Sam and Dad turned up an hour later with nothing but empty bellies and a bottle of red wine to accompany them. They’d also brought a pack of novelty stickers for Leila and her reaction upon seeing them was priceless. She gave us each a one to wear on our tops and handed them out with utmost pride. Both Spencer and Dad got a star, whereas Sam and I received a love heart. She’d even tried giving Gatto one but the squeamish creature was having none of it.
“Which one of you is driving?” asked Spencer, taking both their jackets and hanging them up.
“Sam is,” replied Dad, seemingly delighted.
“Wine it is then,” smirked Spencer, slapping him firmly on the back. “Sam, I’ve got juice or milkshake?”
Sam looked a little horrified.
“He’s having you on. We’ve got coke,” I interrupted, handing him a can.
He smirked and cracked open his drink. “Shame, I quite fancied a milkshake.”
Leila swung her gaze in his direction, pleased to hear someone else’s appreciation for the sugary drink.
“I can let you have one, Sam. I don’t mind sharing.”
“Well, aren’t you just the sweetest,” he replied, kneeling down to her level. “Perhaps I’ll have one for desert?”
She nodded, keen to whisper in his ear. “Maybe we can add ice cream to it.”
Sam widened his eyes to extreme amounts. “Deal!”
“Alright, bambina. Why don’t you show your guests to their seats?”
Leila looked horrified at such a suggestion. “Daddy, I’m a princess remember?” she chided, gesturing down towards her glamorous ballgown. “I don’t show guest to their seats!”
“You were a sous chef twenty minutes ago,” he argued, tugging lightly on her chin.
“You know, Jessica used to be a princess at your age too?” shared Dad, gaining Leila’s attention. “She used to host dinner parties all the time but none as extravagant as this. We never got stickers.”
“REALLY?” she asked, unaware that Dad was feeding into her competitive side.
He nodded. “I think this is the best one yet, don’t you agree, Sam?”
“Oh yes,” he insisted. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a real princess escort me to my seat-”
Before he could so much as finish his sentence, Leila grabbed both their hands and kindly showed them towards the dining room table. Spencer had set it prior to their arrival, insisting on using the nice cutlery. I had no idea he even own ‘nice’ cutlery but appreciated his need to want to use it in honour of my dad and brother.
“Well, that worked a treat, didn’t it?” Spencer laughed, unscrewing the top off the wine bottle.
“Dad uses mine and Sam’s competitiveness to his advantage all the time,” I shared, gathering two wineglasses. “He’s mastered that tactic by the looks of it.”
“I’ll be asking for pointers next,” he ensured, lightly laughing afterwards.
He filled the glasses by listening to my direction and proceeded to carry them into the next room, returning soon after to help me out with the food.
“Leila is keeping them entertained,” he informed, manoeuvring the plates I had previously set aside.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” I smiled, using the first one to dish up.
It looked good and smelled even better, proving as much as ever that I was getting better at cooking.
“Dinner smells gorgeous, baby,” applauded Spencer, passing me another plate.
“Leila will be thrilled to hear that,” I replied, smiling at the sound of Sam’s laughter filtering through from the dining room.
Something Leila said was clearly making him chuckle.
“This is what I want, Spencer. Family time with no worries or stresses,” I admitted, turning to face him.
“We’ll have this really soon,” he insisted, pulling on my chin to lengthen my neck.
There, he planted wet kisses along my jawline.
“I love seeing Dad and Sam making a fuss over Leila.”
“Me too,” he admitted, smiling. “I love how great they are in general.”
I kissed his lips, no longer having the strength to hold back. Thankfully, he returned it with just as much force, backing me up into the kitchen counter.
“Jessie, where’s the food? We have a hungry princess and two starving peasants in here!” hollard Sam, well and truly cutting into our moment.
“Coming!” I replied, pushing Spencer off me.
“You will be later,” he remarked, throwing in a cheeky wink.
I purposely ignored his crudeness and made my way into the dining room, armed with two plates. I set one in front of Leila and the other in front of Dad, certainly happy in my need to piss Sam off even further.
“Spencer has yours,” I shared, offering up a simultaneous smirk.
“Last but not least,” expressed Spencer, balancing both mine and Sam’s plate in his arms.
I took to my seat and pulled Spencer’s chair out for him when he returned with his food. Leila dug in first and moaned her delight, telling us all how great a cook she was. Dad continued to sing her praises and gifted we a wink from across the table, silently telling me he was impressed.
“So, how are you finding living with our Jessie?” asked Sam, nudging my arm. “Sick of her yet?”
Spencer laughed, finished his mouthful and wiped at his lips using the serviette. “Not at all. We love having Jess here, don’t we, bambina?”
“Yes!” replied Leila, nodding enthusiastically. “She’s my step-mummy, did you know that?” she added, aiming her enquiry towards our two dinner guests.
My heart swelled at such an honourable title.
“I did know,” replied Dad, sipping from his wine.
“Does that make you my step-granddad?” she questioned, never one to miss an opportunity.
“Leila…” spoke Spencer, unsure as to whether Dad would be uncomfortable with such a thing.
“I think it does,” answered Dad, landing a gentle hand on Spencer’s shoulder, keen to reassure him.
“And I’m your step-uncle,” insisted Sam. “But I’m cooler than Scott,” he imputed, always trying to one up the man.
Leila nodded then giggled, covering her mouth. “Don’t tell him though.”
Sam drew a zip over his mouth, indicating that her secret was safe with him. I laughed at his competitive ways, amused that they would stretch to such lengths. Truth be told, Sam loved Scott and Spencer. He treated them the same way he treated me; like a sibling. And I had no doubt that meant beating them at any given opportunity.
