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Parts of Me

Thirteen Years Old

Waking up to lips trailing from your neck to your chest is the best way to wake up. It certainly beats waking up to crying babies in your twenties.

“Dakota…” I groan quietly as she works her way down my chest. “Babe…”

“Happy…birthday…big boy.” She breathes between kisses as she reaches my lips again.

A smile breaks out onto my lips as her hands trail further and further down my body. “Jesus, woman.”

“Happy birthday baby,” she pouts, sitting up on my waist and glancing down at me. “My big forty year old boy.”

“Oh god, don’t say it.” I groan, covering my face with my forty-year-old hands. “It’s bad, I know.”

“Bad? It’s not bad! It’s hot, you’re gorgeous and fit, and certainly not an eyesore- what’s bad about that?” Dakota asks, running her hands up and down my chest.

“You think I’m gorgeous?” I ask, raising an eyebrow at her.

“Of course I do,” she smiles- god I love that smile. “I think you’re incredibly handsome and I don’t know how I ever lucked out with you.”

“Oh you’re kidding,” I scoff, shaking my head. “I’m the lucky one here; how I came across as dateable as a single father of two little monsters is beyond me.”

“God I can’t believe they were only six years old when we first started dating,” Dakota gasps, and I notice the little tears in her eyes. “My-your little boys are all grown up.”

My eyes widen at the slip and she blushes and looks away, attempting to kiss me as a way of distracting me. I pull back, unable to kiss with the massive grin on my face. “Did you say…your?”

“Shut up, I didn’t mean it I was getting sentimental.” She huffs, poking me in the chest.

“Aw D,” I chuckle, pulling her into my chest for a tight hug- okay the bare skin feeling is also incredibly nice. “You’re like a mom to them, you know that. You’re allowed to call them yours.”

“No I can’t,” she chuckles as she wipes her eyes. “Because they’re not mine.”

“Put it this way, they’re as much yours as they are Em’s.”

“John,” Dakota scolds, slapping my chest. “That’s not nice.”

“Oh come on,” I laugh, kissing her forehead. “I love that you’re so motherly and protective with them- they’ve really needed a woman like you in their lives and I’m so grateful you stepped up to be that mother figure for them.”

“I don’t want to come across as ‘step-mom’, I just want them to feel safe with me.” She mumbles, tracing the tattoos on my chest with her finger. I had two cactuses on my chest with each of the boys’ names under them. Fitting, considering they were named after my two favourite places in Arizona. There are some great great hiking trails in both of them, but I met Em in Mesa and we uh…conceived the boys in Phoenix. I don’t tell them that much though, I just tell them that Arizona is and will always be our home, and that when I used to take the boys out on tour, it’s like taking parts of home with me. They are my home, and if we ever relocated (unlikely) we’re still taking Arizona with us; through them and the memories we’ve had in this gorgeous state.

“They don’t look at you as a step mom, they just look at you as a mom.” I murmur as I take her hand in mine. “You mean so much to them.”

“Well they mean so much to me…” Dakota mumbles, “shit, that’s seven years babe.”

My eyes widen. Time really does fly past. No wonder Ma’s been nagging me to put a ring on D’s finger.
“I hope they’ve been a good seven years.” I murmur, looking up at her. One day I’ll ask, just not yet.

“They’ve been a wonderful seven years- thank you so much for letting me be a part of their lives. Thank you for sharing your family with me.” She smiles softly, leaning down and kissing me gently. “Happy birthday, John. You’re a great father and an even better partner. I couldn’t imagine spending this life with anyone else.”

“Thank you for spending it with me,” I whisper into her hair as she rests her face on my shoulder. “Thank you for becoming such a huge part of our lives.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she chuckles, biting on my skin gently. “Here’s to forty more, huh?”
She totally has marriage vibes.

“Here’s to forty more.”


It’s a lazy Sunday, spent mostly in bed before the boys wake up. It’s not my first birthday morning marathon in bed, but it most certainly is the best and it’s a little reassuring to know that everything is still working smoothly, as it should be.

