Let's try this again. Bear with me, I'm not as internet-savvy as I thought I was....
I'm also posting it below for those who cannot open the links...
You must read There is No Light in Darkness & Darkness Before Dawn before reading the following.
Five years later
A lovely peal of laughter follows me as I make my way down the stairs, past the Ninja Turtle Happy Birthday banner and into my kitchen. I pull on the little hand behind me and bring her little body beside me, careful not to step on the scattered puzzle pieces on the ground. I come to a screeching halt when I reach the threshold of my kitchen and see the booths that surround the island are turned over and the floor is smeared with green icing from the cupcakes that toppled over the counter. My heart rate spikes up, my eyes widening when I see the door is wide open.
“Mommy?” Carley, my two year old says skeptically as she tugs on my shaky arm.
I don’t reply, don’t think. I just pick her up and place her on my hip, holding her tightly while cradling her head to my chest.
“Cole?” I call out, my voice barely audible through the pounding in my ears.
“Mommy, what happened?” Carley asks in a quiet concerned voice against my neck.
“Shh. Hold on, baby,” I coo pressing her head into me again while covering her ear. “COLE!”
I turn at the sound of loud footsteps behind me, Carley’s little legs swinging in movement with my body. I sigh loudly in relief when a flustered Cole appears before me. His khaki shorts, legs and sneakers filled with mud and leaving a trail behind him in the house. His blue Chicago Cubs T-shirt drenched and sticking to his hard chest, the defined ripples of his abs and arms seeping through. His eyebrows are set in a frown, his jaw clenched and his green eyes are wild until he sees me holding his little girl and suddenly he takes a breath and a slow smile appears on his face.
“Hey,” Cole says walking toward us. “That fu...” He flinches before he finishes. “Freak...” I raise an eyebrow and he takes an annoyed breath looking between Carley and I. “THAT DOG! Miles is a psycho!”
Carley and I fall into a fit of laughter and I set her down carefully when she tries to shimmy out of my hold. Her blonde curls bouncing as she skips to her dad in her green tutu and black tights.
Cole crouches down to her level. “Little, I’m dirty. I can’t pick you up,” he pouts, pushing his bottom lip out for effect. I bite down on my own to fight the urge to jump on him and bite it myself.
“I don’t care, Daddy!” Carley says holding her arms up, always willing to get dirty, which is funny considering her older brother hates being dirty.
“I do though, honey. You look too beautiful to get dirty. I like your shirt. Did mommy get it for you?” Cole asks with a smile as he looks at her adoringly.
“Nope,” she replies with a pop. “Aunt Becky!”
“Where’s Miles?” I ask, interrupting their conversation. “You do realize people are coming over in an hour, right? The cupcakes are ruined, the floor is a mess. Aubry called ten minutes ago saying that Logan and Riley keep talking about the bounce house...”
My voice trails off and my breath hitches when Cole stands up and peels his shirt over his head, the sides of his body flexing calling my attention as he pulls it off. When he straightens and tosses the shirt over his shoulder, he shakes his head and I get lost staring dreamily at this man that I married five years ago and I’ve known forever, yet still catches me off guard when he does things that make him look like he belongs in a damn TV commercial.
“Daddy! You’re wetting!” Carley shrieks with a giggle.
“Carley, clean up. Go put your dolls away,” Cole says, taking her little hand and spinning her toward the living room, his eyes never leaving mine. The way he looks at me makes the desire in my body ignite and my mind forget about the messy house I need to clean up.
He begins to move toward me, his sneakers squeaking on the hardwood with each step he takes. He licks his lips slowly as his eyes travel over my body seductively, making my heart skip a couple of beats and my chest rise and fall heavily in anticipation. His footsteps stop in front of me and I crane my neck to look at him. My eyes dragging along his defined jaw, the smiling lines around his mouth that have become a little more visible over the years, and lastly, stopping on his eyes. His blazing, hooded, sexy, mischievous, tantalizing eyes. I try to control my breathing, which is increasing and embarrassingly loud at this point.
