Jerking awake, I lifted my head from the pillow I’d face planted into, what felt like only seconds earlier, and wondered for a moment what in all that was holy the fuck that noise was.
It was like there was a nuclear reactor in the middle of the bedroom about to reach critical Holy Shit! meltdown levels.
But it only took a second or three more for me to realize the ass pucker inducing sound was coming from the alarm clock. But even in all of its obnoxious glory, it had only taken another second for me to be able to tune that shit out.
As a mom of three kids, it was a survival skill I’d developed a long time ago.
But it was a skill that still eluded Eric, dad of three or not. Maybe because he turned into a giant kid himself around them and he had to hear their fuckery in order to join in.
Luckily for him, the sight of it usually only got me hot and bothered.
Other times it made me hot in other ways.
Under the collar being one of them.
Depended on the day, really. But at least he was already potty trained, so silver lining and all.
While I made a mental note to thank his dad for that later on, I replanted my face into the pillow and felt myself slowly drifting back to sleep, only to have my consciousness stirred again by a long drawled out, “Sookie…”
The sound of his gravelly voice was stirring more than just my waking mind, but I was too exhausted to do anything about it. My limbs felt heavier than the weight of Pam’s deadly stare when Eric had jokingly met her at the door a few days earlier wearing a ‘Making America Great Again’ hat.
I recorded it and everything. For posterity.
And for a sure-to-be viral Vine video if I was ever feeling especially suicidal.
More than her stare would be deadly if it got out.
But like Pam’s eyes had pinned Eric where he’d stood, my limbs were pinned to the bed, regardless of what I might have wanted. Considering all I wanted was to stay in bed, I couldn’t really say they were disregarding my wishes.
Wicked and Immoral were dead to the world.
“Sookie…” Eric drawled out again from his side of the bed, making my eyes narrow into a glare that he couldn’t see thanks to my closed eyelids. But instead of sounding all sexy and wanton, he only sounded as annoyed as I felt.
It really was like we shared a single mind sometimes.
“Turn off the fucking alarm,” he groused a moment later, like I hadn’t already known what he was thinking.
After six plus years together I could read him quicker than a stop sign.
The alarm clock was on my side of the bed, but logistics and fairness weren’t in my wheelhouse at the moment. So I pulled out my tried and true trump card by mumbling in return, “Remember that time you forgot my entire existence for almost a whole year? You can make up for that now by turning off the alarm.”
I would have added, ‘And get the kids up and ready and take Lil to school too,’ but I’d already met my quota for speaking coherent thoughts.
Hopefully his spouse-reading abilities were on point and he would figure out that part on his own.
Eric was off from work for the next few weeks, so technically, he could get the kids up and going. But he’d been awake right alongside of me all night long, with a crying teething baby in his arms too, so I couldn’t very well claim death by Tooth Fairies.
He’d see right through that flimsy excuse.
Because Eric’s mom was a dirty whore – I still blamed her for all of life’s ails – the boys had turned into angry little red-faced drool monsters and kept us up half the night.
Twins made for double the pain in so many ways.
As my cooter box would’ve attested to, post-delivery.
I may have fallen back asleep, but there was no telling. The ability to tune out three kids and obnoxious alarm clocks extended to tuning out Eric too. So I don’t know how much time had actually passed when I felt the brick wall I was married to, shuffle his body over top of mine, with the alarm clock falling blessedly silent a second later.
But that could have been because I was trapped underneath Eric’s heavy ass, which was currently blocking out all light and sound.
And air from my lungs.
If breathing wasn’t actually required, I couldn’t say that I would’ve minded so much.
And then feeling a part of his body that was more awake than the rest of ours combined, I found that I didn’t mind that so much either.
Eric’s brain must have joined mine in the gutter because his hips gave a slow lazy thrust against my ass, while taking some of his weight off of me by leaning on his arms, and I felt the scruff of his whiskers on my cheek right before his lips were nipping at my ear, as he grumbled out, “I had amnesia, Sookie.”
One of my eyelids had already lifted halfway open – I was never one to deny myself an opportunity to ogle some good arm porn and Eric’s was the best – but with my face mostly pressed into the pillow, he couldn’t see that.
So I sent up a silent prayer to the patron saint of bullshit and tried to sound like he hadn’t made me hot and horny in less than five seconds, when I playfully sighed out, “Yeah, yeah. You’ve been saying that for years, but we don’t live in a telenovela, so that’s not a legit excuse as far as I’m concerned.”
It totally was.
I totally wasn’t going to admit it though.
Not when I could read his mind and the word ‘stop’ didn’t enter into the equation, knowing where this conversation was about to lead to.
Unless you put the word ‘don’t’ in front of it.
Two minutes ago, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be awake enough to be doing what I had every intention of doing now. But feeling Sookie’s familiar curves pressed beneath me made sleep seem like an epic waste of time.
Kudos to her, considering I’d gotten maybe a total of four hours in the last twenty-four. Having three kids was exhausting and even though we hadn’t yet decided if we wanted to have any more of them, I certainly wasn’t opposed to practicing making more of them.
She’d dropped the baby weight fairly quickly after the boys had been born and while I would love her no matter what, I couldn’t say I wasn’t grateful for all of the yoga she’d been doing.
Not just for her appearance, but for how flexible she was and the way she could bend her body now.
We both enjoyed the fruits of her labor. Regularly.
My hand was already snaking its way in between her body and the mattress, with my fingers dipping into the front of her sleep shorts and steamrolling right past go, without stopping to collect my two hundred dollars.
Instead I collected the slick evidence that she wasn’t as unaffected as she pretended to be.
But she wasn’t the actor in the family, so I was willing to bet she wasn’t all that put out about it and I was even more certain she was more than willing to put out in other ways.
Especially when I immediately went to work, using every trick I’d learned – both before we’d ever met and those I’d added to my arsenal in the years we’d been together –to press every button of hers down below, while I whispered into her ear, “I remember how to make you scream.”
Dare I say, I even remembered how to do it when I couldn’t remember her at all.
But be it from the way I could sex her up to the way I seemed to miss the hamper every time I stripped off my clothes, I could definitely make her scream.
Luckily for me I was good enough at the former, so that she didn’t mind the latter as much.
From the way my body was caging hers in, she didn’t have the room to maneuver to return the favor. A fact of circumstance I could tell she found totally unacceptable, from the way she began squirming underneath me, feeling me hard and ready against her hip.
But before she could attempt to ninja her way out from under me, we both stopped cold hearing another’s voice at the side of the bed.
