The Man I Love

All Rights Reserved ©

Time Never Stops

Aiden was glad to see how well the girls were adjusting. He was even happier that it was summer and he didn’t have to work, so he could spend some time with them while Kellen did his classes.

Some days, Aiden would spend all day at home with the girls. Other days, Thea and Violet went with Kellen, Thea trying out some dance moves with the other students while Violet sat with Olivia and read a book.

There were even days when all four of them hung out at Kick Up Your Heels or at home. They usually stopped for lunch with Kellen, and all had dinner together.

It was all so domestic that Aiden almost had a hard time believing it was real. He went from being a family of him and Kellen to having three girls. It was nerve-wracking to worry about losing them or doing something wrong, but the first time Aiden heard one of his girls call him “dad” in public, he figured that he was doing something right to make them feel comfortable with him.

Kellen clearly felt the same way if what Olivia and B had to say was any indication.

“He talks about them constantly,” Olivia said with a chuckle when Aiden came with Skylar to have lunch with Kellen and the kids. “I haven’t seen him smile this much since he got back together with you.”

Aiden’s eyes cut to Skylar, trying to keep track of her as she investigated the Fourth of July decorations that Kellen and the others had forgotten to take down. He turned his attention back to Olivia. “Kellen’s reserves of energy are coming in handy,” he joked. “Is he getting on your nerves?”

“Not at all,” she clarified, pushing a strand of blue-highlighted hair behind her ear. Olivia might have been in her thirties now with the rest of them, but it would be a cold day in hell before she gave up her style. “I love these kids. They’re so cute, Aiden! They call us “aunt” and “auntie” and it’s adorable.”

“More adorable than when my sisters’ kids do it,” B said as she entered the room, Violet on her heels. Violet smiled and trotted over to give Aiden a hug before she went to see what Skylar was doing.

Olivia put her chin in her palm, giving her girlfriend a serious look. “Don’t lie; you love those kids.”

B hummed. “It’s their parents that get to me,” she deadpanned. “My sisters are always on me about ‘don’t you want your own kids?’ and ‘why don’t you marry your girlfriend already?’” She huffed.

Aiden raised an eyebrow. Olivia explained, “You know that we don’t want our own kids. We’re good with being aunts. As for marriage…” She shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe if we feel like it. Good excuse to have a party at least.”

B clearly appreciated her answer, since she went over to kiss Olivia firmly but shortly. After all these years together, they still acted like absolute professionals at work, with the spare kiss or touch here and there. Aiden gave them a lot of credit; he never could have kept his hands off of Kellen if he watched the man dance all day.

Olivia pouted. “Aw, B, you can’t kiss me and expect me not to moon after you now.”

B sent her a small smile. “You’ll survive. Kellen’s class is almost over and we’re all done after that.”

“Oh, I should let Zan know to come in tomorrow,” Olivia mumbled, referring to Zander, their fourth employee. “I know he’s planning on going to college in the fall, but it’s nice that he’s still close and likes us enough to keep working here.”

“Is he still filling in for some of Kellen’s hip-hop classes?” Aiden asked, checking on Violet and Skylar with a glance.

Olivia nodded. “He’s a skittish kind of guy, but when he dances, he lights up. He’s good with social media too, and teaches well when Kellen or B is there to help. He’d make a great full-time employee if he wasn’t so busy with school,” she finished with a shrug, getting on her phone to let him know his schedule.

As Olivia greeted Zander cheerily, B turned to Aiden with her full attention. “By the way, seeing as you and Kellen are quite busy yourselves now, you know that we’ll always babysit if you want a night alone.”

Aiden smiled pleasantly at her. “That means a lot, B. Thanks. It’s only been a few weeks so far though, so we’re not at the end of our ropes yet,” he joked.

B returned the smile. “Well, why don’t you leave these two to us for just a minute? I know you like to see Kellen when he dances, and class is just about over.”

It didn’t bother Aiden that B knew him so well by now. They’d known each other for eight years, and even though they’d always be Kellen’s best friends, Aiden was glad that he could call Olivia and B his friends too.

“Violet, Skylar,” he called, getting their attention. “Aunt B and Auntie Olivia are going to be watching you for a second. I’ll just be in the back.”

He was answered with Violet’s silent nod and Skylar’s cheerful “okay, daddy” before he patted B on the shoulder and went to find Kellen.

