Let's go get lost on a long back road
Where the river turns to streams and the time moves slow
It's not anything you say, anywhere we go
It's just being alone with you now
Let's go get lost on a long back road
Where the river turns to streams and the time moves slow
It's not anything you say, anywhere we go
It's just being alone with you now
Being alone with you now
(Tobin - “Alone with You” by Canyon City)
We're all falling and we need a place to hide
A safe place somewhere in the woods we can start the fire
All we know is what would be our home
We will stay 'til the break of dawn
The cold night takes us to a place to escape the chill
Tucked up somewhere in the woods on a hill
And we leave it all behind
Can't you see we need some time?
And we all sit around the fire
We feel a little warmer now
And we all sit around the fire
We feel so much better now
(Christen - “The Woods- Acoustic” by Hollow Coves)
“Welcome to the chaos zone!” Cindy sighed when she pulled the door open for Christen. “We’re happy you’re here.”
Christen’s eyes widened at the sheer, utter, pandemonium behind Cindy. Katie was chasing a butt-naked Cole around the living room, Perry was trying to untangle a long cord of Christmas lights, and Tobin’s dad was hidden behind a mountain of boxes in his arms.
“Tobin’s in the kitchen. Don’t ask her about the second batch of cookies,” Cindy winked, pulling a strand of garland off of her shoulders and tossing it to her son, who was setting up a train set under the tree.
Christen grinned at the chaos zone, as Cindy called it, and stepped into the house, pulling her roller bag behind her. She dropped it, and her backpack, at the foot of the stairs.
“Jeff, will you pause the train set-up and take Christen’s bag up to Tobin’s room?” Cindy asked.
“Hold the phone, Tobs gets to have Christen in her room?” Perry called, abandoning the Christmas lights in favor of greeting Christen with an easy smile and a teasing glint in her eyes.
Cindy sighed, rolling her eyes at her daughter. “Where else would you like her to sleep? We’re at capacity with your family and Katie’s family.”
“Get back here!” Katie yelled, reaching out for Cole, who was now in just pajama bottoms, his mother still holding the pajama top.
“Case in point,” Cindy said, gesturing at the laps Cole was making Katie do around the house to catch him and at Perry’s husband asleep on the couch with their tiny baby on his chest.
Christen chuckled, looking toward the kitchen, wishing Tobin would magically appear and join the Heath family chaos.
“Put Tobin on the couch!” Perry laughed. “You didn’t even let us have a boyfriend upstairs until Katie got engaged.”
“Good thing she’s a girl, then,” Tobin’s dad sighed, placing the boxes on the floor. He and Cindy had discussed this for a while, contemplating whether or not Tobin should be relocated to the couch or not, and they’d both agreed that Tobin was old enough to not do anything stupid under their roof. Tobin was also one of the younger two kids, and if they were being completely honest, they were tired of upholding rules that they’d enforced for Katie and Perry.
“I can totally sleep on the couch,” Christen assured, her hands still on her luggage. She didn’t want to put anyone in an uncomfortable situation, especially since she was the guest here.
“No, you can’t!” Tobin called from the kitchen.
“I’ll take the bags,” Jeff offered, doing what his mom had asked and offering to carry the roller bag upstairs.
“It’s cool, Jeff. I got it,” Christen said gently, grabbing ahold of her bags and stepping onto the first stair. “Thanks, though!”
“AUNTIE TOTO!” Cole shrieked from the kitchen, erupting in giggles.
Christen hurried to drop her luggage in Tobin’s room and then make her way to the kitchen, where the most adorable sight she’d ever seen was waiting for her.
Cole was sitting on the kitchen counter, completely covered in frosting, icing, and sprinkles. He and Tobin were decorating the sugar cookies that Christen assumed Cindy had been talking about when she’d gotten here.
“Well, I’m exhausted,” Katie sighed, tossing Cole’s pajama shirt onto the counter. “So much for trying to get him into clean clothes.”
“They’re a couple of handfuls, right?” Christen chuckled, leaning against the doorframe, her eyes on Tobin and Cole.
“She’s amazing with him, though, so I’m okay with the mess,” Katie shrugged.
Christen’s cheeks flushed a bit and she ducked her head, that pesky swarm of butterflies erupting in her stomach at the sight of Tobin being so good with Cole, so good with kids in general.
“Hey, Chris,” Tobin said, turning around to see Christen.
Christen looked back up and broke out into a loud laugh. Tobin had icing all over her face.
“What?” Tobin asked, shoving one of the now decorated cookies into her mouth after breaking off a bite for Cole.
“You got a little something,” Christen laughed, gesturing at Tobin’s face.
“It’s part of the process,” Tobin snorted. “You want to join? We have another batch in the oven.”
“Did you set a timer?” Christen teased, earning her a chuckle from Katie.
“Yes,” Tobin grumbled. “But don’t look in the trash can. There might be a full batch in there already.”
“I feel much better now that there’s some adult supervision in here. Don’t burn the house down, and wash him up before you give him back to me!” Katie said, squeezing Christen in a tight one-armed hug before leaving the kitchen.
“You want to try one?” Tobin offered, holding out a heavily iced cookie that Cole had dumped sprinkles onto.
Christen nodded then looked past the offered cookie at Cole. “Hey, little man, did you decorate that?”
Cole nodded softly, leaning forward on the counter until his head hit Tobin’s chest, obscuring Christen’s view a little.
Christen pushed off the door frame and walked over. She rubbed Tobin’s back and placed a kiss on her temple, one of the only clean spots on her face without icing.
“Hey, baby,” Tobin sighed.
“Hi,” Christen whispered with a smile, sliding her arm around Tobin’s back.
“Cole, you want to show Christen how to decorate?” Tobin asked, successfully getting her nephew to perk back up and forget about any shyness he’d felt about meeting someone new.
“I need to learn from the best,” Christen grinned, rolling the sleeves of her olive green sweater up.
“Cookie!” Cole said, reaching his hand out for Tobin.
“So demanding,” she mumbled, handing him a clean cookie and offering one to Christen too.
“Which colors should we use, Cole?” Christen asked softly.
“Toto likes orge- orage-” Cole said, pointing at the orange icing.
“You’re right, orange is her favorite. Let’s use it then,” Christen smiled, picking up an icing bag full of orange icing. She handed it to Cole, conscious that Tobin was looking at her. “Want me to hold your cookie for you?”
“Okay!” Cole grinned, his smile very similar to Tobin’s.
Christen laughed and reached out for Cole’s cookie. She held it up for him and leaned slightly into Tobin as she waited for Cole to decorate his cookie.
Tobin ran one hand along Christen’s back, loving how sweet she was with her nephew.
“Oopsies,” Cole said. He’d squeezed the icing too hard, getting orange icing on the cookie and all over Christen’s hands.
“It’s okay, little man! The messiest cookies taste the best anyways,” Christen said like she was telling Cole the world’s biggest secret. She reached out to grab a paper plate from the counter and put the cookie onto it. “Want to sprinkle it up?”
Cole chose to pour some of the star-shaped sprinkles on the cookie. Definitely adding more than he needed to.
