I beamed to myself as I looked over the Christmas dinner spread out across the table. My brothers obviously weren’t holding back and there was a good deal of face stuffing but there were also smiles on every face.
I had little Gracie on my left and Jason on my right. Only little Gracie wasn’t so little any more. I swore she doubled in size every week. She was sat in a high chair and I watched in amusement as she tried to reach the bread roll which Karl was holding in his right hand.
She was clearly learning from the best because somebody else’s food was obviously more interesting looking than the mountain of food in her spider man bowl. There were no pink, flowery dishes for Gracie. She got to pick her own and she always chose action heroes.
“Oi!” Karl turned around with a dark look of irritation as his bread roll was snatched from his hand. “Oh,” his voice softened when he realised he’d been robbed of sustenance by his own daughter.
She wasn’t so much eating it as drooling on it.
Grace didn’t miss the angered expression on her Daddy’s face though. She immediately started bawling, crunching her little fists and smashing them onto the table of her high chair.
Elise raised an amused eyebrow and waited for Karl to make things right. We all knew that Grace had her Dad wrapped around her tiny little finger.
“It’s okay Gracie,” Karl soothed. “You can have the roll.”
The bawling continued.
“I think Gracie wants your sausage as well,” I interjected with an evil grin because this was too good of an opportunity.
Karl grimaced because he could hardly say no now and he couldn’t show his disappointment in front of Grace because she would be even more upset.
“Sodge!” Gracey bellowed around her tears. I gathered that was 1-year old speak for sausage. Oh yeah – this girl was on my team.
“Are you withholding food from your own daughter?” Matt goaded his partner in crime.
Karl ignored him. “You have sausage right here, sweetheart.” He pointed to the chopped sausage in her bowl.
“Don’t call her sweetheart,” Elise frowned at her husband. She hated pet names.
I swore Karl actually squirmed in his seat. He was being attacked on all fronts.
“Sodge!” Her little bottom lip quivered as she pointed to Karl’s sausage.
He was already cutting it up into baby-sized pieces with a huge man-child pout on his face. My brothers were all watching with supreme amusement.
“Sodge!” She squealed happily as Karl heaped the sausage into her already full bowl.
“Will she really be able to eat all that?” Isabella looked on with wide eyes.
Elise laughed. “She inherited her father’s appetite. She’d never stop eating if we gave her the chance.”
“She’s a growing girl,” Karl grinned proudly.
“We never fed Jelly that much,” Danny pointed out, gesturing to me with a roast potato on his fork.
“That’s why she’s so tiny,” Rick chuckled.
“I’m not tiny!” I interjected with a stern glare but they all just laughed harder.
“You’re a bit tiny, little squirrel,” Jason squeezed my knee under the table, his voice soft. “But I love you that way.”
“I’m only tiny to you because you’re huge,” I pointed out to my six feet of boyfriend.
“Yeah I am,” he winked cheekily, flashing that million dollar smile.
“Perv,” I grumbled, trying to hide my smile because we both knew he wasn’t talking about his height.
“Jelly!” Matt called over. “Pass the gravy.”
“Only if you say please,” I fluttered my eyelashes at him boldly because he was always so rude but he was still a little scary.
He glared across the table and I swallowed but maintained my defiance.
“Jelly!” Ian levelled me with his big brother stare. “Just pass it.”
“Fine,” I scowled because if I hadn’t said please, Ian would have told me off. Why should there be a different set of rules for Matt?
“Learn some manners,” Ian nudged Matt as I passed the gravy. His tone was jovial but we all knew Ian was serious.
“Yes, sir,” Matt grumbled with zero sincerity.
We all saw Ian kick him under the table but I guess he was feeling festive because he let it slide otherwise.
“I’m going to be in London a lot over the new year,” Ian continued speaking as if nothing had happened.
We could just about hear him over the delighted sausage noises of our adorable niece.
Nobody asked why; with Ian it had to be work related. The house phone was ringing vaguely in the background but we ignored it because it was Christmas day.
“Will you be reachable?” Karl asked without looking at Ian because he was eyeing up his former sausage, obviously wondering if he could poach some back without Grace noticing.
“Text only,” Ian replied. “I’ll call back if I’m able.”
I pouted. It was almost worse now we had an idea of what Ian did for a living.
“It’s only London, Jelly,” Ian grinned, noticing my expression in his normal super-observant fashion. “How bad can it be?”
“Down South,” Danny interjected. “Might as well be Falluja.”
The others laughed and Ian just smirked. I’d guess he had a better idea of what Faulluja was really but I’d rather not think about that.
“How long for?” Matt asked just before shovelling a forkful of gravy drenched mashed potato into his mouth.
The house phone rang again and I saw my brothers looking curiously across at it.
“A few months at least,” he shrugged. “Go check the number, Jake.”
I saw Jake roll his eyes as he pushed away from the table but he did as he was told, ruffling Grace’s hair as he passed.
“Derby 340131” He called out as he checked the ID.
“Give it to me,” Craig groaned. “That’s the hospital.”
My heart sank in my chest. They couldn’t call him back into work could they? Not on Christmas day.
“Craig Carter,” he put the phone to his ear. “Oh.” He immediately frowned. “Sure, I’ll put him on.”
He looked at the phone as if it had been speaking Chinese and blinked twice. “It’s for you,” he handed it to Matt.
Matt frowned. “Hello?” He took the phone to his ear before he turned deathly white.