The other week, I was gearing up to put Seasoned on sale for a special “Christmas in July” promotion. It got me thinking… I wonder what the Luzzi Gang is up to for the festivities? Do they celebrate? Is it a disaster? What would Anthony think? One thing led to the next, and suddenly I had a short story on my hands. It’s not polished, it hasn’t been edited—it really is just a fun little story that I hope you can enjoy in the spirit of Christmas! 🙂 I really hope it’s a fun way to reconnect with the Luzzi Clan until the next book… which is coming soon! I am shooting for an early fall release of Lacey Luzzi: Book 9. Without further ado…
Welcome to the Family.
Oh, you might be curious what a balloonicorn looks like, so here you go:
Christmas in July
“How did you ever find this place?” I swatted a few low-hanging branches out of my face. The weeping willow bowed over the water, its roots firmly planted on a small island in the middle of the Lake Tonka. “This place is invisible from shore.”
“It’s a secret,” Meg said. “Well, that and a little bit of help from Clay’s super-great spy gear. He picked up this chunk of land from a mile away, thanks to his little dongle.”
“Radar,” Clay corrected. “It’s not a dongle. Dongles are completely different than radars.” He gripped the edge of the canoe, his face folded in an uncomfortable grimace. “I hate miniature watercrafts. Why’s the boat sitting so low? Something’s wrong.”
“We usually don’t have four people shoved in here.” Meg sat in front. She shot a judgmental glance over her shoulder at me. “Plus, we all saw Lacey reach for the extra bacon this morning. It’s weighing us down.”
“The extra bacon?” I said. “That was one piece! Don’t get me started on the number of pastries you shoveled into your purse. Even Nora—”
I was interrupted by the thick crunch of gravel against the bottom of the canoe. Anthony sucked in a breath behind me, more of a hissing sound than a breathing one.
I jumped as a stream of hot breath tickled my neck and Anthony growled, “I told you this was a bad idea.”
“But you still got in the canoe,” I pointed out. He smelled spicy and fresh, and I leaned into him as goosebumps prickled my skin. “And I’m glad you did, or else we wouldn’t have made it past the dock.”
“I was in an exploring mood,” he said, reaching a hand out and giving my rear end a squeeze.
I yelped, leaping so high the canoe rocked left, right, and left again, nearly dumping everyone into the water.
“Yeah right,” I said, taking my seat while Clay gagged over the side of the boat. “You just wanted to stare at my butt while we paddled.”
“While we paddled?” Anthony emphasized the we with heavy sarcasm, since nobody else had really paddled. “Yes, we paddled hard. Thank you for all your help.”
Instead of paddling, Meg had used her oar as a Weapon of Splash Destruction, spraying everyone in the face at the first opportunity. Clay had held onto his like it was a lifejacket, and every time I tried to help, I cracked my paddle into Anthony’s. After two minutes of him counting from one to four on repeat, I decided it’d be easier if I paddled with my mind instead of my arms.
“I was moral support,” I said. “I was counting in my head.”
“Hey, guys, I think we’re stuck.” Meg stood up in the canoe, her arms pin-wheeling as she stumbled forward. When she regained her balance, she turned around and stuck a hand on her hip. “Anthony, can you carry me out of here? Preferably over your back like a fireman.”
Anthony raised an eyebrow. “Your boyfriend is right behind you. I’m sure he’d be happy to help.”
“We don’t really appreciate those sorts of labels,” Meg said. “It puts a lot of pressure on our relationship. Plus, he’s more concerned with puking outside of the boat instead of inside, and I could really use a knight in shining armor right now.”
“I don’t shine,” Anthony said.
“I glisten,” I offered. “Sometimes I sparkle.”
“We know. That’s called sweat, Lacey.” Meg heaved a sigh. “Fine, I’ll do it myself.”
“Oh, no…” I couldn’t stop whatever happened next.
Meg’s exit strategy was to belly flop out of the canoe. I’d never seen anything like it before, though I suppose there was a first time for everything. The canoe tilted left, catapulting Clay into the water. He landed on Meg, who took a long moment to squeeze him in all sorts of places before she hauled them both to their feet.
I shielded my eyes. Anthony cleared his throat.
“Well, at least we’re not grounded anymore.” I gestured to the canoe, which was magically floating again. “Maybe we can just leave them here.”
Anthony didn’t respond, but he did start paddling backward with gusto.
“Stop!” I swatted in his direction. “I was kidding!”
“We can’t leave them here!”
