Valentine’s Day 2019
The texts have been relentless all day. I take that back. They actually started last night, around seven west coast time. I’ve gotta give them credit, though. They’re committed. In their own weird way, I think they were trying to give me a heads up with enough time to still make something happen, obviously aware of the time difference between us.
Sunlight streams through the windshield, making it feel easily twenty degrees warmer than the air temperature. With the windows down, a steady breeze blows through my hair, almost soothing enough to mimic the motion of my favorite fingers. The Lady’s engine hums as I put her through her paces along the 101, heading north from San Diego. Even with my sunglasses on, the glare coming off the Pacific Ocean nearly blinds me on certain turns. This scenic highway is as dangerous as it is gorgeous.
Because I’m all too aware of my responsibility to make it home in one piece, I have my phone set to read incoming texts aloud. The robotic female voice makes me smile. I might make this a permanent setting on all Mike and Alex’s texts. There’s just something inherently amusing about a disembodied voice announcing the latest wager is a new sports car.
I flex my fingers around the warm leather steering wheel. No Maserati could ever compare to this old Mustang. Every square inch of this car bleeds memories. Pop’s aftershave only lingers in my mind, but the scent of Evie’s perfume is very real. As is the sway of her black lacy panties dangling from the rearview mirror. A compromise, so I could keep them with me nearly all the time without risking sanctions from the NFL if they were ever discovered on my person during play. My teammates gave up trying to get that story out of me years ago. A few rumors about an unknown mistress still circulate in the locker room, but anyone who really knows me doesn’t buy into them.
And the ones who do? Screw ‘em, Evie says.
We don’t answer to anyone but each other. We know the truth, and we also enjoy this little secret between us.
Every time her beautiful blue gaze lands on this black lace, her pupils dilate, her cheeks blush, and she licks her lips. I get to add the scent of her lust to the smell of old leather in this car. And on the rare occasions we’re alone and have time, she gets to leave handprints everywhere she can reach.
It’s a win for everyone.
That hasn’t happened in months. Not because of lack of interest but because she’s just too big to maneuver over the gear shift and straddle me. She was certifiably pissed the first time it happened. Me? My smile was so wide, it nearly shattered the side windows. On both sides of the car.
Sure, she threatened to make me sleep on my old couch that night when I released a peal of delighted laughter, but she saw reason when we got home. I delivered exactly what she was craving. With a few modifications. Multiple times.
The second time it happened, she was much more chill about it.
An incoming text alert precedes the sound of Alex’s new female voice. “He’s going to screw the pooch, Mitchell. I know it, and you know it. Just give up now.”
“You wish,” a slightly different but still feminine voice reads the response from Mike.
“He can’t win,” female Alex insists. “She’s pregnant. Logic went out the window when he knocked her up.”
“You’re wrong,” female Mike argues. Of course, he does. It’s their thing. I’ve given up trying to stop it. “He’s covered for every holiday as long as she’s pregnant. Maybe not all women work that way, but Evie’s always wanted to be a mom, and he made that happen.”
I snort, knowing no one can hear me. I didn’t do anything but very willingly donate sperm as often as possible. Evie had all the hard work of giving us this chance, and she suffered through the pain like a champ. Mostly.
I thought not being able to do anything to ease her suffering was hard while she recovered from her surgery. During her labor with Robbie? Hard flew right out the window. There is nothing quite as exciting yet debilitating as watching your wife labor to give birth to your first child. The only thing you can do is be there. Every ounce of agony that crossed her face, every drop of blood spilled was hers to bear alone. All I could do was watch, wipe tears away, let her nearly break my throwing hand, and…pray.
“She was rational the first time.” A new text from Alex filters in from the speakers. “She’s like a loaded canon for round two. There’s no telling what will set her off. She cried over a damn gum commercial she found online from a few years ago.”
“And you know about this how?” The text from Mike reads.
“Because she fucking called Amira about it and made her watch the damn thing, and then Amira got all pissy with me because I didn’t think it was that great!”
That gets a real laugh out of me. It’s true. Evie cried for days about that commercial. It was cute, don’t get me wrong, but Alex is right. Her hormones are out of control with this pregnancy. Gone are the days of extra-horny, glowing, the world is our oyster pregnant wife. She’s been replaced by over-worked, over-stressed, already mom of a rambunctious preschooler wife.
And I wouldn’t trade a second.
I use voice commands to get them both on speaker phone. As entertaining as their running commentary is, listening to their back-and-forth texts is still a bigger amount of distraction than I’m comfortable with.
Once everyone has acknowledged they’re on the call, I lay it on the line. “How long have I been married now?”
“Nine years,” they chime in unison.
The rest of the world would answer six, but these guys know me better than nearly everyone else on the planet. They’ve been there in my darkest days, my lowest lows, and always challenged me to be a better man. Just like they’re trying to do now.
But, I have an ace up my sleeve.
I’ve been in love with the same woman for twice as long as either of them have been married. We’ve been through it all together. Shit I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. More importantly, we’re time tested enough to know things are always changing. We’re always changing. The big three play of our teenage years is old and stale. She doesn’t want roses—even yellow ones—or chocolates or jewelry.
Hell, at this point in our lives, she can buy those things for herself whenever she wants them.
No. What my wife of nearly a decade, love of a lifetime, mother of my son and of my unborn daughter wants ismy time.
You can’t put a price on the only thing any of us really ever has.
And these guys haven’t figured that out yet.
“So, if you both recognize I’ve been married for far longer than either of you, then why do you have so little faith in me?”
“Because you’re you,” Alex states with finality. “Do I need to remind you of your past history of searching on Pinterest, of all places, for Valentine’s Day ideas? Please tell me you didn’t go that route again this year.”
“I did not,” I admit.
“And don’t get me started on your first Valentine’s Day as a married couple,” Mike says with clear disgust. “She was on a fake date with a random dude while you were stalking her.”
That still stings, not gonna lie. I shake it off. “There is definitely another dude with my wife at our house right now, but I’m more than okay with it.”
