When Lizbeth came back from work on the first Friday of November, she packed a small suitcase and changed her suit for some black leggings and a loose-knit sand-colored sweater. When she was ready, she went to help Sawyer to prepare the kids for the trip.
She made some sandwiches, packed some snacks, water, and sodas in case they wanted something different. She also saved a few movies on her tablet. It wasn’t a pretty long journey, but three hours stuck in the car could be too much for the kids.
When they were ready they walked to the parking lot. Lizbeth opened the trunk to let Noah jump in. She took off her leash and put her on the dog vest Sawyer kept in there. Meanwhile, Sawyer had put his leather jacket in the passenger seat and was getting the kids on theirs. Putting them on their seatbelts and making sure they were comfortable. Being a firefighter made him a bit paranoid about those things, he had witnessed more than one car accident and not all of them ended in a pretty way.
When Noah was perfectly strapped, Lizbeth started loading the vehicle.
“Need a hand?” Sawyer asked as he walked around the car.
“It’s almost done.” Her voice came as a grunt. It was a heavy suitcase.
“You’re gonna break your back,” Sawyer huffed. “Let me get that for you.”
“What have you put in here, rocks?” she asked in a mocking tone as she let it on the floor again.
“Kids need a lot of stuff. Noah and I too.” He chuckled.
“You’re like a woman. What are you bringing? Your hundreds of pairs of high heels?” she teased him while eyeing him up and down. His grey and somewhat ripped jeans combined with the long-sleeve dark blue shirt he was wearing, made his figure look very appealing.
“No... But I do have something that will make you shut up.” He closed the trunk, stifling with it the sound of the slap on her ass.
“What th—” she said, suddenly coming back from the lustful span in her mind
“You coming or what?” Sawyer asked her in a mocking tone as he got into the car.
It was the first time in a long time she was doing a road trip with someone else but herself. She didn’t even remember when was the last time she did something like that. She had gotten used to the silence and stillness inside her car, and that ride wasn’t anything like that.
The kids asked Sawyer to put on some Disney soundtrack and they sang along at the top of their lungs for some time. Lizbeth joined them in a few of the songs, surprising herself. It had been a while since she had watched or listened to any of that music but her brain, somehow, had it stored away. Then, they rambled about what they were going to do when they arrived at the forest. Adam said something about building a treehouse, and Sophia wanted to go look for unicorns. Lizbeth couldn’t help it and giggled, they were so adorable.
It had been just a couple of weeks since she met them but she already felt part of that family. Adam and Sophia seemed to like her as much as she liked them and that made her heart throb with pure bliss.
They were close to their destination, it was easy to see by the deep forest on both sides of the road. It was a magnificent scenery. The trees were so tall that it looked as if they were touching the sky, breaking a crystal dome from where the warm light was leaking in. Their autumnal leaves covered with the silky orange shade of the sun’s last fragile rays remains.
The car veered to the right and soon after they were going through a natural arch of entangled branches. Beautiful.
As they stepped out of the SUV, April came running to them.
“Oh my God! Oh my God! You’re here!” she squealed, making Lizbeth laugh.
“Gosh! Did I die or something?” she joked.
“You’re so silly!” April slapped her arm. “I just didn’t know if you could make it! You’ve been so busy with work lately that you never come to our reunions anymore!”
“Well... You know the reason why... But anyway, I’m here now, ain’t I?”
“Oh, yes you are!” She hugged her tight. Lizbeth let her warmth reach her body. For April it had always been easy to express what she felt, she didn’t ever mince her words—for good or bad— she was so honest and straightforward that Lizbeth couldn’t help it but feel safe around her.
“And... Oh, wow!” she exclaimed when Sawyer put Sophia on the ground. “Oh my God! You’re so big, angel!” She crouched down to be at her level, with her arms open.
“Auntie, April!” The girl ran to her and hugged her.
“How have you been?” April asked her as she kissed her cheek.
“Good!” Sophia grinned.
“And where is your brother?”
“Here,” he shyly said as he approached them.
“Come here, my boy! I’ve missed you so much!”
Adam slightly laughed and hugged her. “I’ve missed you too.”
“You know what? I have some presents for you from Hawaii,” she told them out of the blue.
“Really?” Adam asked, his eyes sparkling.
“Yeah, come with me while they get your stuff in the house.”
“Bye, April!” Sawyer said as they walked away.
“Bye, Sawyer!” she answered back, making him chuckle.
“What am I, invisible?” he rhetorically asked.
“No, but they’re much cuter than you,” Lizbeth smirked.
“Want me to punish you for saying I’m not cute?” he teased her.
“First of all, I didn’t say you weren’t cute. I just said they’re cuter. And second of all...” She got closer to his ear and whispered, “you can spank my ass as much as you want.” She had forgotten how being a real woman —in its whole sense— felt like, but with Sawyer, all that part of her was resurfacing after so much time buried deep down. He made her feel alive.
