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Chapter 22


The trip back from my parents was uneventful. It was overcast but snow free. Marcus made great time and had us home by one. After a quick lunch, Marcus went into the office for a couple of hours. I spent time doing our laundry and straightening up around the condo. Mom sent leftover ham and pineapple casserole home with us, so dinner was good to go.

Marcus called me about five and let me know he would be a little later than expected. I asked him if there was a problem and he sounded evasive.

"Nothing major, I have just a couple of issues to clear up. Still want leftovers?"

"Sure, but I guess I will hold off warming anything up until you are on your way home. Text me when I should start things."

"Okay Babe, see you soon. Love you."

"Love you more."

When Marcus finally got home after seven, we ate quietly. I had a few things I wanted to talk about, but I was curious about his work. We cleaned up the table and sat back down.

"Oh no, I'm getting the look."

"Well you sounded a little stressed and even somewhat evasive on the phone. Plus, I have some stuff I want to get cleared up before we go to Jamie's tomorrow. So spill... "

"We need to be a little serious for a few minutes. The asshole that hit you is going to be sentenced next month. He already pled guilty. It means you don't have to deal with a hearing. In the meantime, his insurance company is trying to get you to accept a settlement. I'm not an expert in these things so I called in a favor from a colleague.

"He looked over the settlement and advised me to make a counter offer. The insurance company basically wants to cut you a check and wash their hands of the whole thing. My biggest problem with their offer was lack of continued medical coverage. They tried to wow us with a pretty nice dollar amount, but honestly one long hospital stay would eat that up.

"So, I made a counter offer that they rejected today. Basically we are at a standstill. They are forced to continue paying your medical bills until they reach the policy cap. The agent who wrote the policy and the person who approved it apparently didn't do their homework. There is no way that driver should have been able to get the coverage he got after his first DWI arrest. This is good news for you, because the policy limits are ridiculously high. I was hoping to get it settled before the first of the year, but since they seem to want to play games I don't expect another offer right away.

"Bottom line, nothing has really changed. You will continue to have all medical bills paid for by the insurance company. Your car was totaled so they already cut a check for that. It's a small down payment for the new vehicle. Frankly, they are concerned you will sue the asshole and them for pain and suffering, and they will be paying through the nose."

"Okay, you know I trust you to do the right thing. Honestly, this is one of the fringe benefits of loving you. I don't have to worry about getting screwed over by my lawyer unless I want to be." I burst out laughing. "Sorry, I'm being flip again. I mean it when I say I know you will do exactly the right thing. It means so much to me not to have to worry about that part of this at all." I gave him a kiss to emphasis the point.

"I'm very disappointed it's not done yet. I was hoping to put this to bed before the first of the year. I guess it's just you who gets put to bed." He smiled.

"Oh, another fringe benefit..." I laughed. "But, I want to talk about a couple of things before that.

"My mother pelted me with a bunch of questions while you and Dad were out yesterday. I think she's right about a few things. Right after the holidays, we are going to need to kick in with wedding plans. I was wondering what we are telling your family tomorrow about our engagement."

"My thoughts were this, Babe. We should make an announcement at dinner, so presents aren't overshadowed. I want to ask both of my brothers to stand up for me. I would love it if the twins could be ring bearers and Mallory a flower girl. I expect my mother to call tomorrow and I will tell her the news. I'm sure my family will be very excited for us."

"Yeah, except your mother."

"Well, I honestly don't fucking care. I will tell her I'm over the moon happy and nothing she can say will change that. She can accept it or not be a part of our life. She's not much a part of our lives anyway. Don't get me wrong, she's my mother and I love her. But, when she moved away; she really stopped having much to do with us. I hope she sees fit to come to the ceremony, but if not I'm okay with that."

"I hate to think I will come between you and your mother. I really don't want that to happen."

