“Bix is a pirate!” Josie exclaims in delight as Brynna pulls the black eye patch over Bix’s bad eye and ties a red bandana around his head. His eyebrows both raise up and down as he looks between Bryn and myself, wondering what in the world he’s getting himself into.
“Really, Bryn, he’s a war hero and you’re dressing him up like a pirate?” I slip my arms around her waist as she stands, rest my hands over her ever-growing belly, and bury my face in her neck, inhaling her sweet scent.
“He’s adorable like this, Montgomery,” she chuckles and adjusts her witches hat on her head as she pulls away from me. “And you are very handsome.”
“I don’t know why I’m wearing this,” I grumble and glance down at my Navy dress uniform.
“Because it’s hot, sailor,” Bryn grins. “And the girls begged, and they have you wrapped around their little fingers.”
I grin down at her, gliding my thumb down her jawline. Fuck yes, they have me wrapped around their fingers. All three of them do.
“Let’s go trick-or-treating!” Maddie exclaims excitedly, jumping up and down in her green and blue cheerleader uniform. Both Josie and Maddie chose to go as Seahawks cheerleaders this year. Bryn put their long dark hair up in high ponytails and put pink goop on their lips, making them look far older than I’m comfortable with.
“They don’t need the fucking makeup,” I growl at Bryn.
“It’s Halloween, Caleb,” she smirks. “I don’t even want to think about how you’re going to be when they’re teenagers.”
Just the thought sends me into a panic attack that has absolutely nothing to do with my PTSD.
I’ll kill any teenage fucker who dares look at them.
“Where are we heading first?” Bryn asks as we all pile into our new minivan. I never thought I’d see the day that I’d drive a fucking minivan, but with the twins, another on the way, and Bix, we needed the space.
“Might as well hit up Nat and Luke first,” I reply and set off down the street to Nat and Luke’s place.
“I hope I get lots of peanut butter cups tonight,” Maddie informs us.
“I’m praying for some Almond Joy,” Brynna whispers next to me and rubs her belly.
“Gonna raid the girls’ candy tonight?” I ask with a smile.
“Hell yes. As soon as they go to sleep, I’m so digging into those plastic pumpkins.”
I pull up to Luke and Nat’s Alki Beach home, and the girls and Bix are out of their seats and running up to Luke’s door before I even cut the engine.
“I think they’re excited,” I laugh as Brynna and I follow our girls.
“Trick or Treat!” the girls yell in unison as Natalie pulls the door open, a beautiful smile spread over her face.
“Oh, wait until Uncle Will sees you guys later! You both look so adorable!”
“Maddie!” Livie exclaims as she claps her hands from her perch on Luke’s arm. She’s dressed as a little ladybug, her pixie face bright with wonder at the costumes we’re wearing.
“No costumes for you guys?” I ask with a raised brow.
“It took me two hours just to talk Liv into wearing hers,” Natalie replies with a sigh. “I’m good.”
Luke kisses Nat’s cheek and runs his hand down her dark hair. “Are you feeling okay?” he murmurs.
“I’m fine,” Nat responds and rubs her own round belly.
Our family is full of knocked up women.
My parents couldn’t be more excited.
“I don’t think your treats will fit in your pumpkins,” Luke informs my girls with a sober face. “So maybe I shouldn’t give them to you.”
“Please! Please!” They jump up and down, giggling, making Liv laugh with them.
“I don’t know. What do you think?” he asks Nat.
“Oh put them out of their misery already,” she laughs and reaches inside for two big black gift bags and hands one to each of them, then throws a treat for Bix, which he catches out of the air and crunches on happily.
“You didn’t have to buy them gifts,” Brynna scolds them.
“They’re my nieces. I can do whatever I want,” Natalie replies with a smug smile. Brynna immediately tears up and sends me a helpless gaze. I just pull her to me and kiss her forehead as the girls dig into their goodie bags.
“Peanut butter cups!” Maddie exclaims.
“Jellybeans!” Josie bellows. “And American Girl outfits for our dolls!”
“Holy shit,” I mutter and sigh. “Really?”
“Don’t judge me,” Natalie replies haughtily. “I like to shop.”
“Thank you so much,” Maddie clings to Luke’s legs as Josie hugs Natalie tight. Luke squats with Liv still in his arms and gives the girls each a hug, then pulls gently on their ponytails.
“You’re welcome. Go have fun tonight.”
“We will!” The girls immediately turn and run back for the van, Bix on their heels.