“He’s got your sweet tooth,” Christen hummed, wiping her hands on a paper towel to get rid of the icing.
“I don’t know if my sweet tooth is that bad. He’s made me eat three of his cookie creations, and I feel sick already,” Tobin admitted quietly.
“Aw poor, baby,” Christen teased, kissing Tobin’s temple again. She snuck a look at Cole, who was now pouring orange icing onto his hands. “We’re going to need to bathe him before returning him to Katie.”
“Katie’s been sticking me with a lot of bathing lately,” Tobin laughed, clearing the counter of some of the icing and cookie crumbles. “She seems to think that I get him messy or something.”
“No idea what would give her that impression,” Christen replied with a teasing smile, helping Tobin clean up a bit.
“Bath time, buddy,” Tobin said, lifting Cole off the counter and raising him in her arms.
“NOOOO!” Cole protested, causing Christen to stifle a laugh as they made their way to the guest bathroom.
Tobin moved him around in the air on the way to the bathroom, making plane sounds, just to make him giggle. Christen felt those butterflies erupt again and had the sneaking suspicion they would be keeping her company the entire Heath Family Christmas weekend.
“Again! Again!” Cole shrieked, reaching for the watering can that Tobin was holding.
Tobin grinned, dunking the watering can under the water to fill it again.
“Close your eyes, dude,” she said, raising the watering can over Cole’s head and waiting for him to shield his eyes before she poured it over his hair.
“I was expecting more of a fight out of him after that dramatic ‘no’ in the kitchen,” Christen hummed quietly. She was sitting on the edge of the bathtub, a series of bath toys in her lap ready to entertain Cole if need be.
“I just think he likes eating icing more than taking a bath. He still totally loves baths,” Tobin laughed.
“Chr-ten,” Cole sounded out, forgetting all about Tobin.
Christen’s head whipped around to look at the soap-covered toddler in the bath. She felt her heart nearly explode in her chest at the adorable smile he was giving her.
“That’s right!” Christen grinned, running her hand over his now clean hair.
“He called you curtain,” Tobin whispered, a huge smile breaking across her face. Christen rolled her eyes and gave Tobin’s shoulder a small shove.
Cole moved in the bathtub, reaching out to Christen with grabby hands.
“What’s up, little man?” Christen asked, confused as to why she was now the center of attention, especially with Auntie Toto right beside her.
“Oooooh, he wants your hair,” Tobin warned. “He’s gotten into grabbing for hair lately. If you didn’t notice, Perry, Katie, my mom, and I are now all sporting messy buns.”
“You can’t blame your singular hairstyle on the kid, Tobs,” Christen winked, half-turned to face Tobin.
Cole leaned out of the bathtub while Christen was distracted, grabbing one of her curls with his wet hand.
Christen waited for the tug, but it never came. Instead, Cole just ran his hand over her curls, playing the ends, his touch impossibly gentle.
“Pretty,” Cole hummed, twirling Christen’s hair around his finger and reaching out with his other hand for another strand.
Christen’s heart definitely exploded this time. She sank onto the bathroom floor by Tobin’s side, giving Cole easier access to her hair. She pulled it over her left shoulder and watched as Cole continued to marvel at her curls.
“I think I love this kid already,” Christen whispered, an adoring smile on her face as she watched Cole giggle.
“He’s kind of a heart stealer,” Tobin nodded. “Plus, he’s taking my job now, calling you pretty and playing with your hair.”
Christen reached out to lay a hand on Tobin’s knee, giving it a gentle squeeze, a squeeze that told Tobin nobody could replace her. “Thanks for inviting me,” Christen hummed, looking over at Tobin.
“Thanks for joining us for Christmas,” Tobin replied, running her hand over Christen’s knuckles. “Cole, you ready to watch Rudolph?”
“With Chr-ten?” Cole wondered.
“Yeah, you can watch with Christen if she wants to watch Rudolph,” Tobin nodded.
“I love that movie,” Christen grinned at Cole.
“Let’s get you dried off and dressed for movie night,” Tobin said, standing up and grabbing Cole’s towel.
Cole let go of Christen’s hair and lifted his hands up toward Tobin. She pulled him out of the bathtub and dried him off, helping him into a new pair of pajamas. Tobin unplugged the bathtub drain and picked Cole up, resting him on her hip.
Christen silently observed the bathtime routine with an awed, little smile on her face. Seeing Tobin with Cole continued to unlock levels of love Christen didn’t even know were still possible. She felt herself falling so much more in love with Tobin. Especially this Tobin, who joked around with her nephew and made him giggle, who still had a bit of soap on her cheek, who would make an incredible mom someday.
“You coming?” Tobin asked, reaching her hand out for Christen to hold onto.
Christen blinked out of her thoughts and nodded. She stood up and grabbed Tobin’s hand.
Tobin led Christen through the house, settling in the living room, which was now a ton calmer since Perry and Jeff had finished decorating the tree. Perry’s husband and baby were no longer on the couch, and the TV was already set up for Rudolph, likely something Katie had done during bathtime.
“Bummer, you haven’t really met Tucker, yet. He’s not doing much more than sleeping yet, though,” Tobin said, placing Cole down on the couch and pressing play on the remote.
“I’m sure I will, considering we’re all sleeping under one roof,” Christen replied, sitting down next to Cole.
“Christen’s gonna sit with you, and I’m gonna get your snack, okay?” Tobin asked, raising her eyebrows at Cole as if snack time was the most exciting part of the day, which it kind of was.
“Okay!” Cole cheered, reaching out and putting his hand on Christen’s.
Christen smiled down at Cole, running her free hand through his still-drying hair as she turned her attention to the screen.
When Tobin left the room, Cole moved around on the couch until he was on his knees and sitting a little taller on the couch.
“I love Toto,” he whispered, putting his head on Christen’s shoulder.
“Can I tell you a secret?” Christen said quietly.
“Yes,” Cole said, his voice lowering even more as if this were top-secret information.
“I love her too,” Christen whispered.
Cole gasped, sitting up and looking at Christen with wide eyes. “Wow,” Cole sighed, leaning back into the cushions.
Christen smiled and shook her head at how cute this kid was before looking back at the movie.
Cole hummed along to the music, bouncing on the couch a little until Tobin returned with his snack and sat on his other side. Tobin reached around the couch, letting her fingers graze along Christen’s shoulders.
It wasn’t until Cole had finished his snack and was yawning a little that he crawled over toward Christen and onto her lap. His fingers gripped at the neck of Christen’s shirt, and his feet hung off the side of her lap.
Christen’s eyes widened in surprise as Cole curled up in her arms. She shot a look over at Tobin. “What do I do?” she asked quietly.
“Just enjoy,” Tobin laughed. “He’ll fall asleep in a few minutes.”
Christen decided to do just that. She let her arms loosely wrap around Cole, keeping him in her lap. She rubbed his back soothingly and pressed the occasional kiss to the crown of his head.
“Toto,” Cole mumbled, reaching out for Tobin.
