The last time I had been woken up by excited children on Christmas morning was probably fifteen years ago, when I was still living at home with my parents and Olivia was young enough to believe in Santa Claus.

Ada Mae had kept me busy for the past couple days leading up to the main event. We had shopped, baked, and decorated our asses off. I could only hope that it would all pay off and that an enjoyable Christmas would be had by all. 

The other day, Andrew had dutifully informed me that the youngest four kids of the family- that is- Carter, Cooper, Alyssa, and baby Garrett- all still believed in "Santa Claus and not capitalism," as he had put it. We had spent all night wrapping the various toys and clothes we had bought for them, not stopping until everything looked pristine, professional, and festive enough to make the holiday memorable. We had snuck downstairs and placed the whole jumble of gifts, as well as the additional ones we had gotten for each other, under the big tree in the foyer, and then, I had promptly fallen asleep on one of the cozy sofas in the den. 

Andrew must have carried me back up to his bed at some point (not after having gone outside with Junior and his dad to make 'reindeer tracks' and sled marks in the snow), because that was where I was now being jostled suddenly awake by small hands.

"Lyra! Lyra, wake up! Andrew, you too! Come look! Santa came!"

Carter, Cooper, and Alyssa were frantically pulling on any body part they could get a hold of, tugging on my arm, Andrew's leg, and the blankets covering us in order to get us out of bed. Andrew rolled over unceremoniously, rubbing his eyes and forehead roughly before unleashing and exaggerated yawn. He winked at me so quickly that the kids didn't notice before he closed his eyes again.

"That can't be right! Mr. Claus is a very good friend of mine, and I know for a fact that he doesn't come to naughty children, which all of you most certainly are... Lyra and I are going to just go back to sleep until next year. Maybe this will teach you to be nice!"

I had sat up on my haunches, but he pulled me back down to the bed with his last statement, urging me to play along. I was game. These kids were really growing on me, which was quite surprising because I had never been a very motherly type.

Carter crossed his arms defiantly as the others kept pulling at us. 

"Don't be silly, Andrew. We all know you don't have any friends, so you definitely can't be friends with Santa. Besides, he's magic-"

"And he's nice, unlike you, so he came anyways," Alyssa cut in, finishing the kids' scathing takedown of a now-confused Andrew. 

With that, I guess they decided they were simply going to open their gifts with or without us, and they all ran downstairs in a flurry of delighted squeals and giggles.

I raised my eyebrows and blew out a shaky breath, trying desperately not to laugh at his genuinely offended expression. 

"When did they become so savage?" he said under his breath. "They definitely didn't learn that from me..."

I shook my head, taking his hand and springing up out of bed, motioning for him to follow. 

"Come on," I said, "Let's go, before we miss all the good moments."

We stumbled downstairs and were immediately greeted with a plethora of smells, sights, and sounds. The kids were all gathered around the big Christmas tree, knee-deep in shredded wrapping paper and toy boxes. The dogs- I spotted both a flash of black and of gold- were running around, roused by all the excitement, chasing each other and barking occasionally. Oliver the cat had finally been moved (I could tell, not of his own free will) to one of the other couches, and Ada Mae, Teddy, Junior, and Rachel were all seated on the couch, watching the kids play and open their gifts with the love that only parents could show clear on each of their faces. It almost made me wonder what it would be like to have kids of my own.

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