I lay in bed with my eyes closed, subtly aware of the sunrise coming through the open window, the cool breeze that would only last a few hours before the humidity took over. The sheets were around my waist, and my lips were slightly parted as I breathed.
Then a hand pressed against my chest, soft fingertips feeling my heartbeat. “It’s time to get up.” Her hand glided up my chest until her fingers ran through my hair, gently pulling me from sleep instead of letting my obnoxious alarm clock do the dirty work.
My eyes opened as I released a deep sigh, my eyes focused on Button standing over me.
She was ready for the day, her hair and makeup done, and she was in jeans and a black tank top with a dark blue cardigan on top. Her wedding ring was on her left hand, a button fused to metal, something I’d made myself. “Breakfast is almost ready.”
I sighed as I got out of bed in my black boxers and nothing else. When I was on my feet, I stood tall over my wife, the woman who still looked at me exactly the same way every day, even though twelve years had passed in the blink of an eye. “I’ll be down in a bit.” My arm circled her waist, and I leaned down to kiss her.
Both of her hands moved to my chest as she kissed me back, her nails giving me a light scratch. Then she left the bedroom and walked out, her long brown hair trailing behind her back, her hips shaking from side to side.
I watched her go before I started my day.
I woke up earlier than I used to because the kids left for school an hour before I usually went to work. I could see them after they came home from school, but I didn’t want to miss breakfast every day.
They already grew up so damn fast.
Conway was twelve years old, excelling in school, with a creative streak his teachers constantly praised. He was already more independent than most children his age, doing his own chores around the house without me having to pester him like I did with Vanessa, who was two years younger than him.
When I was dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt, I made my way down to the bottom floor and stepped into the dining room. Vanessa had inherited my dark hair and eyes, her skin a beautiful olive oil color, reminding me of the tree outside where I asked her mother to marry me. She had her mother’s fire though—that was for damn sure. And my son…looked just like me. With every year that passed, his features became more mature, matching my hard jawline, my high cheekbones, my height. I loved my children equally, but Conway’s identical features gave me a sense of immortality because I would still be here even when I was gone.
Conway looked up when I came into the room. “Hey, Dad.”
I walked over to his chair and leaned down to kiss him on the head. “Morning, Con.”
Vanessa held up her fork that held a piece of pancake dripping with syrup. “Hey, Dad! You want some?”
“I’d love some.” I went over and took her fork so I could have the bite, even though I didn’t eat pancakes and syrup for breakfast. “Pretty good.” I set her fork down again then kissed her on the head. “You look nice, Tesoro.”
“Thanks, Dad.” She went back to eating.
I sat in the seat beside Button and took a drink of my black coffee, seeing my two kids eat their breakfasts and enjoy their glasses of orange juice. Lars slowly came into the room, carrying my breakfast, and he took a long time before he placed it in front of me. “Thank you, Lars.”
“You’re welcome, Mr. Barsetti.” He gave me a smile before he slowly walked out of the room, his old age more and more apparent with every passing year. He had to be in his seventies at this point though I didn’t know for sure.
When he was out of earshot, I spoke quietly to Button. “I’m not sure if he should be waiting on us anymore.”
Button kept her eyes on her food, eating the same thing the kids ate because she didn’t care for my egg white omelets and veggies. “I’ve talked to him about it before, but he’s not interested…”
Vanessa reached across the table to grab the syrup, but she didn’t realize she was about to knock over the orange juice decanter.
Button reacted quicker than I did because she had a sixth sense about this sort of thing. “Vanessa, pay attention.” She grabbed the decanter just before it tipped over, narrowly avoiding a disaster.
“Oh, sorry…” She got the syrup and poured it all over her food, even her eggs.
Conway finished everything on his plate then sat there quietly.
“Excited for school?” I asked him. “And take your elbows off the table.”
He pulled his arms off quickly. “I guess.”
“Any girls you like?” I asked.
Conway made a disgusted face. “Dad…”
“I liked girls at your age.” I drank from my coffee.
Button mumbled under her breath. “And I bet they were all a bunch of skanks…”
I turned to her, trying to suppress my grin. “You’re jealous of my twelve-year-old crush?”
She shrugged and buttered her toast.
“Dad?” Conway asked.
“Yes?” I turned back to him.
“Can we…can we get a dog?” he asked hesitantly, like he thought my answer would be no again.
Vanessa dropped her fork on the table, and it made a loud clank. “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god…can we? Please!”
I sighed because it was too early in the morning for this. “No.”
“Come on, why not?” Conway asked. “Last time you said we were too young to take care of him. Well, now we aren’t. We’re totally responsible.”
Vanessa nodded. “Totally.”
“The answer is still no.” I sliced into the omelet with my fork and took a few bites before I ate a piece of my roasted tomato.
Vanessa cupped her hands together like she was praying. “Please, please, please…”
“I said no.” I ignored their pleas and kept eating. “Don’t ask me again.”
They both turned quiet because they knew what would happen if they disobeyed me.
Conway bowed his head in sadness.
Vanessa started to push her food around with her fork, deflated.
Button turned to me. “Crow, I think they’re old enough…”
Both of the kids perked up.
I turned to her, giving her a cold look. “You’re really going to do this? Make me look like the bad guy?”
“You aren’t the bad guy.” She smiled as she gripped my thigh under the table. “I just think it would be good for the kids to have an animal around. Teach them some responsibility. Teach them how to respect animals.”
“Button, we already talked about this.” I set down my fork and turned to her. “If Lars trips, he could get really hurt.”
“And I have a solution for that.” She held up a finger. “We can put gates on this side of the dining table and the foyer, so the dog is out of the way while Lars is cooking. His quarters are on the other side of the house too, so he won’t have to worry about it.”
“Do you really want some ugly gates around the house?” The estate had belonged to my parents. It was the house I grew up in, and we’d made a lot of renovations when the kids were little. Now, it was in pristine shape with new hardwood floors, new paint on the wall, and a brand-new staircase. Having gates around the house would detract from all that.
She shrugged. “I guess the happiness from having a family pet would make up for the ugliness.”
“Dad, come on,” Conway whined. “You would be the coolest dad ever—”
“I am the coolest dad.” He had no idea how true that was considering the shit I’d lived through, the sacrifices I’d made to keep their mother safe. “I put a roof over your head, enrolled you in private school, and love you with all my heart. I don’t need to give you a damn dog. I’m already the father of the fu—”
“Crow.” Her hand went to the back of my neck, her touch calming me, bringing me back to earth so I would swallow my bad language and not spit it out at the breakfast table with my two kids who weren’t even teenagers yet.
I inhaled a deep breath and let it go.
Both of the kids turned quiet, knowing their father was angry.
I hated the look on their faces, the disappointment. I already gave them the world and wanted to give them the moon and the stars too. Everything was never enough, not to me. “I’ll think about it…”