“You,” Cole starts, his voice low and raspy as he caresses the side of my arm with the tips of his cold fingers, making me shiver. “Look too beautiful to clean this up.” I nod slowly, agreeing to anything he says, anybody would at this point. “So perfect,” he whispers dipping his head and placing a soft nibbled kiss between my neck and my shoulder. My head tilts on its own accord to give him easy access. “The hottest mom on the planet,” he continues in a husky voice, trailing the tip of his nose along my neck and jaw. Suddenly his head snaps up and he looks into my eyes; his eyes wild and full of need. “I want to take you back to our bed so bad right now,” he says hoarsely, taking my hand in his and placing it over the front of his shorts. “So. Bad.”
He holds my hand there and ducks back in to place his lips on my jaw, raining soft kisses along it up to my ear. His heavy breathing prominent over it, before his tongue flicks over my earlobe. “I want to taste you so bad right now,” he whispers in my ear as he nibbles on the lobe. My eyes flutter closed and I bite down on my lip with a groan. “You should go shower,” I say breathily.
“You should shower me,” he retorts as his mouth continues to work on my ear, my neck, and over my throat.
“You should go right now,” I respond, my voice full of longing.
“You should take me,” he rasps.
“I should,” I breathe.
“You should,” he confirms as he hikes up my sundress and runs his hand along the inside of my thigh.
“Daddy!” Carley calls out behind us, making us both groan loudly.
“Yes, sweetheart?” Cole asks into my neck, his voice muffled.
“Miles took dolly outside!” Carley whines.
“Oh fuck, Miles. I completely forgot about that dog,” Cole mutters.
He lifts his head and fixes my dress, looking at me intently. “I still need a bath,” he says, his lip forming a slight smile. “A good one. A really detailed wash,” he continues, sealing my impending response with a kiss. He turns around and jogs outside, shutting the kitchen door behind him as I watch.
I’m still watching the door, my mouth hanging open when it opens back up and Cole reappears. “And don’t clean up! Go to the store with Carley and buy more cupcakes. I’ll pick up the mess the dog from hell caused.”
I laugh at his accurate description of our rescue Boxer, Miles. He’s really the most adorable dog, but he is absolutely insane. The kids love him to death, though. Especially Logan. The thought of Logan jars me out of my thoughts and I begin to scramble around the house, picking up the scattered puzzle pieces and tossing them in the nearest toy bin.
“Carley, did you pick up your dolls?” I ask when I find her playing with some in the living room.
“Yes,” she mopes. “Miles has dolly.”
I look at her, cupping her thin little chin and tilting it up to me. Her big gray eyes are sad when they look into mine and I offer her a reassuring smile. “It’s okay, daddy will get her back. You wanna go with mommy to the store?”
She instantly perks up and bobs her head. “Yes!”
Once I load Carley into her car seat, I take out my phone and dial Aubry’s number to check on their status. My nerves begin to kick in at the thought of them bringing Logan over too soon and him seeing the mess of the house.
“Hello?” Riley answers, his breathing loud and audible.
Shortly after Cole and I got married, Aubry and Aimee followed suite and took the plunge. They decided to wait on having children for a while, until one night when they saw a news report about a poorly kept orphanage, and they decided to adopt. They first met Riley when he was just shy of a year old, but didn’t get custody of him until he was two. We were all for it and supported them throughout the long process. Since adoption is what I concentrate on the most these days, they asked me to take charge of all of their legal work. Aimee works alongside Mark in his law firm as a criminal attorney, and works long hours so she couldn’t concentrate on the case as much as she would have liked. Between the law suit that the orphanage was facing, and everything surrounding the adoptions taking place, it took them over a year to take Riley home. But once he got there, it was as if he’d always been part of the family. He and Logan are in the same classroom, the same little league teams, and like the same things so they’re basically attached at the hip.
“Hey, Ry, what are you guys up to?” I ask as I settle into the drivers seat and switch the air on. It’s a hot day in May, which is a change from the cold front we had last week.
“Hey Aunt Blake, we’re playing basketball with dad. Can we go to the party already? Is the bounce house there?” Riley asks excitedly.
“No, Ry. Let me talk to your dad, please,” I reply.
“Mommy! Goldfish!” Carley whines from the back seat, pointing at the small carton of Goldfish I have sitting in the cup holder.
I sigh and place my cellphone on speaker, opening the carton and handing it to her.
“Thank you, Mommy,” she says sweetly once she has it on her lap.
“You’re welcome, sweetie. Be careful!” I say, internally pleading that she doesn’t make a mess in my just cleaned car.
