"You know, Mom, one of these days you're going to have to stop buying us so many gifts," I said between bites of ropa vieja. "We're all adults now. We should all just get each other one gift and call it a day."
My sister Noelle shot me a death stare across the table. How dare I suggest that 27-year-old Noelle and her 37-year-old husband don't need piles of Christmas presents? Some days I was surprised she didn't pull her teeth out just to get a money from the tooth fairy.
"I'll stop buying you guys presents when I have grandkids to buy for," Mom answered.
Noelle rolled her eyes. "Well, I'm not having kids, so I'll still get presents, right?"
"Be careful what you wish for, Mom, or you're going to get grandkids from Corbin."
My little brother laughed and nodded from across the table. We were all thankful he'd made it to 21 without an knocking someone up. Not that he was a little man-whore or anything, but teenage boys are just flat-out stupid sometimes. As are teenage girls.
Cayden sat back and enjoyed our bickering. That's when I realized Cayden and I would probably be the ones to give my mom her first grandchild considering the fact that Noelle was anti-babies, Meg was contemplating a long-distance relationship with a guy in Colorado, and Corbin's most serious relationship at the time was between him and his iPod.
"You weren't kidding about this beer," Cayden said, inspecting his bottle of Shiner Holiday Cheer. "It's delicious. It almost tastes like a lighter version of Leffe."
I'd been raving about Cheer Beer for at least a month. While other people gain weight over the holidays from sweets and elaborate meals, I gain it from Cheer beer. And sweet and elaborate meals.
"It tastes like someone threw a Christmas party in my mouth," I said.
Cayden nodded, thoughtfully.
Our plates were clean, and after another round of drink refills, it was finally time to open presents. Cayden and I claimed one end of the couch closest to the Christmas tree while everyone else dispersed around the room, giving themselves plenty of space to tear open their presents without knocking elbows. I was excited to rip open the tall stack of gifts in front of me, but I was even more excited to watch Cayden open the gifts I'd given him. I handed him two rectangular gifts and one medium-sized box.
"Your gift is upstairs in my suitcase, so I'll give it to you when we go to bed," he said.
Yes, I'll admit, for a full three seconds my heart stopped while my mind wandered into the unknown. Why didn't he want to give me my gift right here in front of my family? I felt my heart kick back in and slam against my ribcage. Did he, perhaps, have a ring waiting for me upstairs? I realized I wasn't breathing. A ring to accompany a certain question?
I shook the idea from my head. I didn't want to think about that. I'd been trying not to think about it, but my Facebook newsfeed had been blowing up with pictures of engagement rings from friends I forgot I had. Every caption read, "Early Christmas gift. I said yes!"
I didn't want a ring for Christmas. I wanted Cayden for Christmas and he was sitting right in front of me. My breathing returned to normal.
When I came back to reality, I saw that everyone was tearing into their first round of gifts.
"Open this one first," I said, pointing to the mediu-sized box. I opened one of the gifts from my parents without looking. I kept my eyes on Cayden. He lifted the lid off the box and pulled the top layer of tissue paper out. Then he gently pulled out what was nestled on fluffy white paper inside. He dangled it carefully in front of him and looked closely.
"There may be an ocean between us..."
"but you're my whole world!"
"Did you make this?" he asked, peering through the clear glass ornament and running his finger along the puffy-paint outlined continents.
"Yeah, can't you tell?" I asked. "I accidentally painted the continents way too close together, hence the huge gap. That Atlantic Ocean is four times too big."
"It's perfect," he said with a big smile. "You're my world, too." He whispered the last part and kissed me on the cheek. I didn't even want to admit how many hours I'd spent perfecting the shape of North America. I took the ornament out of his hand and slid it on the tree branch closest to me. It stood out among the Precious Moment ornaments.
I looked down and saw that I'd just opened a box that had a very large, very heavy antique key inside. I had a thing for keys. I couldn't explain why, but there's something about decorative keys, clocks, birds and trees that caught my eye. If I could have an entire wall of keys, I would.
"OK, now that one." I pointed to the larger of the two other boxes. I looked around to make sure no one was watching us. When the coast was clear, I gave him the go ahead to open it.
He ripped the wrapping paper at the corner to reveal a picture frame. He looked at me curiously. Then he ripped across the center of the frame and his mouth hung open. He stared for a moment, then held the photo to his chest so hide it from anyone else's view.
"It's OK. They've all seen it."
He looked down at it again and shook his head.
"You always seem to find the perfect gifts, don't you?" he asked.
It was exactly the reaction I wanted. I'd had to muster up a lot of confidence to strip down for a boudoir photo shoot. The shoot took a full day, a lot of makeup and more than a few awkward poses, but seeing that look on his face was completely worth it.
"Now open the other one!" I was too excited to wait. I neglected my own presents as I watched him tear open the other one.
(Note: I almost didn't post these pictures on the blog because I thought they might be too... what's the word.... naked. So I apologize if these photos offended you in any way.)
"Wow," he said. "You look beautiful."
I felt my cheeks turn red.
"Didn't they turn out great?" Noelle asked from her end of the couch.
Cayden grinned and nodded. Noelle used to play for the Lingerie Football League. She's also a promotional model and a body paint model, so my racy photos looked conservative compared to most of hers. I'd had to call her before the photo shoot to get a pep talk from her. I practiced my "sexy face" in the mirror for an hour the night before, and apparently that's not one of those practice-makes-perfect kind of things. In more than half of my pictures, my "sexy face" looked more like my terrified, confused, or bored-to-death face. I had a new appreciation for models after that shoot.
By the end of the night, I had three decorative keys and two sets of locks to add to key collection. I also had a Criss Angel magic kit, every season of How I Met Your Mother and Big Bang Theory on DVD, a pair of OU sweatpants, an OU garden gnome, a new quilt set for my bedroom, iPhone speakers, a few clothing items to add to my wardrobe. Aside from my gifts, Cayden got a few long-sleeved T-shirts, a dress shirt, gloves, and OU sweatpants that matched mine.
As I was getting ready for bed that night, Cayden gestured toward an awkwardly wrapped gift on my bed.
"That's for you, baby."
I sat down on the bed and prepared to open it. My heart rate and breathing stayed steady.
I ripped the wrapping paper off to reveal a navy blue Swarovski bag. I knew Swarovski meant jewelry.
I opened the bag and pulled out a navy blue box.
I pulled the cardboard casing off the sides of the box.
I took a deep breath and pulled the lid off.
What I saw literally took my breath away.