I burst through the back door with a shiver. The snow is relentless and the wind takes the temperature far past freezing. The kitchen is warm. Peeta’s clearly been at work for a while. The dining table, the counters--all are aligned with fresh Christmas cookies. As I greet my husband with a kiss on the cheek, the smell of the sweets greets my nose like a memory. Peeta’s been making cookies with the kids ever since they were old enough to hold a spatula. Countless short December days were spent right here, behind the kitchen island. The smiles of joy on the kids' faces. The smile of pride on Peeta’s. The smile of finally feeling loved and safe on mine.
Having no other space as an option, I drop my kill of the afternoon--a plump turkey--into the sink and grab a towel to clean my hands. I nod to the living room, where they’re both fast asleep. He’s on the couch. There’s still plenty of room, but one of his legs dangles off the side. She’s curled up in the armchair.
“How long have they been out?”
A grin slips onto Peeta’s face as he adds a cup of flour to a mixing bowl. “Uh, I’d say about an hour now.”
“Was helping Dad too much work?” I joke.
“Seems that way,” Peeta chuckles. “Especially since Mom doesn’t pitch in.” He mocks being hurt.
I jab him with my elbow. “Mom was out getting the main course of the meal, thank you very much.”
“Yes, she was,” he says as he abandons the batter for me. Hands placed on my hips, he gives my chilly lips a warming kiss.
“You’re welcome,” I tease before giving him another smooch.
I’m removing my coat when the oven timer dings. An audible yawn floats in from the living room, and I see they’re stirring.
“Uh-oh,” I whisper to Peeta. He offers me a wink back.
“Mommy!” She’s up first. Her arms encircle my waist--as high as she can reach.
“Hi, baby,” I greet her. “Did you get sleepy when helping Daddy?” She giggles in response.
“What did you get, Mom?” he asks me, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Patting down his wayward hair, I tell him to check the sink. He walks over and with big eyes exclaims, “You got a turkey?!”
“Really?!” She squeals, running over to join her brother.
“Mom did good,” Peeta assess.
“Guess we’ll have a good feast this year,” I observe. “Especially since Dad’s got dessert covered.”
“Well, not quite.” Peeta turns to the kids. “I still have a few more dozen cookies to make to match our record from last year. Now that you’re all rested up, think you can help out tired, old Dad?”
He immediately turns to grab the rolling pin from Peeta’s hands. The two of them continue tackling the sweets. She, however, is still at the sink.
“Are you gonna help me clean this guy up?” I say, grabbing the turkey by the feet so she can get a better look at him.
“Yes!” The excitement in her voice is unmistakable. But her joy fades quickly.
“What is it?” I ask.
“I want to be able to do more than help you clean up what you hunt,” she confesses. “When can I come with you?”
“Well, you haven’t been big enough to handle a bow and arrow, baby,” I say, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear.
“But I am now,” she insists. “I really am!”
“Did you ask Santa for your very own bow and arrow?” I ask.
“Of course I did! I have been for two years.” She holds up two fingers to make sure I fully understand.
“And you’ve been good this year?”
“I have! I promise!”
“Well, then, I guess we’ll just have to see if Santa delivers,” I say optimistically.
She hops with excitement as she heads over to her dad and brother. I decide to start cleaning the turkey. Looking for a bowl that’s not already in use, I open one of our cabinets. I’m greeted with a basket of fresh cheese buns. I turn to Peeta, who is already looking at me.
“Pots and pans are on our bed,” he shrugs.
I grab one of the buns and bite into it. Sensational--as always. Peeta takes one from the basket as well. He taps it against my own. “Cheers.”
I steal another bite, but Peeta steals a kiss. Laughing with my mouth full, having my arm around my husband, and watching the kids use cutters in the shape of trees to slice through the cookie dough, I realize this is the kind of happiness I’ve been starving for all along.