Author's note: So I didn't feel that an epilogue was necessarily needed but a lot of people wanted one and I thought it would be fun to write anyway so here it is, twenty-five pages of gratuitous fluffiness just because I could :-) Enjoy!


Happy birthday! I can't believe you're freaking 33 today, that's so old! I know I probably can't say that because I'm going to be there too in like, a month, but please don't remind me, I don't want to talk about it. I just feel like the time has gone by so fast, and sometimes I wonder where the hell it all went but then I think about all the things that have happened in our lives in the past five years and I'm like, oh…that's where. I haven't had time to obsess about getting old because I've had other things to be neurotic about, right?

In all seriousness though (and I know it's your birthday so I'm supposed to talk about you and how awesome you are, but I'm just going to talk about myself for one second, okay?) I'm not scared of getting old anymore. I still don't think you fully understand exactly how much I used to dread it. When I was in my late 20's I would get sick to my stomach every time someone so much as mentioned the word "thirty." I would jump into the conversation and change the subject or else just leave the room because I couldn't stand it. Obviously that was unfounded and ridiculous because 30 came and went with no problems, 31 was awesome, and 32 has been pretty damn amazing so far so I'm betting 33 is going to be even better. You just keep getting sexier every year too which is an added bonus, and I'm not just saying that because it's your birthday, it's really true. Pretty much the point of that whole tangent was that I don't give a fuck how old we get anymore, as long as we're together I know we're going to be happy.

Fuck, I'm on the back of the card now, I totally have to wrap this up. I told myself I wasn't going to let this even get to two pages this time, much less eight, because I really shouldn't have to. Everything that I want you to know I've already said, I say it every day, but I'll write it here too just for sentimentality's sake, so that maybe someday when you're super irritated with me for whatever reason you can read back over it and remember why you love me:

I want to thank you for keeping all of your promises. Thank you for giving this another chance. Thank you for sticking with me through the rough patches because I know I can be a struggle, and thank you most of all for convincing me that not all change is bad, that caution isn't always the best policy, and that the world isn't nearly as scary when you trust someone enough to face it with them. You're an amazing man and I love you with all my heart, for the rest of my life and whatever comes after that.

- Tay

I skim back over the card quickly. Yeah, that'll work. I mean, the handwriting is pretty messy, it was obviously scribbled out very quickly at the last second, but he's not going to care. He gives really serious consideration to other people's birthdays, I don't remember a time that he's ever forgotten a single one, but he doesn't give a fuck about his own. I asked him what he wanted for a present and he was like, "Um…we need dishwasher detergent. Just pick some up and put a ribbon on it," so I did. I mean, I got him a few other things too, I got him a couple shirts because he hates shopping and I have better fashion sense than he does anyway, and we're going out to dinner this weekend with the whole friends/family deal so I'll pay for that, but I don't know what else to do for him. I feel like he just legit doesn't want anything else. I guess he technically shouldn't either, he has everything.

I stuff the card in the envelope and write his name on the front, and then I glance out the window to make sure that Penny got home okay. She only lives a few houses down and it's a safe neighborhood and all, but it is after dark and she's a fifteen-year-old girl so I kind of wonder if I should have walked with her. Is that overkill? I don't know, I'm never the first one home. I don't know how it happened tonight either because I'm a lot later than usual, there was a massive pile-up on interstate 710 right before shift change with multiple serious traumas so the whole ER was a hot mess for about an hour and a half and they made day shift stay until we got them all through. I didn't even get to leave until past 8:00.

Penny has just made it up the steps of her front porch, and I keep watching until she physically gets inside the house because there's still a minute possibility that some crazy pedophile could jump out of the bushes and snatch her and I've gotten very paranoid about that sort of thing lately. Luckily that doesn't happen, she goes inside and closes the door behind her and a few seconds later the porch light goes off, so I turn my attention away from the window, leave the envelope on the counter, and glance over at the clock. I want Chris to get home.

I'm not worried or anything, he texted me a few hours ago and said that there was a shipment running late and he'd have to stay until it got there which I guess is fine, I just think it's totally lame that that would happen on his birthday. It seems like usually they keep things on a pretty tight schedule but I'm sure it's not his company's fault. It probably has something to do with like, the currents in the Pacific convergence zone or something, not that I have any fucking clue what I'm talking about. I just wish he'd get home.

Until then I've got this super exciting information packet to read that they handed out at work today. Evidence-Based Management of Cervical Spine Trauma, yay…so exciting. It could be a lot worse though, I could still be on motherfucking cardiac support team. I really didn't last long there. As soon as it was established that Chris would be able to move back in with me I signed myself up for the class Maura had been trying to get me to take, transferred to working on the floor back in the medical ICU, and by taking on a pretty heavy workload of bullshit online classes was able to knock all of it out pretty quickly and come out a year and a half later with a for real college degree. After that I took a job in the trauma department of the ER and I freaking love it. It's even better than the ICU and way better than the boring vascular unit. At this point I honestly don't know how I could possibly have enjoyed working on that floor, there was absolutely zero excitement. Trauma does have its slow days, but when something happens you automatically know it's going to be exciting.

I flip open my packet to the first page, Stabilization and Traction, and am about to immerse myself in what I'm sure is going to be a thrilling description of things I already know when I hear a whining noise and then scratching at the backdoor. I immediately set down my papers, push myself away from the counter, and go to open it. I totally forgot that Penny said she let the dog out before she left. I wonder how long he's been out there.

I swing the door open and am immediately accosted by an enormous, gray, barking bundle of enthusiasm, and it's only when I get physically pushed back into the wall by a pair of massive paws on my chest that I realize he's also soaking wet. "Dammit!" I exclaim, pushing him off of me. "Did you jump in the fucking pool again?"

He drops down to all fours, panting happily and dripping water all over the floor.

"God dammit," I mutter. "Stay." I turn to go to the linen closet so I can get some towels to dry him and the floor off with, and he begins to follow me so obviously that command didn't have much of an effect. He never listens to a fucking word I say anyway, just totally disregards all of it, but then as soon as Chris comes around he's the most obedient dog in the world. I don't get it either because I'm so super nice to him, but Chris says I'm not firm enough. I don't know, I tried for about a week when we first got him to be all into his training and shit but he just looks so sad whenever I call him a bad dog, like I've just crushed his entire world, so I can't do it. I gave up on trying years ago.

We got him when he was six months old from some Great Dane Rescue organization and according to them he had been severely neglected and had abandonment issues. I gathered from that that he was going to end up being really big and really difficult to train which at the time I saw as a good thing because I was trying to test out Chris's dealing-with-a-bunch-of-bullshit skills in preparation for parenthood. As it turns out Chris had no fucking problem training him so I didn't really get to assess those after all, but I do have my own patience tried every single day with situations like this one. I completely adore him of course, he's just a big clumsy ball of love and he always lets me be the big spoon when we snuggle which I appreciate, but he's also a total pain in the ass and the worst thing is that I just can't get mad at him for any of it.

"Come here," I say firmly, directing him to a spot on the floor in front of the closet. "Sit."

He doesn't sit, of course, but he does start wagging his tail and smacks the wall with it hard enough to shake a picture frame loose. It falls to the floor and the glass cracks, and he just continues standing there looking as innocent as ever, like he totally doesn't know that was his fault.

