The holidays were strange without snow. I wanted to be cold and feel like I wanted hot cocoa and to snuggle close to the fireplace, but it just wasn’t that cold here. Eric offered to take me ice skating, but I declined. I didn’t want to be in some ice arena with the air conditioning cranked up or outside in seventy degree weather at a fancy rink. I would rather skate outside on a lake, where it was so cold that my nose hairs froze and the air was so crisp that it burned to take a deep breath. I would have never believed that I missed that, but I did. Eric laughed, remembering winters as a kid, but promised I wouldn’t miss it after living through a few mild California winters.
We were spending Christmas in Los Angeles, just the two of us. We’d talked about going to see Eric’s parents, but with everything that had been going on, we both just wanted to relax. We didn’t want to have to rush to the airport and deal with the crowds of people trying to get home for the holidays, or the paparazzi snapping pictures and yelling questions. Well, we didn’t want to deal with it anymore than we had to. Eric had made all of the arrangements for our New Years trip, and all I knew was that we were leaving on the 27th.
Admittedly, I was a little freaked out to know that I didn’t know where we were getting married, but Eric knew me well enough that I felt like wherever it was, I would be happy with it. I mean, the only hint he’d really given me was that it was hot. Hot required a beach as far as I was concerned, and a beach wedding would be perfect. Tray and Amelia would be there, as well as Pam, and it sounded like she was bringing a date, which I couldn’t really argue with since she had completely changed her plans for New Years to be there with us.
We had a small Christmas tree, which Alcide was going to either water or take down while we were out of town, so the house was festive, but I didn’t do much other decorating. I had put up a lot of my snowman collection, but it seemed a little odd in California where there wasn’t any snow. Since we had other friends in town who were spending the holidays alone, we invited them over for Christmas Eve. Sam, Daph and Martini came over to watch movies and hang out. I made popcorn and Chex-mix and Eric had bought some specialty winter beers.
Martini was her usual festive self, wearing a red silk kimono style dress and singing “Jingle Bells” as she came in the house. She hugged and kissed me, looking me up and down. I was a little afraid she could tell I was lying to her when I said there hadn’t been any progress in our wedding plans.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with you.” She looked at Eric like a juicy steak. “I’d marry that hot piece of man in a heartbeat.”
I laughed, hoping she wasn’t going to be too upset when I called her New Years day. “Yeah, well. Don’t get any ideas. He’s still mine, so quit flirting.”
“Pour me something to drink to keep my hands busy then, Princess!”
Eric quickly handed her a glass of wine, but she still leaned in and gave him a one armed hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“Merry Christmas, lover boy!”
He shook his head and teased her right back, “Merry Christmas to you, sweet thing!”
Sam laughed from his spot over on the couch, and Eric raised an eyebrow as he stepped back from Martini. She winked at Eric and smiled at Sam. “You think you’re safe? I know where Sook’s hung the mistletoe.”
We all laughed and settled in around the TV in the living room. I had suggested watching Christmas movies, like A Christmas Story or the Island of Misfit Toys, but Eric didn’t own either of them and my movie collection was still in Michigan. I had a list of things I needed Amelia to ship me, and was beginning to think I needed to just empty out the Saugatuck house, but it broke my heart to think about it.
Daph suggested watching Love Actually because it happened around Christmas. Martini and I thought it was a great idea while both Eric and Sam groaned.
“Sorry, Daph. I don’t have that either,” Eric tried to sound apologetic.
I grinned. “Oh, but I have it!” I stood up and went to the mail basket in the kitchen and looked through several DVD’s in red envelopes. “I ordered it from Netflix!”
Martini and Daph clapped and cheered both in excitement that we had the movie and at the misery etched on Sam and Eric’s faces.
“I think the boys need more to drink before we start the movie,” Martini laughed.
“I need a beer I.V.” Sam joked.
I started the movie, and we all got comfortable, Daph and Sam on the love seat, Martini, Eric and I on the couch. Halfway through the movie, I felt strong hands massaging my feet. It felt delicious, and then after only a few seconds it stopped. I looked at Eric to tell him to keep going, and then died laughing. Martini had her hands in the air like she’d been busted by the cops for something and Eric was aiming his pissed off eyebrow at her.
“What the hell?” Sam asked.
“She put her hands in my lap!” Eric tried to sound upset, but his chest shook with laughter.