"Babe, like I said, when she left she stopped being a mom. There really isn't anything for you to come between. Please don't worry. Besides, now I have a mother-in-law who's more like a mom anyway."

"If you're sure... I love the idea of the boys and Mallory being in the wedding. Don't you think the twins are too old to be ring bearers?"

"Well, they can always be 'junior groomsmen' if you think they are too old."

"I love that idea." I started to laugh. "They will love it, too. I was thinking about asking Jon and Jen to stand up for me. I also thought about asking Danni and Hunter to sing, if they could swing it. What do you think?"

"It's brilliant. Are you happy with just the two attendants or do you want more?"

"Marcus, I get to marry my best friend. I would be okay with just us on a beach with the seagulls as witnesses. I'm good with Jon and Jen. I love having Jamie and Nick, too. Do you have someone else you want to be part of it; Scott, maybe?" I gave him a sly smile.

"I thought about Scott, but wasn't sure you'd be good with it. I know the two of you are better, but even he knows he was an asshole to you for years. Although in a way, we do owe him."

"I think you should definitely ask him. You have been friends for years. He and I are never going to be best buddies, but I think our relationship is good now. He has been a great friend to you. It would feel wrong not to ask him."

"Is there someone you want to add? Or are you okay if the sides are unbalanced?"

"Actually Hon, if you add the kids, there will be eight. I think that's perfect." I drew him in for a kiss.

"What else did you want to talk about before tomorrow?"

"Are we still planning on spending the night at Jamie's?"

"Would you rather come home instead?"

"No, I'm excited about spending Christmas morning with his family, especially the boys. I'm just a little worried about getting over tired and being visited by a headache. They do seem to hit me hard when I'm exhausted, but I've been getting tired very easily lately. We knew this could happen, but it's annoying as hell."

"Well just say the word and we will come home. And Thursday is definitely a day of rest and packing. I'm going to hit the office for a few minutes and you are going to chill. Seriously, if you need to come home please tell me. You forget it's barely a month since your accident. I think you are doing great. We just need to be careful. Don't forget your promise."

"I know. Don't worry, please. Don't forget yours either."

He pulled me in for a kiss. We moved to the living room and snuggled on the couch together. We listened to music for a few minutes. The next thing I knew, Marcus was whispering in my ear.

"Babe, I hate to wake you, but we should go to bed. It's going to be a long day tomorrow and I want you to get a good night's sleep. We can pack an overnight bag in the morning and I will make the pies and the deviled eggs."

"Okay, I'm sorry I fell asleep. Can we make sure we have some us time in the morning too? Tonight I'm just wiped out."

"No worries. C'mon let's get comfortable."

The next morning was Christmas Eve, and I was a little down. It was the first Christmas I was going to spend away from my parents. I knew we had just been to New Hampshire, but I was still a little sad not being with them. I was still in bed when Marcus brought me a batch of breakfast crepes. I guess he could tell I was a little down and gave me a smile.

"What's up Babe? You don't seem in a Christmas mood?"

"It's nothing. I'm good."

When we were finished with breakfast, he grabbed the tray and my coffee cup. When he returned, he handed me my phone and told me to say hello.


"Morning son, how are you doing? Happy Christmas Eve."

"Dad, what's going on?"

"I don't know your boyfriend gave us a call."

I chatted with both my parents for a few minutes. It was exactly what I needed to start the day. Finally, we said goodbye and I promised to call Christmas afternoon. I walked out into the kitchen and proceeded to give Marcus a huge hug and kiss.

"Hon that was the nicest thing. How did you know?"

"It's your first Christmas away from them. I know it's not easy. I really appreciate what you had to give up to be with my family. It means the world to me."

"You are the most amazing man. How much time do we have right now?"


He led me back to the bedroom. He started slowly, but my needs were not going to wait. Unfortunately without arranging the pillows beforehand, I couldn't get my cast and my body in the right position. When I smacked myself in the face with the cast, I figured we had better slow down or I might not make it through alive. Marcus was gentle and loving, and when we both came down from our finishes he held me tight.