Since the two of us were basically sharing the same space, I could feel Sookie’s side of the mattress dip down slightly, just as Lilly yammered out, “Why aren’t you up yet? I have school today, don’t I mommy? And I can’t be late, right daddy? And we have to get dressed and do my hair and pack my lunch and I’ll get to see Uncle Sam, but I have to call him Mr. Merlotte at school and daddy, why do you think Uncle Sam is a funny name because I don’t think it’s funny, but Uncle Terry said it kinda is and why would he say that when it’s not?”
The sound of our combined sighs were drowned out by Lilly’s morning dialogue, but my whispered voice in her ear questioning, “Rain check?” turned into a throaty chuckle at Sookie’s mumbled, “You’d think after this many years we would’ve learned to lock a door by now.”
Usually we did lock the door to keep Lilly out whenever I planned on thoroughly defiling her mother, but getting down and dirty had been the furthest thing from our minds when we’d fallen into bed only a few hours earlier.
Considering how easily Sookie was able to get me in the mood no matter how exhausted I was, we should probably look into getting one of those self-locking doors installed.
It was too late to do anything about it now though. Lilly had grown out of her grumpy-when-woken phase and morphed into a rambling-dialogue-word-vomit phase right around the same time her brothers were born nine months earlier.
Back then it had been helpful in keeping us awake after tending to two newborns on and off all night long. Even now, her incessant chatter was more like a comforting white noise, until I’d had my first cup of coffee and could parse out actual words.
But today – along with every other – I would’ve preferred she’d waited until after I’d sexed up her mother to make an appearance.
Lilly was still talking a mile a minute at our side, not even batting an eyelash at finding us in a compromising position, but then she was probably immune to it.
It certainly wasn’t the first time she’d caught us about to do things no five year-old should witness, but she hadn’t caught us in the act.
So I hoped my dick smacking against Sookie’s hip counted as knocking on wood and I hadn’t just jinxed us with my thoughts.
Now that we had two more, who would be completely mobile soon enough, that self-locking door was probably a good idea.
As if they’d heard me just thinking about them, the sound of their chatter filled the baby monitor a second later. So I pressed a kiss to the back of Sookie’s head and then another onto the front of Lilly’s before getting out of bed to get started on the day.
From experience I knew I had about five minutes where the boys would entertain themselves before unleashing their inner demons on the rest of us. It would take me that long to will my hard-on away and brush my teeth before heading into the nursery.
Thankfully Sookie’s second pregnancy had gone off without a hitch and she’d gone into labor naturally only a couple of weeks before her due date. The boys had been a little over six pounds each when they were born and everyone was healthy, so I couldn’t really complain.
Not that I let that stop me.
Twin boys were both a figurative and literal handful.
And they hadn’t even hit the terrible two’s yet.
Finn and Oliver were fraternal twins, but they looked so much alike at birth that it had been difficult to tell them apart at first. Even now I sometimes needed to do a double take to be sure who I was looking at.
Oddly enough, Lilly never seemed to have that problem and she loved them both – immediately and vehemently. She’d also campaigned hard to name them Olaf.
Both of them.
She’d even argued her case by jabbing her pointed fingers at her then still in utero brothers and did her take on an episode of Oprah she hadn’t been alive to see, expounding, “You’s Olaf! And you’s Olaf!” Then holding her actual stuffed toy Olaf up above her head, she declared, “Everyone’s Olaf!”
Her idea was nothing but nope.
She still wasn’t completely over it because we’d caught her calling them Olaf on more than one occasion, but I blamed Pam’s influence for making her so ‘my-way-or-the-highway’.
Because, when in doubt?
Besides, with the way their personalities were forming, I had a feeling they would probably think they shared a different first name.
That name would be ‘No’.
When my five minutes were nearly up, I headed to the nursery prepared to do diaper duty and carry them downstairs for breakfast, until I wasn’t.
Prepared, that is.
They still shared a crib for now because they slept better when they were together. So I couldn’t be sure if they’d managed to work their own diapers off, if they’d un-diapered each other, or if one of them figured out how to do it and un-diapered them both.
I’d have to review the video footage from the nanny cam we had set up in their room later on to figure it out.
Seeing the disaster awaiting me, I could only shake my head, silently blaming my wannabe Shitter mogul brother-in-law because this had Jason written all over it.
Staring back at me, with drool laden toothy grins, I sighed out to my twin terrors, “Goose…Mav… We’ve talked about this, guys. The poop stays in the diaper.”
But there was no getting mad when their only response was babbling laughter, with each of them holding up their shit covered hands and chanting, “Da! Da! Da!”
Nor was there any way to fight off my responding grin because that was me.
Da! Da! Da!
“…and everyone’s gonna love my new dress Auntie Pammy got me, right Mommy? Daddy says she’s got a shoppin’ diction, right Mommy? But Auntie Pammy says that just means she’s got style and Daddy’s just mad he still can’t tweet, but he’s not a bird, right Mommy? And Uncle Sam’ll like my new dress too, right Mommy? And his name isn’t funny, is it Mommy? Because that’s his name and I know lots of names, right Mommy? Like Ras-ma-taz and Staf and Staf’s gonna be at school with me too, right Mommy? ‘Cause we don’t go anywhere without Ras-ma-taz and Staf ‘cause they would be sad, right Mommy? Are you going to pack his lunch too? Ow!”
Holding onto the makings of a ponytail in one hand and a brush in the other, I wondered over the merits of having a coffee maker right in our bedroom, while I paused just long enough to say, “Well, hold still.”
One would think the fact I’d denied myself caffeine all throughout my first pregnancy would’ve made Lilly a little less hyper.
One would be wrong for thinking that.
Oh, how I longed for the days when she was a grumpy lump when she woke up, clingy and pissed off at the world.
On the bright side, I had her sullen angst-filled teenage years to look forward to, where she probably wouldn’t say three words to me all day long.
So there was that.
Securing her ponytail in place, I patted her butt to signal I was done and she bounded out of the room, sounding like a herd of tiny elephants as she ran down the stairs, with Bubba hot on her heels.
They were still thick as thieves and while he took an interest in the boys, Lilly was his favorite human, so he mostly just sat watching the front door all day long while she was at school.
It was adorable.
Eric lobbied for him to go with her, arguing he was a service dog and was legally allowed to go anywhere.
I argued that while Bubba was technically a service dog, he wasn’t her service dog and Eric was insane if he thought having Bubba in her classroom would be anything but disruptive.
Trying to get twelve five year olds to pay attention to anything for any amount of time was like herding cats. I wasn’t about to do that to her teacher.
Following after Lilly, I paused briefly outside of the nursery, debating on whether or not I should go in. While Lilly was clearly a Daddy’s girl, both of them were unequivocally Mama’s boys.
It was great all the way up until they decided they both wanted me to hold them and no one else would do. Then doing anything else around the house was shot to hell, until they either passed out or decided they’d had enough of me.
