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PENNY’S HAIR IS FALLING OUT OF HER BUN. Her dress is askew, and there’s a piece of decorative tissue paper stuck to her shoe. She rearranges a display of bow ties, bats her hair off her face, then looks around the small space with a frantic, drawn expression on her face.
I slide my hands over her shoulders. “Everything looks perfect, Penny.”
She spins around and lifts her freckle-covered face toward mine. “What if no one shows up?”
I glance out the door as the city starts waking up, a few early risers glancing curiously at the sign above the door on their way to work. “People will come.”
“I can’t believe I agreed to this.”
“Give me your phone,” I say. “I’ll take a picture for you to post online. Behind the scenes.” I click my tongue and wave at Bear to come over.
Penny sighs, scooping her long copper hair into a fresh bun. She straightens her dress, then smiles at our dog. “Hey, boy.”
Bear shoves his nose between her legs and makes her laugh. She drops to her knees and starts scrubbing his fur, laughing and flinching as Bear reaches over to lick her neck.
“There,” I say, handing her back the phone. “Got some good ones.”
She smiles at me and takes the phone back, flicking through the images. “Bear looks good.”
I roll my eyes. “You both look good, Penny.”
She gives me an impish grin and gets to work posting them on her various social media accounts, right in time for Mackenzie to enter the back door of our pop-up store with two of her friends. “We’re here!”
My shoulders drop. “Finally.”
Mackenzie scowls and taps her wrist. “We’re five minutes early, actually.”
She just turned seventeen years old, and her sassiness has followed exponential growth. I head for the counter and pull out three T-shirts and three aprons for the girls, tell them to change, and start checking the computer and cash register to make sure everything is in order.
We do one last sweep of the store, making sure the doggie play area is set up properly, bowls of water are laid out, and on the other side of the space, that all the outfits and bow ties and accessories are displayed to their advantage.
Penny slides beside me and rests her head against my arm. “It all looks so good. I can’t believe it’s mine.”
I kiss the top of her head. “I can. You’re amazing.”
Our three workers reappear wearing their new uniforms, and Penny claps her hands. “Great! Let me show you what I want you to do.”
Before I know it, my alarm goes off, and it’s time to open the doors.
“Ready?” I tell Penny.
She glances up from the box of spare leashes she got from a leather worker she recently hired, turning her gaze to the door. “Oh my goodness,” she breathes. “Are all those people waiting to get in here?”
I follow her gaze and see a line forming near the door. My lips curl. “They sure are,” I answer.
“I’m going to puke.”
“Do it in the bathroom or the back alley if you must,” Mackenzie cuts in. She nods to the door. “You want to do the honors, Penny?”
My wife straightens up, hooks an apron over her head and ties it around her waist, and then lets a slow smile spread over her face. “Yeah. I do.”
“I’ll be the camerawoman,” Amy, Mackenzie’s best friend, adds as she grabs the phone from the desk. “We’re going live in three…two…one…”
Penny throws me one last glance, her smile so beautiful it makes my heart ache, and then she heads to the front of her pop-up store and unlocks the door.
As a dozen people stream in and start exclaiming over her wares, pride and love war within me. I can’t believe Penny’s my woman, my wife. I can’t believe I’m the lucky guy who gets to see her laugh and smile with customers who gush about things she designed. I can’t believe I married her and had a kid with her.
I didn’t think life could get this good.
Then a bark happens, and one of the displays goes crashing to the ground. Chaos erupts as two dogs start an aggressive dance with each other. Bow ties go flying. Dog owners try to intervene. Penny lunges for Bear, who’s advancing like he wants to put himself between the two dogs.
Finally, the owners get control over their dogs, and Mackenzie and the girls get to work fixing one of the displays.
Red-faced, Penny meets my eyes and cringes. “What a disaster.”
I nod at the cash register, where half the people in the store are lined up in front of Amy with arms full of dog clothes and accessories. “I wouldn’t call it a disaster.”
My wife gets that look on her face that I love so much—a mix of awe and joy and hope. It’s the way she looked when she saw the pieces of Tim’s crib on the floor.
I sling an arm around her shoulders and pull her in for a quick kiss. “I need to go to work,” I tell her. “But I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”
She nods. “Go. I love you.”
“Not as much as I love you.” I kiss her forehead, then leave out the back door.
THAT EVENING, after the pop-up store is closed and Penny, the girls, and I have prepped the place for the next day, we head home and meet our wonderful nanny, who tells us Tim went down ten minutes ago. As the nanny leaves, Penny and I duck our heads inside the bedroom to watch our son sleeping soundly.
“I can’t believe he’s eighteen months old already,” she says, clinging to the doorframe, eyes luminous.
“About time to give him a brother or sister.”
Penny’s head whips toward me. “Excuse me?”
I wrap my arm around her waist and drag her out of the bedroom, closing Tim’s door as gently as I can. I press her against the wall and rest my forehead against hers. “What do you think?”
“I think you wouldn’t be so excited about that thought if you had to carry and deliver a watermelon-sized baby yourself.”
I run my lips up her neck and relish the way she shivers. “Okay.” I kiss her neck. “Whatever you want, Penny.”
Her fingers tunnel into my hair, and she lets out a beautiful gasp as I nip her jaw. We kiss, slow and tender, until her body’s writhing against mine. I let my hands slide down her sides and around the small of her back to pull her close.
She moans at the feel of me, hard and ready against her stomach.
“Were you serious?” It comes out between pants.
I pull back slightly, my hips still pinning hers. “About what?”
“About wanting another baby?”
Her face is so earnest, so beautiful, that I have to cup it in my hands. “I’d want half a dozen kids with you, Penny. I’ve lost my mind, and it’s your fault.”
She laughs, her hands sliding down my arms to wrap around my wrists. She turns her head and kisses the center of my palm, then turns her gaze back to meet mine. “How about two,” she says. “Three kids, max.”
My heart beats double-time. “You’re serious?”
“I’ll stop taking my birth control pill. If it happens, it happens.”
Happiness forks through me like lightning. I haul her into my arms and carry her to our bedroom, then get to work making babies with her.
LESS THAN A YEAR LATER, Penny gives birth to twins. I’m the father of another boy and a girl, both beautiful little redheads with big, blue eyes. They’re perfect, just like their brother—and their mom.