Tobin scooted closer on the couch, wrapping her arm around Christen’s shoulders fully and looking down at Cole. “What’s up, buddy?”
“Chr-ten,” Cole started, a yawn breaking his sentence up, “loves you.”
Christen knew that the love between her and Tobin wasn’t new. They had said those three little words hundreds of times now. But hearing Cole whisper it to Tobin, so innocently, made Christen’s heart rate pick up and a light blush heat her cheeks. She turned to look at Tobin, a shy smile on her face.
“That’s really good,” Tobin laughed, leaning closer to Cole. “I love Christen too,” she whispered, glancing up at Christen and sending her a soft smile.
Cole nodded his head, his eyelids heavy, despite how much he wanted to stay awake and watch the movie.
“Five...Four...Three...Two…There he goes,” Tobin hummed, nodding down at Cole’s closed eyes and soft breathing.
Christen held back a laugh, not wanting to wake the slightly snoring kid in her arms.
“You’re really great with him,” Christen whispered, continuing to rub soothing circles across Cole’s back.
“So are you, Chr-ten,” Tobin teased, pressing a kiss to Christen’s temple.
Christen narrowed her eyes playfully. “Only Cole gets to call me that,” she mumbled.
“Wooow, I’m already thrown to the side for a toddler,” Tobin winked.
Christen let her eyes track over Tobin’s features, at the lightness in her brown eyes and the happiness rolling off of her. She caught sight of a little bit of icing still stuck near Tobin’s hairline and felt her smile grow.
“Well isn’t this a cute picture,” Perry said, interrupting the moment.
“Hi, Perry,” Tobin smiled, turning away from Christen and propping her feet on the coffee table.
“She looks good with a kid in her arms, doesn’t she Tobs?” Perry teased, dropping into the armchair.
“Yes,” Tobin nodded. She could feel the dark blush traveling up her neck, despite not wanting to let her sisters tease her this week with Christen.
Christen cleared her throat, a matching blush heating her cheeks. “It’s the kid’s fault, he’s just too cute,” Christen said quietly, conscious not to wake said sleeping, cute kid.
“Ooooh, Toby,” Katie chirped, walking into the living room with a bowl of popcorn. “Christen looks good holding a baby.”
“I already gave them shit for that. Try a new angle,” Perry laughed quietly, winking at Christen.
“So, are you two planning on-” Katie started.
“Don’t,” Tobin stopped her.
“Girls, behave,” Cindy chastised, carrying two bottles of wine into the living room. It seemed as if by some unspoken agreement, the Heaths were now all descending upon the living room. “Honey, bring enough glasses and the cheese board!” she called over her shoulder to her husband.
Cindy settled on the couch by Christen’s side and patted her knee gently. “Ignore Katie and Perry, they’re making up for years of being unable to tease Tobs.”
“Sorry that Tobin was too busy to date and let us torture someone else,” Perry snorted.
“More like nobody wanted to date her,” Jeff teased, hopping over the back of the couch, almost landing directly on Tobin. He ruffled his hand over his sister’s hair, messing it up as he settled beside her.
“What was that about leaving my family and joining Channing at your grandmother’s?” Tobin asked, shoving Jeff’s hand away.
Christen laughed. She adjusted the sleeping Cole against her chest a bit so she could sit up. “I’m having way too much fun now that you’re in the hot seat, babe,” Christen teased, winking over at Tobin. “We’re staying.”
“We’re playing strip poker tonight, Christen,” Katie smiled, tossing a few pieces of popcorn into her mouth.
“I’m holding your kid. You couldn’t have kept Tobs in the hot seat just a little bit longer?” Christen replied with an amused smile, trying to ignore the blush creeping up her neck.
“He sleeps like a rock,” Katie shrugged. “We are playing card games tonight, though. Clothing required. Mom’s making her infamous margaritas.”
“Heath family recipe,” Cindy winked.
Christen gulped, looking over at Tobin. “Why do I get the feeling that these are going to be strong?”
“Don’t drink more than one, no matter how much they try to offer you another,” Tobin whispered, resting her chin on Christen’s shoulder.
“Don’t let me drink more than one,” Christen hummed.
“Oh, don’t listen to Toby. You need at least two to get the full effect,” Perry said, smirking at Christen.
Christen groaned, a hand held to her head as she brushed her teeth at a sloth’s pace.
“Hey, baby!” Tobin chirped, sliding into the bathroom and wrapping her arms around Christen’s waist.
Christen groaned again and spit her toothpaste into the sink. “Turn your volume down, please,” Christen grumbled, wiping her mouth with a washcloth.
“I got you an Aspirin,” Tobin whispered, putting it on the counter.
“I adore you,” Christen replied, bending down to get some water from the faucet and then taking the Aspirin.
“You really kept up with everyone last night,” Tobin said, kissing Christen’s neck.
Christen snuggled back into Tobin’s arms, the pounding in her head and the dryness of her throat confirming the fact that she had kept up with the Heaths and their dangerous margaritas the night before.
“Just wait for my dad’s eggnog tonight,” Tobin teased.
Christen groaned for the third time. “I don’t think you properly prepared me for this,” she sighed, squinting her eyes open and looking at Tobin in the reflection of the bathroom mirror.
“I’ll pour you some of the eggnog my dad makes for Cole. No one will be the wiser,” Tobin hummed.
“You do love me,” Christen teased with a small smile.
“I do. Guess what’s in the oven,” Tobin whispered.
“Scones?!” Christen perked up, the thought of food cutting through her hangover.
“Christmas Eve scones just for you,” Tobin nodded.
Christen turned around and dropped her arms on Tobin’s shoulders. She brushed her fingertips across the back of Tobin’s neck as her smile grew.
“I can’t believe I get to be here with you,” Christen whispered.
“Why can’t you believe that?” Tobin asked, scrunching her eyebrows together.
Christen let out a long breath, her fingertips drifting up to play with the baby hairs at the nape of Tobin’s neck.
“Last year, we talked about stuff like this, about spending Christmas together. And I guess I just thought it wouldn’t happen for a long time, because both of our families mean so much to us. But thanks to my parent’s sudden wanderlust, we get to, and I’m just-” Christen paused, swallowing thickly. “I’m just happy, is all.”
“Me too,” Tobin agreed, nodding her head softly and pushing a few curls behind Christen’s ear. “I guess it’s my turn next year.”
Christen leaned into Tobin’s hand. “We can figure that out later, baby. Right now, I’d kill for a Christmas Eve scone.”
“After you,” Tobin gestured at the door.
Christen leaned forward and kissed Tobin chastely, but sweetly, then opened the bathroom door.
“And that’s Toby’s first soccer picture,” Perry laughed, pointing at a tiny Tobin in a huge headband that held her hair away from her face. The uniform was swallowing her whole, and her smile was gap-toothed and way too big for her face.
“Babe, your hair!” Christen giggled, looking up from the picture at her girlfriend.
“It was a look,” Katie snorted.
“The wrong look,” Jeff joked, holding his hand out for a high-five from Katie.
“You guys are so mean to her when Christen’s here,” Tobin’s dad complained from the kitchen.
