The few days after their date were a whirlwind of getting Christmas pulled together. Each of them would spend a few hours out of the house and come back secretively. Even the kids could feel a growing excitement, rushing around to pull together their own gifts, but without the money that the older kids had. But amidst all the rushing around the Jaundice kids had a special scheme up their sleeves.
“Hey, Sammy,” Matt approached Sam one night while he was making dinner. Amanda and Hannah were both out and Mike was taking care of Sophie so it was the perfect opportunity to talk to him.
“Yeah, Matty?” Sam glanced up from the stove to look at him.
“I was wondering if you could help me and Lucy with something.”
“Sure bud what’s up?” Sam turned away from the stove to give Matt his full attention.
“Well,” Matt rolled back on his heels and worked up the courage. “Mike has always wanted to go skiing but we’ve never had the time or money or ability to go that far up into the mountains. But we were hoping maybe this Christmas we could all go! It would be a special treat for him and I know he’d love it.”
Sam studied him for a minute before grinning.
“That’s the most I’ve heard you say in one breath, Matty. But I love the idea, as soon as Amanda gets back I’ll talk to her and see what we can arrange for a couple of days from now.”
“Thanks, Sammy!” Matt lurched forward and wrapped his arms around Sam’s waist before turning and darting back out of the kitchen.
“Skiing hmm,” Sammy turned back to the stove as a plan started forming in his head. “Oh, this will be awesome.”
“Sammy!” Amanda calls from the front room.
“In the kitchen!” Sam calls back, checking on the bread in the oven.
“Hey Sam,” Amanda walks in and presses a quick kiss to his cheek. “What’s for dinner?”
“Spaghetti and meatballs,” Sam answered, turning and pressing a kiss to her lips. He could feel her smile into the kiss and decided it was the perfect time to propose his plan.
“How do you feel about an impromptu trip?” He asked as he pulled away.
“If we play our cards right, tomorrow.”
“I’m interested,” Amanda started stirring the spaghetti sauce. “Where are we going?”
“Do you know about that little lodge up in the mountains? It’s like an hour and a half away? I was thinking we drive up there at the crack of dawn tomorrow and ski all day.”
“I like this plan! Does everyone have ski clothes? Or know how to ski?” Amanda could feel another shopping trip coming on, but this surprise would be revealed much sooner than her Christmas Day surprises.
“I would bet on no one but you having a ski suit.” Sam pulled the spaghetti off the stove and started straining it.
“Alright, after dinner I’m gonna go buy the stuff, you make sure everyone goes to bed early. I should be home before it’s too late.”
“I love having you on my side ‘Manda.”
“Oh yeah, you’d be lost without me.” Amanda pressed a kiss to the side of his head before moving towards the door to call Cas to set the table.
“Cassie! It’s your turn to set the table!”
“Now remember,” Sam said quietly, “We don’t breathe a word of this to anyone until tomorrow morning.”
Amanda gave him a quick nod before turning back to the sauce, just as Cas came into the kitchen to get the dishes.
“Ooooh, spaghetti! My favorite!” She quickly grabbed the plates and silverware before rushing back out to the dining room. Sam smiled fondly as she went past, imagining her excitement when she found out what they were going to do tomorrow.
Dinner passed quickly and normally, the kids arguing over the bread, Sam taking care of Sophie to give Mike a break, and everyone talking excitedly about the holiday that was only a week away. Sam couldn’t stop the fondness he felt from showing on his face. He noticed Mike and Hannah giving him curious smiles as they ate, wondering about his especially good mood.
“Alright!” Sam said as they finished eating, “Matt it’s your turn to do dishes, Hannah you’re on drying duty, and Lucy you’re on clearing duty. I’m gonna go put this little princess to bed. Mike, do you wanna help me?”
“Sure,” Mike stood up and the two of them left the room, Sam distracting Mike from noticing Amanda leaving again.
“You doing alright big guy?”
“Yeah, I’m fine Sammy.”
“You seem extra tired lately, have you been sleeping alright?”
“I’m sleeping fine.”
“Mike,” Sam gave him a look that was equal parts mother hen and loving boyfriend.
“Alright fine, I don’t like sleeping alone but it’s not too bad!”
“How much have you slept in the last three days?” Sam carefully put Sophie down on her changing table, making quick work of her dirty diaper and slipping her into clean pajamas.
“I guess about four hours a night?”
“Mike that’s not enough!” Sam studied him for a second before sighing. “My bed’s only a twin but I think if we cuddled we would both fit.”
Mike’s gaze flew up from his hands to Sam’s face, studying it for any sign of mocking. Sam met his gaze evenly, trying to shove as much love into his expression as he possibly could while rocking Sophie calmly in his arms.
“Yeah man, of course.” Sam put the dozing Sophie into her crib and walked over to Mike, wrapping his arms around his shoulders.
“Thank you,” Mike breathed out, burying his face in Sam’s neck and wrapping his arms around his waist.
“C’mon man, let’s see if we can get you caught up on any of that sleep.” Sam led Mike towards his bedroom, calling downstairs before they went in. “Hey! Don’t stay up late! I mean it! Bed by 8!”