Hearing the panic in Eric’s voice, the decision was out of my hands now and seeing what was in his hands, I could guess why he’d felt the need to call for reinforcements.
Holding a diaper that had seen less shitty days, he looked at me and said, “Quick! Get rid of it!”
But when I was finally in reaching distance to him, my outstretched hand met nothing but air, as he drew the soiled diaper back towards his body and pointed at Finn with wide-eyed horror, “No, get rid of the kid.”
God only knows what expression I wore.
After our morning sextivities were interrupted and with no coffee in my system, it was probably something along the lines of, ‘I will kill you where you stand.’
I’d totally blow him back to life later on though.
Just as soon as I had my first cup of Columbian nectar of the gods.
“What?” he innocently questioned, with the makings of a smirk quirking up on one side of his stupidly handsome face. Then jutting his chin at Finn’s twin, he added, “We’ve got another one that looks just like him.”
“You have a point,” I smirked.
I would say the doctor declaring them fraternal twins was complete and utter bullshit, but they also looked just like Lilly.
Clearly, the Northman gene was a dominant one.
And clearly the dirty year old Northman I was married to had his own point to make.
It poked me in the stomach when he pulled me flush against his body and growled in my ear, “I love it when you admit I’m right.”
“Pictures or it didn’t happen,” I grinned, rubbing my body against his to keep his engine revved for good measure before pulling away and grabbing onto Finn’s body to keep him from going James Bond off the changing table.
Now I had Adele singing Skyfall in my brain.
“You’re such a tease,” he playfully grumbled, chucking the dirty diaper into the pail that definitely needed to be emptied sooner than later.
“Clearly,” I began and then dramatically gestured to the DNA evidence in front of us, “I’m not.”
In fact, I was the complete opposite of a tease when it came to Eric.
We came a lot, thanks to each other.
“Ha!” I laughed out loud before I could stop myself.
Eric really did make me stupid.
It was one of the best things about our relationship, truth be told.
So I answered his raised eyebrow, explaining, “I just thought of a fitting name for our made-for-TV movie biopic that’ll never get made.”
“What?” he asked, with his lips quirked up on one side that turned into a full blown grin with my reply.
Waggling my eyebrows, like Groucho Marx was my great-grandpappy, I snickered out, “Came-A-Lot.”
Unable to resist her for a second longer, I held her head in each of my hands and took the morning kiss I’d been denied earlier. While we’d both aged and grown together over the years, this hadn’t gotten old.
Despite her telenovela protestations, thinking back now and remembering all of the doubts and insecurities I had when we’d first gotten together – all of the misconceptions and miscommunications – knowing her as I did now, it all seemed so ridiculous.
I loved her then too, even if I hadn’t known it at the time.
I loved her even more now. What in the hell she saw in me – childhood doodles and teen magazine posters on her bedroom wall or not – I would never know.
I hadn’t exactly been what one would call a good guy back then. Sookie had always been ‘the girl next door’ type – mouth like a sailor notwithstanding – but she definitely shouldn’t have fallen for someone like me.
And yet she did.
We shouldn’t have worked and yet we did.
She was the light to my dark.
The peanut butter to my jelly.
The Xanax to my neuroses.
I’d never imagined having the life I did now. I’d never imagined wanting it, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
In the last six years I’d laughed more than I had any right to. I was happier than I knew I deserved to be and it was all thanks to Sookie.
Without her, I wouldn’t have Lil or the boys. I wouldn’t have my father in my life in the way that he was now.
Hell, I might not even be alive now.
With the way I’d been going, I could’ve easily slid back into my old ways. If not drugs, then drinking or fucking anything with a pulse could have killed me.
Sookie really did a body good.
At the moment, she was doing a lot of good things to my body. Things we didn’t have the time or privacy to explore at the moment, but that didn’t stop me from grabbing her ass with both hands and pulling her against me.
“Uh oh,” she snickered into my mouth. “The rating just went up. If you keep going they’re gonna have to put Came-A-Lot on Skinemax.”
Forcing myself to pull away from her, I grinned at her pout and reminded her, “Rain check.”
“Rain isn’t what’s filling my panties right now,” she grumbled in a low voice meant only for me before turning to make ridiculous faces at the boys and asking in a just as ridiculous baby talk tone, “Now, who wants a super quick bath?”
Regardless of their wants, they both needed one now. But having competitive parents meant they were oftentimes the pawns in our perpetual game of one-upmanship.
So she didn’t have to say anything. Just grabbing ahold of Finn made me retrieve Oliver from the crib he’d been imprisoned in and turn to her and say, “On your mark.”
“Get set,” she called out over her shoulder, as she darted from the room with a giggling Finn in her arms to the hallway – read: nearest – bathroom.
“Mommy doesn’t play fair,” I told an unimpressed Oliver, as I took him into our bathroom and went about washing the stink from him.
But that was okay.
I would show his mommy what playing unfairly was like later on.
But we would both win in the end.
It was surely the number one decree when living in the land of Came-A-Lot.
Strapping a fresh and clean Finn into his highchair, not seeing Eric and Oliver in the room, I gleefully proclaimed, “We won!”
He was happier at seeing the handful of Cheerios I put on the tray, while I warmed their bottles, but whatever.
It was a victory and I was going to relish in it.
Sitting at the kitchen table, Lilly didn’t even glance up from the iPad in her hand. Nor did she seem to notice the bite Bubba had taken from the frosted cherry flavored Pop Tart in her other hand. But the slight jostling must have reminded her it was there because she brought it to her mouth and took the next bite.
Well…mother of the year I might not be, but at least they were both fed.
It was a win in my book of questionable victories.
Eric showed up just as I finished getting their bottles ready and two sets of chubby arms reached out making grabby hands at them, with Eric saying, “My money’s on Goose.”
Betting each morning on which of our sons would finish their bottle first also wouldn’t win us any parents of the year awards.
Nor would nicknaming them after Top Gun characters.
So it was a good thing neither one of us gave a flying fuck what anyone else thought.
But I wasn’t stupid enough to take him up on that bet and turned back to start making lunches for Lilly and Mustafa to have at school – PB and J for her and a monster sub for him – saying, “Not falling for it. Mav already has some Cheerios in him that’ll expand with the milk. Feeling fuller sooner will slow him down.”
By a hair, but still.
My book full of questionable victories wasn’t full for nothing.
“Speaking of feeling fuller,” he whispered in my ear, with his body now pressed against my back. “How long after we get back from dropping Lil off at school do you think they’ll go down for their naps?”
Pushing my ass back against him – an involuntary action, mostly – I gripped the countertop in both hands to keep them from boarding the Northman Express.
