The Man I Love

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Another Year

“I still have no idea how you figured out how to frost a cupcake like a flower.”

“YouTube,” Kellen said like it was obvious. “There’s everything on there. Even stuff that really shouldn’t be on there.”

Aiden gave him a curious raise of his eyebrows. “And what have you been looking up?”

Kellen chuckled, maneuvering the butter knife in his hand to frost another cupcake to look like a daisy. He stuck some colored chocolates in the center before setting it off to the side. “I figured out how to do that thing all by myself for your information.”

“What about the other thing?” Aiden inquired, still remembering that thing with fond memories.

“With the…?” Kellen asked, making a motion with his hands.

“No, with the…” Aiden raised his eyebrows. Their conversation would be missing more than a few details if they were overheard, but they’d gotten so used to each other that they didn’t even need words depending on the topic. It worked out well when they didn’t want their kids listening in to sensitive information.

Kellen nodded in understanding. “That one actually was from some research Olivia and I were doing. She asked about a particular position, I didn’t know the answer, and we ended up in my office looking up beyond inappropriate things on our lunch break.”

Aiden shook his head in amusement, leaving Kellen to the frosting while he set five completed cupcakes in a circle on a plate. “You two are the perfect best friends.” He licked some frosting off of his thumb. “We should make cupcakes for breakfast more often,” he murmured.

“If we did that, we’d end up using all the frosting on each other before it ever made it to the cupcakes,” Kellen said in amusement. “And forget about the girls; I’d be the one bouncing around all day.”

“You’re right. We should only do this on special occasions,” Aiden said lowly, smirking at the smoky look Kellen shot him.

Kellen set the knife and cupcake down, stepping forward to back Aiden against the counter. He brushed their cheeks together, saying quietly in his ear, “Well, your birthday is coming up soon. But I’ll give you something sweeter than any cupcake.” Kellen kissed teasingly by his ear, making Aiden shiver.

He leaned back just a second later, placing a hand on Aiden’s chest. Aiden pecked his cheek. “Don’t tempt me. The girls will be up for school soon.”

“One of these days when they’re at school, we’re just going to both take off work and spend all day in bed,” Kellen promised with a final pat to Aiden’s chest, stepping back to resume his work on the cupcakes.

“Looking forward to it,” Aiden responded with a smile, taking the plate of cupcakes to set them on the table. He set up a sheet of paper to read Happy Birthday Thea! in front of it and went back to the kitchen to start on actual breakfast. The girls would need something more than cupcakes to get through their second week of school.

So would Aiden for that matter. At least they’d finally managed to get everything worked out with registering the girls for elementary school and preschool. He’d feel better though when they made a few friends and he could be sure that they were adjusting.

“Penny for your thoughts, hun?” Kellen asked, skirting around him to pop some bread in the toaster.

“Do you think the girls will be okay making friends?” Aiden asked, flipping some bacon and eggs.

Kellen nodded calmly. “I think so. We’ve got some good girls on our hands. Worst case, we send them to school with cookies one day. Everyone loves cookies.”

Aiden gave him a smile, turning off the burner. “I met a kid once who said there were too many chocolate chips in his cookie.”

Kellen gave him an affronted look, like he couldn’t imagine it. “I feel personally attacked. Too much chocolate,” he said with a disbelieving huff. “Kid was probably the type that likes the chocolate chip granola bars with like two chocolate chips.”

Aiden snorted with laughter. Kellen always looked personally offended when he opened a granola bar like that, although he ate them anyway like he was making a tragic sacrifice.

“Don’t make fun of me,” Kellen teased. “Hey, if our kids make friends with chocolate or cheese haters, more power to them. But they will make friends, Aiden. Give it some time. Thea already has a few kids she talks to during dance class.”

“That’s true,” Aiden said to himself. He placed the eggs and bacon on the counter.

As soon as he had, Kellen gave him a kiss on the lips. It was chaste but sweet, and interrupted by an excited squeal as Thea made her appearance.

The little brunette appeared with wide eyes as she stared at the cupcakes and sign with her name on it. She picked it up reverently. “You remembered my birthday?”

“Of course, we did, Thea,” Kellen said softly. “There’s no way we’d forget.”

“And… are these for me?” she asked, barely stopping herself from touching the cupcakes.

