Pulling into my parents’ driveway, I grab my duffel bag from the passenger seat and climb out, opening the back door so Jules can get out. She tosses her backpack over her shoulder and gives me a nervous smile.
“You ready to swim, kiddo?” I ask, leading her into the house.
“Yep. I’ve never gotten to swim in October. This is so cool.”
“Wait till you see the pool,” I tell her, closing the door behind us. Showing Jules to the downstairs bathroom, I tell her to get changed and I step into the kitchen, finding my parents waiting for us.
A few minutes later, Jules comes bouncing out in a hot pink bathing suit, a pair of goggles on her head. Laughing, I wave her over.
“Hi, I’m Jules,” she says to my parents.
“Hi, sweetheart. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Jace has told us so much about you.” Mom holds her hand out and Jules takes it, grinning at her. She shakes my dad’s hand too, and Mom reaches for the stack of towels sitting on the table.
“Shall we swim?” Mom takes Jules by the hand and leads her out to the pool, and I’m left in the kitchen with my dad, who offers to grab me a beer. I decline and tell him I’m gonna change.
Stepping into the bathroom, I pull on my navy trunks and flip-flops, leaving my white T-shirt on. Shoving my clothes in my duffel, I leave it on the bathroom floor and go back to the kitchen, finding my dad waiting for me.
“Is Stella gonna come by too?” he asks, pulling the back door open.
“Yeah, though I have no idea if she’s gonna go in the pool. She’s finishing up at work and then coming over.”
“Can’t wait to see her.”
“Me too, Pops,” I say, and he claps me on the shoulder.
“You love her, don’t you?”
I see Jules and my mom floating on innertubes and smile, then nod at my dad. “Yeah, I’m in love with her, Dad. I’m gonna marry her someday.”
“Proud of you, son.”
Kicking off my flip-flops, I reach my arm back and pull my shirt over my head before running to the edge of the pool and cannonballing the girls. Mom threatens to beat me, but Jules just laughs, swimming to me and dunking my head underwater.
A couple hours later, Stella comes walking onto the back deck, laughing when she finds us all goofing around, splashing and laughing.
“Hey, baby,” I shout, pulling myself up and out of the pool. Giving her a kiss, I notice she’s not in her swimsuit, instead wearing an oversized sweater and a pair of leggings. “Not gonna join us for a swim?”
“No, thanks, I’ll just watch you guys. Now, where is my favorite girl?”
She bends down at the edge of the pool to give Jules a kiss and then straightens up, brushing my wet hair out of my face. “Can I borrow you for a sec?”
Telling my parents we’ll be right back, I grab one of the towels and follow her next to the grill, where we’re partially hidden behind the countertop.
“What’s up?” I ask, and she looks over to see everyone distracted. Turning to me, she takes my hand and slides it under her sweater.
“This is why I’m not swimming.”
And it’s then I realize she has a tiny bump. My eyes find hers, sparkling in the early evening light. “Fuck, Stell. Already?”
Kissing her, I pull back and bury my face in her neck, the revelation that she’s already showing blowing me away.
“We need to tell people,” she whispers, wrapping an arm around my neck. “We have our twelve-week appointment a week from Thursday, so maybe next weekend?”
“Sounds good, baby. We can have everyone over to our house.”
“Our house?” she asks, and I laugh, the implication of my words not lost on me.
“Well, we certainly can’t raise these peanuts in separate houses, now can we?”
“I guess not.” She grins, and I give her another kiss.
“We’ll talk tonight, yeah?”
“Of course. I never asked, did you want to stay at my place tonight?”
I shrug. “Whatever’s easiest on Jules.”
“I mean, I may have a homemade apple crumble waiting there for dessert.”
My stomach picks that moment to growl, and we both start laughing, Stella leaning against my side. Tucking her in close, I kiss her forehead. “Your place it is, then.”
Walking her over to the table and chairs, I help her sit, and then I jump back into the pool, cracking up when my dad swims to where my mom is on her float and tosses her off. I catch Stella’s eye, and she blows a kiss at me, her cheeks rosy, her eyes full of life.
The following morning, the doorbell rings, and I leave Stella and Jules in the kitchen after offering to answer the door. Swinging it open, I find a woman standing on the porch, long brown hair an unruly mess around her face.
“You must be Jace,” she says, holding her hand out to me. “I’m Isabelle, Jules’s mom.”
“Hi, so good to meet you. Come inside, please.” I step back, and she moves into the house. I close the door behind us.
“I hope she wasn’t too much trouble for you and Stella,” she says, adjusting the purse over her shoulder.
I shake my head as Stella and Jules come into the living room, Jules running to hug her mom.
“Hey, Izzy. How was your shift?” Stella asks, coming to stand next to me.
“Long, especially when it’s been years since I pulled a third shift. You guys have fun?” she asks Jules, and she begins animatedly telling Isabelle everything we did.
“We went swimming in October, Mom! It was so fun. And then Jace’s dad made us all cheeseburgers and corn on the cob. It was just like summertime. Then when we came back here, Auntie Stella painted my nails, and we watched Pitch Perfect.” Jules wags her hot pink nails at Isabelle, who laughs at her antics.
“Sounds like you had a really fun night, sweetie.”
“Yep, and Jace even liked the movie.”
“Acca-scuse me?” I joke, and Jules giggles.
“Well, maybe you can do this another time, okay? Why don’t you go grab your stuff so we can get going? We’re going out to lunch with Gammy today.”
Jules sprints off to Stella’s spare bedroom to grab all her stuff and then comes running back. She gives each of us the biggest hugs, and then they’re gone, leaving Stella and me alone. She gives me a kiss on the cheek, then pads back to the kitchen, grabbing the teakettle she boiled just before Isabelle came.
Pouring herself a large mug to the brim, she settles down at her small table, and I join her.
“So, we never got a chance to discuss last night,” she begins, and I reach for the last piece of bacon on the plate in front of us.
“Yeah, we were a little busy.”
We both laugh, and I continue. “I know you have a lease on this place, and I’ll do whatever you want, but I’d really like for you to move in with me, Stell. Make my place our home. There’s plenty of room with the three bedrooms, and I can move my workout equipment into the basement if we need to.”
“That’s what I want too. I love your house, and I can see these two munchkins running around your backyard. But the thing I wanted to talk to you about?” She takes a sip of her tea. Setting the cup down, she looks at me with a twinkle in her eyes. “I already called my landlord and told her that I needed to break the lease, and she’s good with it. I also told her that with the exception of some things, I wanted to leave my furniture for the next person who moves in. So whenever you’re ready, I can move in.”
The grin I already had on my face grows, and I get out of my seat, hauling her up into my arms. Kissing her deeply, I pull back so I can frame her face with my hands.
“How about today?” I whisper.
She nods, giving me a watery smile. “Sounds perfect.”
“I’ll give Drew a call and see if I can borrow his truck.”
“I guess I’ll try to find some boxes.”
Setting her down on her feet, I follow her into the bedroom, calling Drew as we go.