Brandon simply nodded and continued making lazy circles on my upper arm. Shifting Liam over to Brandon’s lap, I shakily stood up and walked toward Sir. He stood and stiffened momentarily when I wrapped my arms around his waist, before awkwardly placing his own around me.
“I love you too.” I said through the lump in my throat.
“Oh Harper,” his own voice was gruff with emotion, “will you ever forgive me?”
A laugh that sounded more like a sob escaped my throat and I stepped back, “This family is all about second chances, you don’t even have to ask.”
He hesitated a bit, but wrapped his arms around me again and hugged me tight, “I have missed you so much. Nothing was the same after you left.”
I had no idea what to say. This conversation has been so unlike anything I’ve ever had with Sir, and it changes everything that’s happened over the last twenty years, especially the last two. I couldn’t miss my life with the old Sir, but if the man that just explained his actions throughout my life were to leave, I would miss him greatly. We stepped away from each other after minutes of holding each other, “Would you, uh, would you like to meet your grandson?”
Sir’s eyes filled with tears again as Brandon brought Liam over to us.
“This is your grandpa, little man.” Brandon said as he held Liam’s squirming body to his chest. “Can you say ‘hi’ to Grandpa?”
“Go bye bye!” Liam said with a toothy, scrunched-up nose grin. Didn’t matter if we were saying hello or goodbye, it was always go bye bye with him.
Sir didn’t respond, his jaw was slack and the corners of his mouth were twitching up.
Liam looked at me and patted Sir’s chest. I nodded and said “Grandpa” again.
Looking back at Sir, Liam patted his chest again and said, “Go bye bye Grapa!”
“He’s waiting for you to say ‘hi’ back to him.” I explained.
“Oh!” Sir huffed, “Hi Liam. It’s good to finally meet you.”
“He wants you to hold him,” Brandon said awkwardly, “is that okay with you?”
“Of course, uh –” he held his arms like he was going to cradle him and I laughed.
“Sir, you can hold him differently, he’s not an infant anymore, just hold him like this.” I demonstrated without actually taking Liam.
Sir carefully took him from Brandon and a large smile crossed his face when Liam started talking non-sense a mile a minute and looking at Sir like he was speaking English and carrying on a well thought out conversation. My heart warmed and squeezed watching Sir hold him. I never thought I would see this, never thought I would introduce Liam to my cold, distant father, and definitely never thought I’d see Sir act like this. I didn’t know he even had the capability of smiling, hugging or crying. And now all of the above had happened within twenty minutes. I couldn’t be more dumb-founded, or happier.
Figuring Mom was more annoyed than I had been that Brandon went behind our backs, I left the three men in the house and went out back to explain everything that had just been said inside. Like I knew they would, because my family was just amazing like that, everyone agreed happily to make Sir feel like he was welcome. As the people I loved started heading back inside, I grabbed Dad’s arm and made him stay back for a second. When we were alone I hugged him tight and didn’t let go.
“You will always be my dad. You may not have raised me, but then again neither did Sir. You and Mom have shown me love like I never knew, and took me in as another daughter without question. Because of that, you are my dad.”
“Oh baby girl.” He laughed once and kissed the top of my head, “You really are precious to us. I love you.”
“Love you too.” I squeezed him once more and let go to walk back inside.
“Was my jealousy that obvious?” He mock whispered. “That why you’re giving your old man some peace of mind?”
I winked at him, “Not at all.” Yes it was. “Just wanted you to know how I felt before you could start to have any doubts.”
“What a day.” I said with a sigh as I curled into Brandon’s side that night.
“I second that.”
Just throwing a birthday party for my little monster was hard work, but having Sir show up had taken me on an emotional ride that left me feeling drained yet strangely alive. The whole family stayed well past midnight and after hours of just talking with everyone, I think Sir was finally feeling a little more comfortable with them. His tense shoulders had shown his worry about their judgments of him, but holding and playing with Liam all night, and my family’s ability to love everyone, had him relaxing and laughing as the night wore on. He was sleeping in our guest room now, and we were going to talk in the morning about the possibility of him moving here. Apparently he had retired from the Marine Corps a few months ago after twenty two years of service, and with how the day had gone, wanted to be closer to us. I still couldn’t believe that this wasn’t a dream.
“Are you still mad at me?” Brandon pulled away slightly so he could face me on his side.
“No, I’m not. I’m glad you did what you did, I just couldn’t believe you’d kept something like that from me.”
“I know I should have told you about the letters and his coming, but I was afraid I would get your hopes up and he wouldn’t ever respond or show up. I thought it was better to deal with you angry for having not told you, than watch you be crushed if he let you down again.”
“You really are too good to me Brandon Taylor.”