“Hey,” Aubry says suddenly, his voice filling the car.
“Uncle Auby!” Carley shouts from the backseat.
“Hey, sugar!” he coos. “How’s my favorite Ninja Turtle doing?”
“Good,” she giggles.
“Are you going to jump in the bounce house with me?” he asks sweetly.
“Hmmhmm!” she replies through a mouth full of Goldfish.
“Cool! See you later!” he says. “What’s up, Cowboy?”
I take a deep breath before letting it out slowly as I look at the front of my two story, white colonial home. I close my eyes and throw my head back onto the headrest. “Miles messed up the house. I’m on my way to get new cupcakes while Cole picks up. Everything is a mess, Aubry. A mess.”
He lets out a laugh. “I told you Boxers were crazy dogs! But noooobody listens to Aubry!”
I roll my eyes. “You’ve never had a dog, why would anybody listen to you?”
“Because I know people with dogs, obviously.”
“Whatever,” I mutter. “Give us another thirty minutes.”
“You want Aimee to go to the store for you? You sound stressed.”
“I’m fine,” I reply. “Thank you though.”
“You’re tired, Cowboy. You need to rest. I don’t know why you didn’t just let us take Lo to the park or the arcade or something, you know he didn’t need a party,” Aubry says sternly.
“I’m fine!” I respond. “I really am. And he wanted a party.”
Logan has been asking me for a party since the school year started. He didn’t really care to invite his entire classroom, but he did request a bounce house and for it to be Ninja Turtle themed. Who am I to turn down a four year old’s simple request?
“All right, well call me when you want us to head out,” Aubry responds before hanging up.
I pull the car out of the driveway and maneuver my way around our neighborhood. All of the trees are blooming and leaves are green. A beautiful sight after the cold winter we had. By the time I pull up at the store and park, I notice that Carley is fast asleep. Of course she is. I squeeze my eyes shut and bang the back of my head with my headrest, cursing myself for not taking up Aubry’s request to have Aimee do this for me. My phone begins to vibrate in the console and I force myself to peel my eyes open and look at it. When I see Alex’s name lighting up, my heart spikes up a little.
“Hello?” I respond as calmly as I can.
“Hey, do you need any help with anything?” he asks, his voice gruff and unsure.
I gulp down a breath. “I...are you busy right now?” I ask quietly, cringing slightly while doing so even though I know I’m ready for this.
“No, do you need something? Is everything okay?” he stammers.
“Everything’s fine,” I sigh as I draw circles over the hem of my white sundress. “But I’ve been parked in front of Dominick’s for the past ten minutes and Carley fell asleep and I really don’t want to wake her up and Cole’s home picking up for the party and Aubry has Logan and-”
“I’ll be right there,” Alex says cutting me off.
“Are you sure?” I ask holding my breath.
“Of course, Blake! You need help and I told you I would always be here if you needed me. I wasn’t kidding,” he replies, his gruff voice as soothing as it can be.
I let out a long breath. “Thank you. I’m in the truck.”
“See you there.”
I hang up the phone with a shaky hand and glance at my sleeping beauty in the rearview mirror. Her lips are parted and her head is lolled to one side letting her curls hang freely. I unbuckle my seat belt and lean over the center console as best I can to adjust her head while I wait for Alex. It took a while for me to let my guard down when it comes to Alex, and still, my walls aren’t completely down. Maybe they never will be, but I’m trying. He’s trying. He’s been trying for a while now. He sent Cole and I weddings gifts, sent us gifts for Logan throughout my pregnancy, called often. I close my eyes as my memory drifts to the day Logan was born and a small smile touches my lips.
I got home from a long day of reading through a case I was dealing with when I was still working in litigation, before I decided that I wanted to become an adoption lawyer and help good people become parents. I called out to Cole as I stepped inside and took my coat off, brushing off scattered leaves that had clung onto my dress. My pregnant belly bulging and my pelvic bone hurting more than usual. I looked at the stairs with slumped shoulders before making my way up. When Cole found our two story home, it took him months to convince me that we were going to be okay getting stairs. I was hesitant to buy it until I took the tour of the house and fell in love with the antique feel of it. Now I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else, even if it did take me a while to warm up to the idea of a staircase.