I needed to if I wanted to finish making their lunches because I was about to abandon that ship hearing him expressing my exact thoughts.
“Maybe thirty minutes if we give them Tylenol.”
They were teething.
It was for their own good.
And if we happened to get something good out of it too, well then that was just another questionable win for me.
“I like where your head is at,” he said lowly, slowly chewing his way lower down my neck.
It was giving me sexy thoughts, one of which came out when I replied, “Well then you’re gonna love where it’s at when they’re down for the count.”
Going down on Eric was one of my favorite things and I had plans.
All the plans.
With what he was packing it was necessary.
After all, one does not simply walk into Mordor.
Forcing myself for the countless time to pull away from her, I took a moment to try and clear my head.
With my other one quite full, it took me few moments.
But hearing the front door open, I knew the guys arriving meant it was later than I realized. Both Rasul and Mustafa had keys and the alarm codes, so they had leave to enter at will.
With me being off for the next few weeks we were all enjoying a bit of down time. When I wasn’t working, they traded off, with one of them hanging around if Sookie or I had somewhere to be that day, while the other shadowed Lilly at school.
It was Mustafa’s week to go with Lilly – or Staf, as she liked to call him – so Rasul only needed to be on-hand for when we dropped her off and picked her up, since it was a two-man two-car operation. Whoever stayed at the school had a car at their disposal in case they needed to get her out of there for whatever reason during the school day.
That situation had yet to present itself – and I hoped to God that it never did – but unfortunately, it was a necessary evil.
The private school Lilly attended had their fair share of children whose parents were well-known, either as celebrities or powerful people in whatever fields they practiced in. So the campus had its own on-site security personnel and even though the paparazzi weren’t as bad as they used to be around us, now that Lilly was old enough to go to school, some of them seemed to be taking a newfound interest in her. Be it from me being a celebrity or her own infamous birth, we didn’t know what their motivations were.
But why they were interested in her didn’t matter. We only wanted to do all that we could to keep them away from her, which was why either Mustafa or Rasul was a constant presence at the school. They didn’t stay in the classroom with her, after they swept through it each morning, but they patrolled the hallway outside of her room when they weren’t keeping watch from outside on the school grounds. They unobtrusively followed her to the lunchroom and the playground. But even with one of them there always watching her, she still had a GPS tracker embedded into an innocuous looking bracelet she wore, with two more in each of her shoes.
The boys had matching trackers that locked around their ankles they wore whenever they left the house, like tiny little prisoners out on parole.
And they were, sort of.
Imprisoned for the crime of sharing my DNA and last name.
I wished I could pass it off as just being overprotective, but I knew it wasn’t.
It was just our sad reality.
She was too young to understand the real danger that was out there, lurking in the shadows, just because she happened to have me as a parent. Rasul and Mustafa had always been a part of her life. Always there whenever we left the house for the entirety of her life, so she didn’t know any different, nor did she question their presence.
Lilly knew they were there to protect her, even though she viewed them as family. We all did really, but all it took was one overbearing asshole with a camera getting too close for comfort and the reality of who they were and what they did came to the forefront quickly.
The last paparazzo that got too close got a black eye, thanks to Rasul’s perfectly placed elbow.
Accidentally, of course…
Or so Pam’s press release said in response to his squawks about suing me over it.
If it wasn’t for Sookie’s affinity for foreign accents, I would be willing to move to England, where the laws were tougher when it came to the paparazzi.
But like Lilly’s want to name her brothers Olaf, that idea was also full of nope.
Every bloody wanking git who had any hope of luring my wife away with their British accent could sod off.
I’m looking at you, David Beckham.
So we remained in California with their weaker laws and the Beckham-free David’s. The school was considered private property, so legally the paparazzi were forbidden from entering the grounds or using telephoto lenses to take pictures.
But then that law also extended to forbidding them from pursuing their subjects in cars and they still did that on a regular basis, so I wasn’t taking any chances they would adhere to the laws where our daughter was concerned.
I wasn’t taking any chances, period.
I’d learned my lesson the hard way on the day she’d been born.
Waving goodbye to her parents, I gave Ras a look conveying my ‘Better you than me’ mindset at the moment – I could hear the boys screaming from where I stood on the sidewalk – and automatically closed my hand around hers the moment Lilly put it there.
It was tiny, like the rest of her. Her entire body would’ve fit in the palm of my hand when she’d been born prematurely, but she’d beaten the odds and survived.
Having witnessed the little spitfire she’d grown into, it was no surprise.
“You kept it!” she exclaimed, making me look down for a moment to see what she was referring to before looking up again to scan our surroundings.
While I kept my expression neutral – if not a bit foreboding – the affection I felt for her was evident in my tone when I replied, “Of course I did.”
I’d even matched my shirt and tie to the purple glitter nail polish she’d painted my nails with on Friday after she’d gotten home from school.
It was a little thing to make her happy and it earned me major points with my girlfriend, which made me happy.
So, yeah. I’d kept it.
There was a bit of a backup in the line to enter the school, from the parents who insisted on walking their kids to their classrooms and yet consistently failed to remember the security protocols of the facility.
Security protocols they’d likely used in their decision making process on choosing that school for their children.
Keeping my eye roll to myself, I pulled Lilly by her hand still in mine, until she was standing in front of me. With my body shielding hers from any threats I couldn’t see behind us, I kept my head on a swivel, taking in everyone and everything around us.
This job was a relative cakewalk compared to some of the other excursions the Northman’s had taken over the years I’d been with them.
Between the crowds, the fans, and Eric’s reaction to Sookie’s so-over-the-top-how-could-he-not-see-it-was-fake reaction to the Pirates of the Caribbean section of the park, I shuddered at the thought of going to Disney World all over again when the boys were big enough to enjoy it.
It was all a lie.
Disney World wasn’t the happiest place on earth.
The metal detector sounded off as it did every morning when I passed through it, so I pulled my jacket open to show the holstered 9mm Glock at my side to the two guards at the door, like I did every morning.
This morning though, they eyed my nail polish more than me or the gun, so I leveled them with a menacing stare and challenged, “It brings out my eyes, don’t you think?”
They wisely didn’t mention it, but I knew our presence stuck in their craw. The Havenworth Academy employed its own security staff and while they were admittedly well-trained, none of them were better than me or Rasul. So the Northman’s had gotten special permission to make sure either Rasul or I would be able to stay with Lilly during the school day.
The way they’d been mobbed by the paparazzi outside of fucking Target of all places, just buying school supplies before Lilly started school, was proof enough that there was an interest in her.
She’d been in tears.
Rasul and I made sure the paparazzi had been in tears too, thanks to the thousands of dollars in expensive camera equipment that had been accidentally destroyed on that day.
