Jack walked down the hallway and stopped outside his daughter's bedroom. He leaned against the doorway, watching with delight as his wife, Stephanie, read "The Night before Christmas" to their daughter, Emily.
"And I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight. Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!" Stephanie read and then closed the book.
"Mommy, why did Santa say Happy Christmas instead of Merry Christmas?" the child asked.
"Because that was how people talked when this story was written," Stephanie explained.
"Oh," Emily replied. "Will you read me another story, please?"
"I don't know...it's getting late and you need to be asleep before Santa gets here."
"But I'm not tired."
"But you need to sleep. You've got a big day ahead of you tomorrow."
"Your mom's right. Not only do you get to open Christmas presents in the morning. You get to open birthday presents tomorrow night at your party," Jack interrupted as he walked into the room.
"Then you will tell me a little story, daddy? I promise I'll go to sleep right after," Emily pleaded. Her blue eyes glistening.
Jack and Stephanie exchanged glances and he smiled at Emily.
"Okay," he said. "But just one story and then it's off to dreamland."
Yeah!" the child squealed with delight.
Jack helped Stephanie to her feet and pulled her in close for a hug.
"You're an old softie," she whispered in his ear.
"Who are you calling old?" he teased.
After Stephanie kissed Emily good night and left the room, Jack sat down on the bed and put his arm around his daughter.
"So, did you leave some cookies out for Santa?"
"Uh-huh. I left chocolate chip cookies and hot chocolate for him," Emily replied proudly.
"I'm sure Santa will appreciate that."
"Who's coming to my party tomorrow night?"
"Well, let's see...your grandparents will be here and so will your big sister, Jenny. A couple of your friends, Uncle Adam and Aunt Abbie."
"Yes and Uncle Eddie said he might stop by too."
"All right!" she exclaimed.
"Now my almost-6-year-old, it's time for bed."
"Not until you tell me a story."
"I almost forgot," he said, smiling down at his daughter. "So, what story do you want to hear?"
"My Christmas story, please."
"Your Christmas story? I didn't know you had a Christmas story," Jack teased, his eyes dancing in the light.
"But daddy, you always tell me the same story," she remarked.
Jack gathered Emily up in his arms and held her close. "I'm just teasing, sweetheart."
"I know that."
He looked down at the angelic face smiling up at him and tousled her blonde hair a bit.
"Once upon a time in a nearby kingdom, there lived a beautiful queen and a somewhat handsome king," Jack began.
"But daddy, you're the handsomest man I know," Emily interjected.
"Thank you," he smiled. "May I continue?"
"The king and queen had been married for ten months and they were very happy especially since the queen was expecting their first child. The entire kingdom waited in anticipation for the baby's birth. On the night before Christmas, the king and queen decided to attend midnight mass. Now since the royal cathedral was only a stone's throw away from the palace, they decided to walk."
Jack paused to take a sip of water before continuing.
"It was a beautiful service complete with candles and bells. The royal choirs' voices sent the couple out into the brisk night air where snow was just beginning to fall. The stars shone like diamonds as the king and queen walked began to walk back to the palace."
"Suddenly, the queen bent over in pain and said the words that the king had been waiting nine months to hear. 'It's time'. Quickly, the king managed to hail a royal taxi, which whisked them away to the hospital. Two hours after arriving at the hospital, the queen gave birth to a beautiful little princess."
"Me!!" Emily declared.
"That's right, sweetie," Jack replied and continued on with the story.
"The little princess was so perfect that when the friends of the royal couple came to visit later that day, they all declared that Princess Emily Claire McCoy was by far the most beautiful baby they had ever seen. And to this day, everyone still agrees. The End."
Jack looked down at Emily who had fallen asleep in his arms. Gently, so as not to wake her, he slipped his arms out and pulled the comforter around the sleeping child. He placed her favorite teddy bear next to her and then kissed her forehead.
"Goodnight, Princess Emily," he whispered.
He shut the door softly and then walked back into the living room. Stephanie was there, adding presents to the already overflowing pile under the tree.
"Well, Emily finally went to sleep," Jack remarked as he sat down on the sofa.
"Let me guess...you had to tell her the story of Princess Emily."
"Wouldn't be Christmas Eve if I didn't," he replied. "Anything I can do to help?"
Stephanie stood up and surveyed the mountain of brightly wrapped boxes that lay at her feet. "I think that's all of them."
"Isn't that enough?" Jack remarked, laughter dancing in his eyes. "How much did you spend?"
"Me?! I'm not the one who bought Emily everything on her Christmas list," she joked and they both laughed.
Stephanie sat down next to Jack and handed him a small box wrapped in silver paper.
"What's this?" he asked as he took the box from her.
"An early Christmas present," Stephanie replied. "Go on and open it."
Eagerly, Jack tore the paper off and removed the box top. Inside was an infant size pair of high top sneakers. He took them out and stared at them.
"Does this mean?"
"That the McCoy kingdom is about to get a little bigger," Stephanie replied smiling.
"Mid-August. Congratulations, King Jack!"
Jack couldn't believe his ears! They had been trying for almost two years now to have another child and it was really going to happen! Slowly, a smile began to spread across his face. He put the shoes down on the table and then gathered his wife in an embrace.
"I love you, Queen Stephanie!"
"Merry Christmas, Jack!" she exclaimed.
And as the stars twinkled and the fire crackled, Jack McCoy kissed his wife passionately and thanked his lucky stars for the family and the life that he had.