By the time I stumble out of our bedroom, it’s almost eleven o’clock.

“Shit,” I mumble as I check my watch downstairs in the kitchen. I check my phone and scroll through the various birthday texts from friends and family. There’s even one from Emily and I respond to it quickly with a thanks. We’ve been getting on really well the past couple of years, having finally gotten through our shit- we even went to a few therapy sessions for ‘divorced’ couples. It was mainly to sort out anything we were too afraid to clear so we could get some proper closure. The boys still weren’t ready to meet her and she totally respects that; saying she’ll come into their lives whenever they want her too. Mesa and Phoenix are thirteen now, so they’re going through a lot of different changes not just physically, but mentally and emotionally too. They’re going to have mixed feelings about certain things and they’ve become quite independent from each other- that started when they were eleven. They’re developing into their own people and it’s interesting to see how their personalities are changing. Phoenix spends more time practising his music with his friend Jaxon (they’re still best buds, sort of like me and Halvo), while Mesa has a large group of friends with only a couple that he’s really close to. He likes going to shows and hanging out at the skate park; he’s a lot more social than his brother but it just shows their differences. Just because they’re twins, it doesn’t mean they’re going to be glued at the hip for life. I’m proud to see them growing into their own people.

It seems like we’re all moving on with our lives, especially Em.
She’s dating a guy who owns a bar in Scottsdale. I’ve met him twice before, and he’s a really good guy. He’s supportive of Em and they seem like a good match. They’re not interested in having kids together because he’s really understanding of her situation with the boys and he understands that it’s a lot for her to go through mentally and emotionally to have another baby. I honestly don’t think she’d be able to handle another pregnancy, despite being so much healthier mentally.

It was hard for me to accept that she too had moved on, I mean we had a different type of relationship compared to most exes. There wasn’t any hate anymore, for a long time there was hurt, but it didn’t hang around these days. I was able to move on and have a civil relationship with Em. I feel like sometimes it started to get on Dakota’s nerves, how much Emily and I got on, but if it did, she never said anything about it.

“What do you feel like for breakfast?”

My head shoots up as Dakota enters the room, almost making me jump.

“Shit, you scared me, darlin’.” I chuckle.

“Sorry,” she pouts, kissing me on the cheek as she heads to the fridge. “Birthday texts?”

“Pretty much,” I nod, “I’m scared; I have to squint more and more at my screen each year- it’s a sign darlin’. I’m getting old.”

Dakota lets out a laugh as she starts to make breakfast. “Oh darling, you’re not old. You look great for your age- hey if it’s anything to go by, look how good you’re your dad looks for his age. Your mom seems even more in love with him than before.”

“He’s got grey hair,” I point out. “Babe you have to tell me when I go grey- we need to get onto that shit as soon as possible.”

“Deal,” she nods, “but seriously, don’t freak out about turning forty. Just think of it as a new era- plus, Tim will always be a year older.”

“Well, when you put it like that I guess it’s not so bad,” I hum.

“So what are our plans today?” Dakota asks, turning away from the stove. She’s only in an old t-shirt and shorts, but she looks gorgeous. I don’t know how I got so lucky.

“Can we go back to bed?” I mumble as I make my way towards her, slipping my hands around her tiny waist. She looks so good for thirty-six. “Just you and me.”

“I can hear the boys moving upstairs- I wouldn’t if I were you, John.” Dakota warns as my hands start to travel south.

I sigh and pull away. “It’s even worse than when they were younger and would run into the bathroom without knocking.” I laugh, shaking my head. “God I can’t believe they’re thirteen- it’s like just yesterday they were my three years old.”

“Aw, are you getting emotional?” Dakota coos, rubbing my chest.

“They’re just…not little anymore- it’s horrible.” I groan, pulling a hand through my hair. “It’s the worst thing because I’m not the coolest person in their lives anymore, they’ve discovered other bands besides mine and it’s only going to get worse as they get older.”

“Don’t think like that! They’re always going to need you! No matter how old they are, babe.” Dakota insists as she turns back to the frypan in front of her. “I think this is just the old man in you.”