“Well, hats off to the chef. Dinner was beautiful,” praised Dad, patting his full belly.
I joined him in in rubbing my stomach, thoroughly satisfied and just about ready to fall asleep.
“Daddy, can Sam and I have ice cream milkshake, please?” asked Leila, offering my brother yet another sticker. This time, it was a flower.
“Of course. But only half for you,” he stated, taking a sip of wine. “You’ve already had a glass of milkshake today.”
“Okay,” she agreed, pulling Sam into the kitchen by the sleeve of his shirt.
Dad smiled at their interaction and turned to face Spencer and I, once again drinking from his wineglass. “That daughter of yours is something special.”
“You can say that again,” he replied, shaking his head. “With everything going on, I find it so hard to believe how well she’s behaving. She must sense our the tension from time to time.”
Dad smiled and landed another gentle hand on Spencer’s shoulder. “Kids are stronger than we think.”
“I hope you don’t mind,” began Dad, remaining close to Spencer’s side. “Jessica told me about everything. If there’s anything I can do…”
“Thank you, Andrew. I really appreciate that. I know I’ve not made your daughter’s life easy these past few months.”
“When have I ever done easy, Dad?” I asked, brightening the mood.
“Never!” He laughed. “I have a feeling this afternoon’s stunt was intentional and I just want you both to know that I don’t give two fucks about what the media is saying. Those who really care about you will understand. The rest? Well, they don’t deserve to be in your life if they can’t see past the whips and leather.”
“What?” he questioned, feigning innocence. “I’m just saying, to each their own. You do you.”
“Strawberry milkshake, chocolate ice cream. This has to be the best dessert ever!” interrupted Sam, carrying two sundae glasses.
It didn’t get past me that rather than half, Leila’s appeared to be somewhat three quarters full and I flashed her a warm smile, letting her know I wouldn’t tell on her. The pair soon dug in and, unable to resist, I stole a bite from Leila’s, in the mood for some sugary goodness.
“Wow, that is pretty good,” I admitted, encouraging Dad and Spencer to have some.
They both did and nodded their approval, whilst silently licking their lips. It was an odd concoction but one I wouldn’t turn my nose up at. The kind that made you feel a little naughty for enjoying.
“I say we make this a regular thing,” insisted Sam, finishing off his milkshake with a slurp. “What do you think, Dad? Shall we open up games night to the Michaels clan?”
Dad nodded. “And what about that other friend of yours? Calvin is it?”
“Yes.” I smiled. “Calvin and Lucy have to come.”
“Can I come?” pleaded Leila, certainly desperate to gain access.
“Of course! I’m going to need a brainiac like you on my team if I want to win,” replied Sam, delighting her by making her feel included.
She looked at me with wide eyes, excited by the prospect of games night with the ‘grown-ups’. She loved the company of those older than her and in doing so, seemed much older than her six years. She was a mature little girl for sure, but one look at her princess dress reminded me of her innocence and I wanted it to stay that way. I’d known Leila less than a year but already found myself savouring the precious moments. In the blink of an eye, she’d find the company of Spencer and I far too embarrassing to hang around with and although a rite of passage for any teenager, I dreaded the day. I wanted to freeze time and keep her at this age forever. Protect her forever.
“We’ll organise something for next month,” ensured Dad, looking my way shortly after.
Hopefully, by then, everything with Alister would be sorted.
“Sounds great,” I stated, cleaning away the few plates.
Sam came to help in the kitchen, leaving Dad, Spencer and Leila all chatting.
“Leila is a sweetheart,” he sang, dumping the sundae glasses in the sink.
“I think she likes you.” I smiled. “You’re the only one who got two stickers.”
He grinned and for a while, there was a comfortable silence. I took this opportunity to bin the leftover food and filled the sink up with soapy water.
“Bethany is late,” Sam randomly shared, not feeling the need to further explain.
“Late for what?” I asked, grabbing the sponge and getting to work.
“She’s late for her period,” he informed, eyebrows raised.
A nod was all I received.
“SAMMY!” I squealed, literally jumping into his arms.
I ignored the wet patches I was getting everywhere and proceeded to hug him tightly to my chest, feeling suddenly emotional.
“We’re not certain but the two pregnancy tests we’ve taken have come back positive.”
“Fuck, you’re gonna be a dad?”
I laughed and he smiled; the pair of us appreciating how weird/ exciting this was.
“We’re not telling people yet. I wasn’t going to say anything but seeing you with Leila tonight has got me so fucking excited,” he admitted. “I wanted you to be the first to know.”
A few tears ran down my cheeks, fast in their descent. “I love you so much. You’re going to be a fantastic dad,” I whispered, pulling away.
Tears gathered in his own eyes, portraying his true excitement on the matter. “Everything is going to be alright, Jessie.”
His promise struck a chord, prompting a few more tears to come hurdling out.
“I so badly need it to be because I can’t lose this.” I gestured towards the closed kitchen door, specifically towards the two people on the other side.
“Remember what I told you the day we found out Charlotte had passed?” he asked, as if I could ever forget.
I sniffed and nodded, too emotionally choked up to speak.
“I said you’d make a great Mum one day,” he began, rubbing at my arms. “Today is that day.”
I pushed on his chest, hating him for making me so emotional at a time like this.
“I’m so happy for you,” I said, wiping at my wet cheeks.
Thankfully, he accepted the subject change with open arms, sensing my need to move on. “Me too, Jessie. Me too.”