"Babe, did you hurt yourself? I wanted to burst out laughing, but wasn't sure if you would get upset. Mr. All Hot and Bothered almost gave himself a black eye."

"I know. This fucking cast is really starting to piss me off. I just want to make love to you. This was nice, but tomorrow I want more... Understand that when we get home tomorrow afternoon I will get what I want."

"Hey I've got an idea... maybe the shower chair? Meet me in the bathroom, Babe."

Marcus ran out to the kitchen and shut off the oven. Then he went to the closet and pulled out the shower chair pieces. After getting the chair set up, he started the water. In the meantime, I put the cast protector on. I wasn't sure what his plans were, but I was more than ready.

Marcus kissed me and led me to the shower. At first he had me sit on the seat, he slowly stroked me as he kissed my lips. He turned around and impaled himself on my cock. After a few moments, my left shoulder began to ache. I gestured to him that we needed to move.

"I'm sorry my shoulder is starting to hurt. Can we try something else?" I said as I kissed him.

"Okay Babe, put your left knee on the chair and rest your arm on the back. It's time to give you a little of what you wanted earlier."

He lubed me up and slowly entered me. I was in heaven. He began to build up the pace. After a few minutes my leg started to cramp up. I reached back to stop Marcus's movement. As much as I was totally into what he was doing to me, I was afraid to fall. I made sure he stayed inside me.

"What's wrong Babe?"

"I don't want you to stop, but I'm getting a bad cramp in my left leg. Let me lean over the chair and rest this arm on the seat. Please I don't want you to stop, I need this so bad, and you are making me feel so good."

Marcus leaned over my back as I moved my leg. He reached around me and flipped the chair sideways. I leaned over and rested my left arm on the seat and leaned back into him. He began to pick the pace up again. He reached around and began to stroke me. We exploded at the same time. My legs went to jelly and I almost fell. Marcus grabbed my waist and pulled me upright. He kissed the back of my neck. I leaned back into him.

"Oh my God. You are the most amazing man. I can't believe we managed that without getting hurt. I love you so much."

"Fuck, that was hot as hell. Are you ok? I know you were getting frustrated, but that was fucking awesome."

"You are unbelievable. Damn, we are almost out of hot water. We had better hurry the clean-up."

We finished, got dried off, and dressed. Marcus insisted we wear T-shirts and sweaters to dinner.

"It's part of the tradition. We used to wear ugly sweaters, but one year we made one of our aunts upset. She didn't think the sweater was ugly when she bought it for Nick." Marcus laughed. "Since then we just wear sweaters. At this point though, all that's left is the same Taylors as regular family get togethers. There is one other tradition I need to warn you about. Every year one of us is gifted the 'Christmas sweater'. The person who receives it is required to wear it all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. That person then gifts it the next year. Frankly, it is incredibly hideous.

"The bad news is I was the one who gifted it to Jessica last year. So while the rules state she can't give it back to me, you are fair game. And if you are the one to receive it, you will get it first thing tonight when presents start. That means you have to hand out all the rest of the gifts too. I hate to say this, but I would be shocked if she didn't give it to you. It's a bit of a welcoming thing. Both Jessica and Sarah got it on their first Christmases, and since I have never brought someone to family Christmas before... "

I laughed. I was beginning to get very excited about having Christmas with the Taylor family. Now that I was well past my little bit of homesickness this morning, I couldn't wait.

Marcus still needed to finish the deviled eggs, so I sat at the table and tried to help. It was pointless; I was useless with just one hand. So instead, I started eating them.

"Anthony Michael Wallace, knock that off right now. I swear to God, if you eat one more deviled egg you will be severely punished."

"But Hon, they are so good." I chuckled as I grabbed another egg. "Besides what kind of punishment are we talking?"

"No sex for you in New York City. What do you think of that?"