B was right: Aiden really did like to see Kellen dance. He stood at the door as Kellen instructed his class to do their whole move set for him to see. Kellen went around making minor corrections as he watched, adjusting a little girl’s arm and showing her the move again. She lit up at his attention. Aiden understood the sentiment.

Kick Up Your Heels had gotten so much business over the years that Kellen had started to separate his classes based on age and skill level, with this one for kids ages seven to twelve. Kellen was doing group classes all day some days, and individual classes with couples, smaller groups, and more skilled dancers on others. It was no wonder that he loved to sleep so much; Aiden honestly didn’t even know how the man got up every morning at all with how much energy he used up.

Aiden smiled as Kellen demonstrated another sharp movement for the kids, praising them when they performed it correctly. Thea was following along too, her eyes shining when Kellen gave her a “nice job, Thea” with a smile.

“Okay class, it looks like we’re all done for today, but you guys did a great job. See you next time!” Kellen dismissed them with a smile, going over to grab his phone from the speakers he had set it in. That was when he noticed Aiden standing there and smiled.

One minute? Kellen mouthed with a twist of his eyebrows.

Aiden just nodded, leaning down when Thea jumped over to him. “Dad!” she exclaimed happily. “Did you see how good I was? Papa said I was doing good.”

“I heard,” Aiden chuckled. “You’re a regular dancing star just like your papa.” He turned when he heard another “dad” and Violet and Skylar were next to him, B standing just a step behind.

B shrugged. “They said you were taking too long. What was it you said again, Skylar?”

The youngest girl blinked. “It’s been more than a second, dad,” she said straightforwardly.

Aiden just pushed a lock of black hair behind her ear. “’Just a second’ is a figure of speech, Sky. But yes, you’re right. Thanks, B,” he added, looking up at the woman. B just nodded, stepping away to handle any questions or scheduling problems that might crop up.

Kellen was still cleaning up, giving Aiden an idea. It was cliché, and really silly too, but the girls would only be young—and willing to be silly—for so long.

“Hey girls,” he said, “Want to play a game?” When he had their attention, he said, “Want to race over who can go hug papa the fastest?”

There was a second before Thea ran off with Violet close on her heels. Skylar was only a moment behind as she raced to Kellen, but Thea was the one who got to him first, wrapping her arms around his waist. Kellen picked up Skylar like Aiden used to do with Nikki and braced himself for Violet’s hug.

“Whoa, whoa,” Kellen said with a laugh. “What’s up, girls? Where’s the fire?”

Skylar wrapped her arms around his neck. “Daddy said we should see who can hug you fastest.”

“And I won,” Thea bragged with a bright smile.

“And dad lost,” Violet added with a tiny smile.

Aiden stepped over, patting her head. “Yeah, looks like I did,” he said, leaning in for a brief kiss that Kellen returned.

Kellen set Skylar down and said, “Okay girls, let’s race to have sandwiches now. I, for one, am hungry.”

Just before they walked off, Kellen pulled Aiden in for a deeper kiss that lasted just a few seconds but left Aiden’s head reeling. Kellen smirked. “After all these years, I can still put that look on your face.”

“I’m pretty sure I’ll still have this look on my face when I’m eighty,” Aiden quipped, fully aware that he sounded like a sap.

Kellen only pecked him on the cheek again and led him out, corralling the kids together for a nice lunch outside.

Aiden was reminded of the fact that B and Olivia would make great babysitters as the kids gave them hugs to say goodbye, Olivia’s face beaming when she heard them call her “auntie” again. He had no doubt that his own brothers would be great uncles too, especially since they were wonderful with each other’s children, but there was one problem: they hadn’t exactly introduced the girls to his family yet.

It wasn’t like they didn’t want to, but they had wanted to give the girls a few weeks to adjust before introducing a whole slew of new people. With the girls doing well and feeling comfortable in the house and around the two of them, Aiden and Kellen decided that Sunday would be as good of a time as any. After checking with the girls to be sure they would be alright.

“You three don’t need to feel obligated to call them ‘aunt’ or ‘uncle’ right away if you’re not comfortable,” Aiden let them know, the three of them seated at their circular dining table.

Violet nodded shyly, the girl clearly nervous about being around new people, but Thea nudged her. “Vi, you’ve pretty much studied who everyone is. You’ll be fine.”

Violet really had. She’d been asking for the past week about who everyone in their family was, trying to memorize names and relationships. They told her that she didn’t have to do that, but she said it would help her feel less nervous.

