Amanda sat on the couch, getting lost in the whimsical colors of her Christmas tree.
She’d decorated it earlier in the night, finally getting enough time to spend with her girls, placing bulbs and golden ribbons of garland in every direction on the medium-sized Fir. It was a comfortable atmosphere, a home with leftover garland strewn on the barstools and a digital fireplace crackling on the television.
In the midst of wrapping last-minute gifts for the girls, Rollins wondered briefly what her colleagues were up to. Were they in the same situation? Were they asleep, managing to escape from the ill-preparedness and chaoticness of Christmas Eve in New York City?
Fin and his girlfriend, Phoebe, were no doubt wrapping gifts for his family, late into the night probably accompanied by two cans of beer and an action movie. Liv was probably spending the evening with Noah, memorizing every moment with him and watching every Christmas movie until he fell asleep on the couch next to her. Kat either had a hot date or was spending the evening with her family.
And Carisi...wasn’t with her.
Even though she wished he could have been.
Her old partner-turned-ADA was spending the holidays with his family in Connecticut before venturing out to a cabin in the Poconos to ski. Amanda suddenly wished her cocoa was scotch so she could chase the burning thoughts out of her head with a scorching liquid. She let herself imagine what a Christmas Eve could look like with him by her side, still wrapping last-minute gifts, not because he lacked planning, but because he enjoyed the thrill, planning what to make for Christmas breakfast while the girls opened gifts. Gifts to one another--a sunny Christmas morning with old hoodies and pajama pants and stupid sitcom TV re-runs playing in the background as the laughter echoed throughout the apartment. She imagined kissing him until they laughed under a bunch of Mistletoe from Target she found on sale and shabbily taped to the white-painted trim in the hallway. She imagined the smiles on her girls' faces when they faced the morning pile of presents with not one parent cheering them on, but two.
The ripping of the scotch tape pulled her out of her reverie before she noticed the slight stinging pain on her finger. She managed to cut herself on the crinkled reindeer wrapping paper.
“Damn it,” she scoffed, getting up from the couch and heading into the kitchen to ransack the medicine cabinet for a band-aid. Eventually, after sorting through old pill bottles and expired creams, she found what she was looking for. It was wrapped tightly around her finger when her phone buzzed multiple times in her pocket.
Open your door. - Carisi
The hallway is cold and people are going to look at me weird. Open the door. I didn’t bring my spare key. -Carisi
*eye roll emoji* -Carisi
I don’t want to knock and wake up the girls or get Frannie barking. -Carisi
Amanda could hardly wrap her head around everything she was looking at. The sudden barrage of text messages and an incoming one: she saw the gray box appear again; he was typing. Before the Counsellor could lash out at her using more emoticons, she walked down the hallway, her feet sliding on the wooden floor thanks to her cozy wool socks. She ripped the door open, half-expecting it to be a prank.
Rollins was shocked to find her close friend, leaning casually in the doorway with a dark blue duffle bag thrown over his shoulder. He was dressed casually in black jeans, dark canvas shoes, and a heavily worn red St. John’s University hoodie. His smile was wide and his typically slicked back hair had pieces falling into his eyes.
“Wow, took you long enough.” He said, looking down at her.
“Carisi, what the hell are you doing here? I thought you were in Connecticut.” Rollins said.
“If you let me in, I’ll tell you. It's drafty in the hallway.” He replied.
“Uh, yeah, come in.” She said, curious but happy at his sudden appearance. It was like her own personal Christmas wish had come true. Her heart sang cheery Christmas tunes in her chest as he brushed by her, the scent of his cologne wafting gently into her nose. She calmed down and watched him, “This isn’t strange at all.”
“Yeah, yeah, sorry I didn’t come down the chimney. Those can get kinda complicated in a high rise.” Carisi said, rolling his eyes as he walked toward the Christmas tree like he owned the place.
“So, Carisi, Connecticut?” She asked.
“I’m driving up in an hour. Bella couldn’t get off work early tonight and I offered to take her, Tommy, and their daughter up when she got home.” He explained, kneeling down.
“So you had to find something to occupy your time?” Rollins said, still not sure exactly what was happening inside her living room.
“Something like that,” Carisi said, tossing a smile over his shoulder as he unzipped the duffle bag over his shoulder.
“Planning on staying here through the New Year?” Rollins asked. She watched in contentment, leaning back against the counter with a fresh mug of hot cocoa in her hand, at whatever it was her old partner was doing.
“You wish.” He retorted as he started setting out various gifts amongst the ones she’d already spread out. There several in bright colored paper with frilly bows and ribbon.
“Carisi, you didn't have to-” Rollins started, her heart melting at the sight of Carisi placing gifts he’d bought, he’d wrapped, and carried in a duffel bag from Brooklyn so he could tuck them neatly under her sloppily decorated tree.
“I know I didn’t have to but I did. You’re just gonna have to deal with it.” Carisi teased.
Frannie, roused by the new presence in the house, padded gently out of Jesses’ bedroom to greet their guest.
“Hey, Frannie! Gotta be quiet! We don’t wanna wake the girls.” Carisi said softly as the dog approached him. He ran his long fingers over her ears, scratching lightly. The dog lapped at his face gently before retiring to the couch, taking up Amanda’s old spot.
“Seriously, Sonny, you didn’t have to.” Rollins insisted again, coming to inspect exactly what he was putting out for her girls. There weren’t as many as she initially thought, he was careful not to step on any toes. Some were labeled from Santa and some were labeled from Uncle Sonny.