“Cole?” I said out loud once more, stopping on the fifth step to take off my flats because even those were uncomfortable on my feet.
“In here, babe!” he called out from Logan’s room.
I rounded the corner and passed our room making my way over to our soon-to-be son’s room. I stopped and smiled at Cole’s confused face as he eyed the socks, the onesies, and laughed when he stared at the breast pump with an intrigued look.
“What are you doing?” I asked, still laughing.
His face shot up to mine, a smile spreading over it. A smile I knew all too well and made me back up a step. “I think we should probably test this thing out before you really have to use it, don’t you think?” he teased.
I shook my head, horrified. “No! I am not looking forward to that thing. Haven’t you heard Becky’s horror stories?!”
Cole laughed. “Babe, Becky has horror stories about everything!”
I sighed, slumping against the doorframe. “Yeah, but still...” My voice trails off as I look around the sports themed room. The walls are navy with autographed baseballs, basketballs, and footballs that sit on dark wooden shelves. The crib is dark brown, matching the shelves and the blankets are sports themed. I roll my eyes when I notice that Cole took out the football shaped toy box and placed it in the corner of the room-again, even though I keep storing it in the closet. I run my bare foot over the glossy floor that Cole had custom made to look like a basketball court and survey my eyes over the basketball hoop in front of the crib.
A small laugh escaped me. “You do realize that newborns don’t do a single thing right?”
Cole’s hands stopped stuffing the baby bag and he looked at me again, furrowing his eyebrows. “Robinson does a lot,” he argues.
“Robinson is almost a year old,” I explained with a smile, thinking of Becky and Greg’s adorable baby boy.
Cole shrugged. “Whatever. Logan’s gonna have the coolest room ever.”
I laughed. “Yeah, hopefully we don’t have to change it in two years when he starts liking Toy Story or something.”
His mouth hung open. “We are NEVER changing this room! He’s going to love sports. Watch!”
I bit down on my lip to keep from laughing again and walked over to my adorable husband. He turned his body toward mine when I reached him and caressed my face as he lovingly looked into my eyes. He ran his hands down my face, over the sides of my breasts, landing on my enormous belly and leaned down to kiss my lips before placing them over my belly.
“Logan, you’re going to love sports! We’re never changing this room and if you ever decide that you’d rather see Buzz Lightyear over the awesome room your dad worked so hard on...we’re switching rooms,” he murmured against me, kissing it once more.
I laughed, shaking my head and grabbed both sides of his face to pull him in for a kiss and just as our lips were about to touch, I felt uncontrollable goo rushing down my legs.
I gasped loudly. “Ohmygod! My water!”
Cole’s eyes widened and his mouth popped open. “It broke!?”
“Yes!” I squealed pulling away from him to look down, horrified at the puddle at my bare feet. “This is so gross!”
“Holy shit! What the fuck should I do?! Don’t move!” Cole said frantically, jogging out of the room and reappearing with two towels in his hands.
He threw one on the floor and one around my waist before scooping me up in his arms and walking me to our bedroom. He placed me down when we got to the bathroom and held my shoulders. I looked up at him, tears forming in my eyes at the thought that this would probably be our last time alone in this bathroom.
“Are you okay?” he asked quietly, lifting my face with a hand on either side of it to look at me with concerned eyes as his chest rose and fell quickly.
“I feel fine. I don’t even have contractions,” I replied, crinkling my eyebrows at the thought.
He nodded and I could see he was trying not to freak out over this. “Do you want me to help you shower before we go?” he asked, his eyes darting to the shower, me, the empty bag on top of the counter.
I smiled and brought my hand up to his face, smoothing his worried eyebrows with the back of it. “I’m fine, Cole,” I repeated calmly. “I’ll shower while you finish packing up.”
He let out a breath and nodded a couple of times, his worried eyes not straying from mine. “You’ll tell me if you get a bad contraction?”
“I’ll tell you,” I replied, getting on the tips of my toes to reach his lips.
The sound of Adele’s One and Only blaring from my phone brings me back to the present. I slide it to unlock, wishing Cole wouldn’t have set that as my ring tone when he bought me the phone because it’s so loud.
“Hey,” I answer quietly, eyeing an undisturbed Carley. She sleeps as heavily as her father.
“Hey, what’s your status? Did you get the cupcakes?” he asks breathlessly.
