I took a deep breath, clasped my hands together, and began to speak about one of the most important songs on my mixtape. As the words sat in my throat, they burned, but I managed to push them out of me. I managed to share that painful song. “I had a twin brother named Alex who passed away almost seven months ago.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Oliver.” Abigail looked up at me with sincere eyes and comforting tones. “Go ahead. Tell me a little about him.”
Each day, I felt closer to Oliver. Not only did we have our nightly phone calls, but now during the day we also ate our meals together with Kelly. He asked me questions about my life, and I asked him questions about his. He never talked about his brother, and I didn’t push for him to do such a thing. I figured he’d bring Alex up when he was ready to talk about him. But he told me a million other things.
He told me about his struggles with fame. He told me about his favorite book growing up. He talked about his fears of how he thought his music wasn’t going to be good enough, and how he doubted fans wanted to hear it.
He opened up to me day by day, and every time he revealed a new piece of his story, my heart fell for him a little more. He was a beautiful man with a beautifully scarred soul, and the best part about it was that he didn’t even know how beautiful he was. The broken pieces of his story were exactly what made him shine.
“Mama, do I really get to swim in Mr. Mith’s pool today?” Reese asked me as we drove to Oliver’s house for the Fourth of July party. I had all the food prepped and ready to be cooked up later that afternoon, but I was heading over to Oliver’s early before anyone else arrived so I could set up a little more.
Even though fewer than ten people were going to be attending the get-together, I had enough food for an army. I didn’t know why I felt so nervous about it all. Maybe because I was going to be meeting Oliver’s parents. Not that it meant anything. Oliver and I weren’t involved with one another. But still, my mind felt entangled by the idea of meeting the parents.
Reese’s mind, however? She was focused on one thing and one thing only—the pool. She’d been going on and on about the swimming pool ever since I told her about it.
“Yes, but only when I finish cooking. You can’t go in by yourself, since I’ll be working.”
“But Mama!” she cried.
“Don’t ‘but Mama’ me, Reese. Those are the rules, and if we don’t follow them, there will be no pool time at all.”
She grumbled and whined the whole ride over, until we pulled up to Oliver’s home. By that point, her eyes widened from shock, and her jaw dropped to the ground. “Oh my gosh,” she whispered, staring at the mansion. “Can we just move here?” she asked, making me laugh.
“Probably not.” I put the car in park and turned to look at her. “Now, remember what we talked about. Today, you’re going to meet some new friends, do some of your coloring activities, help me make a few meals, and what else?”
She sighed and slapped her hand against her face. “And not ask Mr. Mith why his mirrors are covered in his house and not tell Mr. Mith that his music is garbage even though it is garbage because calling someone’s music garbage isn’t a nice thing to do.”
I smiled. “Exactly. Now, come on. Let’s get inside.”
She was quick to unbuckle her seat belt and then hopped out of the car, pretty much sprinting toward the front door. The moment Oliver opened it, he gave Reese a stern look. “You here to give me a hard time, kid?” he asked with a smug look on his face. A sexy, sexy smug look.
Reese placed her hands against her hips. “Depends. Are you gonna give me a hard time, Mr. Mith?”
“That’s. What. I. Said,” she sassed, and goodness, those two together were going to be the end of me.
“Whatever, kid. How about you head straight back to the kitchen and see what my assistant, Kelly, got for you. She’s in there waiting.”
“You got me a surprise?” Reese said with narrowed eyes.
“I guess you’ll have to go see for yourself,” Oliver replied.
In an instant, Reese disappeared down the hallway toward the kitchen. The minute she made it in there, she gasped. “Oh my gosh, Mr. Mith! This is amazing! Mama, you have to come see this!” she screamed.
I smiled toward Oliver. “You really didn’t have to get her anything.”
“It’s not a big deal. I figured she could use some things to keep her busy.” He slid his hands into his pockets and gave me his halfway grin. “You look nice today.”