“Too bad, Rollins. I did anyway. It’s Christmas and you can’t tell me no. It’s a Godly holiday and I'm a god-parent.”
“You’re right, shouldn’t you be at church?”
“Went to the eight o’clock virtual Mass.”
“Of course you did.”
She didn’t notice the few small packages still left in the duffle bag during her peek of the gifts. Carisi folded the bag over, intent on hiding whatever was left in the duffle and stood up to examine the spread. He was clearly pleased with himself, the gifts filling in some of the gaps, utterly ruining whatever aesthetic Amanda was going for.
“Every single one of them makes noise. Lots of it.” Carisi teased, moving closer to Amanda.
“Nah. I’m only teasing.”
“Seriously, Dominick. I-”
“Amanda, I wanted to. I got some gifts for Noah too. When you’re single and you don’t have kids of your own, you kinda just…” Carisi trailed off, shrugging his shoulders, not knowing how to finish the sentence.
It was true. He didn’t have kids of his own to spoil, despite wishing it were different. He hadn’t found the right girl, and the definition of the right girl in his head was nearly untouchable, regardless of the fact that she was standing less than a foot from him.
“I love em’ and your ‘gift of experience only’ rule for birthdays doesn’t apply to Christmas, so I gotta take advantage,” Carisi added.
“I’m sure they’ll love whatever you got them, Carisi. And if you want, while you’re here, Jesse made you something during school. They made gifts for their families. Her gifts for sister Billie, Momma, Aunt Olivia, Uncle Sonny, and Uncle Fin were top of the class.” Amanda said, gesturing to the tree where four sparkly ornaments hung loosely on the branches, “Liv and Fin took theirs home. Jesse insisted on hanging yours with ours until you saw it. If you wanna take it, I’m sure she’d be alright with it.”
“Nah, I like it right where it is,” Carisi said, smiling at the way it reflected off the colorful lights. Four names--Billie, Jesse, Uncle Sonny, and Mama, gleamed in the center of the tree and in the center of his heart.
“Me too.” Rollins agreed, grinning at him.
Carisi couldn’t stay long. His phone was buzzing with texts from his youngest sister only minutes after showing him the ornament Jesse made for him. He ducked into the girls’ rooms, giving Jesse and Billie each a light kiss on the forehead before shutting the door softly behind him.
With Bella all but yelling in his ear, he hugged Amanda goodbye and wished her a Merry Christmas. He promised her a text when they got past the state line and she promised pictures the next morning of the girls with their presents. As they parted, there was a tension in the air--words left unspoken, moves left unmade but they ignored it like they always did and went about their night.
It was just after midnight when Amanda’s phone buzzed with a “Connecticut” text and she sealed the last piece of tape on one of the last gifts for the girls. Before turning in, she snapped a quick photo of the completed look for Carisi--presents everywhere, lights bright, and Frannie sniffing one suspicious-looking package a little too closely.
Christmas morning was filled with screams of joy, of delight as her two girls dug into their mountain of gifts. Amanda’s heart was full as she watched her two-year-old and her six-year-old unwrapped and giggled at the new toys, books, and games that she, her family, and her friends provided. The girls played together and laughed together. Much to Rollins’ astonishment, Carisi had been telling the truth and none of the gifts he’d gotten for either girl was loud and noisy. Jesse wouldn’t stop wearing her new play doctor’s stethoscope and Billie clung to a new cat plush toy like it was her lifeline.
“Mama! There are more presents!” Jesse yelled, seeing a bright red stocking hidden underneath a pillow.
“Wow! Did we forget something?” Rollins said, trying to wrack her brain for an itemized list of what exactly she wrapped last night, including Carisi’s contributions.
“No, Mama! You open them! The paper is pretty, like you.” Jesse said, holding up the new stocking.
Startled, she took it, furrowing her brows when she noticed the horribly written Amanda along the white fluffy top in gold glitter pen. She reached inside, pulling out three small packages, staring at the beautiful gold wrapping paper.
Merry Christmas, Rollins. Santa doesn’t forget anyone.
Rollins was at a loss for words. Carisi must have snuck it under the pillow when she wasn’t looking. She continued to stare at the homemade stocking and the small gifts inside. Her heart felt like it couldn’t get any fuller.
Though, she knew it could.
“Open, Mama!” Billie cried impatiently, fascinated by the bright gold paper.
So she did.
The first two packages were a package of Amanda’s favorite coffee from a local shop and some simple bath and body gifts. She and Carisi visited it when he worked for the NYPD. They still did, just not as often. He must have gone across town to get it. She probably had Bella to thank for the bath gifts. The third package was what took her breath away.
Amanda knew her old partner recently got a promotion in the months before-- getting a significant raise and a new office out of it, but she didn’t wanna know how much the beautiful piece of jewelry in the small white box cost. It was a simple gold chain with one pillar bar hanging in the middle, the names of her daughter’s etched neatly into the sides.
Even Frannie’s name made it onto the backside.
Suddenly, she was overcome with emotion. Her heartbeat and thrummed so heavily with something she wasn’t used to that she needed to sit down. Her eyes traced over the names again and she mentally slapped herself for not kissing him last night. Tears welled in Rollins’ eyes as she looked at it again.
“Mama cry?” Billie asked again, curious about the object that had captured her mother’s attention.
“Yeah, baby, but it's okay. Mama’s crying happy tears.” Amanda said, smiling through a few slipped tears at her youngest daughter.
Thank you, Dominick, it’s beautiful. - Amanda
Merry Christmas, Amanda. - Carisi