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MY HANDS ARE NUMB. I’ve been clapping so hard that I’ve completely lost feeling in my fingertips, but I can’t stop.
Esme walks across the stage to accept her diploma in art history, and I clap harder. She turns to look at the crowd, her eyes easily finding mine. That’s how it always is. No matter where we are, how many people are around, or what might be between us—except for maybe a solid wall—we can always find each other.
There’s an invisible string connecting Esme and me. A connection that shimmers through space and time. A lifeline that we can use to find our way back to each other.
When the ceremony is over, Esme finds me in the crowd and throws her arms around me. She then hugs her mother, her brother, and Kit’s girlfriend, who are all beaming as much as I am.
“Congratulations, Esme,” her mother smiles.
Over the past four years, Lydia has come to Woodvale many times. At first, I was pretty sure she hated me. She thought I was tearing Esme away from her and putting her in danger.
Once we got married two years ago, Lydia came around. I think she mostly accepted that I was here to stay.
Bit by bit, I was able to soften her up. Now she knows that I’d do anything for Esme, and I’ll always keep her safe.
Esme hooks her arm around mine and leans her head on my shoulder. “I’m hungry,” she announces, and the five of us head out of the big tent set up for the graduation ceremony. We walk off the Woodvale University campus and get into our cars, driving into the city.
When we get to the restaurant, Esme glances at me, beaming. Her eyes glimmer and I give her a slight frown. When her lips twitch, I know she’s hiding something.
We take our seats and I order a couple of bottles of wine for the table. Esme puts her hand over the glass when the waiter comes around, and I tilt my head.
Still, Esme just grins. When the waiter’s gone again, she takes a deep breath and puts her hands on the table. Her black diamond engagement ring sparkles in the low light of the restaurant, now accompanied by a simple wedding band. It’s a constant reminder that she’s mine, and I’m hers—forever.
“Mom, Kit, Finn,” Esme starts. “Thank you for coming today.”
“Of course, honey,” Lydia smiles. “I wouldn’t miss your graduation for anything. After everything you’ve been through, I can’t tell you how proud I am of you.”
Esme glances at me, and the light dancing in her eyes betrays something else. This isn’t just about her graduation. It’s not just about the degree, or the fact that her health has been better than ever.
Esme’s hiding something, and a flame of hope sparks in my chest. Something we’ve talked about for the past year. Something that seemed so far from what I thought I wanted a few years ago. Something that terrifies me and excites me at the same time.
There was a chance Esme’s lymphoma treatment would cause infertility. We talked about it, and decided that we wouldn’t hope too hard.
But right now, I’m hoping. Praying. Waiting for her to speak and make me the happiest man in the world.
My wife takes a deep breath, biting her lip. Her eyes flick over to mine, fire swirling in their honey-brown depths. My stomach clenches, and I wish we were alone.
Esme turns to her mother, giving her a hopeful smile. “Mom, you’re going to be a grandma.”
Lydia stares, her moth dropped open. Her brows furrow ever so slightly as confusion writes itself on her features. Then, she inhales sharply, bringing her hands to her lips.
“You’re…” Her eyes widen.
At the same time, Esme’s words sink in. Now it’s my turn to suck in a breath. My heart hammers against my ribcage as I stare at the love of my life, finally drawing her gaze to me.
Tears fill her eyes as a smile stretches over her lips. She dips her chin down, answering my unspoken question.
I’m going to be a father. She’s carrying my child. Our family will grow, and she’s going to make me the happiest man on the planet all over again.
Before I can react, though, Lydia lets out a noise that I can only describe as a happy shriek. She stands up and leans forward at the same time, reaching over to hug Esme.
I guess she forgets that there’s a table between them, though, and knocks it with her thighs. Violently. Glasses fall over, one of them rolling off the table and smashing on the ground.
Lydia yelps, standing up straighter, sending her chair clattering to the ground and causing a waiter to come to a halt, liquid splashing out of the tray of drinks he’s carrying.
I try to catch the rolling stemware, failing miserably. Another glass crashes on the hard tile floor. Lydia screams again, this time in shock.
Esme shakes her head.
As the smashing stops, chairs are righted, and the staff appear with a broom and dustpan, Lydia puts her hands on her bright red face.
“You shocked me,” she sighs. “I didn’t mean to do that.” She turns to the waiter cleaning up the broken glass. “I’m so sorry. My daughter just announced that she’s pregnant, and…”
The young man smiles, glancing at Esme. “Congratulations.”
Esme leans against me. My heart is still thumping. Whether it’s the broken glass, the shrieking, or the knowledge that I’m going to be a father, I just can’t quite regain control over my own emotions. They riot inside me, threatening to spill tears over my cheeks.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I say softly as the cleanup continues around us.
Esme looks at me, grinning. “I’ve been wanting to get you back for the surprise engagement party for four whole years.”
I laugh, wrapping my arms around her and kissing her fiercely. I don’t care that her mother and brother are across from us. I don’t care that we’re in a restaurant full of people. Esme is the love of my life, and I just found out she’ll be the mother of my first child.
I need to kiss her. I’m compelled. There’s nothing in this world that could stop me from pulling her close and crushing my lips to hers.
When we come up for air, Kit stands up and walks around the table to hug his sister. Lydia’s in tears. She whimpers, hugging Esme as well. Kit’s girlfriend comes around and has her turn, and finally I get Esme to myself again. I put my arm around her shoulder, kissing her temple.
The waiter reappears with our two bottles of wine and a grin on his face. “Is everyone seated and ready? It’s safe to put this wine on the table?”
I laugh as Lydia chides him. For someone who is so preoccupied with keeping her daughter safe, she sure doesn’t mind causing chaos once in a while.
We pop the bottles as a different waitress comes over with a tall champagne flute full of sparkling liquid. She puts it down in front of Esme. “Sparkling apple juice,” she smiles. “Congratulations from all of us.”
WHEN WE GET HOME that night—still living in my tiny apartment above the skydiving shop—Esme wraps her arms around me and pulls me close.
“If I wasn’t already pregnant, I’d tell you to put a baby inside me right now.”
I laugh, nipping at her bottom lip. “We can pretend.”
“I like pretending.”
I scoop her up in my arms and carry her to the sofa. The bedroom is only a few steps away, but it’s too far. Right now, I need to show Esme just how much she means to me. She scrambles out of her clothes, tossing them aside as I kneel down in front of her. Spreading her legs, I drop my head between them and enjoy the sounds that Esme makes when I bring her to orgasm.
Nothing sounds as good as her. Nothing tastes as good as her. Nothing feels as good as her.
She’s everything to me, and I want to show it to her. She comes on my tongue and my cock is so hard I think I might pass out. As her cheeks glow red and her eyes are hazy, she spreads her arms toward me and gives me a soft smile.
“Come here, Finn,” she purrs.
I don’t hesitate. Even if I wanted to, I don’t think it would be possible. Everything I could ever want in life, Esme has given it to me.
Love, life, and the ability to do what I love. I still have adrenaline, but it’s more like the icing on the cake. It’s a fun little thrill added onto the deep, thrumming happiness that Esme provides.
We make love. We’re connected, our souls intertwined in an unbreakable, intricate knot. As we lie on the couch under a blanket of bliss, Esme nuzzles into my chest. Her breathing quiets down and she falls asleep, and all I can do is stare at her face.
Every curve, every feature, every inch of her body is perfect to me. Fatherhood terrifies me, but I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else.
Esme is strong, and I know she’ll make a great mother. She survived lymphoma, faced her fears, and came out the other side even better—and she was able to tame me in the process.
She’s said it a million times, but in this moment, I know it’s true: we’re made for each other.