I roll my eyes a little, pick up the picture, and then go into the kitchen, closely followed all the way of course, to get a damn dog treat because that's the only way I'm going to be able to get him to stay put even though I'm pretty sure I shouldn't be giving him a treat for jumping in the pool because we're trying to get him to not do that anymore. I didn't even want a house with a pool, it's way more trouble than it's worth, but everything else about this house was so perfect and it was such a good deal that it really would have been stupid to turn it down just because of that. Besides, at the time I didn't see a problem because I didn't know our dog was going to apparently be such a fan of swimming.

"Alright, for real this time," I start, but then I realize that he's not following me anymore because he's standing beside his empty bowl looking at me with a totally pitiful expression. I guess Penny must have forgotten to feed him tonight but that's okay, she's new, so I'll give her a pass this time. "Bone, come here," I order. Yes, I did name my dog Bonesaw after all. It was and still is really fucking stupid, but by the time we got him we had been joking about it for so long that it just kind of stuck, and the name the rescue society had given him was stupid too. They were calling him 'Stanley' which is a person name, not a dog name, and I'm a strong believer in giving your kids normal names and saving the crazy creative ones for animals so I changed it. He totally doesn't care, I don't think he ever really answered to Stanley anyway and there's something strangely hilarious about having a dog named Bone. People give me confused looks every time I tell them.

"Look, I have a treat!" I try, holding it out so he can see it. He barks excitedly a few times, probably waking up the whole damn neighborhood, and then tries to jump up on me again. That wouldn't be nearly as much of a problem if he were a normal sized dog, but last time we took him to the vet he weighed ten pounds more than I do so I frequently get the breath knocked out of me whenever he's around. "No," I say as firmly as possible, and hold the dog biscuit up over my head. "You have to sit."

Chris has somehow managed to get things to the point where all he has to do is hold up his hand and close his fist and Bone will just fucking sit right down, he doesn't even have to say anything, but I've tried that and it apparently doesn't work for me. I guess Chris is just like, the fucking dog whisperer or something. "Seriously, sit your ass down," I tell him, placing my hand on his back and pushing on it. It takes about thirty seconds of this but he finally gets the picture and sits, and I give him the treat because he's already seen it, I'm not going to just not give it to him. That would totally hurt his feelings.

I can only expect him to stay seated long enough to finish eating his biscuit so I have to make a mad dash back into the hallway to get some towels and return in time. He's pretty cooperative when I dry him off though, he usually is, and at this point he finally knows better than to shake himself off inside the house because Chris gets pissed as hell when he does that so that's some sort of progress at least. "Good boy," I tell him affectionately as I wring out his tail. "Who's a sweet puppy?"

He opens his mouth and gives me a doggy-smile, his tongue hanging out to the side hilariously.

I lean forward and kiss his nose, receiving a disgustingly slobbery lick on the side of the face in return which I immediately wipe off because that's so gross, but I compensate for it by saying, "I love you. You're the best dog in the world…on some real levels though," I add sternly, "you've got to stop this. No more jumping in the pool, okay? You know you're not allowed and your daddy doesn't like it when you break the rules, it pisses him off." When it comes to Bone, Chris gets the official designation of Daddy because I don't discipline him for shit and I know that too. "How about this," I continue, "I won't tell him about it this time if you promise not to do it again, sound good?"

Like that's really going to make any difference. What we really need to do is just get a better pool cover, one that a dog can't chew a hole in and find a way to get under. I know they make much more substantial covers than what we have, there are these official winter ones that are designed to keep anything and everything from getting in so that you're not growing a bunch of festering algae and bacteria for months which is exactly what we need right now anyway because I doubt anybody besides Bone will be getting in the pool until summer. Also I'm just tired of cleaning muddy paw prints out of the carpet, and the shitty cover that we have is really not safe anyway, especially now that Abby can walk so steadily and goes outside to play and stuff.

Speaking of which, I should probably go check on her. She has some separation anxiety I think, because even though she doesn't usually cry when she gets left with a babysitter sometimes if it's someone she's not very familiar with that puts her to bed she'll sit up in her crib and won't go to sleep until someone she knows comes in to tell her goodnight. She was getting better about it with our old babysitter, Penny's older sister, but then Miles and Nita stole her. Miles called me a few weeks ago and practically begged for my babysitter's number because theirs had canceled last minute and he and Nita just had to go out to this concert, and I gave it to him because I figured it would be just a one time deal but it appears that it's not. I mean, it's okay, I understand that good babysitters can be kind of hard to find, but if I had known he was going to just straight jack whoever I recommended I would have given him Penny's number instead…which is kind of mean, I know, but her sister was better. Her sister would have remembered to feed the dog at least.

I fill up Bone's bowl and he dives straight in which makes this a perfect time for me to escape. I hastily clean up all the water in the hallway, throw the towels into the washing machine, and then head upstairs to change because I'm completely soaked. That fucking dog…I love him so much though.

Once I get changed into my comfy nighttime clothes I walk quietly down the hall to the room opposite our bedroom, pausing outside the door to listen. I don't hear anything but that doesn't necessarily mean she's asleep. Just in case I push the door open a little and peek around the corner, and sure enough by the glow of the nightlight I can see that she's sitting up in the middle of the crib, sucking her thumb and holding Baby Bone, this little plush Great Dane that her mom gave her last Christmas, in her free hand. "Hey pumpkin," I say softly, approaching the crib.

She looks at me solemnly and takes her thumb out of her mouth, stretching her arms up towards me.

"Why aren't you sleeping?" I ask as I lift her over the railing and settle her on my hip. "Hmm?"

She doesn't answer, just stares at me with heavy-lidded, sleepy eyes, the same exact icy blue color as Chris's.

"Are you not talking tonight? You're too sleepy?"

She can talk of course, she's just kind of like Chris in that respect. She doesn't really talk unless she has something to say.

"Can you smile at least?" I try.

Still no response, she just tightens her grip on Baby Bone and lays her head on my shoulder. She's obviously very tired and I hate that she can't sleep until she's made absolutely sure that she hasn't been abandoned, but it's kind of adorable too.

I kiss her head and hold it there for a moment because her hair is so soft and it smells fresh and clean, like baby shampoo. "I bet I could make you smile," I continue, "because I know where your tickle spot is."

Just the mention of the tickle spot elicits a little giggle, and I get a full-fledged one as soon as I wiggle my fingers into that little space between two of her ribs. She arches her back some and tries to twist away, and that's confirmation enough for me that she's still alive and still has a voice and all that so I stop.

"Told you so," I tease, kissing the tip of her nose which is an exact replica of the official cutest nose in the world. She's just so damn cute altogether, she got the best of everything I think, Chris's gorgeous eyes and her mother's light blonde curls and that perfect little button nose.

"It's time to go night-night," I inform her, and she doesn't exactly agree because I don't think I've ever met a kid that was honestly enthusiastic about going to bed, but she doesn't argue either. She yawns and doesn't cling onto me when I put her back in the crib like she usually does so she's clearly ready for it. "Can you say night-night?" I ask, picking up her blanket that's gotten shoved over in the corner and covering her with it again.

"Night-night," is her faint, sleepy reply.

I smile and stroke her hair back from her face. It won't stay of course, it never does, it's too curly and wild, but I always try anyway. "Love you, pumpkin," I say. "I'll see you in the morning."

I wait there for a moment to make sure that she closes her eyes, and also just because she's so sweet to look at when she sleeps. I can't get over how fast she's grown up either, it feels like she was just born fucking last week or something, but everything's been moving way too quickly these days it seems like.