“Oh, please. Do you remember when I brought my first boyfriend home to meet everyone?” Katie laughed.
Christen looked between the siblings, waiting for someone to start the story. She could see the embarrassed flush creeping up Tobin’s neck and instantly knew this story was going to be amazing.
“Tobin notoriously scared boyfriends away,” Perry said, knocking her shoulder into Christen’s.
“She was like our own personal guard dog, only we couldn’t call her off or put her in a kennel,” Katie burst out laughing.
Christen chuckled, having a hard time picturing her sweet, thoughtful girlfriend as some menacing, boyfriend scarer. “What kind of stuff did she do?” Christen wondered.
“She gave a lot of shovel talks,” Cindy said, setting a tray of snacks on the coffee table and taking a seat in an armchair.
“It was really just the glare she gave them, I think,” Tobin’s dad added, carrying a couple of mugs of hot chocolate into the living room. “She was so good at just staring them down when they came over.”
Christen looked over at Tobin and grinned.
“I didn’t glare at them,” Tobin said, rolling her eyes.
“You purposefully sat across from them at dinner and stared at them while they ate,” Jeff laughed.
“Someone had to do it!” Tobin sighed.
“What was the secret to surviving the glare? How did your husbands do it?” Christen asked, looking between Perry and Katie.
“They made good first impressions, clearly,” Cindy said. “Plus, by the time they really came into the picture, she was a little older and a little less intent on pushing her sisters’ buttons.”
“Tobin still talked to them both right before our weddings,” Perry grinned.
Christen felt her eyebrows rise high on her forehead. “You did?” Christen asked, her eyes focused on Tobin now.
Tobin shrugged, sitting down on the floor and reaching toward the tray of snacks. “When are they getting back with the pizza? If it isn’t soon, I might actually have to glare.”
“She nearly made my hubby shit himself before the ceremony with whatever she said to him,” Katie chuckled, taking a sip of her hot cocoa.
“Same!” Perry said, cheers-ing her cup of cocoa against Katie’s.
As the laughter died down, Christen felt her curiosity getting the better of her. “So who was supposed to give me the glare?” Christen asked, looking between Tobin’s siblings.
“Hey, I shovel talked you,” Tobin’s dad said. “No need to glare.”
“Whoa, you got a protective Dad talk?” Perry gasped.
“After the first date,” Christen nodded, feeling a light blush color her cheeks. She looked at Tobin and felt her smile soften as she was transported back to that time in their lives. It felt like just yesterday, but also a decade ago, all at once.
“We all know who Dad’s favorite is,” Katie laughed.
“I didn’t have to talk to your husbands. Tobin did it for me,” Tobin’s dad said, lifting his hands up in surrender.
“PIZZA’S HERE!” Perry’s husband called out, carrying five boxes of pizza into the living room. He was followed closely by Katie’s husband who had a few bags of groceries.
From the next room, the baby started crying, having woken up to the loud noise. Cole quickly followed, crying out for his mom.
“Wow, thank you so much,” Perry groaned, rolling her eyes and standing up from the couch. She handed Christen the photo album and stalked past her husband to see to the baby.
“Love you!” Perry’s husband called out, blowing a kiss in Perry’s direction as he walked the pizza into the kitchen.
“Tobs, do you want to take care of Cole again?” Katie asked, fluttering her eyelashes and pouting.
“I can get him?” Christen offered, moving the photo album off her lap.
“I love her already!” Katie said, jumping up to set the table for pizza.
Christen shuffled out from her spot on the couch, dropping her hand to Tobin’s shoulder and giving it a quick squeeze as she passed. She made her way into the guest room, finding Cole standing up in his pop-up crib, rubbing at his eyes sleepily.
“Hey, little man,” Christen cooed, walking over to the crib and picking Cole up and propping him up on her hip.
“Chr-ten,” Cole mumbled, pressing his cheek to her shoulder and fisting her shirt with small fingers.
“Sorry we were so loud and woke you up,” Christen whispered, rocking Cole back and forth. “You want to go and join everyone?”
Cole nodded softly, still sleepy and cuddly in her arms. Christen smiled at his response and walked back into the living room slowly.
“Are you excited for Christmas tomorrow? I know I am,” Christen whispered to Cole, her attention solely on him.
“Santa comes,” Cole chirped in her arms.
“You bet he does! And what does he bring? I can’t remember…” Christen trailed off, pretending to think hard on it.
“Toys!” Cole shouted, a giggle leaving his little body.
“Are you sure? Doesn’t he bring...vegetables?” Christen teased, still feigning confusion.
“Ewww,” Cole said, burying his face against Christen even more.
“Ewwww veggies,” Tobin said from her spot on the floor, shoving a celery stick in her mouth with a grin.
Christen looked up and found Tobin, as well as most of the Heath family, looking at her. She blushed under the watchful eyes of everyone and hugged Cole a little closer.
“Wife her up,” Perry whispered loudly to Tobin.
“Give them time,” Cindy shushed.
If possible, Christen’s blush deepened. She dared not look over at Tobin, not when words like wife and marriage were hanging in the air. “Cole, do you know what we’re having for dinner?” Christen asked, using the toddler in her arms as a distraction.
“Pizza!” he said, totally unaware of what was going on in the room. “Auntie Toto!”
“Yes?” Tobin asked, standing up from the floor and making her way across the room.
Cole leaned toward Tobin, his arms outstretched for her. “You love pizza!”
“I do, buddy,” Tobin said, taking Cole from Christen’s arms and tossing him in the air, sending him into a series of giggles.
The mention of pizza sent Jeff, Cindy, Tobin’s dad, and Perry scrambling for the kitchen to join Katie and the guys.
Now alone, Christen let out a sigh of relief and ran a hand through her hair. “Jeez, baby. Are they trying to embarrass me?” Christen mumbled, leaning into Tobin’s side.
“Perry just has no filter,” Tobin said. “Sorry. They just get excited, and they like to tease.”
Christen buried her face in Tobin’s neck and wrapped an arm around her back. “Did Perry really tell you to wife me up?” she chuckled.
“Solid advice, but way too early,” Tobin hummed.
Christen grinned into Tobin’s neck. “Just a little early, yeah. So they- I mean, they like me? Your sisters and stuff. I already knew everyone else but-”
“They love you,” Tobin whispered, pressing a kiss onto Christen’s temple.
“Ew,” Cole giggled from Tobin’s him.
“Ew, what, little man? I don’t see any veggies over here,” Christen teased, leaning back from Tobin to look at Cole.
“Kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss,” Cole started to sing, bouncing up and down in Tobin’s arm.
“Is he starting a kiss chant?” Christen whispered, huffing out an amused laugh.
Tobin burst out laughing. “No, he just sings words sometimes because he’s a toddler and a dork.” She placed Cole on the ground, telling him to go sit with his mom at the table and steal her pizza. “They all love you,” Tobin confirmed, focusing all her attention on Christen now.
Christen wiped her brow exaggeratedly and grinned. She wrapped her other arm around Tobin’s waist now, bringing them close.
“What if they don’t like the presents I got them, though?”
