The Man I Love

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Remembering the Details

“Honey, I’m home!”

Aiden chuckled to himself from his place on the couch. Kellen was being cliché on purpose, but it never failed to bring a smile to his face. And he certainly needed a smile after the day he’d just had.

Kellen stepped over to give him a kiss, smiling against his lips for a brief moment. He pulled back with a concerned frown. “What’s wrong, hun? You look put out.” He took a seat next to Aiden on the armchair.

They were squeezed in so tightly that Kellen was just about on Aiden’s lap, not that Aiden had any problem with the tight fit. He wrapped his arms around Kellen’s waist to pull him closer and rested his face in the space between Kellen’s shoulder blades, exhaling. Kellen adjusted himself to sit more comfortably, settling in.

“Hard day, Aiden?” Kellen asked softly, rubbing Aiden’s thigh comfortingly.

Aiden groaned, feeling comfortable now. “You could say that,” he mumbled.

Kellen hummed, patting Aiden’s arm to get him to loosen his grip. He didn’t get up, but twisted to face him. “Is everything okay?”

“It’s better with you here,” Aiden answered honestly, earning himself a smile. “But Violet has something to tell you.” The smile left his face as he winced, wondering if Kellen would still be smiling after this.

Kellen tilted his head in confusion, looking worried as Aiden went on, “It’s not that bad, but well, today she got called down to the principal’s office.”

Kellen’s eyebrows shot up. “Violet? Like our Violet? The same girl who gets straight A’s, has only raised her voice like ten times since we’ve known her, and likes to read quietly in the corner?”

“That’s the one,” Aiden confirmed. “I’ll let her tell you why. Violet!” he called, slightly disappointed when Kellen got off his lap. He stayed close though, sitting on the arm of the chair when Violet made her appearance.

She looked just as guilty as she had hours ago, her eyes lowered and her steps small. Whereas Thea or Skylar would have tried to smile and pretend that nothing happened, Violet wore her emotions on her sleeve. She tried to give Kellen a smile that looked more like a grimace.

“H-hey papa, you’re home,” she said carefully.

“I hear something happened at school today?” Kellen prompted gently. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” Violet said quickly.

Aiden leaned around Kellen. “Vi, why don’t you tell papa what you did today?” He didn’t say it as an accusation, but Violet still looked abashed.

She shifted her feet on the carpet, avoiding Kellen’s eyes. “I, um… I sort of… got in a fight today?”

Kellen wore the same look of surprise that Aiden probably wore when he found out. Even after hearing the story, Aiden still couldn’t believe that Violet had been the one that got into a fight. Sure, he could imagine getting a call to see the principal for one kid or another, although he hadn’t quite thought it would be Violet.

“You… got into a fight?” Kellen asked as if to confirm it. He looked over her with a dubious frown. “You’re not hurt, are you?”

“Well, see, I didn’t actually do any fighting,” Violet said slowly. When Kellen gave her a curious look, she took a deep breath and started speaking nervously, “This kid, Jackson, was picking on Winnie. She’s kind of quiet and small. He picks on her a lot, but no one ever does anything. It’s not fair, papa! I don’t understand why no one helps her,” Violet said, her voice growing stronger.

She was meeting Kellen’s eyes now. “I just wanted to make him stop bullying her,” she said in a voice that pleaded with him to understand. “He was holding onto her wrist and wouldn’t let go, so I kind of karate chopped him with a book. And then he tried to hit me and so, uh, you know how you taught us dance steps?”

“I can see where this is going, but yes, go on,” Kellen said to her understandingly.

Violet shrugged. “I kept avoiding him when he swung at me. He got hurt because I ducked and he hit his head on a pole. And then he came at me again and Winnie dumped someone’s lunch on him. That’s when one of the teachers took us to the principal’s office.” She pouted. “But I didn’t do any fighting, papa, I promise,” she said sincerely.

Kellen let out a breath. He had a gentle smile on his lips as he stepped up to her and cupped her face in his hands. “Oh, Vi, that was so brave of you. You have such a good heart.” Tears pooled in her eyes, falling over Kellen’s fingers. He wiped them away simply. “That sounds scary, Vi, but you wanted to protect your friend. Did you think I would be angry about that?”

Aiden felt a rush of affection for Kellen at his gentle tone and soft smile as pride blossomed in his chest for his daughter. He’d found it hard to be angry at Violet himself. Maybe the whole thing could have ended without the kid banging his head, but his daughter protected someone who couldn’t help herself. He and Kellen must have done something to raise her right.

Violet wiped her eyes furiously. “I never get in trouble. And dad had to come down to talk to the principal and the principal is his boss… I don’t want you and dad to be disappointed in me.”