“They can swim,” he deadpanned. “I think.”
“I don’t know if they can or not; we can’t let them drown. It’s Christmas in July. Christmas in July is a happy time, not a time for funerals.”
“We could have the funeral later in the week if it makes you feel better.”
“Anthony!” I crossed my arms. “That’s not the only thing. We came out here for the Christmas tree. We can’t leave without a tree.”
“We can buy one on land,” he said. “Like normal people. I will cover all the costs.”
“There are no pine trees available,” I said. “We checked everywhere. Meg said she saw one out here, which was why we canoed across the entire freaking lake in the first place.”
“Do you know why there are no Christmas trees in all of Tonka?” Anthony didn’t paddle toward our struggling friends, but he did stop huffing us backwards.
“Why?” I asked.
This past weekend, the four of us on the boating adventure, plus Nora and Carlos, had traveled to my grandparents’ luxury cabin for the weekend. After we’d arrived, I had realized it was that time of the year again—second chance Christmas.
“There aren’t trees available because nobody else celebrates this holiday.” Anthony waved an arm in exasperation. “It’s not even a holiday.”
I frowned. “We’re getting a tree.”
Anthony exhaled, looked up to the sky, probably said a few prayers.
“I’ll give you an extra present later if you help me now…fiancé,” I wheedled, giving what I hoped was a suggestive bat of my eyelashes.
Anthony didn’t seem to find my eyelashes the least bit impressive, but he did enjoy the low cut of my tank top.
“A special present?” He looked up hopefully.
He blew out an even bigger breath, and like the good fiancé he was, paddled us back to shore to rescue our friends.
“Welcome back! How was your sightseeing tour?” Meg asked. She and Clay were soaked. They might as well have back-floated to the island. “Needed a little private time? I get it. I took full advantage too. I might’ve sneaked a few grabs of Clay’s—”
“Nope!” I shook my head frantically. “We’ve talked about this, Meg. Clay is my cousin, and I don’t want to hear about any details.”
“—squishies,” she finished with a huge grin.
Anthony looked like he was about to die, so I wrapped him into a hug.
“So, where’s this tree?” I asked. “It better be a good one since we spent half an afternoon paddling out here.”
“Get out of the boat,” Clay said, seemingly uninterested in the tree. He did still look a little green around his ears. “I’m going to park it.”
“We don’t need to park the canoe,” I said. “Let’s just drag it onto shore a little bit.”
“No, I’ll park it.” Clay pulled a doohickey from his pocket. “It’s a remote control. I wired it up to the boat, and I want to test it out.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Does it blow things up?”
“No, of course not,” Clay scoffed. “Totally safe.”
I didn’t believe him, which was why I actually listened to his advice and got out of the boat. Anthony took my arm in his, and together we waded through the shallow water onto the tiny beach.
This place could hardly be called an island—it was more like a glorified lily pad with a few trees sprouting on it. A rocky shore and dark, clear blue water surrounded it, giving off a jungle-esque vibe. I shivered at all the dense foliage in the middle of the island, my mind spinning, wondering what sort of creatures might be waiting to eat us.
My fear hit much closer to home, however, when a burst of heat erupted behind me. I hardly even flinched. Apparently living with my cousin for a few years had gotten me well accustomed to fiery endings from our various modes of transportation.
“Clay?” I asked, a warning note to my voice. “Didn’t you just tell me that this wasn’t wired to explode?”
He turned toward me, his face covered by healthy layers of soot and embarrassment. His hair stood up, and he had a little bit of the crazed-scientist thing going on, including a wild smile.
“It wasn’t supposed to do that.” Clay looked toward the smoldering canoe. “But I guess the remote wasn’t waterproof.”
I bit back all my questions. It was no use wondering why Clay hadn’t thought about waterproofing canoe paraphernalia at this point; the canoe wasn’t even a boat anymore. It was hardly firewood. What was left of it burned, charred, and then hissed as it sunk below the water.
“Well, that’s fun,” I said, turning to Anthony. “Do you think you can swim back to shore and send a rescue team back for us?”
Anthony met my gaze evenly.
“Sorry,” I said. “But we’re sort of stuck.”
“I don’t celebrate Christmas in July. I don’t want a Christmas tree. Canoes are death traps.” Anthony turned around. “You guys can figure your way out of this, since I wanted no part of it in the first place.”
I clapped my hands. “Great! It’s a puzzle. We just need our own Christmas miracle, folks. Get thinking.”