“What the hell, woman?!” Sawyer spat when she ran away after saying that.
She entered the house laughing, feeling all her past worries fade away, and when she saw her brother and the others, she sighed. An emotion she hadn’t experienced before got caught in her throat, wrapping around her heart and squeezing it tightly. It had been a long time since they had all been together like that and in that place.
Dylan’s lake house was their summer shelter during college. They spent a lot of time out in the woods but also inside that magnificent house. The high ceilings cascading down to the ground, harmoniously combining with the dark wooden floor and the black windows’ frames, brought a lot of memories that warmed her chest.
“Oh my God! Liz!” Lauren said as she approached. She looked as stunning as always. Her perfectly straight and ginger hair was perfectly cut right under her chin, highlighting her breathtaking pale blue eyes.
“Hello, gorgeous!” Lizbeth giggled. “You look amazing... Jesus! Who would say you’re a mother of two?” She wasn’t lying, she was tall and slim, with wonderful curves in all the right places, beautifully hugged by her knit sweater dress. She looked much like a mortal the other day.
“Look who’s talking!” Lauren circled her arms around her neck and hugged her even tighter. Lizbeth smiled. “It’s great that you’re coming back...” She separated from her and sweetly smiled.
“Can you stop hogging her? We all want to say hi!” Dylan, her husband, joked. His chocolate eyes glowing humorously under his dark eyebrows.
“Alright, alright...” She giggled.
“Hey!” Lizbeth said, hugging him.
“I’m glad you could make it,” he told her.
“So, being your brother doesn’t give me any privileges to be the first one you greet?” Liam protested as he got closer to her.
“We talk every week, aren’t you tired of me already?”
“You wished, Baby girl!” He laughed. “Come here...” he said as he approached her with his arms open. “I’m so happy that you’re finally getting back to your old self,” he whispered in her ear.
✽ ✽ ✽ ✽ ✽
After unpacking and settling everyone in their rooms, the whole gang sat in the living room. Sawyer and Liam lit the rustic fireplace while the women prepared some snacks and Dylan watched the kids. Lizbeth smiled as she wandered around her memories.
The meetings at that house used to be crazy. Alcohol, pizza, trash, and people laying on the floor, wasted most of the time. Going hiking, swimming in the lake, ducking one another in the water just for fun and bonfires in the backyard. Thinking about all that made her feel old. Now they were having small talk in the kitchen while preparing dinner for adults and for kids... They had kids now!
“What are you thinking about,” Lauren asked her.
“Huh? Nothing... Just how fast time flies.”
“I know right?” She smiled at her.
“It’s amazing that we’re still together, somehow,” April said with a nostalgic tone of voice. “Being adults, having kids, a full-time job... It’s so hard to keep up with everything, but we’ve still made it.” Her eyes watered.
“Hey, girl... What’s wrong?” Lizbeth dropped the knife she was using to slice the bread and walked to her. She put an arm around her shoulders and soon after tears started falling down.
“It’s nothing... It’s just... Ugh!” She let out a groan of frustration.
“Are you pregnant?” Lauren asked with her eyes opened wide.
“Yeah...” she whispered. “How did you know?”
“Because I was a hormonal cocktail myself when I was preggers,” she noted.
“So then, you’re really pregnant?” Lizbeth asked her, feeling a pang of pain in her chest.
Lauren gave her a knowing look. Lizbeth nodded with a small smile in her lips, trying to tell her everything was fine but it hurt anyway. Telling her family the week before was hard, but made it all less painful —though she still hadn’t gathered all the strength to talk with Sawyer about it.
“Looks like it… Oh my God, Liz! I’m sorry!” she immediately apologized, which bothered her because that was exactly what she didn’t want.
“Don’t be! This is amazing!” Lizbeth hugged her, pushing down the dark emotions that slowly resurfaced. “I’m going to be an aunt!” As much as it stung April and Liam were her favorite people in the world, and them having a family was the best thing she could think of.
“But... I wasn’t expecting this, and my hormones are driving me nuts, and I haven’t told Liam yet.”
“What haven’t you told me yet?” he asked as he stepped into the kitchen followed by Dylan and Sawyer.
The three women froze. “I— I’m pregnant...” April said in a low voice. They were both very busy with work after coming back from the honeymoon. He was a doctor and she was the owner of a fashion design brand, and now there was a baby on the way. Lizbeth perfectly understood what was worrying her, because she had been there too.
“What?” Liam asked, raising his tone of voice. April flinched, but when Lizbeth squeezed her hand, she lifted her head. Liam wasn’t mad or scared, his face had turned into the sweetest and warmest expression his sister had ever seen. He was so happy it was indescribable.
