10 YEARS LATER
“Mom, do we have to go?” Levi whines from the back seat.
“Yeah, Mom. Why couldn’t we just wait at home? We’re old enough to stay by ourselves.”
Ha. As if I’d leave my two little daredevils unsupervised.
I pull into a parking spot, turn off the car, and twist around to face the boys. “The reason we’re all going to your sister’s dance recital is because she goes to all of your football games.”
Levi frowns. “But our games are exciting. Not like ballet.”
Jude unbuckles his seatbelt and leans forward. “It wouldn’t be so bad if we could get some ice cream afterwards.”
Lord, give me strength. “Do you two have any idea how hard those stadium seats are? Gracie sits on those benches for hours at your games each week. No, she doesn’t just sit there in the stands. She cheers her little heart out for you. Are you going to tell me you don’t want to be there to support your sister who thinks you hung the moon?”
Almost simultaneously, the boys slouch, ashamed.
“You’re right, Mom.”
Inside, I smile, but I don’t let up my stony demeanor just yet or they might start to backslide. “We’re going to march in there and be the best, most supportive family this ballet troupe has ever seen. Do you hear me? Because Gracie needs to know that what she does is just as important as what you two do. Okay?”
I’m pretty pleased with myself until the twins cheer like they’re standing on the fifty-yard line during a halftime show.
“Boys, sit down.” All the other parents are side-eyeing me.
“Shoot, that’s not Gracie’s group,” Levi mumbles.
My boys just cheered for the wrong dancers. I chuckle and reach over to hug him. “That’s okay, honey. Those little girls up there need it just as much as Grace.”
Finally, my daughter’s class lines up on the side of the stage, and I wave.
“When’s Dad getting here?” Jude asks.
“He must be running late.” I break out my phone and get the video setting ready to go. “I’m recording, so he won’t miss a thing.”
Just then, the back door swings open, and my husband jogs in carrying our younger daughter Sadie, who’s a year old. “Sorry we’re late. Someone had poo problems.” After he sits next to me and leans in to kiss me, I get a good look at Sadie. She’s teary-eyed and sucking her pacifier. I open my arms for her, and she starts to come to me, but changes her mind and buries her head in Olly’s neck. Sadie is the biggest daddy’s girl, so I’m not surprised. He’s a great dad, and you can see it in how much our kids love him.
I kiss her forehead and push the dark hair out of her eyes. “Hang in there, baby. This shouldn’t go too much longer. We’ll get you home and take a nice bath, and you’ll feel so much better.”
Under his breath, Olly whispers, “Think Mommy could give me a bath too?”
I chuckle, and when our eyes meet, he winks at me. God, I love this man.
The music starts and all of the five-year-olds walk out, hand in hand. I start my video. The kids are adorable in their little tulle skirts and ballet slippers. Gracie has been practicing her routine for weeks.
She’s in the front row of dancers. Only she’s not smiling.
Ten seconds into the routine, she stops dancing. Two seconds later, she starts bawling.
Crap. I’m not sure what happened because she’s been so excited about this recital.
But before I can jump up to go get her, Olly’s already bounding up those steps with the baby in his arms. Next thing I know, he takes Grace’s hand and starts dancing right alongside her.
I smile, loving that my husband knows the routine. Because we both helped her practice it.
The audience is chuckling, and two moms behind me quasi-whisper something about Michael being a sexy beast.
I almost turn around to point out that he’s my sexy beast, but I don’t. During the years Olly played pro football in Chicago, I learned to tune out the way other women made eyes at my husband. He and I had too much on our plate to worry about all that noise. I knew I was the only woman in his bed, just like he was confident he was the only man in mine.
Now that life has slowed down a bit and we’re back in Charming again, he’s a huge hometown hero. Restaurants post his photos, and he gets stopped everywhere we go. I’m glad he’s getting that adoration. He’s a standup man and deserves the appreciation after years of crisscrossing the country to get banged up every weekend by three-hundred-pound linemen.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for his time playing pro ball. I’m just glad it’s over.