I put down the egg as quickly as I could. He grinned at me and leaned over to kiss me.

"Like I could ever withhold sex from you, but how about we leave some for the rest of the family. I'm just about done here. Let's get loaded up. Look at the pies, they turned out perfect. Apparently, turning off the oven with ten minutes left didn't hurt them at all." He started to laugh, but turned serious. "Babe, you have no idea how happy I am right now. I love you more than words."

"I love you too. But let's get going before the smaltz police make their way from New Hampshire... "

He smiled and we both stood up. I put my hand behind his neck and pulled him in for a kiss. We lingered for a moment with our foreheads touching.


We arrived at Jamie's at exactly the same time as Nick's family. Mallory screamed and ran over to Marcus giving hugs and kisses. When she got to my side of the car, she hugged my legs.

"You need to bend down for your kiss Unka T. You can'ts pick me up right now."

"Not so fast little lady, I need a real hug." I scooped her up into my good arm.

"Merry Christmas, Unka T," Mallory gave me a big raspberry on my cheek. She giggled and ran into the house when I put her back down.

"Ready Babe?"

"Yes, but I just got wicked nervous. I hope our announcement goes over okay."

"You watch... Someone is going to say, 'It's about time.' Mark my words. My family is going to be thrilled, almost as much as your mom was..." He had a twinkle in his eye as he said it.

Christmas Eve dinner was always hosts choice. Sarah had decided to make macaroni and cheese and Swedish meatballs. From the smell, I was guessing Jessica and Nick had brought along kielbasa. I could also see fruit salad through the glass bowl Nick was carrying.

I started to go for the bags in the trunk and Marcus stopped me.

"Babe presents stay in the car until dinner is over. It's another tradition, but don't ask me how it started. I have no idea. I think it may have to do with someone snooping one year. But I can't imagine who that could have been." He burst out laughing.

Once Marcus's father arrived, surprisingly without his girlfriend Carolyn, we all sat down for dinner. I paused for a moment and just took in the surroundings. The whole family was dressed in sweaters; everyone was chatting away as we began to eat. A few minutes later, Jamie asked Marcus to pass him the eggs.

"Bro, what the heck is that on your hand?" Jamie grinned and looked right at me.

Stephen spoke up, "Daddy that's a ring. Did Uncle T give that to you?"

Suddenly the room was dead quiet. I swallowed hard. Marcus smiled and grabbed my hand.

"Well since the cat is out of the bag. Yes, Stephen, Uncle T did give it to me. If you look at his hand, you'll see I gave him one too. We are excited to let you all know we are getting married in August."

The room exploded. Everyone was talking at once. Marcus put his hand up.

"I have a few things to firm up. I would like to formally ask Miss Mallory to be our flower girl." She giggled and nodded her head yes.

I stood up behind Marcus and said, "Joshua and Stephen, we would love for you to be junior groomsmen for us. We think you are way too big to be ring bearers."

"Wow, cool." "Yeah, way cool Uncle T."

"Jamie and Nick, I would be honored if you would stand up for me. It would mean the world to both of us."

Jamie and Nick got up from the table, shook our hands, and gave us both hugs. Soon after, Sarah and Jessica did the same; Sarah could only get so close with her twin-laden belly. Finally, Marcus's father stood up and raised his glass.

"Congratulations, to the happy couple... May you always find happiness with each other."

"Hear, hear."

Just as quickly, the room exploded with noise again. Sarah gave me a smile and leaned over.

"Well, it's about time."

Marcus overheard her and just grinned at me.

"Okay, we need details. One of you needs to tell the story this instant." Jessica laughed.

Marcus told the story of how we started to walk around the pond. He even told them how he said I can't at first, before proposing himself. Everyone ooh'd and ahh'd in the right places.

"Well bro, you are awfully lucky. It's a wonder Tony didn't walk away from you when you said 'I can't.' I would have just kept on walking." Nick looked serious.