Eric had bought out our contracts from the firm we worked for about a year after we’d been with them. But the better salary and benefits weren’t why we were still with them five years later.
While technically in their employ, they treated us more like family than employees. When Ras’s father passed away unexpectedly three years ago, they bent over backwards doing everything they could to ease his family’s hardship, even going so far as to pay off his mom’s house when they found out she was looking to move because she couldn’t afford the mortgage payments on her own.
Sookie had made it her personal mission to make us feel at home when we were in their home. She had a freaky ability that easily brought down any defenses I had in place and it wasn’t long before she had me sharing thoughts I never would’ve thought I would share with any client. When she found out I had a new girl I’d wanted to impress, she made sure I could cook any meal she might possibly want. When I asked for a day off to go and visit a friend in the hospital, Eric had gone out of his way to visit him with me, when Sookie managed to worm out of me that he was a huge fan of his.
With no fanfare or publicity, they’d simply done those things because they were good people. Both of them treated us like family and in turn we felt the same.
I knew both me and Rasul would take a bullet to keep any one of them from getting it instead.
Which was why one of us was always with Lilly when she was at school. The security staff had an entire student body to watch over.
I had one objective and that was to keep Lilly safe.
She’d only been days’ old when I first started working for them, so I’d been there to watch her grow into the sweet little girl she’d become. And if I had my way, I would be there to watch her go off to college.
In any case, I knew I would be around at least until she graduated high school.
Rasul, Eric, and I had all bonded over a six pack and a game of poker one night years earlier, making a pact that no boy would be getting anywhere near her.
It was a done deal.
Once I’d thoroughly swept through her classroom, I patted her head on my way out and took my post out in the hallway, only leaving to patrol the grounds outside her window when it finally emptied.
The campus grounds were immaculate, but while the tall trees and shrubs did a good job of hiding the eight foot perimeter fence that surrounded the property, they also made it a good hiding spot.
Later on, I wouldn’t be able to definitively say what had caught my eye. Be it a flash of color or movement that didn’t belong, something had drawn my attention to the fence, just as Lilly’s class was making their way outside for recess.
Maybe my cakewalk mindset had caused me to let my guard down, for him to get that far. Maybe I needed to ask Sookie to switch to making me lunches with more protein and less carbs because I’d been pleasantly full after eating the massive sub she’d packed for me and thinking a nap would be nice.
Or maybe the guy was just an idiot for thinking he wouldn’t be caught.
I hadn’t been there when Sookie had been kidnapped, but I’d been there for the fallout and whatever this prick’s motivations were, I didn’t give a shit.
Pictures or anything else, he wasn’t getting anything of Lilly.
Keeping one eye on her and the other on him, I took a quick glance looking for any of the school’s security staff. Usually there were at least two in the general vicinity whenever there were kids on the playground and I felt my lips press into a grimace when I finally spotted them.
One of them looked to be getting his flirt on with one of the teacher’s aides and the other…
Was he seriously playing Pokémon Go right now?
Making a mental note of both of their names to include in the scathing report I would be making later, I dismissed them from my thoughts in the next second and focused on the fucker in the bushes.
I made sure my movements were lazily slow, as I leisurely made my way closer to his hiding spot, coming at him from an angle on his left. He was dressed in camouflage designed to make him blend in with the foliage covering the fence and while objectively, I couldn’t even be sure Lilly was his target, I didn’t really care.
One of her classmates was the son of a prominent studio head and another was the daughter of a state senator. Two more on the playground from another class had parents who were Hollywood celebrities in their own right.
But Lilly was in the mix and that was my only concern.
Moving at a snail’s pace was making my teeth itch, but I didn’t want to spook him and give him the opportunity to get away. I also didn’t want to scare Lilly who’d gotten in the habit of looking over every now and again to smile in my direction once she spotted me.
I liked that she felt safe with me.
The asshole with the camera was going to soon learn what I was willing to do to keep her that way.
By the time I was close enough to be sure he couldn’t get away from me, the teachers were leading the kids back inside, so I made my move and put on a burst of speed. I was on him seconds later and to the casual observer, I was sure I looked like I was pouncing on a small sapling tree.
But punching him the face was a lot less painful that hitting a tree trunk.
More satisfying too.
Ras was going to be pissed he missed out.
That thought only added to my satisfaction, so I was likely grinning when I flipped the asshole over onto his stomach and landed on top of him with my knee squarely in his back.
That was gonna leave a mark.
I smiled wider at the thought.
Putting most of my weight on him, I reached down and picked up his dropped camera, while he squawked, “Get off me! I’m going to have you arrested for assault!”
“Oh yeah, asshole?” I taunted. “Why don’t I call the cops for you? That way we can share a cell.”
Fuck him and the birch tree he rode in on.
Taking a moment to push his face into the dirt – just because I could – I let it go in favor of pulling up the pictures he had stored on his camera.
They were all snapshots of Lilly.
All I saw was red.
“You…you’ll go to jail for this,” he sputtered, spitting out the dirt and grass lodged in his mouth. “Mark my words.”
Feeling an overabundance of rage at seeing what amounted to precious moments of Lilly’s childhood being stolen from her, I leaned down and heard a sinister voice I didn’t recognize as my own say, “They would have to find your body first.”
“I’m just doing my job,” he exclaimed, sounding affronted.
“So. Am. I.”
Even after so many years, seeing for myself the ridiculous amount of interest the public had in what I knew was a very normal family, I still didn’t get it.
Why couldn’t they see they were just like everyone else, trying to do right by their family and friends, simply living their lives?
With the way my knee was jabbing into his back, I could feel something in his back pocket pressing against my shin, so I reached down and pulled out his wallet.
Backhanding him across the back of his head when he began to squirm and protest against my actions, I pulled out his driver’s license and took a picture of it with my cell phone to do a background check on him later, before taking in the details.
Mark Wakeman. Age 36. Lived in Brentwood.
Another glance inside his wallet revealed pictures of his kids. The kind that were taken at school.
“Do Jodi and Jada go to Mary Case Black Elementary?” I asked.
Having grown up in Brentwood myself, I was familiar with the area.
He stiffened at my question and asked in a more subdued voice, “How…how do you know that? How do you know their names?”
Well, whoever did the school portraits were kind enough to have their names etched onto the front of them.
But instead of reminding him of that, I leaned down and asked in an ominous tone, “How does it feel? To have a complete stranger focused on your kids? To know that stranger knows their names, what they look like, and where they go to school. How does it make you feel knowing that I know and you have no idea what I might want to do with that information?”
Wanting him to feel a little bit of what Eric and Sookie went through every goddamn day – the fear they felt whenever they took their kids out of the house – I asked, “That’s a walking district, if I’m not mistaken. Tell me, do Jodi and Jada have a bodyguard with them at all times when they’re out of your sight?”
