Ryan found us and we headed back to the beach house. It was a little after 12:00 and Mom had lunch ready for us. Julie and her husband Michael had arrived and were already eating lunch. Mom bustled us in and got us all situated around the table before she poured us all big, hearty bowls of her famous zuppa toscana soup. She says Olive Garden based their own soup recipe off of hers. I do not know how true that is but it sure tastes like Olive Garden's soup. Dad says it is better because it is filled with love. Mom only makes this recipe a couple of times a year so I dug into my bowl quickly. I knew Dad would soon make us all pile into the cars whether we were done or not.
"Sarah," said Ryan to my mom, "this is the best soup I have ever had."
"I know," she said before she smugly walked back into the kitchen to get some more rolls. We were devouring those too.
"Ryan," said Michael, Julie's husband and the newest addition to the family, "this was one of the things that sold me on this family."
Julie quickly threw her elbow in his direction.
"Well, it was. Not that they aren't all wonderful and amazing," he said as he smiled up at Mom, "but this soup definitely won me over."
Mom smiled at Michael. She loved compliments.
"Okay, okay guys. Hurry and enjoy the soup because your father will be in soon and we'll all be whisked away to go chop down the tree," said Mom, smiling at everyone at the table.
We had about five more minutes to eat before Dad came in and hustled everyone out the door to the car. He was a man with a schedule and no one was going to interrupt it. We left all the dishes on the table and Mom was only allowed to put the lid on the soup before she was out the door, grumbling all the way about leaving messes. She hated a dirty kitchen.
The drive was uneventful. Ryan and I drove in Julie and Michael's car and followed Mom and Dad who brought Grandma and Grandpa. No one was left behind for the big expedition. We pulled into Uncle Sam's yard and Uncle Sam came right out. He walked over to Dad's car, talked for a few minutes and then waved us all on. He was probably staying home to fix the hot chocolate for us. We followed Dad as he led us right to the tree he, Uncle Sam and I had found yesterday. We piled out of the car and circled round it. Everyone proclaimed it perfect and Dad went to get the saw from the trunk of the car. Grandma and Grandpa and Mom headed back to the car to wait.
Dad came back with the saw and handed it to Michael. He dropped the netting for the tree at their feet. "Boys, it's your turn to start cuttin' the tree down. I'll be waiting in the car with the old folks. There are bungee cords and rope on the roof of the car so you can tie it down. Let me know if you need any help," said Dad and with that he turned and headed back to the car.
Michael looked at the saw and then the rest of us. "Anyone know how to cut down a tree?"
We all shook our heads. I had seen Dad do it enough that I had an idea but he had never let any of us cut the tree down before. Even my brother John had never been asked to do it.
Ryan pulled out his phone. "Let's check YouTube. There's probably a video on there on how to do it."
He quickly had it pulled up and he and Michael were looking at the screen. The first video they tried had a guy shooting down a tree with a shotgun. It took him two shots to do it but he lost a large limb off the right side of the tree. We got a laugh out of that but no help. They quickly picked another one and the guy just sawed it straight across. This is what we all thought we were supposed to do but they watched two more videos before they cut the tree. Ryan held the tree trunk and Michael got down on the ground and started sawing. He was about half way through the tree when I realized I wanted to help too. Who knew if this was going to be a recurring tradition or a one-time shot. I wanted a try at sawing down the Christmas tree.
"Michael," I exclaimed, I think I was afraid he was about to finish.
He jumped a little off the ground. "What?" he asked, startled by my tone.
"I'm sorry, it just hit me right now that I want to help saw the tree down too," I said with a little more decorum.
"Oooooh, me too," said Julie and she seemed to be jumping up and down a little bit.
"We'll, I guess I'd better get a turn too," said Ryan. "When your father wants to know who chopped the tree down, it's not going to look good if I didn't do anything."
"Okay," said Michael. "but next time don't scare me half to death. I thought I'd cut the tree down wrong or something the way you were talking Jessie."