"Actually, he's lucky I didn't kick him in the... "

Nick burst out laughing.

"I will tell you, I went from heartbroken to overjoyed almost instantly. It may have been the longest few seconds of my entire life though."

Marcus looked at me with surprise.

"Really, Babe? I had no idea you took me seriously. Holy shit, I'm so sorry."

"Uncle M, you said a bad word. You need to go in timeout." Josh jumped in.

"You know Josh; timeout might be just the ticket." I grinned.

I kissed Marcus. He had a serious look on his face. I shook my head no and grabbed his hand.

"Okay Josh, where is the timeout chair?"

"You gots to sit on the second step, Uncle M, for three minutes." Josh giggled.

I whisper in his ear, "Seriously, it was the most amazing moment of my life so far. I will never forget the joy; you need to think about just that."

Marcus got up from the table and moved over to the stairway. The boys ran into the kitchen and grabbed the timer from the refrigerator. They set three minutes on it and handed it to Marcus.

"You gots to wait until the ding, Uncle M"

The rest of the adults started laughing. Marcus got a fake pouty look on his face and put his face in his hands. I waited until we heard the ding and walked over to him.

"Did you learn your lesson young man?"

"I think so. Can I get up now?"

"What do you say boys? Can he get up now?"

He mouthed the words 'I love you so much' to me. I nodded and kissed him with everything I had.

"Yeah, we gots to get presents out of the car. It's time for presents now."

Suddenly, Jessica was standing next to me with the most pathetic wrapped package I had ever seen. She handed me the gift.

"In honor of your first Taylor Christmas, I present you with the first Christmas present. You are hereby required to unload all the vehicles of presents and distribute them out. But first you must open this present and put it on."

I slowly unwrapped the box. Inside was the most hideous looking sweater I had ever seen. It was a puke green turtleneck. The monstrosity had ribbons of various colors sown on to it haphazardly, and a huge yellow star with lights on the front. Jessica grabbed it from my hands and pulled it over my head. When she got it down over my cast, she pushed the star and it started to flash and play music. The battery must have been dying, because it was the most mournful rendition of Jingles Bells ever. I burst out laughing.

"Seriously, this is incredible."

"Okay boys gear up. Uncle T only has one hand. If we don't help him get the presents, we may never get to unwrap them."

Most of the rest of the evening was magical. Sarah and Jamie's Christmas tree was beautiful. Sarah explained that when the boys were born they started using a real tree. The ornaments at the top of the tree were mostly special pieces from her childhood and from their first few Christmases. Of course, the bottom of the tree was loaded with unbreakables and some made by the boys.

I was tasked with making sure everyone had a present to open to start the festivities. As I looked through the gifts, I asked George what he wanted done with Carolyn's gifts.

"She went to Massachusetts to be with her son. I guess he's trying to make up for his visit here at Thanksgiving, They fought the whole weekend. She should be back for New Year's Eve. I will take them home. Thank you for thinking of her."

Eventually, all that was left were presents for the kids. At that point, Stephen whispered in my ear.

"Me and J know there is no Santa Clause, but we aren't spoiling things for Mallory."

I gave him a hug and whispered back, "You guys are the best. Uncle M and I are staying for a sleepover tonight. We need to play 'Clue' in the morning; I used to have that game too."

"Cool, that's awesome."

Suddenly, Marcus's phone began to ring. It had to be his mother. The adults all held their breaths. Marcus answered the phone.

"Merry Christmas, Mother. How are you? How are Grandma and Grandpa doing? Just the kids have presents still to open. Everyone one is great. Here talk to Jamie; I'll finish up when you get done with everyone else."

Marcus passed the phone to his brother. He came back and sat down next to me.

"Well, she seems in a fairly good mood. We shall see when I get her back."

The kids finished up with unwrapping presents. I watched the phone go around the room. After the grandkids, Jessica and Sarah took their turns talking to Marcus's mom. As she was talking, Sarah got a strange look on her face.