“I have an idea,” Meg said. “Come on. Let me show you to our humble abode.”
My gaze swiveled so fast toward Meg I almost got whiplash. “Excuse me? What abode?”
“Me and Clay come out here to hang out all the time,” Meg said. “Except usually we take a real boat. You know, whenever we come up to the cabin and want to sneak away for a little bit. Back at the house, people just talk, and talk, and talk. Your family, I tell ‘ya. I love ‘em, but sometimes it’s nice to have some peace and quiet.”
Anthony stared open-mouthed at Meg. “We talk?” he whispered incredulously. He turned to me. “Is she serious?”
“Let’s just follow them.” I grabbed Anthony’s hand, pulled him through the forest after Meg and Clay. “We’re on a vacation, just think of this as an adventure.”
“Why can’t we go on a relaxing vacation?” Anthony grumbled. “Everything always has to be an adventure. What about mojitos on the beach?”
I stopped in the middle of a path made from crumpled underbrush. “I’ve got an idea. How about we honeymoon on the beach? No adventure, just lazy lounging by the pool. I promise.”
“Doll.” He leaned in, kissed my cheek. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep.”
“Everything with you as an adventure, sugar.” Anthony pulled me in close, his hand running through my hair, lingering as he toyed with the strap of my tank top. “And that is why I love you.”
I pulled him in for a short, hot kiss.
“Here!” Meg cried. “Welcome home, chickadee!”
“I don’t want to think about what they’ve used this place for,” I said to Anthony as we stepped over a few logs into a small clearing. “Alone time? The thought scares me.”
A low, almost inhuman sound came from Anthony’s throat.
“What?” I leaned into him. “What’s wrong?”
Anthony’s eyes stared straight up, lost in the branches folded above us. Ever-so-slowly, he raised a finger and pointed. There, hanging from the trees, was a bra. Judging by the size of the cups and the bright yellow-ness of the color, there was only one person to whom it could possibly belong.
“Well, there’s my answer,” I said. “Wish I didn’t know that.”
“We’ve had some good times here.” Meg plopped on the log. “Right, Clay?”
His ashen faced turned red, and he picked up a stick. He looked like he wanted to poke his eye out with it.
I took the moment to survey the makeshift fort. Four fallen trees had been placed in a square as benches, the remains of an old campfire in the middle. Long sticks probably used for s’more-making stood off to the side, and tacked to one of the trees were two photos—one of Meg, one of Clay.
“Why didn’t you just bring one photo of the two of you together?” I asked, pointing to them. “More economical.”
“We don’t have one,” she said shortly. “But there’s still time. Anyway, your tree’s over there. What do you think?”
I looked at the place she pointed. The “Christmas tree” in question was at least a hundred years old. It was also an oak tree and looked nothing like a pine. It definitely didn’t smell like Christmas, and it was about three stories high. To move it an inch would require a minimum of four cranes and six buff men.
I raised my eyebrows. “You realize we don’t have a canoe to get this back to shore, right?”
Anthony gave an almost gleeful laugh, ending in an odd sort of snort. “A canoe. Because that’ll help.”
“Okay, so maybe the tree won’t work out this time, but I do have an idea for how we can get back to the cabin,” Meg said. “Although I’m not particularly happy about it.”
“I’m not sure I want to hear this plan,” I said, bracing for the worst.
Meg stood up, a deep frown etched on her face. “I hid my Christmas presents for you all out here. That’s the other reason why we had to come here for the tree is because I also needed to retrieve my secret stash.”
A suspicious feeling crept down my spine. I pointed an accusatory finger at her. “There probably wasn’t even a pine tree out here in the first place! You tricked us so we’d come with to get your presents.”
“Of course there are trees here.” Meg picked up a branch from the ground. Exactly three limp leaves dangled from the stick. “It’s a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.”
I counted to twenty in my head, since counting to ten didn’t get me anywhere in the range of calm. “So, you have a way to get us off this island?”
“Oh, yeah, baby.” She clasped Clay’s shoulder, using him like a stepping stool to climb over the log. Then she disappeared into the wilderness.
“Is anyone else afraid?” I asked. “I don’t have a good feeling about this plan.”
Anthony picked up one of the skewers, staring at it with an intensity that made me nervous.
“No stabbing people,” I said. “You heard what I told you about funerals during Christmas in July.”
“Just dreaming,” he said, casting the stick aside with a sigh.
“Here we go!” Meg reappeared, sticks, leaves, and other underbrush decorating her long, fluffy mane. “Surprise! Happy Christmas!”
