Heath woke up on Christmas morning feeling refreshed and good to be alive. He was healing well from three busted ribs he had suffered trying to break a horse and his leg showed only a trace of the pronounced limp he sported a few weeks ago. He noticed that Silas had lit a fire and as a consequence his bedroom was warm and cozy.
The thought of staying snug was sorely tempting for the young twenty-year old, but the day ahead promised his first Christmas with his new family and nothing in the world was going to make him miss that. Raising himself up on his elbows his vision first went to the window to see what kind of day it was. Then sweeping his eyes across the familiarity of his room his eyes passed over the stocking at the end of the bed and then quickly returned to it. His left eyebrow quirked upwards with curiosity and he shuffled down to the end of the bed to retrieve the stocking from where it hung. Truth be told he felt a bit old to be getting a stocking. He shuffled back to the centre of the bed, spilling homemade chocolates onto his bed . Popping one into his mouth and savouring its delicious taste his head turned to where the door opened and Nick walked in, resplendent in his new robe, a Christmas gift from his mother and one which she had co-erced Heath into help choosing, even asking him to try it on. This he had done with much embarassment in the gentlemen's outfitters they had gone to in San Francisco. Of course, Victoria had her reasons. A similar one awaited Heath downstairs, less fussy than Nick's and more suited to his quieter character.
Victoria and Jarrod followed a few moments later, Victoria bending down to warmly kiss Heath and Nick and receive their kisses in return. Christmas greetings were barely exchanged when an excited Audra ran into the room, carrying her own stocking and expressing girlish delight at the necklace she had found, a gift from Nick who she duly thanked with a volley of kisses on his cheek.
“But I thought we were going to open our presents downstairs?" Heath inquired, clearly puzzled. He realized, embarrassingly, that he was in his long johns and scrambled for added cover from his sheets.
“Stop fussin’ like a bashful groom on your wedding night, you’re decent enough,” Nick dismissed indicating to his brother to move over so he could find a place on the bed where he could rest his long legs and feet. He then began to inspect his own stocking for his own selection of presents, hoping he'd dropped enough hints about what he wanted.
“You got one too, Nick?” Heath inquired, puzzled at the picture of a grown man delving into a Christmas stocking.
"And why not?"
“But you’re...well, you're twenty-six!” Heath, stated unhelpfully, earning a swift “watch it, kid” look from his brother, whose uncombed hair flopped over his face despite his efforts to push it back.
“Ah yes, but you see, Heath, Nick is really only five at heart,” Jarrod pronounced, “Humour him. This is his favourite day of the year, and as you see he is once more a child.”
“Remember that when you want my signature on that contract tomorrow, lawyer."
Nick looked at Heath. "So aren’t you going to look in your stocking?” He was impatient for Heath to open his presents knowing that Jarrod had placed a special present in there for their youngest and still very new brother.
Heath looked around the room and at all the expectant faces staring him. He received an encouraging nod from his step-mother. Still feeling a little self-conscious he began opening the small parcels inside, discarding their wrapping and smiling broadly when he discovered a pouch of his favourite tobacco from Nick and other things that he liked. Then to his utter consternation he found a timepiece which he had longingly admired when he was in San Francisco with Jarrod. His jaw dropped open and he looked at Jarrod, for only Jarrod knew how much Heath had wanted the timepiece. Never in this world did he imagine he would find it in a Christmas stocking at the end of his bed. “But Jarrod...I....can’t accept...” He spluttered offering up the timepiece to return it. "It's far too expensive!"
“Nonsense,” Jarrod said jovially and closing Heath fingers around the timepiece as confirmation of ownership, “I bought it especially for you. It would please me if you read the inscription on the back.”
Heath, sitting cross-legged under the covers with his long johns open part way down his chest forgot his modesty in front of his mother and sister and turned the timepiece over. Carefully, he read the words to himself, then under the encouragement and inquisitiveness of Nick read it out loud.
“To my dearest brother, Heath
With love and affection
Heath’s voice choked on the last word. ‘Pappy’ was Nick’s name for Jarrod which he used to acknowledge the paternal role Jarrod filled for the family since Tom Barkley’s death. Even the independent Nick needed that part of Jarrod sometimes. Heath had never called Jarrod "Pappy", sensing he would be encroaching on something Jarrod and Nick shared- after all they had been brothers all their lives, Heath has only been their brother for less than a year.
Nick, suspecting the reason for his brother’s caution, gave him a friendly kick of encouragement. It was all Heath needed and he reached up to hug Jarrod and thank him properly. “Thanks, Pappy,” he said, his voice full of emotion. Jarrod returned the hug in full and patted Heath on the back. Standing upright the warmth of Heath’s embrace remained with him and he knew his eyes had teared up a little. Clearing his usually reliable voice which failed him for a moment, he said, “Well, what say we all return to our own rooms, get dressed, and have breakfast before going to church.”
“Sounds good to me,” Nick agreed, giving Heath a friendly cuff on the back of the head and clutching his stocking. Heath brushed off his brother’s playful gesture and accepted an uninhibited kiss from Audra and a gentler, no less affectionate one from his mother. Yes, life was good.