“I already told you that you didn’t need to get them anything,” Tobin sighed, leaning her forehead against Christen’s.
“Like I was going to show up empty-handed for Christmas,” Christen rolled her eyes affectionately.
“They weren’t expecting anything, so whatever you got them will be perfect. I promise,” Tobin whispered.
Christen nuzzled her nose against Tobin’s, relishing in the small moment of privacy that pizza in the kitchen was affording them.
“I love you,” Christen whispered.
“I love you too,” Tobin said, squeezing Christen tightly for a moment. “I have something that might help you get through all their teasing.”
“What’s that?” Christen asked, leaning back a bit so she didn’t go cross-eyed trying to look at Tobin.
“Well, you know how we’re meeting Allie in Tahoe?” Tobin hummed.
Tobin leaned close, pressing her cheek against Christen’s so that her lips were near Christen’s ear. “There’s a hot tub at the cabin,” Tobin whispered.
Christen’s hand reflexively tightened on the small of Tobin’s back and a small exhale left her lips.
“A hot tub?” Christen parroted, her voice breathy and light, her mind thinking back to an evening just a few months ago when she’d told Tobin about a certain...location on her ‘Sex with Tobin Bucket List’.
“Mhm, and I’m planning on making you feel really relaxed in said hot tub,” Tobin mumbled.
“We leave the day after Christmas right?” Christen asked quietly.
“Mhm,” Tobin nodded. “We’re actually beating Allie there. She gave me the spare key.”
“We should make the most of our time up there then,” Christen husked, pressing her lips to Tobin’s cheek.
Every single Christmas was always the same. Christen woke up at 6:00AM on the dot, no matter how old she was. She had never been able to sleep in on Christmas morning, always too excited to stay asleep for long. This morning was no different, despite everything else that was different.
Christen tightened her arms around her girlfriend, pressing lazy kisses to the back of Tobin’s head as she slowly woke up, as sleep gradually left her brain.
Tobin grunted some unintelligible words, dragging herself out of a dream and into consciousness. She sunk back into Christen’s arms, enjoying the warmth and the sweet kisses that Christen was supplying.
“Merry Christmas, baby,” Christen hummed.
“Merry Christmas,” Tobin croaked, her voice breaking with sleep.
Christen giggled at the hoarseness of Tobin’s voice, secretly loving how deep and raspy it sounded this early in the morning.
“What time is it?” Tobin mumbled, her eyes still closed.
“Little past 6,” Christen replied after checking Tobin’s bedside clock.
“Are you serious?” Tobin groaned, rolling over in the bed and pressing herself into Christen’s chest, hiding her eyes from the sunlight that was slowly starting to filter into her bedroom.
“Go back to sleep, Tobs. I’ll start the coffee and bring it back to bed for us,” Christen murmured, ghosting her lips across Tobin’s forehead, her hands running up and down Tobin’s back.
“Noooo,” Tobin whined, twisting her fingers in the high school soccer t-shirt Christen had stolen from one of her dresser drawers.
“I’ll be back before you know it,” Christen replied gently, loving the way sleepy Tobin turned into a koala and tried to keep her in bed.
“Promise you’ll be speedy?” Tobin asked, cracking one eye open.
“I always am,” Christen grinned. She leaned down to kiss Tobin, only planning on a quick peck, but it was Christmas after all. So she lingered, letting the kiss be lazy and sweet and unhurried. When a yawn from Tobin broke the kiss, Christen chuckled and leaned back.
Tobin reluctantly released her tight grip on Christen and rolled onto her back. “You look really beautiful this morning, by the way,” she whispered.
Christen blushed and gently extricated herself from under the covers. “So do you,” she replied, a smile playing on her lips at the sight of the long-sleeve, red sweatshirt Tobin had worn to bed and planned to wear all day. It said “I’m Naughty. Save Santa a trip.”
Christen tugged on a pair of fuzzy pajama pants with Santa hats on them and a pair of slippers. She paused at the door, turning to look back at Tobin. The brunette was already fast asleep again, her lips parted, audible puffs of air escaping her mouth as she breathed deeply. She looked so peaceful like this, with her arm slung over her head and her wavy hair splayed across the pillows. The sight knocked the air from Christen’s lungs, leaving her slightly breathless. Tobin was just so beautiful, and maybe it was the fact that it was Christmas and they’d had a cheesy, Lifetime Christmas movie marathon last night, but Christen found herself wishing for a lifetime of Christmas mornings like this. With Tobin adorably snoring and with her on her way to make them coffee.
Before she could get too caught up in the sentiment, Christen shuffled out of Tobin’s room quietly. She crept down the stairs and peeked into the living room. The tree was illuminated and dozens upon dozens of presents littered the floor. With a smile, Christen headed for the kitchen to start a pot of coffee for the Heaths. She was so caught up in her own mind, in her thoughts about Tobin and Christmas and forever, that she didn’t hear someone else join her in the kitchen.
“Merry Christmas,” Cindy whispered.
Startling a bit, Christen spun around. “Merry-” Christen started to say, before catching sight of Tucker in Cindy’s arms and a sleepy Cole standing by Cindy’s side. “Merry Christmas,” Christen said finally, smiling at Cindy. “Coffee?”
“Absolutely! I actually came down to get the pot ready for the troops. I didn’t realize you were such an early riser,” Cindy said, pulling one of Tucker’s bottles out of the fridge and microwaving it.
Christen grabbed another mug from the cupboard, the one she’d seen Cindy use the past few mornings.
“I can’t seem to sleep in on Christmas,” Christen replied, pouring coffee into Cindy’s mug and setting it on the counter. She then poured some into the two mugs she got out for her and Tobin before turning around to face Cindy.
“I never can either. For a long time, Tobin and Jeff would come wake us up on Christmas mornings before the sun even started rising, and I guess I got used to it,” Cindy nodded, testing the milk on her wrist before offering it to Tucker.
Cole padded over to Christen and held his arms up. Christen melted and bent down to pick Cole up, settling him on hip.
“You can put him at the table. He needs a morning snack since pancakes will have to wait until Tucker finishes the bottle,” Cindy grinned down at her newest grandson.
“Did you hear that, little man? It’s snack time!” Christen said quietly, poking the tip of Cole’s nose with her pointer finger.
“Puffs!” Cole said, bouncing up and down in Christen’s arms.
“Uh…” Christen looked over at Cindy in confusion. “Puffs?”
“It’s some cereal-type snack. They’re in that cabinet,” she said, pointing to the cabinet over the dishwasher.
Christen nodded and headed for the cabinet, both her and Tobin’s coffee all but forgotten. She got the Puffs out and sat down at the table, keeping Cole in her lap. She had to remind Cole to be gentle a few times as he tugged on her wild curls.
“He seems to really like you,” Cindy smiled, loving the way Christen let Cole play with her hair, the way she let him reach up and touch her cheeks, the way she made silly faces at him and made him laugh.
“I just think he likes my hair,” Christed laughed, shaking some Puffs out into the small bowl she grabbed.
“You’re very good with him. He doesn’t usually latch onto new people as quickly as he did with you,” Cindy said, cooing softly to Tucker when he started to get fussy.
