Braeden laughed. “It’s never too early for Christmas excitement.”
Another groan from the woman beside him told him his beautiful wife disagreed with his sentiment. Too bad for her. She knew what she was getting into when she married him.
“It’s five o’clock in the morning, and that’s too early for everything.”
Braeden rolled over onto his side, so he was facing the woman of his dreams. “Are you sure about that, Andi? I’m sure there are things that five in the morning isn’t too early for.”
He waggled his eyebrows at her, making her laugh. The sound was music to his ears. To think there was a time in his life that he wasn’t able to hear it made him sad. Of course, that time was so long ago it was barely a memory.
The bedroom door flew open with so much force it slammed against the chair Braeden smartly put behind it before going to bed the night before. It wasn’t his first rodeo with the gaggle of giggling munchkins that were running into his room at the crack of dawn. Andi groaned again and threw an arm over her face. Even on the most magical day of the year, his wife wasn’t a morning person, despite years of practice.
Five smallish bodies climbed onto the bed, crawling over their Grandma’s legs so they could snuggle into the middle of the bed. It was a Christmas morning tradition they’d started the year their oldest grandchild could leave their room on their own. Ruby and Penny, and their significant others knew where the kids went, and he and Andi were always prepared for them, despite his wife’s grumblings.
“Grandpa, is it time to open presents yet?” Josie asked.
His middle grandkid whispered just like she did every year. He didn’t know why, and he wasn’t going to ask. It was cute as hell. Especially after her cousins and siblings had already yelled loud enough to wake the dead…otherwise known as their Grandma.
“Not quite yet, sweet pea, but it is time to help Grandpa make his world-famous Christmas breakfast.”
Andi groaned again as the kids started bouncing on the bed, all of them excited for the candy cane pieces and chocolate chips they knew were coming their way. Getting to eat candy first thing in the morning was the only reason the kids wanted to help with breakfast. As much as their parents didn’t like them to be hopped up on sugar, it was a concession they were all willing to make since the rest of the adults wanted to sleep a little longer.
Braeden, on the other hand, was too wired to sleep. He was like a kid during the holidays. Always had been and always would be. It didn’t matter if he was creeping toward seventy. Christmas was still the most magical time of the year. Being a husband, then a father, and now a grandfather only added to the magic. There was nothing better than spoiling the people he loved every day of the year, except for Christmas when he just couldn’t control himself.
He did his best for the next hour and a half to keep the kids occupied while the adults got a little more sleep. As soon as breakfast was on board, there was nothing he could do but let them run back upstairs to wake up the rest of the house. While they did that, Braeden put the rest of the food into the oven to keep warm and brewed coffee. The kids wouldn’t let anyone take the time to eat before presents, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t enjoy some much-needed caffeine in the meantime.
“GRANDPA!!! They’re coming!”
If the herd of elephants running down the stairs wasn’t enough of a warning, he could always count on the eldest of his grandkids to give him a heads-up. Braeden wished he could bottle up Dean’s nine-year-old boy energy so he didn’t feel like he needed to take a nap after hanging out with the kid for a couple of hours.
“Oh, Dad. What did you do?”
Braeden smiled as Ruby and her husband Jack walked into the kitchen in Christmas pajamas that matched the rest of the family. A Clarke family tradition that no one was safe from. Not even his stubborn daughter.
“I did what I always do. You know I can’t help myself. Spoiling kids is what I do.”
Ruby rolled her eyes. “It’s too much.”
He put a hand on his chest, feigning alarm. “There’s no such thing.”
“Ruby…” he mimicked.
“Give it up, Ruby. You know the old man is crazy.”
Braeden turned to watch his other daughter, Penny, walk into the kitchen with her wife Wren next to her. He smiled at them both, his gaze dropping down to Wren’s belly, where yet another little miracle grew. Finding out a couple months ago that another grandbaby was on the way was better than all the holidays combined. The thought of six happy, healthy grandkids running around the house gave him more joy than he could express.