Aiden chuckled. “One is. Then real breakfast.”

Thea’s face broke out into a wide smile, her small fingers clutching the handwritten sign Aiden had done. He’d known that Thea’s birthdays for the past few years had been spent with him and Kellen at foster care, but from the look on her face, it had been a long time since she’d had someone really pay attention to her special day.

Violet appeared from behind her sister, already dressed. She was in the habit of getting up early if only so she had more time to read before school. “Breakfast too?”

“Breakfast too,” Kellen confirmed. “It helps that everyone is up on time today,” he added.

“You, Thea, and Skylar are usually the late ones,” Aiden chuckled. Most days, they ended up eating cereal or toast quickly before they raced out of the house. Cooking breakfast was somewhat rare when Aiden and Violet were shaking the others awake.

Kellen only pecked him on the cheek without bothering to deny it, dishing out some eggs for Skylar, Violet, and Thea. He bumped Aiden’s hip playfully, his morning tea and the frosting obviously kicking in.

“Breakfast first, then cupcakes,” Kellen said to them, setting down his own dish along with one for Aiden.

“Thanks, Kellen,” Aiden said, causing the girls to give out a few “thanks papas” and “thanks dads” along with him.

Thea was bouncing excitedly in her seat the entire time. She was dying to know what they would do for her birthday, but Aiden and Kellen kept it a secret to keep her at least slightly focused on school. She munched on her cupcake with a smile, chocolate in her teeth.

Violet at least smiled with her teeth covered. “Papa? Dad? Can we do this for my birthday too?”

“Of course,” Aiden said. “In November for you, and in February for Skylar.”

“Yes, you remembered!” Skylar said happily. Violet smiled to herself too, clearly pleased.

“But for now, finish eating and then school,” Kellen said to them. But before Thea left the table to throw on her special birthday outfit that she’d picked out, both Aiden and Kellen pulled her close for big hugs.

“Happy birthday,” Aiden said to her, followed by Kellen.

She looked up at them with shining eyes. “Thanks papa, thanks dad.”

Thea turned eight that birthday, Violet turning seven on hers, and Skylar five. Aiden’s birthday had passed just after Thea’s, but in June was Kellen’s. And this was a big one for him. Kellen was turning thirty-three. He’d be the same age his father had been when the man passed away, and Aiden was ready to be there for him.

It didn’t hit Kellen right away though. It didn’t hit him for a few months actually, but Aiden knew when it did. It was just before the school year started again for the girls.

Aiden had been sleeping when something woke him up. He couldn’t figure out what it was, but he had a distinct feeling of wrongness in his chest that wouldn’t let him go back to sleep. His brain rifled through everything that could be out of place.

There was no noise downstairs, so the girls weren’t up. There weren’t any lights on in their room or bathroom. It was quiet outside, the streetlight outside their window shining as usual. Aiden had no idea why he felt like something was wrong then. He just couldn’t shake the feeling as he rolled over to check on Kellen.

Aiden blinked in confusion upon seeing that Kellen was already sitting up, a pensive frown on his face. “Kellen?” Aiden murmured in a gravelly voice, sitting fully.

Kellen jumped. “Aiden, go back to sleep,” he commanded softly.

“What’re you doing up?” Aiden asked sleepily, rubbing his eyes to focus.

Kellen opened his mouth and closed it again. He did that a few times, clearly having trouble with his words. Aiden leaned against him, resting his chin on Kellen’s shoulder. The gesture seemed to help Kellen relax as he exhaled and said, “I… I’m thirty-three.”

When he didn’t elaborate to help out Aiden’s still sleepy brain, Aiden prompted, “Is that a bad thing?”

“No,” Kellen said softly. “I just… I’m older than my dad was when he passed away.”

Aiden shifted to give Kellen his full attention, all traces of tiredness gone now. “Kellen,” he murmured gently, “You’ve been thirty-three for about three months now.” Silently, he wondered why it was that Kellen was only now realizing this.

“I know, and that’s what’s weird,” Kellen said in confusion. “I knew I was the same age as my dad on my birthday, and since then too. But I don’t know, it only just hit me that my dad was this age when he got hit by a car. When he was in the hospital and had to say goodbye to me. And I… couldn’t imagine having to say goodbye to Thea, Violet, and Skylar, and to you.”

