Page 18

 Emma Chase

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I turn her around, raising my hands to swipe at her tears with my thumbs. “I do think of you. Always.”
Chelsea regards me with wet, wounded eyes and puffy lips. “You should’ve talked to me about it first, Jake. So it was something we decided together. We’re a team . . . remember?”
Her words bring me back to another time, years ago—another argument, and the harsh, stupid words I threw at her. When I was terrified of screwing this up. When I had no fucking clue what I was doing.
Sometimes . . . it feels like I still don’t.
“You’re right. I’m sorry. I won’t do it again, Chelsea.” I kiss her gently. Her mouth is warm and soft and yielding. “But you can’t keep things from me because you don’t like how I’m going to react. I need to know you’ll be honest with me.”
She nods. “I’m sorry. I was wrong, I should’ve told you what was going on. I won’t keep anything like this from you again. I promise.”
What Sofia said yesterday actually did strike a nerve. And although I don’t want Chelsea anywhere near that asshole, why the hell should she have to be the one to go?
“Let’s go to your HR department today. Together. You don’t have to resign. You can file a complaint against Gavin, asked to be moved to another department until your maternity leave starts. Then we can work on getting the son of a bitch fired before you go back after the baby’s born.”
She stares at my chest thoughtfully. “Okay. I do want to file a complaint, but I’m not going to ask to be moved. Maybe it would be best if I left now—I’ve been so tired and there’s so much to do. And then . . . I think I want to stay home with the baby for a while. Not go back to work right away. For the first year . . . maybe longer?”
I nod. “Sounds like a plan.”
When she smiles at me—remorseful and forgiving at the same time—the tightness that’s been slowly crushing my chest since yesterday finally loosens. Chelsea’s arms wrap around me, holding on tight, and after a few moments everything starts to feel normal again.
Our normal is pretty awesome.
Raymond’s voice from the doorway, addressing his brothers and sisters, makes us both turn our heads.
“Yeah—they’re making out. Divorce averted.”
And then . . . we laugh.
Chapter 8
March and April go by on fast-forward, a blur of plea deals, doctor’s appointments, recitals, homework, baseball games . . . and Chelsea’s ever-increasing stomach.
It’s wild.
She was asleep the first time I felt the baby kick. It was a little before 5 a.m. and my eyes had just opened. I was thinking the ceiling needed to be repainted, when I felt it—a tiny jab against my ribs where the bump pressed against me. It was the first time the reality really hit that there was a baby in there. A whole, new, real, unique little person that Chelsea and I made together. Like I said—fucking wild.
That’s when I finally understood what Chelsea felt at that first doctor’s appointment. The excitement. Total wonder. And even some impatience.
We decided months ago not to know the baby’s sex—much to the kids’ deep disappointment. Rory represented his siblings and debated with us for weeks. He cited the delicate boy-girl balance in our household and how the males, in particular, would have to mentally prepare themselves if, as he put it, there wasn’t “a penis in there.”
I told him there were few real surprises in life, so he was shit out of luck.
Chelsea tried to console him by saying she’d do her best with the penis thing.
But whatever’s in there, an auburn-haired little boy or a baby girl who’s as beautiful as her mother . . . either way, I can’t wait to meet the kid.
One early Saturday night, Chelsea and I are watching a movie with three of the kids in the living room, when the front door slams and the sound of sobbing and stomping feet fly up the front stairs.
“Riley?” Chelsea calls, but there’s no answer.
So the two of us head to Riley’s room. The door that had been taken away from her is now back—and her aunt knocks on it. When all we hear is crying from the other side, we walk in.
Riley’s on the floor, her back against her bed, her forehead on her knees. Her cheeks are wet and blotchy and big, heaving sobs rack her shoulders.
Chelsea awkwardly settles on the floor. “Honey?”
Riley looks up. “Peter broke up with me.” She pauses to cry into her hand, then goes on. “He said he didn’t want a girlfriend during the last summer before college.”
“Oh, sweetie.” Chelsea envelops Riley in her arms. “I’m so sorry.”
I’m not. I’m fucking elated. Best news I’ve heard all day.
Of course I can’t tell Riley that. She wouldn’t understand. So I offer my support the only way a guy in this situation possibly can.
“Do you want me to snap him in half for you? It’d be really easy.”
Riley squeezes her eyes and shakes her head. “I loved him so much. Why doesn’t he love me back?”
Chelsea brushes her niece’s hair out of her eyes. And she gets this determined, resolute look on her face. “Listen to me, Riley. Millions of women have been where you are right now. I know it’s hard and I know it hurts . . . but I promise you, you will come out of this stronger than you were before. There’s a reason; there’s something better waiting for you, just around the corner. And it won’t hurt like this forever. One day you’re going to wake up, take a breath, and realize . . . you’re over it. You’re over him.”