I wipe the tears that have spilled over. I am so happy and blessed. “Baby, why are you crying?” Aiden hugs me, and I close my eyes and snuggle into his chest.
I look up and rest my chin on his chest, “I can’t believe I’m going to be a Nana to a little girl. I get to buy little girl baby clothes, and I’m going to get to brush her hair, braid it, and curl it, all of the special little things my grandma shared with me. I’m going to get to share so many things with my granddaughter.”
He kisses my lips quickly and squeezes me, “I can’t wait to watch and be a part of those times, Willow.”
Like every time, when he stares in my eyes, the whole world fades away, and it’s just us. I pray I never have to live without the warmth and love that consumes me when he looks at me and holds me in his arms.
I loved Jake. He was the only boy I ever dated. We grew up together, and I find that maybe, I didn’t have a clue about love, at least not on this level. I was a sixteen-year-old girl who found herself pregnant. Of course, I loved Jake, but now that I’ve grown and experienced a feeling of love so consuming it defies reason and logic, I realize that I loved Jake as a girl, and we tried to remain in the young-love phase. Yes, we grew up and took on the responsibility of children and work and life. Still, us, we, Jake and me, we tried to stay in young love. A love that strangles and keeps ahold tightly of a child’s feelings and dreams. We clung to those feeling, but they never grew into something so palpable, so overwhelming that I can feel it radiate from every pore of my being. I love Aiden, I chose him, and he has chosen me.
He smirks, “You zoned out, what are you thinking about, baby?” I giggle when his hands slide down my back and stop close to my behind.
“I love you, Aiden, so much I zoned out there for a minute.” He smiles and kisses me softly. I sigh and hug him as close to me as humanly possible.
“Let’s cut the cake.” I smile when I hear Oliver holler. I realize that I have no idea about Aiden’s favorite dessert. I lean back, “Oh my god, Aiden, I don’t know your favorite dessert. What am I baking you next month for your birthday?”
“Chocolate cake.” He pulls me hard to him and kisses my lips hard. “And I plan to eat it off your delectable little body, baby.”
He plants a hard kiss on my lips again, and I giggle again, “Deal.”
“Excuse me, Willow. May I have a word with you before I leave?”
I spin in Aiden’s arm. Jake is holding his sleepy-month-old daughter, Izzy. Like Caroline, I thought it was odd when Amanda didn’t show up today for the reveal, but she sent her newborn baby. I try to smile to Jake, the snake. I love it when Aiden grabs me around the waist firmly. He extends his hand to Jake. “Hi, you must be Jake. Aiden Markley.”
Jake doesn’t shake his hand, he stares at it, and then he stares at me. “I’m a little busy, Willow, a minute, please.”
He walks away. I start to follow, but Aiden won’t let go of my waist. “I’m going with you. You don’t need to deal with him by yourself anymore.”
I pat his chest, “I haven’t had to deal with him by myself. I told you, I didn’t deal with him at all. Looking back now, baby.” I kiss his lips to stop him from arguing with me. “I didn’t deal with him because he isn’t worth it. I’m not weak or frail or a pushover. I thought that once about myself, but now I see, I didn’t love him as I should have. Don’t worry about me, worry about yourself, because if you ever leave me, I’ll fight, scratch and claw to win you back. That is how much I love you, Aiden Markley.” I walk off to Oliver’s kitchen to finally have my words.
Jake is putting his daughter into her car seat. It’s sitting in the middle of the kitchen table, along with two diaper bags packed full of lord only knows what. “I’m here. What do you need, Jake?” I ask and watch him struggle with Izzy. It takes willpower not to go over and help him when I hear that tiny little cry of a new baby. I clasp my hands in front, so I don’t take over. You would think he was a new father, not a father of six the way he is situating her in her seat.
“Can you give me a little help here? Can you look in the green diaper bag for a fucking pacifier?” I raise my eyes, is he serious? He knows I’d never let a baby suffer. I would help even a stranger in this situation. But dammit, I will not help him, at least not yet, Izzy seems to be settling down.
“Thanks for nothing, as usual.” He throws a blanket over the top of the car seat, covering up Izzy.
I ignore the meanness in his voice; it’s his new way of communicating with everyone, “What do you want, Jake?”
“I’ll tell you what I want. I want you to keep your fucking nose out of my goddamn business. I know you are the mastermind behind Oliver’s interest in buying my stores from me. Caroline has college debt, and they have a mortgage, no fucking way would a bank loan over a million to two kids.”
My laugh interrupts his stupid choice of words, “Those kids are older than your wife. My God, have you always been so fucking stupid, and I just didn’t notice?”
“Sweetheart, you so goddamn clueless, your head is always in the clouds. Leave the stores alone, Willow, and quit filling my sons’ heads with your daydreams bullshit of screwing me for leaving your sorry ass.”
Izzy starts to cry. I step up into Jake’s face, my hand goes to the baby, and I gently rock her seat back and forth. I feel sorry for this baby girl. Her father is crazy, mean, and not at all the man who raised her older brothers. “You listen to me, Jake. I thank God every day our marriage ended. I came out on the other side with five wonderful sons, and onto love so strong I’d never imagined with a wonderful man. I don’t want to be involved in your life or the Nelson’s stores, but my sons are Nelsons. They are concerned about your decision making. Jake, somewhere in there, you have to know what you are jeopardizing, you put a lean on your family’s livelihood. ”
I point to the baby, “Her future is now at risk for what? If you love Amanda and want to make her happy and support her career, maybe, you should start smaller. Maybe not make it one or another for your children, Jake, because that is what this is. If you don’t get your head out of your ass, all six of your children are going to be left with no family business. Nothing to feel pride in and a father they can’t stomach to look at any longer. Everything you and your parents have built over forty years is going to go up in flames. For what, your child bride’s daydreams of fashion success in rural fucking Ohio. You have everything you wanted, Jake, the wife you wanted, another chance of fatherhood with a beautiful, healthy baby. Your first grandchild is on the way. Let your sons have the stores. I beg of you. Please let them buy and control at least the majority of their legacy. Don’t fuck up their future. Their future should be on solid ground—”
He almost heads butts me when he gets into my face. “Shut the fuck up, Willow, and stay out of my business or you…” I’m taken off guard when he leans forward and bites my lip. My hand flies up, and I slap his face. He sneers, “Don’t fuck with me, Willow.”
He picks up the car seat and leaves, slamming the door so hard and loud that I’m counting the seconds before Aiden, or one of the boys rush in to check on things. Who the hell is that man who just stood across from me? I’ll never understand for as long as I live how someone can change so completely.
“Willow!” I see Aiden walking into the kitchen.
“I’m good. Everything is fine.”