“Thought I’d find you down here.”
Jason looked up from his place on the kitchen floor. His dad stood above him, lit from behind in the early morning light, still pajama-clad but with a dingy green apron strapped around his front. He was slipping on ancient, burn-covered oven mitts, smiling down at his boy with the familiar warmth many a father had for his son on Christmas; a warmth Jason himself would soon understand.
“How are they looking?”
“Pretty good. They probably need another five minutes though.” Jason scratched the back of his neck. Even though his tour had finished almost two months ago, his hair was still growing back from his crew cut and it itched like crazy.
Noting the time, his dad nodded, crossing his arms and leaning back against the sink. “How’s Julie feeling?”
“Better,” said Jason, sighing and rubbing his thumb over his bottom lip. “She thinks the baby must not like eggnog.”
His dad gave a snort of laughter. The room returned to almost perfect silence, the oven every so often letting out a tick or hum as it struggled to maintain a constant temperature.
Jason’s dad made the cinnamon rolls once a year, every year; on Christmas morning. And once a year every year, Jason would sit in front of the oven and watch the pasty, pale dough turn golden and sweet.
Inside the oven, the dough rose and settled into gelatinous mountain ranges of cinnamon and sugar. The smell of cooking pastry filled the house, pressing against the windows and fogging the cold glass. Outside, the snow continued to fall in large clumps of fluffy ice, laying a three-foot thick blanket over the ground.
Jason didn’t really fit in the small space between the kitchen island and the oven anymore. He made do, curling his legs under his body, resting his back against the thin wooden doors, one hand gripping the top of the counter for balance, crouching more than sitting. He was twenty-six now. His wife was upstairs in the guest bedroom, sleeping fitfully on an unfamiliar mattress. Julie was really starting to show now. Sometimes, Jason didn’t even sleep at night; he’d just sit up and stare at her swollen belly in awe, caressing the bulge that held a son – his son.
“Am I ever not going to find you down here on Christmas, son?”
Jason looked back up at his father. “Course not, Dad. Though next year,” he smiled and stood up, shaking out his numb limbs, “I won’t be down here alone.”
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