"Are you ready dearest?" Lilli sung over the bassinet that held her beautiful six month old baby boy. "We are going to have a lot of fun today, your sister will probably leave your toes alone today because she'll be so busy, isn't that right Dani?" Her voice floated over her shoulder toward the small head of her oldest child.
"How did you know I was here Momma?" Dani asked innocently.
Lilli kept her laugh under her breath, "Because I know you too well my darling girl. And I also know Daddy is in the bathroom, so you couldn't be with him."
"He told me I couldn't go in with him," the three year old pouted.
"Well I'm glad you're here to help me, and so is Ryan. Aren't you glad your sister is here, Ryan?" she asked with a smile, pressing her lips against his head.
"Where is everyone?" Sam called from the hall, sending Dani into a chorus of squeals.
"In here Daddy!" she yelled, hopping on one foot, her brown curls bouncing against her shoulders.
Sam apeared in the doorway, his hair still wet, a spot of shaving creme still on his cheek. "Good, I thought you had all left without me! I know how excited you all are, I was afraid I had taken too long!"
Lilli laughed as Dani pronounced that they would never go anywhere without him. He lifted her into his arms easily, and she squealed in delight as he propelled her toward the ceiling. Lilli floated toward him, Ryan on her hip, and pressed a finger to the remaining speck of shaving creme before kissing him quickly on the lips. "And what was that for?"
"Not that I need a reason, but I thought you looked exceptionally delicious just now," Lilli winked.
"Mrs. Carter, I wish you wouldn't say such things when we have to go out for the afternoon!"
Lilli laughed again, and turned away to get Ryan ready. Today was the harvest picnic at the orchard and everyone they loved in the world would be there. Both of their families and even Viv and Jonathan, it was the highlight of the fall at Carter orchard.
"I'll have Ryan ready in ten minutes, can you get Dani to use the bathroom again before we leave?"
"Absolutely, then I'll get the squirt to help me pack the truck, I think I'll give her something heavy to carry!"
"Daddy, I'm just a little girl!"
"Oh, I forgot, you've been acting so old lately!" his voice echoed down the hall and got softer as they approached the bathroom. Lilli just shook her head and focused on the squirming baby in her arms. She could already tell he was going to look just like his father with the blonde hair sprouting from his smooth head.
When all four members of the Carter family were dressed and ready, they piled into the family truck and drove the five minutes to the apple orchard and parked to join the crowd. Lilli had no sooner stepped out of the car and her mother was there to take Ryan from her arms. With a shake of her head, she handed him over, and watched with joy as her mothers eyes sparkled with love. It had taken some doing, but after the wedding at the orchard four years ago, even her mother had fallen in love with the idea of Lilli living here. She even insisted they visit quite often.
Dani fell out of the truck next, and bounced toward her cousin Grace, who was trying to break free of her father's grasp. Sam pulled the packed basket from the back, and pulled Lilli into his remaining arm and pressed a kiss to her head before heading toward the crowd. Annie was on top of a picnic table, smiling at her steady boyfriend who had become a constant at family events recently. Kate and Wes and Viv and Jon still hadn't arrived, but that wasn't entirely unusual.
"Lilli!" Sarah called, pushing herself up from a chair. She was seven months pregnant, and looked very uncomfortable already. Bobby, their second, clung to her ankles as she stood. With a quick pat to his back, she sent him in the direction of his father, who opened his arms, encouraging the toddler to brave the terrain to walk to him. "He's so clingy these days, most times he won't even go to Rob!" she laughed.
"Well, it's alright for him to like his Momma," Lilli smiled, watching as Sam put a hand on Bobby's head while he talked to Rob.
"I guess it gets a little wearing, I feel like I'm carrying two kids at once, what with this one," she sighed, pointing to her stomach.
"Well, it won't be too much longer now, at least summer is over!"
"That's the truth! I thought I was going to die some of those hot days. I don't know how you were so far along with Dani in the summer, I would have been miserable."
"Oh I was, but I made sure that Sam was the only one who knew about it, I didn't want you to all think I was a baby."
Sarah giggled and put a hand on Lilli's shoulder. "How about you go sit, I'll get us some cider," Lilli offered.
Sarah agreed easily and fell back into the chair she had just vacated. On the way to the punch bowl, Lilli stopped to talk to Mom Carter, who was busy cutting the pies Lilli had brought. Dad Carter screamed hello from the fire pit, where he was cooking hamburgers and hot dogs for everyone. She had just filled two glasses when Viv and Jonathan pulled in, blaring their horn. Kate and Wes weren't too far behind, both families piling out of their cars at the same time.