“Carley decided to take a nap so I’ve been sitting in the parking lot. I’m waiting for Alex to get here so he can help me,” I explain.
“Hello?” I say, taking the phone away from my ear to make sure we didn’t get disconnected.
“Yeah. How did that happen?” Cole asks.
I sigh. “He called. I was tired. Carley’s sleeping. You’re busy, Aubry’s busy. I don’t know,” I reply quietly.
“I think it’s good,” he responds. “He’s coming over for the first time today and he’s been good to us. He cares about the kids, about you. I think it’s good that you’re letting him help you. You know I can drop what I’m doing and go over there, right?”
“I know,” I reply with a smile. “But I’m fine. I’m ready.”
I laugh. “Cole?”
“Yeah. I’m here,” he says. “I just never thought I would hear you say that. Especially after you kicked him out of the hospital when he went to go visit you and see Logan.”
My shoulders slump. “I know,” I whisper, tears filling my eyes. “I just wasn’t ready. I feel so bad about that now. He’s a good man...right?” I ask even though I know he is. He’s shown me how good he is over and over and never stopped proving himself, even when I turned him down and didn’t let him see his grandchild.
“He is, Blake. I wouldn’t let him near you or our kids if I didn’t think he was,” Cole responds with a sigh.
I look up and see Alex’ black mercedes pull into the parking space in front of me. “He’s here, I gotta go.”
I hang up the phone and put it in my purse as Alex walks toward my door. His blond hair is slick back with gel and reaches the nape of his neck and he’s wearing a black patch and a black T-shirt, which makes his blue eye stand out more than usual. He smiles warmly as my window lowers, and I greet him with a smile of my own.
“Hey,” he greets, his eye searching my face the way he always does when he sees me, before he looks into my backseat and sees Carley, which makes his smile widen even bigger. “She’s a good sleeper.”
I look over my shoulder. “She is,” I reply smiling.
When I look back at Alex, he’s still watching Carley. “You make beautiful kids, Blake.”
Water fills my eyes and I bite down on my cheek to keep them at bay. “Thank you.”
He looks at me then, his eye glistening and full of emotion. “So do I,” he whispers hoarsely.
A couple of tears escape my eyes when I blink rapidly. I sniffle and wipe them away quickly.
“Sorry,” he says. “I just...I’m in awe of you. You’re such a good mother, such a good wife...and you’re my daughter. I just...” His voice breaks and he clears his throat. “I wish Cory was here.”
I smile sadly, placing my hand over the one he has resting on my door and squeeze. “Me too,” I whisper. “But I’m glad you are.”
He gapes at me and his body shifts back as the shock of my words hit him.
“Mommy,” Carley calls out groggily behind me, snapping us out of the moment.
“Hey Little, you’re finally awake!” I say with a smile.
Alex steps away allowing me to put the window up and turn off the car. He offers me his hand, which I thank him for and take as I climb out of the truck. He follows me as I walk behind the truck to get Carley out of her seat.
“Should you be lifting her?” he asks in a concerned voice.
“I kind of have no choice,” I reply with a laugh, placing Carley on my hip.
“I can...I can carry her?” he offers.
I stop wrestling with my purse for a second and look at him, unsure.
“I don’t have to,” he says quickly.
“Carley, will you go with Alex?” I ask, holding my breath.
Carley smiles, showcasing her little teeth and the dimple on her right cheek. “Yes!”
Alex and I both let out an audible breath as I hand her to him. Once we get a cart, he sits her down carefully and pushes it as we walk through the store. We make small talk about my job, and he fills me in on Dean’s whereabouts.
“Have you spoken to Liam?” he asks as he loads the things we bought onto the check out belt.
I downcast my eyes from his. “I haven’t.”
Liam and I kept in touch for a while, we still do but not as much as we used to. When I do see him, it’s around Brian’s house and that started to become awkward when he found out that Alex and I were actually getting along. The fact that Liam is good friends with Cole’s dad doesn’t help much since Cole absolutely despises him. He refuses to forgive him or speak to him. Thankfully that isn’t the case with his mom. Colleen is the sweetest grandmother and helps us out in any way she can. After she finalized her divorce from Camden, which became a huge scandal, she ended up moving twenty minutes away from us and comes over almost daily to see the kids.
