The Man I Love

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A Few Years Later

Aiden hadn’t been this nervous in years. He hadn’t been this nervous when he and Kellen moved into their home the summer after their wedding. Or when he started working officially as a coach and PE teacher. Surprisingly, he actually made a pretty good teacher, although Kellen said it wasn’t surprising at all.

But being a teacher wasn’t even close to being the same thing as being a father.

Aiden thought that after almost two years of going through the adoption process, he would be ready to be a father. And he was, really, but that didn’t stop the nervous twisting in his gut when he thought about how their lives were going to change.

“I’m nervous too, hun,” Kellen said quietly from beside him. He didn’t take his eyes off the road for a second, and was proper as always when he drove, but he was driving.

Aiden still felt his heart warm at Kellen’s dedication. The man hadn’t driven for over ten years since his accident, but when he found out that they would be adopting three girls together, Kellen had asked Aiden’s parents to help him learn to drive again. He still had to pull over if he had a panic attack and had some trouble with difficult roads, but Aiden was so incredibly proud of him and what he was doing for their family.

Their family. The thought brought a smile to Aiden’s face, excitement cutting through the nervous grumbling of his stomach. “You can’t be the nervous one in this relationship. We’ll never get anywhere,” Aiden joked.

Kellen chuckled, repositioning his hands at ten and two precisely. They’d made this four-hour drive every weekend to see their girls, but this weekend, they were finally going to bring the girls home. It made sense that Kellen was just as nervous as he was for once. But Kellen wasn’t the nervous stomach type at least.

“We’re going to be fine,” Kellen repeated to him for what must have been the millionth time. “Thea, Violet, and Skylar are already our daughters. We’re just going to pick them up.”

Aiden released a breath in an effort to relax. He wished that he could hold Kellen’s hand, although he would never do anything to make Kellen even more nervous than he usually was when he drove. “You’re right,” he said, taking another deep breath. “They’re already really excited. I think Thea has her whole room planned out, and Skylar said that she wants stars on the ceiling.”

Kellen smiled to himself. “And you know how Violet is: she’s quiet and likes books. She finally admitted to me that it’s her dream to have a whole bookshelf with all her books in it.” He tapped his fingers excitedly. “Poor thing is still so shy. I hope the three of them adjust well.”

“Well, we made sure to buy a house with a bedroom for each of them so they’d have enough room,” Aiden mused. “And they’re sisters, so they’ll have each other, and us too.” He patted Kellen’s thigh lightly, letting his hand linger for a second.

Kellen didn’t take his eyes off the road or remove his hands from the wheel, but Aiden knew that he appreciated it from the way he smiled.

They sat in companionable silence for a little while, the familiar roads greeting their eyes. It felt strange to think that this was the last time they were taking this trip, and yet Aiden couldn’t keep the smile off his face.

After a while, Kellen said, “I think your brothers are looking forward to us having three girls under the age of eight. Isaac wants to get us back for all the teasing about Orrin and Riley keeping him and Lyla up all the time.”

Aiden snorted with laughter. “They were the ones who decided to have another kid. It’s not my fault that they ended up with a second boy just as rambunctious as the first.” Even though he was only one right now, Riley was already proving to be a great troublemaker when his brother was in the room. “He wants to be able to hand a kid back to us and say, ‘I’m only the uncle,’” Aiden added in a poor imitation of Isaac’s voice.

Kellen made a noise halfway between a laugh and a snort. “Don’t make me laugh. I’m driving!”

“I’ll save all my humor for the girls,” Aiden joked.

“I think we’re better as a comedy team though,” Kellen responded. “But you are full of bad dad jokes. You’ll be competing with your dad on who tells the dorkiest jokes.”

Aiden snorted. “It’ll be a stiff competition then. You know that my parents are beyond thrilled at the prospect of three new grandkids all at once. They’ll be bringing their A-game.”

“Must be killing them to not be in the car with us right now,” Kellen quipped. “But we’d have to get a minivan for that, and I don’t think I can drive anything larger than this car.” He gripped the wheel again, taking a deliberate breath.

Aiden patted his thigh. “Relax. Anything larger than this car, and I’ll drive. You sure you’re okay? Do you want to pull over?”

“I’m okay,” Kellen reassured him. He took another breath though. “I don’t need to throw up.”

Aiden gave him a sympathetic look. The first few times they’d done this drive, Kellen had needed to pull over a few times out of panic. He made it in the end, but Aiden didn’t think he’d ever seen the man look quite so green.