“I was rubbing Sook’s feet!”
“You were trying to cop a feel!” Eric laughed.
I rubbed a hand over my face and joined them laughing. “Enough.” I pointed a finger at Martini. “Boundaries. You are fully aware that this,” I waved my hand in the air over Eric’s crotch, “Is mine. Hands off.”
“I was rubbing your feet!” she huffed.
I tried to keep a straight face. “That’s for when it’s just you and me. Okay? Eric gets a little possessive.” I wasn’t going to clarify if he was possessive of me or his privates.
She pursed her lips and gave a little head nod.
“It’s like Springer here,” Sam laughed and Daph hit him on the arm.
Eric extricated himself from the couch and went to the kitchen. “Who needs another drink?”
I followed him to the kitchen to help him get drinks, but really it was to give him a hug and kiss. “I’m sorry. I think it’s just a sign she’s really comfortable with you. Bill never hung out with us, so she could rub my feet all she wanted during movies.”
He smiled at me. “It’s fine. I just got startled when her big man hands were in my lap.” He leaned down and kissed me sweetly. “But I won’t turn down a kiss.”
“You’re missing the movie!” Daph called, teasing.
“I don’t care!” Eric joked back, and I slapped his chest.
Sam looked over his shoulder at us. “I do, you’re bringing me a beer!”
We all laughed and then got re-situated in the living room, this time with me sitting between Eric and Martini. The movie finished and we ended up watching the end of It’s a Wonderful Life on TV. I was surprised, although I don’t know why, by how well Eric knew the movie and seemed to be able to recite the lines. When I teased him, he laughed.
“We watched this every year growing up. It’s my mom’s favorite.”
“Aw. Should we call her?”
He laughed. “No. We’ll talk to her enough tomorrow.”
I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, and it didn’t bode well that Sam was also laughing as Eric said it.
We sat talking, comparing Christmas traditions and telling funny stories about our families. Around 11 p.m., Sam and Daph got ready to leave so they could go to Midnight Mass at church, and Martini followed them out saying she needed her beauty sleep since she was getting up early to help serve Christmas meals at the mission.
I fell asleep snuggled with Eric a little after midnight. We had wished each other merry Christmas and laughed about how much our lives had changed in a year.
“Last year, I was getting divorced.”
“And this year you’re getting married.” He laughed. “Last year I got drunk and slept on Sam’s couch. He skipped church. Daph was a little pissed.”
Eric’s cell phone woke me from a dead sleep at 6:30 a.m.
“Hey, mom. Merry Christmas,” he said quietly, not even sounding excited. “Yes. I know that when we were kids this is what time you let us get up to go open our stockings.”
I rolled over to see his face, and he didn’t even have his eyes open. I stifled a giggle and he opened one eye, then narrowed it at me.
“Sure, mom. I’ll put you on speaker phone.”
My eyes got wide, and he did just that.
“Sookie! Merry Chirstmas! Just think, next year you’ll be a Northman for Christmas officially! I mean, you will be by then, right?”
Oh my god. She could make anything we talked about come back to the wedding. “I’m sure I will, Elsa. Just think, you’ll be a grandmother by then, too!”
Eric’s chest shook with laughter, but he didn’t make a sound.
“I know! Isn’t that great!” she squealed. I had no idea how she had that much energy at such an ungodly hour. “Jens and I are so excited to start having grandchildren! You’ll be next.”
Eric didn’t hide his laughter anymore and chuckled out lout. “Okay, mom. That’s enough for now. You need to call Chris, anyway. We’ll talk to you later when we open your gifts. Tell dad merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas!” I called.
“Oh! Merry Christmas to both of you! Dad sends his love. Talk to you later!”
He hung up the phone and put it on the night stand, then rolled back over to face me. “Good morning, Lover.”
“Mmmm. Good morning.” He leaned forward and kissed me sweetly, but suddenly, I pushed back at his chest. “Do I smell coffee?”
His lips moved along my jaw. “You do.”
“Wait. Did you make me coffee?”
“Mmm,” he said through kisses. “Better than that.”
“What?” I wrinkled my nose. What was better than that?
“Sookie.” He kissed my neck, and then his tongue swirled around my ear, and I moaned. He knew what his tongue in the ear did to me. “I’m trying to wish you merry Christmas.”
“Will the coffee stay hot?” I said with my voice all breathy.