I almost felt bad feeling the violent shudder work its way through his body at my empty threat.
“Please, leave them out of this,” he gasped and began to struggle again before he seemed to think better of it and going completely still beneath me. “I…I’m sorry.”
Seeing the wannabe Casanova and Pokémon Go Master quickly making their way towards us, I took the memory card from the camera and slipped it into my pocket. Then dropping the camera and his wallet onto the ground, I stood up to let them deal with him.
I didn’t acknowledge his apology.
Silence was a much more threatening motivator in my experience.
But there was one thing I would acknowledge, to myself at least.
Now I really needed that nap.
How did the saying go?
The best-laid plans…will fuck you in the ass and keep you from getting fucked.
Well, it should be.
God knows my plans to get laid best were completely fucked.
My precious angels had reached Lucifer levels of demonic possession by the time we’d made it home from dropping Lilly off at school.
Rasul probably left tread marks in the driveway to get away from our crazy.
On his way to the ear plug store, no doubt.
While dropping Lilly off at school was still a relatively new experience – and they grow so quickly and you only live once and you’ll never get that time back in the end aside – just, why?
Why did both of us have to go when she only needed one of us to be there?
And if you wanted to get technical about it, technically, neither one of us needed to be there. Not when either Rasul or Mustafa could take her, since they would be spending the day there too.
But, though mother of the year I might never be, that was a bridge too far for me. And I really did like seeing her off. School was still a novelty to her and she loved her teacher and all of her new friends.
Usually the boys liked going for a ride too, but between the teething and the tired, they were especially grumpy lumps.
But if both of us were home – with twin teething baby Beelzebubs – surely the school drop off only necessitated one parent.
That way the other one could stay home and get those surly little guys to go down for a nap.
Eric was sitting on the floor in the family room with them and looked at me with his shrugged completely fake haughty reply of, “At least I can blame residual memory loss from my amnesia. I don’t know what your excuse is.”
So I’d been thinking out loud.
But Eric had gotten used to my crazy a long time ago – hell, most of my crazy was his fault anyway – so I just accepted it and moved on by turning to him and sounding every bit the sore loser I felt like at the moment, when I reminded him, “You had your memories back long before they were an itch in your pants.”
Because legitimate excuse or not, he at least had an excuse.
My book of questionable victories felt woefully lacking at the moment.
Even the triumph of having survived that morning’s poopacalypse wasn’t enough to make up for how grouchy they’d been from the moment they were strapped into their car seats to take Lilly to school.
With a family of five, two bodyguards, two vehicles and – yes – the dog going along, it was a whole production just to get out of the house.
Sometimes, a production with costume changes even.
Which brought me back to my initial point.
Glancing over at Bubba, he only tilted his head in a ‘Don’t look at me’ way.
It all started when Oliver had dropped his favorite stuffed toy onto the seat beside him when he was being strapped into his car seat.
And by started I mean he let out a scream at a decibel and pitch that gave me a brain bleed.
I just hadn’t yet had the time to get a CT scan to confirm my diagnosis.
But even having it pressed back into his chubby little hands a second later – because it was right there –hadn’t been enough to stem the flood of tears and wailing, which only set off Finn.
I almost expected them to fist bump each other in their show of brotherly solidarity.
Because they were nothing if not harmonious when it came to their moods. They were either both happy or both pissed off. There was no one or the other when it came to one or the other.
Just like now. They were both sufficiently dosed with Tylenol, their bellies full, their diapers clean and dry, and they both had gotten a total of four hours of sleep the night before.
They should be passed the hell out.
I know I wanted to be.
At this point I would gladly pass out with or without Eric’s DNA all up in me.
With would just be the cream on top.
They weren’t screeching banshees anymore, but they didn’t appear to be slowing down any either. Instead they were doing their damnedest to get past him, so they could visit the other eight circles of Hell they thought to conjure in other parts of the house.
Playing the role of goalkeeper for the afternoon, Eric just scooped them up whenever they got near and set them back down in the space in front of him, with the sectional sofa keeping them from getting out on every other side.
Now that they were almost a year old, the boys were still learning how to human, so they weebled and wobbled before falling down when they tried to walk without assistance. But they could move like the wind on all fours.
Bubba’s influence, I was sure.
Certain because I’d just watched him belly-crawl over to them and waited for them to both latch onto his back. When they finally fisted his fur in their hands, he slowly stood up, making them laugh triumphantly when they were standing on their own two feet in the middle of the floor.
He was such a good dog.
But that didn’t stop me from teasing, “Traitor. You’re not that kind of service dog.”
Snapping a quick pic of my boys –both canine and human – I slipped my phone back into my pocket and stood up to slip my body behind Sookie’s.
And then slipped parts of me against parts of her.
Pressing back against me on reflex, she sighed for the umpteenth time, “Why?”
God only knows what she was questioning now. Sookie talked to herself a lot, so I didn’t contemplate the context of her question and answered her with the meaning of my own thoughts by saying, “Because Bubba seems to have everything under control, so I say we go rain check.”
“He’s not that kind of service dog either,” she laughed.
“No?” I asked, with my lips pressed against the side of her neck. Then lightly scraping my teeth against her skin, I grinned at the goosebumps that rose on her flesh and added, “Are you sure?”
Realistically I knew we wouldn’t be checking anything at the moment. Thanks to the boys, the game we’d started that morning was still in a rain delay, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t keep her warmed up until game time.
Or keep from warming my hands by exploring her ass.
She had a really great ass.
So great, I hadn’t realized I’d been humming during my thorough exploration until she giggled out, “Are you serious right now?”
And she answered my questioning look with a little song and dance number, seemingly pulled straight from my thoughts.
Purposefully pressing her ass into my hands, she swayed her hips in a circular motion and sang out, “Shawty had them apple bottom jeans…boots with the fur…the whole club was lookin’ at her…she hit the floor…next thing you know…shawty got low, low, low, low, low, low, low…”
Admittedly, her hips and ass had charmed both me and the snake in my pants into a stupor, until she stopped moving to laugh out, “I can’t believe you were seriously humming that song.”
Still gripping her hips in each hand, I was busy trying to decide if Bubba really could take care of the boys for a minute or two.
A minute or two would be all I would need at this point.
But knowing she was expecting something other than me dragging her into the bathroom for a super quick round of Mommy/Daddy fun time, I chuckled, “I can’t believe you know the actual lyrics. At least I can blame Sirius satellite radio for humming the melody.”
It had been playing on the station I had on for background noise when I’d gone into my office earlier to take care of a few emails.