“Hey, Aiden?” Kellen asked seriously. “Do you… you don’t think the kids will be disappointed in me, right? I still get my migraines… and driving makes me nervous…” He readjusted his hands on the wheel.

“Can you pull over for me, Kellen?” Aiden asked gently. Kellen gave him a confused look, but did as he asked, looking more than a few times to be sure that they were far enough off the road that they’d be safe.

Aiden placed his hand on Kellen’s cheek, forcing his husband to look him in the eyes. “You already know what I’m going to say,” he said softly. They’d had this conversation before, but he still went on, “Those kids love you. They know that you have your migraines, just like they know that I get stomachaches. And they know how much we love and care for them. We’ll have our sick days, but no amount of sick days can change the fact that we’ll be a family.”

He leaned forward to kiss Kellen softly, brushing his thumb over the man’s cheek. Kellen relaxed under his touch, returning the kiss passionately.

When they pulled apart, Kellen was staring at him with a fond smile. “Thanks, hun. I know that you’re nervous too, but you’ll be a great father. Or I should say: you’re already a great father. Now we’ve just got the paperwork signed.”

“You’ve been a great dad since day one,” Aiden said to him with a chuckle. “You’re the one who got me to calm down when we first met them. You’re amazing with kids. Migraines and all.”

He kissed Kellen again on the mouth, then on his cheek and jaw. Kellen was smiling now, his shoulders less tense. “Okay, I’m ready to go again. We shouldn’t keep our girls waiting,” Kellen said. He gave Aiden one more kiss before he was pulling back onto the road, an excited smile on his face.

Aiden mirrored his expression, feeling better already. He didn’t think he’d smiled this much since his honeymoon with Kellen, which they spent going to amusement parks, but he couldn’t stop smiling when they had their girls in the car with them and were on their way back home.

For the sake of Kellen’s anxiety, Aiden drove. He had a hard time sitting still with their three girls in the back with them asking constant questions.

“I get my own room? And you said I could decorate it, right? But it’s mine?” That was Thea, the oldest. The little seven-year-old, almost eight, was always social and excitable, kind of like Nikki had been at her age. She was bouncing so much that her brown hair kept swishing back and forth in its ponytail.

“All yours, Thea,” Kellen said to her fondly. “And yes, you can decorate it any way you want.”

Thea squeaked excitedly to herself. “My own room! I’ve never gotten my own room before.” She clasped her hands together, smiling widely. “In a house—that I live in with my new dads!”

“Um… I… can we still go to the bookstore sometime too? I want books in my room.” That was Violet. There was always a book in her small, caramel-colored, six-year-old hands, some with bent corners that had clearly been well-loved. She only talked when she really had to, but she was always listening even when turning the pages of her books.

“Of course, we can go,” Aiden answered her. “I think your papa needs another book to read too.”

“Did you finish yours, papa?” Violet asked with a little tilt of her head.

Kellen smiled fondly at being called “papa.” They had agreed that the girls really didn’t need to call them anything, but none of them had known their fathers before their mother gave them up. Maybe that was why they slipped into the habit last year.

“I did,” Kellen said softly. “Do you remember? I like to read at night while your dad watches TV.”

“Can I watch with you some time? In your room?” And that was Skylar, the youngest at four. She was a mix between Violet’s quiet personality and Thea’s loud one, with a love of attention that made her incredibly outgoing.

Aiden met her eyes in the rearview mirror. “Sure, as long as you’re in bed by bedtime. Violet can read with papa and the three of us can watch TV.”

“Can it not be sports though?” Thea asked. “I guess they’re okay, but I like the movie channel. The romantic movies are the best.”

“Hallmark,” Kellen chuckled, covering his mouth to stop himself from laughing louder. He had no luck at it when Thea started giggling along too, followed by Skylar. Violet smiled to herself.

The girls figured out a while ago that Kellen was the type to bark out his laughter; they had made it a bit of a game to get him to do it.

Aiden shook his head fondly at them. The chatter went on for a while, at least until Skylar fell asleep, Violet started nodding off while reading her book, and Thea focused all her attention on the sights outside the window. Kellen yawned in the extended silence, rubbing his eyes.

“Adrenaline wearing off?” Aiden asked softly.

Kellen gave him a sideways glance. “Probably. Maybe I’m just getting old.”

Aiden rolled his eyes with a smile on his face. “Not a chance. You’ve been tired since the day I met you. Besides, you can still dance like nobody’s business. I’m the one that’s slowing down,” he joked, if only because he already knew how Kellen would respond.