“Yes.” He laughed.
“Then, merry Christmas to you, too.”
A while later, I floated my way to the kitchen all blissed out. Eric certainly knew how to start Christmas morning with a bang. I stopped in the kitchen in front of the coffee maker, tilting my head, then slowly reaching out to touch it with my finger. Eric burst out laughing from behind me, where he was leaning on the doorway.
I stood there, stunned, looking at the greatest Christmas gift I had ever received. He knew how much I needed morning caffeine, well, I did when I didn’t get to have hot sex with Eric first thing in the morning. He enjoyed coffee as well, so it was sort of a gift for both of us, but that didn’t matter to me. It was a top of the line coffee maker. I’d seen them at Williams-Sonoma and drooled. I’d even told Bill how much I wanted one but couldn’t see spending that much money on a coffee maker. Obviously, he’d never gotten me one, but Eric had on our first Christmas, and I’m pretty sure I’d never told him that I coveted it.
He came over and hugged me from behind, kissing the top of my head, and then grabbed my favorite mug off of the counter. It had a retro fifties lady on it and read, “Drink Coffee – Do Stupid Things Faster with More Energy.” He poured coffee into the mug and handed it to me, grinning.
I wrapped my hands around the warm ceramic and inhaled before taking a sip. Sighing, I turned back to look at the new coffee maker again, in awe. “Did I forget to say thank you?”
He chuckled. “You have barely had a sip of coffee. I’ll let it slide.”
I nodded, taking another drink. “This is good coffee. Thank you.” I angled my head at the machine. “Do you know how to work it?”
He stepped forward and showed me how to set the timer and set it up so that if we filled it with water and poured beans into it at night it would automatically grind them and make our coffee in the morning.
“Amazing. It’s like my own coffee robot.”
He chuckled. “Do you want to have breakfast or open our gifts?”
“Mmmm. I need some yogurt or something first. Sound good?”
He poured a cup of coffee for himself and we ate some Greek yogurt before heading to the living room and the tree. We sat on the floor and grinned at each other. He stretched forward and reached behind the tree to pull out a Tiffany blue gift bag that certainly hadn’t been there before we went to bed. I raised an eyebrow at him. He didn’t need to spend a lot of money on me, and he knew it, it just wasn’t me, but I was not going to turn down anything from Tiffany’s. He shrugged, and flashed me a silly grin.
I reached into the bag and pulled out a small square box tied with a ribbon. I pulled the ends of the bow and then opened the box, slowly lifting the lid and a layer of cotton. Inside was a simple silver beaded bracelet with the “Return to Tiffany’s” heart tag. It was sort of the little black dress of Tiffany’s jewelry, and I loved it. I leaned forward and gave him a thank you kiss, then sat back and reached into the boughs of the tree where I’d placed one of his presents.
He waggled his eyebrows. “I’ve been dying to know what this is. It’s a weird shape.”
I laughed. It wasn’t really that strange of a shape. It was a short, round package taped to an envelope.
“Which should I open first?”
“Unwrap it and then look in the envelope.” I grinned.
He quickly tore at the paper and pulled out the container and immediately burst into laughter. “Sex wax? Nice.”
I laughed. “Open the envelope, pervert.”
He tore into that and pulled out the certificate for private lessons at Malibu Long Boards Surf School. He grinned. “This is very cool, Sookie. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. And the Sex Wax is for your surf board, not your other long board, big guy.”
“I know what it is. I just had to-”
“Be perverted. I know.” I laughed.
“If the shoe fits.” He shrugged and then handed me another envelope off the tree.
I smiled and used my fingernail to run along the edge of the envelope and open it. I pulled out a post-card from the Calistoga Ranch in Napa Valley and a gift certificate for three nights in one of their lodges. Also tucked into the envelope were brochures for the Niebaum-Coppola and Opus One wineries and the Wine Spectator Greystone restaurant. I smiled at Eric, excited to think about another opportunity for time away with him.
“Those are just suggestions. We can decide where we want to visit together.” Then quietly he said, “I hope you enjoy California wine as much as you do your Michigan wine.”
“I’m sure I will.” I bit my lip, trying not to tear up. I loved that he put so much thought into the gift. “This is great. Thank you. I can’t wait for us to have a weekend when we can go.” I exhaled, and reached forward for Eric’s last gift. It was another envelope, and it was silly, but I thought it was something he might like.
