AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: T Torrest
The snow fell in a perfect, salt-shaker flutter, coating the entirety of Rockefeller Plaza in a dusty, powdered-sugar mantle. I stood at the edge of the ice rink and breathed in the crisp, city air, a mixture of winter chill and car exhaust. An icy coolness filled my chest before I exhaled—a foggy haze of white against a cloudless, inky, star-peppered sky.
I rubbed my hands together, blew some hot air into the space between my palms, and looked out across the ice. I couldn’t keep the smile from my face when I spotted a familiar flash of brown hair whipping in the wind. There she was, in all her beautiful, talented glory, twirling around in a proficient figure eight.
“I knew you’d be here,” I said, loudly enough to be heard over the sound of the other skaters and the piped-in holiday music.
She turned in surprise at the sound of my voice, pausing her skating at the exact center of the rink to gape at me. Her hands went to her hips as her lips parted in disbelief. “You’re late.”
“It’s eleven-fifty-eight,” I shouted back, gesturing to the famous Tower Clock behind me. My mouth pursed into a practiced smirk as I added, “I’d say I made it just in time.”
A few people started to take a little too much interest in our conversation, so she skated the few paces in my direction to close the gap, her blades stopping just inches away from my wing-tipped shoes. I watched in awe as the flurries danced across her nose and cheeks, then raised a hand to swipe my thumb across the lone snowflake that had landed on her perfect bottom lip.
“But why now? After everything that’s happened, you come waltzing back here at midnight—”
“I thought you might still need a date for New Year’s.”
Her eyes dropped at that, unwilling to meet my gaze. “Which one?” she asked her feet. “You missed this one, so I guess I just need to be sure.”
“All of them.” I crooked a finger under her chin and raised her teary eyes to mine. “Every damned last one of them.”
The snow machine stopped its incessant whirring, and I swore I could hear a groan coming from the entire crew. We were already running over schedule and this was the second take of what should have been a simple scene.
Carlos pulled the headset off his ears and chastised me. “Trip, you said ‘damned’ again.”
“Dammit!” I grumbled, running a hand over my hair.
The whole crew cracked up at that, and even Bethany—my devout Christian co-star—put a mittened hand across her mouth to hide a laugh as Carlos laid into me. “Trip, this is a family film. You can’t—”
“I know, I know. Man, I’m sorry everybody. I don’t know why I keep screwing this up.” Fact of the matter was, this should have been a no-brainer—a few quick minutes to cover a couple reshoots. Maybe an hour, tops.
We’d been there for almost two.
The delays hadn’t all been because of me. But just like the kicker who misses the game-winning field goal, the loss is never blamed on the entire team. Just the final play.
I was the kicker in this instance.
“You keep ‘screwing this up’ because your head isn’t here,” Carlos noted. Accurately, as a matter of fact.
Although we were filming a scene that took place on New Year’s Eve, it was, in fact, Christmas Eve. It was the only extra block of time the city was willing to give us after we’d exhausted our permits the week before. If we didn’t get these final shots in now, we’d have to wait weeks before obtaining the proper permissions, and redecorating the entirety of Rockefeller Plaza would definitely put us over budget. Carlos made the decision to film today under the assumption that we could wrap everything up fairly quickly. Everyone was looking to get this scene in the can so they could get out of the cold and home to their families. Everyone… including me.
I took a cleansing breath to get my head straight, then said, “Okay, set it back up. Third time’s a charm, right? If you move Camera Two to my right side, you can just splice in the final line. We won’t have to reshoot the entire scene.”
Carlos raised a brow and griped good-naturedly, “Stop trying to tell me how to direct my picture, Wiley.”
I snickered at that. “You’re right. I’m sorry. Bad habit.”
I’d just wrapped my last film as director a mere two weeks before diving into New York Eve as an actor. The lines had been blurred over the weeks of filming this one, but then again, Carlos and I were used to collaborating. We’d filmed Slap Shot together over ten years ago and a lifetime partnership had been forged because of it. He was a huge help during the first film I ever directed back in ’07, and we’d been pairing up at every available opportunity since then.
Carlos bit his tongue, reluctant to go down in defeat. Finally though, he smiled and shook his head… then directed Camera Two to stage right.
Thankfully, we were able to put the project to bed after the next take, and I barely said goodnight to everyone before grabbing my messenger bag and darting for the car.
My driver Joey was double-parked on 49th with the engine idling, risking one hell of a ticket in order to facilitate my quick getaway.
Quick wasn’t in the cards, however.