“I guess,” Violet murmured. “Papa, can I cook with you until they get here?”

“Sure, Vi,” Kellen said, beckoning her over. “Here, you read out the recipe when I ask, okay?” He picked her up and set her on the counter.

“Oh, wait, I want to cook too,” Skylar complained, hopping over for Aiden to set her on the counter too.

Kellen handed her a bag of cheese. “When the time is right, it’s your job to sprinkle that all over the ziti. Sound good, captain?”

Skylar nodded excitedly, turning her attention back to Aiden. “Don’t worry, papa. We’ll be good for Uncle Ian and Uncle Isaac.”

“Yeah, we’re going to have two more uncles now, and aunts, and a grandma and grandpa, and three whole cousins,” Thea said, clapping to herself. When the doorbell rang, she didn’t look nearly as brave, but she nodded to herself and said, “I’ve got it.”

“Are you sure, Thea?” Aiden asked softly.

Thea took a breath. “I can do it. I’ll call you if I need you,” she said surely, despite the pensive look on her face.

“Thea is brave,” Violet murmured in awe, watching.

“Yes, she is,” Kellen agreed, “but it’s always okay to ask for help if you need it, or to rely on us too. Understand girls?”

“Yes, papa,” Skylar and Violet said at the same time.

Aiden smiled at them even as he felt his stomach twist with anxiety. He couldn’t hear what Thea was saying, but he could hear it when she called for him. Kellen gave him an amused look as he tried to not look like he was trotting over anxiously.

Thea was doing fine though, not that he expected anything less. “Dad, dad, it’s my cousin Nikki,” she said, practically bouncing in place.

Nikki was smiling down at her. His niece had grown into a beautiful little young lady. She’d just turned fourteen, but her energy hadn’t lessened one bit since she was seven. She was still dancing in Kellen’s classes, and had joined the dance team at her school. Ian grumbled every single time he saw her dance with a guy, and just about choked when she said she had a crush on a guy at school.

“I see, Thea,” Aiden chuckled.

“Can I show her my room? Please?” Thea asked excitedly.

“You’ll have to ask Nikki if she wants to see it,” Aiden prompted, but Nikki only bumped Thea gently. “I’d love to see it, Thea.”

Thea grabbed Nikki’s hands and dragged her upstairs, saying something about meeting her sisters in a minute.

Ian and Letta stared after them. “She’s like a little copy of Nikki when she was that age,” Ian mused. “How are you and Kellen not already exhausted?”

“Because she has sisters to occupy her,” Aiden quipped, stepping over to embrace his brother and sister-in-law. “Glad you guys could come over.”

Ian hugged him tightly. “Like we would miss this. Meeting your kids? You’re a dad now, Aiden,” he said beaming.

“And Thea seems like such a sweetheart,” Letta complimented, clearly noticing Violet’s silent approach as the little girl hid behind Aiden’s legs. Letta’s gaze lowered as she leaned down. “And who is this beautiful girl?”

Violet kept her hold on Aiden, but inched out to greet Letta. “I’m Violet. I’m six.”

Letta held out her hand to shake gently. “And I’m Letta. I’m much too old,” she joked.

“Aunt Letta,” Violet confirmed. She looked up at Ian shyly as he got down to her level too. “And Uncle Ian.”

“That’s right,” Ian said kindly. “It’s so nice to meet you, Violet. We met your sister. She warmed up pretty quickly,” he added in a murmur.

“Probably thanks to Nikki. I’m not sure Nikki will get a moment of rest now that she’s got three little cousins,” Letta laughed. “Have you met our daughter, Violet?”

Violet shook her head, clutching onto Aiden’s pants. Aiden smoothed his hand over her hair. “Why don’t we show them to the kitchen, Vi? You can finish helping papa cook.”

She nodded, but didn’t get a chance to move before Thea was bounding back down the stairs with Nikki in tow. “And I have a whole place for pictures. I want to take tons with my friends. I mean, I’ll make new friends, but oh! Maybe I can finally bring friends over to my house. Will you come over more too, Nikki?”

Aiden could see Nikki’s head spinning from all the questions already. He smirked; he wondered if she remembered herself being like that at all.

Nikki gave Thea a placating look. “Sure, I’d love to. Your dads are pretty great,” she said. “Your house is really close to your papa’s work. Did you know that? Maybe I can come and see you after my classes with your papa.”