“Yeah,” Alex scoffs. “Because nothing says Happy Valentine’s Day like blowing town and leaving the wife alone with the first kid when she’s ready to pop with the second.”
“Congratulations,” Mike says, deadpan. “You’ve learned so much in nearly ten years.”
“Oh, my young Padawans,” I chuckle. “I still have so much to teach you.”
“And you’re still a geek,” Alex throws back. “To this day, I have no idea what she sees in you.”
If you ask my wife? Only everything.
“Hurry up!” I prompt for what feels like the millionth time, even as I struggle to catch my breath. “He’ll be here any minute!”
“Mama,” Robbie whines. “I’m tired. I wanna take a bath and go to bed.”
“I know, sweetheart.” I smooth my hand over his messy forehead. Normally, he wouldn’t go down for another two hours. In all fairness, we’ve had a busy day, but I need him extra tired tonight. If he sleeps soundly, there’s less chance he’ll be crawling into my bed around midnight. “Soon. You don’t even have to have a bath tonight. We’ll do it in the morning.”
“I’m really not supposta clean up my mess?” Robbie raises his eyebrows. Such a cute, serious expression on his young face. Every day, I see more and more of the grown man his father is lurking in his baby eyes and chubby cheeks, just waiting to get out and make a place for himself in this big world.
I don’t know how I’m ever going to adequately convey to him that it’s not always wonderful. For now, I bide my time and cherish every ounce of innocence his youth offers.
“Today is a fun day.” I paste on a smile that barely competes with my genuine exhaustion. “Sometimes, it’s okay to make messes, then leave them for tomorrow.”
“Because it’s a holly day?” He grins.
“Yes, exactly that. Because it’s a holiday,” I emphasize.
He wraps his arms around my protruding belly. “You’re my bestest Valentime.”
“Are you talking to me or your sister?”
“Both.” He releases me and shrugs. “Girls are yucky, but I like you and my baby sister. When’s she gonna come out?”
I swear, we have this conversation a hundred times a day. I’ve tried answering with everything from the exact date to the typical parental promise of soon, but it doesn’t sink in. I suppose I should just be happy he’s so excited to be going from only child to big brother. The other moms at preschool have shared horror stories about older sibling rejection from the time their younger children were in the womb. Robbie has never shown anything but love for his unborn sister.
“How soon?” He rests a chubby-fingered hand on the middle of my painted belly. “Today is good. She could be a Valentime’s baby.”
“She’s not quite done cooking yet. She might be a St. Patrick’s Day baby, though.”
His little face contorts in horror. “You’re cooking her? Like dinner?”
“Ah, well, no,” I back pedal. “Not like I make dinner in the oven. But, babies need to stay in their mommy’s bellies until it’s time for them to come out. Sort of like how I set the timer on the oven for dinner. If I take the food out before the timer dings, then it’s not ready to eat yet.”
Robbie wrinkles his nose in disgust and understanding. “Daddy likes his steak with gross red stuff. I don’t. Like that?”
“Yes!” I marvel at his sharp intellect, even if his allegories are age appropriate. “Exactly like that!”
He seems less than convinced. “Maybe Dada wants the baby to be juicy and have the bloods, too.”
While Rob enjoys a rare steak, he definitely does not enjoy blood. Especially that time Robbie was covered in mine. Best table that discussion until our son is old enough to be told all the intricacies of his birth that don’t revolve around it was the happiest day of our lives.
I ruffle his dark, curly hair. There will be plenty of time for truth. Much, much later. “I think your dad wants the baby to come when she’s ready, just like I do.”
“Okay,” he sighs, filling the family room with his obvious disappointment.
Time to redirect. I’d like to think I’m getting to be a pro at it, but… “Are you ready to show me your Valentine for Daddy?”
“I guess.” He doesn’t sound convinced.
“If you need more time to make it the way you want, that’s okay.” I check my Apple watch. The one Rob purchased and insisted I wear throughout the pregnancy, in addition to having real-time monitoring of my heart rate, blood pressure, activity levels, and sleep quality directly fed to our high-risk obstetrician. He called to say he would be home in less than a half hour.
“I’m done.” Robbie announces, holding his paper in the air without much enthusiasm.
“Honey!” I gasp. The picture is beautiful. Stick renderings of our little family, with hearts of various shapes and colors floating in the air around us, and another large heart drawn around my middle with a tiny stick figure inside. Smatterings of glitter drift from the page into the air. Large capital letters scroll across the top of the paper, a simple yet powerful statement.
I LOVE YOU.
The E is backwards, and the Y resembles the U, but that’s not what’s important. It’s the thought that counts. We’ll work on letters later. “This is wonderful! Daddy is going to love it so much!”
I frown when he emphasizes the term he prefers for his father. It was cute when he was first learning to talk, but Rob and I have been making a concerted effort to subtly correct the babyish phrase before he starts kindergarten next year. For some odd reason, Robbie’s determined to hold onto it. It’s even getting to the point where he becomes offended when we use any other word.
“Of course, your father likes everything you do. He loves you. Is there some reason you don’t like the picture? I think it’s perfect.”
“That’s what Sasha said.” He bows his little head on his desk over top his folded arms.
“Sasha didn’t see your picture, baby. You just made it.”
“Mooooooom,” he draws out, like a miniature teenager. So much attitude sometimes. “Sasha said the Valentime she gave me was perfect. I made this one look the same.”
I should’ve known his suddenly sour mood had something to do with the infamous Sasha. The girl has had hearts in her eyes for my son since last year. He does notreciprocate her feelings.
“Robbie, sweetie, what have we talked about?” I struggle to crouch down beside his child-sized desk. For moments when I really want to get through to him, eye-to-eye conversation is best, but I am in serious danger right now of my knees giving out beneath my bulging center of gravity. “You do not have to like Sasha the way she likes you, but you must be kind, no matter what. Did you thank her for the Valentine she made you?”
“Yes,” he pouts.
