I nod. “Maybe.”
“Maybe you should too.”
I grunt. “Probably.”
“What’s he doing now?”
“Playing his guitar. He doesn’t want to talk anymore. And if Elle were here, she’d tell us to leave him be. So …”
“Leave him be,” my parents say in unison.
“Breakfast with Martin, and then they were going by the hospital,” Dad says.
“I need to get back there.” I stand, taking my coffee mug to the sink.
Dad clears his throat. “The woman, the feisty redhead?”
I grin with my back to him. “What about her?”
“I know she’s just a seven, but you’re not getting any younger. Maybe think about asking her if she’d like to take your last name.”
I chuckle while nodding.
2 days later …
“Where’s my dad and your parents?” Ellen asks when Harrison and I walk into the NICU carrying Aria’s car seat.
After his breakdown, we didn’t say anymore. I followed his lead of pretending it never happened. He knows my secret and I know his. I can’t bring Heidi back to life, and Harrison can’t find his memories of her. So … we let her rest in peace.
“They thought it should just be the three of us bringing her home.” I kiss Ellen and then Aria on her warm, fuzzy peach head.
“Home.” Elle sighs and smiles. “That sounds amazing.” She puts Aria in her seat.
“She looks too small for it.” Harrison frowns.
“She is a little peanut,” Elle says in her mommy voice.
I carry Aria in her seat to the car parked at the entrance while Elle and Harrison walk in front of us.
Harrison shakes his head.
She nudges his arm.
He shakes his head some more.
She wraps her arm around his shoulders.
He doesn’t fight her.
She kisses the side of his head.
I fall deeper in love with her.
She whispers “I love you” to him.
He mumbles, “Love you too.”
And for the first time in a decade, I know we’re going to be okay.
“I’ll sit in back with her,” Elle says to Harrison after I latch Aria’s seat into the base.
“No. I want to sit in back with her.”
Elle’s head jerks back a bit as a smile climbs up her face. “You want to, huh?”
He shrugs. “Yeah … whatever. It’s fine.”
I close the door after Harrison gets in next to Aria, and I open the door for Ellen. “Let’s go home.” Before she gets in, I pull her into my arms, cupping the back of her head while I press my lips to her forehead.
“I love you, Flint Hopkins,” she whispers.
I nod, keeping my lips pressed to her head, too choked with emotion to say anything.
After we get buckled up, I take my whole fucking world home.
Two hands on the wheel.
Driving like an old lady.
“When are you going to give her the ring?” Harrison asks.
“Give who a ring?” Elle asks.
“You,” Harrison says.
“What ring?” She looks over at me.
I keep both eyes on the road.
“The diamond one he stuck in his pocket before he left home.”
“Little shit,” I mumble.
“Diamond ring, huh? How many carats? Seven?”
I ignore her. I ignore both of them.
Several minutes later, Mr. Delayed Response says, “Ha! That was funny. Seven. She said that because you called her a seven. Seventy percent. You gave Elle a D. Remember that?”
Elle covers her mouth to contain her laughter.
“I remember. Thanks, Harrison.”
“Just ask her.”
Ellen rests her hand behind my head, tickling the nape of my neck. “Just ask me.”
“Fine. Will you marry me?”
“What do you think, Harry? Should I say yes?”
I roll my eyes. They’re making a mockery out of my proposal.
“Yeah. I think he spent a lot of money on the ring. It’s pretty big.”
Elle shrugs. “Okay. I’ll marry you.”
I try to keep from grinning, but it’s a futile attempt.
A couple blocks from our house, Harry leans closer to Aria’s seat and he hums “You Are My Sunshine.”
“He likes that song,” Ellen whispers. “Did you used to sing it to him when he was younger?”
I shake my head. Making a quick glance in the review mirror, I meet Harrison’s gaze.
Heidi’s eyes. Heidi’s nose. Heidi’s smile.
He remembers the song she sang to him. He remembers her even if he doesn’t realize it.
I love him beyond words.