Aiden narrowed his eyebrows. If he didn’t know any better, he would say Nikki sounded sad. He’d seen tons of her smiles over the years, and he knew that the one she was wearing wasn’t anywhere near genuine.

He would have to ask her about it later, since Nikki immediately turned to Violet to introduce herself. “So, I hear that you like to read, Violet,” Nikki started cheerily, “What’s your favorite book?”

That got Violet to open up. She was still explaining the plot of a novel with dragons when they entered the kitchen. Skylar was pouring cheese on the ziti that Kellen had put together, giggling as he kept pointing out spots that she “missed.”

Aiden smiled as Ian and Letta introduced themselves to Skylar, Ian sighing in remembrance when he thought of when Nikki used to call him “daddy.” Nikki just rolled her eyes. “You could have had another kid, but you and mom said no to siblings.”

“Sorry, Nikki, but you were just about all we could handle,” Letta answered her daughter, kissing Nikki on the head and asking her to set the table.

Aiden wasn’t exactly sure that their little table would have room for all of them though once Isaac and Lyla showed up with Orrin and Riley. Orrin and Skylar made friends with each other in about five seconds, quickly pulling out Orrin’s notebook to do some drawings. Violet seemed much more uncomfortable around baby Riley though, staying in the kitchen behind Kellen.

“I think Violet isn’t a fan of babies,” Isaac smirked in amusement.

“Like you would want to hold a baby that was crying when you first met it,” Kellen responded dryly. Even though Violet stayed close to him, he moved around the kitchen effortlessly, asking her to do small tasks for him like open the fridge and find something or help him wipe the counters.

“Skylar used to cry a lot,” Thea said curiously. She was on her toes, looking at the now-quiet Riley curiously. “She was so loud.”

“I was not!” Skylar yelled from the other room.

“You so were! You don’t even remember!” Thea shot back.

“Girls,” Aiden said sternly. His experience with sibling arguments was finally coming in handy as the two of them pouted, but stopped before the argument really developed and went back to their respective tasks.

Lyla raised her eyebrows. “Impressive,” she said smirking. “You learned how to do that in like a month?”

Aiden shrugged through the pride in his chest. “It helps that they’re well-behaved and older.” And that he’d struggled to stop multiple arguments before this one.

“And that we’ve known them for a few years now,” Kellen put in, now joined by Thea too. “Hey, hun, I’m done if you want to make the deserts you had in mind.”

“Okay,” Aiden agreed, pecking Kellen on the cheek on his way past. Really, he was just throwing some fruit, whipped cream, and yogurt in tiny containers, but he figured since they already looked like a mess, they couldn’t look any worse when he made them.

With Orrin and Skylar drawing, Violet reading, Riley sleeping, and Thea talking with Nikki, Aiden found himself surrounded by his siblings and their wives, just like so many years ago when he was twenty-four and having dinner as the fifth wheel, or a year later when he had Kellen by his side. The man was still by his side, eyeing the whipped cream that Aiden was topping the fruit with.

Aiden bumped his hip and raised a questioning eyebrow, a smirk on his face. Kellen gave him a look in return that clearly told him to save enough whipped cream to do something fun after the girls went to bed.

“Can you guys please stop mentally undressing each other?” Isaac asked, although he clearly found it funny. Some things never changed.

Kellen smirked. “What I’m imaging goes so far beyond undressing,” he teased. When Isaac gave him a deadpan look, Kellen barked with laughter. “It’s still so easy to get you to make that face.” He covered his mouth, laughing to himself as he doubled over the counter.

Aiden wanted to kiss that smile off his face, but he’d doubted that he would ever be self-confident enough to make-out with his boyfriend in front of his brothers. He never wanted to anyway; those kisses were just for him and Kellen.

He did peck Kellen on the cheek quickly though, patting his back in an effort to help him calm down. “You’d better calm down before we eat. We don’t want you choking,” Aiden said to him.

Kellen only raised his eyebrow. “As long as you Heimlich me, I’ll be fine. But yes, honey, I’ll be careful.” He squeezed Aiden’s hand, stepping away to get the food set up.

Dinner was loud as usual. It was even louder when Aiden’s parents arrived, his mother fawning over all three kids the moment she stepped in. Aiden could tell that she was trying her best not to be too overbearing, but she’d been waiting to meet the girls for a long time now.