“You said I didn’t look old!” I gasp dramatically, wrapping my arms around her and nipping at her neck.

“I didn’t mean it!” She giggles, trying to fight me away. “John! John I’m near the stove!”

“I guess I’ll just have to punish you later on, than.” I smirk in her ear, catching those goose bumps on her arms.

“The boys are coming, shh,” she hisses, shoving me off of her. I can’t help but laugh as I return to the coffee machine to make us both a coffee.

Mesa and Phoenix trail downstairs, looking more tired than they did before going to bed last night.

“Wow. I actually have zombies for kids.” I chuckle, “Do you guys need coffee too?”

“Yeah,” Phoenix whines with a nod as they climb into the seats at the kitchen bench.

“Give him a decaf.” Dakota suggests.

“What about you, Mes?” I offer, knowing I really shouldn’t be giving my kids coffee. I mean; they could be doing a whole lot worse.

“I’ll have a green tea.” Mesa yawns.

“I think you’re older than me.” I tease as I make them their drinks.

“Nope you’re still- oh happy birthday!” Phoenix pipes up, once coming to the realisation that I have aged, as you do on a yearly basis.

“Happy birthday old man!” Mesa grins.

“Thanks, I’m feeling the love.” I chuckle, as I stir Mesa’s tea for him. He likes it with a half teaspoon of sugar, because he’s as picky as I am.

“How does it feel to officially be ‘old’?” Mesa smirks as I place his tea in front of him. He gives me a hug anyway, followed by Phoenix, who kisses my cheek. He’s always been the more affectionate of the two, unlike Mesa.

“Oh it feels fabulous, kid,” I scoff, smacking him over the head. “I’m not that old- Grandpa is older than me!” I state.

“Yeah but grandparents are always old. You used to be young when we were little, but after all these years, we’re finally starting to see you get on.” Mesa states.

“Mes, give your dad a break.” Dakota chuckles as she turns away from the stove with a stack of pancakes. They held two candles reading ‘25’ and I couldn’t help but laugh. The boys are hysterical over it while Dakota gives me a sweet grin.

“This is why I love you.” I laugh, walking around the bench and kissing her softly. “You understand me.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, I heard it was your twenty fifth.” She teases, poking my chest. “You don’t look a day over twenty one, blow out your candles.”

I take a deep breath and lean over the pancakes, blowing them out in one breath. The three of them clap and start singing happy birthday; and like the sap I’ve turned into, I can’t stop smiling as I look at them. Phoenix has his phone shoved in his face, capturing every last minute, while Mesa is smirking at how ridiculous I probably look. Dakota rubs my back and kisses my cheek as they finish the song with a few cheers and I can’t be happier about sending the morning with the people I love. Over the past thirteen years they’ve all become such huge parts of my life and I can’t believe that making it to forty, I’d feel so fulfilled with my life. It really is an insane feeling; to feel this whole after feeling so empty for so many years. I guess I just never saw how well we all fit together.

Later on in the day, I drop Phoenix off at Pat’s for his weekend drum lesson, before heading to Eric’s with Dakota. Phoenix is working towards a scholarship for the high school the boys will be going to next year. The scholarship is to get into the incredible music program they offer, and his best friend Jaxon is applying too. They’ve bonded really well over music and it sort of reminds me of Halvo and myself at their age and I have a feeling that they’ll be in each other’s lives for a long time coming.
As for Mesa, he has no idea what he wants to do, which is perfectly fine at his age, but he doesn’t really apply himself to anything. He’s great at piano, but he’s not interested in having a career in music. He’s more social than academic, which has me worried for his high school career.

Anyway, I leave it down to him being a teenager for now and let him decide what he wants to do. After breakfast he decides to go back to bed once the boys give me their present. I don’t really expect anything from them, but they give me a jar of dirt. Well, that’s what I thought it was at the start, but it turns out when I was playing a show in California two weeks ago, Dakota drove to Mesa and Phoenix and they went for hikes to collect the dirt from the highest peak in each of the two towns, putting it in a jar along with some from right here, our home. It meant a lot more than they’ll ever know, and I one day hope they’ll want to do something like this for their mom.
They still weren’t in the right mindset to meet her. It’ll happen one day though, I can feel it.