The slow pace of rush hour was bad enough. Couple that with the added holiday traffic, and it was enough to raise my frustrations to epic levels. I found myself cursing through clenched teeth as we crawled down 7th Avenue. Times Square was a circus on any given evening, but it was even more of a chaotic spectacle around the holidays. In addition to the blaring neon lights, red and green decorations dripped from every lamppost, draped across the streets, and adorned every building’s entryway. When a person wasn’t trapped in a vehicular snarl, he could probably find himself caught up in the magic of such a sight. There was no more beautiful place in the world than New York at Christmastime.
Except, of course, New Jersey.
* * *
I had one foot out of the car before Joey even came to a full stop. I tossed him the holiday card—which included a humongous holiday bonus—and vaulted across the driveway. I’d called Layla on the way home to find that dinner was already well underway, and I was anxious to get inside and salvage the evening with my family. If I was lucky, I’d be able to grab a quick bite before it was time to settle the rugrats into bed.
Merry Christmas to me.
Thankfully, the real celebration wasn’t scheduled until tomorrow. Layla’s father and brother were with us every year—conveniently, Kenny’s and Bruce’s wives both celebrated on Christmas Eve—but my sister Claudia and her wife usually alternated between us and Sandy’s family out in Encinitas. More often than not, my mother normally chose to tag along with the two of them. This year, though, was a “Perfect Storm Christmas,” as my wife liked to call it. Everyone would be together for the holiday.
Christmas Eve, however, was always just us, and I hated that I’d missed out on most of it. It was an even more important Christmas this year than usual.
“Honey, I’m home!” I called out once I hit the foyer. I’d started using the cheesy greeting years ago as a joke only for it to become a habit. These days, it served as the starter pistol for my kids to battle it out. When my daughter Kit was a toddler, we invented the “Race to Daddy” game. Layla would always pretend she was going to reach me first, and Kit didn’t like to lose. We’d instilled the same competitive nature in each consecutive child since then.
We now had five.
Despite their best efforts, the dog was always first in line to welcome me home. He bounded into the room, his paws tapping excitedly against the marble floor. I bent down to ruffle Hoozagood Doggy behind his ears as he wagged his fluffy, golden tail in sweet, canine bliss, grunting and whimpering for my attentions.
Soon enough, the thundering echo of numerous human feet converged from all sides as the kids raced in to greet me.
“Daddy!” Terrence screeched as he rounded the corner and leapt into my arms. I scooped him up in a hug just as Kit wrapped herself around my leg.
“Hey, Tru. Hi, Kitten!”
“I was the fastesest!” Terrence boasted as Kit grimaced.
I gave a consoling rub to my daughter’s shoulder as I laughed and agreed with my son. “You sure were, buddy.”
The smile was still on my face as I looked up and saw Day and Z standing at the entrance to the foyer. “Hey, guys!” I offered brightly. My two new sons smiled politely, but realizing they hadn’t won this evening’s game, didn’t bother to close the last few feet separating us.
The boys had only joined our household this past spring. Layla and I had been going through the adoption process for over a year, making periodic trips to Nigeria to visit them, get to know them, reassure them that they’d be coming to live with us very, very soon. After we got the green light in February, we spent the following months living in Lagos full-time until we were approved as guardians in May. With all the red tape involved in an overseas adoption, it took a full eleven months from the day that we had met them before we were finally able to take them home with us.
It was rough for Layla during that time. We’d all fallen in love with the boys, but leaving them behind after every visit was toughest on my wife. I’d normally spend the entire flight home consoling her as she broke down in tears.
Once we were approved to bring them back to the states, however, none of us could stop crying. Day and Z completed our family in a way we never could have imagined, and happy tears were a pretty common occurrence these days.
It was a huge transition for them, though.
Thankfully, they were raised in mostly English-speaking foster homes, so there wasn’t a massive language barrier to overcome. But at the ages of four and three, they were old enough to recognize they were in yet another strange new house, this time in a strange new country. Layla and I had been working really hard to get them used to the idea that this was their forever home.
I peeled Tru’s arms from around my neck and set him on the floor next to his sister so I could crouch down and hug my boys hello. They were sometimes still awkward with the affection but they were just going to have to get used to it. PDA was a part of life around here. “Merry Christmas, guys!”
“Merry Christmas,” they both answered.
I released them from our hug, asking, “Where’s Mom?”
We’d been trying to get them used to that, too. Z would sometimes call us Mommy or Daddy, but Day hadn’t yet allowed himself to think of us that way. I could only imagine he was afraid to get his hopes up until the official papers went through. If he needed more time, we were perfectly willing to give it to him.