“I— I’m going to be a dad?” he asked with a high pitched voice.
April bit her bottom lip and smiled. “Yeah...”
“Oh my God!” He ran to his wife and held her tight in his arms, caressing and kissing the top of her head. “And here I thought you couldn’t make me any happier...”
Lauren and Lizbeth walked away, giving the couple some space. As they reached the place where Sawyer and Dylan were standing, the redheaded linked her hand with her husband’s and lovingly glanced at him.
“Looks like the family is growing...” Dylan smiled, staring at them.
“Yeah...” Lauren said with a huge grin plastered on her face. “Should we give them some privacy?” She suggested.
“Yeah, let them enjoy this moment alone,” Sawyer agreed, rubbing Lizbeth’s arm.
They went to the living room. Julian and Jasper, Dylan’s and Lauren’s kids, were playing some video games while Adam was reading a comic, laying in a beanbag chair, looking at them out of the corner of his eye. Sophia was with Noah, putting her on a scarf and a winter hat. “You’re going to get cold.” She told her. Lizbeth giggled.
“Hey, buddy!” she said as she sat beside Adam, making him pop from that beanbag that looked like it was trying to eat him. The other three adults sat on the couch and kept talking about how amazing it was that April and Liam were going to be parents soon.
“Hi, Liz...” he shyly said.
“What are you doing here?”
“Yeah, I can see that.” She chuckled. “I meant, why aren’t you playing with them?” She pointed with her chin towards the other kids. They were ten and eight years old, close enough to his age to play together.
“I don’t know how to play...” He pretended to be reading again.
“What?” Lizbeth exclaimed, exaggerating her surprise. “Come with me! I’m sure they will be glad to show you” She said as she struggled to get out of the floor cushion. Adam laughed at her clumsy attempts to get up. “Did you just laugh at me?”
“No...” he muttered with a funny glow in his eyes.
“Oh my God! You did!” She said in a playful tone as she turned to tickle him. The kid burst out laughing. It was the best sound she had ever heard, so pure and innocent.
“What’s going on?” Sawyer asked, raising an eyebrow as he turned to look at them. Dylan and Lauren were grinning too.
“He just laughed at me!” Lizbeth pointed to Adam.
“I did not!” He laughed again, slapping her hand away. “She was trying to get out of here and looked like a turtle upside down!”
“Did you just call me a turtle?” Lizbeth faked being offended. “I’m gonna tickle you until you apologize, little man!” It was hard to move laying on that thing, but it was so much fun to tease Adam. He was pretty shy, but in barely three days he was opening and talking to her as if they knew each other forever. She loved that.
He laughed and kicked the air, trying to get away from her.
“Save me, uncle Sawyer!” he cried out.
“What’s going on?” April asked as they came back to the living room carrying trays with delicious and colorful food.
“Lizbeth’s a tickling monster, apparently,” Lauren told her, chuckling.
Sawyer approached them and in a swift movement picked up Lizbeth, throwing her over his shoulder with bewildering ease.
“Run, buddy!” He encouraged him.
“Thanks!” he said as he got up and ran away.
“Sawyer! Put me down!” Lizbeth whined. “Come on! Stop treating me like a sack of potatoes!”
“You’re way heavier than that!” He said as he pinched her tight.
“Sawyer!” She slapped his butt.
“Hey, Sis! That’s called harassment!” Liam joked.
Oh, shit! She didn’t mean to be so brazen in front of everyone, they didn’t know yet that they were together, but she acted without thinking. Sawyer chuckled.
“She cannot help it, Liam. I’m so hot,” he bragged.
“And what do you call this?” she asked, raising her head and looking at her brother through the hair curtain falling onto her face.
“Teaching you a lesson?” he said. Oh, sweet Liam...
“You should put her down, Sawyer. Her face is turning so red I think her head is going to explode,” Lauren mentioned.
“Fine.” He laughed, letting her down. As soon as her feet felt the ground she smacked his chest.
“Next time, you’re the one hanging with your head down!” she declared.
“We’ll see.” He wiggled his eyebrows up and down.
“Okay, guys, stop flirting and come to the table, dinner is ready!” Dylan said, completely unaware of the tension between them. Man! He’s as dense as Liam. Lizbeth rolled her eyes.
✽ ✽ ✽ ✽ ✽
Dinner was really fun. They talked about everything and nothing. They laughed and drank, enjoying their time together. The kids were delighted as well, they ate pizza and their parents let them go to sleep late—though none of them lasted pretty long, especially Sophia, who was sleeping by nine.
While Sawyer and Lauren put the kids to bed, the rest of them cleaned a little and put everything in the dishwasher so they didn’t have much to do the next morning. Then, all the adults met in the living room again. They sat on the couch with a couple of bottles of wine and chatted about different things, from the old memories to politics to April’s pregnancy. Bouncing from a topic to another for some time while the fire kept crackling in the background.
