“If the fish are hungry, they will like it.” His little face is scrunched in concentration.
“Good point,” I say, finishing with Lilly’s bait and watch as she walks down the long dock. Her tight jeans show off the curve of her ass and her long legs. Ashlyn runs off, following close behind her wearing her life jacket. A few seconds later, Jax follows behind them wearing his life jacket as well. After I get my pole hooked up, I start making my way down dock when Lilly yells that she’s got another one. I watch as she brings it out of the water. The fish is hooked through the mouth this time, his body flopping around. Lilly starts screaming when the fish makes its way towards her; she keeps backing away from him but still has the pole in her hand, so the fish is following her the whole way. I'm laughing so hard, and so are the kids, until Lilly continues her backwards walk right off the dock. She cries out right before there is a loud splash. I have never in my life met someone as clumsy as she is. I shake my head and run down the dock just as Lilly comes back up and starts treading water. She wipes her hair out of her face laughing. Both the kids are cracking up, dancing around the dock.
“I can’t believe I did that,” she laughs. I reach down to give her a hand up; she takes it then tugs, and I'm falling over the edge of the dock into the water with her. When I come up, I'm sputtering. I look at Lilly, who is laughing her ass off, then up at the kids, who are looking down on both of us with giant smiles on their faces.
“You think this is funny?” I ask, and then start to splash water onto the deck at the kids.
“No, Daddy! There are fish in that water!” Ashlyn yells, running away while Jax looks at me, then Lilly, and jumps in.
“This is so much better than the zoo,” Jax says, climbing onto my back.
“Come in, love bug,” Lilly calls.
“Will the fish bite me?”
“No, they are all scared,” Jax says.
“The water is icky, and it’s too cold!” she says, looking at the water, then at us.
“You’re such a girl,” Jax yells, then tries to dunk Lilly.
“I know I'm a girl. I'm a princess. Right, Daddy?” She puts her hands on her little hips and glares at her brother.
“Right, baby,” I say, putting my hands up on the dock and pulling myself up and out of the water.
“You two ready to get out?” I ask, putting a hand down to Jax, who kicks his way over to me. I take his hand and pull him out of the water, and once I’ve gotten him and Lilly out, Jax starts chasing his sister around threatening to hug her, causing Ashlyn to scream and run away from him.
“This is way better than the zoo,” Lilly says, and I toss my arm over her shoulder, pulling her into my side. “It’s a good thing that warm front came through or this would really suck,” she says with a little shiver.
“Thanks for giving me this,” I tell her, kissing the side of her head.
“It’s been a lot of fun.” We make our way to our blanket that we had laid out on the grass, along with our cooler full of drinks and snacks. Jax runs to the blanket, gets a towel and his extra set of clothes from the bag that Lilly packed. I have no idea how she knew that we would need all that; I guess it’s a mom thing. I take him to the truck to help him get changed and bring back a jacket for Lilly to throw on over her wet clothes. We all sit down on the blanket and Lilly hands the kids each a sandwich before handing me one. Her eyes roll back before she sits forward and pulls out her cell phone from her back pocket.
“Shit,” she mumbles, looking at her phone.
“You said a naughty word,” Ashlyn informs Lil.
“Sorry,” she says, smiling.
“Don’t worry, babe; we can get you a new one,” I tell her, pulling her phone out of her hand and looking at it. I can see water in the screen, so I know that it’s not salvageable with a bag of rice.
“I can’t afford a new phone,” she says, looking at it.
“Will you stop doing that?”
“I didn’t ask you to pay for the phone, Lil. You can get a line on my account. It’s past time for you to get a Tennessee number anyways.”
“But I really can’t afford it. I still have to pay the lawyer,” she says quietly, looking at the kids. And just like that, I’m reminded of the shit that is still happening around us. That shit, along with my ex, is something that I don’t like to think about. Lucky for us, both have been quiet lately. The case against Lilly has been put on hold due to lack of evidence. And Jules has not made any contact since she went to Lilly’s school and attacked her. The day Lilly showed up at my jobsite in tears from what Jules did to her, it took everything in me not to kill her myself. Not that I didn’t track her down and make it known that if she continued her bullshit I would make her life a living hell. But even though she’s been quiet lately, I know that she is up to something. I just don’t know what.
“I love you, Lil. You and Ashlyn are mine, and it’s my job to take care of you. So please, let me do my job.”
“It’s not your job,” she huffs out, looking annoyed.
“Yes, it is.”
“A job is something you have to do whether you want to or not.” Her eyebrows come together, creating a small crease between them.
“Lil.” I shake my head; she’s so frustrating sometimes. I lean over, running my finger between her brows. “This is something I want to do. I love taking care of you guys.”
“I don’t want you to resent me,” she says so quietly that I almost miss it.
“How could I resent you?” I run my hand down the side of her face.
“I don’t know.”
“Babe, you have to stop doing that. Are you happy?” I ask quietly, looking at the kids. They are now off running around in the grass, chasing birds that keep coming to them because they are dropping bread as they run.
“Yes.” She watches the kids and a smile comes to her face. “I just don’t want you to feel like I’m putting all this on you, you know?
“Baby,” I laugh, pulling her over to me. “If you told me that you were going to stay home from now on, that would f**king thrill me.”
“I like knowing that you’re at home when I get home, and that my kids are being taken care of by you.”
“Hey, I didn’t say that you were going to stay home forever, but as long as you are, I’m cool with it.”