“Oh, and Namesake Number One and Namesake Number Two?” She paused inside the door, smiling between Julia and Gray. “Auntie Abigail said she made you each something special.” Bouncing her brows, she disappeared back inside.
“Honey rolls!” they both cried out in unison, scrambling down from William’s and my shoulders.
“Come on, Julia!” Gray called for his sister once he was on the ground, holding out his hand for her.
Holding her two sizes too big princess dress, she adjusted her crown and ran as fast as her three year old legs would carry her.
Running by me, she suddenly paused and turned. Her smile was all teeth as she threw herself at my leg, wrapping both arms around it. “I love you, daddy.”
The other thing about Mortality? It choked me up a lot more than Immortality had.
Clearing my throat, I brushed her hair back from her face. “Love you too, baby girl.” As quickly as she’d latched onto me, she unlatched, completing the journey towards her brother, who was still waiting patiently.
“Make sure you two wash your hands before you sit down,” I called after them as Gray held her hand up the stairs.
“Okay, dad,” he called back, opening the door for his sister.
“You want us to retrieve your cane for you, old man?” Nathanial said, coming up beside me.
I matched his smirk with one of my own.
“I’m going to get some of that grub before you get your greedy hands on it,” he said, shouldering by me. “See you inside.”
“He’s just jealous because you’ve aged ten years and you’re still better looking than him,” Joseph said, spinning the ball on his index finger.
“Far better looking,” I clarified.
“Yeah, yeah. Let’s have this same conversation in twenty years and see if you can say the same,” he said, firing the ball at me. I snapped it out of the air like it was second nature. I might not be Immortal any more, but I was still pretty bad ass.
“Just because, for the first time ever, you ugly brutes will one day be better looking than me doesn’t mean you have to rub it in,” I said, slapping Joseph’s back as he passed by. “That day will only come when I’ve been six feet under for a good six years.”
Joseph chuckled his way inside the house, shaking his head.
“After you,” William said, shouldering up beside me, “Dr. Hayward.” I slid him a smile from the side. Damn doctors in this family. It was like we were cursed with the M.D. plague. After some impressive papers and documents that might not be exactly on the up and up were created, I enrolled back in school after finishing out my prison sentence which, thanks to a talented Mindtrapper, not a single soul recalled me missing from prison for that half a day when I’d gone looking for Emma and Joseph. And, because getting my bachelor’s wasn’t enough, I went all the way. Patrick Hayward, M.D.
Yeah, I hadn’t seen that one coming either.
Emma’d gotten her teaching degree and juggled thirty first graders for a few years while I finished med school before Gray was born. After that, she still taught, just not in the typical classroom environment. I learned something new from my wife of almost ten years on a daily basis.
“I’ll meet you inside,” I answered, nudging my brother.
William nodded his acknowledgment, making his way inside. He got it when I wanted, or when I needed, to be alone. I’d found in Mortality, life became so busy, too much of it passed me by without taking the time to really revel in the moment. To reflect on the beauty of the finite.
Just as he was stepping inside, William glanced back at me. He was still smiling, but it was his eyes that gave him away. They were just enough sad to give away what he was thinking. They were thinking of goodbye.
A goodbye that didn’t seem so far off to someone who would live an eternity. I’d received a lot of those looks from my family since I’d taken on this new life. The genuine smiles capped by the sad eyes. I understood it though, because the thought of saying goodbye got to me too.
But it never got to me so much that I regretted my decision. In exchange for a limited number of years, I’d gained a new family. A wife who still looked at me like I was her own personal hero. A son who was so much like me I could predict what he was going to say and do next before even he did. And a daughter that was so beautiful to look at, I found myself just staring at her after we’d tucked her into bed at night.
It was a life worth exchanging an eternity for.
I stayed there, straddling the lawn, for a while. Watching my family flitting past the windows until everyone was seated around the dinner table and eating and laughing with equal fervor. Everyone I loved was sitting inside the house Emma and I’d built—with the help of three Immortal brothers—here on the back forty of the Hayward commune after deciding Montana was the place we wanted to raise our family.
It was the place I’d lived for close to two centuries with my blood family. It was the place I’d raise my children. It would be the place I’d be buried.
It was still a sobering thought, but one I was getting used to.
“Okay, what have you done with my husband?” Emma’s voice called from the porch, smiling at me as she walked down the stairs.
I quirked a brow.
“My husband, the one I married, would be the first one seated at that dinner table, fork in hand,” she replied, her summer dress shifting with the breeze. Ten years hadn’t aged Emma. They’d only made her more beautiful.
“I just wanted a minute to think,” I said, kissing her temple and pulling her under my arm.
She exhaled, rolling her head onto my shoulder, staring through the same window I was. “I need a minute too.”
We stood like this, in silence, for more than a minute. For more than ten even. Just enjoying the moment, the warmth from one another, and the best view in the world.
“Em?” I said as twilight started to make its debut.
“I love you.”
She kissed my neck. “You couldn’t make that clearer if you tried, Doctor,” she said into my ear.
A shiver ran up my back. Ten years together and the woman could still make me tremble with the lightest of touches. “You know it makes me all hot when you call me doctor.” Swatting my backside, she glanced back at me as she made her way back up the stairs. “I know,” she said, raising a brow. “So let’s rush every one out of here, get the kids tucked into bed, and forget about the dishes until tomorrow.”
“Sounds like my kind of night,” I said as Emma went back through the screen.
“Don’t keep us waiting,” she called out, “birthday boy.”
I groaned my acknowledgment.
I was thirty today, well, sort of.
I’d given up an eternity ten years ago for a woman. For a woman that would give me the family I never imagined I’d have. For the woman who, even in my darkest of nights, could pull me back into the light with one word.
An eternity was nothing when you couldn’t spend it with that person. They were just days unfolding one after the other.
I might have a limited few now, but I was making each one count. Each day spent with her, with them, was worthy of an eternity.