After that first year in which Chris granted me a full reprieve from anything and everything related to babymaking we just jumped straight into it on fast forward and it wasn't even his fault either, it was mine. The reason my mind changed so suddenly about that was that I came up with a brilliant plan, and I did take into account the fact that Chris can always tell when I'm planning something and would probably feel a little manipulated, but I considered it worth the risk because my plan was totally perfect.

Over the course of that year I'd had several more encounters with and subsequently gotten to know and became friends with Crystal's friend Sonya with the cute nose who was still single, still getting old, and still totally desperate to get knocked up. It just so happened that during one of our slightly tipsy conversations one night she mentioned that she was about to just fucking march down to the sperm bank with her turkey baster because she could tell that she was totally meant to be a mommy and she wanted it more than anything and she hated men anyway so she didn't even need one of those, and in a moment of alcohol-induced inspiration I drunkenly said no, don't do that, let me introduce you to my boyfriend.

It sounds horrible, it even sounded horrible then, but I worked out a whole long rationale for it. First and foremost it would be inexpensive. I had a coworker who had been trying to adopt a kid for years and it was a long, drawn out, frustrating process. I didn't want to have to go through all that, it was too stressful. Test tube babies cost tens of thousands of dollars at the very cheapest so that was definitely out too, but making babies at home costs absolutely nothing. Besides that, getting Sonya in on it would satisfy my personal conviction that all children deserve a mother. My mother was the only decent parent I ever had growing up and even though intellectually I knew that it had much more to do with the fact that she wasn't drunk all the time than with her being a female, it was still important to me and I couldn't shake that.

Those were all just excuses really though, cover-ups for the most important reason of all which was that getting Sonya involved would enable me to stay on the sidelines. Besides the fact that I was totally weirded out by the thought of ever having to take a pre-teen girl bra shopping, or ever having to explain to a boy of constant jacking-off age that he was going to have to start either doing his own laundry or buying his own tissues, it was essential to me that I not have primary responsibility for the kid. I didn't want to feel that intense and terrifying burden that I was sure would come along with being so heavily depended on. With Sonya in on it I would be able to stand back and take on more of a stepparent type role, babysit when I was needed, be there to do snacks and bedtime stories but not actually be the primary influence, kind of like I was for Matty and Keira already. I wouldn't be able to fuck anybody up was the general idea. It felt safer. It was perfect.

I presented the plan to Chris almost as soon as I had come up with it, pretty much just fucking blindsided him with it really, and he wasn't so sure. For the first time ever I heard him make excuses – he didn't believe I was really ready for it, he wanted to wait a few more years anyway, he didn't want to have a child with some random woman he had only met a few times in his life. They were all legitimate of course, but I didn't want to hear them. Sonya was thirty-seven and freaking out about it, she wasn't going to wait a few more years and I didn't know if I'd ever meet another woman who was up for such a crazy plan. If I wanted to maintain my non-involved status and avoid the possibility of ever officially, legally being named someone's parent then this needed to happen ASAP so I pushed for it, and I pushed hard.

I arranged meetings between them, I presented my case, did a whole bunch of legal research on child custody arrangements, completely ignored everyone like my brother and Emma who kept telling me it was a really bad idea to be putting so much pressure on Chris, and bugged him about it every day. Honestly I'm kind of surprised it didn't destroy our relationship but he just had unbelievable amounts of patience with me, and besides I could tell that despite how much he tried to be rational about things he really did want it. Sonya was all for it from the beginning, she was ready to get down to it immediately, and after I had eventually found a solution to every problem that Chris could possibly come up with I was treated to his very last, sweet but pretty unfixable excuse: he wouldn't do it because he didn't want to cheat on me.

I tried to find ways around that too. I told him it was okay, I gave him permission, asked him didn't he think it would be nice to have sex with a woman again? I spouted off all sorts of total lies because I was so sure that this was the absolute best way to do things, but he could tell I wasn't being honest. He could tell I couldn't stand the thought of him sleeping with someone else and it meant so much that he wanted to save me the heartache, I just really wanted it to work. In the end the only compromise we could reach was me grudgingly agreeing to be there as sort of a sideline participant, and I got drunk beforehand because I was sure it was going to be so thoroughly depressing that I'd just have to be, but in the end it really wasn't bad. I had never gotten head from a woman before but I drunkenly agreed to try it and it wasn't that much different. It worked, at least.

There was something serenely beautiful too about watching Chris's body move from a distance like that, about the way he kept his eyes locked with mine the entire time, the way he would sometimes reach out to touch my face, or the way he whispered 'I love you,' when we shifted positions and his mouth moved close to my ear. It was further confirmation that no matter what the situation I was the one he loved the most, and all my fears about him ever possibly leaving me for a woman disappeared because he made it clear that night that even when he had this gorgeous, blonde, former beauty queen stretched out naked in front of him, he would rather look at me.

All-in-all it wasn't nearly as awkward as I had imagined a threesome would be which was a good thing because it turns out that having unprotected sex one time doesn't just automatically lead to conception/STDs like they make you believe in sex ed classes. Sometimes it takes a few more tries, but it didn't take that many and two weeks after his thirtieth birthday Chris found out that he was going to be a daddy. It was really good timing because it was also only three weeks before Christmas and I went ahead and considered that my Christmas present to him which saved me some money.

Underneath my happy façade I wasn't really that calm and collected about it though. Almost as soon as it happened I regretted it. I totally freaked out, I got paranoid as hell, especially since Chris started spending a lot of time with Sonya and I wasn't always there to be a part of it. I really didn't want to be a part of it, honestly. I didn't want to look at ultrasound pictures or read name books or go shopping for baby clothes even though that's one of my absolute favorite things to do, I just wanted all of it to go away because I was so sure I had made a terrible mistake. I had indirectly given Chris someone to love more than me and I was jealous and resentful and incredibly embarrassed for feeling that way.

He really did try to involve me. Both he and Sonya, who was and still is an awesome friend, were totally open to me being an equal part of all of it, but I had no interest. I spent the last few months before Abby was born being a complete head case again. Some nights I couldn't sleep at all and I'd slip out of me and Chris's bed to go curl up on the couch with Bone who was basically my only comfort and consolation at that point. I was just in emotional turmoil because I had made the decision, I had been the main advocate for it, so even though I wasn't happy with it anymore I didn't want to admit that. I'm sure Chris could tell, I'm sure he had some idea of why I wasn't happy, but I didn't think it would be fair to talk to him about it since it wasn't his fault. Instead I reverted to my old tactic of brushing off his conversation attempts and pretending to be totally fine while internally seething and hating myself for it.

I seriously don't know how we made it through that nine months. It says something pretty remarkable about Chris that he didn't just say fuck it and peace out because I was doing the exact thing that I had promised I wouldn't do anymore, but he stuck with me. He held me every night when I would let him, kissed me every morning before he left for work, told me that he loved me at least ten times a day, and he did all of that for very little in return. I almost completely shut him out but he hardly ever got angry, he promised me that everything was going to be okay even though I'm not sure if he really believed it, and he just let me have my space when it became clear that I needed it. He was, to put it simply, absolutely amazing.

