Saturday: December 24th.

Outside the snow fell silently, landing on mounds of white fluff that covered the ground, streets and buildings. Inside the church, though, not a speck of snow could be found anywhere. Sitting to my left, Nick and Landon were dressed in simple black button down long sleeved shirts and black slacks; to their left, Shelia sat in a simple yet appropriate blue dress with her hair pulled back into a ponytail. The four of us sat in the very back pew listening to Father Mulkahee as he spoke in his own way about the true meaning of Christmas, a miracle birth and three wise men directed by the North star. The way he spoke and carried himself was, to my surprise, more fluid and natural instead of his usual forced preachy manner that I was accustomed to seeing from the nearly eighty year old man dressed in a simple white button down shirt and tan slacks.

From what I could tell, the boys were really understanding what Mulkahee was saying; it was something about the looks in their eyes that signaled they were very much into the Christmas sermon. After a short while the collection plates came and went; there were a couple of songs we all sang as we stood and held onto lit white candles, and a few moments of silence for personal reflections and prayers.

Hey God. It's me, Bryce. But I guess you already know that. My voice echoed in my ears even though no spoken words escaped my mouth during the few moments of silence. Look; I know we haven't seen eye to eye on things since...well anyways, I don't hate you. And in a way, I actually do understand why everything happened. So if you, Pam and Mikey keep watching over us, we'll be the good loving people you meant us to be. Deal? Sound cool?

At the end of the ceremony the lot of us stayed for a few moments to gather our belongings before heading back out into the cold of night. And, as he usually did, Father Mulkahee stood at the main door and made a point to see us off one by one with a solid handshake and a 'thank you for being here tonight.' The one thing that stuck out in my mind was how he took an extra moment with me and the family. His smile was warmer as he wished Shelia a good night, his disposition was friendlier as he saw Nick and Landon out, and he paused mid-handshake with me.

"It has been a while hasn't it, Bryce?" He asked staring me eye to eye, but it wasn't a normal stare, it seemed as though he were searching something nobody else could see.

"Yes it has, Father." I nodded in response.

"There will always be a place for you here."

"As there will always be a place for me in his heart. Because we are his children."

"You remembered..." Mulkahee gasped quietly as his eyes lit up.

"I grew up listening to your sermons. I could never forget that one. Have a nice night, Father, and a very merry Christmas." I gleamed with joy as I slowly stepped down the steps so others behind us could leave.

Time passed slowly; the drive seemed to drag on. Yet there weren't any complaints about it. I think the boys knew it was better to slow down on the snow and ice covered roads just in case. Then I realized it wasn't just considerate silence for the driver, it was a kind of silence that came when people wanted to speak but dared not to. Wanting something else to focus on other than the road I gave the rear view mirror a quick glance. "What did you boys think of the service?"

"It was interesting." Nick was the first to respond, his head moved up and down.

"I liked it." Landon followed suit.

"Well I thought it was a wonderful service. Plain and simple, laid back and very friendly. We should do this every year." Shelia turned ever so slightly and smiled in my direction.

"I don't see why we can't. After all, Christmas isn't just about presents and Santa. It's about the birth of Jesus, the son of the holy father. That's why I wanted us to go there tonight, so you boys would grow up with remembering the reason why Christmas is so important."

"Dad?" Nick asked somewhat shyly.

"Yeah?" I responded calmly.

"Thanks. For everything."

"Yeah, thanks dad." Landon chimed in. "I hope we can do this every year."

"So do I, son. So do I." I smiled to the windshield mounted mirror hoping the boys would see the reflection.

After about an hour of driving, I heaved a heavy sigh of relief as I pulled off the snow covered roads and onto the driveway leading home. Once the engine was off all four of us climbed out of the suv and headed straight for the door which I promptly unlocked and ushered everyone inside while turning on the lights.

"Okay, I saw we get out of these monkey suits and into something a little more comfortable." I chuckled not thinking about what could happen next; but before my very eyes, Nick and Landon looked at each other, grinned and moved around acting like – and sounding like a couple of monkeys in the zoo. "I should have known." I muttered while slapping the palm of my hand to my forehead. As Nick continued making the animalistic sounds Landon reached up plucking imaginary insects from Nicks hair then proceeded to pretend eating. I looked over to Shelia whom was apparently trying desperately to keep from laughing. "All right you two little orangutangs, keep acting like wildlife and there'll be no hot cocoa for either of you tonight." At this, the boys suddenly stopped and again looked at each other with dead-terror on their faces. Without a word spoken they took off and charged up the stairs in a fevered pace. "They thought I was actually serious?" I asked raising a finger to where the boys previously stood and was met with a shrug from Shelia.

