See me when you look at me

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Welcome home, Santa Claus

-Samantha's POV

''Sammy, what is aunt Laurel doing?''

Aunt Laurel is talking to herself and going from room to room. Emma follows her movements with big eyes, and I can't help to feel a little worried myself.

I have never seen our aunt so stressed out.

''I have no idea, Em.''

''Dad is coming home and that always makes mom go a little bit nutty,'' Mia says as she sits down on a stool. ''You are making lasagna, my favorite!''

''I know,'' I say with a smile. ''You can help Emma with grasping the cheese if you want. Em, remember that the dish is hot!''

''I know,'' Emma mumbles as she keeps following our aunt's movements.

''Mia, can you explain what you said? Your dad coming home and your mom behaving like this, I mean.''

''Dad is a Marine. He is very strict, disciplined and he likes order,'' Mia answers.

That would explain it because my aunt was none of those things.

''How about we all pitch in and help out your mom? Emma, you can put your toys away. Mia, you can help me with the laundry.''

''Why doesn't Tyler have to help?'' Mia grumbles.

''He is not home yet, but he can clean the kitchen after dinner. Alright, can I put the lasagna in the oven?''

The girls nod and I put the lasagna in the oven. The timer is set for thirty minutes, so we had a little time. Although, we were going to need more than half an hour for laundry.

The laundry room was in complete chaos. There was a huge pile of clean clothes that needed to be ironed and folded.

A huge pile of clean clothes that needed to be ironed and folded. The baskets with dirty laundry were stacked on each other and giving off a terrible smell.

Tyler's gym clothes and socks were in there. No doubt about it!

''Mia, can you start with folding the small stuff?'' I ask as start putting some of the dirty clothes in the machine. ''I will iron and help you sort.''

Ironing was one of those jobs that hated and loved at the same time. There was something very satisfying about getting the wrinkles out of the clothes, but it also frustrated me that my effort was pointless. These freshly washed and neatly ironed clothes would soon be in the laundry again.

''Sammy, the timer went off!'' I hear Emma yell.

''Yes, lasagna time!'' Mia shouts and she is gone.

I turn the iron off and look around. There are still two baskets of dirty laundry, but most of it is bed stuff. That could go in the dryer after I washed them and then it was a matter of folding.

I hear the muffled voice of Tyler and I walk towards the door.

''Tyler, don't let them go near the oven and can you please set the table?''

Can't hear Tyler's response but I do hear several voices cheering for lasagna. I grab two baskets and I make my way back to the kitchen.

''Mia, can you put your clothes away? Thank you and this one is for you,'' I say as I give Tyler his basket.

''But the lasagna is ready!'' Mia mutters.

''Yes, and the lasagna will still be ready after you two put your clothes away.'' I say while I check on the lasagna.

''Or we put our clothes away after dinner,'' Mia tries. ''Why do we have to do it now? It will still end up in our closet, so I say let's eat first!''

Take a deep breath, Samantha.

''Sure, eat and burn your tongue,'' Tyler says as he gives me a wink. ''That would teach you, but it's up to you. I don't mind a few days of you being quiet.''

Tyler walks away after that, and Mia quickly follows him. Not because she wanted to put her clothes away, but because she hated to not have the last word and Tyler knew that very well.

Well played, cousin.

I get the salad that I prepared in advance out of the fridge and I hear my aunt sobbing in the pantry.

''Aunt Laurel?'' I ask and I walk into the pantry.

I'm trying my hardest not to laugh when I see what happened in here. My aunt is covered in flour and she is holding the torn bag in her hand.

''I can't do anything!'' aunt Laurel groans as she wipes away her tears. ''I mean, look at this! Look at me!''

A laugh slips through and then I burst out in laughter.

''I'm sorry, aunt Laurel! I am sorry, but you look like a ghost!''

Aunt Laurel looks at me and she starts to laugh too.

''I don't know why I always do things like this when Thomas comes home. He has a very stressful job and adjusting to our life is hard for him. So, I just wanted to make the house presentable and now look at what I did!''