He ripped the paper off and quickly had the box open, just like he’d done with his other gift. He pulled out a stuffed animal and wrinkled his brows at me.
“There’s more. It will make sense.”
He reached into the box again and pulled out some papers including a certificate from the Save the Manatee Club saying that he had adopted a manatee in Florida named Howie for the year. He grinned at me with the stuffed manatee under his arm and looked at the literature about the Adopt a Manatee program. Then read to me about Howie the manatee, as if I hadn’t read it when I picked him out.
“Howie is a sleek, large male, weighing over a thousand pounds who has been known to winter at the Manatee park since 1971. One of Howie’s favorite activities is to tip the research canoe – complete with researchers in it!” He grinned. “Sookie, this is really cool.”
I grinned at his excitement. “I thought you’d like it. I looked into adopting a whale here in California, but you don’t really get to adopt a specific one. My parents did this for me and Jason the year we went to Florida on vacation so we could stop and try to see our manatees while we were there.”
I laughed. “No. We saw some manatees, but we had no idea which ones they were. They were all just these huge gray spots under the water and sometimes you saw their nose or something sticking out of the water.”
“That’s a great memory,” he said quietly.
I blinked back tears. “Yeah. Sorry. That’s not what this was about. I just really thought you would think it was cool.”
He put his arms around me, and I curled into his lap. “It is really cool. You are amazing. You know that?”
I smiled into his neck. I didn’t think I was amazing, but I knew he did. The feeling was mutual.
“So,” he said quietly. I have something else for you that isn’t really a Christmas present, just something for you that I know you’ll like.”
I sat back and gave him a small smile. “You didn’t need to get me anything else. You didn’t need to get me anything at all, really.”
“I know. And I love that about you.” He stood and pulled me up with him, leading me down the hallway. “Just come with me. I didn’t really get you anything else.” He laughed. “You’ll see.”
He took me into the spare bedroom, and I had no idea what he was going to show me. Nothing looked different about the room, so I raised an eyebrow at him. He smirked, and then opened the sliding closet doors. Cardboard boxes, maybe ten of them.
I looked over at him and then stepped forward, trying to see what they were. They were all addressed from Amelia. I looked back at him again. “Eric, what is all of this?”
“Open one of the boxes.”
I hesitated, but pulled on the flaps of one that had previously been cut open. There were a lot of packing peanuts, but I moved them out of the way and picked up the top item in the box. It was wrapped in tissue paper and bubble wrap. I peeled back the layers and suddenly realized what I held. I closed my eyes and held the frame to my chest. It was the picture of me, Gran and Jason from the mantle in the Saugatuck house.
“These boxes. They’re full of my things?” I was so overcome with emotion I could hardly speak.
“Yes.” His arms came around me and he held me while I let myself cry for a minute.
“Thank you,” I said, wiping my eyes. “I don’t even know what to say. What all is in there?”
He gave me a crooked smile. “I’m not entirely sure. I found your list and passed it on to Amelia and told her to send other things she knew you liked.”
“Wow.” I laughed. I couldn’t wait to look through the boxes, but I had something else to give him as well. “Did Amelia say anything weird to you?”
“Define weird,” he joked.
“Well. I asked her to send me something for you, too. It’s not really a Christmas present either.”
“Really? That’s kind of funny.”
“I know. Right? Wait here a second.”
I went into our bedroom and grabbed the small box out of my underwear drawer. I wasn’t sure if he’d already bought one, but I was hoping that since we’d just decided on getting married so recently that he hadn’t had time yet. I went back into the guest room and held the box out to him.
“This is for you. I hope you like it.”
He took the black velvet box and looked at me questioningly.
“It was my dad’s,” I said quietly as he opened it.
His eyes met mine for a second and then he looked down. “Oh, Sook. Wow. Thank you.” He gently took my fathers’ wedding band out of the box and slipped it onto his index finger to look at it more closely. It was simple; brushed white gold, with millgrain edging.
“You don’t have to wear it if you have something else picked out,” I said quickly. Pam had gotten it sized for me since she knew Eric’s sizes for everything.
“What? No, this is perfect. I had one in mind, but I’d rather wear this.” He slid it on his ring finger and it fit well. “Jason didn’t want it?”