I craned my neck sideways, trying to decipher the logo on gifts. “What are those?”
Meg held up a bunch of thin packages. There were about ten of them, each as thick as a manila envelope. “Balloonicorns for everyone!”
The ensuing silence was deafening. An owl hooted in the distance, and something skittered in the underbrush nearby. Finally, even the wildlife stilled.
I cleared my throat. “That’s great! What are we supposed to do with them?”
“Well, I loved mine so much last year that I figured I’d get one of these little suckers for everyone.” Meg grinned like the Cheshire Cat. “Pretty cool, huh?”
“I’m just confused.” I scratched my head. “You know they don’t fly or… swim, or come to life or anything.”
“That’s where you’re wrong.” Meg stuck her nose in the air and continued her explanation. “They only fly at night when us mere humans are sleeping. You know, like in all the movies.”
“That doesn’t happen in the movies,” Anthony said.
Meg began ticking her fingers. “Night at the Museum, Toy Story number one, Toy Story number two, Toy Story number three—”
“We’ve got it,” I interrupted. “About this plan?”
“We blow this herd of balloonicorns up and make a life raft,” Meg said, a smug smile on her face. “Then we’ll ride them back to shore. These things’ll be like sled dogs on water. Except they won’t run, and we’ll have to power them with our own muscles, sadly.”
Nobody had an answer to the plan.
“Can anyone think of something better?” I asked after a long silence. “Pretty, pretty please?”
Another few minutes of silence, and still nobody shouted out any last minute, brilliant ideas.
“Let’s get blowing,” Meg said. “Blow these balloonicorns up like your life depends on it.”
I bowed my head, muttered something about watching her phrasing. Then I picked up the first pink thing she handed my way, and I began huffing and puffing.
“Can you believe it?” Meg clapped her hands and twirled in a circle. “I’m a genius!”
About an hour later, Clay had passed out in a dead faint on three different occasions. Anthony had remained in the same position all afternoon, and I had zero oxygen particles left in my bloodstream. I did have a pounding headache, however, and I’d seen enough stars to last a lifetime.
“Good job doing all that blowin’, Lacey,” Meg said. “I couldn’t waste my precious genius brain cells on the job, and Clay…”
She trailed off, looking over at her boyfriend who lay in the fetal position on the forest floor. His mouth cracked slightly open, and he had a little bit of drool on his chin.
“I think he’s oxygen-deficient,” Meg said. “Definitely.”
I rubbed my temples, wondering how I’d gotten sucked into inflating fourteen balloonicorns on what should have been a simple canoeing trip to an island. This was supposed to have been a relaxing weekend full of sunbathing and margaritas and floating on the water. Not an intense round of Survivor.
“Can we get started paddling home?” I suggested. “I’m gonna have to go to the bathroom soon, and I haven’t eaten in over two hours.”
Anthony leapt to attention. “Let’s go people. Move it.”
I glared at him.
“What?” A slight red tinged Anthony’s ears. “You get hangry.”
“You get hangry,” I growled back. Apparently all of my witty comments had disappeared with my breath. So I settled for a grunt.
“Lacey, you newbie, we’re in a lake.” Meg waded into the water and spread her arms wide. “You can go to the bathroom wherever you want. In fact, I’m going right now!”
I grimaced, and then without touching the water, I grabbed the balloonicorn raft and pulled it about fifty feet upstream, as far away from Meg as I could get. “Now, can we get out of here?”
Meg climbed onboard first. The raft bobbed, some of the pink balloon-unicorns getting a huge face-full of water. “I’m the captain, mateys.”
Clay was next. He flopped behind Meg, still having a difficult time keeping his eyes open. If he hadn’t been the person to blow up our mode of transportation, I would’ve felt sorry for him.
“Don’t worry, shnookums.” Meg patted Clay smack on the head. “I’m on babe watch. You’ll be safe with me.”
“Baywatch,” Anthony corrected, and I gave him the side-eye.
“A favorite show of yours?” I asked. “All those girls running around in red bathing suits?”
“You’re getting hangry…” he warned, climbing aboard the raft and beginning to kick. “This proves my point.”
“Hey, wait for me!” Running into the water, I took a dive for the raft, missed, and inhaled several gulps of water. “No, stop!”
Anthony reached out a hand, pulled me onto the raft. He grinned as he held me close, his eyes dragging down my face, over my shoulders, and onto my now see-through white shirt.
