Emma nodded. “Yup. It’s tradition.”
Nick was in the kitchen helping Emma make meatloaf and listening to her tell him about things she’s always done with Addie around the holidays.
“We have meatloaf and mashed potatoes, watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” and stay up till midnight so we can each open one gift.”
“I thought you were supposed to wait till Christmas morning to open gifts.” Nick teased.
“Technically it is Christmas morning so we’re not breaking any Christmas rules.”
“Ok, I’ll give you that one.”
“Score one for me!” Emma said with a laugh. “You’re doing a good job with that meatloaf.”
“Score one for me!” Nick mimicked.
“Yeah but you love me.”
Nick leaned over and kissed her lightly. Emma didn’t really know how to reply to his statement so she just kissed him back and kept on peeling potatoes. Thankfully, the doorbell sounded and it eased any awkwardness that was going on. Nick cleaned his hands and went to let Addie and Howie in.
A few moments later, Addie made her way into the kitchen piled high with bags.
“Are you moving in?” Emma joked.
“You’d better be quiet or I’ll bring the bread pudding I found back.” Addie retorted. “As soon as I find it again!”
“My favorite!” Emma shouted and threw her arms around her friend. “You’re the best!”
“And you smell like potatoes!” Addie replied, crinkling her nose.
“Sorry.” Emma said as she wiped her hands on a towel. “I wanted to finish everything before you guys got here.”
“We would have helped you know.”
“You’re company; you’re not cooking your own dinner.”
“We’re family.” Addie replied draping her arm across her friend’s shoulder. “We’ll always be family.”
Emma smiled. “Always, no matter what.”
Addie grinned and nodded. “Now where’s the gravy?”
Dinner flew by and it was midnight before the couple finished the movie. Nick and Howie were discussing whether the whole concept was depressing or uplifting when Emma chimed in.
“I think it’s how all of us feel as some point.”
“What do you mean Em?” Addie asked.
“I think we all hit that point in life where we just question whether or not we’ve made a lifetime of good or bad decisions. You have to decide how bad the mistakes really are and do what you can to change it. He realized he had the life he loved and just needed to find his way back.”
“What about the people who don’t feel that way?”
“Then you chock it up to a mistake and you fix it. For me, Jesse was a mistake and I realized that when I met Nick. Now I’m like George Bailey!”
Nick grinned. “See Dorough, she does like me!”
Howie shook his head and chuckled. “I guess she does.”
“Ok, ok.” Addie interrupted. “Enough of the mushy stuff. Time to open some presents!”
“You’re worse than a little kid!” Emma told her with a smile. “You just can’t wait.”
“What’s wrong with being a kid?”
“Not a thing.” Howie responded and leaned over to kiss Addie. “But you and Emma have to open your gifts together.”
“Cuz we bought you guys the same thing.” Nick replied.
“Nice going Carter. Can’t you ever zip it?” Howie asked with a smack to the back of his head.
“No I can’t.”
Nick handed a thin envelope to both of the girls and sat back with a grin. The girls agreed to open them on the count of three and both shrieked as soon as they saw what was inside.
“Les Mis!” Emma cried and threw herself into Nick’s lap. “You are the best!”
Nick laughed and kissed her on the top of the head. “You make it easy.”
Emma looked into Nick’s eyes and it took all the willpower she had not to tell him that she loved it. She was afraid that he might not feel the same way and that it was too early. There would come a better time to do it, so she just wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.
“Do we get anything?” Howie asked, pretending to be hurt. “We were good all year.”
Addie laughed and handed him a box. “Here you go.”
Howie opened his gift to find a pair of tickets to Florida.
“I thought taking a trip to see your family would be nice.”
“I love you!”
“I love you too and I can’t wait to meet your family.”
Emma watched as Addie and Howie interacted and smiled. She wanted the best for her friend and she thought that Howie was a wonderful man. She was so lost in thought that Nick had to wave his hand in front of her face to get his attention.
“Do I get something too or was I not a good boy?”
“Hmmm…..what qualifies as good?” Emma asked with a smile and dragged a box out from under the tree.
Nick opened it up and dug through all the paper. He was starting to think that the box was empty until his hand finally landed on something. When he pulled the item out, he found a box of colored pencils. He looked over at his girlfriend and cocked an eyebrow.
Emma laughed loudly. “It’ll make more sense tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” Nick yelped. “That’s so not fair!”
“Sorry sweetie, you’re gonna have to wait till the morning.”
“That’s awful.” Howie said with a chuckle. “You’re gonna make the poor boy wait till Christmas morning?”
“Hey,” Nick said with a start, “it is Christmas morning. I want my present!”
Emma stood up and smiled, pulling him to his feet. She leaned in and whispered something into his ear. Suddenly, he was tired and told everyone he could wait until it was light out. Their friends laughed and headed down to the guest room. Nick took Della out for a walk and found Emma in the bedroom waiting for him. He grinned and asked her where his next present was.