“Thank you,” Brynna murmurs before we join the girls and continue on our journey to the next house. Because our neighborhood isn’t great for trick or treating, with all of the gated homes with long driveways, and I can’t handle a packed mall full of thousands of screaming kids and their parents, I decided to drive the girls to each house in the family.
They’ll end up with just as much candy, if not more, than if we’d gone through a busy neighborhood.
“Jules and Nate’s apartment?” Brynna asks with a raised brow. “We’re going to pay for parking in downtown Seattle just so the girls can get some fun sized Snickers?”
“Jules would kill me if we didn’t bring the girls by,” I inform her. We ride the elevator to my sister’s floor and Josie rings the doorbell.
“Aaaaaarrrrrgghhhh!” Nate howls as he flings the door open and rushes at the girls, pulling them both into his arms and tickling them mercilessly. “You dare ring my bell?”
“Trick or treat, Uncle Nate!” Josie laughs and struggles to get away. “Daddy! Help!”
“You’re on your own, jellybean.”
“For the love of God, ace, you’ll make them pee on themselves,” Jules scolds him from within the apartment. She has black cat ears on her head and a wide grin on her pretty face. “You two are gorgeous!”
Jules hands them each black gift bags, but also feeds large handfuls of candy into their pumpkins.
“What’s with the gifts?” I ask. “That makes both you and Nat.”
“We did it for the twins and Sophie,” Jules replies. “Everyone else just gets candy.”
“More outfits for our dolls!” Maddie exclaims and jumps up and down. “Thank you!”
“You’re welcome, sweetie,” Jules replies.
More hugs are handed out before we journey back downstairs.
We drive to Luke’s parents, my parents and Bryn’s parents, where the girls have amassed more candy than I’ve seen in my entire life, and more accessories for their American Girl dolls.
Despite also living in an exclusive, gated community, Will’s neighborhood is a beacon to trick or treaters. The whole neighborhood gets into the spirit of the holiday, decorating their homes and handing out candy to hundreds of kids each year.
Will doesn’t typically participate, but because Halloween fell on a weekday this year, Meg talked him into it.
“I can’t wait to see what they did,” Brynna whispers to me. “She had so much fun planning.”
“Just wait,” I murmur. Matt and I came to help yesterday and it’s a good thing because it was an all day project.
I park near the end of the driveway and we all clamor out of the van, trekking up to the large house my brother lives in with his beautiful fiancé.
The girls and Bix all run ahead. I clasp Bryn’s hand in mine and pull her against me.
“How are you feeling?” I ask as we stop on the paved driveway in the shadows of the trees that line the drive and cup her face in my hands.
“We’re fine,” she replies, grinning up at me. “I’m glad we did it this way. I never would have survived walking through a whole neighborhood.”
“I can carry you,” I offer. Anything to get her in my arms.
“I’m not an invalid, Caleb.”
“Maybe I just want to carry you,” I reply with a grin and lean in to kiss her soft lips. She sighs and leans against me, wraps her arms around my neck, and I sink into her, absorbed in the taste of her, her scent.
Her body has become softer with her pregnancy, and I can’t keep my hands off her.
As if I could keep my hands off her before we got pregnant.
Suddenly, the girls both scream, Bix is barking madly, and I pull away from Brynna and sprint the rest of the driveway.
Who is hurting my babies?
But I stop when I get to the front porch and begin to laugh.
Will, Matt and Leo are dressed as zombies, their makeup impeccable, threatening to eat Maddie and Josie’s brains.
“No! You can’t eat my brains!”
The guys don’t respond, they just growl and chase the girls around the yard, making them laugh and scream at the same time. Bix is jumping and barking, enjoying the game.
Sam and Meg are dressed as humans who have been eaten by the zombies, their flesh torn from their bodies. The porch light has been replaced with a black bulb. There are orange lights strung up around the porch, along with fake spider webs and a fog machine is throwing whisps of fog along the porch and out into the yard.
Speaking of the yard, there are crooked headstones and glowing eyes scattered about the lawn.
It’s fucking awesome.
“Who did your makeup?” Brynna asks as she joins us, laughing as the guys continue to chase Maddie and Josie around the yard.
“Mommy! Daddy!” Maddie yells. “They want to eat our brains!”
“A friend of Leo’s who does makeup for a living,” Sam replies, grinning as she watches my brothers and Leo terrorize my kids.
“What are they, twelve?” I growl.