“Well, can I see it?” I’m not sure how he managed to hide it since I picked him up from preschool this afternoon. The other contents from his holiday party came tumbling out of his backpack like an avalanche when I opened it.
He thrusts a smaller piece of paper at me wordlessly, and sure enough stick figures of Sasha and Robbie hold hands, surrounded by hearts galore, glitter, and plenty of football stickers. It doesn’t escape my notice the picture has a definite red and gold theme. Normally, that would be in line with the most romantic holiday of the year, but this little girl is a hard-core Gold Rushers fan. If she wasn’t four, I’d be concerned she was using Robbie to get to his dad.
I think Robbie might prefer that, actually.
He rolls his eyes. “It’s gross, Mom. She asked me to marry her.”
Okay, I’m going to have to have a talk with her mother. Crushes are one thing, but marriage proposals are crossing a line. “What did you say to her when she asked you that?”
“I told her I would puke my eyeballs out.”
Sometimes, parenting requires balance. Like now, for instance, when I rise to my feet as quickly as this little girl growing in my belly will allow, so I can turn around and hide my laughter. It’s amazing how quiet I’ve learned to be since becoming a mother.
Love at first sight, my son definitely does not suffer from.
When I think I’m composed enough to show my face, I turn around. “That’s not very nice. You could have said no gently without hurting her feelings.”
“I didn’t hurt her feelings,” he insists with his little arms crossed over his chest. Just like his father when he’s being serious. “She told me she would clean it up for me, then kiss me better.”
Lord have mercy. I’m not even going to ask what his response to that was. Plausible deniability if I get a call from his teacher tomorrow.
“Okay, well, I think we’re ready for Daddy to get home now.”
Robbie glances around at the disaster in the family room. Worry shrouds his sweet face. “Maybe we should clean up.”
“Nope.” I smile at him, and this one isn’t the least bit fake. “We’ll clean it tomorrow. How about some cartoons while we wait for Daddy?”
“Okay!” He jumps up from his chair, everything else forgotten with the offer of one of his favorite past times we don’t let him indulge in as often as he’d like. Which would be all day. Every day. Non-stop until I can’t get the ear worms out of my head.
I turn on the TV and set the guide to his favorite show while he clears a space on the couch, sliding the mess off like he suddenly doesn’t notice it’s not usually there.
By the time he’s thoroughly engrossed, I take stock of the damage. Arts and crafts supplies explode from their tidy cubbies near Robbie’s desk, remnants of snacks litter the coffee table and fall onto the carpet, muddy shoes and a damp coat are thrown in a corner. A trail of toys leads out of the room into the kitchen, where more disaster abounds. At last check, there was flour on nearly every surface, a tray of blackened cookies resting on the stove, and the scent of burnt rice hanging in the air. I don’t need a mirror handy to feel the thick layer of makeup spread across my face. My hair is so matted, it might take a full hour to get the tangles out, but it will all be well worth it.
For the past few weeks, the other preschool moms have been stressing about what to get their husbands for Valentine’s Day. Once a week we meet for coffee while the kids are in school. The moms are an eclectic group, but we have something in common. We can no longer mingle with the general population. Neither can our kids.
From high-powered attorneys to professional athletes to politicians, we’re all married to fame and money in some capacity. While the mothers I knew growing up considered weekly grocery store runs a chore—especially with young kids in tow—we have to have our food delivered to our homes or run the risk of the paparazzi spinning a typical toddler meltdown into a front-page article about child abuse in any number of gossip rags. So, we keep our heads down and stick together. We no longer have the freedom to swim outside this ocean we find ourselves in.
And with that type of lifestyle comes certain expectations, especially around holidays. Sure, there are always charity events we’re expected to host, fundraise for, then attend while dressed to the nines—not as fun as it sounds while heavily pregnant. But, there are also unwritten rules about how we’re expected to conduct ourselves in our own homes and in our relationships.
The sad fact of the matter is we live in shark infested waters. Predators constantly wait in the wings for time, stress, and age to take their usual tolls on even the strongest marriages. A wife who lets herself go physically or doesn’t understand the anxiety of the latest job hurdle or who is necessarily separated from her husband for weeks at a time because of work can find herself quickly replaced by a younger, more understanding, easier to be with model. Hell, several of the moms in our group are their husbands’ second or third wives. They understand all too well their time with him may be limited, regardless of how deep their love runs in the depths of their hearts.
Which means the month leading up to any holiday sends everyone into a tizzy. What possible gift do you buy for men who can afford vacation homes in Hawaii? The simple answer is: you don’t buy them a thing. You give them the gift of attention.
Because everyone knows men who perform at the top tier of the food chain love attention. They need their egos stroked regularly and often. It’s part of what makes them so good at what they do. It’s also part of why they stray so easily.
Most people in modern society have heard the phrase sex sells. It’s hard to argue with the facts. I’m almost glad some days I don’t have the opportunity to take Robbie to the mall, where nearly nude women with Photoshopped bodies beckon shoppers inside with false promises of making them feel the way those models look, but women who find themselves needing to nurse their infants in public are shamed for exposing themselves. It’s such a disgusting double standard.
In this circle of women I run with nowadays, that marketing-tested script has been turned on its head.
It buys love, devotion, vacations to said Hawaiian home, diamonds. Most importantly, it buys more time.
For weeks the conversations have focused on which racy lingerie to buy, what the best Kama Sutra positions are for a man who’s recently had knee replacement surgery, whether inviting another woman into their bed to fulfill his fantasy of a threesome might be worth opening that door to potential infidelity. These women aren’t stupid. They realize very well every time they raise the bar in the bedroom, it only sets the expectations higher for the next time. Yet they never succumb to running out of ideas.
I admire their resourcefulness and tenacity, even as my heart breaks for them.
I’ve already stood on the shore where they’re still staring into the murky depths, hoping that only dipping their toes in the water will be enough though eventually, they find themselves waist deep in darkness they can’t back out of.