“Violet,” Aiden said gently, “Do you remember what I told you earlier?”

She didn’t answer right away, but finally said petulantly, “You said that you’re proud of me for doing what’s right and that papa would be proud too. But to try and avoid fights in the future if I can.”

Kellen nodded in agreement. “Violet, did you know that your Aunt Maia was always a good student too? She studied hard, got good grades. All of that. But whenever Aunt Rory needed her, she would make whatever scene she needed to.”

Violet blinked, frowning. She shook her head meekly. Kellen went on, “Grandma Clara would tear into her so badly whenever she got into trouble, so she would call me crying after Aunt Rory found a phone. And back then, I used to tell her the same thing I’m telling you now.” He cupped Violet’s chin. “I’m so proud of you, Violet. Both dad and I are. It’s okay to be a good student. It’s okay to follow the rules. But it’s also okay to stand up for people who need you, and for what’s right. It takes a lot of courage, and that’s what makes it worth it.”

She looked up at him with glassy eyes, holding her arms out for a hug. Kellen and Aiden both stepped up to oblige her, squeezing her tightly. She held on for a while, an arm around each of their waists. When she let go, she was smiling.

“I’ll try not to fight in the future. Thanks dad, thanks papa. Can I go read now?”

“Go ahead. We’ll call you down for dinner,” Aiden told her, watching her scamper back up the stairs.

They were both quiet for a second. “That was unexpected,” Kellen murmured. “Violet getting in a fight is like if you got in a fight.”

Aiden raised an eyebrow. “Doubting my fighting ability?”

Kellen gave him a wry smile. “No. We both remember that time that you punched that guy who called me some very colorful homophobic slurs.” Just thinking about that made Aiden angry again, but Kellen only chuckled at his facial expression. “See? You’re just like her. If someone called you those words, you never would have done anything. Violet never would have gotten involved if that girl, uh, Winnie, didn’t need her help. But just like Violet helped for Winnie’s sake, you punched out that asshole for my sake.” He gave Aiden a fond look. “Even if I could have handled it myself.”

Aiden smiled as Kellen kissed his cheek. Something about being compared to one of his daughters always made his chest feel warm. “I don’t think I could have done what she did though. That’s all you, Kell.”

“Tragically, none of them are on the path to becoming great dancers, but I’ve at least taught them multi-use dance moves,” Kellen joked. “Maybe I should think about combining martial arts moves and dance,” he murmured, his eyes shining with the thought of a challenge.

Aiden could only chuckle to himself. “Just don’t hurt yourself. Maia and Rory told me how tragically sad you were right after your accident when you couldn’t dance.”

“Oh, they told you that?” Kellen asked lightheartedly. “Yeah, I used to stare at the ceiling because my balance was off and the doctor told me to take it easy. Maia and Rory would come into my room after school and both do a slow dance with me. One of them would hover in case I felt faint.”

“Your sisters never cease to amaze me,” Aiden mused truthfully. “Our daughters are pretty amazing too, wouldn’t you say?”

“I think they are,” Kellen said softly, leaning forward to give Aiden a soft kiss. “You’re tired today, hun, so I’ll cook something.”

“I think I’d rather you sit with me instead,” Aiden pouted, making Kellen chuckle as he patted Aiden’s chest.

“You and I both know that I’d nod off if I sat with you for longer than ten minutes. You’re too comfortable, Aiden, you’ve got to cut me some slack,” Kellen said playfully. He reached up to card his fingers through Aiden’s hair, asking more seriously, “Did you have to go down to the principal’s office to grab Violet today?”

Aiden nodded. “I missed lunch to sit with her, so I’ve been starving all day. With baseball season coming up, I was staying after school to handle a few things too.” He leaned against Kellen tiredly, resting his head against the man’s shoulder.

Kellen hummed; Aiden could feel the vibrations in his chest. “That’s got to make you happy though. Baseball season.” He cupped Aiden’s cheek and gave him a sweet smile. “By the way, you could have asked me to stop by and bring you something to eat. I happen to pick out a mean sandwich from Subway.”

“While I have full faith in your ability to run to the school and run back, you had six lessons for weddings this afternoon. You need to be able to stand for those,” Aiden said with a wry smile.

“Aw, look at you remembering all the nonsense I tell you,” Kellen laughed loudly, kissing him more forcefully before he directed Aiden to take a seat. “Relax. My legs aren’t too tired yet to put together some soup and sandwiches.”

Aiden watched him walk away, smiling to himself. He pulled his computer onto his lap to get a few things done for the upcoming season. Kellen was right; it did make him happy, even if it was always tough cutting the kids who didn’t make the team.

