JT is thirteen months old…
Still panting from my run, I push open the screen door. “Anyone home?” I’m met with silence. One that is not as peaceful as it once was. I frown and stalk to the kitchen to pour a glass of water, chugging it down so fast it drips to my bare chest. But there’s no one here to disapprove of my mess. A long sigh escapes my mouth as I lean against the counter, arms crossed.
Goddamn, my life has changed. I look around the house and know immediately what is missing. I want JT’s incessant chatter. That boy doesn’t speak a real word, but he sure talks all the time. I want Gus and Rosie, our newest pup, to prance around my feet, begging for a treat. I want Piper’s voice singing whatever 80’s song is top of mind. I want her unconscious play by play of whatever recipe she’s throwing together, two cups of this, a teaspoon of that. I want to sneak her into our bedroom and stick my hand down her pants, watching her face while she comes on my fingers.
I want my family.
Disappointment that they’re missing spoils my good mood while I shower and change into jeans and an old shirt. It may be June but a well-worn flannel is never out of season. Rolling the sleeves to my elbows on the way outside, I leave it unbuttoned and drive my truck to the clearing. It doesn’t take long to connect the string lights to the battery, putter around the yard and set up the pit for a camp fire. Dax and Cara, Willow and their baby Olivia, and mom and dad will be over later to celebrate father’s day. Our first celebration since dad left to join the Navy.
I find myself opening the passenger door to my truck. Sitting with my back against the dash, one leg on the ground, the other bent in front of me, I watch the house I built and wait for the family I never thought I’d have.
A simple concept has consumed my mind. I want to give Piper everything. The drive to not just fix her life, but to perfect it, started eight months ago. The minute my discharge from the Navy was final, I set out to do exactly that. I came home from Coronado with my head on straight and a ring in my pocket. Twenty minutes after arriving, after kissing Piper breathless and tickling JT into fits of giggles, I opened the door to my pregnant sister and babysitter extraordinaire. The twinkle in her eye told me she knew what I was up to. I glared her into silence, and then dragged Piper out to my truck for a long drive up the coast.
I’ll never forget that ride. The highway stretched out before us, spending the rest of my life with Piper loomed ahead and warmed the cab more than the sun as it set beyond the ridge. It streamed through the windows painting hazy orange strokes over her glowing hair. My heart swelled and I squeezed her hand, keeping it held tight against my thigh—until all hell broke loose. A loud clank coming from the passenger side, followed by the loss of steering and I knew a tie rod blew. Jesus Christ. I prayed to him in that moment like he was my best friend on speed dial. He answered as I was able to slow down and navigate to a stony jettison of coastline, the pacific rolling in below.
What I learned? Nothing is ever simple.
Not with me. And not for Piper.
Our path was as rocky as the beach and our future as vast and mysterious as the ocean. I laughed when the truck rolled to a stop, my head thrown back and with Piper looking at me like I’d lost my mind. Maybe I had. But I’d lost it with her and that was the best part. I knew she’d accept me any way I came, on any given day. She’d see me through the moments I got stuck in the past and pull me to the present not with words, but with patience and her silence that was always so sweet to hear.
I wouldn’t let anything stop my mission. Not the cool autumn breeze, the breakdown, not the tow-truck pulling up alongside of us or the driver watching me with a raised brow while I walked around the rear to open Piper’s door. The second her legs swung out and I had her hand, I fell to my knees. Ignoring the twinge to my thigh, I dug in my pocket for the diamond I thought was perfect. And when I brought it up for her to see, late daylight making it flicker, it wasn’t words that bound her to me forever. It was the love in her eyes. It was hope and peace and the dream of our future. So it was in our silence that I slid the ring on her finger and called her mine.
Six months later on an early spring day, I met her in the exact same place. This time she found me waiting with Gus and Rosie sitting by my feet, JT perched on my arm and a preacher standing next to me. I had a ghost for my best man. He grinned and gave a casual salute as family and friends gathered ’round to watch Piper drive up in my ancient but repaired truck. She wore her favorite jean jacket, a pretty white dress and a smile as bright as the sun. We exchanged words that day. Real words with deeper meaning.
