They say home was where the heart is and my heart was anchored here in Bear Creek. I needed Sam like I needed air to breathe, and nothing and no one could ever persuade me to leave this place.
Amongst the vast evergreen forest, were splashes of contrasting colors from the oak and cypress trees. The crisp autumn leaves rustled lazily in the breeze. The picturesque backdrop of Bear Creek was breathtakingly beautiful at this time of year; like an artist’s palette, blending together as it stretched across the mountain terrain in an array of sharp greens, sun-scorched reds, and majestic oranges.
It was so quiet up here, and there really was nothing like peace and tranquillity to help calm an overactive mind. I’d become so familiar with the natural sounds and earthy smells of the forest. Whenever the past came back to haunt me, I would often come out here and sit on the porch swing, just taking time out to relax and chill.
“Penny for them?” Sam asked with concern lingering in his silvery, grey eyes.
My shoulders dropped with a sigh. “For the umpteenth time today, I’m perfectly fine,” I replied in a breezy voice.
My ordeal with Chris was still fresh and raw in my memory, so I found things to do to keep myself occupied. I worried about Emma, and about Brittany. Wondering how well they were coping with the aftermath of what happened. Trauma like that can have a lasting effect on someone if not dealt with correctly. Emma said she was fine but Brittany... well, let's just say she was suffering from some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder. I was always the robust one but even I’d been having horrendous nightmares.
Talking with Emma about it was a lot easier than burdening Sam with the details. It was my way of protecting him. He didn’t need to have the same mental images playing on loop inside his head as I did. That would just be plain cruel and unnecessary. He was in high spirits just lately and I didn’t want to seem like a killjoy tonight, especially with it being Halloween. It was Sam’s favorite time of year and he’d been counting down the weeks to wear his zombie costume.
The cabin was decorated to resemble a haunted shack. Rubber bats and bags of leaves made to look like ghosts hung from the surrounding trees. Fake blood was smeared along the windows, plastic severed limbs stuck out of the ground to give the effect of a zombie apocalypse. Whatever horror film that had inspired Sam’s imagination, was reinforced in the decor. It had taken him two painstaking days to put all this together, so it was gonna be such a shame to rip it all down tomorrow.
Using my hands, I scooped out the remaining flesh from the inside of the pumpkin, discarding the slimy concoction of innards and seeds into the open trash bag beside me. Sam saved some of his seeds so it would add to the effect of his pumpkin vomiting. “That’s so gross.” I scrunched my nose as he arranged it all out on the front porch.
“It’s a Jack O’lantern. It’s supposed to be scary.” He cocked a judgemental brow at my smiley faced pumpkin, that had hearts for eyes.
“What?” I asked, defending my hard work and effort.
“Nothing.” He smirked.
With a little difficulty, I struggled up to my feet from where I’d been kneeling down on the wooden porch. “Ouch.” I grit my teeth with a wince, feeling the sciatic pain run from my left butt cheek, right down the back of my leg. The cubs wriggled inside me vigorously, forcing my stomach to ripple and contort in uncomfortable shapes.
“Sigourney Weaver has nothing on you, babe.” Sam eyed my stomach with wide, cautious eyes. “It’s like a face hugger laid an egg that’s about to hatch and burst right out.”
His joke made me snort with laughter. “Hey, those are our children, one of which is sitting on my bladder so don’t make me laugh.”
Childish laughter and giggles could be heard amongst the forest. A cluster of children aging from six to three, dressed up in Halloween costumes, skipped jovially up the woodland drive a few feet from their parents. The road to our cabin was stretched around the steepest mountain, which meant they would've passed our parent's cabin and Luke’s cabin on the way up here.
Sam wiped his hands on a piece of old rag. “Ah, so it begins,” he muttered beside me, tossing the tattered cloth to me. “Go grab the candy bucket and I’ll go greet the guests.”
I cleaned the pumpkin guts off my hands. “Be nice, Sam.” I pointed a finger at him in a warning. “Save all the scary stuff for the older kids,” I told him, not wanting him to put the fear of God in the little ones.