“They’re having fun,” Brynna responds and leans in to plant a sweet kiss on my shoulder. “And this will tire them out so they’ll go to bed when we get home and I can steal their chocolate.”
“Good plan,” Meg replies. “I just ate half the candy I bought before tonight even started. Will ate the rest. I had to make a mad dash for more candy at four this afternoon.”
“Leo bought me cupcakes from our favorite place,” Sam replies with a sigh.
“From Nic?” Brynna asks with a grin and then turns to watch Matt as he picks Josie up and makes chomping noises at her neck, making her squeal in delight.
“Yes, she is so damn talented.”
“And beautiful,” Meg adds.
All three girls look expectantly at me.
“What’s the scoop?”
“How the fuck should I know?”
“Matt’s your brother,” Sam reminds me.
“And your best friend,” Meg adds.
“I don’t ask him about that shit. I don’t have a vagina.”
“Glad to hear it, brother,” Will says as he carries an upside down Maddie up onto the porch.
“Our brains are gone!” Maddie announces.
I reach out and take her from my brother, righting her in my arms, and kiss her soft, cold cheek.
“Did you have fun?” I ask her.
She nods happily and wraps her tiny arms around my neck. “I love you, daddy.”
Every time I hear it, every damn time, is a shot to the heart. I don’t know what I did to deserve these amazing girls in my life, but I’d do it a million times over, just to keep them with me.
“I love you too, buttercup.”
“I thought you two were still in Europe,” Brynna says to Sam and Leo, who are now snuggling in the porch swing.
“It’s freaking disturbing to see you snuggled up like that in that getup.”
Leo laughs and plants a kiss on Sam, making us all boo and hiss.
“Yuck,” Josie mutters.
“We got back a couple days ago,” Sam replies with a grin.
“Okay, you got your trick, now it’s time for treats!” Meg announces.
“More tricks!” Will cries and lunges for Maddie, who screams and ducks behind my back for safety.
“Dude, are you nine?” I ask my brother with a grin.
“And a half,” he confirms. “Okay, since you’re dressed so pretty in those uniforms, you can have your treats.”
“Do you like our costumes?” Maddie asks as she carefully walks out from behind my legs. “We picked them out just for you!”
“You did?” Will asks with a grin.
“Yes, because you throw the ball!” Josie informs him. “And we like the pretty cheerleaders.”
“Don’t we all,” Matt mutters under his breath, earning a slap in the arm from Meg. “Ouch!”
“Your cheerleader costumes are awesome,” Will nods. “But what about your dolls? Do they have cheerleader costumes too?”
“No,” Maddie shakes her head sadly. “And that makes them sad.”
“It does?” Will laughs and pulls on Mad’s ponytail.
“Very sad,” Josie agrees.
“Well, we can’t have that.”
Meg hands each of the girls an orange gift bag, which contains enough candy to give all of China cavities and Seahawk cheerleader costumes for their dolls.
“Oh my God,” Brynna whispers with wide eyes.
“Oh wow! It’s what I always wanted!” Maddie exclaims.
“Thank you,” Josie smiles sweetly up at Will and twirls her hair in her finger.
“She is such a flirt,” Sam laughs.
I growl without realizing the sound is coming from me.
“Down, boy,” Brynna laughs and hugs me tight. “I think it’s time we go home.”
We say our goodbyes and drive home. The girls both fall asleep in the van, so I carry them upstairs and we tuck them into bed, still in their costumes. Brynna removes Bix’s pirate costume and he settles on his bed between the girls.
I lean in and press a kiss to each of their foreheads. They’re mine.
“Love you, babies,” I whisper as Brynna and I leave them to dream of candy and dolls and whatever else little girls dream of.
On the way to the couch, Bryn grabs one of the bags of candy and settles in. “I need coconut and chocolate,” she mutters, digging through the bag. “Yes! Almond Joy!”
I sit beside her and pull her feet into my lap, massaging her arches.
“It’s not a bad deal having you around, sailor.”
“No?” I ask.
“I get chocolate and footrubs and some really amazing sex.”
“So happy you approve, legs” I reply dryly and watch my hands as I rub her pretty feet.
“I think you should put the candy down and I’ll remind you how good the sex is.”
“Come between me and this candy and I’ll kill you in your sleep,” she replies with a sweet smile and bats her eyelashes.
“Yes, ma’am,” I reply with a laugh.
“The girls had fun,” she murmurs while munching on a treat.
“I did too.” I love the way her skin feels under my fingers. We sit quietly for a while, enjoying the silence.