“I wasn’t supposed to go swimming,” I offered as an explanation. “Paddle.”
Anthony laughed, a playful, deep laugh. He didn’t let go. He slid his arms around my waist, pulled me close, and kissed me so hard that I started smiling like an idiot again. When he finally pulled back, I’d forgotten all about taking a dive into the water.
“Ready, team? Kick!” Meg pointed straight forward. “Mush!”
Nobody mushed, and the raft drifted slightly off course.
“Okay guys,” I said. “We’ve gotta work together. Meg, you…um, keep your legs out of the water. Clay, try not to puke. Anthony you kick to the left, and I’ll kick to the right. There we go.”
Surprisingly, my plan worked. We made it halfway across the lake with Meg directing traffic, and me and Anthony hanging off the back and kicking toward shore.
It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t graceful. Anthony and I were basically just swimming and pretending that we were motors. But Meg and Clay were living a life of luxury, sprawled out on the makeshift raft, feeling the gentle breeze on their faces.
“This isn’t fair,” I said, holding onto the last balloonicorn. I was fully immersed in the water, kicking as hard as my legs could go. “This is so not fair.”
“I didn’t even want to celebrate Christmas in July,” Anthony said. “This is nowhere near fair.”
But as I looked over at my fiancé, I couldn’t help doubling over in laughter. He sat on a balloonicorn, riding it like a seahorse. His legs floated behind him, flapping as he propelled the entire raft forward.
I leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Thanks for saving us. You are a knight in… a knight on a shining unicorn.”
Anthony made a disgruntled noise in his throat, but the kiss seemed to help. So did my see-through shirt. Then I reminded him about those special presents waiting for him at home, and he got a renewed burst of energy.
Finally, we were within sight of the dock. My grandmother came running out of the cabin. Really, it was a luxurious house named for a cabin. Situated in the tiny town of Tonka, an hour out of the Cities, it usually made for great weekend escapes—this one being the exception.
“Oh, how fun is this! I want to help!” My grandmother clapped her hands, jumping up and down. “Hold on! I’m going to reel you in.”
She disappeared, and unfortunately came back with a fishing pole.
“Nora, no!” I shouted, but it wasn’t enough to stop her.
She leaned back, cast the line just as hard as she could, and that little hook sailed straight toward us. Right at Anthony, actually.
I heard a small pop, followed by a hiss. When I looked over, Anthony’s sea-unicorn was sinking to the bottom of the lake, and he was going with it.
I tried to keep a straight face, but it was challenging.
A pained expression flashed across his eyes, the hook having punctured the balloon not an inch from his… well, from a place he didn’t want anywhere near a fishing hook.
“You can go now,” I whispered. “I’ll make this up to you later, I promise.”
Without a word, Anthony stood and walked to shore. He dripped water from his large frame, his tanned skin glowing from all the labor of pushing four people to shore. I felt bad for him, I really did. But I also enjoyed watching him walk away; he looked like a Greek god, and I drank him in as he walked toward the house.
“Well, okie dokie,” I said. “We’re back to shore.”
“Darn it.” Meg climbed off the boat, surveying the drowned balloon. “One ‘corn down. We were so close to making it without a casualty, too.”
“I’ve got duct tape,” Nora called from the dock. “Bring him in, we can do emergency surgery!”
Emergency surgery on a balloonicorn went about as well as one might expect.
Meg slathered enough duct tape to hold the world together across the injured horn.
“Can you blow it up again?” Meg asked me. “Please.”
“I blew up all of them! It’s someone else’s turn.”
“But you’re so good at it.” Meg put on a pout that she rarely used, and I couldn’t find it in me to say no. Blame it on the Christmas spirit. “Pretty please?”
I took the balloon, made quick work of re-inflating the thing. When I finished, everyone cheered. Nora supplied wine spritzers all around, and after a few glasses of the stuff, I forgot all about my problems.
“Dinner is served,” Nora called, waving us over. “Come eat, people!”
While we’d been out half drowning on our raft, Nora had been cooking up a storm. Believe it or not, she’d followed a recipe and the food actually smelled edible. Not only edible, the aroma made my mouth water.
Christmas in July was a small affair, just the four of us adventurers, Nora and Carlos, and the herd of balloonicorns. We sat at a table outside with the campfire roaring next to us, s’mores supplies ready for fixing.
Carlos began the meal by saying grace. When he finished, we all murmured Amen. This was followed by an incredibly loud pop, pop, bang! as not one, but four balloons exploded in a row.