Apparently I’d been listening to the Earworm Songs That Will Make Your Wife Laugh at You station.
“Are you ready?”
Freezing at the baritone voice behind me, Sookie doubled over laughing out, “Yep.”
We were both ready. Just not for what he was actually asking us about.
Smacking her ass for good measure, I turned around and smiled, “Hey Ras. Time to go already?”
I hadn’t heard him come in, but then I’d been a little preoccupied.
More than a little, even.
Well used to finding us in PDA positions, he didn’t even bat an eyelash and nodded, “School lets out in thirty.”
Seeing Sookie’s shoulders slump – and recalling her earlier seemingly internal-becoming-external-monologue questioning the merits of two parents going to the school versus one – I pressed my lips to the back of her head and said, “Why don’t you stay home with the boys and I’ll go to pick up Lil?”
They were in a relatively good mood.
No need to rock the boat and get their tempest seas storming again.
Ras looked almost as relieved as Sookie at my suggestion, so the tension in his shoulders when we got into the car was odd, until he said, “There was an incident at the school today.”
“What?” I barked, while pulling out my phone to see if I’d missed any calls. Not finding any, I turned to him and asked, “What kind of incident?”
“There was a photographer on the school grounds taking pictures of Lilly at recess,” he calmly explained, even though he was gripping the steering wheel hard enough for his knuckles to turn white.
It made his Lilly painted pink nails even starker.
Then turning to give me a significant look, he added, “Mustafa took care of it. He only just finished up giving his statement to the police and called me as I was pulling into your driveway. He wanted me to give you a heads up because he had to go wait for Lilly’s class to be dismissed.”
“The fuck?” I fumed. “How in the hell did he get onto the school grounds? Where in the hell was their elite security staff?”
There were plenty of reasons why we paid Havenworth a fuck ton in tuition.
One of which was because we weren’t going to put her into the Brigant Academy.
But the main reason was because they were supposedly equipped to handle these kinds of situations.
So, I repeat.
Thankfully, the drive to the school was a short one. Made shorter by Rasul’s heavier-than-normal foot on the gas pedal and the school’s headmaster was already waiting for us outside the front of the school.
“Mr. Northman,” she greeted apologetically. “I am so sorry for what occurred here today. I want you to know the two individuals responsible for allowing this to happen by being derelict in their duties have been fired and I assure you, something like this won’t happen again.”
“You assured us something like this couldn’t happen to begin with, when we enrolled our daughter at your school,” I shot back and then reminded her, “It was why you gave us such a hard time when we insisted she be allowed to have her own security detail here with her.”
Then leveling her with my best glare, I added, “Her bodyguard who did his job when your staff failed to do theirs.”
“Like I said,” she began before swallowing hard and continuing, “Those accountable have been fired and all of the staff will be put through rigorous retraining so something like this doesn’t happen again. I do apologize, Mr. Northman and I promise you the Havenworth Academy will be pursuing every avenue of legal recourse available against the individual that trespassed onto our grounds.”
I was livid.
Logically I knew – short of putting the entire school grounds underground – there was no absolute way to keep everyone out. Where there was a will, there was a way, and there were assholes absolutely willing and dedicated to invading others privacy.
That fact didn’t lessen my anger any.
“I do hope you’ll see fit to allow Lilly to remain here,” she added when I let the silence go on. “She is a bright and thoughtful little girl. We would hate to lose her.”
She should have stopped while she was ahead because by tacking on that last part, all I could think was that I would more than hate to lose her.
I almost lost her once already.
I would burn the world down if it happened again.
But now all I could think was what if it hadn’t been a photographer? What if it had been a kidnapper? A stalker?
I wasn’t exactly grasping at irrational straws here. Those things had already happened to us.
It was why she’d been born prematurely.
It was why we had bodyguards shadowing our every move outside of the house.
As we stood there – while my blood pressure continued to spike – school had let out in the meantime, so we were soon surrounded by kids and parents all trying to go in every direction.
But it was seeing Lilly’s bright and smiling face – looking up at Mustafa at her side and apparently talking a mile a minute to him, as she held his hand – when I finally began to relax.
Photographer, kidnapper, or stalker, he would keep them away from her.
And, if not him, then Rasul would do the same.
“What happened to you?” I asked with a small smile, seeing the dirt and grass stains on Staf’s clothes that weren’t there that morning.
I remembered giving him silent kudos for matching his outfit to his nails.
Subtly glancing down at Lilly, who was busy dropping her book bag, shoes, and lunch box in all different directions, he looked back up at me and answered in a vague sort of way, “Recess.”
“Recess,” I repeated, with narrowed eyes, certain he was trying to tell me something more significant had happened than hopscotch.
Rasul had followed Eric into the room, which wasn’t all that unusual. Sometimes they hung around to see if we had anything come up that would change our schedule for the following day or sometimes, just because Lilly wanted to give them makeovers.
They were good sports.
We should probably give them a raise.
A thought that would come back to me later on, when Eric shooed Lilly from the room to go get herself a snack before turning to me and saying, “Staf caught a photographer on the school grounds taking pictures of Lilly.”
My head snapped his way in time to see him pull what looked to be a memory card from his pocket. Dropping it on the table, he answered the question on the tip of my tongue by saying, “She doesn’t know. I took him down after she’d gone inside.”
She’d been so upset when we were accosted by the paparazzi outside of Target a few weeks earlier. They weren’t there when we’d gone inside, but someone must have sent out the alert because they were there in droves when we came out.
Fucking social media.
I just thanked god we had both Mustafa and Rasul with us.
They gave a whole new meaning to the word target that day.
Eric had been filming on a closed set at the time, so he hadn’t needed to have one of them with him during the day, which was why they were both there.
Turning to look back at Eric, he answered my next unasked question by saying, “The school is pressing charges. They fired the guards who dropped the fucking Pokémon ball and assured me it wouldn’t happen again.”
“They assured us it wouldn’t happen at all!” I whisper shrieked back.
“That’s what I said!” he whisper shrieked in return.
“Why?” I heard myself sigh.
As a former rag mag reader myself, I could understand the general public’s curiosity about celebrities and their families.
But why anyone would think it was okay to terrify a child by yelling questions at them and shoving cameras in their faces, I would never understand.
If they knew what it was to live like that, I had no doubt rag mags would be a thing of the past.
But I started to wonder if I’d been thinking out loud again because Mustafa chose that moment to speak up and say, “I may have gone through the guy’s wallet and asked him how it felt to know that someone, with the information that could be found in that wallet, could easily go after his kids.”
His tone was an odd mixture of malicious shame.
I could understand why.
While Mustafa – and Rasul for that matter – would hurt more than just a fly, they were both good men.