I’v been her husband for seven weeks and I never wanted for us to be too far apart. I’d wondered more than once if this feeling would ever subside, or if it was natural? Do other men get a flutter in their chest when they look at their woman or is that just me? Did every husband want to lock their wife in the bedroom and make her pant and scream, every day— all day? I shake my head as if it will release the stranglehold on my emotions, and that’s when I see her.
Piper. She watches me from the edge of the clearing. Platinum hair, longer now than when I knocked on her door a year ago. A loose pink sundress that clings to her tits. It’s too short to be anything but fuck, hot sexy, and shows off her toned and tanned legs. She holds a cherubic kid. With his blonde curls and the gray intensity of his gaze, he looks more and more like Justin every day.
Piper’s dark eyes find mine. They twinkle with a grin that has yet to meet her lips. She stoops to let JT down to his feet and I cringe. We both know he’ll tumble to the grass. He’s tried. He’s really tried to find his balance but hasn’t gotten the hang of the whole walking thing yet. My concern grows when she hands him an envelope and motions him forward.
JT squeals his excitement. Piper holds Gus back, Rosie too, as JT takes a step. I sit up, catching my breath, waiting for him to tumble and the frustrated cry I know will follow. It doesn’t happen. I exhale as he laughs and shoots both hands in the air, waving that envelope around while he gets into a rhythm, one hesitant foot in front of the other. Tears spring to my eyes. I look at Piper, her hand holding back a combination laugh-cry while the other films JT’s first steps with her phone.
Once he figures it out, he’s unstoppable. JT is on a mission. He’s halfway to me when I scamper out of the truck and crouch, waiting for him with open arms. “Come on buddy.” My encouragement falters when my voice cracks. Goddamn, this is exciting. I laugh then. I laugh with JT as he meets my grip and I swing him up like he won a gold medal in the Olympics. “Well done big guy.”
“Da,” he says.
My heart stops. The next beat takes way too long and it skips when he says it again. “Da.” Shoving the envelope at my face he starts repeating the one word that clogs my throat. The one word I had hoped to hear but was never certain I would, not from JT. He is Justin’s, always will be, but I know deep down in my soul he is mine too.
“Dada,” JT says as if to confirm it.
I look at Piper as she saunters over, slow steps while she watches me struggle to find my footing. And then she smiles. She smiles that damn smile that tightens my chest, and I can’t breathe. Her eyes glisten as she closes the distance, slipping her hand in my back pocket. The other wraps around JT to cover my arm that holds us together, acting like the anchor she has become.
“Go ahead. Open it,” she whispers and nods toward the letter.
Air escapes my lungs in a rush. “What did you do, sunshine?”
“Read it and find out.”
She works with me to slice open the top and unfold the tri-folded piece of paper so I can scan the contents. Fuck. Time stands still. The world shifts to a new axis as the past meets the future, my life with Justin replaying behind my closed lids. From kindergarten through his death all the way to my rebirth. The day I stopped fighting fate and accepted that Justin was gone and he was good. He was good and so was I. We’d gone in separate directions but that didn’t mean I had to stop living. Somewhere along the way I chose life. I decided I liked hope a lot better than grief and I had a bucketful of reasons to feel hopeful. I had two of the best reasons in my arms right now. Without a doubt I belong to Piper. And JT.
He is mine now.
Justin. Taylor. Lawless.
I clutch his new birth certificate in my hand as proof. A low groan escapes my open mouth as I press it in his hair, sucking in his sweet scent and blinking back tears.
“Dada,” he says again.
His arms wrap around my neck, squeezing out my grateful response. “Son.”
My heart spasms with this newfound truth. The magnitude of the responsibility should be staggering, yet all I see is love. Whatever difficulties lie ahead are overshadowed by the joy in my heart and the knowledge that every bump in the road is worth it. I’ll never quit him. I’ll never quit the life Justin set in motion, the best gift he’d ever given. His son. My son.
Piper breathes into my neck, “Happy father’s day, Caden” and I am finally whole.