The next day had been fairly quiet. Her brother and his girlfriend came over later in the evening for a little while, but otherwise it had just been the four – well six if he counted the two newborns that slept the day away – of them.
There'd been no arguments, nothing thrown, he hadn't been hurt, and there'd been a real meal made with trimmings and everything. An entirely foreign day to him in his eighteen years to this point.
He wasn't quite sure what to make of it, and for the millionth time he wondered what type of life he could really offer her. It scared the crap out of him that he'd fail somehow, but he was bound and determined not to be that guy. The guy who had kids he never saw and looked back at the one girl who was everything, knowing he'd let her get away.
The job her dad had recommended to him had turned out to be a pretty good job. The hours weren't bad, his boss was pretty decent, and he made enough money to make it worthwhile. Worthwhile not to go back to construction?
His boss had mentioned at the end of the season training John on some of the heavier equipment. He liked John for whatever reason and because of that he wasn't going to walk away from it. Warehouse jobs would be there years from now when he couldn't do the type of work he'd oddly found he enjoyed. Days when it was wickedly hot sucked. He imagined the days when it was still cold would suck just as badly. He'd find out in a few months, but there was something about using his hands to repair or make something that he enjoyed. Still, though, his supervisor seemed to know John would be leaving come March, but let it be known they should be the first place he stopped at when things died down for the winter next year. Claire's dad didn't do the hard work to get that, John had so he didn't feel as though he was taking handouts.
He wasn’t sure how Claire's mom was going to manage both of the twins while Claire was at school once break was over. He offered to help by cutting back on his hours or something, but she'd insisted she'd be all right. He couldn’t switch shifts because of his classes, so it was either cut back on hours or quit altogether. Quitting wasn't an option, babies and Claire or not, he liked having money in his pocket. Honest money. It was an odd feeling, contributing to something and getting told at the end of some days he'd done a good job. Having people offer to teach him things so he could do other things, make more money.
There wasn't enough of it. Once school started back up Claire was trying to balance everything and stay afloat. It wasn't going to get any easier either as they got older. Sure, they'd get more independent, but there were going to be two of them walking and getting into mischief.
They saw one another as they could. Sometimes it was him going over to her house after work and before classes. Her mom always had something to eat for him ready on those days. It was strange. He'd gotten the impression from Claire her mom wasn't the greatest, and maybe John hadn't seen that side of her yet but she seemed pretty okay to him.
Then his base of comparison was pretty skewed compared to most.
Once on a Saturday in March when he and Claire were at the mall with the babies in their dual stroller he caught a glimpse of his mom. He hadn't seen her since the day he'd picked up whatever stuff from his childhood she had. He'd retreated into the nearest store as soon as he spotted her, leaving Claire to wonder what he was doing because it was a women's clothing store. As far as he knew, his mom hadn't seen him. If she had? Well, as much as he hated to, he would've lied about whether the kids were his. Claire probably would've gotten mad at him, but he didn't want his kids anywhere near her. Ever.
His lease came up at the end of May and he was able to get a one-bedroom place that was in a decent neighborhood while still being in his price range. Decent enough for Claire to come visit him. Decent enough for kids to play in was another story, but he wasn't planning on being here for longer than a year. He just wanted something with more space so Claire and the babies could spend a Friday or Saturday night with him once in a while.
It was a learning curve for both of them. Claire knew a couple friends of her brother who had kids, but they were married and they only had one. So, things were a little different. There were two mouths to feed and two babies to get baths. He wasn't sure how Claire did it, because as much as he wanted to say he was involved she got the brunt of the work. Her mom helped, but Claire tried not to rely on her too much outside of babysitting while Claire was in class.
He came to realize pretty quickly why that weekend away in September had been so important to her. He never dreamt that babies could be so time consuming. They very rarely had time just the two of them. Her parents would babysit once in a while so they could go to Hackney's and grab a burger or something, but neither wanted to take advantage so those outings were few and far between. If he had an evening free she fell asleep long before he was ready to leave most of the time, which he knew she felt guilty about. He carried her to her room those nights, ensuring the monitor was on before he left.
Once he started working construction again that brought a whole new challenge. She was in school for a few weeks of the time, but she kept true to her word and visited him when she could in between classes. She never once complained about not seeing enough of him, though he knew she had to think it on occasion.
They did the usual things and he missed out on a lot of them. He didn't see either of them roll over or sit up on their own for the first time. He wasn't the only dad, or even mother, to miss out on those things but it still bothered him in ways. And he understood why a few years from now she might want another one when they were in a position to actually enjoy them as babies instead of working so hard to put themselves in a position to support them.
