For Trudy, from Santa 2013

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#1

‘Is this one good enough?’ Brady asked, her tone just shy of impatient. They’d been trudging through these woods all day. Well, at least it seemed like it from the mind of the seven-year-old girl.

Bray approached his niece while admiring the Monterey pine that caught her attention. ‘Eh,’ He shrugged non-committal and chuckled at the exasperated glance she threw over her shoulder. They’d been searching for over two hours, a lifetime to a child. ‘Alright, alright.’ He conceded with a playful grin. ‘It’s a good looking tree; Nice and full.’ He circled the pine. ‘We may need to trim it up some to fit it in the hall. Pride!’ He called back to the group of stragglers some yards off. ‘I think we have a winner!’

‘Whoo!’ Brady bounced happily, running back to her mother and stepfather. ‘We found one! Finally!’

‘That’s great.’ Pride called back while reaching up to help his two-year-old daughter off the horse she’d been riding. ‘Come on baby girl, time to go to Mumma.’ He coaxed gently as Sarouli reached her grubby hands out to her father. ‘Skylar’s got to go to work.’

Trudy received Brady’s enthusiastic hug and pressed a quick kiss to the top of her damp head. ‘It’s about time.’ She commiserated though she herself was enjoying the time away from the village. She’d been most eager to volunteer for the Yule tree search, wanting to share a tradition from before the virus with her family. As Trudy watched Pride with their youngest child, she’s reminded of she and her father.

‘You finally found one?’

Trudy turned while taking Sarouli from her husband to see Ebony picking up the rear. Unlike the rest of them, Ebony hadn’t volunteered for Yule duty by her own volition: Playing happy families while trudging through the forest for hours was so not her idea of fun. Yet Bray had somehow talked her into it. Trudy would be lying if she said she wasn’t dying of curiosity as to the details of that conversation. What could Bray have possibly said to get Ebony to join them on this expedition of holiday joy’

‘Looks like it.’ Pride answered while adjusting Skylar’s harness. They’d brought the gelding to help haul the tree out of the woods.

‘Thank God.’ Ebony muttered, brushing past the four of them. ‘My feet are killing me.’

‘Well the woods aren’t made for high heeled boots.’ Pride muttered back, making Trudy giggle into Sarouli’s curls.

Ebony continued stomping toward Bray as she pretended not to hear Pride. So she hadn’t dressed for hiking. She didn’t realize this group of holiday fruitcakes would turn the simple task of finding a pine tree into Homer’s ‘Odyssey’. As she approached the one to blame, she couldn’t help but smirk at his obvious enthusiasm for this particular tree.

'Brady knows how to pick ‘em.’ Bray spoke without looking up from his inspection. ‘I mean, the more I see it, the better it looks. Can you just picture this in the hall, decked out in lights?’

‘Sure I can.’ She nodded. ‘Just like I could picture the other fifty trees that you didn’t think were good enough.’ She stopped in front of him, forcing Bray’s eyes off the tree. ‘When I agreed to this trek, you said we’d be done in a half hour, tops. You sir, are a liar.’

‘Of course I lied.’ Bray admitted with a smile. ‘If I’d told you the truth, you’d never have come.’

The dancing mischief in his eyes made Ebony want to both laugh and scream in fury. ‘Duh! Because I’m not a complete lunatic. I can only imagine how many bugs and whatever else I’ve picked up out here. I’m going to have to set myself on fire when we get back!’

Bray guffawed aloud at the image. Ebony fought a smile and slapped at him repeatedly. ‘It’s so not funny.’

‘It kind of is.’ He insisted as he half-heartedly defended himself. ‘You’re just on the wrong side of the joke. Come on over here and join me, it’s fun.’

‘Ugh,’ Ebony rolled her eyes but couldn’t stop her lips from quirking upward. ‘Just tell me this; why was it so important that I come along today?’ She gestures back to Pride and Trudy who appeared to be lost in one another per usual. It was a wonder to her that those two managed to separate their lips long enough to get anything done. ‘This is obviously a family thing.’