“Alright, text me when you’re finished.” I nod to Phoenix as he gets out of the car. “Be good for your uncle.”

“I always am!” Phoenix whines before heading up the driveway to Pat and Layla’s front door.

“Love you!” I call out. Phoenix waves back and I drive off, looking over at Dakota. “He’s getting really good at the drums, D. He’s going to ace the exam.”

“I hope so, he’s worked hard,” Dakota nods positively, “he just gets nervous in test situations, is all.”

“I know, but I think the environment of the drums will calm him down a little. He’s always been an anxious kid, though.”

Dakota nods in agreement. “Definitely a lot more shy than Mesa.”

“I hope he’s gonna be okay in high school next year.” I mumble.

“I’m sure he’ll be just fine, babe. He’ll have Jaxon- and his brother. No matter how different they are or how old they are, they’ll always have each other’s backs.” Dakota assures, giving me a reassuring smile.
It reassures me a little, but I’m still somewhat nervous about sending them off to high school next year, I guess, as any parent would be. I know that I didn’t enjoy my high school experience so I only hope it’s changed since I spent my years there.

We finally make it to Eric and Leah’s and walk up to the front door, knocking and then standing back.

“You shouldn’t feel so worried, babe. You know the boys are going to be just fine.” Dakota chuckles, kissing my cheek.

The door swings open and eight-year-old Daisy Halvorsen greets us.

“Happy birthday Uncle John!” She beams, tackling me with a hug in a way that her father still does.

“Hey kiddo,” I chuckle, giving her a tight hug back. “How are you darlin’?”

“Good!” She beams, before tugging my hand to follow her inside.

I look over my shoulder at Dakota, who hides a laugh behind her hand. She thinks it’s ‘adorable’ when I’m around all the little girls.

“Hey man! Happy birthday!” Eric hollers as he turns around to face us, the latest addition to his family wriggling in his arms.

“Eric, not so loud around the baby!” Leah hisses as she comes in, greeting both Dakota and myself with a hug. “Happy birthday, John.”

“Thank you,” I chuckle, kissing her cheek. “Busy morning?”

“Any morning with Luka is a busy morning.” Leah muses as she tends to the coffee machine.

“He’s not that bad,” Eric pouts, still entranced by his son. “Oh Johnoh, I’ve got something for you in the
study, c’mon.”

“It’s about time, man. I’ve only been here five minutes.” I joke as I throw an arm around him, following him out of the room while Dakota gets busy talking with Leah.

“Well you know, forty takes it out of you.” Eric chuckles as he rocks Luka in his arms. He’s only a couple months old but he’s taken on his parent’s features quickly, looking just like a wonderful combination of the both of them.

“I don’t know how you’re doing it with a newborn, man.” I state, still amazed at how attentive he’s been to his kids.

“I was freaking out when I realised I’d be forty by the time he was born but now…I don’t even care man, he’s everything.” Eric murmurs, looking down at his son lovingly in his arms.

Eric passes him to me before opening one of his draws in his desk. He produces now, occasionally getting out there and playing with a few 8123 artists that need the touring band. Leah’s not keen on him being away with the kids so young, so it’s only once every now and then that he’ll go on tour. He’s happy producing though; he gets to spend the time with his family that he’d miss out on if he were touring.

I take Luka in my arms and gaze down at him. He really is the perfect baby. He looks up at me through his father’s eyes and it brings a smile to my lips. “Who’s a perfect little boy, huh? You are, Luka.” I coo, playing with his tiny hand.

“If Leah hears you talking like that she’ll cut your balls off, man. She’s had it with my baby talk.” Eric chuckles, his smile not stretching far enough to convince me.

“Are you guys okay?” I ask carefully as we stand in his office.