"The boys take their cocoa seriously." She grinned with a twisted smile.

In due time the boys scampered back down the steps dressed in their usual sleepwear, which for Nick, meant putting on a pair of shorts to be presentable. In the time that they were getting changed, Shelia and myself had also gotten changed into more comfortable clothing for the night. After which I went to the far corner and turned on the lights to a very well decorated Christmas tree standing at an impressive eight feet tall then watched and waited until the lights began blinking on an off. Tints of reds, blues, greens, yellows and whites glowed off multicolored glass balls and ribbons of bright silver garland strung about the branches. At the very top of the tree was an aged wooden angel that appeared to watch over the space.

There was one more thing I needed for the evening, though. And I knew I'd find it on a bookshelf in the other far corner. I looked over my shoulder while rummaging around the bookshelf to see the boys flopping down on the couch as Shelia kept herself busy in the kitchen whipping up some hot chocolate and light snacks for the late evening. Now where did it go... I thought while looking for the one book that eluded my grasp. "Ah, there it is." I chuckled as my index finger grazed the spine of the book in question. I pulled the book from its place and slipped back over to the couch between the boys while Shelia emerged from the kitchen with a tray of mugs of cocoa and an assortment of simple cookies. The four of us dove into the snacks and drinks and settled down before story time.

With the snacks devoured, Nick and Landon leaned into my sides as I wrapped my arms around them while holding the book open for them to see as I read aloud. Shelia sat at my far right with her arm on the couch back and her hand rested over my left shoulder. During the course of reading 'The Night Before Christmas' I would look down and see the boys intently listening to every word I spoke. By the end of the story, they were barely able to keep their eyes open which meant one thing. Bedtime. With a round of 'goodnight' and 'sleep well' the boys disappeared up the steps. I listened for the eventual silence as Shelia yawned and stretched.

"Sleep sounds good right about now." She commented as she stood, kissed me goodnight and headed up the stairs herself.

Alone in the living room I sat and watched the lights silently flashing on the tree. Then I stared at the assortment of packages in different wrappings under the tree. Most of them were from family to family, but there were still a few that needed to be placed. That's when I stood and headed into my office to take care of a couple of things first. After the passage of two hours I went into a false compartment in the bookshelves behind my office desk and pulled out a handful of presents in different wrappings – all with a yellow bow and a note in Helen's' handwriting so any suspicions would be thrown. With the goodies in my arms I headed out of the office and stopped dead in my tracks to find Nick and Landon laying curled up on the couch – both sound asleep with cameras in their hands.

As silently as possible I tip-toed around and slid the boxes under the tree in different places, all the while I kept a watchful eye in case the boys awoke. Seeing the stash of presents stored away I silently tip-toed back to the office to retrieve my camera then returned to the living room. A quick flash illuminated the room and in seconds the picture showed up on the built in preview screen. Looking down at it I chuckled quietly seeing a possible caption of 'two boys waiting for Santa.' As soon as I put the camera in my pocket I went into the the hallway linen closet and returned with a blanket to drape over the boys as they slept. "Sleep tight you little angels." I whispered as I leaned down and kissed their foreheads. Making sure they were tucked in under the blanket I slipped up the stairs to the second floor, down the hall and into the master bedroom where Shelia slumbered.

Being as quiet as I was downstairs, I crept over to the window and opened the curtains just far enough to peer out. Not surprisingly the snow continued to dance from sky to ground. Seeing that everything was the way it should be I closed the curtains, placed the camera from my pocket onto the nightstand and climbed into my side of the bed. Snuggling up to Shelia I let a sigh slip though my nose. I lay there in the silence with my mind still going but slowing bit by bit.

So much has happened in less than a year. I thought during the process of closing my eyes and relaxing under the warmth of the blankets. Everything from adopting a formerly skittish Nick to meeting Landon and Shelia and ultimately marrying her. A rather aggressive return to the writing world that made all sorts of new records. Being shot while playing hero to save the boys and stopping a madman at the same time...I hope that next year things are gonna a little more mundane. It was pretty nice to see the boys making friends in school that don't care 'who' they are and accept them for them. And even though they can stand up for themselves because of their private side of things, it's comforting to know their friends would also stick up for them if push comes to shove. That's just as good as it is to hear their teachers are truly impressed with how Nick and Landon can keep up their grades...especially with such a supportive and loving home life.

Home. Health. Family. Love. Trust. Respect. That's what Christmas means to me this year.

On the verge of slipping into dreamland, one final thought danced into my mind. It was a simple and undeniable truth. Life is perfect, in a new home to baby Nick.

The end.