“Are you sure about this?” Natalie asks as her two young children run past all of us, into our living room where they can play with our daughter, Stella. “I mean, our kids are great, but—”
“But when Liv and Keaton are together, it’s a challenge,” Luke finishes for her, passing the baby bag full of essentials to me.
“Oh, we’ve got this,” Jules, my gorgeous wife, replies with a certain nod. “We have a four year old, remember?”
“You don’t have two of them,” Nat says. “Not that we don’t appreciate it, but you still have time to back out.”
“We’re fine,” I assure them. “Julianne and I will hold the fort down while you’re gone. Have a good time.”
“Thanks,” Luke says.
“Keaton and Olivia, you be good for Aunt Jules and Uncle Nate,” Natalie calls out.
“Remember what I told you in the car.”
Neither of the children even spares her a glance, already too busy playing with Stella.
“We’re fine,” Jules says and pushes them out the door. “Now, go away.” She closes the door and turns to me, blowing out a breath. “Natalie worries too much. It’s only for a few hours. I mean, look at them. They’re playing like little angels.”
Of course, this is the moment her phone rings.
“This is Lia,” she says, frowning. “I have to take this.”
“Go ahead.” I carry Luke’s bag into the dining room and set it on the table, then walk into the kitchen to make a snack for the kids.
Never in my wildest imagination did I ever think that this would be my life. I bought this condo when I was single, and intended for it to always be empty, except for me. But then I met Julianne, and having both her and our daughter in my life is the best kind of heaven I’ll ever know.
I glance up and watch as Jules paces by the doorway, her face animated as she talks to her cousin. She’s in shorts and a tank top today, but she’s gorgeous whether dressed casually or in a formal gown.
She takes my damn breath away.
“Nate, will you please take that from her? She could kill herself with that.”
I come out of my daydream to find Stella holding a knife, buttering her “toast”.
“Give that to me, baby girl.”
“But I have to have toast with my tea,” she replies with a concerned frown. “That’s what you do at a tea party, daddy.”
“Well, let me butter it for you,” I reply and sit in the short chair next to her. There’s no real tea or toast here, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t having the tea party of the century.
“Hafta go potty,” Keaton says and runs off for the bathroom.
“Do you need help?” I call after him.
“No, I do it.” His face is determined as he disappears into restroom and I turn my attention back to the girls.
“You need to dress up, too,” Olivia says, passing me a tiara.
“Oh, I don’t think that’s necessary.”
“But it’s a tea party,” Stella says and also passes me a pink feather boa. Both little girls stare at me, waiting for me to accept their dress up clothes, and I’ll be fucking damned if I could ever tell them no.
So, I suck it up and put the damn things on.
“Good, now we pour the tea,” Stella says, making little whooshing sounds as she pours the imaginary tea into our cups. “And we have to hold the cups like this.”
Both Stella and Liv pick up their cups, and stick their pinkies in the air as they sip.
So, I follow their move, sipping my play tea, and enjoying the way they giggle and play.
That is, until I hear the shutter snap on Julianne’s phone.
I look up to find her snapping photos with a wide smile on her face.
“Julianne, do not make me take you over my knee.”
“Come on, this is too sweet to miss.” She snaps a couple more as the girls pose, and I immediately take the get-up off and stand. “You don’t have to stop playing.”
“I’m going to need you to delete those.”
“When hell freezes over,” she says with a laugh. “You’re so sweet with them. Who knew the big, strong, badass Nate McKenna had such a soft side?”
“You’re pushing it now,” I warn her and stalk toward her, but she just laughs.
“You’re a sexy dad, you know that?”
“I don’t think those two words go together.”
“Oh yeah, they do. It’s totally a thing.” She winks and leans into me, laying her head on my chest as she thumbs through the photos on her phone. “And you’re the sexiest dad I know.”
“Well, that’s good to know.”
“Lia’s coming to Seattle for a while. I told her she could stay with us until we get her settled somewhere.”
“She’s staying for a while?”
She nods. “I don’t know how long. I’ll see if she can stay at Nat’s old place.”
She suddenly pops her head up and looks around.
“Wait. Where’s Keaton?”
“He went to the bathroom.”
“And why do I smell my brand new Chanel body lotion?”
We stare down at each other, and just as we’re both about to make a beeline for the bathroom, Keaton comes around the corner. He’s rubbing lotion on his arms. It’s covering his face, his head, and he’s also covered in powder.
“Shit,” I mutter and drag my hand down my face.
“I smell good,” Keaton says proudly. “So pretty.”
“Yes, sweet boy, it smells good.” Jules covers her mouth with her hand to hide her smile. “But that’s Auntie Jules’ lotion. It’s not for kiddos.”
“I like it,” he declares proudly, and then sits at the table, ready for his tea.
“Oh Lord,” Jules mutters and gives in to the laughter. “We can not tell Nat and Luke that we don’t really have this.”
“It’s our secret. Now, delete the photos.”
“Not a chance, Ace.”