We gathered around the gift pile, laughing and joking. It was the first time he had gotten to meet Jeff. There had been a lot of good-natured ribbing, as well as some speculation disguised as such as well. I have to say, he took it pretty well and gave as good as he got, for the most part.
We were most of the way through when my brother-in-law finally showed up.
All-in-all, it was a day filled with food, fun, and family. It seems a little odd to me at times as my watch my family; my wife as she laughs with her brother, a brother she only recently has begun speaking to again; my daughter as she ruffles her little cousin, Katherine’s hair and then is swept into a hug and kiss by her boyfriend. I can only smile as I look out the window, thinking of my parents. They’d be proud, I think, proud of where the family was heading. I’d like to think they’d be proud of me, as well. Though, come to think of it, if they were watching, they’d probably have something to say to me about a couple of things… but well, shouldn’t bring that up now anyway.
Faye waited while everyone else was occupied before she pulled Jeffrey aside.
“How’s Draco?” she asked without preamble.
Jeff looked guilty and more than a little harassed. “He’s healing. He’s lucky. By the Watcher, I hate this secrecy! I’m lying to the woman I love about her father. I’m lying to her mother… This has to stop. That was the last time, right?”
“According to the brass, yes,” Faye answered. She didn’t look any happier. “Look, I’m not any happier about this. He’s my partner, my friend, and my husband’s brother. That last assignment was rough. He survived it, though, thanks to you and the medical team.”
“It wasn’t as serious as it could have been and he heals quickly. Must be a family trait,” Jeff huffed out. “Still, I don’t like this. How Sophia didn’t find out, I have no idea. And I know for a fact that Draco’s been very careful around Aurora. Luckily, she can’t read me like she can most others. I can guarantee, though, that if she finds out… there’s going to be a comeuppance.”
“Don’t I know it. We’ll get through it. We’re family.”
Jeff sighed. “Yeah…”
Faye laughed. “So? Have you yet?”
“No, not yet. Soon, though. I wanted to wait until the holidays are over. Then I will.”
Faye punched his arm lightly. “Good luck.”
Something’s up in this house. I know it. I can feel it. I just don’t know what it is. There’s something in the air. It swirls around everyone. It started a few days after Jeff moved in with us. And I think it has to do with the two days Dad was gone. It was something to do with work. A big case, he had said. Since he came back, Jeff has been tense and Dad’s been acting a bit… shifty. I sit here, drinking a cup of coffee, waiting for Dad to get up.
I waited and when I heard this footsteps on the stairs, I stood up. He froze in the archway when he saw me. “Uh, hey, baby girl.” If I didn’t know him, I might not have seen that instance of trepidation before it was covered up by what I always saw in his eyes: the love, the pride.
“Dad, we need to talk.”
He could have evaded, could have tried to pretend he didn’t know. But that’s not my dad’s way. At least, it hadn’t been. He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah, I suppose we do.” He joined me at the island and grabbed a mug from the tray I’d prepared. There was silence between us for a long time. Then he looked at me. “I never really figured I’d be able to keep it a secret for long. I just wanted some time. Time to show you guys I was fine.”
“How badly were you hurt?” I asked him. “And don’t lie to me, dad.” I was trying to keep my voice calm, level, though it was hard. In a lot of ways, I understood why he felt the need to keep it quiet. We were a close-knit, tight family, but we were also a little… protective. And none more so than my father.
“Bad enough, though it was never life-threatening.” He sighed. “’Rora… I made an oath when I joined the force, to serve and protect. It’s dangerous work, you guys have always known that.”
“Yes, yes we do. But that doesn’t give you the right to lie to us, to not tell us when you’ve been hurt!”
“I know, I know.” My dad looked miserable. “I just… I didn’t want to worry anyone.”
“Does mom know?”
“Yes. I told her last night. She’s not real happy with me.”
“No, I imagine not. What happened?”
“I can’t give details,” he said immediately, “but… well, Faye and I have been tracking this smuggling ring for a while now. We finally tracked them to their latest hole. We raided it; we went in. There was resistance. They had weapons. I took a ricochet in the side. Didn’t hit anything vital. I was in and out, patched up quick.”
“I assume you swore Jeff to secrecy?” I asked on a whim, some of that feeling in the air suddenly making more sense.
“Yes. Doctor/client confidentiality. Please, Rora, don’t blame him. He’s been miserable keeping it from you.”
I could only sigh. “Yes, I’m aware. I can’t read him like I can read most, but that doesn’t mean I can’t tell when he’s miserable.”
“How mad at me are you?”
“Oh, it’s up there on the scale, but… I understand, a little why you felt the need to keep it secret. Just… dad, don’t do it again. We’re a family, right? We stick together.”
“Maybe that’s what I was afraid of,” I heard him mutter to himself. It brought out the first smile I had had in a few days.
“Yeah, I suppose I understand that too.” The mad I’d been working on and keeping a tight lid on evaporated. Oh, I imagine it’ll come back every now and again. But I did understand why he kept it quiet. Dad got up and so did I.
“Forgive me?” he asked, looking sheepish.
“Of course.” He pulled me into a hug. “Love you dad.”
