You try not to look at the wrapped packages stacked on the tabletop, but that means you have to look at the clock instead. The flickering digital numbers read 11:52, and you inch your fingers closer.
“Hey, eight minutes!” Mason calls, dragging the packages to his side of the table. “Has to be exact, or it doesn’t count.”
Amelia tries to rescue the packages from Mason. “If you take them, there won’t be any left by midnight,” she says.
“Very true,” Jared chimes in, reaching past Mason and Amelia to commandeer the stack. “I think I should be the package custodian for the next eight minutes.”
“Seven,” Mason corrects him, pointing at the clock. “And you’d better be careful. I don’t think our deprived cousin can last that long.”
“Hey, ease up,” Brent says, slipping an arm around your shoulders. “Do you really think your deprived cousin would slip up now?” He echoes Mason’s words as if they’re the world’s most idiotic speech, and you smile up at him.
“How could I slip up?” you ask. “The entire office was on the alert all year. Martin wouldn’t give me any, even when I offered him an unlimited supply of green smoothies. Stacey just thought it was one long joke, and Alyson—”
Brent chuckles. “I had to do plenty of convincing to bring Alyson on board,” he admits. “I was afraid she’d crumble the first time you gave her your puppy-eyes.”
“But she didn’t,” you say, trying not to stare at the gilt-edged bow tying the packages together. “How’d you convince her?”
He shrugs. “I just had to give her the right incentive not to crumble. She’s a fellow Star Wars fanatic, so I offered her my collector’s set.”
“Really?” You forget about the bow and look back at him. “Your collector’s set? Just so she wouldn’t break the trend? She sounds like the perfect significant other.”
He shrugs again. “I like you the way you are, even if you don’t like my favorite films.”
“How sweet,” Amelia sighs, shaping her hands into a heart.
You’d almost forgotten your cousins, and you try to save face. “Yes, isn’t it?”
“Not as sweet as what’s in here,” Mason snickers, snatching the packages from Jared. “A year’s supply of—”
“I have to say, I’m impressed,” Jared breaks in, grabbing the packages back. “We weren’t sure you’d be able to go a whole year without these.”
“I sure wasn’t,” Mason says. “In fact, I was so sure that I deliberately left some out for you.”
“But I didn’t touch them,” you insist. “Besides, I could never be sure what was actually inside the box. It could have been spiders, or slime, or slugs—any of that stuff you pranked me with when we were kids.”
“As I recall, I never did prank you with any of those things,” Mason shoots back. “I do seem to remember a loaded mousetrap, though.”
You glare it him, forgetting the packages again. “Yeah, my finger was sore for days and days. Our classmates thought I’d chopped it off or something, the bandage was so big.”
“Weren’t we going to get some, the day we busted the convertible?” Jared asks, fiddling with the bow. “Ended up with much more than an oversized bandage that day.”
“No kidding,” you admit, “but it was an antique anyway. Knew the old hunk wasn’t up to it, and we risked the old loop-de-loop road for a box of—”
“Five minutes,” Amelia announces, flashing her movie-star smile. “You’re so close!”
“Don’t remind me,” you groan. “How about another distraction?”
“We could watch Star Wars,” Brent suggests, and you shrug away his arm.
“In five minutes?” Jared asks, glancing at the clock. “I don’t think so.”
“I was kidding,” Brent chuckles. “Is the dislike of Luke Skywalker a family thing?”
Mason nods. “Not enough explosions for my taste—I’m more of a Marvel fan.”
Jared gives Mason a long stare. “I prefer movies that require intellectual effort.”
“Don’t start the insults, or I’ll make you watch the Hallmark channel,” Amelia threatens, somehow managing to be sweet about it. We all make a face simultaneously.
“No, thanks,” you say, speaking for everybody. “Do you really watch that stuff?”
Amelia shakes her head. “Only the first and last five minutes. I’ve got plot prediction down to a science.”
“That’s because they’re all the same,” Mason laughs. “Even I could tell you that.”
“They’re not all bad,” Amelia says cautiously. “I like the baking ones, because they involve—”
“Don’t say it,” you interrupt, “not until we’re past midnight.”
“Eleven fifty-eight,” Jared says, pushing the packages a little closer. “Only one hundred twenty seconds to go.”
“The first two minutes were the hardest,” you say, like someone beginning a dramatic novel. “Everyone standing around, partaking of the extensive spread, and my poor self just standing there.”
“Yeah, with a glass of champagne,” Mason adds. “You hadn’t lost all comforts.”
“And my birthday,” you continue, ignoring him. “All those presents, and not a single box of—”
“Eleven fifty-nine!” Amelia crows. “Sixty short seconds left.”
“Not to mention every other major holiday,” you say, nodding to Amelia. “Valentine’s Day, Halloween, all without—”
“Yeah, we get the idea,” Mason says. “As I said, you’ve been deprived.”
“But no longer!” Jared presents the packages, bow-first. “It is now the first day of the first month of the new year, and I present these fine items in recognition of your heroic resolution.”
You reach for the bow and pull the loops free, picking at the knot until it unravels. Reaching for the first box, you peel back the wrapping paper. As the paper falls away, you pause.
“Know what?” You look around the table and smile, even at Mason. “Why don’t we all share this box? You’ve all made sure that I stuck to my resolution, and you should share in the results.”
“I call the ones with fruit inside,” Mason says, reaching across the table.
Amelia giggles. “I’ll take the nut ones, please.”
“Cream filling for me,” Jared says, as Amelia passes him the box.
“And I’ll have some of whatever’s left,” Brent says, lifting the last chocolate from its plastic nest.
He hands the empty box to you, and you can’t help laughing. “Good thing there’s more than one box of chocolate in this stack!”