Her bright personality won the girls over right away. Even Violet relaxed with his mother, holding onto her hand for a while and sitting in her lap when his mother did her hair. Thea was still amazed at the cookies her grandmother had brought over, holding back from tearing into them until Kellen split one with her and another between Skylar and Violet.

Skylar latched onto Aiden’s dad right away, sitting in his lap like Nikki used to do when they had dinner. Needless to say, the man looked thrilled to have another three granddaughters to spoil as he tried to learn everything about them in the course of an hour.

When everyone was done and Nikki offered to take some dishes to the sink, Aiden shared a look with Kellen. Nikki had been more subdued than usual for the entire evening, speaking when spoken too, but mostly pushing her food around on her plate.

Aiden knew Ian and Letta saw it too from the looks on their faces, but Letta told him that they’d already talked to Nikki. “Actually, you and Kellen should talk to her,” Letta suggested. “I’ll get out the dessert while you do.”

He took that as his cue. When Nikki left to take the dishes to the sink, Aiden got up at the same time and took them from her hands. She blinked up at him in confusion. “Would you mind helping me and Kellen with something in our room?”

“Um, I guess so?” Nikki responded with a frown.

Aiden held out the dishes for Kellen to grab them right on time as he walked past them to the kitchen. Nikki raised an eyebrow. “Did you plan that?”

“We’ve just been together for a long time now,” Aiden chuckled, leading Nikki out of the dining room and up the stairs. They bypassed the girls’ rooms to get to theirs at the end of the hall. Aiden sat on the end of the bed, motioning for Nikki to sit beside him.

They were both quiet for a moment. Nikki broke the silence. “You and Uncle Kellen are really good together. And you’re good with those three too.”

Kellen entered the room, closing the door behind him softly. “That was a happy sentence, but you sounded like your parents just told you to quit the dance team,” he said softly, heading over to sit on her other side so she was sandwiched between them. “What’s wrong, Nic?”

She crossed her arms stubbornly, clearly unsure about whether she should talk. The two of them waited her out, sitting in silence even as the noise from downstairs reached them. It was muted through the closed door.

“I… it’s nothing,” Nikki finally said.

“It’s not nothing if it’s bothering you, Nikki,” Aiden admonished gently. “We’re your uncles; you can tell us.”

“Are you sure?” she asked, not accusingly, but sadly.

Aiden shared a look with Kellen, who had narrowed his eyebrows. “You can always talk to us,” Kellen said surely. “Why would you think that you couldn’t?”

Nikki shifted uncomfortably. “You have the girls now. And I… I’m sure you don’t have time for me anymore.”

Aiden felt like his heart was breaking. He reached over to brush his hand over Nikki’s hair, pushing a strand behind her ear in a loving gesture. “Nikki, we always have time for you. Is that what this is about? You’re worried that you won’t get to see us now that the girls are with us?”

When Nikki started wiping her eyes in frustration, Aiden felt panic lace his chest. Even when Kellen cried, that panic suffused him, along with the desire to do absolutely anything to make the man feel better.

He felt the same way as Nikki mumbled, “You love them so much. And you should: they’re your daughters. These past few years, I’ve known that you’ll have to give them all your attention, and you’ve been gone every Sunday and sometimes I haven’t gotten to see you for a few weeks, and it’s okay, really, but I miss you guys, and now they’re here and they’re great, but—”

Kellen stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. “Deep breaths, kiddo. Come on: in and out.”

Nikki inhaled and exhaled, letting her shoulders droop. “I’m sorry,” she murmured.

Aiden’s heart dropped as he looked down at her. “Nikki,” he said softly. “Just because we have the girls with us now doesn’t mean that we love you any less. But we’re so sorry that we made you feel this way.”

Kellen nodded. “You could have told us that you wanted to spend more time with us. You know that we would have been over in a heartbeat.”

It wasn’t that they felt guilty for loving and spending time with their daughters, but that Aiden and Kellen hadn’t even noticed that anything was wrong with Nikki. They’d just gotten so wrapped up in their kids that they hadn’t been giving Nikki as much attention as they should have.

“I didn’t want you guys to feel like you had to come over just to see me,” Nikki said softly. “But I guess I felt… mmmhpmmf.”

“Uh, what was that? Hmmpf? Didn’t catch that,” Kellen said lightheartedly.

