Emma giggled at Nila’s nickname for her. On her second birthday, she’d fallen into a basket of Velcro teeth ready for invisible zippers. Her soft cotton jumpsuit latched onto the plastic thorns, ensuring untangling her took a lot of tugging and cursing. The damn child now had an addiction to pulling apart Velcro; she loved the noise.
Kestrel abandoned his Legos, shuffling closer to lean against my thigh. “Can we have a story? Just one. Please?”
I couldn’t help myself. Looping an arm around his small shoulders, I hugged him. Nila on my lap and Kes and Emma wedged against my sides—what could be more perfect? “You want a story?”
Emma bounced up and down, but Kes merely nodded. His thoughts sweet, steadfast, and protective. He adored his little sister. And if she wanted a story, he would make sure she got a story.
His golden eyes locked with mine, pleading. Goosebumps darted down my arms, wondering, if in some small way, my brother and best friend might’ve found a way to communicate via my son.
Kes wriggled in my embrace. “Tell us a story. Just one. Then bed. Promise.”
Nila laughed. “How often have we heard that?”
Kes smirked, a lock of hair curling on his forehead. “Promise. Hope to die. Cross my heart.”
Jasmine giggled. “Got that back to front, Kessy.”
Kes stuck out this tongue. “Daddy knows what I mean.”
I laughed softly as Vaughn slid to the carpet, resting his back against the chaise and scooping Jasmine into his lap. “You’re right. I do know what you mean.”
Kes clapped his hands. “Good. Gimme the story then.”
“Story! Story!” Emma curled up, cocooning all of us in a family bubble.
This right here.
This was happiness.
And I was no longer drunk on it.
I was infested by it.
This was my family.
My new chosen family.
Nila’s thoughts washed over me in an influx of honey and serenity. Her heart swelled with love.
Squashing my two children, I grabbed my wife and kissed her hard.
Kes pretended to vomit, and Emma squealed. Jasmine and Vaughn just groaned, “Get a room.”
Nila broke the kiss, her onyx eyes glowing with tenderness. “I guess we owe these demons a story.”
“I guess we do.”
“I’ve got a story.” Vaughn tickled Kes. “A story about a dragon and a little boy who got gobbled up.”
“No!” Kes struggled, scrunching up his face and trying not to laugh. “I like Daddy’s stories.”
My eyebrows rose. “My stories?”
I didn’t understand. Nila was the story queen. She’d trawl the internet for every Disney animation, picture book, and tale she could find. I’d just linger in the dark, listening to her sultry voice and grow drowsy with the two infants before she put me to bed and used her mouth in other ways.
“Yes, we want the story of you and Mummy!” Kes looked at his sister. “True story, right, Em?”
Emma clapped her hands. “True. True!”
Vaughn muttered under his breath. “God, I think you’re a small statistic of parents who should never tell their kids how they met. It’s not like you shacked up at some bar and made a drunken mistake—that’s a bad enough tale to have, but mentioning a beheading for a debt from the 1400’s…kind of far-fetched.”
I chuckled. “It is far-fetched…but perhaps that’s what makes it a good story?”
Jaz narrowed her eyes. “How do you mean?”
“I mean life isn’t meant to be generic and follow a pre-approved script.”
Nila murmured, “If it did, where would the adventures be…the dragon-slaying knights and unicorn-riding princesses?”
“I’m a princess,” Emma announced, poking herself in the chest. “I am. Me.”
I grinned indulgently. “And what sort of princess are you?”
She suddenly shot to her tiny feet and soared around the beanbags in her pink tutu with her arms stretched wide. “I’m a Hawk princess.”
Nila grabbed her mid-run, tickling her and blowing raspberries on her neck. “A hawk, huh? Not an eagle or a kite or a vulture?”
Emma wrinkled her nose. “No, silly. A hawk.” Pointing at me, Nila, and Kes, she said, “We’re all Hawks.”
Nila’s thoughts tangled between marrying me and taking my last name and the fact that Jasmine would soon become a Weaver. We’d swapped roles. Blended our bloodlines.
Gathering my family closer, I said, “Okay, you want a story? I’ve got a story.”
Instantly, the children hunkered down, their amber eyes locked on me. Jaz, V, and Nila placed me in the centre of attention, waiting for me to spin something crazy and fantastical.
But I wouldn’t do that.
I wouldn’t dishonour my children by lying to them, and I wouldn’t discredit the past and not learn from history. They wanted to know the story of how Nila and I met? Okay, they’d hear the truth, and it was up to them to deem fact from fiction.
My children would be the opposite of what I’d been groomed to be. They would be kind and helpful; they’d never want for anything, but they would know how to help others less fortunate. They would be better.
“Once upon a time, there was a seamstress named Needle and Thread.”
Emma sighed, snuggling closer to Nila. “She’s like you, Mummy.”
Kes shook his head defiantly. “She is Mummy.”