Jack snatched up the colored pencils, snapping the sketchbook shut as he heard the crunching of tires on gravel and snow. He swept the sketchbook and photos off the table, and dashed up the stairs.
“Presents coming through. Just stay up there, Jack!” Charlotte called as she clomped into the house.
Jack heard the tromp of many feet, and the crinkling of bags and squeaking of the stairs as his sisters ferried their purchases up to their room.
He heard the distinctive squeak-clack of his parents’ bedroom door, and then his mother called “All right, it’s clear. You can come out now.”
“What are— oh!” he heard Beth say, as he came down the stairs. She was bent over the the two large boxes off to one side of the front door. “Well, this one has to go next door,” she said, and squatted, reaching for the corners of the larger of the two boxes.
“No,” Jack said, squatting down next to her and batting her hands away.”It weighs as much as you do. And you’re in no shape to be lifting something like that.”
The girl’s eyes narrowed. “Did you just call me fat?”
“Weak and helpless, yes. You’re not fat.”
She punched him in the arm, and Jack staggered a bit as he hefted the box.
“Margaret? We have to go next door for a bit,” Beth called as she leaned against the door, holding it for Jack.
“No running. No lifting. Bring something to drink.”
Jack waddled down the steps, and shuffled across the yards, and caught his breath waiting for Beth, who crunched across the yard several minutes later, with several bottles of water in her arms.
She fumbled in her coat pocket, fishing out a ring of keys, and she finally unlocked the front door and swung it open for Jack, who huffed through the wide doorway, setting the box down several steps inside.
“So help me if you say we’re taking this up to your room,” Jack wheezed.
Beth giggled as she shut the door. She handed him one of the bottles, and went down the hall to the kitchen.
He heard a lot of rustling, and she came back with several long rolls of decorative paper in her arms. The handle of a pair of scissors wiggled from under the armload, and Jack took them, slicing at the tape binding the box shut.
Jack brushed aside some packing peanuts, revealing a thick, bubble-wrapped book. He took it out, revealing two more below.
“Those are for Hannah,” Beth said.
Jack fished out something long and clanky, also layered in bubble wrap.
“Your parents’ gift,” the girl said.
There were three more lightly wrapped books in the box.
“Charlotte’s,” Beth confirmed with a nod. “That should be everything.”
They sat on the floor, the gifts and tubes of paper spread out around them. Beth was meticulous in her wrapping, the corners having to line up just so, the paper overlapping so the pattern matched.
When her hands began to tremble, Jack called for a break, and they sat on the bottom step of the staircase, drinking water that hadn’t gotten any warmer for having been out of the fridge. The house had power and water and gas, but Jack’s father hadn’t wanted to turn on the furnace, since the house was only rarely visited.
“Are you sure you’re not cold?” Jack asked.
“It’s cramps, not shivering,”Beth grumbled. She leaned closer to Jack. “Besides, why do you think I brought you along?”
“Um, to carry the big heavy box?”
“To carry all this heavy stuff back next door?”
She rolled her eyes, and hopped down the steps. She set her water down, and began to uncurl several lengths of ribbon. She slid it under the wrapped book, then tugged at one end of the ribbons, evening them out.
“Well, come down here and flip the book.”
“Ah, now your reason for bringing me over is clear,” Jack said, grinning, as he carefully placed his hands so as not to be in the way as Beth crisscrossed the ribbons as he spun the book over.
“Finger,” she said, and Jack pressed down where she was starting a knot.
She grinned as she tied his finger to the package, and made to make the first loop in the bow.
“I sort of need that.”
“You have seven others.”
Jack waited, patiently. Beth loosened the knot enough for him to shimmy his finger free, and she stuck her tongue out at him.
“You’re no fun,” she accused.
“You have six more things to wrap.” He wiggled a finger at her.
Beth pretended not to hear, and curled a mass or ribbons with ruthless efficiency.
They worked for another hour, and then Beth carefully arranged the gifts back in the box. Jack helped her into her coat, then hefted the box and followed her across the yard after she’d locked the house behind her.
“Hold on,” Jack said, as they approached the front porch. He peered intently at the front door, then angled around the side of the house.
Beth followed, struggling a bit through a deep patch of snow. She climbed the steps and opened the side kitchen door, and Jack squeezed past her. He crossed the dining area, and set the box of gifts down by the TV, amongst other wrapped packages.
“No fair!” Ellie said, from her seat at the top of the stairs. “Charlotte, they cheated! They came in the side door!”
Jack pointed towards the front door, and Beth glanced at it, and then up at the top of the doorjamb. A long sprig of mistletoe had been tacked up, decorated by a large red bow.