Bray glanced over, watching Brady skip around chasing some imaginary bug of some sort while her parents gazed at one another lovingly. 'You’re right. If Brayden wasn’t in bed with a cold, he’d be here too. It is a family thing." He reached down and took Ebony?s hand in his own. ‘That’s why I wanted you here.’

Shocked at his audacity, Ebony looked back quickly before pushing Bray behind the tree and out of sight. ‘What are you doing?’ She hissed alarmed. ‘Are you trying to get caught?’

‘So what if I am.’ Bray took Ebony’s face in his hands and pressed a hot kiss to her protesting mouth. ‘What if I’m sick of hiding?’

Ebony gasped and forced herself to keep from melting at his touch. ‘Well that’s just tough. You already know why we can?t tell anyone.’

‘Why?’

‘Pandemonium comes to mind.’ Ebony answered, deadpanned. ‘You and I goes against all that is right and holy in this world.’

Bray laughed. ‘You exaggerate. Yes, people will be surprised but they’ll get over it.’

‘I’m sure Amber will love having me play step mommy to your son.’

‘Okay, you have got to let that go.’ Bray rolled his eyes. ‘She made one joke about you raising kids… one joke. And you have to admit, your reaction to Liam throwing up all over you was legendary.’

‘I didn’t mean to drop him!’ Ebony squawked, slapping Bray’s arm. ‘And you promised never to mention it again.’

Bray laughed shamelessly at the memory. ‘Jack and Ellie have never let you near that kid again.’

‘Eh,’ Ebony shrugged uncomfortably. ‘No great loss. Boy screams like a siren.’

Still laughing, Bray pulled Ebony into a hug and kissed the side of her head. ‘You really wanna know why I wanted you to come?’ She nodded and Bray sighed. ‘Remember that night you were talking about the poems you used to write as a kid? About feeling like you weren’t actually living but just preparing for some future that would never come?’

Ebony nodded again, a lump in her throat. She’d never told anyone but Bray about that. She’d always felt that way, ever since childhood. Her entire life felt like preparation for something she?d never actually get to experience. Meanwhile she watched everyone else living that life, playing out scenarios and dancing through relationships that she wasn’t allowed to have.

‘You seemed so genuinely tired?’ He reminded her gently. 'Tired of seeing everyone else experience things that seem out of your reach. You even said so, ‘When will my life begin??’ he mimicked teasingly.

‘I so don’t sound like that.’ She murmured into her embrace.

Bray pinched her backside. ‘You do. My point is, it’s time to stop waiting.’ He pulled back and gazed down into her eyes. ‘This is it, this is our life and I want everyone to know about it.’

Ebony smirked. ‘My God, you are one cheesy man.’ She teased before kissing him deeply.

‘Brady, will you leave that thing alone?’ Trudy pulled back from her husband’s lips and shifted Sarouli on her hip. ‘It’s a dragonfly, not a fairy.’

‘I know’ Brady called back as she continued chasing her quarry. ‘But fairies ride them Mumma. Pride says so.’

‘Really?’ Trudy raised an eyebrow at Pride’s sheepish grin. ‘As if we don’t find enough twigs, pebbles and rotten berries stuffed in her pockets. Now she’s going to have dead bugs in there. Nice work Daddio.’

‘Time to cut the tree down.’ Pride changed the subject by grabbing the axe. ‘Bray!’

As she looked back at said tree, Trudy watched Bray and Ebony emerge from behind its full branches, hand in hand. Their mirrored expressions were both nervous but content. Ebony even seemed to be glowing with pleasure. Trudy’s eyed widened and she reached out for her husband’s arm. ‘Are you seeing this?’

Pride nodded, axe forgotten at his side. ‘It’s about time.’ He whispered. ‘I was getting tired of pretending we didn’t know.’

‘Agreed.’ Trudy laughed quietly. ‘Bray has always been the worst liar.’