The truth they haven’t discovered yet is you can’t buy a man’s love. Not even with sex. Because if he really loves you, he knows the raciest, dirtiest sex in the world fades with time. If he really loves you, he’s staring out toward the sunset on that phase of life, planning a future that spans well past the breakers to the calmer waters beyond. Forever sailing under a dark sky, counting the stars of possibilities together.
What he really wants most of all is for his wife to stand beside him as he formulates these plans, to trust him to do right by his family, and to make him feel like she couldn’t possibly navigate the turbulent waters of life without him.
What every man really wants is to be needed.
I check my watch again. Rob should be home in about ten minutes. The house is a wreck, as planned. I haven’t rested today, so I don’t have to fake swollen ankles, exhaustion, and an aching back.
He’s going to walk in, take one look at everything, and hopefully remember that even though I usually can do all this without him, I know I don’t have to. I trust him to pick up the slack when I falter.
There’s no one else I want captaining this ship of our lives.
The garage door opens smoothly with the press of a button. I whistle as I nose The Lady into her parking space beside Evie’s SUV. Mike and Alex are gonna lose so hard. Not like they won’t already be bringing their families to us this year for our annual vacation since Evie’s due next month, but when I have the opportunity, I get a sick sense of satisfaction out of rubbing their noses in dirt.
While they were betting sports cars if their wives are the happiest tomorrow, I bet overnight bottle feedings during vacation. Robbie might be four, but I haven’t even remotely forgotten the level of exhaustion associated with never sleeping for more than two to three hours at a time for those first few months. There aren’t many people I implicitly trust with my kids, but the Fossoways and Mitchells fall into that small circle. And when I tell Evie I’ve secured a full week of reprieve for us, she’s going to mouth fuck me with her tongue so hard, I’m doubly sure to win this latest bet.
Life is good.
I grab the two dozen long-stem yellow roses, velvet box with the diamond tennis bracelet nestled inside, and the biggest box of chocolates Ironville’s candy store could ship across the country off my passenger seat. Those idiots really thought I was just going to give Evie my undivided attention tonight as her Valentine’s Day gift.
I give her that every night, even if it’s only for a half hour when I’m on the road or after we’ve tucked Robbie in for the night until we both pass out in bed with our latest shared read on the Kindle between us. That little black box really hurts when you roll over on it in the dark hours of earliest morning.
Sure, I have plans for a full body massage and a relaxing warm bath in the works tonight, too. But, Evie damn well knows if she even so much as winces or rubs her back where I can see it, she’s getting that treatment, anyway. And yes, she can buy whatever she wants for herself, but I also know she likes when I spoil her. Getting a gift from the person you love is always better than buying it for yourself.
Hell, I get excited when she buys me underwear because she knows I don’t like the stuff I get for free from whatever the latest sponsorship is Shawn insists I needto do. You just can’t put a price tag on your partner in life knowing you that well.
I happen to know my wife loves yellow roses, cannot resist chocolate from Ironville Candy even if she thinks she needs to lose five pounds, and was confused as hell when all the other football wives asked what her push present was when Robbie was born.
Neither of us had ever heard of such a thing, but apparently, it’s a thing. And it usually involves diamonds. So, after our baby girl is born and those catty bitches clamor for proof, Evie can show off some new jewelry. I stowed the matching necklace in the glove box for D-Day, just to be doubly covered on that front.
I open the garage door that leads into the kitchen tentatively, expecting to fend off the usual tackle from my little guy before he can crush his mother’s flowers. His box of candy is ready and waiting as a distraction. Instead of being greeted with excited shouts of “Dada’s home,” I’m met with total silence. And a world of worry.
It looks like a fucking bomb went off in here.
Evie’s usually pristine kitchen is covered in flour, smells like burned something or other, and is completely void of family activity.
The panic seizing my chest tempers with the knowledge Evie would have called if something was really wrong. Byers would have called if Evie couldn’t. If nothing else, I would have been alerted if her health monitor detected something abnormal. I set the gifts down on the kitchen island, then make my way further into the house, following the cacophony of Robbie’s favorite cartoon show on the TV.
My heart pounds a little harder with each step as I follow the trail of mayhem that leads the way like breadcrumbs. By the time I step into the family room, I’m not sure what I’ll find.
All my fears evaporate with a sigh of relief. There, on the couch, is my family. Sound asleep at seven o’clock in the evening. Robbie’s bedtime isn’t until eight, but by the looks of things, he’s worn himself out early. And he’s worn his mother out, too.
We don’t usually have time for me to observe them like this. Their faces are relaxed and peaceful in slumber, there’s no rushing to get to the next activity on time, no perfectly combed hair and clean faces to present to the world.
These precious seconds are a gift I didn’t know I wanted.
I crack a smile at the way he’s using her belly for a pillow, one little arm wrapped around where his sister is kicking like a ninja, judging by the way Evie’s skin jumps. Our baby girl isn’t even born yet, but she and her brother are already thicker than thieves. It looks like he delivered a Valentine to her in the best way he knew how. Evie’s belly has what looks like makeup smeared all over it. The swaths of color kind of resemble a smiley face. What’s really weird is how much Evie’s face resembles her belly.
Her head rests against the back of the couch, and her mouth is lolled open. I’d never tell her this, but when she hits about the six-month mark of pregnancy, she starts snoring like an old sailor. If the first time is anything to go by, the noise will resolve itself around one-month postpartum. Either that, or I’m just so damn tired by that time, I can sleep through anything except a baby’s cries.
Evie needs to bank all the sleep she can get right now. Even if I get up to deliver a hungry baby to our bed, my wife is the one who has to stay awake to nurse for the first few months until we can transition to a bottle of breast milk. We’ve never experienced how middle of the night feeding frenzies might disrupt an older sibling’s sleep schedule. Robbie already struggles with night terrors that send him leaping into our bed where he stays cocooned in safety and love until dawn puts his fears to rest. Even though the pediatrician assures us he’ll grow out of this phase, there are mornings the poor kid looks as exhausted as his parents. I’m not sure how much more sleep deprivation the little guy can take.