On stage, he twirls Gracie and sways and pliés just like the other kids. All while holding Sadie. It’s freaking adorable and so sigh-worthy.
I lean over to the boys. “See how Daddy doesn’t mind doing ballet? He’s not worried about what other people think about him. He’s only thinking about Grace. I really love that about your father.” And I plan to show my appreciation tonight.
Once we’re home and the kids are in bed, I grab my husband’s hand. “Want to do a load of laundry with me?” I waggle my eyebrows. Next thing I know, he’s dragging me down the stairs at a speed I can barely keep up with. Because he knows what ‘laundry’ is code for.
After Olly retired from football, we moved back into our old house in Charming and bought my mom and sister a place a block away.
When we’re down in our renovated laundry room, we kick off our clothes at record speed, and then he props me up on the washer. The kids are scared of coming down here even though they all spent so much time next to the dryer, trying to fall asleep, as babies. It works for us since this is the only place in the house where we can find a little privacy. The kids joke about how much laundry their parents do, and I have a hard time not laughing whenever one of the twins mentions it.
I take my husband’s handsome face in my hands. “You set everyone’s ovaries on fire with those dance moves.”
He snorts. “I’m sure.”
“No, really. A man holding a baby while dancing with his daughter?” I fan myself. “So hot.”
As he takes a lick up my neck, he chuckles. “I can give you a private dance next time.”
“A private dance from my Heavenly Hunk? Sign me up.” I thread my fingers through his hair.
His laughter grows. As does one particular appendage that he nudges against me. I don’t know if it’s the stress of the day or the fact that he’s going on a business trip tomorrow, but the fireworks go off in record time. Of course, having kids means you learn how to get to the end zone as quickly as possible before someone bangs on your door.
We’re panting and sweaty and clinging to each other when I whisper, “I miss you already. How long are you going for again?”
“Just two days.” Even though Olly lost that first endorsement deal, once he made it to the NFL, he became widely known as a family man. I was always posting pics of him being adorable with the kids. Like that time he duct-taped that singing bass fish to Jude’s diapered butt to help him fall asleep. Or him carrying the boys in shopping bags when they were toddlers. Or running football drills with the twins and their friends in the backyard when they got older.
Shortly after we moved to Chicago, that horrible photographer agreed to discontinue using Olly’s pics rather than get sued. As for the strip joint, Olly snagged the owner a few tickets to the hottest college football team in Texas, and he promised not to use those photos anymore.
After a while, people forgot about those billboards, and the business offers rolled in at record speed—for tandem baby strollers and carriers and clothes. And by the end of Olly’s time playing in Chicago, that Big Tykes football program made another offer. For three times the original amount. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Michael was Chicago’s best running back.
But sometimes that means he has to travel.
“I’m glad you could make it to Gracie’s recital before you left.”
He kisses my forehead. “You know I wouldn’t miss it. I missed enough when I was playing.”
As much as Olly loved playing football, he hated how it meant less time with me and the children.
I’m so blessed I’ve always been able to work from home. I eventually learned calligraphy from YouTube videos like Olly suggested and have made a whole business from it. So I still do those wedding and baby shower invitations but now with custom hand lettering. And the best part? I’m always around if our kiddos need anything.
Grateful for this quiet moment together, I graze my lips against Olly’s. “Do you think you’ll take that broadcasting job?”
He sighs. “It’s an amazing offer, but it would mean road trips every weekend. I’d miss so much. The boys’ games. Gracie’s dances. Sadie’s first everything. Not to mention how much I’d miss you.”
I rub the scruff on his handsome face. “You know we’d support you, right? If you wanted that job, we’d be your biggest fans. The kids would understand. It would take some adjustment, of course, because we’ve been spoiled having you around lately. And it wouldn’t be as bad as when you played because you wouldn’t be training incessantly on top of traveling. I’d miss you terribly, but I’d hate for you to make a big sacrifice if you wanted that job.”
“It’s no sacrifice.” He brushes his lips against mine. “I already have everything I want.”
I lean my forehead against his shoulder, beyond grateful for everything in my life. Starting with this amazing man. “I have everything I want too.”