Still, Aiden found himself smiling as he stood at the entrance to the field a few weeks later, greeting the potential players who’d come after school to try out. He recognized most of them from a gym or health class, and there were some returning players from previous years that gave Aiden a warm “Hey, Coach,” but Thea was the only girl who stopped by.

She stepped up with a few guys behind her, greeting him with a “Hey, dad. Do you mind if I watch tryouts today?”

“Not at all. Try to do some homework while you’re waiting?” he asked.

“No promises, dad,” she chuckled, waving goodbye to the four surprised-looking boys standing behind her. Clearly, she hadn’t told anyone that the coach was her dad, just for the fun of this moment.

One of them shrugged. “Well she did say her dad works at the school,” he mumbled, looking unbothered. “Nice to see ya, Coach,” he said cheerfully.

Aiden recognized the energetic blonde from PE the year before. “Parker. Glad you’re trying out this year. With Felix?” he asked, referring to the much shyer boy next to him.

“Er, yes Coach,” Felix said awkwardly, messing with his brown hair as he fidgeted. The kid had grown a little taller in the past year and still seemed to be getting used to the new length of his body.

Parker shrugged, putting his arm around Felix’s shoulder casually. Unlike his friend, he seemed as comfortable with himself as always. “Felix is nervous. Not to worry, Felix. As long as you don’t pitch a ball at a bystander, you’ll be fine.”

Aiden wasn’t sure how reassuring that was, but Felix shrugged off Parker’s arm and walked off into the field anyway, followed by the cheerful Parker. If those two played as well as they had when they did the baseball unit in gym the previous year, they shouldn’t have any problems.

And they didn’t. It was nice that they made the team too, or it might have been awkward considering that Thea had become fast friends with Parker and Felix. About a month into practice, Aiden stepped into the living room to see that Thea had invited the two of them over to work on some homework together in the living room.

He didn’t want to interrupt them or embarrass Thea, but he figured Parker and Felix saw enough of him for Thea to be okay. It was his house anyway. “Thea, anything specific you want for dinner tonight?” he asked casually.

She shrugged her shoulders, looking up from the worksheet on her lap. “I’m good for whatever. Oh, but can Parker and Felix stay?”

Aiden looked to the two boys, giving them a sympathetic smile. He imagined it must have been awkward to see a teacher outside of school, let alone to be friends with his daughter and visit his house. “If they’d like to, yes.”

“Really, Coach?” Parker asked with his ever-present smile. He was sitting cross-legged in front of the coffee table. “Awesome. Nice house by the way. Of course, we’ve only seen the living room and bathroom.”

“We like it,” Aiden shrugged. “Feel free to find the kitchen at your own pace,” he added jokingly. “You can stay if you’d like to also, Felix.”

Felix gave him a shy smile, his shoulders hunched up as if he was trying to seem smaller. “If it’s not a bother.”

“We already have three kids; what’s two more for dinner?” Aiden said casually. He turned as the front door opened, the kids looking too.

Kellen stepped in without a care, walking over to Aiden to give him a peck on the cheek. “Hey honey.” Only then did he notice the three kids in the living room. “And hello, Thea and two other kids I don’t know.” Kellen tilted his head and looked more closely. “Oh, no, wait I do know you. Um… number nine and number sixteen? That’s… Anderson and Grant?”

Both boys and Thea gave him a curious look. Even Aiden looked to him in confusion. “How did you know that?”

“Was I wrong?” Kellen asked with a little frown, looking between them. “I always come to watch the games, and I was pretty sure those were the names on their shirts. I guess there’s only been one game so far, so I could be wrong.”

Aiden gave him a smile, impressed. “I can’t believe you remembered their names. I didn’t know you were paying that much attention.”

Kellen chuckled. “It’s important to you. Of course, I remember their names. Or well, their last names. Surprised, hun?” he asked with a playful glint in his eyes. “You remember when I have extra lessons.”

He made it sound like it was no big deal, but Aiden found himself smiling at the simple gesture. Just knowing that his husband was paying attention to details like this only because they were important to Aiden never failed to make his chest feel warm.

“Oh! I know who you are too,” Parker interrupted, his eyes light with recognition. “You teach dance classes. Kick Up Your Heels. My sister goes there.”

Kellen turned to Parker, his eyebrows raised and an amused expression on his face. “And you’re Anderson? Is she Penny Anderson?”

“Yeah, that’s her!” Parker said as if he couldn’t believe it. “She loves your classical dance classes. She says she trips over her feet a lot, but you’re really nice about it.”

“Tell Penny that I’m always glad to see her in class, and that she’s gotten very good,” Kellen said kindly. “And if she’s worrying about tripping, let her know that I taught my husband to dance, so I can definitely teach her,” he joked.