"Sorry about that," I said, taking the saw and kneeling on the ground so I could start sawing again.
I only did a little sawing because I wanted to make sure everyone got a turn. I turned it over to Julie but it was fun to know I actually got to help this year. I was almost thirty and truly cutting down my first Christmas tree. Julie sawed a little bit and then handed it to Ryan who finished off the tree. Luckily Michael was holding the tree because it started to fall on Ryan before Michael redirected it. We finagled the netting over the tree and then hauled it over to my parents car. We secured the tree to the car but I think we were all a little leery about the job we had done. Ryan and Michael both pulled and yanked at the tree before Julie told Dad we were ready to go. Dad got out to check our tie down. He pulled and yanked on the ropes and bungee cords and proclaimed it secure. I was hoping the combined forces of Dad, Michael and Ryan pulling and yanking on the tree had not loosened the tree since we would be driving behind it.
We headed back to Uncle Sam's home and all piled inside for out hot chocolate. It was tradition, even if we were not little kids anymore. We boasted to Uncle Sam how we had cut down the tree and secured it to the car all by ourselves this year. I felt a little juvenile about the whole thing but it was our first time and we were all excited about it.
"Did I ever tell you about the first time your father tied the tree down all by himself. The first couple of years I helped him with it but after about five years, I let him do it himself. He made it back to the house where you kids all had some hot chocolate with marshmallows. I think you kids ate an entire bag that year. It might have been the first year Julie actually drank some hot chocolate instead of just eating the marshmallows. Anyway, after the hot chocolate, you all piled back into the car and made it about twenty feet down the driveway when the tree slid off the back. I hadn't even gone back inside yet. I was still waving you guys off. You kiddos were in the back seat waving as fast as you could and then the tree fell right off the car and you looked so surprised, like you couldn't even figure out what had happened. I laughed and laughed as I walked down the road to help your dad get it back on the roof. I let him tie it again. This time he asked me to check his tie down. I only made one minor adjustment and then you were on your way again. He had it good and tied down that time. I can still see that Christmas tree sliding slowly off the back of your car. That was a hoot," laughed Uncle Sam.
"I never heard that story," I said.
"I've never heard it either," said Julie.
"Really, I could have sworn I'd told that one a time or two. Well, I got lots more," said Uncle Sam.
"Maybe another day," said my father, hurriedly, "that's enough family storied for now. Besides, we've got to get back soon or we won't have time to decorate and do everything else we need to do."
"Uncle Sam, would you like to come into town with us tonight and help decorate the tree?" I asked. We asked him every year and every year he declined but I wanted to make sure we asked him.
"That's awful sweet of you Jessie, but I'm going to stay here tonight. It's my tradition," said Uncle Sam, as he started to collect the empty mugs.
"Let's help get these mugs in the kitchen and get things cleaned up," said Mom.
"No Sarah. You guys go on ahead and get going on your Christmas Eve festivities. Cleaning up after you guys is one of my Christmas Eve festivities. Hurry up. I'm sure Daniel has you on a tight schedule for tonight," said Sam, as he ushered us out the door.
"You know us so well, Sam. Thanks again for letting us get our Christmas tree here. It really is one of the highlights of our Christmas season." Mom gave Sam a big hug and then called to Dad who was already waiting by the car. "Daniel, bring that package in from the back, the one for Sam."
Dad grumbled about schedule and time as he got the package and brought it up on the deck of the house and handed it to Sam. "Merry Christmas, Sam," said Dad as he shook Sam's hand. They exchanged a look of friendship and then Dad was hustling everyone off the deck as soon as they gave Sam a hug.
We got in our cars and all turned and waved to Sam until he was out of sight.
Michael, who was driving, turned to Julie and asked, "How do you think we did on tying down that tree?"
"Well, we made it farther than Dad did the first time he tied down the tree," said Julie, who patted Michael on the shoulder reassuringly.