"Are you sure? Okay if that's what you want... "

She shrugged her shoulders and handed me the phone.

"I'm sorry." She whispered

I just stared at the phone. There must be some mistake. Why the hell would she want to talk to me? I stood up and started pacing.


"Merry Christmas, Anthony."

"Merry Christmas, Mrs. Taylor. How are you?"

"I am well. I was just wondering how you were doing after the accident?"

"I'm doing okay. I still have a cast on my arm, but I am healing."

"Wonderful. That's good to hear. I wish you a complete recovery."

"Thank you very much. What can I do for you tonight?"

"Well, Anthony, I just wanted to touch base with you. I did some thinking after our conversation. I may not be happy about your relationship with my son, but you were right I don't really know him anymore. You do seem to have strong feelings for each other. I will be honest. It's not what I wanted for my son, but he seems happy."

"That's what he tells me. I know I am."

Marcus was watching me with a questioning look. He reached his hand out for the phone.

"Well, Mrs. Taylor, Marcus seems to be anxious to talk to you again. Merry Christmas."

"Just a moment... I will be traveling back to upstate next month and want to spend some time with you. I will let you know the date when my plans firm up. Until then, I hope you continue to recover. Merry Christmas, Anthony."

"Merry Christmas, Mrs. Taylor."

I handed Marcus the phone. He gave me a quick kiss and started to talk to his mother.

"She's coming back next month and wants to spend time with me. What do you think of that?" I asked of no one in particular as I slumped to the floor.

"Tony, I heard about your conversation with my ex-wife during her last visit. Frankly, I think you impressed her when you didn't back down. Marjorie can be very rigid, more so since she and I split up. However, she does love her children and only wants the best for them. I hope this is an olive branch"

Marcus started raising his voice.

"Yes Mother, we have thought this through. No Mother, I don't think we are rushing things. No I'm not trying to ruin your Christmas. We made an announcement to the family and wanted to share the news with you, too. Oh, do you know when yet? Great, I look forward to seeing you. No, I am not being sarcastic. Let us know when you will be in town. Good night and Merry Christmas. I love you, too, Mother."

Marcus returned to the living room with a forced smile on his face.

"Well, that went better than I expected. She only raised her voice a little. Just so everyone knows, we will be getting a visit next month. Apparently, an old college roommate of hers is retiring, and she is coming up for the party."

"I was just telling them about her plans. She told me she wants to spend some time with me. And that was before your announcement."

"Well, we really do have something to look forward to... and just so you know, now I am being sarcastic." Marcus laughed. "But, I think it's time for pie. Who wants a slice?"

About an hour later, I felt the beginning of a headache. I was having such a good time I tried to ignore it. When the headache started to get intense, I grimaced and put my hand on Marcus's arm. He looked at me and nodded.

"Everyone, I hate to break up this wonderful evening. But, I need to go in and lay down for a couple of minutes. Please don't stop on my account. It's just a stupid headache, give me a few minutes."

"Actually, if Santa Claus is going to visit our house tonight, we had better get to bed ourselves." Nick continued. "But Jess and I have one more announcement to make. There is another Taylor baby on the way. We are due in May, but we haven't found out yet if it's a boy or a girl."

The room exploded again. Everyone got incredibly excited and congratulated Nick and Jessica. I gave Jess a hug and kidded Nick about how he kept it quiet.

"You guys are going to be in trouble when Marjorie finds out she is the last one to know," I whispered in his ear.

"We will tell her tomorrow, it's our Christmas present to her." He laughed.

Suddenly my headache got overwhelming, the room started to spin a little. I grabbed on to the back of a kitchen chair to get my equilibrium back. The worst of the dizziness passed and I sat down. After a moment, I got back up and wished everyone a good night. I made my way back to the bedroom Marcus and I were staying in. I sat on the edge of the bed. Marcus came into the room and closed the door.

