TWO YEARS LATER
“Come to Daddy, tiger.” I pluck my son out his sleeping mother’s arms. They’re sprawled together on our bed. Him, in little cushion she uses to nurse him. Her, propped up on a sea of pillows. I cup his downy head and smile at his him. “You full, baby?”
His little tongue darts out to lick a drop of milk from the corner of his mouth. I put him on my shoulder and hold him there while I lean down and drop a light kiss onto Confidence’s swollen, wet nipple.
It’s a kiss of gratitude, respect. That’s the hardest working nipple in Houston right now. She’s nursing both of our children, baby JJ who is just about to turn six months old. Our two-year-old, Phoenix, would live attached to her breast twenty-four hours a day if he could.
I pull the cup of her tank top over her breast and tug the comforter up over her shoulders. She stirs, but only to turn on her side and snuggle into the sea of pillows she insists on keeping on our bed. Her hair sprawls over the pillow in a cascade of gold that makes me want to fist my hand in it and pull. But I don’t. She hardly sleeps enough as it is.
JJ and I begin our nightly ritual of turning off lights, locking doors and setting the alarm. He gurgles happily when we start down the stairs. I don’t know what about this part of our walk makes him so happy, but I go up and down three times because his gurgling laugh is one of the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard.
When I start down the hallway to our bedroom, he lets out a loud, lusty cry. I spin on my heel and walk back the way I came.
“Shhhhh…you’ll wake your mother,” I whisper into the top of his downy soft, sweet smelling head. I take him to the upstairs family room and settle on one of the tufted light blue armchairs in front of the big bay window I pull him away from the spot on my chest where he nestled and hold him out in front of me.
He blinks at me through sleepy eyes and burps. "Good boy," I coo and gaze at him. I can't tell who he looks like. Granted he’s still so tiny. But at this age, Phoenix looked like a tiny imprint of Confidence. From the halo of blond curls that covered his head to the sea blue eyes that stole my heart me the moment they locked with mine.
JJ has my nose. But, his hair is a ruddy brown. His eyes are dark brown...and remind me of Remi's more than anyone else. His mother’s dimple has made an appearance in his left cheek. When he laughs, I sometimes catch a hint of Gigi around his eyes.
“I guess you just look like yourself, huh?" We named him,Jason Henry Rivers, Jr, after my father. I miss him so much and wish my children could have known him. They would have loved him as much as I did. JJ's long dark eyelashes flutter and his wet pink mouth parts in a perfect “O”. The end of his yawn is a satisfied sigh.
“Sandman calling you, son?” I put him back on my shoulder and rub small circles on his back, just the way he likes and he squirms, trying to burrow himself into me.
With him settled again, I gaze out onto the dark twilight. It's my favorite view of Rivers Wilde - I can see clear to green of the large rectangular park that sits at the center of the enclave.
Designed to mimic Washington DC's Dupont Circle, the intersection at each of it's right angles leads to a different Rivers Wilde residential subdivision.
The streets that run parallel on it's longest sides are the affectionately known as the Left and Right Bank. The Left is our Main Street, the Right is where all the schools, that serve the enclave sit.
At the top of the park are churches, a synagogue, and a mosque.
At the bottom of the park, is the subdivision's behemoth, award winning, international food hall, The Market.
When I was a boy living in Rivers House, I used to dream about life on this side of the wall. I wanted neighbors who cared about each other and community that celebrated and amplified its diversity. Now that I'm here raising my family, I've never been more content in all my life.
And it’s all thanks to the woman who rolled into my life like the force of nature that she is… and left me holding treasures that multiply with every year I spend with her.
Tomorrow is our third wedding anniversary. I’ve planned an evening for us. It’ll be our first night alone since JJ was born and I want to make sure the evening is perfect so that I can finally fuck my wife again.
I miss her body like crazy. And even though it’s served a much higher calling for the last year –I’ve admitted to myself and her that feel a little resentful of my children at times. I’m not proud of the feeling, but it’s there. I’ve never been one to bury my head in the sand.