Things almost immediately got better once Abby was born though. She was so precious that I couldn't not love her, and seeing how much Chris loved her and how happy he was really made it all worth it. After her maternity leave was up Sonya went back to work part-time, and seeing as Chris had to work five days a week and didn't have any flexibility as far as that was concerned Sonya and I arranged our schedules so that we worked on opposite days. I spent three days a week taking care of Abby for eight straight hours, just the two of us, and we bonded hardcore. I was the only one there when she rolled over for the first time, and I took a video and sent it to Chris at work who pretended to suddenly get sick, left early, and got home with this intense, burning look in his eyes. He kissed me about a million times while the three of us cuddled on the couch together and I apologized profusely for all the bullshit I had put him through. He forgave me, of course, and then when Abby went down for her nap he took me into our bedroom, held me close and looked into my eyes and fucked me hard and deep and slow, and that's when I realized that everything was going to be okay after all, that love doesn't divide, it multiplies, and that now that she was here our relationship was even stronger than it had ever been before.

It's been strong ever since then too, and that's the reason that even though it hadn't ever been in our plans and seemed pretty scary and kind of expensive, when Sonya announced on Abby's first birthday that she wanted to have another baby we really didn't even have to think about it. It was a bit of a shock how adamant she was that it needed to happen right away, but she was rapidly approaching forty and even more paranoid about her age than ever before, and the fact that she had been so totally open to being part of such an unconventional arrangement meant that we kind of owed her a favor. It felt very soon and it was definitely nerve wracking, but it was never really a question.

At this point I really don't understand how any of this was ever a question for me. I especially have no clue where I got the idea that Chris wouldn't be a good father because that's totally wrong. He's incredible. He's so sweet and so patient, he's never too busy, never loses his temper, never yells or gets upset, and I always knew he was like that too. He's everything that I wish my father had ever been for me, and that's really comforting because it assures me that the girls are never going to have to struggle with all the trust issues and self-doubt that I did. No matter what happens they're always going to be loved. We're all always going to be loved, that's the point of being a family, I just never realized it before because I didn't have that experience with my own when I was a kid. All I could see were the numerous ways in which things could go wrong, but that's not going to happen this time. I'm not going to let it.

I give Abby one last affectionate glance over before turning to leave. She's got her eyes closed, Baby Bone clutched close to her chest and her thumb in her mouth again, and she doesn't stir when I start to tiptoe out so I slip through the door, leaving it just barely cracked behind me.

I make my way just as quietly into the next room over, and my heart starts to beat wildly and apprehensively like it always does whenever I'm about to see her for the first time in several hours. I know it's stupid but I just get so terrified that I'm going to find her like, not breathing or something. I never had this fear when Abby was a baby but this time it's like every little inconsequential thing sends me into a panic, even when I know for a fact that it's not something I should worry about. I hope this goes away soon because I'm kind of scared I'm going to give myself a heart attack if I keep it up.

She is breathing, thank God, that much becomes clear as soon as I get to the edge of the crib, and another thing that becomes clear is the fact that Penny apparently doesn't really know what all is involved in putting a baby to bed. She left her in the same onesie I put her in this morning, a white one with little pink cupcakes printed all over and the words sugar and spice and everything nice across the front, and her pink rose-shaped hairbow is still clipped into her hair. I guess when Sonya told Penny not to worry about giving her a bath she took that to mean not to worry about putting her in pajamas either. I don't suppose it's really a big deal though, she is new after all. Maybe next time I'll lay out a sleeper so that she gets the picture, but for now I'm not going to wake the baby up to change her outfit or anything. It's hard enough getting her to sleep for longer than a couple hours at a time already.

I'm really not a fan of that hairbow still being in though. I don't want her to turn her head and have it catch on the sheets and hurt her, so I very gingerly reach down and try to unclip it without disturbing her. It takes a minute but I finally manage to do it, and then I start to work it out of her soft but incredibly thick, dark brown hair. I still remember the exact moment that I first saw her hair…I freaked the fuck out.

I was scheduled to work in the trauma bay the day that Sonya went into labor but it wasn't really a big deal because I wasn't planning on being present for the whole ordeal anyway. Just Chris was with her the first time and I assumed that's the way things were going to go the second time too because they were the real parents and I wasn't. We knew it was another girl, had the named picked out already and everything, so when Chris called me with two hours left in my shift and told me I needed to come upstairs I didn't really see any reason for it. I would be there as soon as I got off, I told him, but he didn't seem to like that answer. He got very serious and said that I really needed to get up there right away, and I started to get scared thinking something was wrong so I told the charge nurse I needed to go on break and went upstairs.

Nothing was wrong though, everything was totally fine except that one thing had apparently not gone as expected, and when I stepped into the room and caught sight of that thick, dark, trademark Angelo hair for the first time I very nearly passed out. I got dizzy and sick, I couldn't think or hear what anybody was saying or see anything besides that sweet little sleeping face, and then before I really even knew what I was doing I was turning and leaving the room, scanning myself through to a badge access only area of the hospital where Chris couldn't follow me, and finding myself a nice solitary corner to hyperventilate in because that was just not fucking possible.

When we first started working out the logistics Chris, who had all he had ever asked for in Abby, made the suggestion that the second baby be mine, but I told him hell no, I didn't want that, I liked being on the sidelines. Now it was looking like that was not so much of an option anymore and that absolutely petrified me. I tried to be in denial about it, kept telling myself that it wasn't possible, there was no way, it was just a fucking optical illusion or a random coincidence or something, but in my heart I knew it wasn't true. It was possible, very minutely possible, but possible all the same because there had been one playful, slightly drunken night in which Chris and Sonya both called me out for never even having attempted sex with a woman and I was feeling exceptionally frisky and adventurous and said what the hell, let's do it.

Sonya was trying to get knocked up again so there was no such thing as condoms in her house, and I didn't think I had anything to worry about because I didn't think there was any way I'd get off, I was expecting it to be way too slimy and gross for that, but once again I underestimated the power of just having Chris close to me. At the last second I remembered that it would probably be a good idea to pull out and I thought I did but I was drunk and had never had to do that before so my timing wasn't exactly immaculate. Still, I didn't think much of it though. Chris fucked her right afterwards and again a few days later so I just assumed when she told us she was pregnant again that it had been him…and I had no idea what to think or do once I knew that that wasn't the case, because I knew. I didn't need a fucking DNA test or anything, in my very soul I knew because I had seen her for only a couple seconds but I was already halfway in love with her and I knew if I went back up there I would fall the rest of the way and then there would be no going back ever. It was the most scared I've ever been in my life, and that's saying a lot.

I eventually managed to calm myself down enough to go back downstairs. Chris tried to call me about twenty times but I put my phone on silent and blocked everything out of my mind, choosing instead to focus on the fact that I still had patients to take care of and my manager was going to get pissed if I took longer than the twenty minutes allotted for break. I actually went back down to the emergency department and tried to fucking continue with my day like nothing had happened, and it totally worked too up until the point that I was helping the rest of the trauma team dress some pretty extensive full-thickness burns on a patient that had just come in and one of the doctors noticed how badly my hands were shaking. He moved me away from the patient and reported me to the charge nurse who could immediately tell that something was wrong and suggested that I go sit in the break room for a few minutes.

I did, I was kind of grateful to get away from all the noise and all the people, but almost as soon as I had gotten myself settled in the lady was back at the door informing me that my brother had just shown up looking for me and referring to some family emergency and wanting to know if everything was okay. I knew immediately that Chris had called Ryan who was pretty much the last person I wanted to see so I freaked out again and I told her not to let him in but it was too late, she already had. The next thing I knew my brother was in the fucking break room right up in my face, telling me I was being a complete idiot, to get my ass upstairs so I could see my daughter, and that I needed to stop acting like a little bitch about everything.