Alex grumbles something under his breath and shrugs.
“I can’t believe you still talk to him,” I say with a shake of my head and lean down to fix Carley’s dangling shoe. “He married the woman you were in love with while she was pregnant with your kid...I don’t know. It’s just...crazy.”
When I bring my face back up, I find Alex watching me intently. He nods his head. “True. But he took care of her when I couldn’t. He took care of you...when I couldn’t. I hated him for years, you know? Hated him.”
I look at him expectantly, waiting for him to expand on that. When he realizes I’m not going to budge, he finally exhales a breath and offers me a small smile. “But I hated myself more.”
I nod and take out my wallet to pay but Alex beats me to it, handing the cashier money for everything.
“It’s my grandson’s fourth birthday,” he explains to the cashier when she looks between us. She shrugs and takes his money.
Alex loads everything in my trunk and puts Carley in her seat, promising to see us at the party later.
When we get home, Cole meets us outside and takes the bags down before getting Carley and taking her inside, and I’m relieved to see the house back to normal when I walk in. The dog is in the yard, the kitchen is picked up and clean, no mud tracks on the floor. It’s perfect. For the next couple of hours we work on the rest of the stuff as the party company sets up the bounce house and Carley watches a movie. The door bell rings while I’m placing the last cupcake topper and Cole is evening out the table cloth. We both straighten up, our eyes meeting as he walks around the table and stands in front of me.
“You need to take it easy today, okay?” he says.
I nod my head slowly, my eyes not wavering from his as he looks at me intently. When he licks his lips slowly my eyes dart to his mouth for a second.
“I love it when you look at my mouth like that,” he says in a low voice that makes me bite down on my own lip as he leans into me, his breath hitting my eyelids before landing over my ear. “And I love the way you smell,” he rasps while running his nose along the brim of my ear. “And the way you take care of our kids,” he continues, placing a kiss near my earlobe. “And the way you love me,” he adds with another kiss. “And the way you let me love you,” he says sucking on my neck, making me moan. He continues to trail kisses over the swells of my breasts and down the center of my stomach until he reaches my belly button. “And the way you look when you’re carrying my kids in here,” he says kissing my pregnant belly before he gets up and looks at me again. “I love you, Blake Murphy.”
I gulp down loudly, trying to control my tears and fast breathing. “I love you, Cole Murphy.”
He runs the pad of his thumb over my bottom lip slowly, his green eyes heavy as he looks at me. The doorbell rings two more times and Carley obviously informs us that someone is there. Cole dips his head and kisses me, leaving no trace of my mouth un-sated before slowly untangling his tongue from mine and backing away from me.
“So much,” he says and pivots his body, breaking into a sprint to get to the door.
“Hey! Happy Birthday, kiddo!” Cole says enthusiastically, picking up Logan and swinging him around a couple of times.
“Thank you, Daddy,” Logan responds before turning to give his sister a hug.
I place one hand over my heart and the other over my stomach, smiling, grateful for the amazing family I’ve been given. Logan runs to me and I crouch down a bit, opening my arms to hug him.
“Happy Birthday, baby,” I greet, picking him up and kissing his ruffled brown hair. His gray eyes shining bright.
“Thank you, Momma,” he says with a smile. “I wanna go to bounce house!”
I shake my head and laugh. “Do you like all of the Ninja Turtle stuff? Say thank you to daddy for putting up all the decorations,” I say with a raised eyebrow.
“Thank you, Daddy,” Logan says turning around to face Cole.
Aubry, Aimee, and Riley continue to walk in, greeting us as they look around. Connor and Sandra arrive next with Elijah, who’s too smart for his own good at eight years old. Colleen shows up next followed by Mark, Brian and lastly, Alex. Greg and Becky call us through FaceTime so that Logan can see his cousin Robinson, whom he adores.
“Dude! You should’ve seen it!” Aubry shouts as I make my way outside with drinks. “Logan has some serious vert!”
I groan, rolling my eyes as I hand him his beer. “Can you please stop talking about the way my kid jumps?”
“Cowboy! You gotta put him in basketball! No joke, Cole, he fucking jumps higher than I do!” Aubry exclaims
“That’s because you can’t jump for shit,” Cole replies with a laugh.