“Sammy!? Why?” Cassie's distraught yell came from downstairs.
“Because I know you were all up until after midnight yesterday!” Sam grinned as he heard them grumbling but not protesting anymore. Mike laughed at him and followed him the rest of the way into the bedroom.
“I can’t believe how good you are with kids Sam.” Mike stripped down to his boxers before sliding into Sam’s bed.
“Eh, I guess after raising Cassie your siblings were just easy.” Sam followed Mike’s lead and slipped into the other side of the bed. They laid there for a second just staring at each other before Sam let out a dramatic sigh.
“This is taking up too much room, just cuddle me dammit!” Sam flipped over and squirmed backward until Mike had no choice but to spoon him.
“Is this better Princess?” Mike asked, the teasing clear in his voice.
“Yes thank you, my dear knight in shining armor.” Sam let himself relax back into Mike’s grip, and between one blink and the next, he found himself sound asleep.
Sam woke up with a quiet start to the sound of someone hissing his name. He blinked the sleep out of his eyes and looked up at Amanda, who was fully dressed and smiling at him.
“‘Manda?” He whispered back, blinking in confusion until the events of the previous nights hit him. He was wide awake in a second, carefully sliding out from Mike’s grip.
“Get dressed, I’ll wake up the kids and Hannah. All they need to do is get dressed and in the car, I already put their snow clothes in the car.”
“God I love you,” Sam breathed out, stretching out and grinning.
“I know, now hurry up.” Amanda slipped silently out of the room, leaving Sam to get dressed. Sam quickly pulled on his favorite pairs of jeans as well as a long sleeve shirt and a sweater. As soon as he was fully dressed he pulled out some clothes for Mike before he woke him up.
“Mikey,” Sam whispered, touching Mike’s shoulder and giving him a quick shake. “Mikey I have a surprise for you.”
Mike grumbled and opened his eyes blearily. Sam smiled and ran his hands through Mike’s hair.
“Mikey, all you have to do is get dressed. Can you do that for me?” Sam laid the clothes next to Mike and stepped away from the bed.
Mike grumbled again but sat up and started getting dressed. Sam grinned at his success and walked out of the room to go downstairs. He made it downstairs to see some very asleep children gathered in the front room, all dozing on each other. Hannah stumbled into the room next, clinging to a travel mug with what could only be coffee inside.
“Here Sam,” Amanda stepped into the room with another two mugs, handing one to him and keeping the other for herself.
“Have I ever told you that you’re an angel?”
“Nope,” Amanda popped the P and grinned at him.
“Well you are one,” Sam took a long swig before moving towards the door. “I’m going to go start heating up the car, bring everyone out when they’re ready.”
Sam walked outside and was immediately woken up by the burst of cold air that smacked his face. He darted quickly towards the car and hopped in, turning it on and cranking the heat all the way up. Sam took another sip of his coffee before the back doors were pulled open and all the kids piled in, finding their normal seats with Hannah and Mike in the backseat. Amanda opened the passenger door and climbed in, holding a dressed but still sleeping Sophie.
“Alright, that’s everyone.” She whispered, glancing back at where Lucy and Matt had already fallen asleep on either side of Mike and Cas and Hannah dozing in the very back.
“Here we go then!” Sam started the car and pulled away from the house, unable to wait for them to wake up and realize where they were. He and Amanda kept up a quiet conversation the whole way there, talking about their finals, the school, the house, meal plans, gossip from school and everything in between.
When they were about thirty minutes out they heard stirring in the backseat and quieted for a moment.
“Where are we?” Came the quiet whisper from Lucy, who was now sitting up and staring out the window.
“We’re heading to a surprise, wanna go back to sleep?” Sam asked, glancing at her in the mirror. She silently shook her head and stretched. Amanda reached down between her feet and picked up a box with a dozen donuts, handing it back to her.
“Thanks, ‘Da,” Lucy said, opening the box and pulling out a donut. She slumped back against the window, munching quietly on her donut while she watched the landscape go by. Amanda took the box back and pulled out two donuts, one for Sam and one for herself.
“Thanks ‘Manda,” Sam took his donut and grinned, starting to eat it as they resumed their conversations. Over the next thirty minutes, everyone else in the car woke up and was given a donut, none of them awake enough to ask about where they were going.
“Alright, and here we are!” Sam pulled into a small almost empty parking lot, turning off the car with a grin.
“And where is here?” Hannah asked from the back, looking up from a book Amanda had grabbed for her.
“Welcome to AJ and Mads’ Ski lodge!” Sam said, gesturing at the lodge out the right side windows.
“A ski lodge?” Mike asked, excitement brimming in his voice.
“But we don’t have ski clothes,” Lucy said.
“Why don’t you all check the back,” Amanda said, turning around with a grin. Cas and Hannah jumped up and whirled around in their seats, gasping loudly at what they saw. They both started pulling ski pants, jackets, hats, scarves, gloves, and boots out of the back and distributing them to who they thought they belonged to.