In direct contrast to his completely sound and warranted advice I broke down crying and he had to march me out of there as discretely as possible to avoid causing a huge scene. He took me back upstairs to a mostly empty lobby area where my dad was waiting for me, and I was so unbelievably glad to see him because I knew that he at least wouldn't be mean to me. He would understand. He hugged me and talked to me and prayed with me for almost half an hour while Ryan rolled his eyes and went to talk to Chris instead but I didn't care how impatient he was getting. I had never needed a father more than on the day I became one myself, and finally, fucking finally, Dad lived up to the name.

The moment that really made a difference is when Dad, as usual, got onto a Bible verse kick and I remembered the words that had been my inspiration five years ago when I made up my mind to get Chris back. There is no fear in love. Of fucking course there's not. I only had to hear the words in my mind one time before I realized that Ryan was right, I was being ridiculously stupid, and then I was standing up, walking out of the lobby, down the hall, and back into that room where, without any more hesitation, I took my baby girl in my arms and held her and rocked her and talked to her in my baby voice for hours. I didn't want to let anyone else hold her either, not even Sonya, although I did give her up grudgingly a few times when visitors came in. It was just that, like I expected, I had fallen completely, madly, hopelessly in love with her and I still am, more and more every day.

I finally manage to get the bow out of her hair and then I start to work on the tiny silver and pearl bracelet around her left wrist that Dad gave her on the day of her baptism, because as cute as it is I feel like it might be a choking hazard or something. I mean, it's probably not, but I'm paranoid as hell. Thank God for Chris, seriously, because I am way too neurotic to ever do this on my own. When we finally left the hospital the night that she was born I fell to pieces again and cried some more and begged Chris not to leave me, at least not for the next eighteen years because I needed him so desperately, and that was the night that he finally said the words that had been so long implied but never directly spoken. He promised me forever.

It was at that point that I realized this was it. There was no going back, there was no way to try to keep myself at a safe distance, there was no room for even the tiniest shred of pride or defensiveness or self-protection, I was all in, so for the first time in the entire thirty-one years that we had loved each other I was the one who asked him to make love to me. I offered up everything I had not because he wanted it, but because I wanted to give it to him. I managed to release every inhibition I'd ever had, did what felt good without giving a second thought to whether it made me look submissive or weak, and as it turned out I felt less weak than I ever had with him before. I felt beautiful and sexy, cherished and adored, deeply, wholly, perfectly loved, and I was finally able to feel that way all because of this sweet little angel in the crib in front of me who right now is refusing to relax her hand enough to allow me to pull this bracelet off.

"Come on Lucy goosey," I murmur, tugging a little harder on it. "Cooperate with me, sweetheart."

No luck there, she just makes a fussy noise and draws her hand in even closer to her body so I decide to give it a minute before trying again. I don't get a chance to do that though because a few seconds later I hear the front door open and then the excited scrabbling of nails against hardwood which I recognize as Bone being absolutely thrilled that Chris is home but knowing better than to bark about it because Chris doesn't like him to do that when it's dark outside for the sake of not waking everybody in the neighborhood up.

It's about fucking time he got here. I feel a silly rush of excitement that I probably shouldn't be feeling anymore after five years, and technically more like seven if you count the time we were together before our brief breakup, but I can't help it. I love him more and more every day. I love Abby and Lucy more every day, my dad and my brother, my niece and my nephews, Crystal and Chris's mom and all his cousins, Sonya and Emma and Miles and Nita and all their fucking kids, just everybody. I am madly in love with the world and it's so unbelievable to me that just eight short years ago I hated it so much that I wanted to die. I almost don't even remember what that feels like anymore.

I make one last attempt to sneak the bracelet off of Lucy's wrist – it's still not happening – and then give up and make my way down the stairs in time to see Chris flipping over to the back of the birthday card I left for him, Bone sitting obediently at his feet. "Hey," I say as I approach him.

He takes a second to scan the last couple lines at the bottom of the card and then puts it down and looks up at me with a little smile, his eyes drinking in everything as appreciatively as they always do. "Hey."

"How was work?" I ask.

"Um…" He just kind of shrugs. "I mean, it was work."

"Was it fun?" I press. Sometimes I still feel like he hates his job, even though he's had a couple promotions and doesn't have to work nights anymore or hurt his back or anything. He says he doesn't hate it and he promises he's not lying, but I still just worry. I love my job. I don't think it's fair for anyone to not love their job.

"It was transcontinental shipping logistics," he says dryly. "Does anything about that really sound fun to you?"

"I mean, I don't know," I reply. "Massive vehicular trauma probably doesn't sound fun to most people but I think it's awesome."

He laughs quietly and shakes his head. "That's a little fucked up, Tay."

"I know," I concede, "but still, I'm just sad that you didn't have fun at work and you had to stay late on your birthday."

"Don't worry, it was so fun," he tries sarcastically.

"You're lying," I accuse.

"Alright, yeah," he admits, "but it wasn't bad, I'm just glad to be done with it because I'd much rather be here." He beckons for me to come a little closer. "Come here."

I go, of course, and he puts his hand on the side of my face and kisses me softly. I wind my arms around his waist and pull him closer, kissing him a couple more times because it's been like, sixteen hours since the last time I kissed him and I've missed it. I miss it when I have to go fucking five minutes without it sometimes.

"I've been thinking about you all day," he murmurs against my lips, and from the low, sexy tone of his voice I can tell what exactly it is that he's been thinking about.

"Really?" I tease. "How come?"

He kisses me again. "Because it's my birthday," he replies, still holding me close, "and I thought I might be getting a present or something."

"You're totally right," I tell him, rubbing one of my hands over his back as his lips start to make their way down my neck. "I did get you a present, it's in the cabinet under the sink." Because I totally did get him a box of dishwasher detergent and wrapped it up in a ribbon and everything.

He laughs against my skin and has to stop the slow path he's trailing down to my shoulder. "You really did that?" he asks, amused.

"It's the only thing you said you wanted!" I protest. I would have gotten him something better if he had given me any sort of idea.

"No, you're right," he says, resuming his gentle kisses on the front of my throat, "but I just thought of something else I want too."

"What's that?" I ask, even though I clearly know.

He makes his way back up my neck and stops when he gets right next to my ear. "I want to make love to someone beautiful."

I can't help but smile as I tilt my head back to give him more room. He says stuff like that all the time, you'd think I'd be over hearing it by now but it still gives me butterflies in my stomach every single time. "I might be able to make that happen for you," I agree.

He takes my face between his hands and kisses my lips again, slowly and perfectly just like always, never rushing through the buildup and I don't push him to rush through it anymore either. I'm still not quite as patient as he is but I do enjoy the teasing sometimes. The anticipation is what makes it so amazing in the end, and the control he has over himself and me is kind of sexy in a strong, dominating sort of way. That's not to say that I don't like being in control too though, because as much as I love it when he makes love to me now, I love even more those rare but so, so special nights when he lets me do it to him. It was really hard for him for a long time, he had a lot of emotional damage to work through and he wasn't always open about it, but he really did try and I was perfectly willing to wait. It just makes it that much more amazing when I have him in my arms looking up at me with complete trust and surrender, when I'm the one kissing him all over, stroking his face, whispering softly that I love him so much and he's so beautiful, so perfect in every way. It makes me realize just how much it means to him when I give myself up like that and makes me want to do it more often. I want to share every part of myself with him.

