My hand shakes as I paint my lips a festive red. The eyes gazing back at me looks muddied with worry. I spritz perfume at my pulse ports, the scent reminding me of joys in my new marriage to Blake.
"All ready, Tilda? You look spectacular."
Blake reaches for me, pulling me into his warm embrace, his calming heart murmuring in my ear. My head nods while my tummy tightens in turmoil.
Hand in hand, we walk down our winding staircase, my right hand caressing the wrought iron railings that won our hearts for making this house our home.
"Sweet, when are the troops to arrive?"
"My love, they will be storming the barricades momentarily. It should prove entertaining at the very least."
"I'm off to check the dinner and set out the appetizers. I know you'll set-up the bar. I would kill for a GT, light on the T."
My lips curve to a smile, hearing the jazzy Christmas tune. I hum along as I fill platters with hors d'oeuvres before setting them out on the massive kitchen island opening onto our great room.
A fir tree stands in a corner, surrounded by boxes full of ornaments ready for decorating that is to become our new family tradition.
My heart hammers in my chest, as a migraine threatening as the sound ricochets in my mind.
Blake grasps my hand, pulling me into a hug then a chaste kiss, "Don't want to ruin the lips with passion, until later." My buttocks tingle from his pinch. "Shall we, my dear, welcome our blended family?"
I repeat a silent prayer that Adela and Sybil will be standing outside our door, the first to arrive, my girls, at my side.
Beneath the shimmering pendant of our foyer, we swing open the ebony door, discovering an impromptu gathering, the two groups standing apart.
"Welcome to our home. Come in out of the cold. The closet and hangers are to your right. Can we help with anything other than kiss you?"
I watch Blake surrounded by his daughter, Nola and her husband, Jasper, with their son Elias.
"Mom, where is your mind?"
I look into the green eyes of my girls before pulling Adela and Sybil into my body, savouring their familiar shape and scent. Lucas and Chester clap me on my back.
Blake appears at my side, hugging Adela and Sybil, shaking hands with Lucas and Chester, looking comfortable and welcoming.
I step away from my daughters, winking at four-year-old Elias and joyful when he winks in return. Nola's brown eyes bore into mine, our embrace stark and stiff, unlike the genuine bear hug from Jasper.
Offering my hand to Elias, we lead the way into our combination kitchen-dining-living room.
"The tree's not decorated!" I feel the heat of all of their eyes staring at me, blaming me.
"Good observation, only the lights and the garland. We're starting a new family tradition of decorating the tree on Christmas Eve. Elias, what do you think of that?"
"Poppa, wow!" Elias' hands clap with pleasure.
Nola's eyes thaw a smidge, a faint curve to her mouth.
"Elias, what do you want to drink?"
Nola smiles over her martini glass.
Elias slips his hand in mine as we fill his favourite lidded glass. Together, we carry our respective drinks to the tree, contemplating the unopened ornament boxes.
"Momma says do not touch."
I bend down to look into his baby blue eyes. "At your home, yes, but here, at Nana and Poppa's, all of these ornaments are for you to touch. " I kiss his cheek. "However are we going to decorate this tree without your choosing the ornaments?" His eyes beam such pleasure that I blink away tears turning away to look at the others, now seated, sipping drinks, and intermingled his and hers.
Elias hands me his drink most intent on exploring the choices in the boxes. His "oooing," and "ahhaing" is music to my ears. Unnoticed, the adults have migrated from the couches to sit cross-legged, just like my kinder children used to, sitting in a semi-circle about us.
As each box reveals its secrets, his high-pitched voice resonates with surprise and delight. The tree boughs swing with the trinkets, the baubles, the cheerful colours accentuating the dark green.
"Okay, young man, we need to move higher up the tree. You direct and a taller person will place at your command."
Elias's giggle infects the room, and we share a belly laugh. Sometimes Elias points, and at other times he gets hoisted high to place by himself.
I smile, bussing Jasper's whiskered cheek, welcoming a rejuvenated G and T.
Blake captures my eyes, winking, then raising his glass, "A toast, to our family, together for our first Christmas of many, many more. Happy Christmas Eve!"
Elias has crawled onto my lap, snuggling his head against my bosom, his lashes closed as his breathing deepens. I feel a soft tap on my shoulder, and looking up, I see Nola and Jasper beaming down.
"We'll take the wee lad to bed, just show us where."
Blake leads them out of the room, and I hear their footsteps up the stairs. One feature of this house was the number of bedrooms and baths, sufficient to host our newly blended family.
Without Elias to hold us at the tree, our circle dissolves, reforming onto our selection of chairs and chesterfields, the air full with sounds of chewing, chatting, camaraderie.
Blake cozies up next to me, wrapping an arm around my back, a kiss on my forehead. Nora and Jasper sit in the only empty spaces.
"He's off to dreamland, wee boy."
"We have news." Our eyes glance towards Sybil and Chester, their cheeks pink. "We are getting married in the spring."
In a flash, Blake is hugging Sybil and shaking Chester's hand. I jump to my feet, enveloping both of them in my arms.
"The ring, let me see the ring."
"Mom, it's Chester's Great-grandma's that we're getting sized."
"We'll just have to have a party, a ring-reveal party."
"That's not the only news."
"Sybil, not fair, it's OUR news."
"What news?" Blake's baritone voice rumbles, "Do tell."
"Let's just say," Lucas begins, "That next Christmas," Adela continues, "We'll be inviting someone new to join us," they finish in unison.
"You're not!?" Blake's voice blends with mine.
"Yes, we are adopting a puppy."