"Good afternoon, Monica. Sure is a fine day." Joe Thomason cast a cheerful gaze over the gray, overcast sky. "A mighty fine day."
Monica Wilson smiled flirtatiously. "You're looking pretty good yourself. There's just something about a man in uniform that makes a girl all tingly inside."
The postman laughed appreciatively and smoothed back his thinning gray hair. "Wait till you get my age. The only thing that tingles then is your rheumatism." He handed her two brown-paper wrapped boxes. "These are for Cody and Ashley. If you'll just sign here ... and here."
Monica scrawled her signature on the forms. When she looked at the return address on the packages, she squealed in delight. "They're Christmas gifts for my little monsters from their grandparents. Now isn't that nice of them!"
"How are the little mon-- the children? I haven't seen them in a while."
"We're fine, Mr. Thomason."
"How very kind of you to ask."
The postman jumped as voices sounded from either side of him. Looking down, he found two pale faces staring back. He swallowed and shifted from one foot to the other. Usually he got along just fine with kids, what with having eight grandchildren of his own, but there was something about these two that made him all fidgety. They were just a little too quiet, a little too well mannered and a lot too grown-up acting for a five-year-old boy and a three-year-old girl.
Also, if he remembered correctly, his oldest granddaughter Sally had baby-sat for them once and then refused to go back. No amount of coaxing would get the girl to tell what the problem was, but afterward he'd heard there wasn't a single teenager in Whispering Pines who had kept the "little monsters" more than once.
"Would you just look at what Oogie and Woogie sent you for Christmas." Monica passed a box to each child.
"Grandmother has repeatedly requested that you not call either of them by those names," Ashley stated solemnly and with perfect diction. "She says their people don't use such ridiculous nomenclature."
Monica sighed and then looked at Joe and shrugged. "My ex and his parents are from California."
"Oh." Joe nodded sympathetically. That explained a lot. "I almost forgot. The wife said to tell you to be sure and stop by the bake sale at the library tomorrow and pick up some of her chocolate-chip cookies that you like so much."
"I swear all I have to do is look at those cookies and I gain five pounds." Monica ran her hands over her mini-skirted hips. "And tell Edna I said that the fudge she made for the animal shelter fund raiser ought to be against the law."
"Would you also please inform Mrs. Thomason that everyone appreciates the cupcakes she brings to school every Wednesday?" Cody asked. "While entirely lacking in any significant nutritional value, they're nevertheless quite tasty."
"Quite." Ashley nodded primly.
Joe blinked. "Uh, yeah. I'll be sure and tell her."
"They just love watching PBS," Monica said with a laugh. "I never know what they're going to say next." She made a shooing motion with her hands. "Go on back inside and open your gifts. I know it's not Christmas yet, but what the heck. Why wait till tomorrow when you can rip open today, I always say."
The children nodded dutifully and walked slowly back into the house. Once inside, their quiet demeanor disappeared and was replaced with glee as they shredded paper and tore apart boxes.
"Is it them?" Ashley asked, excitement brimming in her voice. "Did she send the right ones?"
"Wait a minute," her brother instructed, removing the last piece of wrapping paper. He reached into the box. "It's them."
"Oh, goody." Ashley clapped her hands.
Monica walked into the room. "What did Oogie and Woog-- I mean Grandma and Grandpa get you for Christmas?" She peered down into the box with a frown. "Books? They gave you books? For Christmas?!"
Cody looked at his sister and rolled his eyes. "They're special, Mother."
Monica picked up several of the books and examined the titles.
"Poems, Songs and Rhymes for Children. A Garden of Classic
Verse. Grimm's Fairy Tales. You like these? If they're not what you want we can always go to the toy store and get you something else."
"Oh, no," Ashley protested. "These are perfect."
"Absolutely," Cody confirmed.
Their mother examined their faces to make sure they were telling the truth. "Well, if my little monsters are happy, then I'm happy." She enveloped both children in a loving hug. "This is going to be the best Christmas ever. Just wait and see."
Looking over their mother's head at his sister, Cody silently mouthed the word, "Tonight."
Ashley smiled in anticipation.