“Ah... I think I’m going to bed,” Liam said as he stretched on the couch.
“It’s been a long day full of emotions.” April smiled at him as she entwined her fingers with his.
“Yeah...” he softly said, squeezing her hand. “See you tomorrow, guys!” he said as he stood up, helping April to get up too.
“G’ night, guys!” she said as they walked up the stairs.
“I’m tired too, honey,” Lauren told her husband as she tightened the grip on his leg.
“There’s no need for you to be so subtle, Lauren. The kids aren’t around and we all know what you’re gonna do when you get upstairs,” Sawyer stated, smirking as he extended his arms over the back of the couch, including Lizbeth in his personal space.
“Sawyer Alexander Cox!” Lauren exclaimed with her eyes opened wide as her face slightly turned pink. Lizbeth bit the inside of her cheek to hold in a grin as she watched the scene like it was a tennis match.
“Uh-huh?” he smugly asked.
“Ugh!” she let out a frustrated sigh as she got up, making him and her husband laugh.
“Dylan!” she protested.
“What?” he asked as he towered her.
“Don’t play along!”
“Don’t listen to him, Babe, and let’s just go to bed,” he said before kissing her.
“Fine...” she said in a low voice.
“Don’t be too loud, guys!” Sawyer teased again when they walked towards the stairs, seizing the moment to run his hand down to Lizbeth’s shoulder. She sighed at the contact, she had been longing for his touch the whole day, craving to merge her body with his again.
“Shut it!” Lauren told him before they finally disappeared from their sight.
“What a day, huh?” Sawyer said while caressing her arm up and down when they were completely alone.
“Yeah...” She smiled snuggling against him.
“You’re amazing with the kids...” he said in a low voice.
“Well, they’re amazing.” She chuckled. “After everything they’ve been through, they seem so happy...”
“I hope they are...” He smiled at her as his fingers softly caressed her neck. He didn’t say anything for a while but then he opened to her a bit more. “The only thing that concerns me is to do it right.”
“What do you mean?” she asked without moving her head from the crook of his neck. Sawyer talking about his fears was unusual and she didn’t want to scare him away.
“Well... I never planned to have kids of my own, and then, in the blink of an eye, I became a dad. I never had it in me, you know? The paternal instinct. I used to argue with Maggie about that a lot... And look at me now...” He bitterly chuckled.
“I think you’re doing a great job, Sawyer.” She paused and raised her head to look at him. When he turned to her she continued. “You don’t need to have it in you to be a good dad. A father is someone that is there for you when you need him. A strong, reliable, and caring person who protects you no matter what. Someone that would fight for you ’till the end. And every time I look at you, I see all that... What happened to them was horrible, but they’re still kids. They would never forget about it, but that wound will heal at some point because they’re loved. They have someone that’s always there for them, someone that unconditionally loves them and that would give anything to make them smile... They’ll be fine.”
She noticed when he swallowed hard. He was tense, probably trying to hold his feelings back. He was a big-hearted man but he didn’t like to show it much. She grabbed his hand and lightly squeezed it.
He nodded and smiled, as if her feelings had reached him. Then, he put a lock of hair that had escaped her ponytail behind her ear.
“You have a way with words... Don’t you, Dr. Ackerman?” His mood dramatically changed as he said those words in a seductive tone of voice.
“You might be right...” She painfully breathed when his lips brushed hers. Her heart raced in her chest and the spot between her legs throbbed in anticipation.
“You know… This is where everything started for us,” he whispered.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she played dumb. Her heart fluttering at the memory of the first time he kissed her, touched her, and sent her straight to heaven. It was the first time she saw that raw passion in his eyes when looking at her. She loved it.
“Yeah, right,” he said, a playful smile on his lips.
Lizbeth softly laughed. “I can still picture Lauren’s eyes almost popping out of her head when we walked out of the bathroom. Glad she didn’t say anything…”
“Yeah… Liam would have cut my balls off and James would have punched me in the face, for sure.”
“Well he did, later,” Lizbeth giggled. She clearly remembered she was scared the day they had a fight because James had found out they had been going behind his back, but after so much time it was just like a scene in a cliché romance movie.
“Well, yeah, but at least we didn't need to hide anymore, so it was worth it.”
“God, I was so confused after breaking up with him…”
“Me too. Couldn’t believe I actually betrayed him like that…” He trailed off. “Anyway, your room is the only one on this floor, and the kids are already fast asleep, so maybe… We could enjoy ourselves a little?” he suggested as his hand slid under her sweater and gently squeezed her breast.
“I thought you’d never ask,” she said right before biting on his bottom lip, dragging a low moan out of his throat.