“It’s your birthday,” Ashlyn says, looking around before looking at me.
“Yeah, and we wanted to make you breakfast in bed as a surprise,” Jax says with a shrug.
“That was very nice of you both,” Lilly says, looking over at me with her arms wrapped around the kids. I can’t even speak; all I can do is look at my kids and woman. “That was really sweet, right, baby?” she asks softly, the look on her face causing a slow burn to fill my chest. I nod because I can’t speak. “What do you guys say we get this mess cleaned up while Daddy goes and lays back down, and we can still take him breakfast in bed?” she asks the kids.
“We’re not in trouble?” Jax asks.
“No, honey, you’re not in trouble,” she says, kissing the top of his head, “but let’s get all this flour cleaned up, okay?” They both agree, and then get down off the chairs. Jax goes and gets the broom, while Ashlyn goes and gets the dustpan. Lilly comes to me, wrapping her arms around my waist. I’m barely holding on to my emotions. “Go back to bed, Daddy, so the kids and I can bring you breakfast,” she says softly, smiling. I nod again, kissing her forehead before I turn and walk back to our room and straight into the bathroom, where I turn on the faucet and splash cool water on my face. My hands gripping the basin, my head down, I take a few breaths before I look at myself in the mirror.
My hair is a mess, and the stubble along my jaw is darker than normal. My eyes are crystal clear, and I can see only happiness in them. There is no sign of self-hate in my eyes anymore. I used not to even be able to look at myself in the mirror without cringing away. I hated my life; my son was the only thing who made every day worth fighting for. Now, I have a family with the first woman I ever loved. The only woman I have ever loved, besides members of my family. Lilly is someone who I will never take for granted, because I know how it feels to be without her and the light that she brings into my life. When I looked into Lilly’s eyes in the kitchen and saw the same happiness shining back at me, it almost brought me to my knees. I take a few deep breaths before turning off the water. I go back into the bedroom and sit on the bed. I can hear laughter coming from the kitchen, and I can’t help but smile when I hear the sound. I sit back against the headboard, pull out my iPad, and start searching for engagement rings. I have known since the beginning that I would ask Lilly to marry me, but having her live here over the last few weeks has only solidified that thought in my brain. I know that she has been worried about her case coming up in the school board and finding a job, but I like her home with the kids while I'm at work. I like knowing that my kids are getting the same thing I had growing up. I finally find a style of ring that I think Lilly will love, but I'm going to take the picture to the jewelry store in town and see if he can have something custom-made with a few changes to the design. I close down the web page when I hear the sound of feet coming down the hall, then the door is swung open and Ashlyn yells, “Surprise!”
“He already knows we were making him breakfast,” Jax says.
“So?” Ashlyn says back, sticking out her tongue.
“Hey, now, none of that,” Lilly says, smiling and walking to the bed carrying a tray that has pancakes with chocolate chips, eggs, and bacon, along with a small box that is wrapped in blue paper and a card.
“Happy birthday, Daddy,” Ashlyn singsongs, climbing up onto the bed.
“Thank you, baby,” I say, pulling her up onto my lap.
“Happy birthday,” Jax says, climbing up onto the bed as well, and I pull him into my other side and kiss the top of his head.
“Thanks, little dude,” I say, my voice hoarse.
“Happy birthday,” Lilly says, looking between the three of us before her eyes meet mine, and I can see that tears are filling them.
“Thank you, babe.” I mouth the words to her because I can’t seem to speak. She nods before setting down the tray.
“Can I have some of your pancakes?” Ashlyn asks, and I look down at her and laugh.
“Me too,” Jax says, making me laugh harder.
“There’s more in the kitchen. I’ll be right back,” Lilly says, leaving the room. She comes back a few minutes later with another tray, this one with three plates, two juices, and a coffee. She sets the tray on the bed before climbing up to sit facing us. We all sit on the bed eating breakfast, and once we are done, I set my gift and card on the bedside table and take the plates into the kitchen, telling them that I would be right back. When I come back to the room, I sit back down with a kid on each side of me. I put the gift in my lap so I can read the card. On the front of it is a guy in jeans and a shirt; there is a little window, and when opened, the shirt says SuperDad. I smile before putting down the card, picking up the box, and looking at it for a few moments.
“Are you gonna open it?” Ashlyn asks, looking worried. I feel Lilly rub my leg, and I look at her and smile. I start to tear the paper away slowly.
“Dad, just open it,” Jax says, eyeing the box like he wants to take it out of my hands and do it himself. I finish opening it and pull the small box out, lifting the lid. Inside is a pendent on a ball chain. “It’s backwards,” Jax says. I use one finger and flip the pendent over, and on the other side are three stones going down the center of it. All three different colors each represent the three people surrounding me.
“Do you like it?” Ashlyn asks, sitting up on her knees.
“I love it,” I tell her, looking up from the pendent into her smiling face.
“That one is Jax. This one is me. And that one is Mommy,” Ashlyn explains, pointing out each stone.
“Are you gonna put it on?” Jax ask.
“Yes,” I whisper, taking it out of the box, holding it up, and looking at it before I slide it around my neck.
“You look pretty,” Ashlyn says.
“Boys don’t look pretty; they look handsome or cool,” Jax tells Ashlyn.
“Nuh-uh, Mommy says Daddy is the prettiest boy that she ever saw.” My eyes go to Lilly and I raise an eyebrow; she shrugs before covering her mouth, laughing at the look Jax gives her.
“Boys aren’t pretty, right, Dad?” Jax asks me, and I turn to look at him. I don’t even answer him; I just drag him to me, tucking him under my arm and kissing the top of his head.
“Thank you, guys, for my gift. I love it,” I say, kissing Ashlyn’s forehead. She wraps her little arms around my neck, hugging me tightly.