Eric shrugs and nods as he puts a couple records down on the desk, along with a small box that I take are for me making it to forty. “We have our troubles, but we’re doing okay.” He admits, rubbing his jaw. His eyes are trained on his son but there’s something else in them that I can’t quite place.

I look up at him as I straighten my posture. “Talk to me.”

He shrugs again and waves it off. “It’s not a big deal. It’s just been hectic…ever since he was born.”

“I thought you guys got through that shit,” I frown in confusion, “you were nervous about having a baby at this age, but I thought you got over that.”

Sitting on the edge of his desk, he looks down at his shoes. “I thought having a baby would fix things, dude. It’s only made us more distant and I can’t find a way to get back to how we used to be.”
My heart stings for the little guy in my arms. I look down at him, seeing him so oblivious to everything going on around him breaks my heart.

“We weren’t even trying for a baby but she was so happy when she found out, but that excitement turned into dread and regret as the months passed. I don’t think she has post-partum depression, but sometimes I feel like she pays more attention to Daisy, y’know? Like she has some sort of resentment to this bub because he was unplanned. And it shouldn’t be like that.” Eric coughs, trying to cover any sign of weakness.

“You love your kids equally man, I know you both do,” I tell him quietly as I sit beside him. “That’s not true.”

“I know Leah loves him, of course she does, but we put too much on him, man. We put too much on him thinking he was going to fix our marriage and now we’re back to square one with the stress and trouble of another child.” Eric sighs, looking at his son. “He shouldn’t have to go through this. I’m a horrible person for thinking of my wife like that, I know, but I just don’t know what’s going through her head.”

“He’s a baby, he doesn’t know what you’re saying,” I mumble, caressing Luka’s little cheek. “I think you just need to sit down and talk it all out with her, man. If you need us to take the kids for the night we can do that.” I offer supportively. “Find out what she wants.”

“I want to, but I’m scared we want different things now,” He confesses quietly, “I know you didn’t seen it coming when Em left you, but I feel like I can see it coming.”

I frown, shaking my head. “No way. Leah’s not going to leave you, bud. She’s not like that. She’s got too much to fight for, your family means too much to her- she loves her kids.” I hiss, trying to keep my voice down.

“She hasn’t slept in our bed for a week, man,” Eric states, his voice wavering on vulnerable. “I can’t raise these guys on my own- you know how close me and Daisy used to be?”

I remember fondly of how Daisy would always follow her old man around at get togethers and group outings; she’s a typical daddy’s girl and he loves every second of it.

“She hardly speaks to me on a daily basis unless she needs something.” Eric scoffs. “She follows her mom around and has all these secrets with her that I don’t know about.”

“I’m sure it’s just a stage, dude.” I try to comfort him, but it’s hard to do that when things with Dakota and myself are going so well. I hate seeing him like this when I know how much he puts into his family; he really does worship them but by the sounds of it Leah doesn’t see it. “Kids are crazy like that.”

“I don’t think it is. The other day, she called me Eric.”

I don’t know what else to tell him so I just put my arm around his shoulders and sit quietly with him. “Look at this kid, man. Look at him,” I mumble, looking down at the little bundle of joy my best friend has lovingly created. He’s my godson so I might be a little biased, but he is perfection. “He needs you.
He needs his family and it’s up to you to keep it together for him. I know it’s hard but trust me; it’s possible. Who had any faith in me that I’d raise two kids on my own for ten years, huh? I sure as hell didn’t, but now I’ve got two relatively normal thirteen year olds and a stable relationship. You’re married, with a gorgeous little girl and a newborn. You’ve got a good life, Halvorsen. Don’t let it slip away.”

Eric lets out a shaking breath, running his hands over his face. “You’re right. Fuck, I need to get on top of this. I’m sick of Leah being so distant from me. I’m the one that’s trying to fix things and it’s about time she fucking made an effort.” He mutters, his sadness turning to anger.

“Keep it calm man,” I remind him, “you don’t want to end up divorced.”

