But they’re not even listening to her.
As the chaos continues to erupt, I put my arm around Chelsea’s shoulders and pull her against me, kissing her temple. “I think that went well.”
By the first week in December, Chelsea’s sporting a small, firm baby bump. Her morning sickness has abated and she says she feels better than ever. Well enough to accept the extra work her boss has been sending her way at the museum—she’s been going in early and staying late whenever she can.
She’s also slightly obsessed over what she eats—determined to stay away from anything processed or non-organic, but with some coaxing, she gives in to her craving for Double Stuf Oreos dunked in a glass of whole milk.
Around the same time, I get a big case—that’s getting national media coverage. It’s a string of bank robberies, and despite my client’s alibi, the prosecutor has rock-solid DNA evidence on a ski mask that was worn during the crimes. It’s the kind of case I craved back in the day—a challenge. A gauntlet with the promise of legal glory at the finish line. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy digging into it, burying myself in motions and maneuvers to outsmart my opponent. It’s easy to do during the day, at the office, but when night creeps in and the sky turns black outside my window, the case feels more like a nuisance.
Because I just want to go home. Pet my dog, see my kids, and screw my wife.
One night, about a week before Christmas, I pack it in fairly early—about seven thirty. When I walk through the front door, Cousin It attacks my shoes, and the house smells of the fire burning in the den fireplace and warm gingerbread cookies. There’s loud laughs and shouting coming from the dining room, so I put my briefcase down and head in. The kids are all there around the table, and so are Stanton, Sofia, Presley, Samuel, Brent, and Kennedy.
There’s bowls of white icing, and colorful candies, white-and-red-striped peppermint sparkles, scattered all over the table. And about two dozen rectangular pieces of brown cookie.
“Honey, you’re home!” Brent greets me, then he sucks one of Kennedy’s icing-covered fingers into his mouth.
Regan, Ronan, and Rosaleen attack me at once, talking at the same time, showing me what they’re doing. I can only make out every other word. Then Chelsea walks in, wearing a red-and-green apron and carrying a tray of more brown cookie rectangles.
“Hey!” she says with excitement, putting the tray down and reaching up to peck my lips.
She glances around the table. “I went overboard with the gingerbread. So instead of building a house, we’re building a town.”
Stanton passes me a cold beer from the ice bucket on the end of the table. “Welcome to the party.”
Two-year-old Samuel squeals as Sofia tickles him, murmuring something in Portuguese. Then he pops a candy in his mother’s mouth.
“Check it out, Jake.” Rory motions to the half-constructed building in front of him. “Me and Brent are making the law firm. Becker, Mason, Santos, Shaw and McQuaid—has a pretty nice ring to it, don’t you think?”
Kennedy answers before I can. “You should think about being a prosecutor, Rory. We have a great office building.”
Brent scoffs. “Don’t listen to her—she lies. Her office is shit small.”
But he’s not bothered at all. “Now you have to lick that off, Wife.”
She adds a red M&M to the center of the icing. Taking the cue, Regan screeches, “Food fight!”
Brent shakes his head at his wife. “You’re such a bad example.”
Kennedy just sticks her tongue out at him.
“Presley and I are making the capitol building,” Raymond tells me from the other end of the table. “Together.”
Then, behind the seventeen-year-old’s back, he gives me a thumbs-up and wiggles his eyebrows. That crush is still going strong.
Chelsea takes my hand. “Come on, grab a chair. What should we make?”
Sometimes I look around and wonder, how the hell did I get here? How is this my life? It all changed so fast. But then I stop wondering. Because how this life became mine doesn’t really fucking matter. I’m just crazy-happy that it is.
Her eyes flare. “Good one. Let’s do it.”
On Christmas morning the kids converge on our bedroom at 4 a.m.—it’s the one day they’re allowed to come in without knocking. When wrapping paper covers every inch of the floor, and the dog and the kids are busy figuring out their new toys, I set Chelsea up with a cup of tea on the couch, while Rosaleen and I start making enough strawberry-and-blueberry pancakes to feed an army.
Rosaleen whisks a huge bowl of batter while I slice the strawberries.
And out of nowhere, she asks, “Do you think you’ll like the baby more than us?”
The knife in my hand freezes. “What?”
She shrugs, blond curls jiggling. “We’ll understand if you do.”
It takes me a second to come up with an adequate response.
“You know how in school they tell you, ‘there are no stupid questions’?”
She snorts but doesn’t meet my eyes, focusing hard on her bowl.
“Why would you ask me that?”
“Well . . . the baby will be yours. Yours and Aunt Chelsea’s.”