''How about you go take a shower and just relax a little, aunt Laurel? I can bring dinner to your room if you like.''

''That sounds lovely, dear. It's just that I still have so much to do and... Argh!!''

Aunt Laurel looks at the picture that I just took of her and she surrenders.

''Yes, shower! Yes, dinner in my room would be great and how much will it cost me to get you to delete that photo?''

''Nothing, if you promise to stop cleaning and what else you were planning to do,'' I say with a grin.

''Deal!''


Samantha's POV

''You are still up?'' Tyler asks. ''Don't answer that! Yes, I can see you standing there. So why are you not asleep like a normal person?''

''Not tired,'' I answer as I clean the counter.

''Not even after you told Emma like a hundred times that my dad isn't Santa Claus?'' Tyler asks with a grin as he fills a glass with water.

''Yes, that did absolutely nothing,'' I sighed. ''She thought that your dad wasn't real because he is never here. That's why I compared him to Santa Claus. You don't see him placing the gifts under the tree but you still believe that he did.''

''Well, dad does usually bring home presents when he comes back from deployment.''

''Mia said the same thing and after that, it was of course impossible to convince Emma that your dad isn't Santa. I gave up, couldn't sleep, and then remembered that your mom wanted to make an apple pie for your dad.''

''Only you would decide to make a pie in the middle of the night,'' Tyler chuckles. ''Anyway, I told Kyle at practice to leave you alone since you made it very clear that you are not interested in him.''

''Tyler, I know that you meant well, and I appreciate you looking out for me, but it won't work. Kyle is all about the chase and you telling him to leave me be only made it more interesting for him.''

''Then I deal with him,'' Tyler says firmly.

''Spoken like a real man!'' an unfamiliar voice says.

''Dad!'' Tyler walks into the arms of the man who now stands in the doorway. ''We were supposed to pick you up tomorrow!''

''That was the plan, but then I could get away early. The plan was to surprise you all in the morning since I didn't expect anyone to be awake at this hour.''

''You surprised me and Sam,'' Tyler grins when he hears the timer on my phone go off. ''Perfect timing also because she made apple pie for you. Don't you think we should have a piece, dad?''

''Very subtle, Ty. Samantha, I'm very happy to finally see you again. It has been a long time, kiddo.''

''I know, uncle Thomas. I wish it was different, but I'm very happy to be here now.''

I let uncle Thomas hug me briefly before I take the pie out of the oven and start to cut it into pieces.

''Sammy?''

I sigh and I put down the knife. ''I will be right back.''

I walk up the stairs and I see Emma standing in the middle of our room.

''Where were you, Sammy? I couldn't find you!''

''I'm sorry, Em. I heard something downstairs and guess what?''

''What?''

''I think I saw Santa Claus in the kitchen!''

''Really?'' Emma asks me with big eyes. Like she couldn't believe it. I love her childlike ability to believe in everything.

''Yes, would you like to meet him?''

''Now?'' Emma looks at me surprised.

''Yes, lovey. You don't want Tyler to eat the entire apple pie, do you?''

''Apple pie!''

And Emma is running down the stairs and I follow her. At first, Emma is shy when she sees uncle Thomas. He is a giant compared to her, but she warms up to him quickly. She still calls him Santa Claus and nobody corrects her, because it is the most adorable thing!

We all have a piece of the pie and then it is off to bed. I check my phone for the last time and I see that I have a text from Alexander.

Can I take you out on a date Friday?

It was never my intention to use Alexander to get back at Trisha and Kim. Them being insufferable was no excuse and that's what I also said to Alexander when I apologized to him.

However, he never got the chance to respond because there was Tyler. Making jokes about being in a real-life mean girls movie and that I finally put the rumors about Alexander secretly being gay to rest. Although according to Tyler that wasn't a good thing because girls were already throwing themselves at him.

Part of me is relieved that Alexander still wants to go on a date, but I can also still hear what Trisha and Kim were saying about me in the bathroom.

Uncle Thomas is home, so I have to check.

I press on send and I stare at the ceiling for a while, trying my hardest not to think about my old life.

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