“I just need a break from it all.” He sighs, taking Luka back into his arms. “Huh bub? You were supposed to fix my marriage, not make it worse.” He coos, kissing Luka’s nose. Luka giggles and reaches out for his father. “I’m just kidding. I still love you.” He murmurs, holding him to his chest in silence for a few seconds. “Oh there’s your present, man. Happy birthday you old perv.”

“Thanks,” I say with a laugh as I look at the records. “I appreciate it.”

“I know you don’t have those records,” he nods, looking up from his son, “and there’s a little something in there from Leah.”

I open the box to find a simple silver chain. It’s simplistic but it’s classy, and I love it. “Wow that’s sweet, man.”

“Yeah she thought you’d like that,” Eric nods, “I guess she’s not the biggest bitch in the world.”

I send him a look. “Dude, language around the baby.”

“That’s okay, he’s gonna be just as messed up as his daddy, we’re getting him started early.” Eric coos to Luka. “Hmm? Mama said so, didn’t she?”

My smile falters against my lips. “I didn’t realise it was that bad.”

Eric shrugs, his lips against Luka’s cheek. He’s really attached to that little guy, which only seems to reinforce the division between Leah and Eric and their kids. “I kind of think she blames me for feeling the way she does. Maybe she’s realised I’m not good enough for her. I don’t know how I got away with it for so long- daddy’s a big loser, isn’t he bub?” Eric frowns at his son. “God I hope you don’t end up like me.”

“Dude,” I hum, watching my best friend as his expression softens. He’s getting weaker as the conversation goes on and it’s only dawning on me how tough his marriage is getting for him. I never imagined Eric and Leah to go through this because they’ve always seemed so kept-together, so in love.
But I guess it is the reality of a lot of families. As you get older you can fall into a routine and lose that connection with your spouse, I get that. It happened with my parents ten years ago and my father let me in on it, he told me what to do and what not to do if I find myself in the same position. I think he’d want me to share that knowledge with the guy I’ve been calling my brother for the past thirty plus years.

“You have to decide if it’s something you want to fight for,” I begin, taking Luka from his eyes because I can see that he needs it. Eric falls into his chair behind his desk while I sit on the edge of it.

“Of course I want to fight for it,” He mumbles, looking at his son. “It’s more than just us now and we’re getting lost in that. I want to fight for my family and I want to fight for my wife.”

“Then f-u-c-k-i-n-g do it, bro. You don’t have to lose them.”

By the time Eric and I finish our conversation, its almost late afternoon and Phoenix will be calling to be picked up. I follow Eric into the kitchen where the girls are talking over a glass of wine, but they go noticeably quiet when we enter the room.

I watch as Daisy looks up at her father then back down to her colouring book. I see what he means about that- she used to run to Eric every time he entered the room, like he’d been gone for months even if he was gone for just minutes. It really is sad.

“Hey darlin, we need to get going. Gotta pick up Phe.” I nod.

“Okay,” Dakota smiles, standing from the bench and placing her empty glass in the sink. “Where’s my little Luka? I’ve hardly seen the little guy.” She coos as she makes her way to Eric.

“He’s been missing his Aunt Dakota,” Eric chuckles as he passes him over. Just the mention of the kid gets him all lit up, lifting his mood instantly.

“Gosh, he’s precious,” Dakota gushes, holding the little guy ever so delicately.

I glance over at Leah curiously to see her watching intently, biting her lip with a desire in her eyes. She looks at Eric longingly like they’re worlds apart. I’m so glad I no longer feel that for Emily but it sucks to see it happening with my best friends.

“C’mon darlin’, we’re never gonna get out of here if you’ve got him in your arms,” I chuckle, placing a hand on her shoulder.

Dakota pouts up at me. “Do you think they’ll notice if we take him home?” She whispers loudly.

“I think so,” I whisper back with a laugh. “Leah, you better take the kid before she does.”