Kit answered for them, seemingly all too happy to impart the news. “Mommy’s in the kitchen and boy are you in trouble!”
My eyes went wide as I clenched my teeth, feigning fear. “Uh oh. I hope she’s not planning to put me in a time-out.”
My kids cracked up at that as they eagerly followed me into the kitchen. They weren’t going to miss out on Daddy getting reprimanded.
The room was an organized chaos. There were last-minute presents on the table waiting to be wrapped, a sentinel of cans and glasses lining the counters, and tomorrow’s dishes and good silverware had been pulled from the breakfront, stacked on the center island, ready and waiting to be laid out in the dining room.
My wife was at the fridge, packing up the last of the Chinese food. Because we always spent so much time prepping for the party the following day, we’d gotten in the habit of ordering takeout for our Christmas Eve dinner. It was something we’d done out of necessity when it was just the two of us, but had since turned into a fun tradition once we had the kids.
Layla raised her eyebrows when I walked in, her eyes tight and her lips pursed.
Crap. Guess she really was steamed.
“There’s my beautiful, brilliant, understanding wife,” I exaggerated.
“Welcome home,” she said matter-of-factly, allowing a small grin to slip through. Layla knew I hated missing such a huge chunk of our night, so she didn’t bother twisting the knife. “Everything go okay?”
“Yep. All wrapped up, just in time for Christmas. I’m all yours until March.” My next movie was being filmed in Hawaii, and the whole family was excited about accompanying me on location. It was going to take a bit of finagling to plan around their school schedules, but I knew we’d find a way to make it work. I never took on any new projects that kept me away from them for any extended length of time. My life was more important than my work.
I went over to the other side of the kitchen and kissed my wife hello. After the day we both had, I wanted nothing more than to pull her into my arms, strip her down, and bury myself inside her. But with the kids swarming all around, I settled for a simple hug. “Mmm,” I groaned. “How was your day?”
“Well,” she started on a sigh. “Katherine and Terrence ate all the cookies I was planning to serve for dessert tomorrow, so now I have to bake a whole new batch. They’ve been bouncing off the walls in sugar shock.” My two oldest stopped trying to put antlers on the dog and went stock still. They knew they were in trouble when Mom used their full names. “Z hasn’t stopped watching Rudolph allll day long, and Day decided he doesn’t like Chinese food anymore. He fed it to a certain Golden Retriever who apparently doesn’t like it, either. He puked in the library. Oh. And I had to pull a piece of tinsel out of his butt!”
“Dayo?” I asked, incredulously.
“No! Hooza! He’s been eating my Christmas decorations right off the tree, apparently.”
I chuckled as Layla shot me a dirty look.
“Sorry. It’s not funny. You’ve had a day, and I wasn’t here to help you with it.” I released her from our hug and landed a smack on her ass as I asked, “Where’s the baby?”
“In her pack-n-play in the TV room.”
Layla huffed as she nodded her head. “Heck, yes. She knows something big is happening. I think she’s plotting a way to stay up all night with her sister and brothers in order to drive me completely out of my mind.”
I laughed as I gave her another quick peck, then set off to see my daughter.
Whenever I stopped to think about it, I found myself stunned at the life Layla and I had created for ourselves, this brood of children living in our house. Five kids! Five incredible kids with barely any space between their ages: Kit was eight, Tru was six, Day was four, Z was three, and Cam was almost two. And oh, yeah. Let’s not forget the garbage-disposal dog, two guinea pigs, and a pet turtle who “needs” to live in my bathtub.
Yeah, I know. We’re insane. It’s definitely a roller coaster ride, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Z was lounged out across the sofa with his favorite blue blanket, Hermey was dancing across the snow singing about being a misfit, and Cam was standing up in her playpen, bouncing along with the music. Her grin went wide behind her pacifier when she saw me.
“Hi, baby girl!” I said, liberating her from her enclosure and plopping the both of us onto the couch next to Z. I tried to situate her across my legs, but she was too squirmy to sit still for very long. She slid off my lap and dropped down to the floor, obviously with more important things to do than cuddle with her old man.
My muscles unclenched as I sank into my seat, decompressing from the day. I’d have to watch out that I didn’t fall right to sleep. There was still so much to do tonight, and I’d be a complete jerk if I passed out on Layla after the day she already had.
“She say ‘Santa’ today,” Z offered proudly.