Lilli delivered Sarah her apple cider, and set her own glass on the table, then went to greet the late families. Kate was helping Tommy and Laura from the car, and Wes was cradling a sleeping Jenny. Lilli knelt down to point Laura and Tommy in the direction of Grace and Dani, they ran quickly to the spot their aunt was pointing to. Lilli pressed a kiss to Kate's cheek and gave her a big squeeze before moving onto Viv and Jonathan.
Viv lost Bobby in the war, and met Jon soon after V.E. Day. He fell head over heels and Viv insisted she wasn't interested because her heart was broken. But that didn't stop Jon, he pursued her until she finally agreed to go on a date, and nine months later they were married. They moved close to the Carter orchard, making both Viv and Lilli very happy, they met every Wednesday for coffee and cake, or pie, or cookies, anything sweet.
"Glad you could make it!" Lilli smiled, teasing in her voice.
"I think we both know who is to blame," Jon said with a smile.
"Oh, of course we do, Vivian Lawrence," she accused.
"Well it's only because...because... I couldn't find anything that fit!" Viv said on a sob.
"What do you mean Viv? You have enough clothes to fill two closets, and you couldn't find anything to fit? You talk as if you've gained weight."
"I'm going to go talk to the guys," Jon called quickly, rushing away from Viv and Lilli, which made Lilli snap her attention to her best friend.
"I'm pregnant," Viv blurted.
"What?!" Lilli squealed.
"About three months, I wanted you to be the first to know, but I wanted to be sure too."
"I thought you two had decided not to have any kids?"
"We had, but then we babysat for Dani and Ryan, and I could tell Jon loved having them around. He was so good with them. You should have seen him with Ryan cradled in his arms!"
"Believe me, I can imagine," Lilli smiled, imagining Ryan in Sam's arms. Every time she watched him with Dani or Ryan she fell more deeply in love with him.
"Then, I realized I liked having them too, so we talked. I think the reason we had originally decided not to was because we wanted to be young and have a good time. But, now that's getting old, and we're ready to be responsible, so we started trying. Now I'm pregnant and my clothes don't fit, and I'm scared to death!" Viv sobbed.
Lilli pulled her into a quick hug, pressing Viv's head against her own shoulder. "I am going to be there for you every step of the way. The emotions are normal, and it's ok to be scared, but you aren't going to be alone. Jon will be a great dad, you will be a great mom, and you'll always have a great babysitter to call."
Viv pulled back and gave Lilli a teary smile, "Jon said I should have talked to you weeks ago, he was right, you always know how to make me feel better Lil."
"Good, now lets go have some apple cider and lots of pie, maybe my mom will even give up Ryan for a little bit."
Viv laughed and followed Lilli into the crowd of people that were spread between a few trees. Hamburgers were already on plates, and she could see Sam helping Dani with a hot dog. It looked like only two bites were missing, but somehow, she already had ketchup on her sweater. After helping Viv get a plate and some cider, she pulled another chair up to where Sarah was, and the three of them fell into a conversation that had them all in near hysterics. It seemed that most stories involving their young children made them laugh harder than anything ever had before.
Night began to fall and Dad Carter stoked a large bonfire for everyone to sit around. Lilli watched as Sam passed a sleeping Dani off to her grandpa, then sauntered over to Lilli and bent to take her hand. He swept her off her feet and pulled her close. Dipping his head to right over her ear he began to hum her favorite song and lead her in a gentle sway.
Lilli breathed in deeply the smell of her husband's aftershave and closed her eyes. Life couldn't be any better, she silently thanked God for bringing Sam back from the war, it was the same prayer of thanks she offered every night when she watched him sleep, or heard her daughter giggle in another room. And while she knew that life would always come with it's ups and downs, in this moment, her life was perfect, absolutely perfect.
Well, there it is! Hopefully you didn't think it was tooooo sappy. What can I say, I'm a happy endings girl, always have been, always will be! Hopefully I've tied up all the ends you might be wondering about! I know I left some things hanging in Deceptive Vow, so I tried to make sure I scooped everyone up in this epilogue! I hope you'll read Winchester if you aren't already and were waiting until the end of this one... Thanks to everyone who's been nothing but supportive through this story!! I love all the reviews, they truly make my day, and I'm so excited to see how much you've enjoyed this story!