“Yeah dude, you suck at basketball,” Connor says. “Remember the time you sprained your ankle...WALKING TO GET WATER?!” he adds as he goes into a full out belly laugh, the rest of us joining him.
I laugh at the memory, wiping the tears from my eyes as I walk back inside to get more drinks. Aimee and Sandra join me in the kitchen to help me put out snacks and we sit down for a while and talk about the usual: husbands, kids, work, and lack of time to shop or do anything for ourselves.
When the sun takes the day and the party is over, all of our guests leave with the exception of Colleen and Alex. They help us clean up, both of them echoing Cole’s pleads for me to sit down and put my feet up. I take an exhausted Logan and Carley to the living room and cradle them close to my side and watch an episode of Max and Ruby, which I am absolutely dying for them to stop liking so much, as we wait for them to finish.
“Mommy, when is baby coming?” Logan asks, sleepily laying his head over my stomach.
“Soon, baby. Next month you and Carley will have a little brother to share your toys with,” I reply kissing the top of his head as I run my fingers through Carley’s tangled hair.
Logan raises his head and looks at my stomach. “He’s gonna play with my Ninja Turtle?” he asks scrunching his little nose.
I laugh lightly. “Yes he will.”
Logan nods once and looks back to the television.
“I’m heading out,” Alex says, making the three of us turn our heads.
I make my way to get up but he puts his hand up to stop me. “You guys look too comfortable there. I just wanted to thank you again,” he says quietly, his eye bouncing between each of our faces, cherishing the moment.
“You’re welcome to come back,” I offer with a smile.
His chest rises and falls once. “Thank you,” he replies with a smile.
He walks over to us and places a kiss on each of our heads before turning around and leaving.
“Our grandpa is awesome,” Logan says, causing my eyes to widen and my heart to skip a beat.
“Yeah?” I ask, unsure.
“Yeah! He bought me numchucks!” Logan replies excitedly.
“Nun-chucks,” I correct with a smile.
Logan smiles and nods quickly.
“Yeah, he is pretty cool...” I say, my voice trailing off.
Colleen comes into the living room and says goodbye to us, turning to Cole and giving him a big kiss on the cheek and slapping his face lightly. “You’re working tomorrow?” she asks.
Cole sighs, running his hand through his hair as his eyes land on mine. “I am.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll come over and take care of her for you since you think she’s going to break,” Colleen teases while I laugh.
Cole purses his lips. “I don’t think she’s going to break...I just prefer to know she’s okay and not overdoing things while she’s pregnant.”
“Sure,” she says laughing as she walks out.
Cole closes the door behind her and comes back to the living room, plopping down beside Logan and putting his arm around us as he leans his head against mine.
“We did good,” he whispers.
I look into his eyes. “We did good,” I confirm with a smile.
After bath time, I lay Carley down while Cole gives Logan his bath. I decide to jump in the shower while they do their usual routine and when I come out, I find the house is dark except for the light coming from Logan’s bedroom. I tiptoe to his door and lean against the doorframe to watch them quietly. Logan is tucked into his bed and Cole is sitting on the oversized football beanbag beside him with a book open. I cross my arms over myself and shiver at the air that hits my bare arms and watch as Cole reads to our son.
When he looks up and finds me standing there, he stops reading and smiles at me. His eyes filled with a love that reaches deep within me and makes my own heart stir. I place my head on the wall and continue to look at him as he reads. Not for the first or last time, thanking the universe for giving me this man. This perfectly imperfect man that loves me so much it’s almost unimaginable. I’m thankful for the family we have together, the one we’ve made and the one we’ve gained over the years. My life feels as complete as it can possibly feel. I run my fingers through my hair and over the scar on my hairline, the part of my life that is gone but will never be forgotten. And I’m thankful that we made it out of that together, and that we’re no longer the broken people we once were. Cole clears his throat and I blink my eyes, realizing that I have tears streaming down my face. I wipe them away as he looks at me, his bright green eyes the only thing visible in the dim light...the only thing visible to me in any light.
He smiles then, that big smile with the dimple that I had no chance of ever not falling in love with, and he reads from memory. His eyes never swaying from my own...
"Big Nutbrown Here settled Little Nutbrown Here into his bed of leaves. He leaned over and kissed him good night. And he laid down close by and whispered with a smile: I love you, right up to the moon...and back..."