"I think it will be just fine. Dad did check it. Even though he may have had a problem that one year, I can't remember every losing the tree so he's been doing it right for over twenty years now. I'm sure it will be fine," I said and nestled my head on Ryan's shoulder, closed my eyes and listened contentedly to the Christmas music playing on the CD player.
I woke up once the car had stopped at the beach house. Mom and Grandma headed in to clean up lunch and make dinner. Dad and Grandpa stayed outside to supervise the tree. First, they had Michael and Ryan shake down the tree to make sure that no unwanted visitors were on board. Then, they had the boys haul the tree into the living room and set it up right in the middle of the front window. That way, from the front couch, you could see the tree with the beach and waves in the background. At that point, Dad told me and Julie that we were to decorate the tree while he, Michael and Ryan went on a Christmas Eve expedition.
"Grandpa, I leave you in charge of these two decorating girls. Make sure they do an excellent job," Dad said.
"They always do," said Grandpa, as he sat down on the couch to admire the tree.
I was intrigued, but could not be too inquisitive. After all, this was Christmas. The boys headed off with Dad and Julie and I proceeded to decorate the tree.
After they left I said to Julie, "It's a little suspicious don't you think. Them going off after 5:00 on Christmas Eve. What's even open at this time of night?"
"I don't know. I didn't even have an inkling that Michael had anything up his sleeve this Christmas. I ordered everything for him and told him to wrap it," said Julie.
"Maybe we should ask Mom," I said.
"Now girls, don't go ruining Christmas," said Grandpa. "If they want to surprise you, let them. Who knows when it might happen again."
Julie and I exchanged a look and shrugged our shoulders. Grandpa was probably right and besides, Mom would never squeal. Julie and I put the lights on and all the decorations and sat down to admire it. Mom and Grandma came in and admired the tree.
Mom looked around. "Where's your father?"
"He's on that Christmas Eve expedition," said Grandpa raising his eyebrows at her.
"Oh yes, well, they should be back soon. In the meantime, I need your help in the kitchen. She put everyone to work, even Grandpa. Mom would have made a good general.
In a little over an hour Dad, Michael and Ryan came back looking very smug and excited and Mom quickly had us all sitting down to dinner. I tried asking him questions over dinner but he either ignored me or he kept telling me not to ruin Christmas. Dinner went by quickly, too quickly, since I was still trying to get some information from Ryan. Dad declared it time for the nativity when he looked around and saw everyone was done.
"We're just reading it this year, right Dad?" asked Julie. "Since there's no kids around?" Obviously she was thinking along the same lines as me.
"Heavens, no," said Dad. "We act it out every year and this year is no different. Julie, you and Michael will be Mary and Joseph. There's a baby doll in the kids toy box you can use for Jesus. Jessie and Ryan, you guys will be the shepherds and then you can be two of the three wise men and Grandpa Thomas will be the other one. Okay?" Dad looked at Grandpa.
Grandpa nodded. I guess he got a say.
Dad continued, "Mom and Grandma will be the angels and I will be the narrator. Jessie, I'm putting you in charge of costumes. You know what we usually do."
He looked at me. I nodded. I knew there was no point arguing.
"Michael, I'd like you to arrange the music. You can use whatever device you have to get us the songs. Julie, help him so he knows what songs we need. As soon as we get dinner cleaned up, we will meet in the living room for the play. Okay? Any questions?"
No questions. We all got up to complete our assignments.
Dad pulled me aside. "Can I get that package from you? I want to have it on hand should the perfect moment present itself."
"Sure Dad, I'll get it right away."
Dad followed me upstairs and I got the package out of my childhood hiding spot.
"You put it in your old hiding spot?" asked my dad. "You know your mother knows about that place, right?"
"I guess I never thought about it. I just assumed she didn't know it was there but it makes sense she does. But, it's just the place I hide things at the beach house," I replied, a little surprised.
"Well, thanks for keeping it for me."
"Sure Dad. When are you going to give it to her?" I asked.