That perked me up. Even though Cam was almost two, she didn’t talk much. “She said ‘Santa’? Where did she learn that one?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
Z sat up a bit straighter. “I teached her.”
“You taught her. And I figured as much. Good job, pal.”
Z beamed with pride as I gave him a quick squeeze against my side. Cam took the opportunity of my distraction to climb up the entertainment unit to try and touch Rudolph’s glowing nose, so I had to hop up and intercept her before she could break her face. “Whoa there, girlie. We don’t need to make another trip to the emergency room this week.”
A few days ago, Terrence thought it would be a good idea to turn Hooza into a sled dog. Let’s just say Hooza didn’t agree. The next thing we knew, Terrence was running into the house holding his arm and screaming bloody murder. Lay and I were both sure it was broken.
Thank God it wasn’t.
All my kids were active, but Terrence was definitely the biggest risk-taker. We were going to have to keep our eye on that one.
He came running into the room and flipped upside-down onto the couch next to me, his feet wiggling in the air against the back of the sofa.
Z and I laughed, but Cam waddled over, intent on emulating her brother’s acrobatics. She started banging her head against the cushion while lifting her leg, and her giggles at each failed attempt just had us all cracking up. I finally took mercy on her and flipped her onto the couch, too. She must’ve been grateful for my help because she tried to give me her binkie.
Just as I was grabbing it between my lips, Layla, Kit, and Day joined us. Layla was carrying a tray with a cake and some plates which she placed on the coffee table in front of me.
Huh. That was interesting.
I popped the pacifier back into Cam’s mouth as I asked, “What’s with the cake, Lay?”
She couldn’t contain her smile as she answered, “Well, we figured a special occasion deserved a cake. Isn’t that right, guys?”
All five of my kids nodded their heads up and down, Terrence going so far as to hide a laugh behind his hand. The kid was practically busting. Something was definitely up.
“Okay. Out with it.”
Layla and Day shared a look before he pulled a large envelope out from behind his back and handed it to me. He started to step away, but I noticed the tears brimming in my wife’s eyes… and comprehension struck. My voice trembled as I said, “Oh no you don’t. If this is what I think it is, I want you right here while I open it.”
I gathered Day between my knees and reached my arms around him to unclasp the envelope. My hands were actually shaking as I pulled out the documents. And yeah, wow, there I was, looking at the official adoption papers for my sons. The sight of those things after so many months worked me up so bad that my throat constricted. I couldn’t come up with the right words.
Thankfully, Layla did the talking for me. “They were delivered this afternoon. I hope you don’t mind that I told the kids. I couldn’t wait.”
I knew this woman better than she gave me credit for, so her “confession” was enough to jog me out of my silence. “Just the kids?” I asked, lowering an eyebrow at my wife.
“Well, no,” she answered sheepishly. “I was on the phone with your sister when the Fed-Ex guy came to the door, so of course I told her, too.”
“Well, the rest of your family was right there while I was talking to her... Maybe she said something to them?” Layla shifted on her feet and shot a look at Kit who was unsuccessfully attempting to stifle a giggle. They both knew I wasn’t buying it.
“Who else did you happen to talk to today?” I asked, unable to stop my lips from twitching into a grin.
She released a breath and conceded, “Okay, fine. I figured since your sister knew, that it was only fair to tell my brother. And then I felt guilty about your whole family knowing, so I called my father, too. And Lisa. And she told Pickford, of course.”
Of course. When all I did was shake my head and sigh, she amended, “But I swear that’s everyone!”
I couldn’t even get angry; I knew she was simply too excited to keep such a big deal to herself. Hell, when Layla first discovered she was pregnant with Cam, she told everyone but me. I found out when Lisa called to congratulate us later that night. Layla denied it, but I swear she forgot to tell me. That’s what I get for daring to be out of the house whenever any big news is going down. At least this time, the information was being kept from me purely to present it as a surprise.
And surprised I was.
My wife bit her lip and my kids laughed proudly as the reality finally started to sink in. I pulled Day a little closer with one hand and wrapped my other arm around Z. “They’re really ours?”
After all we’d gone through over the past year and a half, I could tell it was hard for Layla to believe it, too. “Yep. No more pop-in observations, no more filing papers. It’s official.”
The kids already had a few hours to get used to the news, so they were more interested in the cake by then. But it took me a little longer to stop my head from spinning while we ate and watched the rest of Rudolph together.
