“I can’t believe how big he’s already getting,” I say. Sitting in Garret’s living room across from him and Brody, I’m rocking Brody’s one-month-old son, Paxton.
“Yeah, you’re telling me, man. I think I’m in denial. And Linds wants another already.” Brody shakes his head, then takes a sip of his beer.
Looking into Paxton’s bright blue eyes, I laugh when he coos, a sleepy smile breaking out over his small face.
“How’s Sadie feeling, Garret? You guys are getting close, huh?”
Garret’s wife is almost nine months pregnant, and we’re all waiting for the second little bundle of joy to come into this world.
“Yeah, I just finished the nursery. Sadie has been nesting like crazy, or whatever it’s called when women clean everything and stock up on diapers.”
“Nesting,” she confirms, walking into the room with Lindsey right behind her. Lindsey comes to me, and I hand her Paxton, Brody excusing himself to go help her.
“Linds is gonna feed him, and then we’ll get the food started, okay?” Sadie tells Garret, and he nods, giving her a quick kiss and a swat on the ass. She slaps at him and goes back into the kitchen, her cheeks blushing red from his ministrations.
“So, when you gonna find yourself a lady and settle down, Jace? A baby looks good on your lap.”
“I guess when a perfect lady drops onto my lap,” I joke.
“I’m serious, Jace.”
“I am too. Trust me, it’s been on my mind lately. With Lindsey and Brody parading Pax around and you and Sadie getting ready to pop, I’ve been thinking about it. Work has been my focus for so damn long, I don’t really know how to change that, but if the right girl comes along, then sure.”
Garret leans forward and rests his elbows on his legs.
“Maybe it’s time you got back out there. You and Allie broke up how long ago?”
“Yeah, I know. But even with Allie, we never got serious. Neither of us was ready.”
We settle into comfortable silence, but I can’t stop my brain from running all night. It’s like Garret planted a bug, and now it won’t go away. Being a father and a husband aren’t things I’ve thought about in a long time. Allie and I were together for three years, but we were never heading toward being serious. More like friends who spent time in bed.
Maybe Garret is right. I am almost thirty-five, after all.
Maybe it’s time to think about what I want from the rest of my life.
Putting my car in Park, I climb out and walk across the lawn. My mom said to be here at 5:00 p.m., but it’s 3:35 p.m. and I have nowhere else to be, so I figure early is better than late. Pulling the front door open, I step into their small living room and find Drew parked on the couch, my mom next to him.
“Guess I’m not the only one who’s early,” I joke, swatting at his head.
“Well, I am the favorite, after all.”
“Screw you, bro.”
“No thanks. Huge difference between being into men and being into your brother.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake.” Sitting on the arm of the couch, I grab him in a headlock. He tries to smack me, but I have him at a disadvantage.
“Boys, please. I love you both equally, but if you break my couch, I’ll put you both up for adoption.”
“Nice try, Mom, but we’re over thirty. We’re too old, so you’re stuck with us!” Drew laughs, and I get up off the couch so I can grab a beer.
As I’m popping the top, my dad comes walking into the kitchen, toolbox in his hand.
“Hey, Pops.” I slap him on the shoulder.
He tosses the toolbox onto the counter and reaches into the fridge for a beer of his own.
“Jace. How’s work going?”
“It’s work. You know.”
“How is Garret enjoying the detective life?”
“He’s really happy. Between the new job and preparing for the baby, he’s doing great.” Taking a pull from my beer, I rest back against the counter and try avoiding my dad’s knowing stare.
“And you? The detective’s exam ever in your future, son?”
I rub a hand over the back of my neck. “I don’t think so, Pops. It’s not really my thing. I’m content with where I am.”
Taking my beer, I steer myself out of the kitchen and away from what will be his monthly lecture and inquisition into my life and job. I’m just not in the mood for it. Taking the stairs to the second level, I head into my childhood bedroom, still fully intact the way I left it almost twenty years ago.