I lifted my baby bump and waddled inside, satisfied to see his zombie mask on the kitchen counter. I then returned with a plastic cauldron filled with an assortment of wrapped candy. Sam was crouched with his hands resting against his knees, talking to the kids. “Trick or treat, you say?” He repeated their question, playing along with it.
“What if I say trick? What’ll you do to me?” He asked with a mischievous grin stretched across his face.
A couple of younger kids shrugged, while one of the older kids who’d come dressed as a pirate zombie, rattled his plastic pumpkin bucket at him. “C’mon, mister, don’t be mean.”
Sam chuckled. “Aw, ain’t no one gonna trick me?”
I waddled across the porch and down the two steps to the drive. “Here you go, kids.” I held out the couldren, letting them each take a handful.
“Thank you!” Each one mumbled in turn, then ran back to their parents who smiled and waved back at us. “Happy Halloween!” They called out.
“Happy Halloween!” We both replied in response.
Sam swiped a piece of candy, unwrapped it and crammed it in his mouth. His eyes bulged. “Listen,” he said, then opened his mouth to which crackling sounds could be heard coming from the smashed up contents.
“Popping candy.” I raised my brows in surprise. “I used to love that stuff.”
“Ahh, Space Dust,” Sam recalled. “Yeah, I loved that stuff, too.”
“So, now what?” I asked. “Do we leave the candy on the porch, or do we get up to answer the door every five minutes?”
“You wanna have some fun?” Sam wiggled his brows, leaving me to wonder of how to interpret that. “Shall we put on our costumes, grab a blanket and wait on the porch swing for the older kids to arrive?” The excitement was evident in his voice. “They’ll think we're props, then when they get up real close we can jump up and scare them shitless.” He rubbed his hands together with glee.
I giggled, finding his enthusiasm hilarious. “Sure, why not?”
After the last few groups of cubs strolled by with their parents or older siblings, we eventually saw the first cluster of young teens approaching. Sam had scrubbed our costumes in the dirt to help mask our scent. The old woven flour sack I had over my head, felt itchy and gross. But instead of complaining about it, I played along like a good sport. Sam had dressed me like a scarecrow but instead of me being tied to a stake in the yard, I was sitting on the porch swing. A blanket was strewn over me to hide my bump. To any onlookers, it looked like someone had dumped me there.
Sam was waiting behind the open door to make his grand entrance. It took everything I had not to laugh. I even held in a fart, and if you’ve ever been pregnant, you’ll appreciate how fucking hard that is.
Through the threads of the sack, I could make out the kids approaching. A boy around fifteen or a little older, scoffed. “Ooh, a haunted house.... scary.” He wiggled his fanned out fingers, showing off to his friends, mainly for the benefit of the girls who huddled together, giggling. “Who dares to go up there and ring the doorbell?” He encouraged.
I smirked behind the scratchy material, knowing that we didn’t have a fucking doorbell, we had a door knocker. Whoever went up there would have to take a step through the threshold and get greeted with a giant shock. “Fuck that, man. I ain’t going up there. You go.” A boy in a skeleton costume jerked away from being pushed forward.
“Chicken shit,” the cocky one scoffed. “I’ll go.”
He swaggered up the steps in all his bravado and yelled into the open doorway. “Happy Halloween, jerks.” His friends cheered him on, encouraging him to loot the candy bucket which was placed beside me. I held my breath waiting for the little shit to get close enough.
Just as his fingers hovered over the candy, I spoke in a low rasping growl, “Who’re you calling a jerk?”
I’ve never thought it possible for a post-pubescent boy to make a glass-shattering pitch as he screamed, but I shit you not, that’s exactly what happened. Even Sam broke character, stumbling through the door, roaring with laughter.
Sam struggled to catch his breath as they all ran scattering into the forest. “Fuck me, who needs a dog whistle. I bet every wolf in Forest Lake’s ears pricked up then,” he howled.
We enjoyed that night, sitting on the porch, pranking the shit out of teenagers. Not only did I see the playful side of Sam but he got more of a glimpse into my twisted sense of humor.
Days rolled into weeks. When we weren't making decisions over the guest house, we were attending doctors appointments to check on the twin's progress. Mom and Jack redecorated my old room as a nursery, so that they could take the babies overnight to give us a break. They were counting down the weeks like we were, equally as excited.
