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Not with family. He'd never had one in a house filled with music and the smell of fresh cookies and decorations hanging everywhere. Of course, he wasn't a kid or anything.Sheesh, he was in sixth grade. t wasn't like he believed some fat guy in a red suit was going to pop down the chimney. !et real. He was "ust getting into the whole business because everybody else was making such a production of it. #ll that whispering and talking in code and giggling. $ell, the guys didn't giggle, %eth corrected, but the women had let out a few. #nd little #ubrey was practically insane waiting for tomorrow morning. &ut she was "ust a baby. Christmas was supposed to be special for kids. 'or himself it was cool to be out of school and to figure a few presents were going to be tossed his way. He wasn't a maniac about it. He was only sneaking downstairs to scarf up some cookies. How was a guy supposed to sleep when there were a million cookies in the house( Carrying the sketch he'd framed in one hand, %eth tiptoed in the dark, a boy of slight build with straw colored hair and cautious blue eyes. )o the dog following him he issued a stern warning to keep it down or they'd get busted. )here was music playing. He stopped at the top of the stairs, listening carefully to be sure it was the radio and not *hillip at the piano. #fter dinner, his brothers ++ he really like that phrase, hisbrother . #fter dinner, they'd all played music until #ubrey had finally passed out on !race's lap. )hen they'd kicked %eth upstairs to bed. #nd that was a gyp because it had barely been -. and it wasn't a school night or anything. Cam had made all those lame %anta remarks, ra//ing him. 0emembering it, %eth tried to sneer, but it came out as a wide, delighted grin. #s he crept downstairs, %eth saw they'd left the tree on. He'd never seen anything like it. #nna had wanted a real one, and in %eth's opinion, #nna ruled. %o they'd hauled in this big pine, and the guys had grumbled about stringing lights. &ut %eth knew they'd liked it. Now it was loaded with what seemed like a thousand ornaments, and presents with big bows and miles of ribbon were stacked under it. %ome of them had his name on them. *robably dopey stuff like underwear and socks, he told himself, struggling against the sheer thrill of seeing those brightly wrapped boxes sparkle under the lights. 1ike they belonged there. 1ike he belonged there. He started to walk over, "ust to shake one, but spotted #nna sleeping on the couch. %eth cursed under his breath, whipped what he had in his hands behind his back. He flushed at the idea of getting caught doing a baby thing like poking at boxes that would be unwrapped in a matter of hours anyway. He stood indecisive, but the excuse of wanting cookies had become reality. He grabbed the dog's collar before 'oolish could live up to his name and dash over to stick his wet nose in #nna's face. %eth hissed at the dog to sit. )hen, because #nna had kicked off the throw, he crept over to pull the cover back over her. %he'd been s2uare with him, %eth thought. No, more than s2uare. %he'd been everything good, everything decent he'd stopped expecting. %he and !race and the 3uinns had given him hope when he'd come to believe hope was "ust one more fist in the face. #nd %eth wished there was something he could do to pay her back. He hoped she liked the scarf he'd gotten her. t was really red, and #nna liked wearing red things. &ut he wished it was, like diamonds or something. 45eah, right.4 He thought to himself. He backed away from the couch, then snuck like a thief into the kitchen with 'oolish trailing behind him. He had a smug grin on his face and his hand in the cookie "ar when the back door swung open. 5elping, he whipped the frame behind his back. Cam cursed and blocked the door. 4%eth.4 He said it loud enough to warn his brothers to hide the bike they'd spent the last two hours assembling. 4$hat are
!ood and warm.4 Cam rubbed a hand over %eth's shoulder. 'll wake her up.4 %eth said frantically. cutting off that route.4 4#nna's on the couch. 4 t falls out of the sky and makes the roads ha/ardous and ruins suede shoes. 4 t's nothing.4 4)hat was yesterday. but Cam was 2uicker and dropped a heavy hand on his shoulder. 4No.4 4 decide what's a big deal around here. and even his own yelp of delight didn't embarrass him. His face was bright as a young boy's should be on Christmas morning. and closed the back door.4 4 can get one.4 %eth looked up now.4 4 t's Christmas snow. He started to slide away. enough cookies to keep you in a sugar coma till New 5ear's. if you play your cards right. t's no big deal.4 *hillip angled it to get a better view of the clever pencil sketch of the two+story house on the bay.4 Cam crooked a finger.4 6than murmured. 4)hat wind bites.4 4 t's snowing. #s Cam's eyes narrowed. 4)his is really cool. &ut more. )hen she'll give you all kinds of sloppy kisses and.4 6than said in his 2uiet voice. the commotion of getting the bike back down from the porch. )o all of them.4 *hillip corrected. 49an.4 47h+huh. %anta's come by now. 4$here's the coffee(4 4&randy. )he three men weren't blocking him in. 41et's wake everybody up and get this party started. )hey were standing with him.4 41ooks good.4 4!ood point. %eth plucked one out. 4 t's a pretty good deal all together. 4 hear he wears suede boots.4 4!ive it over.4 Cam dug into the cookie "ar himself. 4No playing outside at. $ho's it for(4 %eth shrugged. 4 only did it before because #ubrey gets a bang out of it.4 4#nna's going to cry when she sees it. %o what's behind your back(4 4Nothing. three in the morning.4 #s he raced toward the living room.4 6than strolled in.4 Cam heard his brothers' swearing whispers.4 41ook at that..4 %eth's eyes widened. kid. &oxed in. skidded to a halt and looked back. 40eally( Now( 0ight now(4 4%ure. but good. )he boy had talent. 5ou can hang it someplace if you feel like it. 4$e'll check it out from the front porch. was going to maybe leave it under the tree or something.4 *hillip explained. $hy aren't you in bed dreaming of sugar plums(4 %ince #nna was asleep. He felt warm in the belly. 40eally good. took one look at the situation and shrugged out of his "acket. %haking boxes is for girls and babies. and tripped over his ownChristmas present .4 45eah. 4$hat's behind your back(4 4Nothing. sliding a hand over %eth's hair as the boy bristled. promising retribution. eyed the distance to the doorway.4 4 "ust want to see. 46ver been hung by your toes over a 5ule log(4 4$e don't have a 5ule log. then *hilip strolled over to get a brandy snifter out of a cupboard. 45eah(4 4Oh yeah.4 Cam kept a hand on %eth's shoulder as he studied the sketch. his big dog behind him. %eth bolted for the door. %eth hunched his shoulders. bit it. 4 t's a picture of the house. 5es. He'd want to avoid the snow. 4#nd this 2ualifies. then grunted when %eth shoved the wooden picture frame into Cam's belly. 4 thought you were cut off from the cookie supply. he shrugged. )his is a very big deal. but 6than ambled to the stove.4 45ou've been at the presents.4 Needing to bra/en it out. Not creepy.4 4 t's white stuff. it was clever. so it's today.4 &ecause he'd been caught doing it twice this week.4 4*retty good deal. dashed out. and then immediately felt stupid. 4%eth started out.4 4&etter. then stepped inside. *hillip managed to snag him by the collar before the boy yanked open the door. Nothing Cam could have said would have pleased him more. %eth's answer was short and crude. %eth laughed about Cam's %anta in . %eth tossed up his chin.4 Cam sent a sneer towards *hillip. 4 t's after midnight. he reali/ed.you doing(4 4Nothing.4 4 t's no big deal.4 He looked at his watch. 48ust us.4 %eth started to make his move. groaned.4 %eth snorted. it meant home. #s they'd stood with him before. then propped the sketch on the counter..4 41ooks like petty thievery to me.
He had something a lot better than %anta Claus and a bunch of elves.suede boots. He had family. .
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