Aiden chuckled. “You taught me not to step on your feet. I’ll leave the actual dancing to you.” Looking back to the kids, he said to Kellen, “But their first names are Parker and Felix.”

“Nice to meet you officially, kids,” Kellen said. He patted Aiden on the chest lightly. “I’ve got to change, hun, but I’ll be right back.”

“I’ll do dinner,” Aiden let him know, accepting the peck on the lips and stepping away to leave Thea to her friends.

It wasn’t as hard to fit two more chairs at their tiny circular table as Aiden might have thought. They usually had one cousin or brother or sister or sister-in-law or grandparent over at one point or another, so it was like clockwork grabbing another two chairs and setting two extra place settings.

Kellen nudged him when the kids were talking amongst each other, Skylar and Thea debating over something with the boys and Violet jumping in here and there. “He reminds me of you. Felix, I mean,” he said quietly so he wouldn’t be overheard.

Aiden raised his eyebrow. “I don’t think I was that shy,” he murmured, trying to remember.

“No, but honey, you were exactly like that when we first started hanging out. You’d always have that blush on your ears though, and you still have a nervous stomach.” Kellen took a bite of the tacos Aiden had settled on for dinner, humming unhappily as half of the insides fell out.

Aiden handed him a fork, which Kellen took gratefully. “I’m not nearly as bad as I used to be. I guess I still get stomachaches on the first day of school, and when there’s something weird going on at work...”

“And whenever you try to plan a surprise from me and can’t keep it a secret,” Kellen chuckled, giving up on the taco to just make a taco salad. “Or when we forget a bill. But that gives me insomnia so I can’t blame you for that.”

Aiden made a “huh” sound. “I think I still get nervous too much,” he said unhappily.

“Well, it doesn’t matter to me. You know I like to take care of you when you don’t feel well,” Kellen said, giving him a suspicious look at his still put-together taco.

Aiden took mercy on him, grabbing a tortilla and dumping the mess on Kellen’s plate into that instead. He wrapped it up and handed it back to the brunette. “But you have to admit that I’m much better now. Now I only get that nervous around you when we fight.”

Kellen accepted the food with a grateful smile. “You’re definitely much better now,” Kellen complimented. “And a wizard with a tortilla,” he murmured, taking a bite and looking back at Aiden. “I’m proud of you, honey. For the being less nervous thing, not your tortilla skills.”

Aiden gave him a quick smile, returning to his food.

“That’s definitely right, Thea! Violet, what do you think?” Skylar said loudly enough to gather their attention.

Violet tilted her head, also having a hard time not making a mess with the food. “I… think Thea’s right on this one.” As Thea gloated and Skylar huffed, Violet looked down at her dish. When there was a moment of pause, she lifted her plate. “Um, dad? Help?”

He gave her a fond smile and grabbed the dish, fixing her up with a tortilla like he did with Kellen. Violet gave him a pleased look, turning her attention to Felix. “Do you want some help, Felix?” she asked kindly.

“Oh, um, that’s okay,” he responded shyly.

Violet grabbed a tortilla anyway. “I was watching dad. Here, I can do it.”

Felix surrendered his food to her. She couldn’t quite get it as neat as Aiden could, but she handed him back a simple burrito. “Do you like to read, Felix?” she asked kindly.

He blinked as if he didn’t expect to be addressed. “Not too much… I don’t really know what books I’d like.”

Violet’s eyes lit up. “I know lots of good ones. What do you like to read about? Action? Romance? Fantasy? Or history and science?”

“You can literally take a look at her library upstairs,” Thea said to him. “Dad and papa had to get her another bookshelf last year.”

“I’m surprised it took that long,” Skylar said with amusement.

“I fall asleep with every book,” Parker said apologetically to Violet.

She only shook her head. “Not everyone likes reading. Papa likes to read though.”

Kellen nodded. The man could fall asleep effortlessly during a movie, but a good book was able to keep him up. “I think I’ll need something more lighthearted next time,” Kellen chuckled. “So, boys, I know you like baseball. Is that all you do?”

“Mostly,” Parker said with a laugh. “I like music too, and videogames.”

“I like taking care of our dogs,” Felix admitted.

“Oh, what kind of dogs?” Skylar asked excitedly.

Aiden smiled at the simple interaction, watching the boys relax. When Kellen nudged him for his plate, Aiden handed it off, but still followed Kellen into the kitchen to help him clean up. He left the kids to their conversation, feeling a little nostalgic at how full of energy they all were.

Kellen shot him a smile when he stood next to him in the kitchen though, and Aiden felt that nostalgia fade. Maybe it would have been nice to be young again, but he wouldn’t trade his life now for anything in the world.

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