“The fireworks, duh.”
We headed outside to the backyard, where the display of fireworks could be seen over our houses. Everyone was sitting on the ground around the pool, looking up at the colorful sky in complete awe at the beauty. The three kids were jumping up and down with excitement screaming oohs and aahs, giggling with one another at how big, bright, and loud the fireworks were.
I took a seat on the ground beside Emery, and it didn’t take Kelly long to give me a stupid smirk about that fact. I tried my best to ignore it. Emery turned toward me with her knees bent and her arms wrapped around them. Then she looked back up to the sky.
Say something to her.
Something that makes sense, though.
But something that matters too.
“I’m sorry,” I sputtered out.
“Sorry? For what?”
“For having you cook on a holiday. I’ve been overthinking it since I asked. I should’ve just invited you over and hired a caterer. It was rude of me to ask. Sometimes I don’t think things through until I overthink it and—”
Her hand fell on my forearm. “Don’t overthink this one, Oliver. Today was so fun, and it gave me a chance to do what I love the most. Being able to cook for you has reminded me so much of who I want to be. This is my passion, and because of you I’m able to make it come to life.”
I sighed, relieved. “Good. I’m glad.”
“Are you okay?” she asked me, posing her normal question.
“I’m all right today.”
Her eyes flashed with emotions, and her hand, which was still on my arm, squeezed so gently. “Really?” she asked, getting emotional. You would’ve thought I’d said it was the best day I’d ever had.
“Yeah, really. Today was good.” The tears that were sitting at the back of her eyes began to fall, and I lightly chuckled. “Don’t cry, Em.”
“Sorry, gosh, it’s all the wine your mom has been giving me, I swear,” she laughed, taking her hand away from my arm and wiping her eyes. The moment her hand left my skin, I missed her touch. “It’s just . . . since I’ve been asking you how you’ve been, that’s never been the answer. That makes me so happy, Oliver.” She was overly emotional about it, which made me feel bad for making her that way.
“I didn’t mean to make you cry.”
“Happy tears,” she said, laughing a little. “Just happy tears. I’m really happy for you. You deserve good days.”
“Are we friends?”
Her brown eyes smiled more than her lips. “Of course we are.”
“Okay, good.” I felt myself becoming uncomfortable, feeling stupid for even asking her that question. But ever since my father asked me what Emery and I were, I truly wanted to know. Because in my mind, we were friends, but sometimes my mind lied to me.
“I like that about you, you know,” she commented.
“How shy you get at times and how you overthink things. I mean, let’s be honest. You might be thinking just enough, and the rest of the world is underthinking. Perspective,” she joked.
I gave her a half smile, and she gladly gave me the other half.
“I like when you do that too. Smile.”
Seemed as if I’d been doing more of that ever since she’d come around.
Shortly after, Reese came dashing toward me. “Mr. Mith! Can I sit in your lap to watch the fireworks?”
I shifted around and held my arms out toward her. She hopped into my arms and rested against me as she looked up to the sky. I noticed that Catie and Garrett were sitting in Tyler’s arms, and I was certain that was where Reese got the idea.
I held her tighter as she laid her head on my shoulder. I could tell she was getting tired, which wasn’t shocking after the active day she’d had with her new friends. Her eyes were somewhat open as she tried to watch the fireworks overhead. She yawned with her mouth wide open before snuggling against me.
“Mr. Mith?” she whispered.
“The music I heard you playing with your dad didn’t sound like garbage.”
Within seconds, she was asleep in my arms, not knowing how much those words touched me. That little girl was adorable in every way possible. From her dark hair to her bright smile. I swore she had Emery’s eyes too. And her button nose, and her heart. I had no doubt that Reese had her mother’s heartbeats.
After the fireworks show came to an end, I placed the sleeping Reese in one of the spare rooms of my house. Kelly and Tyler both headed out, exhausted but with smiles on their faces. Mom and Dad were still drinking and dancing outside with one another, because that was who they were, and they’d dance all night if their feet allowed it.
Emery was in the kitchen trying to clean up the mess that had piled up throughout the evening. I walked over to her by the sink and placed a hand on her shoulder. “You don’t have to do this tonight. I’ll handle it in the morning.”
“Oh gosh, no way. I can get it all cleaned up. It’s not a big deal.”
“It’s been a long day. I’m sure you’re exhausted.”
“I’ll get to sleep in tomorrow. It’s really okay.”
“Let me help you,” I offered.
“Don’t tell me you two kids are in here cleaning,” Mom said, coming into the kitchen with an emptied glass. “You should be outside with us drinking up some wine and dancing! Come on,” she said, waving us in her direction as she went to pick up another bottle of wine.
“Oh, I would love to, but I’m already still a little tipsy, and I have to sober up to drive Reese home.”
“That’s nonsense. Just stay the night. Oliver has more than enough space for you both. Isn’t that right, Ollie?”
“Of course. I have some extra pajamas you can borrow too. It’s probably best not to be driving this late at night on the holiday too. You’re more than welcome to stay.”
Emery hesitated for a moment, nuzzling on her bottom lip.
“Come on, Emery. We only get this one life. We might as well make some good memories with it,” Mom said, sounding very carpe diem. It must’ve been the wine talking.
“Well, okay. If I stay I can clean up a bit better in the morning when I’m sober,” Emery said, before turning toward me. “Are you sure it’s not a problem?”
“Of course he’s sure,” Mom said, waving me off and grabbing Emery’s hand. “Now, come on—let’s get outside and dance. That way Richard and I can teach you both about the good ol’ music from the old days.”
The two of them walked off, leaving me with a strange feeling in my chest.
For the first time in a while, my heart felt full.
The energy of the day was so wonderful to take in. Exhaustion was present, but it was the good kind of tiredness. An exhaustion that came from an outstanding time. Watching Reese find two friends who weren’t bullies felt like the highlight of the day for me. The second highlight was hearing that Oliver was having a good day. And the third highlight? Oliver’s parents.
Watching Oliver’s parents felt like watching an old romantic movie. His parents were the most caring and attentive people in the world, and the way they looked at one another and laughed together was what dreams were made of. I wanted that someday—a love that lasted throughout the decades.
Those two loved in a way that made other humans swoon in their presence.
The four of us were gathered in the backyard, listening to old-school music, and I swore we laughed more than I thought possible. Oliver seemed more himself than I’d ever witnessed, and I could tell it was because his parents meant so much to him.
“I swear Oliver has the most intense favorites playlist on his phone,” Richard commented, shaking his head. “What number is it at?”
“Six hundred and sixty-eight,” Oliver remarked.
“Six hundred and sixty-eight!” Richard repeated. “Those aren’t favorites. Those are just songs! A favorite list should have a max of ten, tops. Otherwise, it’s just a list of songs.”
I pulled out my phone and opened my music app. “Well, I have eight hundred and ten on my favorites list,” I said. I smirked over to Oliver and arched an eyebrow. “Step up your game.”
“You two should exchange playlists to see if you have any favorites in common,” Michelle said. “It might take days to get through the lists, though.”
“I’m still stuck on the over eight hundred songs of favorites.” Richard’s jaw was wide with disbelief. “You youngsters are doing too much. I could listen to the same ten songs over and over again and be a happy man.”
“You do listen to the same ten songs every day,” Michelle groaned, rolling her eyes.
“You act like you don’t like them just as much as me, woman. Speaking of, Oliver, come help me put my top-ten playlist on the speaker. I’ll show you all good music in under ten songs.” The two men headed off to the sound system to hook up Richard’s phone.