“Tobin must have buttered him up or something,” Christen replied, accepting the Puff Cole held out for her to eat. She pretended to eat it and hummed. “That was so yummy, thank you for sharing,” she murmured to Cole, sneaking the Puff back into the container.
“You don’t take compliments well, do you?” Cindy laughed, putting the now empty bottle in the sink and making her way across the kitchen to join Christen and Cole at the table.
“Uh- I mean, no. Not really. And definitely not before caffeine,” Christen replied with a slight blush in her cheeks as she grinned across the table at Cindy.
“Fair,” Cindy nodded, taking a sip of her coffee and patting Tucker’s back lightly. “We’re really glad you decided to spend Christmas here.”
“I can’t thank you enough for letting me crash the Heath Family Christmas Chaos Zone,” Christen chuckled, untangling Cole’s fist from her hair gently and pouring him some more Puffs.
“We all love you, in case you didn’t know, and we all love how happy you make Tobin,” Cindy hummed.
Christen felt her blush deepen. “I- well, thank you. I try,” Christen shrugged, looking back down at Cole.
“Are you-” Cindy stopped herself, taking a moment to sip more of her coffee and brush her fingers over Tucker’s head.
Christen’s eyes darted back to Cindy, her chest tightening a bit at the serious tone in Cindy’s voice.
“Am I…” Christen trailed off, her brow furrowing slightly.
“I haven’t talked to Tobin, but are you two planning on staying together after graduation?” Cindy asked, blushing a little at the question that she probably didn’t have the business asking.
Christen felt her eyebrows rise slightly. Never in a million years would she have guessed that she and Cindy Heath would be talking about this at 6:15 in the morning on Christmas before she’d even had a chance to drink coffee.
“With all due respect, why didn’t you ask Tobin? She’s your daughter and I’m just-” Christen faltered, shrugging a bit. “I’m me.”
“You’re more than that. But Tobin and I...we’ve never really done relationship talks. I think she just assumed that since she likes girls, her dad is the go-to, which is ridiculous, but I won’t fault her for talking to him. Sometimes he gives good advice,” Cindy shrugged.
“So do you,” Christen countered with a smile. “Do you mind if I get some coffee before we do this Christmas morning heart-to-heart?” she added with a small laugh.
“Sure,” Cindy nodded. “Someone’s sleepy,” Cindy cooed, standing up from the table and stepping into the living room to put Tucker into a small cradle that was shaped like a little boat.
Christen let out a long breath, wondering what it was about this kitchen table that made Tobin’s parents want to ask her the tough relationship questions. With a small shake of her head, Christen picked Cole up and headed into the kitchen, the container of Puffs in tow. She fixed her coffee with the oat milk creamer Tobin had bought especially for her and then joined Cindy in the living room.
“Tobin’s dad made this for Tobin,” Cindy said, grinning down at Tucker in the cradle.
“He made that?” Christen asked quietly, holding Cole against her chest.
“Yeah, the S.S. Sweet Dreams,” Cindy laughed pointing at the cradle and making her way to the couch.
“That’s incredible,” Christen replied, finding a spot on the couch near Cindy and settling back into it, repositioning Cole so he could cuddle more comfortably against her chest. She still held her coffee with her free hand and took a generous sip once Cole settled.
“He thought she was going to be a boy, and he had this big plan to nickname her Skipper or something stupid like that, but then he got Tobin,” Cindy laughed.
Christen chuckled. “I think you guys got a good one, either way.”
“Me too,” Cindy nodded, glancing around the room at all the Christmas decorations and presents and stuffed stockings, giving Christen a moment to bring the question she’d asked in the kitchen back up.
Christen took a sip of coffee, finding a bit of bravery in the caffeinated drink. “We are, to answer your question,” Christen said softly. “We’re planning on staying together.”
“Oh, good,” Cindy said, her eyes focused on the Christmas tree. “I’d like her to keep being happy,” she added, glancing over to Christen. “And we’d like to keep you around.”
“I’ll be around as long as she wants me to be,” Christen replied, the conviction in her voice maybe too much for such an early morning conversation, but Christen couldn’t help it.
Cole crawled out of Christen’s lap, slipping off the couch and stumbling toward a big box under the tree, his fingers already reaching for the ribbon on top.
“Whoa, little man, where are you going?” Christen chuckled, setting her coffee down and scooping Cole up off the ground before he could grab the present.
“And that’s the cue for me to start making pancakes so that the smell gets everyone up and out of bed,” Cindy laughed. “Cole, you want to help make pancakes?”
“Or do you want to go wake up Auntie Toto with me?” Christen asked.
“AUNTIE TOTO!” Cole shrieked, raising his hands up in the air.
“Sounds like Tobin’s about to have a super fun morning,” Cindy laughed.
Christen chuckled and grabbed her coffee, keeping Cole on her hip. “Thank you, Cindy. For the conversation and for...everything. Merry Christmas,” Christen hummed.
“Merry Christmas,” Cindy answered, already turning the stereo on and playing some Christmas music softly so that she wouldn’t disturb Tucker’s morning snooze.
Christen followed Cindy into the kitchen to put her empty mug next to the coffee maker. She fixed Tobin’s coffee just the way she liked it and then headed up the stairs.
“So we’re going to wake her up, but we have to be super quiet until we get there, okay?” Christen whispered, softly padding up the stairs.
“Okay,” Cole whispered, holding his finger over his lips.
Christen nudged the door of Tobin’s bedroom open and walked in, careful to kick it shut. She set Cole on the ground and aimed him in the direction of the bed.
“Cole, do you know the best way to wake up on Christmas morning?”
Cole shook his head, already reaching his hands up to the bed for a boost.
“Tickles,” Christen replied with a smile, helping Cole up onto the bed and then setting Tobin’s coffee down on the bedside table.
Cole crawled up the bed, sitting right beside Tobin. He put his fingers right under Tobin’s chin and began to move his fingers clumsily against her skin.
Christen shook her head and laughed, moving around the bed to get onto her side of it. She sat up against the headboard, watching as Cole tickled Tobin, giggling all the while.
Tobin wrinkled her nose, not expecting this sort of wake-up call. She tried to ignore the tickling, to pretend that she was still sleeping soundly, despite hearing Cole’s adorable giggles.
“I guess if you can’t wake Auntie Toto up, you get all of her presents…” Christen trailed off with a teasing lilt in her voice.
Tobin’s eyes flew open, a huge grin sliding onto her lips. Without warning, Tobin moved her arms to Cole’s sides and tickled him until he was screaming with laughter, falling into Tobin’s chest, and trying to push Tobin’s hands away from his sides.
“What’s that about opening my presents?” Tobin teased, sitting up and pulling Cole close in her arms. She leaned down and pressed her lips against Cole’s cheek, blowing a raspberry against his skin and sending him into another bout of laughter.
“Good morning,” Christen grinned, her eyes crinkling at the adorable sight of Tobin and Cole.
“I really thought I’d be waking up differently on Christmas,” Tobin teased. “Wasn’t someone going to get me coffee and hurry right back up for kisses?”