I glanced down to my teal sundress and smiled. Then back to him in his dark slacks and smooth black crewneck that hugged every muscle on his body. “You don’t look half-bad yourself.”
We stood there for a moment, taking one another in, and I wondered if he felt the butterflies that I felt too. I wondered if his heartbeats raced at the speed of light like mine did whenever I was near him.
“Mama!” Reese screeched, demanding my attention at that very moment.
We walked into the kitchen to find a full-blown display of female superhero action figures and dolls, along with a cape that had Reese’s name on the back of it. Kelly was already helping her tie it around her neck.
On the table were doughnuts that had small capes drawn on them too.
“Look, Mama! I’m a superhero!” Reese remarked, striking her power pose.
I snickered at her happiness as she jumped up and down. “This is too much,” I told Oliver.
“No, it’s just enough!” Reese exclaimed, picking up two of the action figures. “Look! It’s Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel. There’s even Gamora!”
“Wow, that’s amazing. And what do we say to Oliver?”
Reese looked up and got a bit bashful. It wasn’t every day that the very loud, energetic girl quieted down. She walked over to Oliver and wrapped her arms around his legs, giving him a hug. “Thank you, Mr. Mith, for being nice to me even though I told you your music was garbage before.”
“Reese!” I scolded.
She looked at me with widened innocent eyes. “What, Mama! I didn’t say it was trash again, even though it kind of still is,” she explained. I didn’t know what was worse—her words or the true confusion sitting in her eyes.
Oliver snickered and bent down to start tickling her. “Oh, you really think it’s garbage, huh?”
Reese giggled nonstop as the two of them went back and forth. The sight of them interacting, the sight of Oliver playing and letting loose with my daughter, was the oddest turn-on to me.
And that, kids, is how I met your father.
Pregnant on the spot.
Kelly took Reese off to the dining room to enjoy their doughnuts and to play with the action figures while I began pulling out some of the things I’d prepped the day before.
“Wait, you can’t cook without your gift,” Oliver said, reaching for something hanging on the back of one of the stools. He held it up, and I started instantly cracking up at the apron in his hands.
“A superhero chef apron?”
“Seems fitting enough.” He walked over to me and slightly nodded in my direction. “May I?”
He slid the apron over my head, and when I turned my back to him for him to tie it, butterflies began to somersault in my stomach as he pulled the strings around my waist. For a second his fingers stilled. For a moment, his fingers brushed against my hips. His fingers then rested against my lower back. I shut my eyes and held my breath, feeling his proximity that close to me. I swore I felt his breaths brush against my neck. I swore, his body slightly pressed against mine. I swore, I wanted more . . .
“There you go,” he said, knotting my apron in place and taking a step away from me.
I released the inhalation I’d been holding.
“Thanks.” I smoothed out the apron and turned to face him, hoping he wouldn’t see how flustered he’d made me.
His hands slid into his slacks, and he stood tall. He looked different today. Still handsome, still dreamy, but maybe . . . happier? There was something about him that seemed different. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, though.
“Everyone should be getting here in about three hours. So how can I help you?” he asked, rubbing his hands together.
I arched an eyebrow. “Help me? In the kitchen?”
“Do you cook?”
“I can make a mean grilled cheese. I know you might use your fancy cheese and whatnot, and add avocado and fancy bacon, but my grilled cheese cannot be topped.”
“Is that so?”
“It is. You’ll be begging for seconds.”
I laughed. “You’ll have to make it for me one day, then.”
“I look forward to that. So, what can I do in the meantime to help?”
“I’m sorry, Oliver. I’m not letting you near any of the food I’m preparing for today. It’s too important for me that everything be perfect.”
“It doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s just a few close friends.”
“And your parents,” I added.
He raised an eyebrow. “You’re trying to impress my parents?”
“Uh, I don’t know . . . maybe because they’re your parents?”
He gave me a sly grin, and the amount he’d been smiling over the past few days made me want to wrap my arms around him and hold him close. Maybe that was what was different. He was smiling.
“You’re smiling more,” I commented, allowing my thoughts to leave my head.