Chris breaks away for a second to look at Bone who is just sitting there staring at us with a tilted head and cocked ears, and he snaps his fingers and points over at the dog bed by the door. That's a good idea, it's a little bit awkward getting all hot and heavy with that audience. That's really the only obstacle left in our sex life these days, finding somewhere to do it without being interrupted by whining or scratching or crying, because even though the girls spend every other week with Sonya, Bone is here all the time and he does not like it when nobody's paying attention to him.

With Bone now relocated to his bed I put my arms around Chris's neck and kiss him again. I'm so ready to give him the best birthday present ever, but before I can get too far we get interrupted again, this time by the sound of crying from upstairs. Dammit. I grimace a little. I guess me fucking with her bracelet must have irritated her enough to wake her up.

Chris kisses me one last time and then backs off. "I'll get her," he says.

"No," I argue, "it's your birthday, I won't make you get up at all tonight." I'm not exactly thrilled about the prospect of a night with no more than two consecutive hours of sleep, but it's only fair and at least I don't have to work tomorrow or anything.

He shakes his head. "I don't mind. Seriously." Then he turns around and starts up the stairs and I follow him because what the fuck else am I going to do? I want to be wherever he is.

We go into Lucy's room and Chris lifts her out of the crib and snuggles her against his chest which immediately shuts her up. "What's wrong, angel?" he asks, gently stroking her hair, and her little head is so tiny that it fits pretty much perfectly into the palm of his hand. I always get this sweet, tender feeling whenever I see him with her like this, and I don't even really know why. I guess maybe it's just the combined power of having two people I love so much so close together, or maybe it's the awe and deep appreciation I have for all the amazing things that have happened to me recently, the knowledge that even though she isn't his he still loves her and would do anything to protect her just like I'd do for Abby. It's a depth of feeling and attachment that I've never experienced before in my life and it takes my breath away.

"Nothing's wrong," I answer for her once I find my voice again. "She's fine. Penny fed her and changed her before she left like, not even thirty minutes ago. I was just trying to take that bracelet off of her earlier and I think it woke her up." Speaking of which, now would be a good time to get the thing off. I step closer and start to work on it. It's just so hard to do, the clasp is freaking tiny and I don't have any fingernails to speak of so it's quite a struggle but I get it eventually, and seeing as she's all cuddled up to Chris she's not putting up as much of a fight as she was before. "Thank you, sweetheart," I murmur as I finally pull it off of her wrist and go to put it in her little jewelry box on the dresser.

Yes, my baby girl already has a full jewelry box of little bedazzled headbands and hairbows, bracelets and anklets made of real gold and pearls and gemstones, and I know that's ridiculous but I don't care. She's my little princess and until she gets old enough to decide what she wants to wear it's up to me, so I'm going to make sure she looks just as beautiful and sweet and treasured as she is every single day. I'll stop before she gets too spoiled, I swear…

"What the hell is she wearing?" Chris asks from across the room.

"What?" I turn to look at him. "Oh, yeah, I guess Penny didn't know that she was supposed to put her in pajamas. I'll lay something out next time, it's not a big deal."

"Yes it is, she's going to get cold," he argues. "That's probably why she was crying. She needs to wear pajamas."

I roll my eyes just a little bit. I mean, I do get neurotic about inconsequential things a lot of the time but I don't run nearly as tight a ship as Chris does. He doesn't ever freak out like I do, but he does go totally by the book on everything, even when it probably doesn't matter that much like in this case. I'm fairly certain Lucy will be fine if she sleeps in a onesie, Ryan and Crystal let Jacob sleep in onesies all the time and he has yet to die of hypothermia, but if Chris is that concerned about it then whatever, it doesn't matter to me. I open the top drawer of the dresser and pull out a little pink sleeper – everything in her wardrobe is pink because I bought almost all of it – which I hand to Chris. "Here."

"Thanks." He lays her down on the changing table and she starts to cry again because she's always like that, very attention hungry and always wanting to be held. "I know you're cold, baby," he says sympathetically as he starts to work her arms out of the onesie. "We'll get you warm soon, don't worry."

She is not cold. I swear she's not. It's seventy-four degrees in this house, there's no way she can be cold.

"Hey, did you check on Abby?" he asks over his shoulder. "Is she sleeping?"

"She wasn't when I got here but I think she probably is now," I answer. She seemed like she was about to go to sleep at least.

"I'll go in there and make sure," he comments. He doesn't really need to, I'm almost positive she's asleep by now, but I get it. He hasn't seen her all day and I know he misses her. He finishes up the snaps on Lucy's sleeper and then picks her up again and hands her over to me. "Hold her for a minute and get her warm," he instructs, and I bite back a smile.

"You're not really cold, are you sweetheart?" I ask once he's out of the room. "I know you're not, but it's his birthday so we'll let him think he's right, okay?"

She just yawns and blinks her eyes lethargically a couple times before closing them all the way.

"Who's a sleepy girl?" I say softly. "Are you my sleeping beauty?" It sounds kind of bad and I'd never admit it out loud, but at least in my opinion she's the most beautiful baby I've ever seen, more so than any of Ryan's kids or Jen's kids or Miles and Nita's kids, or even Abby although she's definitely a close second. It's the nose, the most precious little nose in the world, they both have it and it fits them perfectly. "I love you so much, sweetheart," I continue. "You're the sweetest little thing in the world."

I kiss her forehead a couple times and then lay her back down in the crib because she's almost asleep and I want to get her there before she falls all the way asleep so that the jostling around won't wake her up again. She whines some when I let go of her but I put my hand on her belly and rub it a little. "Shh, don't be like that," I urge. "I have to go do birthday things, I'm going to need like, an hour at least, okay?"

She quiets down from the touch and I leave my hand there for a few more seconds before slowly, carefully withdrawing it. She doesn't make another sound and her eyes are still closed so I give her one last breathless, adoring look and then very quietly start to sneak out. Sometimes I'll get to the door and it'll squeak a little bit when I open it and then she'll wake up and start crying again, but luckily Chris left it open so I don't have to worry about it. That was good planning. I should do that all the time.

I meet Chris in the hallway and then the next thing I know I'm back against the wall with the front of his body pressed right to mine and his hands gripping onto my hips. He kisses me hard, but not roughly because he never loses control, and then starts working his way down my neck again. After a minute I feel his hand pushing up the front of my shirt, rubbing over my skin and the definite lack of love handles there anymore because I do take care of myself these days. Then he's on his knees, his lips pressed to my bare stomach, moving lower and lower and it's a little awkward to be having this happen out in the hallway right in between the girls' rooms but it's not like they can exactly get out of bed and accidentally get a look at something they shouldn't see so I guess I shouldn't worry about it. The only one who might potentially witness this would be…dammit.

"Chris," I push back on his shoulders a little bit and then nod towards the staircase where yet again we have a very interested audience happily wagging his tail.

"Go to bed," Chris says firmly, pointing down the stairs. That command has the exact opposite effect that he intended though because I guess Bone interprets Chris kneeling on the ground as it being wrestle time so he bounds over and jumps on him, trying to knock him over.

I can't help but laugh at that. It's fucking adorable when they play together like this. Chris is really strict with Bone but I know he loves him, he's just a pretty horribly behaved dog so somebody needs to be a hardass and it's certainly not going to be me. "What the fuck?" Chris exclaims, "why are you all wet?"