Wanting to put the fear of god into the asshole was at odds with giving that asshole the pretense that he was the kind of guy who would go after someone’s kid.
And wanting to ease his self-doubt, I walked over and patted him on the shoulder saying, “You’re a good man, Staf and you love her. The proof is in the purple pudding. No heterosexual male would walk around all weekend with freshly painted purple nails otherwise.”
“Or pink,” Ras added, raising his hands and wiggling his fingertips at us, seeming to want to lighten the atmosphere along with me.
But what else could we do?
The interest was there. It would likely always be there simply because our kids’ last names were Northman.
“Or pink,” I conceded with a smile, which dimmed slightly when I looked around the room and asked, “Now…has anyone seen Goose or Mav lately?”
I was still fuming a little on the inside, but I pushed it aside and sounded more amused than I actually felt when I turned to her saying, “You put bells on their shoes. How did you lose them?”
Once they’d learned to crawl, it had been a useful way of keeping track of them. The entire house had been baby-proofed when Lilly had become mobile and we’d just left it all in place, so I wasn’t too worried at what they might be getting into at the moment.
But the boys had proven to be quite creative when they wanted to be.
“They took their shoes off,” she protested and pointed at the evidence next to the couch. But seeing only three shoes instead of four, she amended, “Most of them.” Then turning to leave the room, she added, “And there are two of them, so they’re twice as fast.”
It was true.
The laws of physics might say that wasn’t possible, but they hadn’t met our twin monsters, Frick and Frackenstein.
After thanking Mustafa again for all that he’d done and seeing them both out the door, I moved from room to room, with all of my fatherly senses on alert.
While I didn’t see them in the dining room, I heard an angel getting its wings from somewhere underneath the table.
Which was where I found my two little monsters instead.
Two drooly faced grins turned my way, showing me a total of eight teeth between the two of them, and Finn held up a shit covered hand with the other still attached to the back of Oliver’s diaper, where he’d mined his treasure from, calling out, “Da! Da! Da!”
Knowing there was only one proper response, I didn’t hesitate to use it.
“Come on, Lilly,” Sookie chided. “Finish up your dinner, so you can get in the bath.”
I’d been watching the boys doing their damnedest to fight off falling asleep in the highchairs, with both of them nodding off and then jerking awake, only to nod off again.
With Bubba eying the soggy piece of something in Oliver’s hand, just waiting for it to fall into his mouth.
But I shot that all to hell, making both boys shoot awake and stare at me, with Bubba looking over at me too and missing the errant piece of food falling from Ollie’s hand, when I barked out in laughter hearing Lilly talking to herself.
She really was Sookie’s Mini-me.
Carefully scooping peas and carrots onto her fork one piece at a time, she dutifully mumbled, “Forrest…Jenny…Forrest…Jenny…”
She hadn’t seen the movie – she was too young for Forrest Gump – but it had only taken hearing Sookie jokingly call peas and carrots Forrest and Jenny one time for the idea to cement itself into Lilly’s brain.
It could be worse.
Lilly had heard each of us say much worse when our brain to mouth filters had gone on the fritz.
“And then Abby said she was gonna wear her Elsa dress tomorrow and I said I had an Elsa dress too, so I can wear mine tomorrow, right Daddy? And if we’re both wearing Elsa dresses then Mrs. Morales won’t know if I’m Abby or Lilly or if Abby’s Lilly or Abby and that’ll be funny, right Daddy?”
Since Abby’s parents were of Chinese descent and she looked just like her mother, I doubted Mrs. Morales would run into any trouble telling the girls apart.
But hearing her pause for long enough actual seconds went by in silence, I knew she was waiting for me to reply, so I agreed with her kid logic and said, “Yes.”
Then looking down at her newest masterpiece, I added, “Is that why you’re painting my nails blue?”
“Uh huh,” she nodded. “So you’ll match me.”
Staring back at her, all I wanted to do was hide her away from the world and keep her safe. But that wouldn’t be fair to her. Sookie and I had talked about homeschooling the kids. She had a degree in early childhood education and her teacher’s certification, so she was more than qualified to do it. But having grown up in show business and having only tutors for teachers and no real friends, I wanted something different for our kids.
There wasn’t a lot of ‘normal’ I could give them because of who I was, but going to school and giving them the opportunity to have friends their own age was something I could do.
I’d even begun working my schedule around Lilly’s school year, refusing any jobs that would take me away for more than a week at a time to film on location. At the moment, I was filming another television series – this one for HBO – but it kept me working in Los Angeles, so I was happy with it.
Even if Sookie had let it be known she would be happier if I was working on Game of Thrones.
Stupid fucking British accents.
I’m looking at you, Kit Harrington.
But I was King of the North, in this house at least. And this was our home. So while I hated what had gone down that day, it was a concession I had to make to give her as normal a childhood as I could. At least we had the guys to help keep her safe when we weren’t there.
It was something.
Hopefully it would be enough.
Hearing Sookie making her way into our bedroom, I figured the boys were finally down for the count. But there was no way of knowing how long that count would be, so I had to act fast or else lose out on being able to check for something other than rain in between Sookie’s thighs.
It would be a very detailed and meticulous search.
And seeing she’d finally finished painting all ten of my fingers – yes, fingers, the paint wasn’t just on my nails – I said, “Time to clean up, Lil.”
It wasn’t quite her bedtime yet, but it was close enough.
I had things to do.
And by ‘things’ I meant her mother.
But Lilly knew how to tell time and knew when her bedtime was.
And some asshat named Pam had bought her an Olaf alarm clock to sit right beside her bed.
Which was what she looked at, before turning her knowing eyes to me and then handed me the first book her hands could land on, while batting her lashes at me as she said, “You can read me this one first.”
And because I had a hard time telling her no, the first one led to a second, third, and fourth bedtime story.
I probably didn’t help matters by changing my voice to suit the characters in each of the stories and making her giggle, which only served to keep her awake.
But she had a really cute giggle.
By the time she’d finally fallen asleep, I was feeling tired too.
Seeing it was barely ten o’clock, I shook my head as I made my way out of her room, hearing the ghost of me from ten years ago laughing at me.
But the ghost of me from ten years ago could go fuck himself.
I was right where I wanted to be.
Shuffling into our darkened bedroom, Sookie was doing her downward facing starfish pose in the middle of the mattress, so I pulled off my t-shirt and edged my way into the bed, not sure if I wanted her to wake up and demand sex or not.
I really was tired.
But I really could be talked into it.
Feeling me move in alongside of her, she automatically retracted her limbs until I was settled and then curled them around me, as she mumbled out, “Rain check?”
Not sure at first if she was reminding me of it or extending it, she was already back asleep, when I curled my body against hers and sleepily acknowledged, “Rain check.”