We’ve been talking pretty openly about how we’re both feeling and it’s helped us both to have a zero judgment zone to talk. She’s my best friend—and the first person I’ve ever called that. It used to feel like a silly platitude for most of my life. Until I actually had one. And it’s made life feel a less like a battle a lot more like an adventure.
It’s been a joy to create life with her and a privilege to watch her blossom as a mother. But I still don’t like that we’ve fallen to honorable mention on each other’s lists of priorities.
She went back to work when JJ was 2 months old. The Legal Defense Fund that she started at the Rivers Foundation has kept her more than busy for the last two years. I’ve been focused on getting the Foundation up and running.
When Kingdom’s foundation formally separated from the corporation, we spent a lot of fucking money on the rebranding and adding the Legal Defense Fund has helped us to restore some of the faith we lost with the city of Houston over the last decade.
“We’re going to make you proud, son,” I whisper and then I tuck him into the crook of my arm and walk him back to his room before I slip into bed next into bed next to Confidence.
“What’s the matter?” Hayes asks, right before he lifts a huge forkful of everything I can’t eat- pasta, cheese, cream, butter, salt -- fucking everything I love – and slips it between his parted lips. The pucker and pinch of his mouth as he devours the second to last bite of his fettuccine Alfredo is almost as appetizing as the food. I miss that mouth.
Even though he kisses me with it every day, I miss the other things he used to do to me with it. I hoped tonight would end with us in each other’s arms. With him inside of me. That I’d wake up with soreness and aches from him bending my body to his will.
But as the evening unfolds, I start to hear all of the doubt that’s been plaguing me since JJ was born. Hayes hasn’t touched me beyond kissing me and I’m afraid he doesn’t find me attractive anymore. Terrified actually, but not sure if I can blame him.
He looks great, even better than he did when we got married. Fatherhood has agreed with him. He’s not fifteen pounds overweight, wearing concealer to hide the shadows under his eyes, and wearing cotton pads attached to his nipples to catch leaking milk. And thanks to his nightly runs, he’s not wearing a fucking girdle under his clothes.
I want him to take me the way he did two years ago. Before children, work, and exhaustion swallowed us whole.
I reach for my water and cringe at the way my dress pulls a little too snugly every time I let my posture slips.
“These damn Spanx are making me crazy,” I admit and take a gulp of the cold water. I’m parched and I take several greedy gulps before I put my glass back down. He’s watching me intently and thoughtfully.
“What?” I ask his scrutiny only compounds my worries and I flush as my self-consciousness grows.
“Why don’t you just take them off?” he asks as if it’s actually an option.
“Because, without them, my thighs rub together so much that I’m afraid I’ll start a fire in my crotch from the friction.” I purse my lips at him when he guffaws.
“It’s not funny, Hayes,” I say and it comes out as a wail. He stops laughing and his expression fills with concern.
“You’re serious?” he asks like he expects me to answer in the negative.
“Are you blind? I’m so lumpy and soft and nothing fits the way it should. And you know what? All I want is to devour that amazing fettuccine on your plate. Not this delicious, but boring, cold salad.” I lift a forkful of spinach, hearts of palm, and tomato to demonstrate.
He frowns and puts his fork down slowly. “Tesoro, I’m sorry. I didn’t know you felt like this,” he says and puts his fork down and reaches for my hand.
“How could you not know? Look at me,” my stupid eyes fill with tears.
“I’m looking,” he says solemnly.
“Then how can you be surprised? I feel the way I look,” I cry.
He starts to speak and seems to think better of it. His hazel eyes – my kryptonite and my super drug– release their probe of mine and he scans the kitchen. He cooked for me tonight.
“Are you looking for something?” I ask when he winks at me.
“Just a second,” he says. He stands and walks over to the huge island in the center of our kitchen.
“What are you doing?” He looks over his shoulder and cocks an amused eyebrow at me.