“No. It got put in the same box with my mom’s rings and of those all came to me. When I married Bill I went through the jewelry box, and I asked Jason if he wanted it, but he said I should keep it.”
“Thank you. Really. I love it.”
I could hardly tear my eyes away from his hand. It was amazing how different it looked with the small band on his finger. “I’m really glad that we’re getting married soon. I don’t want to wait anymore.”
He held his hand out in front of him, examining it with the ring. He tried to keep a straight face, but the corner of his mouth lifted. Then he put his hands on either side of my face and leaned down to kiss me. “Me, too.”
The morning was slipping away, and I was cooking us a Christmas lunch, so we headed back to the kitchen and living room. I was making a small turkey breast along with some oyster stuffing that had been a tradition at our house, fresh cranberry sauce, roasted new potatoes, and home made rolls. I did most of the prep work the day before, including making a grasshopper pie, which had initially grossed Eric out until I stopped laughing long enough to explain that the grasshopper part was actually crème de menthe. We’d had it every New Years when I was growing up, and since we weren’t going to be home then, I decided to make one for Christmas.
As I worked in the kitchen and Eric set up the laptop to Skype with his parents, I asked him if he was going to call his brothers, and he said that they had a ritual for that too. After lunch Eric would call Chris, then Chris would call Sven, and when they were done, Sven would call Eric. I laughed and asked if he’d ever heard of three way calling.
When I got the turkey in the oven and Eric had everything set up on the computer, I joined him in the living room. I hadn’t Skyped before, so it was a little strange, but there were Elsa and Jens, waving through the camera at us. “Merry Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas!” we called, waving back.
“We can’t hear you. Jens, fix the computer. Why can’t we here them?”
The fiddled around with the computer and Eric muttered, “They have it on mute.”
After a few minutes of listening to Elsa give Jens directions on how to try to fix the connection, we saw him move the mouse and then we heard him say, “You turned the volume off again, Els.”
Eric and I laughed, and Jens gave us the Northman eyebrow.
“Just you wait.” He laughed. “Someday, this will be the two of you.”
We opened the gifts they’d sent for us; a book for me about the cheeses of France that I was oddly excited about, a Star Wars Darth Vader Mr. Potato Head for Eric that we were going to have to talk about because I had no idea that he liked Star Wars, which I loved, and fleece jackets for both of us from L.L. Bean.
They opened their gifts from us, which were an antique bar set for Jens that I’d found while shopping with Holly one day and the accessory pack for Elsa’s Kitchen Aid mixer that I couldn’t believe she didn’t already have.
As soon as the gift opening was finished, Elsa’s inquisition began, but I was prepared for it. Although I had to admit that I hadn’t really understood when Eric asked if I could keep our wedding plans a secret that we’d be talking to her repeatedly on Christmas day and Skyping face to face. I answered in ways that were vague, but honest, and it made us both happy.
“Have you set a date?”
“We’re getting closer.” I grinned, and Eric squeezed my hand out of the view of the web cam.
“Well, have you found a location? That will probably determine your date.”
“You’re probably right. Eric has a couple of ideas about that.”
“That’s good. Have you been dress shopping yet?”
“I have, but I didn’t find anything. I might go with something less traditional.”
“Okay, okay. I guess you’re at least thinking about it.” She laughed.
“We are definitely thinking about it, Mom,” Eric added.
We talked a little more and then all finished with a round of ‘I love yous’ and Elsa told Eric to call Chris after lunch. It was all really sweet, even the questions this time, because I knew it was the last time I would hear them, until I got pregnant.
Oh, Elsa. How we love your nosy obsession with your son’s lives. tee hee. We all know someone who has a mom like that. I hope you enjoyed their Christmas and it wasn’t too cheesey. I was a little worried about it, but there wasn’t anything I felt I was willing to cut – thus my need for additional support this week. Thanks again girls. I won’t keep you hanging too long. I’m working on the next chapter and they have arrived at the vacation location…Good, sunny times are ahead!
Thanks again! Drop me a note if you feel like it.
OH – below are the 12,000 links for this chapter; if you’re into that kind of thing.
There are a gazillion for this chapter (most importantly – the pie recipe and the coffee maker are first. LOL)
Grasshopper Pie – this is pretty close to the recipe my mom uses
I have to admit that I have this coffee maker, well, its great grandfather. I bought it at a thrift store for $20. It pays to shop around.