"I'm not sure. I think tomorrow but whenever the moment presents itself, I'll know it and have it on hand to give to her. Thanks for keeping it for me." He hesitated before continuing, "You do really like it, don't you?"
"Dad, I love it. I don't think you could have picked a better gift. She'll love it," I said, trying to reassure him.
"But, if you got this ring, would you be happy?" he asked.
"How could I not be? It's beautiful! It will be the perfect gift. Just wait and see," I said, giving him a big hug. "Just make sure I'm there to see you give it to her."
"Oh, you'll be there for sure," he said and walked away.
I went back to the front room and saw Ryan resting in the recliner. His eyes were partially closed and he looked so cute lounging around on Christmas eve in our family's beach house. I was so glad he was there. I walked over and knelt down by the recliner.
"I've got to get the Christmas costumes out. Are you okay just resting here while I do it?" I asked.
"No, I want to help," he said, jumping out of the recliner.
"Okay," I said and turned to go back down the hallway.
Ryan followed me and we started to collect robes, towels, sheets, ties and belts from around the house. We would know exactly what we would need when we started putting the costumes on but these were the usual things we used. Ryan was a good sport about it, holding everything I collected and getting in a few kisses here and there. Christmas was definitely fun with him around.
After all the costume fixings were collected, we headed to the living room where Michael and Julie were still trying to figure out how to play the songs we usually sang. I thought it was a nice touch we were going to have music for once. We usually sang acapella but maybe Dad did not want to scare the neighbors, or Ryan, away. Either way, I was glad we would have music and that Michael and Julie were in charge of it.
Soon everyone was gathered and I had everyone in costume. It was later than anticipated, but we were all adults so the time should not have mattered that much. However, Grandpa and Grandma kept threatening they were going to turn into pumpkins soon if we did not get things going. Dad got everyone's attention and started the narration of the story. We acted it out with only minimal giggles and everyone joined in singing with the Mormon tabernacle choir which is the music Michael and Julie had picked for our nativity music. We sounded like angels as we sang with them, especially since Michael had set up extra speakers in the room. It was wonderful. Mom and Grandma even shed a tear or two, which is how we always knew it was a success.
By the time we had cleaned everything up, it was getting close to 10:00. Mom sat down by the tree, which had somehow filled up with presents, and started handing out our Christmas Eve presents. Everyone opened their boxes of pajamas and showed them off. We all put them on except Grandpa and Grandma who headed right off to bed. We took a few pictures and then Mom commandeered Julie and I to help wrap presents. I patted Ryan on the knee and let him know I would be back soon. When I walked into Mom's room and saw the large pile of presents to be wrapped, I knew I would be there all night. I wrapped a bunch and then volunteered to put them under the tree. Dad, Michael and Ryan were watching one of Dad's westerns on TV. The beach house only had so many DVDs and most were either Dad's or the grandkids'. I put the presents under the tree and went and sat by Ryan.
"How goes it?" asked Ryan in a quiet voice so as not to interfere with the movie. "Are you almost done?"
"Unfortunately, I'm not even close. If you want, you can go back to the condo and I'll see you in the morning or you can wait here until I'm done, but I don't know when that might be."
"I'll wait," he whispered in my ear, giving me goosebumps, "I couldn't possibly leave this western not knowing what may happen tomorrow at high noon."
"Okay. I'll try to hurry," I said, and gave him a quick kiss before I headed back to Mom's room.
We wrapped some more presents and I took them out again and said a quick hello to Ryan and got a quick kiss before I headed back to wrap some more. The next time I came out, Ryan was asleep on the couch. I got him a blanket before I went back to wrap some more presents. Dad came back too but was shooed away to watch another movie. We wrapped some more, filled some stockings and then were finally done. By that time, Michael was in bed and Dad and Ryan were asleep on the couches. Mom woke up Dad and told me to leave Ryan sleeping on the couch.
