“You should slip out of that bathing suit, and I’ll meet you in the shower,” he tells me softly.
“What about the hamburgers?” I ask him because we’re domesticated now.
We barbecue in our backyard and go to children’s birthday parties on the weekends. I never thought I would see Magnus with a beer in his hand, chatting idly with the other dads by the pool, but here we are.
I see the women with their tall, thin men and pinched faces, staring at Magnus like he’s a god among men. He only ever looks at me though, every single time, and I know I’m all he’ll ever want. I love to have him at my side and the way he shows me off to the world.
My life is exactly where I want it to be and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.
“Peanut butter and jelly sounds good, right, Will?” Magnus calls out and Willow’s happy shriek is answer enough for me. “There, now you’re all mine, Cassandra St. James.”
I stare at him for a moment and I wonder if he knows that I’ll never be anything but his.
I kiss him, pressing myself against him and pulling him close. “I love you, Magnus.”
ONE YEAR LATER
The manor is decorated in dark greens and creamy whites, with garland of deep emerald ivy and tiny white buds strung across every available surface.
There are flowers situated on every table and even though it’s not spring, not even close, the place is like some sort of otherworldly fever dream of a bright, spring day. I can’t remember ever seeing the place looking so happy.
I can smell my wife’s perfume, so familiar and soft as she sits on the bench next to me.
“Do you have River’s sippy cup?” she asks from beside me, digging around in our son’s diaper bag. “I swear I packed it but I can’t find it anywhere. He’s going to get fussy in a minute if I don’t find it.”
I glance around, spotting Willow with her dark pigtails on one of my elderly aunt’s laps, talking animatedly to her about this or that. I can see the neon green cup sticking out of her little backpack and I almost laugh. She must have taken it when we weren't looking at the house.
“I think Willow has it in her bag,” I tell my wife, pointing. “One of her friends told her what poison is and now she thinks everything is poison.”
Cassie kisses River’s chunky cheek where he sits on my lap.
“She what?” Cassie asks in a shocked whisper. “Who in the world told her that?”
“Does it really matter?” I ask her, pressing a kiss to her mouth. “She thinks she’s helping.”
“Magnus,” Cassie warns me, giving me what I call her mom look. I love that look.
The eye twitch is the hottest part.
“Okay, okay,” I say, raising hands in defeat. “I’ll talk to her, but I’m sure it’s fine.”
“Thank you,” Cassie answers, grinning as our blonde little baby boy gurgles on my lap.
I can still remember bringing him home from the hospital, Willow bent over his car seat in the back of the car. Cassie had been asleep on my shoulder, exhausted from labor, and all I could do was relish in the thought of our complete family.
Little River had been an easy birth compared to Willow, but he has that same spark of mischief in his brown eyes as his sister's green ones.
Someone in a dark suit sidles by the lines of people in the seats, turned away from us. I recognize him as he moves closer and my best friend comes into view, looking harried.
“Renner,” I say, reaching over to shake his hand as he slides in quickly by Cassie.
“Is this really happening?” he asks us both, looking shell-shocked. He reaches for River and I let him go to his grandad. “Is she really doing this? I mean, isn't this kind of sudden?”
“It’s really not that much of a surprise to me,” I say, smiling.
It is but I want my mom to be happy and I don’t want to tarnish her special day.
My wife and kids have made me soft and I only want peace in my life and for those around me. If my mother is happy in her new life and with her choices, who am I to say they’re not right? My mother gave me Cassie and she helped me along in my happiness. I’m not about to question the lengths she’s taken to get her own.
“I didn’t even know that Piper knew Cook’s real name,” Cassie says, letting out a yawn.
“I just found out his name is Alastair yesterday,” Renner says, throwing up his hands. “This is a little out of the left-field, isn’t it? I mean I really didn’t expect it. I know I was away on business for a little while, but I wasn’t gone that long, was I? Is this real life?”