“Why is it so hot?”
My beautiful bride of three years, Jillian, is sitting in her lawn chair, under a giant umbrella that I ordered on Amazon, with her feet in ice cold water in a blue kiddie pool.
“It’s actually only about eighty-two,” I reply with a grin and watch as she tips her black sunglasses down and pins me in a hot glare.
Everything Jillian does is fucking hot.
“I’m the size of a grizzly bear, and it’s hot,” she repeats, making me laugh. It’s actually not bad out here, especially for being the fourth of July. It’s a clear day, not a cloud in sight, which is a drastic difference from yesterday’s downpour.
“You’re not the size of a bear,” I reply and lean in to press my lips to her forehead. “You’re gorgeous, and I love you.”
A smile tickles her lips, and she drags her fingertips down my cheek, sending goose bumps down my arm.
“Is this baby ever going to come out?”
“Yes.” I smile, excited at the idea of having a newborn. “Hannah says he’ll be here soon.”
She lays her hands over her large, round belly and sighs. “Well he’s taking his sweet time about it. It’s too hot to be pregnant, Zack.”
“I’m sorry, love. What can I do? Do you want another popsicle?”
“No.” She scowls. “You could have gone to the fireworks at the beach with the others. I don’t mind. I’m just too big to want to party.”
“I’m fine right where I am,” I reply honestly. The fireworks don’t affect me as badly as they used to. Since returning home from the last deployment, any loud noise would immediately kick in my fight or flight reflex.
Namely, the fight.
But I’ve calmed down a lot over the past couple of years, thanks to feeling safe and getting some professional help. So while the fireworks display wouldn’t bother me tonight, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than with my wife.
“I was surprised that Seth offered to take the twins,” I say as I pull up a chair next to Jilly.
“He’s so good with them,” she says with a sigh. “I’m not completely comfortable with him driving yet.”
“You know he won’t put Miles and Sarah in danger.”
“No, it’s not that,” she says shaking her head. “He’s driving. We have a seventeen-year-old, who’s going to be a senior this year, and has a freaking girlfriend. If he gets her pregnant, so help me—”
“He won’t,” I interrupt and take her hand in mine, bringing it to my lips. “He’s smarter than that, and he knows you’d kill him.”
“Well, wouldn’t you?”
“I wouldn’t need to.” I grin at her. “You’ll do it for me.”
“Damn right I will. He’s a good boy, Zack.”
“He is that. But he’s not so much a boy anymore.”
She scowls now, but before I can say anything else, Seth’s car comes up the driveway. They park, and Seth and his girlfriend, Miranda, help the kids out of their car seats. Thor, Seth’s dog, comes happily bounding out of the car, and immediately starts sniffing around the yard, as if some other dog might have dared to mark while he was gone.
“You came back already?” I call out.
“Were the kids being a handful?” Jillian asks.
“Not at all, Mrs. King,” Miranda says with a smile, carrying Sarah on her hip. “We wanted to come back out here and spend the evening with you.”
“You’ll miss the fireworks.”
“No, we won’t,” Seth replies and holds up a bag that he bought from the fireworks stand. “I’ll put on our own show.”
“We got snow cones,” Miles informs me as he climbs into my lap. He’s got dark hair and blue eyes, and a blue ring around his chubby little mouth.
“Oh, that sounds so good,” Jilly says.
“Don’t worry,” Seth says as he carries a Styrofoam cooler to us and sets it at Jillian’s feet. He opens it, and Jilly covers her mouth with her fingers. “It didn’t melt too much.”
I peek inside and grin. Seth rigged it up with cardboard, so the snow cone would stay upright in the cooler. There’s ice along the bottom.
“Pretty smart,” I say.
“My mama’s uncomfortable,” he says with a shrug and then smiles as he passes a cherry snow cone to Jillian. “So she needs something to cool her off.”
“This is why you’re my favorite,” Jill says with tears in her eyes. She cups Seth’s face and then gives it a little pat. “You need to shave those whiskers off. It’s not Novemeber.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he says with a grin. He always looks at Jillian like she hung the moon.
Because for the two of us, she did.
“Mama share,” Sarah says, holding her hands up. Jillian lets our daughter take a bite of her icy treat.
“You already had one, squirt,” Seth says.
“And half of mine,” Miranda agrees with a laugh. “But they’re so adorable.”
“I’m going to get the fireworks ready to go,” Seth says. “Come help me, Randy.”
“Only if you stop calling me Randy,” his girlfriend says, rolling her eyes, but following after him. Thor chases after them as well, and Miles settles his head on my shoulder, tuckered out.
Sarah is playing on the deck at our feet.
“Feeling better?” I ask Jilly as she finishes her snow cone.
“Oh yeah,” she says with a nod. She reaches over to brush Miles’ hair off of his forehead, then drags her fingertips down my cheek. “I love this. You. Them.”
“We love you, too.”
She smiles and looks out over our property, taking a deep breath. The sun has sunk behind the mountains, casting everything in pink and purple, and the mountains in shadow.
“Should we put the twins to bed?” I ask her.
“It’s the fourth of July. Let’s watch the fireworks together first.”
Sarah crawls in her lap, working around the belly the best she can, and lays her dark head on Jilly’s shoulder. Down the driveway, Seth lights a fuse, setting off the first fireworks. They climb high into the sky and shatter, casting the sky in blue and red.
I’m not afraid in the least. I have my gorgeous wife next to me, and our children around us, with one coming shortly.
Life just doesn’t get any better than this.