In spite of the mess covering every surface of our home, it looks like they had a fun day. Tomorrow, Evie will go into a cleaning frenzy to put everything back in order, and Robbie will feel bad about making such a disaster. He always strives to be the perfect kid. I don’t know who the hell put it into his head he isn’t. Probably that damn overachiever private preschool teacher, who expects her students to be the perfect miniature versions of their wealthy parents. If Byers hadn’t insisted it was the safest option for him, I’d pull him out of there in a heartbeat. Kids shouldn’t face that much pressure every day of their young lives.
Even in the middle of temper tantrums about eating broccoli, Evie and I never fail to be grateful for every minute of our time with him. He’s the light of our lives, without a doubt.
With one last grateful glance and silent prayer of thanks, I pick up what I can around them without making too much noise before heading back the way I came to get started cleaning the kitchen, so I won’t wake them.
I awake with a start to the sound of some God-awful scraping noise. If I didn’t know my home was practically booby-trapped with security monitoring, I’d think someone was trying to get in through a window by forcing it open.
With my heart in my throat, I take a few deep breaths, trying to reorient myself to the waking world instead of dreams. Robbie’s weight rests against my belly. The family room looks slightly cleaner than I remember leaving it, which is weird. My son doesn’t even stir when I slowly rise, then reposition him comfortably on the couch with a throw pillow under his head and an afghan over his little body, so he obviously didn’t wake up while I slept to clean.
Another noise from outside our little bubble of slumber makes me freeze mid-step. A few held breaths yield nothing more. I glance at my watch which is also set up with security alerts and realize with disappointment I’ve been out far longer than I intended.
Rob’s been home for hours and is probably cleaning the kitchen.
Sure enough, when I lumber into the room, he’s bent over the sink, trying to pry burned food off the cookie sheet with a metal spatula.
“What the hell was this?” he mutters as he makes another pass.
“Cookies,” I answer.
He jumps, sending the pan and spatula crashing into the sink with a clatter. “And here, I was trying notto wake you.”
I chuckle, knowing there’s no way that noise woke Robbie up if he didn’t even complain about me taking away his favorite pillow. “I wish you would have woken me.” I waddle to my husband, then bend forward as much as I can to wait for him to lean down, so I can kiss him hello. The moment his lips touch mine, and his scent wraps around me, I breathe a sigh of contentment. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day to you, beautiful,” he whispers against my lips before straightening to his full height. “There are some things for you on the table.”
I glance to where he directs and see a vase overflowing with the most gorgeous yellow roses. Beside that, a black velvet box and a very familiar heart-shaped package of chocolates rests. “I thought we agreed not to exchange gifts this year?”
He raises an eyebrow and smirks at me, revealing the dimple I often have naughty dreams about licking.
“I knew you’d say that.” With a wink and the best sashay I can manage, I venture to my hiding spot in the pantry to pull out a wrapped box.
“What’s this?” he asks when I hold it out to him.
“Open it and find out.” I’m obviously not going to admit it’s extra insurance in case he was too exhausted when he got home from his trip to tackle the mess I purposefully left for him. I want to show him he’s needed in our home and our family, but if he was too tired to tackle this disaster, I would have started on it first thing tomorrow morning. I love Rob, but my nesting instincts know no bounds right now. Even making this mess grated on my nerves, which were only rubbed raw every time Robbie questioned if it was okay.
He throws me a skeptical glance before wiping his hands on a dish towel, then takes the gift from me, ripping the paper open like a little kid on Christmas morning. “Jeremy has been riding my ass ever since the playoffs to get in this game with him. I think he might actually let me win for once since we didn’t make it to the Super Bowl this year.” He leans down to kiss me. “Thank you, baby.”
“You’re welcome. And by the way, I have total faith in you to kick his ass. Besides, it’s a good outlet for your frustration about those blind refs. Everyone knows the Gold Rushers should have won that last game.”
He chuckles. “I’m choosing to look at it as a blessing in disguise. Not making it to the Big Game frees up more time in the off season for me to be here without any distractions around our girl’s birth day. Speaking of which.” He strides over to the table, retrieves the velvet box, then returns to stand beside me. “You’ve already seen the flowers; we’re taking the chocolate to the bath tub with us later, but I want you to open this now.”
After nearly a decade of living in the lap of luxury, extravagant gifts like I know are waiting inside this box still make me uncomfortable. There are people starving on the streets of Sacramento. I’m grateful to afford security for our family and the best opportunities for our children, but jewelry is an unnecessary expense that could go toward charity.
“Open it,” he prompts softly, knowing exactly what I’m thinking.
Nestled in a bed of cream silk is a gorgeous tennis bracelet, sparkling with diamonds. Judging by their size, it must have cost a small fortune.
He senses my hesitation, pulling me into his arms as best he can with my belly between us. “I know,” he whispers. “But, this isn’t just a Valentine’s Day gift. It’s a thank you for agreeing to the C-section in three weeks. I understand you wanted the full experience of laboring like you did with Robbie, but it’s a risk, baby. A risk I don’t want to take with your life when we have more controlled options. These diamonds aren’t nearly as priceless as you are to me. And not just because I love you more than life itself. I might be able to clean this kitchen, give Robbie a bath, read him a bedtime story, and comfort him when he’s afraid in the middle of the night, but I can’t be what you are to him. I can give our baby girl bottles and change her diapers when she’s born. I can afford the best schools, the trendiest clothes, and nannies that have high enough clearances to work for the president of the United States, but at the end of the day, I can only ever be Dada. I can’t be Mommy, too. You are priceless. You are irreplaceable to us. I want you to wear this bracelet as a constant reminder.”