“Patience, babe. Just wait and see.” He starts clearing the counter of the clutter from his food prep. Hayes, it turns out, is quite the chef. When he told me we were staying in for dinner, I was so relieved. I love being at home.
“Come here,” he walks over to me with an outstretched hand.
I take it and as soon as we’re touching my pulse quickens. His fingers close around mine and squeeze. The heaviness that’s been pushing against my diaphragm starts to lighten at the contact. He smiles down at me.
“Take off your dress and everything you’ve got on underneath it, Tesoro,” he says softly and my entire body clenches in anticipation. He
“What?” I ask him.
“Take them off. And then get on the counter.” He adds this command unbuttons the top collar of his shirt.
I try to breathe and find that my lungs are tight and pulling air into them takes effort. Elephants are thundering through my veins and my heart is hammering in my chest. A few minutes ago I was sure he didn’t find me attractive anymore. And now he’s looking at me like he’s trying to decide what part of me to eat first.
In two strides he’s standing in front of me, reaching around me, and gripping my zipper between his fingers and pulling it down. I hear each one of the teeth as it loses its grip on its mate. His scent is clean with a splash of his cologne that reminds me of the fragrant air of Tuscany. It never fails to take me back to when we met. I’m swept away by nostalgia and desire. My insecurities are so far away that I can’t even remember the tightness they caused in my chest all night.
“Hayes,” I sigh as the cool air kisses the bare skin of my back.
“My love,” he breathes in response. I shiver with pleasure at the adoration and longing in his voice. He pulls me into him and he presses a hot kiss to my neck just as my zip reaches its end.
“I love you.”
“I love you, more,” he says and licks a path down my neck. He pulls my dress off my shoulders, his tongue sweeping across the skin he lays bare.
My dress falls to the floor. His quick, clever hands hook onto and pull down my undergarments before I’m even aware that he’s doing it. I stand before him naked as the day I was born. His hungry eyes roam my body is a greedy perusal that I feel as surely as I would his tongue, fingers, or teeth on my skin. Goosebumps cover me from my scalp to my ankles and I press my thighs together to try and ease the ache that’s erupting between them.
“I’ve fucking missed you,” he says in a dark, thick, gruff voice.
“Me, too,” I sigh. “Can you please touch me?”
“Sit on the counter,” he commands. I back up until my ass hits the smooth edge of the island and scoot myself on top of it.
“Why are you still dressed?” I watch him as he walks over to the small sideboard where they put our half-eaten plates of food.
“Because this is about you, Tesoro,” he says without turning back to look at me. He picks up his plate and walks over to me.
“It’s our anniversary and you should eat whatever the fuck you want,” he says with a small smile. He twirls his fork and winds the silky cream covered ribbons of pasta around his sterling silver fork. “Open your mouth,” he holds the morsel up to my mouth and I obey. He slides the fork past my teeth and onto my tongue. I close my lips around it and lick the tines before I let him pull it back out. I almost come from the explosion of flavors. My eyes close and roll under my lids and I moan around the mouthful of pasta. His soft chuckle pulls my lids open and I find his eyes are devouring me the way I’m devouring the food. I smile and blush sweeps my cheeks.
“Oh yeah,” he drawls seductively and puts the plate down on the table “I understand…That’s how I feel when I taste your pussy.” His wolfish smile is the last thing I see before he presses a hand to the center of my chest and pushes me down on my back.
“Your heart is racing,” he says.
“You’re making the rest of me very happy. So, it’s rejoicing.” I gasp as the cold granite of the countertop comes into contact with the warm skin of my bare back. I arch off the table and his mouth closes over one of my nipples.
“Shit, Hayes,” I groan and his hands close on either side of my ribcage and holds me in that arched position. He sucks me hard and the tug of his mouth sends pleasure racing to the center of me. He pulls his mouth off me and nudges my thighs with his knees.
