A tingling sensation went over my body, filling me up, spreading through all of my limbs. It was love, but something else, something deep and connecting. I laid my head down on his chest, just enjoying the feeling.
“She liked lilacs.”
He stilled underneath me.
I added, “She liked the smell of them, and they were her favorite flowers.”
Both his arms moved around me, holding me tightly against him. “Then we’ll make sure to keep them around the house.”
I nodded. “I love you, Nathaniel.”
He swept some of my hair aside on my forehead before lifting his head and pressing a kiss there. “I love you, too.”
Nova’s third birthday party was attended by everyone!
Ricci. Emily. Matthew even.
Nate’s parents. My parents, who were now Stephanie and Guy. Calihan. Graham and Britney. All of Nate’s friends. Mason, Samantha, and their children. Logan, Taylor, and their two dogs now. Matteo and Grace. Heather and Channing, and their children. Aspen and Blaise, who made a call and there was a whole group of people who came with them. One looked remarkably like Blaise, and the others knew Heather and Channing very well. A guy followed Mason around the house. It was funny at times and uncomfortable at other times. I wasn’t sure who everyone was in that group, but Nova seemed taken with Blaise. Taylor and Mason were still her favorites among everyone, but Aspen’s husband was competing for the top spot. The ruling was still out—well, except for Grandma Stephanie and Grandpa Guy. They had the top spot over everyone.
There were balloons. Giraffes (blow-up giraffes). Flamingo lawn decorations all over. Our entire backyard was transformed into a petting zoo. There was a snow-cone cart. A chocolate chip cookie baking area. Cotton candy. A whole section for goats, sheep, kittens, ponies, and puppies to be petted. Some sheep, too, and a cow.
Nova loved the cow the most.
We had lilacs everywhere, though that was common for our house. When our lilacs started to die, I bought fresh ones to replace them. There wasn’t a day in the past year when we didn’t have lilacs, and I swore to keep with that tradition, no matter the expense. Nova knew what they signified, and she often pointed at them, saying, “My other mama.” She’d smile at them, blink her eyes, and then take off running for the next task for her to tackle whether that was pretend or just greeting someone. Whatever it was, she tackled it with a zest for life.
We were nearing the end of the afternoon when a microphone was brought out.
Nate grabbed me around the waist and pulled me to our patio. He stepped up, keeping me with him, and Logan brought over the mic. He winked at me. “Nice knowing you.”
“What?” I stiffened as he bypassed me, finding Taylor and throwing his arm around her shoulders.
Nate growled. “Ignore him. Goddamn thinks he’s so funny.”
I relaxed, recognizing the undertones Nate had for Logan. This one was an annoying fondness mixed with laughter. Decoded, it meant he was annoyed by Logan but thought it was funny at the same time.
“Hi, everyone. First, thank you for coming. I’m not going to make my daughter come over here. She looks permanently glued to that cow, and I’m now wondering why we have a cow in our backyard?”
There was a smattering of laughter.
My mom raised her hand up, who was standing next to Nova and the cow. “Her name is Milly. Nova just informed me.”
“Right.” He called out, raising his voice, “Thank you, Nova’s grandmother.”
She gave us a thumbs-up, beaming the whole time. Guy was next to her, also beaming. Nate’s parents were right next to them. All four grandparents hadn’t moved far from Nova the whole day, actually, but Nate’s body tensed and my attention came back to him.
I frowned. What was going on?
His face was tight, his jaw clenched.
He looked nervous.
He glanced at Logan and Mason before swinging his eyes to me. He softened, everything in him relaxing, and he gave me the most tender smile. I almost gasped, feeling moved. He squeezed my hand, and he turned to me, still holding the microphone.
“I never thought I would do this, this way. Competing with a cow for my daughter’s attention, or even in front of a crowd, but I love you, Quincey Royas.”
“Oh my God,” someone whispered from the crowd.
My heart picked up, starting to speed in my chest.
He said into the microphone, cutting me off, “There’s things not-child appropriate I want to say to you, but I’ll wait until we’re alone. Thoughts that I had when I first met you.”
“Oh!” I laughed, remembering that day. “I think I shared some of those thoughts.”
He laughed into the mic. “Maybe, but as everyone here knows, life completely turned everything upside down for me after that day, and it’s made me not only a better man but also a better everything. Better person. Better father.” He winked. “I fell in love with you, and I just became a better man. Happier man. You and I have been through so much, and I know we’ll have ups and downs. That’s just a part of life, but the night I told you that I loved you, I asked you to unofficially marry me. There was no dating between us, no deciding if we wanted to be in each other’s lives or not. We just were, and thank God for that. Thank God for a lot of things. But I knew that night… well, I knew long before that night, but I was still learning this science called communication, and that night I told you that I wanted you to be my partner for the rest of our lives.”
I was crying.
I couldn’t stop the tears.
My heart was trying to beat its way out of my chest.
All the nerves Nate had before were now in me. My stomach was doing butterfly flips and pirouettes over and over again. It wasn’t stopping.
“I told you I’d ask you officially later, and well, today’s that day. I hope that’s all right?” He didn’t wait before going to one knee. He looked up at me, pulling out a ring and holding it toward me. “Will you, Quincey Royas, be my wife and become Quincey Monson?”
There was a roar from the crowd, but they ceased to exist for me.
I couldn’t move.
I opened my mouth, my tears cascading down my face, and then I whispered, “Yes. Oh my God, yes.”
I nodded, my emotion fully choking me.