I’m well aware my emotions have been all over the place with this pregnancy. Even though I’m cognizant of my fluctuating moods, there’s little I can do to overpower my hormones. Like now, as my mind spins worst-case scenarios of Rob bringing home a daughter without her mother, grieving for a few years before finding love again, then my children learning to call another woman Mommy. A sob catches in my throat I refuse to allow to escape, though I can’t fight back the tears welling in my eyes. If something were to ever happen to me, that’s absolutely the life I would wish for them. “But–”
“Nope.” He seals his command with a gentle kiss against my lips. “No buts. And I’m not telling you how much it cost, either. Before you go poking around in our accounts to find out, you should know I paid cash to thwart your efforts, and we also just made a million-dollar donation as a seed fund to get the Sing Out foundation up and running in San Diego public schools. I kept that one on the books, since we need the paper trail for that.”
“The presentation went well, then?” I’ve been so busy planning a meaningful Valentine’s Day for Rob, I completely forgot the reason he wasn’t home in the first place. Pregnancy brain can be so frustrating.
“It went very well.” He kisses my nose. “So well, in fact, you should be expecting signed contracts for ongoing sessions over the next three years in your email next week. I also want to take this opportunity to remind you we had an agreement I expect you to uphold. That was my last seminar for this off season. You promised I could stay home with you and the kids as much as possible over the break.”
“I know I promised, and I meant it.” The foundation is growing beyond my wildest expectations. We have so many safe guards in place and a full team running the day-to-day operations. There’s no reason for Rob to put in appearances for a few months. Especially knowing how left out he felt when Robbie was born in the middle of football season. If he wants to be around as much as possible for his daughter’s first months of life, I would never stand in the way of that.
Rob releases me from his arms, then pries the soft velvet from my hands, plucking the bracelet from its resting place. “So, you’ll wear this always then? And the next time you get a wild hair to do something you probably shouldn’t, you’ll consider caring about your safety as a way to show us how much you love us? Putting us first means puttingyoufirst sometimes.”
I can’t hold it back anymore. The dam erupts, and there’s not a damn thing I can do to stop it. We’ve been together for so long, but this man still makes me feel like I’m living in the best dream. And that’s not just pregnancy hormones talking. Any woman would be the luckiest in the world to be loved this much.
He smiles as he fastens the bracelet around my wrist. It’s a perfect fit. “I knew measuring your wrist in the middle of the night would come in handy.”
“What?” I laugh through my tears.
He winks. “I didn’t wanna mess this up by giving you a bracelet that was the wrong size.”
At the mention of messing up, my tears start all over again.
“What is it? What’s wrong? Did you find another romantic commercial today?”
“I made this huge mess for you. Even Robbie thought it was weird I wasn’t asking him to help me clean up. I wanted you to come home and feel wanted and needed. To show you I can’t do everything myself. I don’t want to. I know I make you go on these trips for the Sing Out foundation, but I miss you so much when you’re gone. It’s bad enough during the season. Every time you’re not here, it’s like getting a glimpse of what life would be like without you, and I fucking hate it. But, you always come back to us. And you came home today with all these romantic gifts and sweet words that are making me bawl, and even though I tried really hard, my gifts for you are stupid. All I gave you was a disgusting kitchen and a subscription to a dumb online video game you’re probably not even gonna play because you’ll be too busy being Super Dad during the off season,” I sob.
He turns me around, then pulls me against his chest. It’s the only way we can be close together this late in the pregnancy. He wraps his arms around me tightly and rocks us back and forth until I can somewhat get control of myself.
By the time my emotions are spent, he’s the only thing holding me up.
“Oh, Mrs. Falls,” he whispers in my ear. “Every day with you is a gift.”
Robbie’s right. There’s no impressing this man. He loves everything. “My gifts are stupid.”
“They’re not,” he insists. “Do you still love me?”
“Of course,” I whimper.
“Still want me?”
I cling tighter to his strong arms in answer.
“Do you need me, baby? For more than just kitchen duty?”
“Yes,” I sigh. “And for more than just Super Dad duty, too.”
I feel his mouth stretch into a smile against my cheek. “That’s pretty high praise coming from Super Mom. So, I’ll tell you what? You’re on constant duty growing our precious baby girl. Why don’t you let me put Robbie to bed while you go run us a bath? How does that sound?”
“That sounds nice,” I admit. Robbie’s too heavy now for me to carry upstairs, and bath time with my husband seems like the perfect way to close out Valentine’s Day.
He releases me, then gives me a gentle nudge toward the stair case. “Off with you, then.”
I hesitate, glancing over my shoulder at the blackened cookie tray still sitting in the sink. There’s no way even Rob’s stronger elbow grease will ever clean it. It’ll have to be thrown away. “Maybe I should just finish up in here while you get Robbie upstairs.”
“Nope.” He swats my ass.
“What the fuck, Rob?” I rub my rounder than I’d prefer behind. He doesn’t usually give me more than a love tap. I’m kind of grateful I have the extra padding all of a sudden.
“Do you really want to make me feel needed, baby?”
“Yes,” I pout looking around at my failure.
“Then take your fine ass upstairs like I asked, so I can wash that makeup off you.” He crosses his arms over his chest, practically daring me to argue.
Fine. I can be submissive for one night. And, I completely forgot about the makeup.
“It’s like a Picasso,” Evie giggles as I drag the soapy cloth over her round stomach. “I should’ve taken a picture of it before letting you wash it off.”
I’m not doing a great job washing it off, but I don’t want to rub her sensitive skin raw. This stuff has serious staying power. Evie must have used actual makeup remover on her face before climbing into the tub. “I can understand why you let him do your stomach, but what the hell made you think letting him near your face was a good idea?”
“Well, the entire night wasn’t supposed to be a disaster,” she admits with hesitation. “I did want to look somewhat nice for you. When he saw me starting my hair and makeup, he insisted on helping, and I figured…why not? Then, he wanted his sister to look nice, too.”
“He’s quite the artist,” I chuckle, abandoning the wash rag to the side of the tub before grabbing a bottle of shampoo. It looks like Robbie helped with Evie’s hair, as well. We probably should have opted for a shower since she’s not supposed to take bubble baths this late in the pregnancy, but considering we can’t soak in hot water anymore, either, we probably we won’t be in here long. If I wasn’t used to ice baths after games, this would be downright miserable. But, Evie loves baths, and I love being with Evie, so… “The Valentine he made me was really good. I saw he got his ideas from Sasha.”