We spent Thanksgiving at their cabin, just the four of us. It was relaxed and casual, allowing us to decompress. The pressures we were under had been taking its toll on us and Sam was shouldering the majority of it. Whenever I asked him to slow down and take a break, he only became more agitated.
The one thing he did allow me to do without any interference from him was to organize Christmas. I wanted to go all out and celebrate this year after inviting Emma to stay during the holidays. Mom and Jack were celebrating with us, as was Luke and his parents, Nina and Joe.
I stood back to admire the tree Sam cut down from the bottom of our garden, loving how the heat from the crackling fire warmed the pine needles, filling the cabin with that fresh woodland scent. “You know, I think I’m finally getting into the spirit of Christmas,” Sam announced, standing proudly beside me.
I smirked. "Yeah, no shit. You've definitely gotten into the liquor cabinet these past couple of days," I gave a sassy retort, pointing out the type of spirit he preferred.
“You fancy a mince pie and some cocoa?” He asked casually, ignoring my sly little dig.
“No thanks,” I dismissed rubbing my throat in memory. “I had a mince pie yesterday and it gave me acid indigestion,” I told him, recalling that horrific ball of fire that blazed in my chest and scorched my throat. “I’m happy with just a sandwich,” I said, playing it safe.
He kissed the side of my head, then sauntered off into the kitchen. I picked up the box of fairy lights, opened it, then began the grueling task of untangling them before dressing the tree.
By mid-afternoon the inside of our cabin was decorated from ceiling to floor with tinsel, foil garlands, all red and gold coordinated. Sam plugged the multi-colored tree lights into the power socket, then spent a few minutes flicking through the twelve different sequences before deciding on a slow twinkle.
Luke brought over some icicle lights that he said were surplus to requirements. He and Sam tacked them to the roof guttering, stretching right the way around the cabin. Christmas in Bear Creek was competitive. It seemed like each and every family competed to have the best-decorated cabin. Luke was proving himself a tough competitor this year, having the record-breaking number of lights all around his cabin.
Mom and Jack stayed over Christmas eve, not wanting to risk getting snowed in at their place. A couple of guys volunteered to clear the roads with snow plows but by the time the got round to where we were, which was higher up in the mountains, it would likely be around midday. Luke being the resourceful guy he was, borrowed his grandfather’s snow plow. His parents, Nina and Joe, followed behind in Luke’s Jeep.
A clattering sound of pots and pans crashing to the floor almost had me spilling my coffee down my front. “Is everything okay in there?” I yelled through to the kitchen. Sam leaped up from where he was sitting beside me on the sofa, rushing off to see if our mom's needed any help.
“Yeah,” my mom replied back in a weary voice. “I’m finding my way around your kitchen.”
“Sounds like you’re remodeling.” Jack joked, before taking another sip from his coffee mug.
We heard a sarcastic, “har-har.” In response.
“What time is your friend arriving?” Jack asked, making conversation.
I glanced over to Luke who was fully engrossed watching a Christmas movie, staring at the screen with a lazy smile plastered across his face. “She text me earlier as she was leaving. I just hope she manages to get here safely.” I spoke about my concerns with Jack.
He swallowed another mouthful of coffee. “I’m sure she’ll call if she runs into any difficulty.”
“I hope so.” I shot Luke another glance. “Or else, I’ll have to send this oversized boy scout on a rescue mission.”
He mumbled, “huh? What was that?” Without peeling his eyes away from the television.
“She said...” Jack gave up with a groan. “Never mind, go back to watching that kids movie.”
We hadn’t managed to get much sense out of Luke all morning. He’d switched to full-on Christmas mode, like Bear Creek's very own version of Buddy the Elf. I rolled my eyes, finding myself smiling back at him, fondly. He was so cute, sitting there wearing the Christmas sweater that his grandmother had knitted for him. It had an image of a grizzly bear on the front, carrying a stack of presents. The witty slogan embroidered into it read 'I come bearing gifts.'
Jack left to go help out in the kitchen, and Sam came back in and snuggled up beside me while we watched the end of the Christmas movie. Luke finally roused from his festive transe the moment the credits started rolling. Both he and Sam waited until the end to watch the outtakes at the end, before Luke flicked through the TV menu, choosing the Christmas music channel.