"Babe, here is some water and your meds. Everyone has called it a night, so let's relax. What can I do for you?"

I burst out crying.

"Make it stop. I hate these headaches. I want the cast off. I want my life back. Look, we just had the most amazing day and I'm sitting here crying. I hate this bullshit. I'm sorry."

Marcus wrapped me in his arms. I continued to cry. I felt like an idiot. I knew my emotions were completely out of control and out of whack. After a few minutes, I started to calm down.

"Marcus, I'm sorry."

"Stop. I don't want to hear your apology. It's been less than thirty days since a drunk slammed into you and your car. You were unconscious for three days. The doctor said these symptoms were going to happen. Today has been a long exhausting day. You have nothing to be sorry for in the least. Take your meds and get ready for bed."

We got into bed and I lay my head on Marcus. He put his arm around me.

"Babe, you need to be a little more patient with yourself. I think the headache tonight started earlier and you tried to ignore it. You really can't do that. We need to start carrying meds around so we can nip these in the bud. I hate seeing you in pain and really hate when the headache gets out of control.

"When we go to the city, I want you to carry the meds with you. I worry. I'm just glad we are going to watch Danni on Saturday instead of Friday. This way you can take a nap before the rehearsal. Tomorrow we can hang out here until after Christmas lunch. Then, let's go home, relax for a while and do our Christmas later."

"Oh no, should I have gotten you a present? I thought just being together would be enough. I totally forgot to get you anything."

"You are such a bad liar. I already saw the wrapped gifts hidden under your desk. You aren't fooling anyone. The meds must be helping, the smart ass is back."

"Damn, you have been snooping, again. That's not fair."

"Okay, enough chatter. Time for sleep. The boys will have us up at the butt crack of dawn."

"I love you, Marcus. Thanks for being understanding."

"I love you more."


Marcus was right. The boys had us up before the sun. We played with their new games, and Marcus made my mother's breakfast bake for everyone. Grandpa Taylor joined us for breakfast, but then headed to Nick's for the afternoon.

After a mouth watering roast beef and mashed potato dinner, Marcus and I headed back to the condo. I gave my parents a call and filled them in on all our Christmas festivities, including the hideous sweater. Mom laughed and asked if Marcus liked his gifts; I let her know we were finally doing our Christmas tonight.

"He will love your gifts. I'm sure of it. When do you guys head for New York City?"

"We leave Friday morning and return home on Monday morning. On Saturday, we are going to watch Danni at rehearsal. They have Sunday free so we are all going to be tourists for the day. I guess they have reservations at a really nice restaurant for Sunday, some famous TV chef."

"Sounds like a really good time. Make sure you give us a call when you get home. Have fun and take care of yourself. Merry Christmas, Baby."

"Merry Christmas, Mom."

I shut my phone off and looked for Marcus. He was sitting in the living room on the loveseat. I snuggled up next to him.

"How are your parents?"

"I think it was a quiet day for them. Church this morning was busy, and then Mom made roast beef for their dinner too. I promised we would call when we got home from New York."

"Are you ready to open presents? I think you were an exceptionally good boy this year. I expect Santa left you a few things under the tree."

"Speaking of the tree, next year when Taylor Christmas is at our place; we are getting a real tree. This little artificial thing is going in the trash after this Christmas. I want to smell real pine next year."

"Okay, it's a deal," Marcus laughed. "But it's present time."

"Okay little boy, let me go get your presents. I'll meet you back here."

I was a little worried about Marcus liking his gifts. I was afraid my unintentional theme was going to be a huge flop. I collected his gifts from my not so secret hiding place under my desk. When I got back to the living room, Marcus had turned the lights down and lit a few candles.

"Okay, since this is our first Christmas together, we need to figure out how we want to do this. What are your thoughts, Babe?" He grinned.