“Oh my God, Rob.” Her excitement ends on a moan as I start massaging the shampoo into her scalp. It’s always a good time to distract her much as she distracts me. Her shoulders slump as she relaxes into my touch. After a few moments of silence, she must remember she was about to tell me something. “She proposed to him today.”
“What?” I cough out a laugh. That little girl is relentless. I give her credit, though. She knows what she wants, and she goes after it. “What did he say to that?”
“Something along the lines of he would rather puke up his eyeballs first. To which she responded she would clean up the mess for him, then kiss him all better.”
Girl’s got game. Flat out. It’s extremely weird to be talking about our son’s not-so-budding romance while I’m sporting a boner because of my wife’s moans and naked body, though. Time for a subject change.
“I saw Robbie ate his weight in snacks in the family room, but judging by the kitchen, I’m guessing you didn’t have dinner yet. I could order something for us if you’re hungry.”
Her low, throaty laugh goes straight to my dick. She notices, too, because she scoots back until her ass slides along my length with just barely enough pressure to drive me crazy. “I’m not sure if you’re offering me food because you know it’s the way to my heart lately or because you enjoywatching me eat so much.” She throws me a flirty glance over her shoulder.
“Why can’t it be both?” I turn on the spray nozzle to rinse her hair, watching with fascination as the water smooths her unruly curls down her back. No one realizes how long her hair is when it’s dry because the curls spring up to half their actual length. The strands flatten into the water, floating on the surface and mixing with the bubbles, tickling my stomach.
“How hungry are you?” I dump a big blob of conditioner into my palm. We might need the whole bottle to get through the tangles that remain. “This could take a while.”
She hums. “I’m in no rush. Especially since you’re willing to do this for me. My arms would be tired, and I’d be out of breath with the amount of combing necessary.”
Detangling her hair is the least of what I’m willing to do for her. I take my time slathering conditioner through the heavy strands, then combing the tangles out gently, so I don’t hurt her. When I told the guys my plan for the night was to give her my time and attention, I left out a very important detail. The one where my idea is completely self-serving.
I’m receiving as much as I’m giving.
There’s something so erotic about my fingers sliding through my wife’s hair. It’s not the sensations. It’s all about the devotion. On both sides. I could have come home and fucked her senseless. I know her body well enough after so many years to ensure she enjoys it completely. But, there’s something so much more intimate about caring for her this way. Maybe it’s the trust she confers on me when she lets down her walls completely. Maybe it’s that it makes me feel like a king to serve her.
Any caveman can provide for his family by keeping a roof over their heads and feeding them. What Evie doesn’t realize is she feeds my soul when she lets me do this. These quiet moments recharge my batteries for the times I feel like a loser who can’t handle all the pressure of adult life or I can’t hear myself think over a roaring stadium or when I feel like a failure because my son can be so cruel to the little girl who adores him.
Evie wouldn’t rest her back against my chest if I she believes I’m a failure of a father. She wouldn’t wrap my arms around her if she thought fame has swelled my ego bigger than this bath tub. She wouldn’t sigh in contentment if she thought I wasn’t strong enough to bear her weight and that of our growing family.
“Are you okay if we let the conditioner soak in for a bit? If you’re too cold, we can rinse and get out now.”
“It’s fine.” I swipe her hair over one shoulder, so I can kiss along her neck and collarbone. “You’ll keep me warm.”
Her laugh echoes on my lips. “More like I’ll crush you.”
“Now that you mention it.” I adjust her a bit, so my dick has some breathing room. Things were getting a little tootight for comfort. “More like I’ll poke you.”
She hums. “I don’t mind.”
I’m all too familiar with that particular sound. She makes it when she’s imagining all the ways I can use my dick to make her moan with pleasure. If I could see her face, her eyes would be closed, and a faint smile would be painted across her mouth.
When she was pregnant with Robbie she wanted it all the time. All. The. Damn. Time. I never knew it was possible for her to be hornier than I was as a fifteen year old, jacking off to fantasies of her up to five times a day. At one point, I was worried she was going to actually break my dick. No lie. So, I used my tongue to give the raw guy a break. By the time Robbie was born, I thought I might have an irreversible jaw problem.
It hasn’t been that way this time. I’m not sure if it’s because we’re busier, because we have to be quiet and sneaky with a four year old in the house, or just because every pregnancy is different. Her engine can go from zero to sixty in the blink of an eye, but the reverse is just as true. One second, she’ll clutch my shirt and try to suck my face off, the next, she’ll push me away and say she doesn’t feel well.
From a chafed dick to blue balls. Who would have ever guessed? Certainly not me.
If she wants me tonight, I’ll have to work her up slowly to keep the fire burning. My lips glide along her slippery skin so easily. She shivers in response. I lick a drop of water from her neck. Goosebumps spread down her arms. Her breasts are heavy in my hands. The nipples stiffen and peak without any effort.
“Are you cold, baby?”
“No,” she moans. “Please don’t stop.”
Those words are music to my ears, and I aim to please. So, I don’t stop. My hands warm every inch of her skin I can reach. Her breasts, her belly, her thighs, the length of her arms. I drink to my heart’s content. From her neck, her shoulder, the tips of her fingers until finally turning her chin, so I can claim her lips. She begs for more, so I adjust her across my lap and kiss her until neither of us can breathe.
“I miss making out with you,” Evie whispers against my mouth. “It’s just too hard with my stomach being so huge.”
“It is too hard.” I thrust upwards a few times until she gets my meaning. “I think it’s time to get out now.”
“Don’t you mean get off now?” She laughs as she takes my hand to step out of the tub, then lets me wrap a towel around her to dry her off. Her grin melts my heart as she stares up at me. “Are you going to stuff me now, and feed me later?”