Nikki smiled at his tone before she sighed dramatically, saying loudly, “I guess I felt jealous.” She said the word with added emphasis, like it was painful to get out. “Sure, there’s Orrin and Riley, but I’ve been the only girl. And now you have three of them.” She sighed. “But this is just so stupid and petty. Thea, Violet, and Skylar are so deserving of loving parents like you, and I want them to be happy.”

“It’s not stupid, Nikki,” Aiden said more sternly. “If it’s bothering you, it’s definitely not stupid,” he impressed upon her. “But hey, Nikki, did you know that your dad was super jealous when your Uncle Ian came along?”

She looked up at him curiously. “He was?”

Aiden nodded. “He was so jealous. My mom told me that he didn’t even want to hold Isaac, and was throwing tantrums left and right because your grandma was spending all her time with the new baby. Grandma was so worried that they wouldn’t get along until grandpa got your dad used to holding Isaac.”

“Oh, I can relate,” Kellen added in knowingly. “Nikki, you know that my sisters are much younger than me. I was about eight when Maia was born. For the first month or two actually, I felt like such an outsider, like no one in the family wanted me. But when Maia was just crying her eyes out one night and neither of my parents woke up to get her, I picked her up.” He chuckled. “I just did it to shut her up, but it worked I guess.”

“What we’re trying to say, Nic, is that it’s okay to be jealous. Your dad and your uncle here were jealous too,” Aiden supplied with a waning smile. “But our parents never loved us any less, and we don’t love you any less either.”

“And it’s not stupid to want to spend time with the people you love, or to wish we didn’t get so caught up in the girls that we didn’t give you all the attention you deserve,” Kellen finished softly. “We’re so sorry, Nikki.”

Nikki was looking down, so Aiden couldn’t see her expression. He looked at Kellen, concerned that they’d somehow said the wrong thing. Kellen shook his head minutely, just as unsure.

Aiden huffed out a breath when Nikki turned and hugged him tightly around his stomach. Kellen smiled at the scene in amusement until Nikki did the same thing to him and he made a noise of surprise.

“You guys really are good uncles.” She pulled back and settled down, a small smile on her face as she wiped her eyes again. “You don’t have to be sorry. I know you guys have a lot to think about with my new cousins now.”

“But we’ll always have time for you,” Aiden reassured her, a thought occurring to him. “Nikki, if you think about it actually, we wouldn’t even have the girls if it wasn’t for you.”

Nikki blinked up at him curiously. “Me? I’m pretty sure you guys were the ones that did all the work,” she said skeptically.

Kellen had clearly caught onto Aiden’s train of thought. “Don’t you remember, Nic? Aiden and I were broken up. We might have never met again if he wasn’t picking you up for your classes with me.” He placed his hand over Aiden’s, behind Nikki. Aiden laced their fingers together, his eyes on Kellen as the brunette went on, “Besides that, do you remember what you did right after Aiden came out to the family?”

It took her a second, but Aiden saw the moment when she recalled what Kellen was talking about. Her shoulders lightened and she blinked. “That’s right… After class I stopped you and told you about Uncle Aiden. I remember because I thought he’d be really mad at me for telling you that he liked you.”

“And then I walked you home and kissed your uncle and the rest is pretty much history,” Kellen said fondly.

Aiden smiled to himself too. That was the first kiss they shared after seven years apart. It was like coming up for air. Aiden felt like every day with Kellen was a breath of fresh air ever since then. If Nikki wasn’t in the room with them and their family wasn’t downstairs, he would have kissed Kellen until the two of them were both breathless.

Nikki chuckled to herself. “I can’t believe I forgot that. I guess… you’re right. I was kind of nosey back then,” she said apologetically, looking over at Aiden again.

He smoothed his hand over her hair like he’d been doing for years. “You say that as if I was ever actually mad. You helped us get back together, Nikki, but beyond that, you’re our niece. You’re always welcome over here. I’m sure the girls would love to have you around too.”

“And if you ever want a day with just us three, once the girls get more used to everyone, maybe they can spend time with their uncles and grandparents,” Kellen added.

Aiden and Kellen wrapped their arms around Nikki, squeezing her tightly. She giggled. “I’d like that,” she got out through tiny peals of laughter.

When they gave her a second to breathe, she exhaled, looking like the weight of the world had been taken from her shoulders. “I’ve been feeling guilty for a while now, wishing that you wouldn’t spend so much time with the girls and work.” Her face was red with embarrassment as she admitted that. “But it’s hard to dislike those girls. They’re kind of innocent, huh?”