"You are so cute. You realize I still have this horrible sweater on. I think I should be allowed to take it off finally."

"Okay, I can live with that. You have been a very good sport about it." He gave me a kiss. "I think we should each open one gift at a time. I have two here for you and I think there are two for me, so this year it works out even. You start with this one."

He handed me a box wrapped in gold paper with a red ribbon and bow. It was so beautifully wrapped I didn't want to open it.

"I like to give money to charities at the mall, so I always have a couple of gifts wrapped by a non-profit. Just rip into it for heaven's sake."

I ripped into the paper and opened the box. Inside there was another box wrapped in red paper with gold ribbon. I gave Marcus a look, and opened that box. Inside that was a smaller box wrapped in the same paper as the outer box.

"You are such a pain in the ass. This better be the last box."

The small box was from a jeweler. It contained a thin gold chain.

"Marcus, it's beautiful. Thank you so much."

Marcus grinned, "New rule, every thank you needs to be followed by a kiss." I planted a big raspberry on his cheek. "That doesn't count. I want a real kiss." He got one.

"Okay, now you need to open this one."

He ripped into the paper with a vengeance. I found the final piece to the set of Navajo papyrus art works that hung in the hallway. I discovered the artist has done just the three pieces before she died. I was so excited when I found the piece Marcus didn't have.

"Oh my God, it's the final piece. I have been trying to find this for years. I can't believe you got it. Babe, it's incredible. You deserve a major kiss for this one."

He put his hand on my cheek and started to kiss me. When he finally stopped, I sighed.

"I'm so glad you like it. I remember seeing those pieces on the night we met. I was so thrilled when I finally found that piece. Of course, I had a lot of time to spend looking online. I have been chomping at the bit to give that to you."

"Okay, your turn again, open this one."

The box was the size of a shirt box. The wrap this time was a group of snowmen on a blue and green background. It was wicked cute paper. I ripped into the box, there was an envelope. I opened the envelope to find a certificate. It was a rental agreement. I gave Marcus a curious look.

"It's a week rental to my friend Richard's place in Provincetown. It's for the week after the fourth. We will have the whole place to ourselves. I figured it would be a welcome break right before the wedding. Have you ever been to P-town?"

"Holy shit, this is incredible. I have never been there. Marcus, this is amazing. It sounds like so much fun. I can't believe you did this. You are unbelievable. But now it's your turn... "

"Hold on. I just got an incredible, an amazing, and two unbelievables. I think those count as thank yous. You owe me four kisses."

"You're killing me. You need to open this present right now."

"Nope, I need my kisses first."

After four long passionate kisses, Marcus smiled and started to open his last gift. I held my breath. This was the gift I was nervous about.

When he got it unwrapped he stared at it. The artist who created the sculptures that Marcus was so fond of had agreed to create a new piece for me. She wanted to try working in a new medium. The work was made of metal. One sheet of metal was cut into thin strips that remained connected to the whole. The strips were raised to create depth. She then used chemicals to actually color the metal to create an image.

I sent her a selfie of Marcus and me from our trip to New Hampshire in August. It was a really great picture of the two of us. The artist had sent me photos of the work as it progressed, but I hadn't seen the finished product. I was so nervous.

Marcus started to smile. "This has to be the most amazing, awesome, unbelievable, beautiful, special... I'm running out of words. Babe, this is un-flipping believable. How?"

"I have been talking with the sculptor since September. She has been working like crazy to get this done for me. This is the first time I've seen the completed piece. I'm over the moon, it looks so cool.

"I didn't mean for this to be a theme Christmas, but things fell into place that way. I think I need to lay off art work for a while."

"Babe, I can't believe how incredible this looks. This has been the best Christmas ever. Thank you so much. God, I love you."

"I think you owe me some kisses... I'm not exactly sure how many..."




Thanks to the usual people without whom this would never have been a story...

Ray, my husband

David, my editor

Fitz, the author to whom I owe so much