“And I love you too, my little Northern Light.”
“Well, things are appearing to be back to normal,” I told my daughter’s boyfriend. “Sophia’s finally talking to me again. Was Aurora tough on you?”
“Actually,” Jeff murmured as he stared at the chess board, “not really. She was upset, but seemed more resigned. Look… please just don’t ask me to do something like that again. I can’t do it.”
“I promise, I won’t. I’m sorry to have pulled you into it to begin with. It was mostly luck, bad luck, that you were in the ER when they brought me in to begin with.”
We were playing chess. It was a habit we’d gotten into since he’d moved in. He was good, I have to admit, though not as good as I am, not yet.
“So, remember what we talked about the other day? Have you asked her yet?”
“No. I’ve been putting off. The Simflu has hit her hard. Her stomach is finally settled down. Found her in the bathroom again yesterday, praying to the porcelain Watcher.”
“Once she’s feeling better, I’ll ask her.”
“Terrified!” he admitted with a laugh. “But I guess that goes with the territory, right?”
“Oh, most definitely.”
I sat in the chair in our little library, reading the book.
I felt a little bit like a thief, but I needed the excuse for quiet, to think. I thought the Simflu just wouldn’t leave me alone. I’d been sick for several days on and off. Jeff had had it for just a day. We tried to make sure we didn’t give it to anyone else. But I just wouldn’t get better… or at least, that’s what I had thought. But there had been something else, a niggling thought in the back of my head. But eventually, I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I was pregnant.
I hadn’t told anyone yet, wasn’t sure how to, honestly. Maybe we were all still being careful after finding out about Dad’s little incident. What would Jeff think? We hadn’t really talked about kids, not yet. I was nervous. Exceedingly nervous. About telling him, about telling my parents…
As I fretted, the book forgotten, Jeff walked in.
“Heya, babe.” He swallowed. I noticed he looked a little pale, a little uncertain. It made my stomach drop. We hadn’t really talked a lot the last few days, after the discussion about what had happened with my dad. Was Jeff having second thoughts? Oh Watcher…
“Look, let me apologize again,” he began. I stood up and put two fingers to his lips.
“Don’t. Really, it’s ok. I told you I understood. Jeff, are you ok? What’s wrong?”
He swallowed. “Aurora, there’s something I want to say, ok?”
I held my breath, trembling, afraid of what I was about to hear. I wanted to be ill…
Jeff took a deep breath. “Aurora, no one has ever made me feel like you do. I wasn’t ever really looking for the One. Wasn’t sure there was such a thing. Until that day I met you. It was like a sucker punch to the face. You’re gorgeous, there’s no doubt of that. But there was something more, right from the get go. And the more I got to know you, the more I discovered.” He got down on one knee, pulling something from his pocket. I couldn’t breathe. “Aurora Breton Wyvern, I want to spend the rest of our lives together. Please, will you marry me?”
My breath left me in a rush… and maybe a sob with it. What can I say? Hormones. Plus… well, I was so happy, I was crying. I threw my arms around his neck, burrowing my head against his shoulder.
“Is that a yes?” he asked tentatively.
“Yes!” I was finally able to choke out. Then I froze again. “Um… I have something to tell you. Jeff… I’m pregnant.” His eyes widened and he looked a bit like a fish out of water for a moment.
Then he picked me up and whirled me around before crushing his lips to mine.
Today has been quite a day. I suppose I deserve it a bit, after all, I kept quite a secret from my family. Then again, I’m not unhappy about it. Just all a bit sudden. Actually, it’s not, I guess, when I really think about it. I mean, I knew Jeff had intended to ask Aurora to marry him. He’d come to me first. The second part, though… that was a bit of a shock, I have to say. Aurora went to her mother first, to tell her both bits of news. I think she was a bit shocked herself.
Then, apparently it was my turn.
I still can’t quite wrap my head around it. Not only is my little girl going to be getting married… but I’m going to be a grandfather soon… A grandfather! I’m too young to be a grandfather! Then again… I suppose my parents were too. Hm… I get it, you guys. I get it. Well then.
Jeff has been diligently reading a ton of pregnancy books. I think he might be more nervous than I was. Ok, maybe not MORE, but certainly he’s up there.
We’re all very excited. My daughter is constantly being accosted so people can feel her tummy… yes, including by me.
Her mother and I are excited. We both tried to deny it at first, I think. Not because we don’t want grandchildren, but just because we hadn’t thought about it yet, I suppose. Still. Neither one of us can wait now that it’s going to happen. “You ready?” she asked me as we looked up at the stars.
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” I told her with a laugh. “You?”
She grinned. “I think it’ll be nice, get to spoil the grandkids while we’re both still young, huh?”
“I thought you were only as old as you feel?” my daughter asked with a snicker. She was leaning against her future husband. All four of us had gone outside to look up at the beautiful night sky.
Amidst all the craziness that is our family, there have been a few other events, involving our loyal canine companions. First, young Ares and Apollo have become adults.
And their father, Hercules, is now an elder. Seems just yesterday that he was a little ball of fluff, following us around. And now he’s all gray. Time moves much too quickly the older one gets, I’ve found.