By the time the movie was through, Cam was asleep on the floor and Z was passed out on the couch. I guessed since he’d already seen the thing eleven times today, he didn’t need to stay awake to find out how it ended. Checking the clock, I realized it was high time for the rest of the little monsters to call it a night, too.
We broke the news to the older crew, and I scooped Z into my arms as Layla grabbed the baby. I couldn’t stop grinning on my way up the stairs as I looked into the face of my sleeping son. He was mine from the first minute I met him but to finally receive the official word was nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Best Christmas gift I ever got.
While I was tucking the covers around his comatose little body, Day snuck into the room quietly and slid under the flannel comforter of his own bed. By the time I got them both situated, Layla came in to kiss them goodnight and cut the lights.
I took an extra minute to look them over before saying, “Love you guys. See you in the morning.”
Just as we were closing the door behind us, Day’s voice called back, “Merry Christmas, Daddy.”
My heart immediately exploded behind my ribcage. Hearing him say that for the first time… Christ. There wasn’t enough air in the room for me to take my next breath. After all he’d been through in his four short years—abandoned by his “parents,” in and out of foster homes, moving clear across the globe from the only place he’d ever known—it was overwhelming to realize he trusted us enough to call me by a name he’d never used before. I silently promised him then and there that I would live up to the honor.
“Thank you, Day. That’s—” Layla could tell I was getting all choked up, so she simply slipped her hand in mine and gave a light squeeze. I pressed her knuckles to my lips before releasing her fingers and heading back over to my son. I knelt down next to his bed, swiped a palm over his hair, and kissed him on the forehead. “Merry Christmas, kid.”
He gave a yawn before rolling over onto his side as if he hadn’t just thrown my entire world into a tailspin.
Kids. I don’t think they’ll ever stop surprising me.
I threw an arm around my wife as we made the rounds, settling Kit and Terrence down to sleep, checking to make sure Cam hadn’t woken up from the commotion.
We still had a ton of organizing to do in order to get ready for the following day: Presents to haul up from the basement, some wrapping that needed to be tackled, a couple of bikes that were awaiting assembly.
But even with everything hanging over our heads, I couldn’t stop myself from backing Layla against the wall. My hands were on either side of her beautiful face as I planted one on her, slanting my lips across her mouth, pressing myself along the length of her body. The tension of the day just drained away as she melted into me, wrapping her hands around the back of my neck.
“I love you,” I said once we finally came up for air. “Thank you for my family. Thank you for my life.”
She flushed from my words and my surprise attack. We didn’t get too many moments to make out these days and I guess I caught her off guard. “Well, hell, Chester. I didn’t even give you your planned present yet.”
I wiggled my eyebrows at her, prompting her to smack my chest. I guessed the “present” I was anticipating wasn’t the one she had in mind. No matter. “You’d better save it for my birthday. I don’t think you’ll be able to top what you already gave me tonight.”
“I think you’re right.”
“We could still get naked, though, if you wanted to try.”
My wife bit her lip, and I swear her cheeks flushed an even deeper shade of pink. But instead of delivering another smack, she slid her palms over my hair and met my eyes with that sultry, half-lidded look she loved to give me. My pulse sped up in expectation as her lips parted and her face moved closer to mine. I was this close to dragging the both of us into our bedroom.
I went to kiss her again, but she turned my head to the side and pulled my ear against her mouth. Nice. She wanted to take control? I was more than game. I felt her hot exhale against my hair as she purred seductively, and I slid my hands up her spine, drawing her closer, breathing heavily.
It wasn’t until she palmed my ass that I pulled back and caught the smile on her face.
“Not a chance, Santa. C’mon. Let’s get to work.”
T. Torrest is a fiction writer from the U.S. She has written many books, but prays that only a handful of them will ever see the light of day. Her stories are geared toward readers of any age that know how to enjoy a good laugh and a dreamy romance.
Ms. Torrest was a child of the eighties, but has since traded in her Rubik's cube for a laptop and her Catholic school uniform for a comfy pair of yoga pants. She's a pop-culture junkie, a movie aficionado, and an enthusiast of talking about herself in the third person. A lifelong Jersey girl, she currently resides there with her husband and two sons.
She also really digs it when she hears from readers, and is known to use words like "dig" in a non-sarcastic way.
Visit T Torrest's Website: http://www.ttorrest.com/
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1. If money was no object, what would take out the number one spot on your Christmas list?
2. What was the first book you read that made you think "wow this is what I want to do, I want to be an author"?
3. What does Christmas mean for you?
4. What's your guilty pleasure, the one thing you hate admitting out loud?
5. What's next for you in terms of writing?