“He’s sleeping,” Noah tells her. I watch him as he moves toward Peyton. He reaches for her, not caring that she’s an icicle, and pulls her into his arms. There’s something about how they embrace, making me curious about whether Noah was truthful with me earlier. The way he’s holding her, it’s more like comfort. There is just something I can’t shake.
Katelyn and Harrison disappear toward their room while Elle lingers in the kitchen. Mack, Paige, and Eden are talking about going night skiing. And Jenna and Jimmy announce they need to warm up in the pool.
“The pool sounds like an excellent idea. Want to go?” Liam asks.
“Yeah, sure,” I say, but my eyes are still focused on Noah and Peyton.
“What are you doing?” Liam asks.
“What?” I look at him and shake my head.
“Whatever is going on, stop.”
“Nothing is going on,” I tell him, although I don’t even believe the words coming out of my mouth. I hate that I’m looking for any sign of trouble with him. It’s stupid, really. They’re like Liam and me, or Katelyn and Mason—in love with each other most of their lives. Only with Noah and Peyton, they had to wait until it was socially acceptable to date. Not to mention legal. The more I watch them, the more I realize how much they remind me of Liam and me and they love we share. It’s consuming. Almost like no one exists in our world. My parents hated it, as did his.
p; Liam drags me away from whatever scene I’m trying to develop in my mind and into our bedroom. He shuts the door and stalks toward me. I eye him with caution but also with desire. When he reaches me, his cold hands cup my face as his lips press against mine. “I missed you today,” he says when we part.
“I missed you too.” I tell him what Noah and I did all day, and how relaxing it was, and how Oliver is such a good baby. Liam talks about their ride and how cold it was, but the diner was worth the trip.
“How was Mack?” I ask, still worried about him.
“You know, he’s a good kid.”
“Your daughter loves him.”
He nods. “I know. They’re us. I can see it in the way they look at each other. They gravitate toward one another. It’s scary. I’m scared for them.”
“We just have to make sure they know the consequences of their actions.” I really can’t stomach the idea of Betty Paige having sex right now or even next year, and I don’t know what I’m going to do when or if she asks me how old I was when I lost my virginity—telling her to wait when I didn’t would make me look like a hypocrite.
Liam sits down on the bed and pats the spot next to him. I happily sit there. “The last couple of nights, Mack and I have stayed up and talked some. He tells me about life at home. The fighting between his parents. And how he spends most of his time in his room with his headphones on. He doesn’t want to move but also wants his mom and sister to stay in Beaumont. Mack’s torn between his parents right now and feels lost. He thanked me for letting him stay with us and promised he would follow all my rules. I trust him, JoJo. I really do. But what has me worried is that he wants to go to college to play ball. Either football or baseball.”
“That’s good, right?”
Liam nods. “It is, but I think back to when I went through all of that and chose a school based on Mason, and how I chose to follow what my father wanted and not what I wanted. I remember how miserable I was and how much I hated school. Most of all, I remember the night I walked out on you, left you there in your dorm room, pregnant and alone. I don’t want that for our daughter, and I’m not saying Mack will do that or Paige is going to end up pregnant at eighteen. All I’m saying is I see a lot of me in Mack, and it scares me.”
“Why does that scare you, Liam? You’re a good man. You didn’t know I was pregnant. I know deep down, if you had, you would’ve stayed.”
He smiles and kisses me. “I love you more than life, JoJo,” he whispers against my lips.
“I love you too. Now tell me, why are you scared?”
Liam pulls away and looks into my eyes. “I want Paige to live life to the fullest. I want her to follow her dreams, not Mack’s, or anything they create together. I want her to explore, travel, and find her passion before she settles down. I’m scared they’re heading in our direction. When I was Mack’s age, I cared about three things: football, Josie Preston, and having sex with her.”
I can’t help but blush even though the situation doesn’t call for it. “We can’t stop them from falling in love, but we can prepare them and encourage them to think for themselves. I think Mack has a good role model in Noah, and Paige does as well with the twins. And I think you overthink sometimes. We just gotta go with the flow, Mr. Page.”
Liam growls and tackles me onto the bed. “You know, I brought my Santa hat. Tonight, you can sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what you want for Christmas.”
“Deal,” I tell him. “But fair warning, I’ve been very, very naughty this year.” I wink and get up before Liam can do anything. I’m to the door when I hear him groan into the blankets.
When you have a houseful of people, including three teenagers, and a brand-new baby, the Christmas tree is overflowing on Christmas morning. At some point, after everyone had arrived, Harrison, JD, and I decided that all three of us needed to play Santa. Handing out presents and wearing a Santa hat is something each of us does for our family, and it only made sense that we’d continue with our traditions. The only issue we couldn’t decide was how it would work. Thankfully, we have brilliant women to guide us, men, along in our lives. I don’t remember who blurted the solution out, but it made sense. The dads will take turns. It’s as simple as that.
This Christmas is unlike any other, at least the ones we’ve had in the past. Everyone is here, except for a few people. We’re missing Harrison’s mom, Mason’s dad, Ben, and Katelyn’s parents. My mom, Josie’s parents, and the Davises side of the family. But it’s Mack who I’m focused on at the moment. I’m sure the boy feels awkward, celebrating such an important day without his family. However, Josie has gone above and beyond to make sure he’s comfortable. He has presents under the tree, mostly from Nick, who made sure his son wasn’t going to go without gifts, but from us as well. Watching Mack move among our tight-knit family, it’s like seeing what my future will be. He fits in, and that scares me. I think deep down I want him to be on edge and always on his best behavior. I think I want him to be like I was when I was his age, afraid of Mr. Preston. Although, that fear didn’t stop me from being a complete shithead.