When I walked in the door that evening, dinner had just been placed on the table. I purposely took my time at the winery because I didn’t want to come home and face my wife, pretend everything was fine when it wasn’t fine at all.
Button sat at the table with the kids across from her, and when I stepped into the room, her eyes lit up the exact same way they did every day for the last twelve years, like she’d been waiting for me to come home since the second I left for work in the morning. She rose to her feet and kissed me. “How was your day?”
“Good.” I gave her a quick one-arm hug before I walked behind the kids and kissed each one of them on the head. “What did you learn at school today?”
Conway shrugged. “That school is stupid.”
Vanessa chuckled. “It’s only stupid to you because you’re stupid…”
“Vanessa.” Button narrowed her eyes on our daughter’s face, discipling her with just the use of her name.
Vanessa grabbed her fork and started to eat, still cocking that attitude.
Lars brought the main courses to the table then turned to return to the kitchen.
“Lars, why don’t you join us?”
He turned back around and looked at me. “I’m still on the job, sir—”
“It’s Crow now. And join us.”
Button pulled out the chair for him. “Come on, take a seat.”
Lars hesitated before he lowered himself to the chair at the head of the table and looked at his plate. He seemed out of place for a moment, but then he grabbed his fork and smiled. His gaze moved to Conway and Vanessa, his eyes filled with affection. “How was school, Conway?”
“Stupid,” he said before he took a bite of his food.
“I didn’t like school either,” Lars said. “Never have and never will.”
Conway smiled then kept eating.
Button moved her hand to my thigh under the table. “Should we tell them?”
I had so much other shit on my mind right now that I didn’t care about the damn dog, but I wanted to live in this dream state for as long as possible before it was gone.
“Tell us what?” Vanessa asked.
“Yeah?” Conway asked.
Since they overheard what Button had said, I was put on the spot.
Vanessa figured it out quickly because she was intuitive and smart. She dropped her fork and cupped her mouth with both hands.
The happiness on her face suddenly made me hate the situation less.
Conway looked at her, slightly confused, but then he caught on. “Holy shit, we’re getting a—”
“What did you just say?” Button snapped.
Conway shut his mouth.
“We’re really getting a dog?” Vanessa asked. “We’re getting a puppy?”
I gave a slight nod.
Vanessa turned to her brother, and they looked at each other with mutual excitement, being allies instantly.
There was no greater joy than making your kid happy. It was like a drug that made you addicted, and you lived for the next hit. My job was to be a disciplinarian and teach them to be good people, not spoiled brats who got whatever they wanted, and it was a fine line to cross. But having a dog around would probably teach them a few things, like responsibility and gentleness.
“Thank you, Daddy!” Vanessa turned back to me, her smile so wide that she’d never looked cuter.
Button smiled too, like she lived for these moments as much as I did.
“Thanks, Dad,” Conway said. “When are we getting one?”
“We can take a trip to Florence on Saturday,” I said. “We’ll go to the shelter and pick one out.”
“What kind of dog should we get?” Vanessa said. “A big one or a little one?”
“Not a little one,” Conway said. “What about a lab?”
“Or a German Shepard,” Button suggested.
“A golden retriever,” Vanessa said. “Oh, I don’t care…I’ll be happy with anything.”
“Then we’ll go on Saturday and see what they have.” I grabbed my fork and continued eating.
The kids continued to talk about it, more interested in the dog than their food so they hardly ate anything. They included Lars in the conversation, asking him what kind of dogs he liked, and that made me happy to see them bring Lars into the conversation without me having to tell them to do so.
Button squeezed my thigh again then leaned in close to me so she could whisper in my ear. “Thank you. I’ll make sure to show my appreciation later tonight…” She kissed my neck and pulled away.
My hand rested on her shoulder then moved to the back of her neck, lightly playing with her hair as I looked at her, our children’s excited voices filling the dining room, filling the house with beautiful echoes that would still be there even when they left the house. My life was once a sad story, but she somehow turned it into one full of love and so much more. Once in a while, I wished my sister was still there to experience it, to sit at the table with Cane during family holidays, but my daughter was her legacy, another Vanessa at the table to make up for what we lost. My family had brought me more happiness than all the money I’d accumulated in my lifetime, more money than I could ever spend, more than I could even leave my children. It meant nothing.
But this…meant everything.