“Got sidetracked by your mom and the little man, but I did get you coffee,” Christen replied, reaching out to run her fingers through Tobin’s hair softly.
“Oh, did my mom have some deep talk with you?” Tobin asked, a smirk sliding onto her face.
“How’d you know?”
“She gets emotional on Christmas. Whoever wakes up first always gets a deep conversation from her,” Tobin laughed.
“She asked if we were going to stay together after graduation,” Christen murmured.
“That tracks,” Tobin nodded. “And you said...ew gross, Tobin after graduation? No way!” Tobin joked.
“Word for word!” Christen teased. “But I think I gave her the answer she was looking for, considering I said I’d be around as long as you want me to be.”
Tobin beamed, already knowing in her heart she’d want Christen around forever. “So what was the damage down there?” Tobin said, her smile growing. “Lots of presents?”
“Santa must have brought the extra big sleigh this year,” Christen nodded. “There are like a hundred presents, Tobs!”
“Mom goes crazy for the grandbabies,” Tobin laughed, kissing Cole’s forehead.
Christen ran her hand across Cole’s back, capturing his attention. “Hey little man, want to go wake Mom and Dad up?”
Cole nodded, squirming in Tobin’s arms. Tobin carried Cole to the door and directed him down the hallway to the guest room. She made sure that Cole was in the guest room before closing the door and making her way back to her bedroom where Christen was still waiting on the bed.
“Didn’t mean to kick him out, but…” Christen said, her smile growing.
Tobin pressed her lips against Christen’s, pulling Christen flush against her body. “I’m glad you did,” Tobin whispered.
“I think Christmas kisses are my favorite,” Christen mumbled against Tobin’s lips, cradling Tobin’s face between her hands.
“I could definitely get used to them,” Tobin sighed, pressing her lips against Christen’s jaw.
Christen let herself get lost in the feeling of Tobin’s lips, in the feeling of Tobin’s fingertips ghosting beneath the borrowed soccer shirt. She knew they didn’t have hours, not even really minutes, to spend like this. But for a few moments, she sank into how right this felt, knowing in her heart that she could get used to this too.
“SANTA CAME LOVEBIRDS!” Perry yelled through the door, knocking a couple of times before stepping down the hall to wake Jeff up.
“We’ll return to this tonight?” Tobin asked, placing a soft kiss at the base of Christen’s neck.
“Only the good kids get presents on Christmas, Tobs,” Christen hummed, running her hands under Tobin’s sweatshirt, letting them settle low on Tobin’s back.
Tobin pouted, leaning back to give Christen her best puppy dog eyes. “I’ve been very good this year.”
Christen’s eyes sparkled and her tongue darted out to wet her bottom lip. “That so?”
“Mhm,” Tobin nodded. “And I can be very good tonight.”
Christen surged forward and kissed Tobin hard, feeling the restraint and good behavior streak she’d been on for the past few days snap for the briefest of moments.
“God, I love you,” Christen whispered, sinking her teeth into Tobin’s bottom lip and tugging on it, then soothing the bite with her tongue.
“I love you,” Tobin husked, leaning her forehead against Christen’s.
More knocking at the bedroom door caused them both to jump. “PRESENT AND PANCAKES TIME!” Jeff yelled through the door.
Placing one final kiss on Tobin’s lips, Christen pulled out of Tobin’s arms and grabbed Tobin’s coffee from the bedside table.
“Time to join the madness,” Christen grinned, holding out the coffee mug. “After you put pants on. Boxers aren’t appropriate for presents and pancakes,” she added with a wink.
“Maybe if it’s just us someday,” Tobin mumbled, grabbing a pair of sweatpants and slipping them on.”
Christen felt her heart skip a beat. “Yeah, maybe,” she whispered, following Tobin out of the bedroom.
“Stockings first, everybody!” Cindy called over the loud group in the living room. She handed Katie’s and Cole’s stockings to Katie and ushered the rest of the family members to grab their own stockings from the mantle.
Christen leaned against the back of the recliner that Tobin had claimed as her own, watching as the Heaths clamored around the living room. She sipped her second cup of coffee with a smile.
“We didn’t leave you out,” Tobin’s dad whispered, handing Christen a full stocking with her name stitched into the top.
Christen looked between the stocking and Tobin’s dad’s warm smile, disbelief filling her face.
“Oh, you didn’t have to-”
“We wanted to,” Jeff insisted.
Christen took the offered stocking with a bashful smile, nodding at Tobin’s dad as he left her side in favor of the couch. She set her coffee down on the small table next to the recliner, fingers toying with the stocking in her hand.
Tobin perched on the arm of the chair, already digging into her stocking with one hand. She pulled out a few tubes of chapstick and a ton of chocolate. There was even a mini bottle of Tobin’s favorite hot sauce.
“Stockings are always a weird hodgepodge of stuff we need and stuff we like,” Tobin shrugged. “Case in point,” she grinned, holding up a box of dental floss.
Christen chuckled, the stocking still held in her hand and unopened.
“Are you scared of what you’re going to find?” Tobin asked, pausing her actions to look at Christen’s hesitation.
“No! Of course not,” Christen replied quickly. “I just wasn’t expecting a stocking with my name on it.”
“I told you they love you,” Tobin grinned.
Christen blushed and joined Tobin in the recliner. “I didn’t know it was ‘hand-stitched into a stocking’ kind of love.”
“My mom got it priority shipped when I asked if you could join us for Christmas,” Tobin said.
Christen leaned into Tobin and started to pull things out of the stocking. She got plenty of chocolate, a roll of pre-wrap, a signed Barenaked Ladies CD, fuzzy socks, and a pine-scented candle.
“Wow, thank you guys,” Christen said, smiling over at Cindy and Jeff across the room, getting sleepy smiles and nods in response.
“Christen’s done with her stocking, so it’s present time!” Perry said, poking Cole in the ribs and making him giggle.
Tobin’s brother volunteered to dig under the tree and distribute gifts, passing one out to everyone.
Cole, of course, went first, ripping the paper off of a new plush puppy that Cindy had bought him. Katie followed, opening a new blender that she’d been eyeing. Once Perry, Jeff, and Tobin’s parents had opened their presents, Christen was up.
“You two actually need to open them at the same time,” Cindy said, pointing at Tobin and Christen.
Christen shared a quick smile with Tobin and then started to carefully unwrap her gift, sliding her finger under the folded paper to unstick the tape. Next to her, Tobin was tearing the wrapping paper off like a woman on a mission. Finally, they both got to the boxes under all the wrapping paper and stopped.
“They’re distance lamps. You touch one, and the other lamp will light up. I’m not sure where you’ll both be after graduation, but I figured these would be nice if you aren’t close. And if you end up on the same team, Tobin can give me hers, and I’ll bother you both,” Cindy shrugged.
“These are really great, Mom,” Tobin said, her voice softer than usual. She wasn’t tearing up, but she was holding her lips in a tight, lopsided way that signaled she was holding back tears that she felt coming.