Band posters on the walls.
Pictures of my high school friends on my desk.
My camera still sits on its tripod in the corner, dust settled over the top of it. Setting my beer down on the dresser, I step over and pick the camera up, not surprised to find the battery dead. An envelope of developed photos sits next to it, and I reach out to open it.
I flip through the photos, most of them of my family the night we got our Christmas tree back in 2004. Dad and Drew horsing around, Mom holding a mug of hot chocolate. I continue through them, a smile on my face, when I come to the last series of photos in it.
Me, Casey, and Bryan at our final homecoming week. The football game. The parties. The rallies.
Closing my eyes, I take a deep breath and gently set the photos back inside, the envelope going back to the dresser. Dropping down onto my full-sized bed, I lie back and stare up at the ceiling, memories of that week washing over me in painful droves.
Every day since I lost them, I’ve tried to do everything in my power to make them proud of me. It’s been a long time since I thought about where my life was supposed to go, and I know deep down it’s why my dad is always asking what my next step is, what my plans for the future are.
With only a semester left in my senior year of college, I went through the motions and got my degree, only going through with it because that was what the guys and I were supposed to do.
Graduate and start our lives together.
I never went through with graduation; I couldn’t take the stares, the whispers. I took finals early, then packed all my shit in four suitcases and left, moving back home. The business and photography degrees were useless to me.
It was time to find a new path.
The police academy was the decision I made. Sitting in that courtroom watching the man who killed my two best friends sentenced to only twenty-five years with a chance at parole did something to me. I saw how broken the system was. I wanted to be a part of it, to fix it.
Every piece of myself that became a police officer is in their memory. Every drunk driver I arrest is one family I can save from what we lost.
No matter how many we save, it never does anything for the guilt still lying heavy on my chest. Nothing ever will.
“Jace, can you come help me for a second?” My mom’s voice floats upstairs.
“Coming, Mom.” I grab the abandoned beer and head back downstairs. Stepping into the kitchen, I find her stirring something on the stove. She looks up with a smile.
“Come try this. Dad said it was too spicy.” She holds the spoon up to me and I take a bite, my eyes instantly watering, nose burning. Coughing, I try to hide my displeasure, but Mom just groans and tosses the spoon into the sink.
“Son of a biscuit,” she grumbles, and I laugh, leaning over to place a kiss on her cheek.
“What did you add to that?”
“Well, your brother said my chili wasn’t spicy enough last time, so I looked online and saw that some people replace chili powder with hot sauce.”
Resting my arm over her shoulder, I pull my mom close. “Mom, never, and I mean never trust what you read on the internet. You might as well have asked Drew what to do.”
“Oh hush. Now would you rather have pizza or Chinese?”
“I’d rather have chili. But since you’re offering, pizza. I’ll go pick it up for you too.”
“Thank you, honey. You’re the best. Bring Drew with you.”
“But, Mom… I don’t wanna,” I complain, and she swats me with the hand towel.
“Don’t make me get your father.”
“Fine. I swear, woman, you’re lucky we love you so much.”
“I’ll place the order; you go find your brother.” Kissing my cheek, she heads toward the living room and I go out back, looking for Drew. I find him with Dad on the back porch, both of them nursing a beer.
“Mom is sending me to pick up pizza, and you’re coming with.”
Drew laughs and chugs the rest of his beer, tossing it in the trash can on the deck.
“You’re driving,” he says, slapping me on the shoulder, and I grumble after him.
Walking out to my car, I drop down into the driver seat and wait for Drew to fold himself in.
“It’s your fault we’re going, you know? Telling Mom to google shit. Drew, she still uses phone books. The hell were you thinking?” I joke, heading toward town.
“I don’t know, man. She asked me right before you came over if it was good, and I said it was, but it wasn’t as spicy as usual. I can’t cook cornflakes, so I told her to go online. What did she put in it?”
I shake my head and start laughing. “A bottle of hot sauce.”