“Love you so much,” she whispers.
I look over at her and my heart simply stills at the sight of her, drifting asleep at the end of the couch, her hands resting on her round belly. She sighs as my thumb glides up the arch of her foot.
So much for the sex reminder. I smile softly as I watch her for long minutes, thankful for every experience I have with my family.
And this is just the beginning.
I promised my readers a blog post about Domestic Violence Awareness Month a few weeks ago. I had been working on a piece, and I decided to scrap it. Those who know me well know that I rarely scrap anything that I write, but you see, I have to get this right.
A lot has happened in the past two years that I was determined to keep quiet about. Not because I don’t love my readers, but because there are some things that should be handled privately. I am fiercely protective of my privacy, and I will continue to be, and that’s okay.
But there are some things that should be talked about. Things that get swept under a rug, and we carry on with a brave smile and pretend that the past didn’t happen, and that’s just not right. It’s not shameful to live life, with all of the messes that come with it.
Sometimes the biggest mess of all is the thing that we once believed was our safe place. Our sanctuary.
I’m not going to dwell on the who’s and why’s of my journey in this post. But I am going to briefly explain what happened, or pieces of it anyway, and then I’m going to focus on the good things.
Because there is so much good now, friends.
Trust is a tricky thing. For me, trust is all or nothing. I’m probably not alone in that. And once trust is broken, it’s pretty hard to repair it.
I was in a marriage that I trusted and believed in. And it started out pretty good. We all have issues, and we were no different. But not long into the relationship, the trust began to be whittled away.
Words are powerful, and once they’ve been said, you can’t erase them. You can apologize, but you can’t wipe them away. Words can make us bleed. They can be devastating. And it seems that they’re easily flung around, with little regard to the destruction as a result.
I’ve been hurt with words. With rolling eyes and sneers and the silent treatment. With manipulation and disrespect and just plain meanness.
I look back at pictures of myself from that time, and all I can think is, “I look old. And just so damn sad. So fucking sad.”
I was sad. But I lifted my chin, pulled my bootstraps up, and carried on, making excuses.
He’s just having a bad day.
He doesn’t understand.
It’s not always bad. We laugh sometimes too.
And I carried on, knowing that I wasn’t happy, but not even thinking that I would try to leave. For one thing, I couldn’t afford to. And for another, I was in survival mode. If I can just get through today, I’m fine.
That’s the biggest lie I’ve ever told myself. I’m fine.
I wasn’t fine. I wasn’t even in the same hemisphere as fine. I was hurting and sad and I felt trapped and unloved and certainly disrespected.
One day, when I knew that I’d done or said something that was going to make someone else mad, and I thought I’m going to get punished for this, I knew it was time to get the fuck out.
I’m going to get punished for this? When did that thought process ever become acceptable? In what world is it normal for an adult woman to be afraid of being punished? Are there consequences to actions? Yes. Anger, disappointment, frustration are all normal and happen every day in relationships in every town in the world. But punishment as a result?
It’s not normal. It’s not okay. You don’t deserve it. You didn’t earn it.
And now we shift to the good.
I left, and as a result, I’ve had the most fantastic year of my life. The love and support from my friends and family has been nothing short of incredible. I live in a beautiful place, and my community is fun and welcoming.
And I’ve learned a lot.
If a friend had come to me five years ago, and confided in me, describing what was happening in my own life, I would have told her she didn’t deserve even one minute of that, and I would have believed every word. I am my own best friend. I need to love and see me the way my best friend does.
But I think that what’s opened my eyes the most is being in a healthy, loving, respectful relationship, and experiencing what real love is supposed to be. It’s made me realize that what I had before was even worse than I thought, and that makes me sad for the woman that stayed in an unhealthy relationship for too long.
And when I see photos of me now, I look happy. I look content and confident and like someone I am proud of. I’m soaking in the good, and I’m loving every second. Because I deserve it.
And so do you.
I don’t want to ever just survive again. I want to thrive. I want to love and be loved. I want to laugh and explore, and feel safe knowing that I am respected and admired. I want to argue passionately, and then make up and not be afraid. I want to not be ashamed of my successes, worried that they’ll be mocked or sneered at.
I want to live a happy, good, loving life. I can honestly say that I am doing exactly that. Every day is a good day.
Oprah said, “I believe that every single event in life happens in an opportunity to choose love over fear.”
Choose love. Choose you. You deserve it. I promise you won’t regret it.