“Surgery!” Nora yelled, leaping from her seat. “It’s not too late to save them all…” She trailed off at the look on her husband’s face.
“Mangiamo,” Carlos said, and that was the end of that.
We slurped our pasta noodles in silence, sipped wine to the crackle of the fire, and by the time Nora pulled the gelato from the fridge, the only sound around was the light lapping of waves against the shore.
I sat back and smiled because now, I had my two most favorite things in the world combined into one night: Christmas, and a perfect summer evening in the Midwest. Then there was family. Family should be on that list too, I thought, glancing around at the Luzzi Clan. If I ignored the bad parts of the day, then I’d include family in my list of things for which I was grateful.
Anthony caught my gaze, and despite the others around us, the gesture was intimate. He winked, his eyes glittering with more happiness than I expected to see from him during Christmas in July.
“I have a present,” Anthony said, clearing his throat, and standing up. “For Lacey.”
My hands shook with excitement. “You didn’t have to, Anthony. I know you don’t even believe in the holiday, and you’re just doing it to make me happy and—”
Anthony cleared his throat louder. “I might not believe in this made up, completely fictional holiday, but I believe in you, and I love you.”
“I have presents too!” Nora clapped her hands. At Anthony’s stony expression, she sat back down and gestured for him to go on. “After you, dear.”
“To Lacey, the balloonicorn-whisperer.” Anthony took a few steps closer to me. He pulled a wrapped package from behind his back; he must have been hiding it under the table because this was the first I’d seen of it. “Merry Christmas in July.”
I glanced at the box, and then shook it. “Ooh, it rattles. What’s in here?”
“Don’t shake it,” Anthony cautioned. “Not the best idea.”
“Oh, sorry.” I gently set it on the table and peeled the wrapping paper back. “What could it be?”
“I bet it’s something romantic,” Meg said. “Underwear, maybe.”
“It’s not underwear,” I said. “That’s not romantic.”
“It can be if you’re doing it right.” Meg waggled her eyebrows. “I can show you the way, if you want.”
“Nope, no thanks,” I said, sliding a box from the paper wrappings. I opened the lid and glanced inside. “Ohh…um, lipstick?”
Anthony grinned. “Nope, it’s a gun.”
I slid my chair back from the table. “You let me shake the box with a gun inside of it?”
“It’s not fatal!” Anthony said quickly. “A dart gun. Knocks the recipient of said dart out for five minutes. Just twist the cover and…”
“Like this.” Meg grabbed it, twisted the cover, and the next thing I knew Clay yelped. “Whoops,” Meg said. “Too bad Clay’s big toe got in the way of that little thing.”
We all looked at Clay. He slumped over in his chair in a dead sleep.
“We probably shouldn’t write on his face,” Meg said. “That’d be mean.”
“Probably not,” Nora said.
“Definitely not,” Anthony agreed.
“Is he okay?” I leaned over to listen, and heard light snores coming from Clay. “He sounds fine.”
“It’s sort of like Nyquil,” Anthony said. “He’ll be back in action in five minutes.”
“Time for my present.” Nora shoved a box across the table. “Open it. Both of you.”
Anthony and I looked at each other. I nudged him to get started first. Clay mumbled something in his sleep, and Meg eyed the package like it was lunch.
Anthony opened the box, looked inside, and then passed it to me without saying a word.
“What is it?” I asked.
“No idea.” He shrugged, looking bewildered. “I think it’s for you.”
I glanced in the box. “Nora!”
“What?” she said.
“It’s a onesie. I’m not pregnant.”
“No, but you’re engaged, and it’s a slippery slope.” Nora tipped her nose high. “A grandma can dream.”
Clay let out a snore that sent critters skittering into the darkness.
“Time for my present,” Carlos said.
“You brought a present?” I looked up, surprised to see my grandfather participating in the festivities. “What is it?”
“The gift of silence,” Carlos said. “Everyone be quiet while I finish my meal.”
Save for Clay’s deep breathing, we all sank into the silence and enjoyed the gelato melting in little bowls before us. The stars glittered overhead, and the remaining balloonicorns warmed themselves by the fire.
Meg reached over and wiped drool from Clay’s face with the back of her hand. It was sort of sweet. Anthony nudged me off the chair, and then tugged me onto his lap and slid his arms around my waist.
Nora beamed at the family, and as the moon rose high above the lake and the fire crackled behind us, I couldn’t help thinking that Christmas in July had worked out just fine.