"Let him sleep," said Mom, as Dad walked by in a daze. "That way he'll already be here in the morning. You might want to put the clothes he left there at the other end of the couch, out of the main thoroughfare, so no one trips over them."
"Okay, thanks Mom."
"See you in the morning and let him sleep. He needs it." She winked at me as she walked away.
I puzzled over that. My parents had insisted Ryan stay at a separate dwelling while he was visiting but now that he was asleep on the couch, they had not problem letting him stay. I bent down to pick up his stack of clothes so I could move them to the far end of the couch. I knew if anyone would trip over those clothes it would be Grandma. I did not want to be the cause of a trip to the ER on Christmas day. As I stood up, a small square box fell out of Ryan's clothes. I looked down at it and almost dropped the clothes. It was the small box I had given my father earlier that night. It had to be. It was the same size and shape and wrapped in the same paper. I had just seen it a couple of hours earlier. Was it the ring? Was it the ring I'd chosen for Mom, the one that cost as much as a small car? Was the ring really for me? My hand started shaking. I dropped the clothes on the floor and quickly picked up the box. I looked from the box to Ryan and then back at the box. My brain was yelling at me and not in a good, girly squeal of delight but more of a panicked, run away as fast as you can yell.
I did the only thing possible at that moment, I ran down the hall and knocked on Julie's door.
"Jules," I called quietly through the door. No response. I knocked again. "Jules," I said again, a little louder. Finally, I heard some muffled talking and someone shuffling towards the door.
Julie poked her head through the opened door. She looked a little disheveled and I worried I might have done more than just interrupt her Christmas Eve sleep but I needed her right now.
"What's up?" she said.
I did not know what else to do but show her the box.
"What's that?" she asked.
"I don't really know. I was just moving Ryan's clothes to the other end of the couch when it fell out at my feet. I think it might be a ring," I said.
"What?" said Julie, fully awake now and a little loud.
"Shhhh," I said. "We don't want to wake him up or Mom or Dad. Come with me please. I need to talk."
"Yes, we need to talk," she said and quickly closed the door behind her. I think I heard a groan come from her room before she got the door closed. Michael would just have to be understanding of the current crisis.
We hurried down the hall to the blue room. I opened the door and flopped down on the bed and Julie plopped down beside me. We were laying down on the bed, looking up at the ceiling. How many conversations had we had about boys in this very room? Too many too count. This was also the room where she told me she and Michael were getting married. Now, here we were about to discuss the very real possibility of Ryan and I getting married.
"Tell me what you know," said Julie, sitting up on the bed and turning towards me.
I sat up a little more slowly. "Well, when I picked up Ryan's clothes this box came falling out of his clothes. Yesterday I went to a jewelry store with Dad and helped him pick out a ring for Mom. They wrapped it up and it looked exactly like this," I said, pointing at the box.
"Wait, you went to a jewelry store with Dad yesterday to pick out a ring for Mom?" asked Julie.
"Yep. He wanted me to help him pick out a special piece of jewelry so he could surprise her. I picked out about seven different pieces I liked and that I thought Mom would like and then Dad picked the ring. It is beautiful."
"Didn't that seem a little suspicious to you? The man's never done anything like that before."
"At the time I just thought it was very sweet. He wanted to surprise Mom with something nice and believe me, it was nice," I said, raising my eyebrows. "He could have bought a small country with the amount he spent on that ring."
"Yes, but now it looks like that ring might be for you," said Julie.
I started to hyperventilate.
"Breathe," said Julie.
I did. In and out. In and out.
"Okay," said Julie. "Let's examine the package. Is there any way we can get the package opened to see what's inside?"
"What?" I asked. "We can't do that."
"Okay, okay. Did you ever try on any of the rings? Does Ryan or Dad know your ring size?"
"No. I don't think so."
"Did you see what size ring Dad bought?" she asked.
"No, he went over and did his business and I looked around the store but there was this nice lady Ruby. She is a jewelry genius. She might be able to guess my ring size just by looking at my hand."