“Hey, I’m not crazy…”
“My mother had me tested,” Penny finished for him.
The fact that both of his girls enjoyed the shows their names came from was great. The fact they could quote lines from the shows even after all this time was what dreams were made of. He wasn’t sure how he’d gotten so lucky.
“Mom, you need to do something about your husband,” Ruby said when Andi joined them in the kitchen.
His beautiful wife laughed so hard she snorted. “Did you hit your head or something, Ruby? We all know there’s nothing anyone can do about your dad. He’s one of a kind and over the top, and he’s ours.”
It felt like Braeden’s heart was being squeezed inside his chest as he fought back tears. That was one of the sweetest things his wife had ever said about him. He needed to think of something else before he cried in front of his entire family.
Something tugged on his pajama top, drawing his attention to the tiny human that stood next to him. Tessa, Ruby’s youngest, stared up at him, her thumb in her mouth. He crouched down so he was as level with her two-year-old height as he could be.
“What’s up, buttercup?”
“Pwesents?” she whispered, then pointed toward the living room, where the rest of the kids were watching the adults. The gifts had all been passed out, with piles taller than Tessa spread out across the room. They were obviously done waiting. He stood back up and looked around at his daughters and their spouses, then at Andi, who was already making herself a second cup of coffee.
“Looks like it’s present time, people. Find your places.”
His announcement was followed by a loud cheer from the kids and a groan from the adults. They each grabbed a coffee or juice from the counter, then followed Tessa into the living room. Luke, Penny’s oldest, showed everyone where their spots were. Braeden waited for everyone to get settled, then grabbed his own coffee and walked into the room. Shelby, Luke’s sister, guided him to his recliner, or his throne as the kids liked to call it. He took a seat, then smiled as everyone finally looked at the pile of presents next to them. It wasn’t just the kids that he’d spoiled this year.
“Dad, you really didn’t need to do all of this.”
He smiled over at Ruby. “You’re right. I didn’t need to. I wanted to. You know gift giving is my love language. Just embrace it and open your dang presents.”
They started with the kids, and Braeden felt his well filling up with each squeal of delight. These were the moments he lived for. There was nothing better than family, and though he liked to buy them all presents and spoil them rotten, it was the time he got to spend with them all that was the most precious gift for him. Time wasn’t slowing down, and someday, he knew he’d see them less and less. Then eventually, the end would come. But in the meantime, Braeden planned on making the most of every single second he had left in this world.
“Well, at least Uncle Declan doesn’t have to worry about you spoiling his brats anymore,” Penny said once the adults were allowed to finally eat breakfast.
Andi laughed. “Are you sure about that? You know your dad loves to make your uncle mad. He probably has presents for CJ and Wyatt and the grandkids in a closet somewhere.”
“Of course I do. But they aren’t here. I dropped off all the presents yesterday,” Braeden admitted. “I’m sure we’ll be getting a call from Declan any time now.”
When the sound of a phone ringing flowed from the kitchen to the dining room, everyone laughed. His brother-in-law’s timing was impeccable. He put the call on speakerphone so everyone could hear Declan’s tirade, which was cut short by his daughter’s giggles. After an annoyed “damn it, Braeden” and a promise to get him back at dinner, Declan hung up.
Annoying the man was another thing that gave Braeden joy, and he didn’t see it changing anytime soon. Not after decades of fun. It was one of many traditions that stood the test of time, just like Friendsmas dinner. No matter where they were in their lives, no matter what they were doing, Christmas brought them all together. Though, these days it was far more than their core group of friends. Now it included kids and grandkids and more laughter and love than he ever thought possible.
It was the magic of the season. The magic of Christmas. And no one could ever tell him otherwise.
As he looked around at his family, Braeden knew Santa had come through for him in a big way. Spreading the joy of the holiday was the least he could do to repay the man.