Playful Evie tonight. God, I love playful Evie. “That depends. How hungry are you?”
She’s not talking about food, and I’m done taking my time.
He picks me up like I weigh as little as I did in high school. His muscles tremble with self-control as he lays me gently on the bed instead of throwing me like the look in his eyes suggests he really wants to.
“Will your mind be only here with me if I check on Robbie first?” There’s no accusation in his tone, no jealousy. Only soft understanding.
And maybe a hint of paranoia after that one time we thought our son was sound asleep, only for him to sneak in while we were mid-coitus. I’ve always known my husband has a sharp mind. It’s part of what makes him one of the best quarterbacks in the league. But, I didn’t know how quickly he really thinks on his feet until he spun a fantastical tale about my magic laundry detergent I sometimes prank him with that creates invisible underwear. He was ticklingme in retaliation.
I laugh at the memory. “Yes. Go check on him, then come back and lock the door.”
“I don’t think he’s going to fall for the same story twice. Give me that.” He tugs at the towel from beneath me while I rock like a turtle on my back to help him free it from my body.
Oh, so sexy.
When he wraps the towel around his waist, it’s like the fabric truly does transform into something magical. The terry cloth doesn’t hide his bulging erection in the slightest. In fact, the edge he tucks at his waist creates a seam that hints at the prize just beyond visibility. With his defined muscles still damp with bath water, he takes my breath away.
This gorgeous man is all mine.
“You’d better hope he’s asleep,” I warn, practically drooling all over myself.
“I’d better hope you still have that much lust in your eyes by the time I get back.”
After a quick peck to my lips, he hightails it out of the room.
I don’t blame Rob for wanting to hurry because he’s right. The sharp desire he kindled in me is quickly being snuffed out by irritation. I can’t get comfortable. The more I toss and turn, the faster I lose hope to find a sexy position to be found in when he returns.
I smoosh my face into a pillow and give up.
“Oh, no, no, no,” he chuckles when he walks back into our bedroom. “You can’t fall asleep until you eat something.”
“Okay,” I mumble into the pillow. “Feed me some dick.”
“Now, honey,” he says in a placating tone before his warmth envelops my back as he kisses his way up my spine. “You know semen gives you heartburn. I was thinking maybe at least a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”
“PB & J gives me heartburn, too. I’ll take my chances with dick.”
His laughter rumbles through me as he lays at my side. “Mmm, you make that proposition sound so enthusiastic, I might just have to take you up on that.”
“Great.” I roll over, sprawled like a swollen starfish diagonally across the bed and open my mouth as wide as I can.
His grinning face—nothis ready cock—pops into my field of view. “How about a compromise?”
“How do you make the word compromise sound like it means a trick?”
“No tricks,” he insists. Not that he’s believable when he’s still wearing that shit-eating grin. “You’re right. It’s too late for you to eat something substantial. You’ll just be up half the night with heartburn. So, if I bring you a smoothie, then you don’tgive me a blow job. Sound good?”
I raise an eyebrow at him. “Sure. For me. What’s in it for you?”
“I get to make sure my wife and unborn baby have adequate nourishment. And you won’t keep me awake half the night with your heartburn.”
“Fine,” I outwardly sigh, even though I’m giving myself a mental high five. I pulled off making Rob feel needed after all.
He slides on a pair of boxer briefs instead of heading to the kitchen in nothing but a towel. Naked or not, it’s an absolute crime not to stare at the man’s tight ass when he’s heading out the door.
I hate to see him go, but I love to watch him leave.
As uncomfortable as the last stage of pregnancy is, I’m looking forward to sharing it with him. He’s so excited to be home full time around this birth, and I’m genuinely happy he’ll be here, too. Needing him might be an act sometimes but wanting him never is.
And even though I really wanted to try natural labor and childbirth a second time, I just can’t put my husband through that stress again. He worries so much about all of us. While it might grate on my nerves when he carries it a little too far, I also know it comes from a place of love.
We are so lucky to be loved by him.
I lose myself in day dreams of watching Rob play with Robbie at the park, Rob insisting on assembling the crib himself, putting the finishing touches on the nursery, giving Robbie his big brother shirt and gifts.
Rob walks into the room with a bottle of water in one hand and a pretty pink smoothie in the other. He squints at me. “You promised you wouldn’t fall asleep yet.”
“I’m not sleeping.” I smile. “I’m dreaming with my eyes wide open.”
He sets the drinks on the night stand before crawling into bed, beckoning me to settle myself between his legs, so he can prop me upright. He’s taken to being my pillow at night as much as Robbie uses me for his head rest. When we’re situated comfortably, he hands me the smoothie. “What are you dreaming about, beautiful?”
“Tomorrow together. And the day after that, and that day after that. As far as my mind can run.”
He kisses my shoulder. “I wanted to give you the gift of my time today, and here you are promising me all of yours.”
“I promised you that a long time ago,” I remind him in between sips. “I still need you, want you, and love you. And I will forever.”
“My Evie,” he mumbles against my neck. He rubs my belly and coos to our daughter while I drink up.
When I’m finished, I set the glass on the nightstand and snuggle into Rob’s embrace. His chest rises and falls in a steady rhythm against my back. His breath fans through my hair, creating goosebumps on my neck. Our skin-to-skin contact feels so close, it’s almost impossible to remember we’re two separate bodies. I lift his hand to my lips, gliding my sensitive skin along his fingers, taking the time to kiss the tip of each one.
Suddenly wide awake, I wiggle my butt against his dick, hoping to pick up where we left off before. “Rob?”
“You said you didn’t want a blowjob, but will you make love to me?”
“Honey? I’ll give you the blowjob of your life if you changed your mind.”
Silence. I glance over my shoulder to find his eyes closed, his mouth slightly open. He fell asleep on me.
I strain to kiss his bottom lip. “I love you, Superjock.”
A startled gurgle followed by light snoring is his only reply. I stifle my giggles before I wake him. No way will I ever tell him he started snoring like an old man a few years ago. It’ll be my little secret.