Shaking his head, he brushed some hair behind my ear and cupped my cheek, “All I want is to make you happy. I’ll do anything for you Harper.”
“I know. Thank you.” I kissed his lips softly and held his gaze, “I love you so much.”
“And I love you.”
Two and a half years later.
“Come on guys, it’s time to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s.”
Liam and his sister set down their flowers and rushed back to Brandon and me.
“Bye Unca Chase!”
“See ya Uncle Chase!”
It was the fourth anniversary of Chase’s death, and like every month, we were here to say our hellos and leave orange lilies on his grave. Brandon and I still told stories of him all the time, and though Liam and our daughter Kristi didn’t fully understand what we meant when we told them he was gone, or that he was Liam’s father, they loved hearing his stories. Trying to explain that he was Liam’s father was even worse than explaining they wouldn’t meet him, so for now they affectionately knew him as Uncle Chase and looked forward to our visits every month.
I hitched Kristi up on my hip, grabbed Liam’s hand and watched Brandon as he said a few quiet words to Chase. He did this every time, and I loved him for it. I’d asked him a while ago what he always said, and he simply explained he was thanking Chase for his part in our family and letting him know he would always take care of us.
Brandon took Kristi and wrapped his other arm around me as we walked back to the SUV. “How are you holding up Sweetheart?”
“I just can’t believe it’s been four years.” I smiled softly at my husband and rested my head against his shoulder. “It feels like it’s been longer, but at the same time like it just happened.” My body shivered as a flash of that night played through my mind.
He rubbed his hand up and down my arm and kissed my forehead, “I know baby.” He responded to both my statement and remembrance of that night, “I miss him too.”
We drove to Mom and Dad’s for our annual night of celebrating Chase’s life and I took a deep breath before we walked in. Our crazy family was all already there, as well as the new additions. Kristi and Liam tried to tackle Sir, who actually preferred to be called Papa now, and he gladly went down and let them jump on him. He was a completely different man from the Sir I’d grown up with, but he was great with the kids, and Brandon and I spent a lot of nights with him. He’d moved to California just as soon as he’d left from his first visit and after a lot of pushing on Carrie and Mom’s part, was now dating a great lady named Veronica.
Konrad hugged Brandon and gave me a kiss on the cheek before rushing a plate of food to an extremely pregnant and moody Bree. Their little girl Cadence was helping our kids tickle Sir, and girl number two was due any day. Aubrey and Jeremy were curled up on each other on one of the chairs and deliriously in love. They were definitely still in the honeymoon stage…seeing as they’d just gotten back from their honeymoon three days ago. Carrie’s new husband Bruce was helping Dad bring in the food off the grill and Kate almost knocked into him as she came storming around the corner.
“Harper! Oh my God, how do you deal with him?” She pressed the tips of her fingers to her forehead and shook her head, “He’s impossible!”
Brandon and I smiled at each other and rolled our eyes, “What’d he do now?”
“He wants to name him AIDIEAS.”
“It’s better than freaking Wrinkles!” Carter mocked as he rounded the corner with their new English Bulldog puppy. “Baby, you can’t name a male bulldog Wrinkles.”
Can’t argue with that. “What kind of name is Ideas?”
Carter hugged me and clapped Brandon on the shoulder, “No, it’s said AY-DIAS. All I Do Is Eat And Shit.”
Brandon and I burst into laughter. Oh dear.
Carter set down the squirmy ball of wrinkles and he took off running toward the screeching and laughing kids, crashing into a chair on his way. “We can always call him crash?”
“Oh! I like Crash.” Kate said with a little clap.
“Yeah? Well, I like you.” Carter’s voice went deep and husky causing Brandon and me to back away.
Kate launched herself at Carter and we groaned as we tried to step around them. Those two couldn’t have been more perfect for each other. Apparently Carter didn’t learn much since not even a month after their first date they eloped in Vegas, but at least this marriage was still going strong. They fought on a daily basis, but their fights never lasted more than ten minutes and always ended in everyone else within seeing distance yelling at them to get a room while they attacked each other with lips and searching hands.
Once we were away from the love fest, we made our way around the house hugging and kissing everyone as we passed them. Mom’s eyes were bright with unshed tears and she kept me in a hug for a long time before sending me to the table with another platter of food. When I was done, I stood off to the side and watched our large mismatched family and smiled.
“What are you thinking?” Brandon’s deep voice still made my heart pick up its pace and warmed my body. His lips on my neck and hands pulling me closer to his body weren’t helping much either.
A soft moan escaped my lips and he laughed against my skin. “Um – well before my husband started distracting me, I was thinking about how much I love this.” I gestured out to everyone around us, “I love our family…I love our life.”