“Halloween stuff was out at Target.”
“It’s over a month away.”
Shrugging, she moves to where I stand leaning against the car and slides her arms around my neck. “Just getting into the spirit.”
I touch my lips to hers. “Because it would take you so long otherwise?”
“Are you by chance taking me somewhere Halloweeny?”
Every Friday night is date night, and tonight was my turn to plan. Last week, Hazel took me to a place where we painted self-portraits with our hands and feet, and then we had a picnic on the hood of my car. My date nights tend to be a bit more standard.
“Just dinner,” I say. “A new ramen place opened up near Emily and Dave’s. Thought we could give it a try.”
After a small rendition of the Running Man on the sidewalk, Hazel climbs into the passenger seat. Her fingers come over mine when I get behind the wheel and pull away from the curb, and with her free hand, she reaches to turn up the song playing on the radio, singing along badly, loudly, happily.
“Wait,” she says, looking at me and letting out a bursting laugh. “This is Metallica.”
I nod. “Takes me right back to the worst concert ever.”
She lets out a mock scream. “What was I thinking? Tyler!”
“I wanted you to come to my apartment and say, ‘I love you, Hazel Bradford, please be mine forever and ever and ever.’ ”
“And I did.”
She nods with vigor. “You did.”
At the red light, she leans over, kissing me. One short peck turns into a longer kiss, with tongue and sound and the acceleration of her breath and mine. At the green light, she lets me focus on the road but her hand on my thigh soon transitions to her fingers unbuttoning my jeans, her teeth and growl on my earlobe.
Instead of ramen, we find our way back to my old house—empty, between renters—and return to our roots: making love on the floor.
Our own home is dark when we pull in, avoiding the squeaky step and coming to a quiet stop in front of the door. Hazel—hair a mess, tank top slightly askew, underwear in her pocket—digs in her purse for her key, sliding it into the lock and gingerly letting us inside.
Umma meets us in the entryway, wearing her small, calm smile.
“Everything okay?” I ask.
She nods, stretching to kiss both our cheeks before padding down the hall toward the separate wing of the house she shares with Appa.
Hazel turns and grins up at me in the darkness. “Even after that greasy burger, I’m starving.”
“Want me to make you something?”
She shakes her head, giving a little shimmy before disappearing down the hall.
I unload my wallet and keys near the door, slipping off my shoes. From one of the bedrooms I hear voices, and follow the sound, ducking into Miles’s dimly lit room, surprised to find him still awake. Hazel sits at the edge of his bed, food apparently forgotten as she pushes a strand of hair off his forehead.
“Halmeoni made me do a bath,” he whispers, full of three-year-old outrage.
“That’s good,” Hazel tells him. “You were stinky.”
“And Jia told her that I ate the last gummy worm.”
I sit down beside my wife as she asks, “Did you?”
“Yes,” he says, “but she had seven and I only had two!”
Hazel bends, kissing Miles’s forehead. “Big sisters are like that sometimes. Sleep, baby boy.”
He doesn’t fight, rolling over and immediately closing his eyes. I stare at him a little longer. Everyone says he looks just like me. Hazel stands with a smile, picking up the pile of costumes on the floor—Mulan, Tiana, and Ariel are his favorites.
We agree that inside, he is all Hazel.
Saturday morning, Miles bounds down the hill, feet barely staying beneath him. Today, he is Elsa—except for his red cowboy boots—with a well-loved Disney wig unraveling behind him as he runs.
Beside me, his sister, Jia, watches him, eyes narrowed as she pulls long, careful licks across her ice cream cone. “He’s going to fall.”
I nod. “Maybe.”
“Appa.” She turns her doe eyes on me. “Tell him to slow down.”
“He’s on the grass,” I remind her. “He’ll be okay.”
Unconvinced, she stands, yelling down to her little brother. “Namdongsaeng!”
Only when she calls out to him does he tumble, tripping over a boot and rolling a few feet on the lawn. He comes up laughing. “Noona, did you see me?”
“I saw you.” Suppressing a smile, Jia sits back down. Looking up at me again, she gives a dramatic shake of her head. “He’s wild, Appa.” She looks like her mom.
We agree that inside, she is all me.
Hazel comes up the hill, holding a tray of coffees and hot chocolates in one hand and catching Miles’s hand in the other. She manages to start running with him, careening up the hill toward us without spilling anything. When she nears, I take the tray from her hand to keep her from pressing her luck.
“Mama, did you bring me hot chocolate?” Jia asks.
Bending, Hazel swoops her up from the bench, cradling her for a kiss before spinning in wild circles that make Jia giggle wildly and make my blood pressure spike.
“I did,” Hazel says, “and had them put extra whipped cream on top.”
“Haze,” I say gently. “Careful.” She’s nearly seven months pregnant, and it seems like ever since the first, she has more and more energy each time.
She gives me an indulgent smile, setting Jia down, and our daughter wraps her arms around her mom’s wide middle. She kisses Hazel’s belly. “Mama, tell me about the time when I was in your tummy.”
Hazel glances at me again, and plops down cross-legged on the grass. “Mama found out she was going to have a baby. She and Appa were so happy.” She cups Jia’s face, leaning forward to kiss her nose, and—not to be ignored—Miles climbs into Hazel’s ever-shrinking lap.
She sweeps his hair out of his face, speaking to Jia. “But I found out that I had to be very quiet and still for a little while.” She drops her voice to a whisper. “Mama was not good at being quiet and still. Was she?”
Jia shakes her head, very serious now.
“But you were,” Hazel whispers, “weren’t you?”
My daughter nods, grinning proudly.
“You taught Mama how to be quiet, and calm, and still. And so I did it, because you showed me, and that is how everything turned out okay.”
“Now me!” Miles roars.
“You, my little wiggle monster,” Hazel says, “did not know how to be calm or quiet or still. And that was okay, because Jia also taught Mama’s body how to have a baby in there, and so we could be just as silly as we wanted to every single day!”
“Thank you, Noona!” Miles climbs off Hazel, tackling his sister.
The two of them wrestle on the grass, tangled up in Miles’s dress, hot chocolates forgotten.
A hand comes up to my knee, tapping, and I help Hazel up from the lawn, standing to wrap my arms around her. “You sure you’re ready for another one?”
“No turning back now. Almost three down,” she says, “fourteen to go.”
“Keep dreaming, Bradford.”
Stretching, she kisses me, eyes open, lips resting on mine.
I’m an optimist; I always anticipated having a good life. But to have dreamed something like this would have felt enormously selfish.
“Sometimes I imagine going back in time,” she says, reading my mind, “and telling myself that I’d end up right here. With Josh Im.”
“Would you have believed it?”
She lets out a husky laugh. “No.”
I can’t pull her as close as I want, chest to chest, thigh to thigh, so instead I dig my fingers into her bun, pulling it apart so that her hair falls around her shoulders. Her breath catches—I think at the hungry, possessive expression on my face. She looks a little wild, too: her cheeks are pink from the wind, her eyes bright and amber.
“I thought this was your plan all along,” I say, kissing her again.