“There’s no Santa,” he insists as he blows out a burning marshmallow.
“What did I say last week in my kitchen? Yes, there is. If you keep saying there isn’t, he won’t show up tonight, and I for one want to see what he brings you.”
Seth raises a brow and stares at me like I’m crazy. Conversation swirls around us as I scoot closer to the boy and wrap my arm around his shoulders and speak softly to him.
“Even if you don’t believe in the man himself, you have to believe in the magic of Christmas, Seth. That’s what Santa is.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s the whole season. The lights and decorations and good food. It’s sitting right here, by this fire in the middle of a snowy Montana winter, eating s’mores and slipping marshmallows to your dog.”
Seth smirks and flips another marshmallow to Thor as I continue.
“Christmas is the magic of being generous to others. And it’s about remembering that a little baby was born so that you and I are forgiven our sins. Christmas is special.”
I lean back to find that everyone sitting around the fire is watching us, listening. Nancy is smiling widely and nodding, and murmurs simply, “Well said.”
I shrug and feel my cheeks heat. “I like Christmas.”
“And that’s saying something, considering how shitty Christmases were in our house,” Ty mutters with a grimace.
I shake my head in warning. I don’t want to talk about Mom and Dad now, here in this special place. We’re having too much fun to bring old, bad memories into it.
Zack pulls me into his arms, cradles my face in his hands, and kisses me long and slow, right here in front of all of our family. When he finally pulls away, Josh yells, “Get a room!”
“What was that for?” I ask breathlessly.
“You’re a special woman, Jillian Sullivan.”
“I’m just a girl who loves Christmas. And s’mores. Give me some of those marshmallows, brat.” I steal the bag from Seth and giggle when he sticks his lower lip out in a pout.
Jeff stands to throw more logs on the fire and glances around the yard, taking in a deep breath. “We lucked out on the weather. Stopped snowing just in time.”
“And it’s not too cold,” Cara agrees. “It’s just perfect.”
“Keep an eye on the sky,” I warn everyone. “Wait. I’m gonna download that Santa tracker app on my phone.”
I pull my phone from my pocket to download the app and see that I’ve missed a text.
“Shit,” I whisper.
“What’s wrong?” Zack asks.
I look up into his brown gaze and then shake my head and look over at my brother, who is also watching me. “Did you check your phone?”
He pulls his phone out of his pocket, frowning down at it. He swears under his breath, kisses a troubled Lo on the cheek, then stands and pulls me into a hug.
“It’s okay, princess.”
“I don’t ever want to hear from her, Ty. She knows that.”
He drags his hand up and down my back soothingly, murmuring in my ear. “Just delete it and go about your holiday.”
“What is going on?” Zack demands.
“It’s my mom,” I reply softly and glance over at Cara. “She texted.”
“What did she say?” Cara asks quietly.
“Just merry Christmas,” I mumble. And that she’s sure to remind us that she’s spending it without my dad because we killed him. “I don’t like hearing from her.”
“It’s okay,” Seth speaks up and surprises me by rubbing my shoulder. “I don’t like hearing from my mom either.”
We all still and watch Seth carefully.
“When did you last hear from her?” I ask calmly.
“What the—” Zack begins, but I hold my hand up to stop him.
“Did she call you?”
“Yeah, she called my cell phone.” He nibbles his s’more as though it’s no big deal at all. “She said merry Christmas.”
“I wonder how she got your number.”
“Jill should have been a lawyer,” Ty mutters to Lo.
“She said the school gave it to her.” Seth shrugs and then frowns.
“Did she say anything else?” I ask. Zack has begun pacing behind us in the trampled snow. Jeff and Josh both look like they’re ready to punch someone out and Nancy is wringing her hands in agitation.
Seth nods uncertainly and glances over at me. “But I’m not supposed to say.”
“It’s okay.” I rub his back and shake my head at Zack when he opens his mouth. “You know you can tell us anything, Seth.”
“She said she might make a trip up here from Vegas soon to see me.”
“Oh.” I raise my eyebrows as though I’m surprised. “She’s living in Vegas, huh?”
“I guess.” He scowls. “I told her not to come here.”
I nod thoughtfully. “That was probably a good idea. Will you do me a favor?”
“If she calls again, please tell your dad right away, okay? She’s not supposed to be calling you.”
“Oh.” He looks back at Zack and frowns. “I’m sorry, Dad. I didn’t know.”
“It’s not your fault, buddy.” Zack ruffles his hair and smiles reassuringly. “Just let me know next time, okay?”
“Stick a marshmallow on my stick, will ya?” Lo asks Seth with a grin.
Everyone exchanges looks, and I know there will be a discussion about Kensie after Seth goes to bed. If that woman so much as steps foot on this property, I’ll beat the crap out of her myself.
“I wish we could have piped Christmas music out here,” Nancy murmurs softly as she snuggles into her husband’s side.
“Here!” I wake my phone up and pull up Pandora, set it to a classic Christmas music station, and turn the volume up before setting it in the cup holder of my camping chair. “There you go, Mama King.”
“Thank you, sweet girl.” Nancy sighs happily as “O Holy Night” plays sweetly around us. Zack pulls me in for a snuggle, tucking me against his chest. Lo and Ty have their heads together, whispering intimately, while Josh and Cara lean against each other, watching the fire.
Thor is lying in a sugar coma on a blanket in the snow and Seth is leaning against him, looking at his phone.
“Are you texting someone?” Zack asks him.