elsie answers, as if it were obvious. “I wasn’t hungry.”

“Lucy, come sit!” Mary’s perched on the arm of the loveseat, and Jack’s sitting on the far cushion, with room for Lucy between them. With a warm smile for Elsie, she rounds the coffee table to sit down. Jack rests his arm along the back of the couch, and she leans her head against his shoulder.

“Okay, we know what Jack got us--,” begins Ox. “--the too-wide armoire in the other room--”

Jack groans. “I’m telling you, it’s four feet and six inches!”

“This is from us,” Ox finishes, handing Jack and Lucy a neatly-wrapped box topped with a gold bow. “It’s new silverware.”

Midge swats at his arm. “Ox, don’t tell them!”

Ox shrugs. “What? They were gonna find out eventually.”

“This one’s from Uncle Al,” Mary says, handing Lucy a gift bag. Lucy frowns, leaning over to whisper in Jack’s ear.

“You have an Uncle Al?”

“From Buffalo.”

“How many uncles haven’t I met yet?” she teases.

“I gotta dole them out slowly, one a year or so. Don’t want you to get overwhelmed by the extended Callaghan clan.” Lucy grins, thinking about how she felt the first time she set foot in this house, exactly one year prior. If ever she were to feel overwhelmed, it was then. Somehow, the onslaught of Callaghans always felt right.

Lucy opens gift after gift-- a knit scarf from Saul, a CD from Mary, a couple more housewares from uncles and aunts she’s yet to meet. It isn’t until they’ve emptied stockings and replaced them on the mantle-- hers in its rightful place next to Jack’s-- that he clears his throat beside her.

“I’ve got a little something for you, too,” he says, his voice low in her ear. She snuggles back against the sofa so she can get a better look at him. Everyone else is caught up in conversation, and when Jack looks at her that way, it makes her feel like they’re alone, no matter how many people are in the room. Always has.

“Oh, yeah?”

He produces an envelope from somewhere, plain and white with “LUCY” scrawled across it in his handwriting. She takes it and slides her finger underneath the flap.

“Before you look, just-- know that it’s kind of two gifts in one.”

“You fit two whole gifts in this little envelope?”

“Very funny.” He squints down at her, a smile playing at his lips, and starts to idly draw circles on her shoulder with one hand. “No, this is-- it’s sort of your Christmas present and your first anniversary present rolled into one. I mean, I got you a sweater, too,” he adds, nodding down at a wrapped gift that must have gotten nudged under the couch in the chaos of unwrapping. “But this is the main event.”

“Our first anniversary’s not for a few months, you know.”

Jack smiles bashfully. “I know. I couldn’t wait.”

“Should I open it?”

He nods, and she does.

“The first anniversary gift’s supposed to be paper, so…”

Lucy gasps as she pulls out the contents of the envelope-- a pair of plane tickets with Paris listed as the destination. The departure date is January 3rd.

“Jack,” she says softly, her thumb stroking over the printed words. “This is too much; we’re still paying off Florence.”

He shrugs. “I’ve got a few big orders in the works. We can swing it. Besides, that’s why it’s two gifts in one.”

She lets herself picture it, imagines the two of them strolling by the Eiffel Tower, and can’t help but clutch the tickets close to her heart. She looks up at him. “January 3rd-- that’s so soon.”

“We have a whole globe to make our way around. Better get started as fast as we can.” He hugs her close and presses a kiss to the top of her head. “Merry Christmas slash happy early anniversary,” he murmurs against her hair.

“Did you give ‘em to her?” Midge’s eager voice breaks through Lucy’s reverie and she looks up to see the entire family watching them. “Oh, Jack, you did!”

“I’m the one who suggested Paris,” interjects Mary from her seat by the fire.

“I spent a few months in France back in the ‘50s,” adds Saul. “I’ll give you the name of the cafe where I used to have breakfast. If it’s still there, of course.”

“I’ve never liked French food,” says Ox. “Too much pepper.”

“George Peppard wasn’t French,” says Elsie.

“Who said he was?” asks Ox.

Lucy sits back on the sofa and lets the conversation wash over her, feeling warm in Jack’s arms and already thinking of all the places in Paris she’d like to go.

She can’t wait to see the world. But right now, on Christmas Eve, there’s nowhere else in the world she’d rather be.