He looked over at Aiden with pleading eyes, as if he didn’t understand his own emotions and was asking Aiden for help. Aiden shifted closer again so they were pressed together shoulder to hip. “I couldn’t imagine that either,” Aiden said softly.

Kellen nodded. “I’m so happy, Aiden. I have a job I love, two best friends, a husband who takes my breath away every day, three daughters that I’d do anything for, and not to mention my amazing sisters and your funny brothers. It’s just… is this what my dad felt? Was he this happy?”

“I don’t know, baby. I imagine he must have been with the letters he wrote you. He loved you very much, and I know he would have loved the girls too,” Aiden supplied. He shifted to wrap his arms around Kellen from behind, pulling the taller man to his chest.

Kellen settled against him, huffing out a breath. “I guess I never imagined what it would feel like to be older than my dad. He died really young, Aiden.”

Aiden just held Kellen tighter. He couldn’t relate to how his husband was feeling, not with both of his parents still alive. He was glad that he couldn’t relate, although he did wish that he knew the right words to say. “I think your dad still kind of lives on though,” he decided upon.

Kellen turned to look at him from the corner of his eye. “Like in my heart and stuff?”

Aiden chuckled at Kellen’s tone, which clearly said that he’d heard that specific reassurance multiple times before. “Yes, but that wasn’t what I was going to say,” he responded gently. “I was going to say that your dad lives on through you, and yes, I know that’s cliché. But you know that you look a lot like him, Kellen, especially now that you’re the same age. And you’ve taught the girls who he was too. They’ve seen pictures of him, and Thea and Violet went to visit him with you last year. Maybe they’ll never meet him in the same way they met my dad, but the kids still call him ‘Grandpa Kyle.’”

He kissed Kellen’s temple. “You’re the same age as your dad now, so you’re living a life that he never got to. I’m sure that he would want you to enjoy that life with your daughters like he would have done with you as his son.”

Kellen didn’t answer right away. Aiden worried that he’d messed up when he heard the man sniff. “Sorry,” Kellen said in a watery voice. “I’ve been up for a while and I’m tired and that was really sweet.” He sniffed again, his voice sounding like he was trying hard not to cry. “Maybe my dad can’t be here, but if our daughters know him, then he’s not gone.”

Kellen turned to stare into Aiden’s eyes. “And if I have a chance that he didn’t, a chance to live out the rest of my years with my family, I should count myself lucky every day.” He gave Aiden a tiny smile. “But I’ve been pretty lucky ever since I met you.”

He leaned forward to give Aiden a slow kiss. There was no urgency behind it, just the feeling of safety in being beside one another. That was the feeling that Aiden loved when it came to marriage: knowing that no matter what, Kellen was always there. He could feel that Kellen felt the same way.

When they separated, they were both breathing hard. Aiden cupped Kellen’s cheek. “Have you been up all night thinking about this?”

“More or less,” Kellen murmured. “I just couldn’t sleep, and I didn’t want to wake you.”

“Kellen, you can always wake me up if you’re worried about something. I’m pretty sure that’s in the husband job description,” Aiden assured him jokingly.

Kellen chuckled. “I knew there was a reason I loved you.” He kissed Aiden on the nose, turning away to yawn.

Aiden could see the dark circles underneath Kellen’s eyes as he patted his husband’s chest. “Lie down. You’re exhausted, and if you don’t sleep now, I’ll never get you up for work tomorrow.”

Kellen did as he was asked without a moment of thought, huffing as he flopped down. Aiden knew that Kellen wouldn’t be able to shake the funk he was in this easily, but he did know that even if the man woke up feeling sullen for a while, then Aiden would still be there for him.

So would the girls.

The second they learned what was bothering Kellen, they tried to make waffles for him, burnt a few before Aiden found out and stepped in, and insisted on having dinner together to cheer him up. Aiden smiled at the way the girls worked extra hard for Kellen’s sake.

When he met Kellen’s eyes, he saw his husband smiling. Aiden just grabbed his hand, lacing their fingers together and pecking him quickly on the lips. Kellen might have lost his father when he was young, but the man was a wonderful father himself. Aiden was just glad Kellen was around to enjoy it and to live out the life his own father never got the chance to.

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