It seemed everyone who truly cared for us knew as well as we did that we were meant for each other.
Mary had done as I’d asked, and at first, she’d tried. She had occasionally called and asked to see the kids, but those calls had become few and far between until they’d stopped all together. And Quinton had been charged and ended up on probation, with a divorce and a restraining order to boot. We hadn’t seen him again.
Construction on the bakery had been stressful and long, but when we’d opened, business had taken off. The sandwich shop had always done all right, but Lekker was such a welcome neighborhood addition that it had become a staple, the place everyone would go to for coffee and pastries in the morning, where they would work at the big table facing the window, just like Hannah had imagined. Within six months, we had been in the black.
And I might well be in heaven.
Don’t get me wrong; being a stay-at-home dad was weird and disorienting and made me feel like I’d lost some part of myself, lost my identity. But it was also everything I had wanted. I got to coach Sammy’s little league team and attend Maven’s ballet recital, which was really just an adorable cat herding of a dozen five-year-olds in tutus. The day-to-day monotony of raising small children was balanced by the feeling of rightness, the understanding that I was where I needed to be, where I wanted to be. And I had been able to help Hannah build something we were both proud of, give her her dream just like I’d wanted. She’d already made all mine come true.
I hummed “Hey Jude,” rubbing Ava’s back as I rocked her. It was my favorite time of day—when the world was asleep, my baby was in my arms, my wife was downstairs doing what she loved, and the day was full of possibility and promise. It was the first thing I did every day, before coffee, before anything. I would sit in this chair and hold my daughter as I considered just how fortunate I was.
Ava wriggled, her arms stretching over her head and tiny fists balled up, nuzzling her face into my shoulder, rooting around for something she wasn’t likely to get from me.
“Come on. You want Mama?”
She mewled a little cry, and I smiled as I stood and shuffled down the building’s stairs in my slippers, sleep pants, and a hoodie—my uniform.
Hannah stood behind the cases, loading them with trays of pastries with little chalkboard signs, looking as blissfully happy as I felt, if not a little tired. She waved, and Fein ran around to unlock the front door for me.
I stepped into the warm shop as Hannah walked around the counter, untying her apron and reaching for us—me first, her hands on my cheeks and vanilla on her lips as she kissed me sweetly, and then Ava, whose back she patted.
“Good morning, my loves,” she said with that smile of hers.
I shifted so Hannah could see her face. “Baby’s hungry.”
“Ah, come here, leifje,” Hannah said as she scooped the baby up and cradled her.
Ava turned her face the second she realized where she was, mouth open and frantic. She squealed a frustrated cry.
Hannah smiled and bounced her, shushing her as she sat in one of the armchairs in the back corner and situated Ava, who squeaked and wriggled until she was happily suckling with Hannah’s finger clutched in her fist.
I sat on the arm of the chair, and Hannah leaned into me.
“Tired?” I asked.
“Mmm,” she hummed noncommittally and sighed dreamily. “Sometimes everything feels like a dream.”
“She’ll start sleeping better at night, and things will get easier.”
Hannah looked up at me and smiled. “No, I mean you. This.”
I cupped her cheek, thumbed her lip. “I promised you I’d do whatever I could to make you happy.”
“And you told me I belonged with you.”
“So what you’re saying is, I’m right? Because I love to be right.”
She laughed. “Yes, you were right. And I love you.”
And as I looked down at her, I couldn’t say the words back. I couldn’t speak at all. So I kissed her instead, just like I’d kiss her a hundred thousand times, and every time, she’d know just how much I loved her.