"I doubt that," said Julie.
"I don't. After spending just a few minutes with me, she could pick out the exact jewelry I would have picked for myself. If this package is that ring, what am I going to say? First of all, it's wayyyyy to expensive and second, I'm not ready to say yes to a marriage proposal. I mean maybe someday but not yet. We haven't even lived in the same state together. I like him well enough as my weekend boyfriend and the person I talk to almost every day via Skype but marriage is a whole nother cup of tea. What am I going to say to him?" I asked as I turned the package over and over in my hand.
"Okay, let me see if I can get some info from Michael. He, Dad and Ryan were all gone, quite suspiciously I might add, tonight. I'll go ask him what's up," said Julie and disappeared out the door.
I was left there with the package and my thoughts. How could I possibly get out of this with everyone saving face and my relationship still intact? I had never received a marriage proposal before, but I was pretty sure asking him to wait indefinitely for an answer would put a damper on our relationship. I flopped back on the bed and looked at the ceiling hoping it would have some answers for me. There were no answers on the ceiling but Julie came in a few minutes later. I sat up and looked at her hopefully.
"He's not talking. I tried threatening him with everything and he refused to talk. He said there wasn't anything worse I could do to him that I wasn't already doing to him right now. I almost pulled out the tears but I figured we had enough drama for one night. Instead, I just left and with no more information than when we started."
"You'd tell me if you knew anything, right?" I asked, a little suspicious that Julie could not get any information from Michael. He was usually putty in her hands.
She looked indignant for a moment. "Of course I would. This is important. Okay, we don't know for sure what's in the package but we think it's a ring and it's meant for a proposal, right?"
"Well I don't think anyone gives "going steady" rings anymore, especially ones that cost a king's ransom. If it's a ring, it's usually meant for a proposal," I said a bit more sarcastically than I intended. I was stressed.
"Okay, okay," said Julie, raising her hands at me in mock surrender.
"Sorry, Jules. I guess I'm a little more stressed about this than I realized."
"I know, I know. I'd be too. But, if it is a proposal, would you say yes?" she asked.
I thought about it for a minute. "I don't think I could at this point. I think I love him. I probably do but our relationship has been about fun weekends where we put our real lives aside until our significant other goes home. It has seemed more like a recurring vacation since we only see each other once or twice a month. I'm not sure how we work together in everyday life, if we even can work together. I mean how is he when I have a work meeting that goes late and he had plans for us to go to dinner? Will he be understanding or unreasonable? We don't live close enough to ever have had to worry about the little things in our relationship. What am I going to do?" I wailed, just a little bit and oh so quietly. I did not want anyone else to know about this.
Julie sat a moment and looked at me before she reached out and took my hand and said, "Maybe it's time to take the next step."
My eyes went wide and I think I sputtered a bit.
"I don't mean marriage, I mean it might be time to think about moving to Portland. It's time to find out if all those hundreds of little things work between you two. You could live with Mom and Dad until you find a job. It would give you the time to get to know Ryan on a more personal, day to day level. It might be the right move for your relationship if you think you really love him and want the relationship to work, because if that really is a ring in that box, and it's meant for you and you intend to say no but still want a chance of holding onto your relationship, you'd better have something really good to tell him. Moving to Portland could be it."
She was probably right, but I was not sure I could give up my good job and apartment and life and move back home to live with mommy and daddy. I had some thinking to do.
"When did you get so wise?" I asked, going in for a hug.
"I've always been wise," she responded and gave me a big, squeezing hug. We pulled apart and she continued, "The best thing about all this is that no matter what happens, you're going to be fine and I'll be there for you every step of the way but right now, I'd better get back to bed. You've got some thinking to do." She headed toward the door.
"Thanks, I really appreciate your help and your wisdom. Tell Michael thanks for sharing you with me. I needed it."
"No problem, sis. That's what little sisters are for," she said as she exited the room.
Check back tomorrow to see what happens when Jessie gets the package!