Jace pulls into his parents’ driveway, Drew’s truck already there. Mason texted me a few minutes ago to double-check the address and let me know he’s on his way.
After the most perfect Christmas morning together, Jace and I both showered and got ready for lunch here. I settled on a pair of maternity jeggings and a cream-colored sweater with my brown boots. Jace looks handsome as ever in my favorite Levi’s and a hunter green Henley. His hair is brushed back off his face, and like always he’s sporting the perfect amount of facial hair.
I reach up to finger my new necklace, Jace’s eyes trained on my movement.
“I’m glad you like it, Stell,” Jace tells me, looking over with a smile.
“Did you pick it out yourself?” I question, and he nods.
“It was one of the first pieces of jewelry I saw. I knew right away it was you.”
“You did good, Miller.”
Kissing his scruffy cheek before we get out of the truck, I reach into the back seat for the tray of cookies I made, and Jace picks up the box filled with gifts. We make our way inside, the smell of burning wood strong. Stepping into the foyer, I’m hit with the scent of gingerbread and something else that makes my mouth water.
Drew walks up to us, a coffee cup in his hand. “Merry Christmas, guys!” he shouts, rushing forward to take the cookies from me.
“Merry Christmas, Drew. Don’t you look dashing?”
He laughs, looking down at his sweater, the giant Santa on it eating a cookie and wearing sunglasses.
“Hey, bro,” Jace greets him, slapping him on the shoulder as he walks to the back of the house, leaving Drew and me alone in the foyer.
“So, how’d this morning go? How’d he like his gift?” I had called Drew the day I bought Jace’s present, and he made sure I knew I picked well.
“Loved it. I think it meant a lot to him. He brought it with us.”
Drew kisses my cheek and slings an arm over my shoulder, walking me back to the kitchen. We’ve only just stepped over the threshold when the babies kick. Taking hold of Drew’s coffee cup, I grab his now free hand and press it to my stomach, his eyes widening when his hand is bumped.
“Holy shit,” he breathes, lips turning up into a large grin. “That’s so cool.”
“Isn’t it, Uncle Drew?” Laughing, I hand him his coffee back and step farther into the kitchen, greeting his parents with hugs.
We’re making small talk when Jace hands me a cup of tea with a kiss, the doorbell chiming a moment later. Jace excuses himself to answer the door, and I set my cup down, hurrying across the kitchen as fast as my belly will let me, reaching the doorway as Jace walks in with Mason, a large platter in his hands.
“Mase, you’re here!”
His chest rumbles with laughter as I squeeze him tight, and he kisses me on top of my head.
“I just saw you yesterday, goofball.” He smirks.
“So what? It’s Christmas day, I’m big and hormonal, and I love you.”
“I’m just joshing you, Stella. You look beautiful. How are those nieces of mine doing?”
“Huge. I’m halfway in, and I don’t think I can get much bigger or I’m gonna pop.”
“You’ll be fine.”
“Mason, it’s so nice to see you today. Merry Christmas, sweetheart,” Anna says, sweeping over to give him a hug and kiss on the cheek.
“Thank you for having me, Mrs. Miller.”
She frowns. “Oh stop, it’s Anna. You call me Mrs. Miller and I’ll have to swat you.”
Mason chuckles, holding his hands up. “Yes, ma’am.”
Jace slips his arm around me, my head falling to his shoulder. “Like I said, best Christmas ever,” I whisper to him, watching my brother show off the cookies he made, clearly decorated by Jules.
“Best ever,” he mumbles against my head. I just smile, my heart unable to get any fuller than it is at the moment, my hands resting on my belly.
Hours later, when the presents have all been opened and the amazing food has been eaten, Anna asks me to join her for a moment, motioning me back into the living room. She hollers to the men to clean up and do the dishes or nobody will be getting cheesecake, and as we leave the room, I hear the scramble of the chairs.
“Those men, they only think with their stomachs, I swear.” Kneeling under the tree, she pulls out a rectangular gift hidden at the back, my name on the large white tag. “I wanted to give this to you separately, Stella. From one mom to another.” Her eyes are misty, and I give her a quick hug.
Sitting down on the couch, I open the gift and pull the top of the box off. Nestled inside are two yellow blankets with a shiny smooth side. There is a duck embroidered on the edges of both, and I tuck them into my chest. “These were Jace’s baby blanket, but I made them into two for the girls.”
“I never knew if I’d get to give them to Jace, and for a long time, I worried that he’d never find his own happiness. My boy has been hanging on to his guilt for so long, and I think it stopped him from moving forward. And as a mother, that breaks my heart. But now, sweet girl, he has you, and I’ve never seen him like this. He’s happy, and that’s because of you.”
“He makes me happy too,” I whisper. “This pregnancy has been such a shock, and the timing, with how little time we’d been together, scared me. We barely had time to find our way as a couple, and now we have to find our way as parents. But I believe in us.”
“I believe in you too. I just wish he could let go of that weight on his shoulders.”
“He will,” I assure her. “When the time’s right. Grief is a fickle bitch.”
Anna chuckles. “Yes, yes she is.”
“I hate seeing him struggle with it, Anna. And it’s even harder knowing there’s nothing I can do. Losing my parents was without a doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. But it was out of my control, out of Mason’s control. I think the thing that made it easier for us was knowing we still had each other.” I swallow over the lump in my throat, and Anna reaches out for my hand and holds tight. “For Jace, he’s the lone survivor, driving the car that his best friends were killed in. For him, it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t his fault. He feels guilty for being alive.”
“You’re right, Stella. And I have no idea how he’ll ever change his thinking. I say a prayer every night that he’ll find a way, and I know with you by his side, he eventually will.”
“I hope so too.”
Both of us now crying, we hug each other hard, getting control of our emotions before one of our men come in and worry. Tucking the baby blankets back into the box, I set it with our other gifts, and together we walk back into the kitchen, Anna’s arm around my back.
Jace is wiping down the dining table. He catches my eyes, and I give him a watery smile.
“You okay?” he mouths, and I nod. With a jerk of his head, he goes back to cleaning the table, and when he’s done, he curls his finger at me. Snagging a cookie off a tray, I move around the table the best I can and step in front of him.
“Where’d you two go?”
“She had something for me. I’ll show you when we get home.”
“Okay. You looked teary when you came back in the room, so I wanted to check.”
“We both were. I love your mom, and what she gave me means a lot. You’ll love it too.”
Jace kisses my nose, and then I help him push all the chairs back in. His mom and dad start putting out dessert plates, and I hear her ask Mason and Drew to grab the goodies. Mason has had a permanent grin on his face all night, and I mentally high-five Jace for thinking to invite him. Like me, it’s been a long time since Mason had family to be around. Even though he was with Isabelle for a couple years, she’s not real close with her family, just her mom.
Mason always said that she’d fly in every couple months to see them, but it was usually a business-related visit, so seeing him in Anna’s kitchen, helping her set up silverware, laughing, and having a good time brings me so much joy. I want nothing more for my big brother than to find the kind of love I have. But he’s a stubborn fool, and he’ll always put Jules before him.
It’s why he’s such a good dad.
And I just know it’s the kind of father Jace will be.