"JAN. . .Poppy, Jan's not doing. . ."
Paul feels Aggie tense, hears him sigh. While Paul had warned him that including the dogs in the photo would add to the chaos, he knows better than to say 'I told you so'. Aggie's hormones are still fluctuating wildly, what with the baby only being a day old.
"Jan." The dog stops mid stride and stares up at Paul, who snaps his fingers and points. Jan takes her time obeying.
Jenny and Jill giggle maniacally. They're always so amused by the way the dogs listen without hesitation to Paul and run roughshod over Aggie. Paul worries the girls will pick up on their Daddy's weakness and as they get older, begin playing Daddy against Poppy. Johnny squirms in Paul's arms, snapping him back to attention.
"Just one more," Aggie assures the baby. With everyone finally in place they get what will become the Pollinator family Christmas card photo.
It takes but a second for the girls to dart away from their parents. The dogs follow, but not far.
"See, now that wasn't so bad, huh?" Aggie peers up from Johnny, making eye contact with Paul. Paul smiles, knowing his husband is speaking more to him than the infant.
"JAN. . .you're so silly. She keeps sniffing me. . ."
"It's cuz your dress is stinky."
Aggie sighs again, this time lighter, and smiles. He's tired, that much is obvious. But he's determined to pull off a memorable celebration for his newly transitioned daughters and no amount of reasoning by Paul can stop him.
"Jilly," Aggie gently chides. "Be nice. Remember who's listening?"
Jill opens her mouth to respond then thinks better of it. She's not wholey sold on the Santa thing but feels it best not to push her luck, just in case it is real. She'd hate to miss out on gifts. And cookies.
"Ok," Aggie claps his hands as he makes his way toward the stairs. "We have some special cookies to make."
Paul's more than a little surprised to see Aggie embarking on his baking mission while still wearing his suit. It's obvious he just wants the work to be done so he can get to the relaxing and fun.
Jenny approaches and tickles Johnny's foot. The baby squeaks and squirms.
"He's laughing. Did you hear him, Poppy? He's laughing."
Paul smiles in reply, gently tipping the baby so Jenny can better talk to him.
". . .and then Santa will come and leave presents and we'll have cookies and it'll be really fun."
"For US," Jill adds from her seat on the floor. "He's too little to have any REAL fun. He can't even eat cookies."
Jenny looks from her sister to Paul then Johnny.
"Well," she pauses to think about it a moment longer, "then we'll have to have extra fun for him."
"I get his cookie," Jill yelps.
"No, I get it," Jenny counters.
Paul leaves his daughters to their great cookie debate and takes his son to his crib. The debate is still raging when he returns a few minutes later.
"There won't be ANY cookies if we don't go help Daddy."
Both girls look at him with a mixture of shock and fear. Paul keeps his features very serious, despite his urge to laugh.
The girls race one another for the bathroom, jostling for position at the sink. Paul supervises the hand washing then herds them downstairs. Aggie has had enough time to get a breather from them, to enjoy his baking (something he claims is very relaxing, yet Paul can't say he agrees).
It's all downhill from cookies. Night has arrived and bed time quickly approaches. Jenny tries to get Aggie to agree to let her sleep on the couch, so she can be the first to see Santa when he arrives. Despite his weariness, Aggie weaves a stunning story explaining how Santa isn't physically able to appear if all the children of a house aren't in bed. Paul is amused and highly impressed.
With the children tucked into their beds, Paul follows Aggie to bed. Aggie's half asleep by the time his hand is on the door handle. Paul, though weary, has caught a bit of his children's excitement. He lays in bed and listens to Aggie's slow breathing.
After a time, he hears something else.
He doubts the girls ever fell asleep.
Aggie stirs beside him.
"Already?," he mutters, rubbing at his eyes. Paul kisses his forehead.
"You can stay here if you. . ."
Aggie is up and rounding the end of the bed toward the door before Paul can finish.
"What? And miss Santa?"
"Come on, Jenny." Jill coaxes. "It's not a STRANGER. It's SANTA! You have to give him a hug. It's good luck."
Jenny can't remember any stories about a hug from Santa being good luck. But believing in all things Santa has already netted her cookies and presents, so it's best to keep on believing.
From their vantage point on the couch, Paul leans toward Aggie and whispers.
"There's no way that's your brother in that suit."
"Of course not," Aggie laughs. "It's SANTA."
Paul narrows his eyes at Aggie, willing him to spill the secret.
"What? Don't give me that look, Paul Tech 9 Pollinator."
"It's THE Santa. The one and only. Chris Cringle himself." Aggie smiles and watches their daughters as they wave goodbye to their special guest. "I told you the cookies were special."
The girls race down the hall and are greeted by their fathers.
"Did you see, Poppy? Did you? It was Santa. Right here. And he brought us presents and ate the cookies we made and. . ."
". . .and I got a rocket ship!" Jenny yells. "Just like I asked for. Is this like your rocket ship, Poppy?" Jenny waves the toy above her head, dipping and swooping in time to her own mouth made sound effects.
"Daddy, did you see what else Santa brought?" Jenny bobs her head back toward the tree. "Just like the one in the catalog."
Aggie looks under the tree and sees the TP Girl. She is indeed just like the one in the catalog. Aggie laughs.
Jill races to join Jenny and both train their eager gazes on the tree. Or rather, the gifts under the tree.
Paul looks from the visibly tired but extremely happy Aggie to the present hungry girls.
"Can we open them ALL?," they sigh in unison.
Paul looks from the pile to Aggie, who has taken up residence on the sofa. Aggie's worked so hard for this moment. It would be a shame to have it over in a few minutes of ravaged wrappings and squeels of delight.
"Why don't you look at the things that aren't wrapped," Paul offers. The girls descend on the random stuffed animals and trinkets, content for the moment.
Paul joins Aggie on the couch.
"You're good," Aggie offers.
"What?," Paul laughs.
"You got two excited children to wait for presents. Very impressive." Aggie leans against Paul and they watch the girls playing.
"It's my gift to you," Paul offers.
"Thank you," Aggie mumbles as he drifts off to sleep.
*Paul thinking* "Really? THIS is the price we have to pay for Santa brining us one stereo? We already HAVE a stereo. And what was in those "special" cookies, anyway. BRAN? Hmm, the Llamas beat the Cows in overtime. . ."
(truthfully, this shot was not set up in any way. Santa would just NOT leave the bathroom. Maybe there is something in the cookies?)