Chapter 24: Dough on the Ceiling

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Andrew handled a lot of parenting solo. Diapers, formula, car seats, lunches. He rarely complained about it, because his girls were his world. But one thing he wished he had help with, year after year, was Christmas shopping.

He hated Christmas shopping. The crowds, the money, the nonsense. Now that the girls were older, they demanded more and more. It seemed like whatever their friends had, they wanted. And everything their friends had was expensive and hard to find.

He'd done what he could online and had a decent start to a picture-perfect Christmas morning. But there were a couple of items he needed to pick up. Small things to fill the stockings. Something for his father.

Something for Emma.

His stomach clenched at the thought of picking out a present for Emma. He hadn't bought anything for a woman in so long, that he had no idea what they even liked. Hoping he'd spot something in his travels, he fought the crowds and lines, and headed to the mall.

***

By the time Andrew returned to the townhouse, it was close to seven. He parked on the street, leaving the gifts in the trunk so the girls wouldn't snoop, and walked up the front path. The place was lit up, thanks to the Christmas lights his father had helped him hang, and when he reached the porch, he could hear the music and laughter, and see that every light in the house was turned on.

He smiled, feeling the warmth from inside as he opened the door. "Hello?"

They didn't hear him over the music. He threw his keys on the table and looked to the recliner. It was empty. His father must be in his own home.

As he peeked into the kitchen, the sight of his little girls, in their pajamas with their hair up in buns, sprinkling sugar on cookies made his insides melt. Emma had her back turned, adjusting the dial on the oven, her hair in the same buns as the girls. His father, who apparently hadn't gone home, was at the sink, and he too was singing. Even Ginger and Stella were in on the fun, watching the action from their perch on the counter.

The place was a disaster. There was cookie dough everywhere, colored sugar crystals all over the floor, the heat from the oven made the small kitchen so warm that it was almost stifling. But it was the best his kitchen had ever looked.

Devon was the first to see him. "Daddy!"

She ran to him and jumped into his arms, as the others turned to face him. "You look busy in here! What are you making?" he yelled over the music. Carrying Devon, he maneuvered through the mess to the counter and stuck his finger in the bowl full of raw dough.

Emma reached for her phone and clicked something, turning off the music. "Sorry. I guess we got a little carried away."

Bella laughed as she rolled out dough. "We're making cookies. Duh, Dad."

He squinted at her. "Watch the tone, Missy."

"They may be a little sugared up." Emma cringed from her spot by the oven. Her long neck looked even longer with her hair up, and her tight turtleneck sweater and jeans left little to the imagination. She was all color and curves, and he imagined, peppermint.

"I like your hair," he said quietly to Emma.

She reached up to touch the buns. "Um, yeah. We watched Star Wars."

"We're all Princess Leia," Devon said. "Except Grandpa. He didn't want to be her."

"He doesn't have the hair for it," Andrew joked.

Jeffrey nudged him in the shoulder. "Now that you're home, I think it's fair to say I overstayed my welcome. Thanks, Emma, for letting me hang out with you all. I know it was supposed to be girls' day, but...well...I would have been bored hanging out next door, hearing all the fun you were having here."

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