“Actually, no,” she said with a laugh. “Max and the family are staying at a hotel. Bennett and Chloe are staying with us.”
“No, that’s the best part.” She leaned in, eyes wide. “It’s like Chloe and Sara have traded personalities during their pregnancies. You seriously have to see it to believe it.”
As predicted, when Ziggy opened the door Saturday morning, the only thing I could see behind her was a flash of color and silk and tiny sprinting bodies. A small child ran into her legs, hugging them fiercely and propelling her forward into my arms.
“Hey,” my sister said, grinning up at me. “I bet you’re already glad you came.”
I glanced over her shoulder at the entryway beyond. A pile of assorted children’s shoes lay near the front door, and I could see a mountain of birthday presents stacked on the dining room table through a wide, Craftsman-style doorway.
“I’m always up for some of Will’s cooking,” I said, setting her upright and stepping past her into the melee. In the distance, over the sound of Will’s deep laugh in the kitchen, was a chorus of squeals and shrieks and what I imagined to be Annabel’s clear cry of “It’s my birthday! I get to be Superman!”
I wasn’t really a very deep sleeper and had spent a majority of the middle of last night awake, sitting in my living room and trying to remember each of the times I’d done something purely social—for myself—in the past five years.
The problem was, other than the gym, my softball games on Thursdays, and drinks or coffee with one of my friends afterward, I didn’t feel like I had all that much going on. My social calendar was packed, sure, but it was nearly always a work dinner, a visiting client, some milestone the partners wanted to mark with a lavish meal. Two years ago I’d come to the depressing realization that too much time on the road and the couch had left me out of shape. I’d started running and weightlifting again, dropping thirty pounds and putting on some muscle. I rediscovered my love for fitness only to realize that I hadn’t actually done it to look better or catch someone’s eye. I’d done it to feel better. Aside from that, nothing significant in my life had changed since then.
My failed marriage was something I tried not to think about, but late into last night I had registered that Becky’s leaving me had set off a chain reaction: heartbreak led me to dive into work, which brought me success, which grew into its own sort of obsessive reward. And at some point I knew I had to commit either to work, or to a life outside of it. Six years ago, with bitterness fueling most of my thoughts about romantic relationships, the decision had been easy.
Now I was happy, wasn’t I? Not entirely fulfilled, maybe, but content, at the very least. But my sister’s mild needling last night had sent me into a cold panic. Was I going to die an old man in my neat-as-a-pin not-so-bachelor pad while color-coding a closet full of cardigans? Should I give up now and take up gardening?
I slipped down the hall and out the back into the yard. Dozens of balloons were tied to the fence and the trees, anchored with ribbons to white folding chairs, and arranged along a series of small round tables. A white cake with ruffled frosting topped with a little plastic giraffe, elephant, and zebra sat in the center of the largest table near the patio.
A handful of small children in sweaters and scarves raced across the lawn and I stepped carefully out of their way and toward the cluster of grown-up-size humans near the grill.
“Jens!” Will’s familiar voice called to me, and I maneuvered my way over to him. More balloons hung from a vine-covered pergola, along with a safari-themed birthday banner.
“I have never had a birthday party this cool,” I said, staring behind me at the color explosion in the backyard. “Annabel doesn’t even live here. Who are all these kids?”
“Well, Liv’s kids are . . . somewhere,” he said, glancing around. “The rest belong to Max and Sara, or people Hanna works with.”
I blinked at him before looking back out at the yard. “This is your future.”
I said it with a joking bleakness, but Will beamed. “Yep.”
“Okay, okay. I think I’m past the opportunity for more coffee. Where’s the beer?”
He pointed to a cooler beneath their large oak tree. “But there’s some scotch inside you might want to try.”
I turned just as Max Stella stepped out onto the patio, grinning over at the gaggle of kids sprinting around the lawn. Max and Will had started a venture capital firm together years ago in New York, and seemed to be the exalted odd couple of arts and sciences: their expertise and keen eyes for their respective fields had made them both very rich men. Though, I’ll admit, at six foot six and a genuine wall of muscle, Max looked more rugby brute than art fanatic.
“If only we all made friends so easily,” Max said, watching the kids run amok.
His wife, Sara, followed him out, holding her heavy pregnant belly and sitting in the chair Max held steady for her.
I shook his hand in greeting before turning to Sara. “Please don’t get up,” I told her, bending to place a kiss on her cheek.
“I’m trying to be in a bad mood,” she said, a hint of a smile tugging at her mouth. “Your chivalry is melting my pregnancy rage.”
“I promise to work harder on being a jerk,” I said solemnly. “Though congratulations are in order—I haven’t seen you since this one started cooking. What is this? Number four?”