Kissing Under the Mistletoe - Bella Andre Page 0,1

this time it was for his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Finding an extra-strong branch to hang his handprints on, Mary placed Smith’s ornament on the tree.

The next ornament came in its very own box, one that was as beautiful as the treasure it protected inside. When Chase, her third oldest son, was eight years old, his third-grade teacher had sent a note home asking the kids to bring in family pictures for an art project. Rather than pulling photos from the albums Mary had put together over the years, Chase took the pictures himself, using the camera Jack had given him for his seventh birthday. Already, her talented son had been on his way to becoming a world-renowned photographer.

On the last day of school before Christmas break, he’d come home with this wonderful box, covered in a collage of the family photos he’d taken. In one photo, Marcus was swinging his youngest brother Gabe around in a circle as both boys laughed together. In another, Ryan was a blur as he ran after a ball. Zach was captured setting up a complicated toy race-car track in the basement and there was a shot of Smith as the star in a school play. In the photo beside that one, Mary and Jack were sitting side by side on the couch, each of them holding a baby girl. Chase had taken a picture of himself, too, in front of the mirror, half of his face covered by the large black camera.

Inside the box was a round plastic ornament with one big picture of the whole family together glued around it. A few years later, one of the kids got hold of the ornament and, with a black felt tip pen, had drawn mustaches on everyone. Somehow, Mary thought with a grin as she hung it on the tree, she liked it even better with the funny faces.

After putting Chase’s collaged box on the mantel for everyone to admire when they arrived later that evening, Mary dug back into the box of Christmas ornaments. When she drew out a long, thin ornament, her grin grew even wider.

Ryan, one of her two middle sons, had always been busy with constantly revolving seasons of soccer, basketball, baseball and football. Mary remembered realizing she wasn’t going to get an ornament out of him unless she specifically asked him to make one. By then he was nine years old and believed he was too old to make Christmas ornaments, especially since his little twin sisters loved any excuse to be covered in glitter from their forays into Christmas ornament making.

More than one Christmas party guest over the years had been confused as to why Mary had hung a stick on her tree…at least until she told them to take a closer look.

Yes, the ornament he’d agreed to make was a stick. But it wasn’t just any old stick. At her request, Ryan had walked out into their backyard, kicking a rock with each step, grumbling to himself since he would have much rather been in the park across the street kicking a soccer ball with his brothers. Mary surreptitiously watched him from the kitchen window, and when he stopped beneath the big oak tree and picked up the stick to bring inside along with a few pine needles, she wondered what he planned to do with it.

Ryan chose a pen from among the girls’ coloring stash in the family room and, with his usual easy grace that extended from sports to everything else he did, he began to draw on the branch. When he was done making his illustrations, he stuck several pine needles into holes on either side of the stick.

A few minutes later Ryan walked back into the kitchen, where Mary was peeling potatoes for dinner, and showed her what he’d made. The reindeer was rather primitive looking, but it was unique. And fun. Just like her easygoing son. Most people never saw beyond Ryan’s athletic talents, but Mary had always known he was bright and funny and quite artistic, as well. Now, as a grown man, he brought all of that to his career as a Major League Baseball pitcher.

After making sure she hung his reindeer so that it wouldn’t blend in with the rest of the branches on the tree, Mary reached back into the box and drew out the next ornament.

Her other middle son, Zach, had always been a practical joker. From birth he’d been such a shockingly beautiful