Five years—Dozens of Cookies—A New Baby Brother—And Thirteen Rats Later …
“I should have brought Harrison here by myself.” I sigh, carrying my sleeping five-year-old across campus, messy red hair tangled around my neck like a scarf. I’m sweating. She’s dead weight and way too much body heat for August.
“This is a big deal. We all want to be here.” Elle walks with an exaggerated bounce to her step as nine-month-old Isaac starts to fuss.
He wants out to crawl around. It’s been a long trip. All of our trips are long since we drive everywhere. I’ve not given up hope of getting her on a plane without having to knock her out with my concoctions.
One day soon. I hope.
“You don’t have to go up with me,” Harrison says as we approach the entrance.
Of course. We drove twenty-one hours to walk this far in the heat for a simple “Goodbye, see you at Thanksgiving.”
“Call often. Study hard. Find a nice girl, but not until your senior year. And remember you are here to learn, but along the way lots of students will learn from you too. Be kind. Be gracious. Be happy.” Elle hugs Harrison.
He hugs her back without hesitation. “Bye, buddy.” He hugs Isaac too.
“Call every couple of weeks. Study harder than you think you need to. I’m not paying for you to fail. Find a nice girl to take your virginity so you can focus on your studies instead of your blue balls. Remember you are here to succeed and other students will feel threatened by you. Ignore them. Be strong. Be cool. Be responsible and wear a condom.” I hug Harrison as he rolls his eyes.
“Harry …” Aria wakes, rubbing her eyes.
“Hey, Sunshine.” He takes her from me.
“I’ll miss you. But stay out of my room.”
She nods, looking at him like he’s her idol. “Bye.” She puckers her lips.
He wrinkles his nose and goes to kiss her on the cheek. And like always, she finds a way to land her puckered lips on his. Harrison wipes it off.
He sets her down and hikes his bag and guitar over his shoulder.
“The rest of your stuff should arrive this afternoon,” I say. “And don’t forget to call Grandma Sandy. She’ll want to know you’re settled into your dorm.”
He nods. “Bye.”
As soon as he turns, a lady with a name tag hanging from a lanyard smiles at him. “Welcome to Juilliard. Can I help you find where you’re going?”
We grab lunch and finish our four hour drive—which takes us five—to Cape Cod.
“Boat! Papa! I want to ride the boat.” Aria jumps out and runs toward Jon as he makes his way up the hill from the dock.
He opens his arms, always smitten with his favorite granddaughter. The only person she has wrapped around her little finger tighter than me is him.
“Two weeks.” Elle grins, nuzzling her nose into Isaac’s chubby neck. “Two whole weeks in Cape Cod. Mama’s gonna get a massage and pedicure. Yay me!”
I glance over my shoulder to make sure Jon and Aria are still out of earshot. “Daddy’s going to get laid. A lot. While Papa and his younger girlfriend take Aria and Issac to the beach. Yay me!”
Ellen gives me her best hairy eyeball.
“It’s hot out. Let’s go inside. Cora made lemonade and iced tea.”
“How is Cora?” Ellen asks without trying to sound catty.
When she hired Cora to do some light house work for Jon after both of his parents passed away, she didn’t expect Cora to keep his bed warm as well—especially since she’s only five years older than Ellen.
“Oh, she’s good. Keeps me young.”
Ellen frowns at me as we follow him into the house.
“And you say I frown. Be happy for him.”
“You’re such a guy.”
I am. Cora’s a little too fake for my taste. And by fake, I mean her perky double D tits. But if Jon has a heart attack and dies with his face nestled between them, we’ll have to believe he died a happy man.
“Elle! Flint!” Cora bounces those big boobs in our direction.
Elle hugs Isaac to her to avoid the full-on boob hug. Then she quickly passes him to me before Cora hugs me.
Well played, dear.
“Hand him over.” Cora takes Isaac from me and snatches the diaper bag from Elle’s shoulder. “I’ll give him a diaper change and find a healthy snack for Aria. You two head upstairs and get settled in. Enjoy a little alone time before dinner.” She winks.