He gazes down at my body. I know how much it’s changed. But I can see that whatever changes my body’s undergone are just fine with him. He looks like he’s looking at his holy grail.
“What are you thinking?”
“That if this is what lumpy and soft looks like, I want you to stay lumpy and soft forever. You’ve never been more beautiful.” His eyes drop to my Caesarean scar, and his fingers skim across it reverently. “God, you’ve given me so much,” he whispers hotly. “I’ve spent all of these years trying to feel worthy of you and you keep on doing miraculous things that mean I’ll never ever achieve that.”
“Oh, Hayes. Of course, you’re worthy. I’m the one…who shouldn’t be here.”
He presses a finger to my lips to silence me.
“You were born for this. This is your destiny, my love. And you’ve earned it,” he says. I let myself savor the bubbles of delight that bounce around in my chest at his words for a few minutes. Then I focus on what’s about to happen.
“Well, now I want to earn an orgasm. How do I do that?” I ask.
“You’ve already done it.” he drops into the chair behind him, pulls it up so that he’s sitting in front of my legs. “I'm ready for dessert,” he breathes against my breastbone before he straightens.
His strong hands slide in between my thighs and parts them wide. The slide of his skin against mine makes me wish he was naked, too. I’ve missed the electricity we always make when we touch like this. He winks up at me and then dips his head between my legs.
He runs the flat of tongue runs up my lips and the sensation makes me dizzy. I stare unseeingly at the blazing chandelier that hangs over my head. The tip of his tongue probes and pushes in and out of me until I’m quivering and clit is throbbing.
“Please Hayes, suck my clit.” His hair brushes my thighs when he nods. At the first gentle suck of his full, soft lips I cry out sharply. One, two, then three fingers slip inside of me and I start to orgasm right then. I pull away from his mouths ravaging. He just grips my hips firmly and holds me in place.
He makes me come three more times and is gearing up for another when I put my hand on his head and push it away at the same time that I try to drag my body up the counter. His mouth has reduced me a quivering mass of satisfied flesh and bone.
“I can’t. Please. Hayes.” My plea pours out in between shallow pants and groans. He draws back and looks up at me with a deliciously satisfied smile. He presses a kiss to my inner thigh and laps at me lightly. I shudder and in contradiction of my pleas a few minutes ago, I wind my hips to get closer to his mouth.
“Mmm … I’m drunk on you. I need to be inside you so badly, Tesoro,” he presses a lingering kiss to the inside of my thigh and rests his head on my stomach for a brief, tender moment.
And then, my king mounts me. He slides his way up my body, dragging his lips over my sensitive, flushed skin until he gets to my mouth. He cups my neck and kisses me until I’m writhing beneath him.
“I wanted to take you upstairs. But fuck, I can’t wait. Can I have you here?” He asks and peppers my face with kisses.
“You can have me anywhere,” I tell him and start fumbling with the buckle of his belt. I make quick work of it and between our combined efforts, his pants and boxers are out of the way in a matter of seconds. The look on his face is one of fierce, long denied hunger and I sob in anticipation at when I feel the hot hard press of his cock against me.
“I missed you,” he groans, his eyes holding mine while he pushes slowly into me. My eyes lose focus at the burn that blooms into that perfect, high pitched pleasure that I feel every time Hayes is inside of me.
“Yes…” I moan as he fills me.
“Happy anniversary, Queen” he replies and starts to thrust fast, deep, and hard.
“King…” my words are lost in the fervor of my need and I hold on for dear life as he makes me love to me.
Our hearts, our words, our bodies become one and the same. Everything blurs. There’s only us and the way we love each other-- Beyond time, reason, or expectation.
We’ve defied the odds. When our love story is recalled by the people whose lives we’ve touched, they’ll say we stood together, and when the waves broke over us, we never let go of each other. And that when it rained, we were the thunder.
“Hello?” I call out before I open Remi’s front door all the way. I hear the television on in the back room of his house, but no one replies.