“Unfortunately this one’s not for sale.” Leah jokes as Dakota hands him over to her. I don’t know what Eric is talking about; Leah looks smitten over their son. Of course there’s the obvious nerves I can sense when Leah takes on holding Luka, but I was exactly the same with the boys for months after they were born- I was so scared I was going to drop or hurt one of them, that I tried to put off holding them as much as I could. Now, I wish I could get those days back and hold them like I used to when I give them their milk. Oh how time flies.

As we all head towards the front door, it occurs to me the problem between the two. It’s not their kids; it has nothing to do with the kids. The problem is them.

I pull Eric aside as the girls walk out to the car. “Hey man,”

“Yeah?” Eric hums, unable to take his eyes from his family.

“Luka was never the problem; you guys are putting it on him because you don’t want to admit that the problem is you guys. The kids play no part; you have to relight everything between you two- it’s why you’re so distant. Don’t fall into a routine, man. Keep it fresh; otherwise you end up loving her because you feel like you have to. Love will not be received if it’s demanded.”

He gives me a hug as we stop by the car. “When did you get so fucking wise?” He chuckles in my ear.

“You’re my best friend, you’ve been watching my shit for the past thirty odd years; don’t think I haven’t been doing the same for you.”

“I love you, you son of a bitch.”

I let out a laugh, pulling away and slapping him on the back. “Love you too old man. I’ll see you later- make sure you get on top of it, alright?”

“I’ll make love to her the second the kids are asleep.” He tells me reassuringly, his shit-eating grin wide across his face. In Halvo-talk that means he’s going to fix his marriage, which for me, means that I’ve done my job.

We say our goodbyes before climbing in and rolling down the road, on our way to pick up my younger son.

“What was your little love fest about?” Dakota asks inquisitively.

“Oh nothing, my boy just needed a little bit of help.” I say, shrugging it off nonchalantly.

“Right, right,” Dakota nods, smiling as she looks out the window. “Little Luka is a beauty. Did you see those cheeks?”

“I did,” I chuckle as I focus on the road. “Makes me miss the boys being so little like that.” I admit.

“I think you turning forty has brought out your emotional side, Mr.” Dakota teases lovingly as she rubs my arm. “I don’t know, I guess it just makes you think about having a baby at this age, like they did.”

“Oh god, I couldn’t handle that.” I chuckle, shaking my head quickly. “No way could I ever have another kid.”

“I wish I’d seen you with them when they were babies, that would have been adorable,” she coos, turning to be and running her hand through my hair. “I would have loved to have seen that.”

“Oh I’m sure,” I scoff, “I was a twenty-something-year-old mess, darlin’. I had constant bedhead and smelled of puke and warm milk.”

“You did good with the breastfeeding; the boys still drink a glass of milk every night.” Dakota teases, poking me in the side. “I remember when the boys were six, in the first few months after I met them and I was staying the night, I watched from the doorway as you put them to bed, sitting with each of them to give them their milk because it settled their stomachs and helped them sleep. I thought the image was beautiful.”

“Well just picture that but instead of two six-year-olds, picture two three-month-old babies you can hardly tell apart.” I laugh, shaking my head. “Never again, they were too much work.”

“I think you’ve done a great job.” Dakota smiles quietly as she looks back onto the open road ahead of us.

“So, why all the baby talk?” I ask curiously, wondering if she has a reason for the conversation.

She shrugs lightly, playing with my hand between us. “I don’t know, it’s been on my mind. We tell each other everything, so I figured I’d share.” She states simply.

Oh god. Oh no-no she can’t be asking what I think she’s asking.

“I-I, uh, babe-“

How do I say it?

“Hmm?” She murmurs, looking over at me curiously. “What?”

“D-do you, d’you want one?” I ask, keeping my eyes firmly on the road.

“Do I want one what?” Dakota asks, confused.

“A baby.”

Her eyes widen, as surprised as I am. “A baby? Oh my gosh- John, no that’s not what I was getting at!”

A deep sigh of relief escapes my lips. “Oh thank god.”

“I mean of course I’ve thought about having your babies but I don’t think I’d actually want to go through childbirth- plus with the twins it’s like I got to skip all of that but I got to be there for the really good parts, y’know?” She rushes out all at once. God she’s so cute.