Eventually, they got into a routine where they spent the weekends at his apartment. He had to work Saturdays a lot, but at least she and the babies were there to come home to. He wasn't sure how her parents felt about her staying overnights with him, but as far as he knew they never voiced any real objection. He supposed they were happy to see he truly wanted to be involved. She stayed at her house during the week when they both had classes.
He got a place big enough for the four of them before their senior years. He probably could have done it a year before, but they agreed waiting another year for a place in a good school district was more important. Claire's mom agreed to come to their apartment the mornings Claire had classes before nine so the kids didn't have to be woken up.
She graduated before him, but he expected that. Once he finished his two-year associate degree he transferred to a local yet affordable four-year college night classes that suited his major requirements were more difficult to come by. He was going to be indebt up to his eyeballs when all was said and done, but he had to admit he felt better about not just himself but being able to support a family in a different job if he got injured or something.
He was able to take them to their first day of kindergarten with her. They were going to be some of the oldest kids in their class because their birthdays fell in December so they had to wait until after they'd turned five to start. It was an odd thing, leaving the two small people who were responsible for changing their lives so drastically somewhere that wasn't the Standish's house for longer than a couple of hours.
He took her out for breakfast after dropping them off. Starting tomorrow, she'd probably let them take the bus but she'd wanted to walk them through the doors of school herself today. He supposed he couldn't blame her, but he couldn't recall his parents ever caring what his classroom or teacher looked like.
"So, I was thinking," he said once they were back at their place. He had taken the entire day off, which had surprised her.
"Yeah," she said.
He draped an arm around her on the couch, drawing her against him. He kissed the top of her head. He grabbed her hand with his free hand, grazing her fingers with his thumb.
"Is everything okay?" she asked.
"Yeah, just thinking what is the right way to say this. I've gone over it a hundred times in my head."
Her hand shook a little at that statement.
"Relax, Princess, it's nothing bad. I'm trying to figure out how to say I'd like to make an honest woman out of you."
She scoffed at that.
"What was that for?" he asked.
"You make it sound as if there's something dishonest about me now."
"Well, no, but no one else we know with kids just lives together."
"Is that why you're asking?"
"No, it's not. I was thinking now that they're in school and I'm done with school and you only have a year left on your Master's."
"Well, maybe we could try for another one."
She glanced at him then, clearly surprised.
"What?" he shrugged. "I kind of like this dad thing."
She smirked a little at that.
"And hey," he said, reaching into his pocket. "I went out and got this for you and everything," he said, opening his palm to reveal a ring.
"How did you keep that from me? The apartment isn't that big and I do your laundry."
"Believe it or not, your dad kept it in the safe in his office for me until I was ready for it."
"Yes. I didn't know where else to keep it and knowing my luck I'd lose it or something if I tried to hide it from you."
"Or Mike or Joanne would find it."
"That occurred to me, too. So, I asked him to keep it. I told you before they were born I wanted to marry you, I just wanted it to be the right way and time. When we were steady, solid not just together but our lives. You know, things going right and everything."
"It's too much," she said as he slid the ring onto her finger.
"Yeah, well, while you were living at your parents' house and I was working all of that overtime I saved for it."
"Gorgeous ring for my gorgeous woman."
She slid onto his lap and kissed him, which quickly escalated to them ending up in their bed. He couldn't remember the last time they were alone during the day to have sex. Even at night when the kids were sleeping it could be tricky. Not that he had anything to complain about in that area. She was always willing even when they only had a short amount of time.
"So is that a yes," he asked.
"To which part?" she asked, sliding her foot along his calf.
"Well, the most important part would be marrying me."
"And the other?"
"Yes," she said. "Did you have a day in mind?"
"I was thinking March sometime since I wouldn't be back to work yet. Maybe get married on a Friday and we can talk your parents into babysitting for a weekend. Not much of a honeymoon, I realize, but it's better than nothing and maybe at Thanksgiving or Christmas we could take the kids to Disney or something."
"I didn't figure we'd get one anyway," she said quietly. "I figured in twenty years you'll owe me."
"Owe you," he said, sliding on top of her.
"Yes," she said laughing. "No spring break trips to Daytona or Mexico, no honeymoon, no drunken frat party stories to tell the kids."
"The horror," he said.
"I know. It's terrible the things you deprived me of."
"Should I apologize?"
She gave a soft giggle. "I think this," she said, holding her left hand out in front of her, "makes up for most of that."
He grabbed her hand, kissing the palm. "I'm glad you like it."
"And I like the sound of March. It's not going to be that big of a ceremony anyway."
"Because we have kids and live together already!"
She shrugged. "It's just not done."
"I'm still learning all of your rules, Princess."
"I know. You do fine."
"I do, huh?"
"You love us."
"Yeah. That's easy to do."
"That's more than some dad's and husband's do I know."
"And that's why I wouldn't have said yes if you didn't. I've seen the difference."
"Me, too, Princess, me, too."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com