“Thank you so much,” Christen said quietly, her own voice thick with unshed tears as well. Christen laid a hand on Tobin’s knee and gave it a gentle squeeze.
“Are we taking a moment...or should I get more presents?” Jeff interrupted.
“Way to make them cry with the first gift, Mom,” Katie teased.
“Christen’s made Toto so soft,” Perry cooed.
“Get the gifts, Jeff,” Tobin said, nudging him with her foot.
Christen quickly wiped the tear away from the corner of her eye and turned to press a kiss to Tobin’s shoulder, her hand wrapping around Tobin’s bicep.
“You’re gonna have a light show all the time if you’re far away,” Tobin whispered.
“I was thinking the same thing,” Christen hummed.
After a few more rounds of gifts and a short coffee and pancake break, Tobin slid Christen a large box.
Noticing that everyone’s attention was elsewhere, on kids or presents or kids opening presents, Christen looked between the box and Tobin.
“I thought I was getting my gift tonight, and in the hot tub at the Long’s cabin,” Christen whispered with a smirk, careful to keep her voice low.
“Those are the gifts that keep on giving. This is just a little something,” Tobin said, tapping her finger on top of the box.
“I got you a little something too,” Christen replied, getting to her feet and grabbing a long box, from a hidden spot from behind the tree.
“Little?” Tobin snorted.
“Oh, hush,” Christen grumbled, setting the box gently onto the floor in front of Tobin and then dropping back down into the recliner.
“WHAT DID SHE GET YOU TOBS?” Perry called out, making everyone stop what they were doing in favor of watching Tobin and Christen exchange gifts.
“I don’t know, dude,” Tobin laughed. “It’s still in the box.”
Christen ran a hand nervously through her curls. She wasn’t anticipating everyone watching as Tobin opened this gift, and she suddenly wished she’d gone for something more romantic and cheesy. “Um, why don’t you open it, babe?” Christen whispered.
“Fine, but you have to open this next,” Tobin said, placing her gift for Christen on Christen’s lap.
After getting a nod from Christen, Tobin reached down, pulling the long box into her lap. She ripped the wrapping paper off of the box and tossed it across the room. She lifted the lid off the box and looked down at the wooden board. She ran her hand across the smooth surface of the board, noticing the shape of the board and the fin.
“I didn’t get you a blank longboard, I promise,” Christen chuckled weakly. “I mean, I guess I kind of did but if you take it out-”
Tobin lifted the board out of the box, grinning when she saw black trucks and orange wheels, and dozens of tubes of paint at the bottom of the box. There were even a couple of paintbrushes and a roll of grip tape for the top of the board.
“- there are paints and stuff underneath. I wasn’t sure what colors you’d want, so I had them include all the ones they could. So now you can personalize the board and make it your own since the one you brought to school met an untimely end recently,” Christen rushed out, her eyes stuck on the box. She wasn’t going to look around the room, at the members of Tobin’s family who were now very quiet, and she wasn’t looking at Tobin either. She wondered if the nerves over gift-giving would ever really go away, if the desire to knock it out of the park would ever leave her.
“This is so cool,” Tobin said, her eyes wide and her voice almost reverent.
Tobin reached out for Christen’s hand, squeezing it softly before she pulled her eyes away from all the paints and looked at her girlfriend. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Christen’s eyes rose to meet Tobin’s, a relieved breath leaving her lips. “You’re welcome, Tobs.”
The two of them remained suspended in the moment, their eyes locked, so much love passing between them-
“What do you mean, her longboard met an untimely end?” Cindy asked. “Tobin Powell Heath, were you in an accident?”
Christen blanched, realizing that she had accidentally mentioned something she shouldn’t have during her nervous rambling. She grimaced weakly up at Tobin.
“I bailed before getting into one,” Tobin defended herself, setting the box of paints on the floor and putting the board inside to protect it from the mess that Cole was already making with his Play-Doh.
“Okay, now it’s Christen’s turn. Everybody watch,” Katie said, laughed as both Tobin and Christen’s cheeks started to blush.
“You’re all getting coal next year,” Tobin grumbled, sticking her tongue out at her sisters.
Christen leaned into Tobin’s side and focused on unwrapping the gift slowly, careful not to rip the wrapping paper. Once she divested the white box of the wrapping paper, she set the paper aside and opened the box. She felt her breath catch in her throat at what was inside. It was a small piece of driftwood, about the size of a laptop. The wood was light brown in color and almost weightless. But the gift wasn’t just the driftwood, it was also the painting on top of it.
“Babe, this is…” Christen trailed off, looking up at Tobin, her eyes blurry with tears.
“Yeah, that’s us,” Tobin nodded, looking down at the small painting she’d done. She’d done a lot of test runs before actually painting on the driftwood since she’d only grabbed one piece when she’d stopped at the beach. She’d chosen multiple shades of blue for the ocean and light browns and whites for the sand.
Tobin had wanted to recreate their moment from Thanksgiving. She’d spent a long time painting the large rock on Christen’s beach, the setting sun, and the two of them, seated with one another on the rock. In fact, she’d spent an embarrassingly long time trying to get Christen’s hair just right, but she was happy with the final product, so the time had been worth it.
Christen knew Tobin’s family was right there. She knew they weren’t alone. But she couldn’t just sit here and not kiss Tobin after all of that, after opening this incredibly special gift.
She fisted a hand in Tobin’s sweatshirt and tugged her down, pressing a quick kiss to her lips. She kept it short and sweet, but still tried to infuse it with as much love and gratitude as she could.
“That’s from your beach,” Tobin said, tapping her finger against the driftwood.
Christen shook her head, feeling the first tear slip from the corner of her eye as she looked up at Tobin.
“Of course it is,” Christen replied with a small chuckle. “Thank you, this is...it’s perfect.”
“Do we get to see or what?” Jeff joked, earning him a punch to the arm from Katie.
“Let them have a moment!” Katie hissed, trying to make up for all the teasing she’d done.
Christen lifted her hand and cupped Tobin’s cheek, running her thumb across Tobin’s cheekbone. “You’re always surprising me,” Christen whispered, leaning back and then turning her attention to the gift in her lap. She shook her head again, almost in disbelief that Tobin had managed to capture that moment from the beach, that Tobin had created such a magical work of art.
“Let’s hope so. I’d hate for you to get bored,” Tobin teased.
“Never will,” Christen replied, leaning into Tobin’s side as she continued to take in the painting.
“Can we see it now?” Jeff grumbled.
Christen looked up, having almost forgotten for a brief second that everyone else was there. After wiping her eyes, she grinned over at Jeff and grabbed the driftwood from the box. She passed it to Perry, who was sitting closest to her.
“Holy shit, Toby. You’re a sap,” Perry said, glancing up at Tobin.
“That’s really beautiful, Tobs,” Cindy hummed.
With every compliment, Christen pressed herself closer to Tobin, her thumb tracing circles along Tobin’s knee.
“Good Christmas?” Tobin whispered, tucking a curl behind Christen’s ear.
“The best,” Christen whispered back, watching with an amused smile as the Heath family was once again distracted by a new wave of presents.