"He jumped in the pool again," I inform him. I know I said I wasn't going to say anything, but Bone just cockblocked me so as far as I'm concerned that deal's off.

"Dammit, Bone," he says in an exasperated voice, scratching the side of his neck. "You need to stop that, seriously. I don't know what we're going to do with you."

"We should just get a better pool cover," I comment. "He's obviously not going to stop."

"Yeah, you're probably right," Chris concedes. "Where do you get one of those anyway?"

I shrug. "I don't know. I'll ask Emma, I'm pretty sure Dr. Bob has one of the super legit ones."

Finally, after years of trying desperately and not getting any results, Emma appears to have found her perfect man, and I really like him too. About a year and a half ago Dr. Tanner abruptly decided he'd had enough of the hospital scene and took himself, his wife, and his shitty attitude and retired to Malibu. His replacement was a vascular surgeon from Seattle in his early forties with a bit of a bald spot, nerdy, thick-framed glasses, and a very awkward but personable manner who told all his patients to just call him Dr. Bob. Emma was immediately enamored with him and for the first time in her life the object of her affections was equally as impressed with her. In order to comply with hospital policy and avoid all of the work/personal life conflict that Josh and I had to deal with she transferred to the pediatric unit and loves it, and she and Dr. Bob just recently moved in together so I guess things are pretty serious. She's really happy at least and he treats her like a princess which I'm glad of because as sweet a girl as she is she totally deserves it. They also have a pool and a very nice pool cover which none of their cats have been able to find a way under, although I'm not sure if that's really because it's impenetrable or just because cats don't like swimming. Bone could probably find a way through any pool cover in existence, but theirs might prove a little more challenging for him at least.

"Yeah, do that," Chris says, "because I'm really tired of dealing with this, especially when I'm obviously busy." He directs the last word at Bone who again completely misinterprets the whole situation and leaps at Chris, putting his front paws around his neck. Chris gives in and complies for a moment, allowing himself to be pushed down to the floor and then letting Bone catch his wrist in his mouth and gnaw on it for a second so that he feels some sense of accomplishment. It's just a little love bite, he knows better than to bite hard, and Chris rewards him with a kiss on the top of the head and a few seconds of scratching behind the ears before getting up, grabbing the back of Bone's harness, and starting to drag him down the stairs.

I go into the bedroom to wait for him and look around the room at all the pictures I've accumulated over the years. I've always been a picture person, I love to have memories of everything, and there are so many just in this one room. There's Chris hugging Bone when he was a puppy, me, Dad, and Ryan sitting shoulder-to-shoulder and smiling with identical eye wrinkles at Dad's birthday party last year, a stupid studio-produced family photo of Ryan, Crystal, Matty, Keira, and Jacob that they only got done because Crystal's parents gave them a gift certificate for an hour long photo session as a Christmas present in a very poorly concealed hint that they needed something to fill up their photo albums with, Sonya holding Lucy with Abby snuggled up against her side about a week after Lucy was born…every single picture makes me smile to look at and I don't care what anyone else thinks about it because I'm happy. I know me and Chris's situation isn't totally normal, but really what is normal anymore? There are so many stepfamilies and blended families and jumbled up collections of relatives and non-relatives that randomly live together these days that I really don't even see our arrangement as unusual. What matters is that you love each other, and we do. I love every single person in every single one of these photos with every single bit of my heart.

Chris returns from putting Bone to bed and I immediately put my arms around him and kiss him again because I'm just overflowing with love right now from looking around at all the pictures. Besides, it's his birthday so I feel like technically I should have been the one on my knees out in the hallway even though I know if I had said anything he would have argued with me and said that he wanted to do it. Maybe he did, maybe he still does and that's fine, but I'm going to get to him first.

I still don't know how to tie a tie, I've yet to have a significant reason to learn, but I sure as hell know how to untie one seeing as clothes off is usually the first order of business as soon as Chris gets home from work on the weeks that we don't have the girls, so I get his off and tossed over on the floor without even breaking the kiss. I start working on the buttons on his shirt next and he takes his hands off my waist long enough to let me push it down and off his arms. I run my hands over his chest some more, kissing down his neck to his left shoulder, over his collarbone and the thin lines of black ink intersecting underneath it. It's nothing fancy, just the letters T.J.A. in pretty, curling script, and then beneath it, slightly smaller and even more delicate looking, the letters A.P.M., and the newest addition, L.C.M., beside that. I've never been attracted to guys with tattoos but I like his because they're pretty small, have a significant meaning, and I think they're sweet. I really can't be critical anyway seeing as I have one too now.

Mine's even smaller than his but considerably more conspicuous because it's in a much more easily seen place. The hospital wasn't happy about me showing up with it one day, but nobody in trauma is allowed to wear sleeves for any reason so they can't do anything about it and if they tried I could probably get all up in arms and accuse them of restricting my freedom of religion or some bullshit. On the inside of my left wrist, perpendicular to and crossing over the long, white scar that serves to remind me every day of how incredibly lucky I am and how close I came to not ever knowing what any of this feels like, are the words 1 John 4:18.

People ask me what it means all the time and sometimes I get mistaken for a hardcore Bible fanatic like Dad which I'm still definitely not, but I always just patiently explain the real meaning behind it: that it's there to remind me not to be afraid because being scared of everything nearly killed me once, but swallowing my fear and taking a risk, letting myself be vulnerable and forcing myself to trust someone, that's what got me to where I am today and I'm never going back. Yeah, I did try to commit suicide eight years ago, I used to be weak but I'm not anymore and I'll tell that to anyone who asks. Abby has already inquired in her adorable way about the scars on my arms and I've given her an edited version of the story on account of her being so young, but once she and Lucy are old enough to actually understand I plan on telling them the truth. I'm not ashamed of it anymore. I learned something and I moved on and my life is better now because of it, better than I ever could have hoped for because this amazing man in my arms right now gave me things I was too afraid to even admit to myself that I wanted.

A minute later I've got Chris stripped down to just his boxers, lying on the bed on his back with me straddling him, and he pushes his hands up the front of my shirt and starts to pull it up over my head. I comply and once it's off he runs his hand down my stomach and gazes at me in admiration, like he's never seen anything so awe-inspiring before even though he sees me naked pretty much every day and should be used to it by now. "God…fuck," he breathes, sitting up and wrapping his arms around me, rubbing his hands up and down my back and pressing his lips to my chest. "You're so damn beautiful, baby," he murmurs, looking up at my face. "How the hell did I get so lucky?"

I smile and stroke his hair and kiss him again. "I think I'm the lucky one," I reply, because I am, because objectively maybe I might be better looking than him, but he still has an amazing body and beautiful eyes and far more importantly than all of that he's an incredible man who makes me feel deeply desired and adored every single day, who has taught me some of the most important lessons I've ever learned, and who, by gently but continually pushing me out of my comfort zone despite how hard I fought it, has ended up making me quite possibly the happiest person in the world.

He lies back down again, pulling me with him this time, and then he rolls on top of me, one hand working its way down the side of my sweatpants to start pulling them off. At that moment I become aware of a light scratching noise at the door and Chris does too apparently because he abruptly pushes himself back onto his knees and rolls his eyes a little.