“Amanda I can’t believe this!” Hannah was staring at her new coat and boots in awe.
“It wasn’t all me, it was largely Sam’s idea.”
“I love you both so much,” Mike said, on the verge of tears as he looked at his siblings bouncing in their seats.
“We love you too Mike,” Sam said with a smile. “But Matt gave me the idea.”
“Thanks, Matty,” Mike said, pulling him into a hug.
“Alright! Let’s go in and get our tickets and get changed!” Amanda tucked an extra blanket around Sophie before climbing out of the car. Everyone scrambled to grab their things and follow her out. They all trooped together to the lodge, grinning at the empty hill.
“Hi! Welcome to AJ’s and Mads’! What can we do for you all.” A cheerful voice called out from behind a counter.
“We wanna ski!” Matt said, bouncing up and down in his excitement.
“Well, you’ve come to the right place! I’m AJ and it’s so great to have you all in. How many ski tickets will we need today?”
“Eight,” Amanda said, handing Sophie to Sam before walking up to the counter and smiling. “I figure we can take turns staying inside with the baby.”
“Alrighty, eight tickets coming right up. That’s going to run you forty dollars.”
Amanda quickly counted the money out of her purse and handed it over.
“So here you can buy hot cocoa, lift tickets, and food. Over there,” AJ pointed across the lodge. “You can rent skis and talk to my partner, Mads, about lessons. And here are your tickets! Have fun guys!”
“Thank you!” The kids all chorused as they started walking over towards Mads. She grinned as they approached and waved.
“Alright, how many skis are we going to need to rent?”
“Four kids sizes and four adult sizes,” Amanda said, reaching into her wallet again.
“Ok, that’s going to be another forty dollars,” Mads took the money and put it in the register before coming around the counter. “Let’s get you all measured up and then out on that hill.”
“How much for lessons?” Mike asked, looking at his little siblings.
“I can do an hour for three dollars a person.” Mads pulled down a pair of skis and handed them to Matt.
“Can we do the first hour for five people?” Amanda asked, pulling out the money.
“Of course,” Mads grinned back at them before pulling more skis down.
“I’m going to sit the first while out, stay back with Sophie.” Sam shifted Sophie in his arms.
“Alright dear,” Amanda pressed a quick kiss to the side of his head before he walked back to the part of the lodge with comfortable couches and a few roaring fireplaces.
“You all go get dressed and I’ll meet you at the bottom of the hill by the lift.” Mads grabbed her own ski supplies and walked into a back room marked “Employees Only”. Everyone else grabbed their stuff and hurried into the bathrooms, changing in record time so they could get out on the mountain.
The rest of the day was filled with laughing, falling, and flying down the mountain. Lucy and Cas took to it naturally, loving the feeling of the wind against their faces as they flew down the mountain. Matt was a little more timid, while Mike and Hannah were slightly awkward on their feet. It was clear immediately that Amanda had done this before and was just excited to be up on the mountain again.
Every hour one of the teenagers would go into the lodge to relieve the last person and take a break. The kids sporadically came in to rest, but never for longer than it took them to catch their breath and take the bite out of the cold. At noon they all met inside for a quick lunch and a check-in. When they all trooped into the lodge they were covered from head to toe in snow, laughing the whole time.
“Wow, what happened to you snowmen?” Hannah asked, studying them all with laughter dancing in her eyes.
“Mike was almost at the top and his grip on the rope slipped, he fell all the way back down the mountain, taking the rest of us with him!” Amanda laughed as she pulled off her cap and shook out her hair. They all started laughing anew, only calming down when Sophie started to whine.
“Alright, the mountain closes at four, so we have another three hours of skiing if you all are up for it,” Sam said, stripping off his coat and taking Sophie from Hannah.
“I think I’m tapped,” Mike said, laying on the ground in front of the fire, creating a puddle underneath himself.
“Me too,” Cas said, stifling a yawn. Everyone else agreed, flopping down in front of the fire and basking in the warmth.
“Alright, let’s warm up and get some lunch. Then we’ll head back to town.” Amanda stripped off her jacket and gloves, setting them on the hearth before walking back to AJ’s counter. The two of them talked for a bit while everyone else stripped out of their soaked outer layer, leaving it spread out to dry.
“Alright,” Amanda said as she came back. “Soup and sandwiches for everyone who gets to that table in one minute.”
Everyone booked it for the table she pointed at, laughing the whole time. Amanda and Sam walked a little slower, grinning at the sight of their laughing kids and partners.
“Today was perfect Amanda, thank you.” Sam rested his head against her shoulder.
“It wasn’t just me Sammy, you did a lot too.” Amanda wrapped an arm around him and let Sophie take her finger. The two of them stood there for a moment longer, savoring the sight in front of them until Hannah and Mike looked up and enthusiastically waved them over. The two of them hurried over and took their seats, directly across from Mike and Hannah with their kids filling in the lines next to them.
Everyone at the table made secret wishes as they ate, wishes to have more days like this. More trips that they all take together. As a Family.