“Oh, Beth, this is wonderful,” Jack’s mother said, lifting the gift partway out of the tissue-crowded box. Metal clanked and clunked.
“Beth gave you pipes?” Ellie asked.
“No, Pumpkin. They’re wind chimes,” Jack’s dad said. “I’ll have to get those up when it finally stops raining. Thank you, Beth.”
“Each of the four chimes is a different note,” the girl said. “One for each of your children.” She drew a breath.
“No, don’t give them away,” Jack’s mother said. “We’ll figure them out once these go up.”
“Hannah, it’s your turn.”
Jack’s sister picked up her gift from Beth, hefting it in her hand.
“It’s a book of some sort,” she said, turning it this way and that.
“Oh, just open it, already!” Charlotte prodded.
“I’m trying to find the seam, if you don’t mind,” Hannah said, and then slid her fingernail along the back of the package, peeling along the overlaps and creases.
“Always have to turn it into brain surgery,” Charlotte muttered.
“This is pretty paper,” Hannah said, scowling at her sister. She pulled the paper shell away, and turned the book over. Her eyes widened as she read the cover. “Gray’s Anatomy! Beth, how did you—”
“It’s handy, having a dad works for the university,” Beth said, smiling. “Jack and I went halves. It was his idea, actually.”
“Wow, thanks, both of you,” Hannah said, smiling as she leafed through the pages. She looked up. “Oh, Ellie. Your turn.”
Quite the opposite of her sister, Ellie tore through the wrapping of the small square package from Beth.
“Wow!” she cried, digging out a round hoop filled with a complex skein of multicolored threads. “It’s a… a…” She looked over at Beth. “What is it?”
“It’s a dreamcatcher,” she told the girl. “You hang it over your bed, and it keeps bad dreams away, and keeps the good ones, stuck in the threads.”
Ellie looked at the dreamcatcher, holding it up and peeking through the hole in the center. “Is it because bad dreams are skinny, and good ones are fat?”
Beth stifled a giggle. “Um… something like that, yes.”
“Ellie, have you been having bad dreams?” her mother asked.
“Sometimes. But not since Beth came.”
“Well, I can’t be here all the time, Ellie. So now you have a dreamcatcher to fill in for me.”
Charlotte drummed her fingers on her knee.
“Okay, you can go now, Charlotte,” Ellie said, blinking at her sister through the eye of the dreamcatcher.
Jack’s other sister hefted her gift from Beth. “This is how it’s done,” she said to Hannah, and slid the ribbons off with a flick of her wrist, then snagged a corner of the wrapping and took the end off, holding the package up and letting the gift slide out the bottom.
“Show off,” Hannah muttered, then went back to leafing through her book.
Charlotte turned the plastic-wrapped bundle, and grinned. “Cool. I’ve wanted something like this for a while,” she said. She narrowed her eyes. “Did Jack put you up to this one, too?”
Beth smiled. “Well… we went halves on yours, too. And it was sort of his idea.”
“I’ve seen your English grades, Charlotte. You need all the help you can get,” Jack said.
Charlotte stuck her tongue out. “Go, Goldilocks.”
Beth picked out the last gift in her pile, a neat rectangle wrapped in a hodgepodge of wrapping papers. She gave Jack a skeptical look from the corner of her eye.
“What? It’d be a shame for all the little scraps of wrapping paper to go to waste. So I just... put them all together.”
“Is this some passive-aggressive statement about how I dress?” she asked.
“Since when did I ever care how you dressed?” Jack asked her.
Charlotte giggled, and turned it into a cough as Jack shot her a withering glare.
“Did you use enough tape?” Beth asked, turning her gift over and over, looking for somewhere to start unwrapping it.
“Just… poke it there, and rip,” Jack said, pointing.
“What? And ruin this wrapping job? I might want to save it,” Beth said, sticking her tongue out at him.
Beth poked. And tore, and wiggled, tore some more, and eventually worked a picture frame from the mishmash of wrapping. She drew in a sharp breath as she looked down at it.
“Oh, Jack it’s….” She blinked, rapidly. She carefully set the frame down, and threw her arms around Jack.
He awkwardly patted her back. “So… you… like it?”
“Yes! Thank you!” She kissed his cheek, and sat back abruptly. “Sorry,” she said, folding her hands in her lap.
“What’s the picture of?” Ellie asked. “Jack wouldn’t let any of us see it while he was working on it.”
Beth sat forward, and passed the picture to Charlotte, who glanced at it, whistled, and handed it over to Ellie.
The girl’s eyes widened. “It’s you all grown up! And you have wings!”
Beth laughed, sniffling, and wiping her eye. “No, Ellie, that’s not me. It’s my mom.” She turned to Jack. “How did you..?”
“Well, I kept a few of the pictures from the photo albums I found over at your place while you were… gone. I’ll give them back, now that my art project is done.”
“I can see how Ellie would mistake her for you,” Jack’s mother said.
“Remarkable, Champ,” Jack’s dad said, handing the picture across to him.
“Your turn, Jack,” Beth said, taking the picture back from him and holding it in her lap.
Jack picked up a small, square package, and peeled the paper apart. He smiled as he drew out another dreamcatcher, the threads in browns and grays, shot through with red.
“Wow, Beth. This is…” He glanced at it as it spun, dangling from his finger. “The pattern is way different from yours.”
“Well, of course it is. It’s tuned to me. Yours wouldn’t be much good if I tuned it to someone else, would it?”
Jack looked over at the girl. “You made these?”
Beth nodded. “A girl has to keep herself out of trouble somehow.”