"Dammit," he mutters, getting up off the bed and walking over to the door. "No," he says firmly and authoritatively once he gets it open and is faced with a very guilty-looking Bone. The poor dog knows he's not supposed to scratch on the door but he hates being ignored so much that I guess sometimes the urge is too strong to fight. "You do not scratch," Chris continues, pointing to the front of the door where the paint has started to chip off in a series of long streaks. "Look at that. Do you think that looks good? Do you think I like you tearing up my house like that? That's bad, don't do it!"

Bone lowers his head regretfully and this is where Chris and I differ because if it was just me here I know that as soon as I saw that I'd be saying I was sorry and calling him into the room to come snuggle on the bed with me so I could make him feel better. Chris won't stand for that sort of thing though because I'm apparently giving positive reinforcement for bad behavior or something, and I guess he's probably right, I'm just too soft hearted.

Chris starts to drag Bone down the stairs again, and I know it'll be a minute or so before he gets back because he's going to sit down there and have a serious talk with him about why he's being punished. I don't get that at all, I don't know how the dog could possibly understand, but whatever works I guess. I'm not the dog expert. I just lie here and look up at the ceiling and contemplate the unbelievable fact that Chris is already fucking thirty-three, and that in thirty-eight days time I'm going to be there too. That's crazy. It's not scary, it's just crazy.

The reason I used to be scared of getting older was that it seemed like everything slowed down so much when you reached a certain age, like there was nothing to look forward to anymore, and maybe if you're all alone and have no one to spend those years with then that's true but for me I see now that it's definitely not. Time hasn't slowed down, it's fucking sped up, and I may not have a whole lot of events to look forward to that would seem hugely significant to other people, but to me they are. I have first words and first steps and first days of school, tea parties and birthdays and ballet recitals, I have Chris getting home from work every day to be excited about if I want to and as of right now I always am.

I'm not expecting things to be wonderful a hundred percent of the time of course, we've had to struggle in the past and I know we probably will again, but I also know that we'll make it through because we promised each other we would. He promised he would love me until the day he dies and he's never broken a promise before. I have, unfortunately, but I don't ever plan on doing it again. I want this forever, I know that with absolute and total certainty, and I'll fight as hard as I have to for it. I don't understand why I ever fought against it. I mean, it was because I was afraid, I know that, but at the time I just didn't realize that that's okay. It is scary, anyone who thinks pledging your life to someone else isn't scary is fucking stupid because it's the scariest thing in the world, but it's exhilarating too…and it's totally worth it.

"Sorry," Chris says as he comes back into the room and shuts the door behind him. "Where was I?"

"Right about here," I answer, tapping a random place on the side of my neck and he stretches out over me again and attaches his lips to the spot. I rest my hands on his sides and grind my hips against his because he's just so sexy that I can't not do it.

"Calm down," he orders. "It's my birthday so I get to drag this out as long as I want to, right?"

I whine a little but stop because he is right. I rub my hands over his back and sides as he starts kissing down my chest and then, without even thinking about it, I find my fingers migrating towards the front of his body, reaching down and slipping underneath his waistband. I don't even mean to do it, it's just like, magnetism or something. I just really want to fucking touch him but apparently I don't get to because that mistake earns me a little bite to the right side of my ribs and his hands closing around both of my wrists and pinning them down to the bed. "Be fucking patient," he growls playfully. "Patience is a virtue. We've got all night, baby."

"Yeah, but we've only got like, five minutes until Bone comes up here and starts scratching again," I point out.

"He won't," Chris says confidently. "Trust me. We have plenty of time and it's my birthday so I want to enjoy my present."

"Shouldn't this be the other way around then?" I ask. "I mean, it's your birthday."

"Mmhmm," he says absently, "and right now I'm getting exactly what I want."

I can't really argue with that then. I guess I should just resign myself to the fact that I'm going to have to put up with his teasing no matter what. It's okay, it's not like I actually mind, it's just that after five years he's still coming up with ways to drive me crazy and I don't understand how. He lets go of my wrists and I place my hands on his back, rubbing the dense, hard muscles and sliding them up to hold either side of his face when moves to kiss my lips again. "You're beautiful," I tell him, "I love you," because I haven't said it yet today and I promised myself I would. I promised to say it every single day no matter what so that he'd never again have to wonder how I felt, and I have.

"I love you too," he replies, not sadly, not desperately, not angrily, not any of the ways that I've heard him say it in the past when love seemed like the most impossible thing to understand or ever make work. Now it's just a simple statement of the obvious, a clear fact that can't possibly be disputed. Of course we love each other. We always have and we always will.

He starts running his hand down my side and tugging at my sweatpants another time, a second attempt at getting me naked I guess, and I can't help but laugh when I hear that familiar scratching at the door again. Bone is really not into letting this happen tonight apparently, and I guess Lucy must not be either because almost as soon as the scratching starts up I hear faint crying too coming from down the hall.

Chris sits up again and gives me a look, shaking his head wearily. He might be a little irritated but I know he's not actually mad because he never gets like that. He has an endless supply of patience and the best attitude in the world when it comes to all this. I could probably use a few more lessons in it myself honestly. "I'll meet you back here in five," he says as we both get up, and he wraps his arm around my waist and pulls me up tightly against him, kissing me heatedly. "Don't be late," he teases when he releases me, and then turns and opens the door. "Dammit, Bone, you're really starting to piss me off!"

I just smile as I make my way down the hall towards the sound of the crying and Chris starts to drag Bone down the stairs for the third time tonight.

"What's wrong, baby girl?" I ask as I lift Lucy out of her crib again. I know there's not actually anything wrong because she stops crying as soon as I touch her and if she was hungry or had some other sort of legitimate problem she wouldn't do that. She just wants to be snuggled and I can't really blame her for that because I love being snuggled too. My favorite day of the week is Sunday because Chris and I both have that day off so we can just lie around in bed all morning and be lazy and hold each other, and usually Bone wants in on it too so if he can find a free spot on the bed he's allowed in. On the weeks that the girls are here sometimes Chris will go get Abby and bring her back to our bed with him, and I don't know, maybe this week I'll get Lucy too and see how she handles it. That seems like it would be a really nice way to start the day, having everyone I love all snuggled up in bed around me.

"See? Nothing's wrong with you," I chide as I lay her up against my shoulder. "You're fine, sweetheart. I love you, you just need to stop crying and go to sleep." I bury my face in her soft, thick hair, pressing little kisses to her head and rubbing tiny circles on her back. "Everything's okay, baby. Everything's perfect."

Author's note: So that's it, I guess. It's officially over now. I want to thank everyone who read, especially the people who left me reviews because I really appreciate those. If anyone isn't following me but wants to know what I'll be working on next, I am planning on going back and heavily revising the beginning of my other story which is actually the prequel to this one. If you haven't read it and want to don't start it quite yet because the beginning sucks and I'm about to fix it anyway. After that I'm not really sure what I'm going to write but I definitely want to keep writing and I want to write something that my readers will enjoy so I'd love some feedback on what sorts of stories you guys like and would be interested in.

Also please let me know what you think of my writing in general, what things you like about it, what you think I need to work on, what you'd like to see more or less of, etc. I'm always looking for ways to improve my writing, and I've had some people leave awesome critiques that I've really been able to work with, and that have hopefully resulted in improvement. Again, I just want to thank everyone who read and reviewed. I've had a great time writing this, I hope you've all had a great time reading it, and I hope that I'll see all of you guys back whenever I start my next story!


~ Jessie