“They’ve been through a lot,” Kellen said, only explaining further when Nikki gave him an imploring look. “They each have the same mother, but a different father. Their mother wasn’t a bad woman, but she didn’t know how to take care of them very well. She left them at a church and drove off a few years ago.”

Nikki frowned sadly. “Is that why Thea’s so excited to have family?”

Kellen nodded. “Thea’s taken care of those three for a long time. We want take care of her so she can just be a kid.”

Nikki thought about that for a second, a perplexed look on her face until she nodded to herself. “It must have been hard for them,” Nikki murmured. She took a deep breath and stood up with determination. “I’ll just have to be the best cousin ever then. I’ve never had younger sisters, so it’ll be like I have three.”

Aiden gave his niece a fond smile. She’d grown up a lot, and was becoming such a mature little young lady. One thing hadn’t changed though: she had such a big heart.

Nikki jumped in to give them each another strong hug. “I love you guys,” she murmured, smiling more calmly now.

“We love you too, Nic,” Aiden said. “You always have a place with us here.”

She nodded, looking much more like herself as she ran from the room to rejoin the others.

Aiden sighed tiredly, unable to stop the guilt swirling in his chest. “I feel so bad, Kellen. I love that kid so much and I can’t believe we overlooked her.”

“I know, honey,” Kellen said, scooting over next to him. “I feel bad too. I guess it takes time to balance everything and everyone.” He kept his hold on Aiden’s hand, a pensive look on his face. Aiden knew that Kellen was having a hard time wording his thoughts when he took a breath, opening and closing his mouth.

All he could do was squeeze Kellen’s hand, bringing a small smile to his husband’s face. Kellen’s next words came out carefully, “I know I’ve been working a lot lately with all the summer classes… I hope you don’t feel neglected either, Aiden.”

“Of course not,” Aiden said immediately, blinking in surprise. “I know you’ve been tired and your migraines have been a little more frequent, but baby, it’s because you’re pushing yourself too hard. You don’t need to push yourself even harder for me.”

“You’re one of the people that I always want to push myself harder for,” Kellen said seriously, meeting Aiden’s eyes with his usual bravery.

Aiden cupped the side of his face. “My sweet husband,” he said, giving Kellen a lingering kiss on his lips. “You have such a big heart, but you’ll run out of steam like that. And the day you actually run out of energy will be the day I honestly have no idea what to do.” He said it jokingly, but he wasn’t kidding.

Kellen pulled him forward to give him another kiss, deepening it for just a moment. “I hope you know that no matter how tired I am or how much my head hurts, I love you with all my heart.”

“I know, Kell,” Aiden said fondly. “But I want that heart to keep going strong, so you’re under orders to relax and de-stress.” He placed his hand over Kellen’s heart. He could feel it skip a beat.

“Oh, really?” Kellen said liltingly with a smirk.

“Do you remember what I said on our wedding night? I’ll always find ways to spoil you,” Aiden said lowly. He leaned forward to give Kellen a firmer kiss. They probably got a little carried away as Aiden ran his hands up Kellen’s chest while his husband messed with his hair. Kellen looked dazed when they separated. It would look obvious that they were making out.

“Oh, we are definitely having fun tonight,” Kellen promised.

Aiden couldn’t wait. He smacked Kellen on the butt as they stood to walk out, earning him a loud laugh. “And just so we’re clear,” Aiden said with a playful smile, “the girls don’t think you’re neglecting them either, even with your headaches.”

“I still can’t believe they sat with me all day during my last migraine. They didn’t even want to go to sleep,” Kellen said with a calm smile. “We don’t deserve those girls.”

Aiden kissed him fiercely one more time. “I don’t deserve you.”

“Sweet talker,” Kellen said. “Let’s just agree that we deserve each other. And I promise that I’ll relax. It’s been wonderful having these kids, but it’s still scary to be responsible for three people,” he admitted.

“It is,” Aiden agreed. “But we’ll figure it out. We’ll have to stay strong here so that when I go back to work in the fall, we’re not already out of energy.” He kissed Kellen one more time, wishing that they had a little more time.

But that night when they got some time alone as the girls slept, Aiden felt like their time stretched on infinitely. They had to be quiet just like they used to in high school, but when he kissed Kellen to muffle both of their moans, it was like they were stuck in that moment, just them. It was almost like no time had passed at all, and yet Aiden was so glad that it had.

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