“I’m slightly offended that you won’t go through childbirth for me.” I tease, sending her a smirk.

“Oh my god if that’s what you got from that-“

“I’m kidding,” I chuckle, reaching between us to hold her hand. “I guess we had to talk about it one day- but are you sure you don’t mind not having kids? It’s a big thing to miss out on.” I state, knowing it’s hard to understand until you really go through it.

“I haven’t missed out, John,” Dakota assures me with a smile. “This is how it was meant to be.”

I bring her knuckles to my lips, a smile tugging on my face. “I love you, darlin’.”

“Happy birthday, love.”

That night when we’re all home, the three of them make me dinner and insist I find something else to do. I give ma a call so she can cry over how old I am and how I’m no longer her baby anymore. I don’t point out the fact that I haven’t been her baby in quite sometime. I talk with my old man and he tells me his plans on taking me out to play some golf later on during the week.
Emily gives me a call too, one I prefer to take outside in case Dakota overhears. It’s not that I’ve got anything to hide from her; I just know it’ll be easier if she doesn’t know. We share some old memories and a few laughs before I catch her up on how the boys are doing and how everyone else is going. She hasn’t exactly found her place within the group since coming back into my life and it’s probably for the better. I think she sees some of the girls every now and then, but that’s it. Emily has her own life and it was hard to get used to that at the start but now it’s getting a lot easier.
When I’m done with my phone calls, I take a seat on the edge of the pool in the backyard, letting my feet find the water.


I look up as Mesa sits beside me. “Hey kid. What’s up?”

“Nothing,” he shrugs, dipping his feet into the water. “Have you had a good birthday?”

I nod, putting an arm around him. “I have, bud. Thanks for everything today- the baseball game this afternoon was great.”

“I thought you’d like that,” Mesa nods, his eyes lost within the blue in front of us. “You okay?” I ask softly, looking down at him.

He nods again, which doesn’t offer me too much reassurance. “Oh yeah, I’m good. I just…want you to know that me and Phe really appreciate everything you do for us- everything you’ve done for us our whole lives.”

“You don’t have to thank me,” I chuckle, rubbing his back. “Why wouldn’t I? I’m your dad.”

“Yeah, but,” he begins firmly, “not everybody’s parents stay and you did and you raised us by yourself and-“ he lets out a deep breath, taking me off guard. “You just…we appreciate it, okay?”

I nod, not sure of what to say. I give him a tight hug. “Don’t you worry about me not staying, kid.”

“I know.” He mumbles, looking up at the sky. “I just wanted you to know how I felt.”

“I appreciate that.” I tell him.

“Oh, also, Phoenix ruined the dinner so we’re ordering pizza instead.” Mesa pipes up, jumping up from his spot beside me. “I have to go help get the smell out of the kitchen.”

“Did you want some help?” I chuckle, dying to do something for them.

“No! We’re good.” He assures me with a wide smile. “We’ll be ready soon.”

“Got it.” I laugh, waving him off as he runs back into the house, yelling at his younger brother. I hear Dakota scold the boys for yelling at each other even though she’s doing the same thing and I can’t help but smile. I never thought I’d love having a family so much.

I look at the water in front of me and it suddenly seems so much more inviting now that I’m at peace with how things are around me. My life is really, really good.

If you never jump you’ll never know, I guess.

Without a second thought I slip off the edge of the pool and down to the bottom, immersing myself in the cool water. Slowly I sink down to the bottom where I sit peacefully for a few seconds, thinking over every important part of my life and how grateful I am to have gotten this far. Not a lot of people do, and I’m one of the lucky ones.

I open my eyes and smile below the water, no longer dreading forty.

I’m ready to hit the surface.
♠ ♠ ♠
Another chapter. Got almost zero response on the last chapter and I'm not really sure if anyone's digging it anymore. Let me know what you think, if you still want to read this. I could work on other stuff instead of writing something that's not getting much interest. I WANT TO KNOW WHAT YA'LL THINk, WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE!
x IG