“Rem—shit!” I look down slowly even though I already know what the squishy thing I’ve stepped in is. I groan and bend down to pull the soiled diaper off the sole of my shoe and tread more carefully as I walk into his house.
It’s later than I planned because I couldn’t get enough of my wife’s body. But Jason is too young to go a whole night without us so, I dragged myself away from her and drove over to Remi’s to pick up the kids. He offered to babysit tonight because his wife, Kal, is out of town. He and his stepdaughter, Bianca thought they’d be good company. Also, Kal is five months pregnant and Remi wants to use my kids as crash test dummies.
Bianca was almost ten when he and Kal got married, and he’s got very little experience with babies. I told him that six hours alone with them was going to feel very different from the afternoons he’s spent playing at our house.
But my brother is nothing if overly confident. He said “Watch how it’s motherfucking done.” when I dropped them off today.
I walk into his living room and find out exactly what he meant by that. Remi is sprawled on the couch with JJ on top of him. Phoenix is on the floor, his face resting on a plate of what looks like it might have been spaghetti in a previous life. Bianca is nowhere to be seen and I assume she decided the shit show was too much and took herself to bed.
I walk over and lift JJ off him. He wakes up immediately, his eyes popping open and squinting against the light. “What time is it?” he asks blearily and sits up. He presses the heels of his hands into his eyes and rubs them while he yawns.
“It’s almost midnight. Sorry I’m late…”
“Did you finally get to remind Confidence why she keeps you around?” he asks me dryly. Before I can answer his eyes land on Phoenix and nearly bug out his head.
“Nice of you to let my kid fall asleep in a plate of food on the floor.”
“Shit,” he jumps up and scoops him out of the plate and says “This kid of yours is a total maniac, man. He refused to go anywhere without that fucking plate,” he grumbles and carries my son over to the sink. He holds him up and wets a paper towel. Phoenix doesn’t stir while Remi wipes his face down.
“Yeah, he’s clearly got the upper hand here since he’s all of two of years old. By the way,” I drawl. “I stepped on a soiled diaper in your front hallway. I left it where it was…cause I figured you were trying to show me how it’s done.” I smirk as I walk over to the kitchen and prop a hip against the counter while I watch him. He scoffs and his big shoulders shake with the dry bark of laughter.
“Shut the fuck up Hayes. You’ve guys better get serious about discipline,” he frowns disapprovingly.
I dismiss him with the wave of my hand. “When you have two kids under two years old, we can talk about discipline. Okay?” I shut him down.
“When are you going to learn, kid? I know better about everything. Including this,” he says and grins before he lifts Phoenix back up and holds him against his chest.
I roll my eyes at him. But, inside I feel a real pang of affection. Our relationship has been through some shit. But we’ve been determined to find our way and he’s my brother in every single sense of the word. Even if our parents hate each other, we pledged to never let it get in between us. And we haven’t.
“Help me take them out to the car,” I walk back to the living room and bend over to put JJ into the car seat that’s sitting in the corner.
“Yeah, let me grab the bag of milk and stuff from the fridge,” he calls and I head out the door to get a head start on getting the baby strapped into the car.
“When is Kal back?” I ask Remi when he joins me outside.
“Tomorrow. Thank fuck. She’s not traveling again until after the baby’s born. Even if I have to chain her to the bed to keep her there.”
“Yeah. That sounds like it’s actually going to happen,” I scoff and shut the door on my side.
“Watch me,” he quips.
“Yeah. Our couch is always open. When your plan backfires and Kal beats you with that chain, remember you have a place to lay your head.”
“Again. Shut the fuck up and go home. I’m tired and B’s got fucking tennis at seven in the morning.”
We hug. A quick but meaningful embrace that we always share when we say goodbye.
On my drive home, through the winding streets of my neighborhood, I sing Hush Little Baby, over and over again, to my sleeping children.
Twenty minutes later, I slip into bed next to a sleeping Confidence and I fall asleep the way I do every night -- with my living, breathing dream catcher in my arms.