“Fuck you! You kicked me in the nuts. That shit doesn’t count.”
“Whatever,” I mutter, fighting back laughter.
“This is what I missed,” Cash says, sitting down.
I take a seat as well, and when I look inside the house through the glass doors, Sophie’s eyes meet mine. She gives me a smile I haven’t seen in weeks. That’s the moment I realize how worried she is about me. I take a breath and mouth the words, “I love you,” before going back to talking to my brothers.
“Why do act like nothing happened?” I ask Sophie, who is sprawled out on top of me later that night.
“What do you mean?”
“You act like nothing happened, while I relive that shit over and over again.”
“I know you’ll protect me. I think about it sometimes, but really, I think about the girls and you and how lucky I am to be with my family. I know I could’ve died that night. I know what David wanted to do to me,” she whispers, clinging to me. “He told me about the other women he and his brother hurt. His brother, Dustin, told me what they had planned to do to Lilly, but when she got fired from the school because of Cash’s ex, it threw a wrench in their plan. I was afraid, but I knew you would find me, and I guess I deal with it because I know what I could have missed out on,” she says, cuddling closer.
“Shit,” I whisper, finally getting it. I don’t know how I missed it before. I’m doing to her what she did to herself for years. I hate that I’m trying to shove her back in her bubble when she has a million reasons to be out enjoying life.
“Yep,” she whispers back. “Now I just need you to start living life with me again.”
“I love you, sweet Sophie.”
“Love you too,” she mumbles, and I kiss her head.
I think about my girls and my need to protect them and their mother, and then I think about being their father and what that means. I can’t be the reason they’re never able to experience life to the fullest. I would hate myself if my own fears stunt their growth or turn them into fearful adults.
What I didn’t know was that, when my girls became teens, I would wish I had made them fearful of everyone, especially the male population.
“They’re grounded until they’re forty,” I tell Sophie as I watch both my girl across the football field. “Why did you encourage them to be cheerleaders?” I grumble as I watch one of the football players come off the field, giving Harmony a smile. “Yo! Hands off!” I stand and shout when another player picks up Willow and swings her around in a circle. His head turns my way, and his face pales when he sees me. “Yeah, you. Hands off,” I repeat. He drops Willow immediately, making her stumble and glare at him.
“Honey, calm down,” Sophie says, pulling on my back pocket.
“Calm down?” I glare at her. “This is your fault. Seriously, babe. Those skirts with your genes?” I shake my head. “Fuck no, I can’t calm down.”
“So your daughters can’t talk to boys, but your son can do that?” She nods to where my seventeen-year-old son, Bax, has his mouth on some girl.
“I never claimed to be fair, babe, but the shit with your daughters is getting ridiculous.”
“They’re going to college at the end of summer, and as much as you want to, you can’t keep them locked up forever.” She shakes her head at me.
“They’re not going away for college,” I tell her.
“Whatever. Can you please sit down so we can watch the rest of the game in peace without you freaking out and scaring everyone?”
“You need to tell the girls that flirting shit isn’t going to fly,” I growl.
“Honey.” Sophie leans into me, her mouth getting close to my ear. Her breath hitting my skin makes me instantly hard for her. Even now, almost nineteen years later, I can’t get enough of my wife. “If you calm down, I will do whatever you want when we get home.”
“You trying to bribe me with sex?” I ask, turning my face to look at her.
“It’s not a bribe.”
“What do you call it?”
“A promise.” She winks.
“I can get you to do whatever I want without taking you up on that offer,” I tell her with a smirk.
“True.” She smiles.
“You are so beautiful, baby.” I run my fingers down her cheek. “All that beauty… You gave all that shit to our girls, and now I’m paying for it.”
“We have good girls.” She pats my thigh.
She’s right; I know she’s right. Both my girls are straight-A students. Actually, all my kids are good kids. Willow and Harmony are getting ready to graduate and Bax is a year behind them. Then there’s Talon, who’s in junior high, and our adopted twins—our son, Sage, and daughter, Nalia— just turned six. Sophie got her dream—her large house in the country that we filled with kids. If she hadn’t gotten sick after having Talon, forcing her to get her tubes tied, she would probably still be popping my babies out.
“Daddy, can I be a cheerleader when I get big?” Nalia asks, making me grit my teeth.
“You can be whatever you want when you get big, honey,” Sophie tells my beautiful little girl, making me cringe.
“Do Daddy a favor, baby, and don’t be a cheerleader.” I pull her from the seat below me into my arms.
There is nothing greater than being a father, but it’s also difficult watching your kids grow up. Having girls only makes it that much harder. Boys can look out for themselves, but girls need someone there to watch out for them.
“Grandpa!” Nalia yells, running across the backyard.
I lift my head from Nico’s shoulder to watch my dad pick up Nalia and swing her around. My dad got out of prison and moved to Tennessee a few years ago. I love having him around. He has become good friends with Nico’s dad, and he even started working for Nico’s brothers doing construction. Before he got out of prison, we wrote letters back and forth. I think it was easier to talk to him through letters. I knew that I could say whatever it was I needed to say, and he could reply with whatever it was he needed to get off his chest.
It helped that I was never alone when I got a letter; Nico and I would sit outside or in bed and read them together. I knew he would be there to hold me when it was all done, and that was all I would ever need. After a while, I started sending my dad pictures of the kids and opened up to him about my family and everyday life. He told me about himself and what he was doing each day. It was difficult to talk about the past, but we did. And we each shared some of our favorite memories of my mom. I loved that we could share that.