“You’re just not on a professional baseball team training regiment,” Kellen quipped. “But you’re just as handsome as the day we met. Or probably even more so. Now you’re all confident in yourself. I already know it: you’ll be the distinguished type as you age.”

“Oh really?” Aiden chuckled. “Even when I have grey hair?”

“Especially then,” Kellen said without hesitation. “That’s the dream, Aiden. To dance with you in the kitchen when we’re both old and grey. I’ll bet you fifty bucks that one of us will have glasses by then.”

Aiden glanced at him. “I’ll take that bet. No one in my family has glasses yet.”

“You might be the first,” Kellen teased, chuckling. He turned suddenly upon noticing that Thea was looking at the two of them. “You alright, Thea?” he asked.

Thea blinked, smiling. “Oh, yeah. This is just nice. To have two parents who really love each other, I mean.”

Kellen reached back to pat her head, a fond smile on his face. His eyes met Aiden’s happily as he turned back to Thea. “It’s nice to have you three with us too. But we’ll be home soon, Thea. You should relax before we start customizing your room.”

Thea nodded happily. When it was quiet again, Kellen now resting, but awake, calmly beside him, Aiden smiled to himself. Kellen had been his family for a long time now, but now he had three girls to take care of too. It was both frightening yet exhilarating.

He got the same feeling when he entered their home with the girls in tow, his heart beating quickly with nerves at the thought of how the girls would adjust.

Understandably, they took some time to familiarize themselves with the place first. Violet stuck close to Aiden the second they stepped inside, while Skylar had Kellen pick her up. Thea had no fear, stepping cautiously around the living area that greeted them. It had the same white couch and brown armchair from their old place, with an additional chair they’d bought and some bookshelves to frame the TV.

Aiden led the group of them into the kitchen straight ahead, watching as Kellen put Skylar down to investigate the kitchen and the small dining area in front of them. The little circular table was the same one from their old place too, although now they might actually use all the chairs more often.

Violet finally snuck over to check out the fridge, stepping around the L-shaped counter cautiously. She turned around to ask, “Are we… eating dinner later?”

“And lunch,” Kellen supplied with a smile. “We’ll get started in a little while, but why don’t we check out your rooms first?”

Thea squealed, jumping in place. She grabbed Aiden’s hand to practically drag him up the stairs. The second he directed her to her room on the second floor, she was off like a bullet to see it. Violet moved more slowly, but her eyes were like saucers when she saw the bookshelves that he and Kellen had spent hours putting together.

“Bookshelves,” she murmured, running her little hands over them like they were something special.

Skylar came up beside her, a confused frown. Despite the fact that she would never love books like her sister, she still did the honor of plucking the book from Violet’s hand to put it on the shelf. “Your first book,” Skylar said simply.

Kellen stepped over to sit next to Violet when it looked like she was tearing up. “What’s wrong, sweetheart? Do you like it?”

Violet wiped her eyes. “My room is so great. And I have bookshelves. I’m so happy,” she murmured, running over to bury herself in Kellen’s chest.

Kellen looked over at Aiden with an intensely proud look, hugging her tightly. Aiden felt his heart swell at the sight, but he was soon grabbed by Skylar, who wanted to see her room. They sat in there staring up at the stars on her ceiling for a while before Thea dragged in everyone to see her room.

By the end of the day, Aiden and Kellen ended up with lists of things on their phones that they wanted to pick up to help the girls decorate. They collapsed into bed together when the girls went to sleep, fully expecting at least one of them to have trouble falling asleep on their first night.

Aiden looked over at Kellen beside him and grabbed his hand. “How are you feeling?”

Kellen let out a breath and turned to face him. “Good. I think we’re doing good.” He scooted over to give Aiden a hearty kiss on the mouth, keeping it chaste.

Aiden brought his hand up to Kellen’s cheek, rubbing softly over his cheekbone. When they broke apart, he patted Kellen’s chest. “We should get some sleep.”

Kellen pecked him on the cheek. “Shower together in the morning?”

“Deal,” Aiden agreed. He could feel the exhaustion in his bones from a day full of entertaining three children, but it was a good type of exhaustion, like how he used to feel after a good training session or game. Their lives would be a lot different now, but they would figure it out as they went along.

As he crawled under the covers with Kellen right beside him, Aiden couldn’t wait to get started and do it all over again the next day.

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