“I love this one!” He exclaimed, joyfully. He cleared his throat then began singing along to the lyrics and changing them slightly. “Last Christmas, I gave you my fart, but the very next day, it lingered away.”
Sam and I roared out laughing, then the two of them began their own lyric mashup that almost sent my stomach spasming into early labor. The next song began playing, only this was an upbeat novelty song from the comedy sketch 'Bo Selecta.'
Luke helped himself to a glass of eggnog, while both Sam and I were alerted to the soft knock on the front door. “I’ll get it.” I waddled away, full of enthusiasm.
“Hey, you should be resting,” Sam fussed, trying to beat me into answering it.
My hand reached the handle first, turning the latch and opening the door to see a chilly Emma, standing there with her arms wrapped around herself and a couple of big gift bags beside her feet.
“Mmm...erryy...ccrissstmass.” Emma’s teeth chattered as she spoke.
“Get inside, you look frozen to death,” I beckoned, inviting her in, pulling her into a side embrace to avoid crushing her with my baby bump.
“Oh my gosh! Look at you,” Emma gushed, placing both hands around my bump. “I can’t believe you’re almost due.”
“I’ve missed you so much,” I gushed, holding onto the tops of her arms. “Before you go say hi to Mom and Jack, there’s someone I want you to meet.”
Emma pulled off her bobble hat, ruffling her long blonde curls. “I brought you guys something.” She handed the bags to Sam.
“Thank you, I hope you didn’t run into too much trouble on the roads,” Sam asked, showing genuine concern.
“Nah, not much.” Emma shrugged. “So, who do I have to meet first?” She knew something was up by the goofy smile on my face. I led her by the hand into the living room. My smile dropped, turning sympathetic as we witnessed Luke shake his ass to the chorus of the song.
Emma’s eyes widened, not knowing what to make of the situation. Luke turned around mid-dance, his eyes bulged as if they were on stalks, splattering what sounded like, “Holy fuck,” and almost showering us in eggnog.
My eyes were roasting him alive, despite the superficial charm in my voice. “Luke.” I glared, as I forcefully smiled. “This is Emma.” My eyes were silently ordering him not to screw this up. “Emma.” I turned to her. “This is Luke. He’s like family, so I hope you guys get along.” I wrung my hands nervously, hoping for a Christmas miracle.
“Psst, Helen,” Sam whispered, jerking his head as a gesture for me to follow him.
Both parties were as shy as the other. Emma chucked with nerves and fidgeted from foot to foot, whereas Luke stared at her like a freak, completely dumbfounded. I backed up, then turned to scamper away.
“What?” I whispered to Sam, as soon as we were in the small entrance hall.
He splayed his fingers out in front of him, palm side down. “Leave them to it.” He made a patting motion. “I saw him give her the look.” He whisper announced, his lips morphing into a knowing smirk.
I scrunched my face confused. “Huh? What’s the look?”
Sam rolled his eyes, then held both my shoulders. “Yeah, you know.” He did a weird kind of smolder that made him look constipated, rather than sexy. “The look.” He took a step back holding out his hands as if to say 'Ta-da.'
I shook my head slowly. “Sam, what the fuck was that? I don’t get it.”
He scrunched his lips, then gave a heavy exhale through his nose. “Come into the kitchen with me.” He turned me by my shoulders and marched me into the kitchen. Mom and Nina were busy, hovering over the bubbling pans on the stove. Jack and Joe were laying the table. “Helen doesn’t remember the look,” Sam mentioned, with a disappointed edge to his voice.
Jack and Joe glanced up as Sam spoke. Both men lifted their brows in surprise. “You don’t?” Jack looked shocked. “Elena remembers the look, don’t you honey?” He grinned, mom blushed and I almost lost my appetite.
Sam huffed. “It’s the look you give when you’ve laid eyes on your mate for the first time.”
I whipped around to face him, almost knocking him over with my baby bump. “Get the fuck out, they’re mates? As in Emma is Luke’s mate?” I asked, my tone borderline hysterical. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs and run around the cabin celebrating, but I was dangerously close to my due date, and Mom would kill me if I ruined this dinner.